Yet all is going well and Germany just keeps surprising me.
Next proper update hopefully from Osnabrück, my last large city in Germany.
The Pied Piper sends his regards from Hamelin. I'd love to post pictures but the gods of Weebly are not willing and I'm too tired to wrestle with them.
Yet all is going well and Germany just keeps surprising me.
Next proper update hopefully from Osnabrück, my last large city in Germany.
Apologies for the long silence, severe shortage of internet cafés along the way (I'm currently paying 50ct/12min for access to an ancient PC so excuse me if this sounds a bit rushed).
Though walking along trails does have its short-comings (they weren't lying about the signs) and everything takes a lot longer, I am so glad to have more than 20cm road space now.
South of the small village of Pansfelde, I realised that some sections of the trail aren't that popular, really, and decided it's OK to cut some corners here and there.
The first two days the path led through fields and vineyards...
...and forests of every hue and smell and sound. If you miss a turn after Wippra (like I did) you will, for instance, come upon this spot...
...and then stumble into...
...the Land of the Dwarves. No kiddin'. It's on the sign. 'According to an old tale, here lies the entrance to the underground realm of the dwarves...'
Other places of note were Eisleben...
...and Gernrode as it boasts...
...The World's Largest Thermometer (hidden behind a hedge...show some pride, lads) and...
...The World's Largest Cuckoo Clock (though some folks in the Black Forest contest this crown and they had to turn down the volume a bit because the local school complained about the noise. Thanks to Thomas for the tour and the background info). I have a funny video of him doing his spiel. Quite hilarious.
But the icing on the cake was arriving in Wernigerode today, a name that didn't evoke anything too exciting. But check out the city centre.
Like it popped out of a fairytale.
So far, I am the only crazy person walking this path (apart from people walking their dog), so my contacts are limited to when I stop for food or shelter but, boy, was I lucky there.
The story of how I met Father Fritsch of Kloster Helfta in Eisleben is far too long and convoluted to write down, so I'm keeping that one for now. I'll just say that it started on Day 8 with some good hearty cursing on my part that made fox and badger cover their ears, but ended happily that same day with another long conversation over a pint and another incredibly generous donation to Fighting Blindness.
I also have to tell you about Fred the woodcutter.
He is one of the kindest people I know (he let me sleep in his barn--almost clichee, I know--,gave me breakfast and answered all my silly city boy questions about forests, reforestation, charcoal making, cattle herding and whatnot) but as a word of warning DO NOT try to steal diesel from his woodyard: he once broke a car window with his bare fist and has perfected the skill of driving without headlights for the sole purpose of chasing down thieves in the dark. The last ones did not see him coming...
To add some more expertise to my travel posts, I thought it might be a good idea to ask experts from various fields such as zoology, planning or energy to contribute a little piece along the way, whenever it would fit.
Since I'll be heading into the eastern Harz mountains, also known as Tick Country, I just got my final vaccination against tick-born meningoencephalitis, just to be sure. No better opportunity to introduce a piece about my smallest travel companions along this trip.
Our expert in residence today is Rob Deady (ecologist and former Msc. student at University College Cork)
Rob is an ecologist with a Bsc. in Ecology and an Msc. in Zoology. His main area of expertise is concerning entomology where he has a keen interest in the Diptera or (true flies), their taxonomy, diversity, life history, application in forensics, role in the spread of disease and their place in the world of art.
Black flies, White Socks and River Blindness
To begin with I would firstly like to say and furthermore reiterate that this article has nothing to do with a certain Major League Baseball side based in Chicago, U.S.A. In point of fact the "White Sox" as they are known have not achieved anything of note since 2005 when they won the World Series for the first time since 1917, I'll have you know. Sorry, I have no idea what I just wrote there! Nor, do I care particularly. I must however acknowledge this information that was kindly provided to me by an avid baseball fan who enlightened me on hearing the above article title. Ahem...tennis, now there's a game and a half! A game I like to think I understand in its entirety! Alas, it is raining outside so no tennis today...boo hoo! It is a day, however, to mull over my thoughts I think, and write this!
The intriguing though reasonable thing about science the natural world and its perception and appeal in society is this: If I was to rephrase the above title to.....oh say this: "Onchocerciasis and infectious diseases due to Dipteran vectors", you'd switch off, wouldn't you? The average Joe Soap wants to understand the world around them, the organisms that coexist with them and the cogs that make things....well.....work. I to this day still get annoyed when I read a paper where fancy, technical terms are bandied about instead of the morecomprehendible and usually more appropriate alternatives. I am guilty of it myself and have tried where possible to correct myself while challenging this tendency in my peers in order to help all of us understand better.
Right that's my rant complete for the moment! I've already digressed as usual.
MORE TO THE POINT!
I always get a rather good laugh out of some of the common names that have been given to various insect species which I have continually come across since I was a kid. No see-ums (biting midges that ravage folk particularly in Scotland), Billy witches (scarab beetles also known as Cockchafers or May bugs) and finally White socks, the last of which inspired this article. Hell, maybe Major League Baseball did give rise to the name!? Let me enlighten you and most importantly Gregor!
Black flies, turkey gnats or "White Socks" as some are colloquially known as in parts of the U.S. are a family of biting flies belonging to the Simuliidae family in the world of the Diptera or true flies. The Simulium genus is by far the most well-known genus as many of its 700+ members (sounds like I'm addressing a convention of critters) transmit infectious diseases such as river blindness or Onchocerciasis (Gregor's affiliated charity Fighting Blindness will be all but too aware of this horrible disease), bovine Onchocerciasis (cattle blindness) and leucocytozoonosis (an immuno-compromising infection leading to gauntness and emaciation in wild birds). The "White Socks" include Simulium venustum amongst other members within the Simulium genus and are also known as "White stocking" flies because of the rather evident bands of white coursing the legs of individuals. These flies do not spread the majority of the above mentioned infectious diseases nor do the species that reside within the British Isles or mainland Europe but they do bite so Gregor will have to be wary! When I first started out looking at flies, I used to call Black flies "Slinky flies" due to the flies' stout appearance, stubby antennae and almost concertina like abdominal segments giving the impression of a compressed slinky. In entomology we'd call this appearance anteroposterior compression like the poor so and so has been in a head on and rear collision at once. Sufficed to say, nobody caught onto my Slinky fly name! Oh well.....
Right, let’s explore river blindness, what it is and how it's spread to help make us more aware of this horrible disease. River blindness is also known as Onchocerciasis. The word Onchocerciasis is derived from the nematode (worm) parasite Onchocercavolvulus that ultimately leads to infection. The genus name "Onchocerca" probably originated from the Greek “ónkos” meaning mass or bulk and the Greek “kérkos”meaning tails. This probably refers to the tendency for this organism to clump in a mass in human tissue. An infected female Black fly burdened with Onchocerca nematodes (in need of a blood meal for its eggs that reside in its abdomen) will bite its human host transferring the parasites in the process. The nematodes once inside the new host eventually die releasing their endosymbionts: Wollbachia pipientis. There is then a rather large human immune response to these endosymbionts leading eventually to destruction of optical tissue if untreated. So you see, it is not the Slinky fly, nor the nematode but the endosymbiont that leads to this debilitating condition. Having said this, it is the cocktail of the three that provides the means to spread the disease. More often than not for Onchocerciasis to take a hold multiple infectious bites are needed thus increasing the "payload" of nematodes.
Lovely, I hope you weren't eating while we were visiting this issue! If so, I apologise profusely! However, it is a condition that is worth raising awareness for. Particularly for the poor folk living in places like Burkina Faso, other African countries, and the Americas.
With regards to biting flies, all I'd suggest to Gregor is to steer clear of: 1) stagnant water bodies where mosquitoes are likely to breed 2) running water where Black fly larvae dwell and finally dark, dank forested environments where the infamous No-see-ums or biting midges will be partying till all hours of the morning! Failing this, he ought to lather on copious quantities of his trusted N diethyl-m-toluamide to shatter the antennal receptors of the various Dipteran vampires roaming the night (ahem they are my buddies though Gregor so don't kill too many!).......Next time...ticks, glorious ticks!
I forgot to mention in my previous post that Leipzig is one pretty town, indeed. As there was no camera at the time, you will have to have a look yourself :)
Day 5 was the first thoroughly wet and rotten day of walking, lit up only by arriving at my first CS host in Halle and finding the perfect embellishment for my pack on the way.
What do you think?
Apart from that, I must be using up a lifetime's supply of good luck at an absolutely alarming rate.
A fellow OpenStreetMapper I had contacted about the route from Halle wrote me back yesterday just in time and offered to talk me through the route over a 'Bierchen' (of course, he happened to live close by and is probably the only person who actually knows the trails around here).
He confirmed what I had heard before, that E11 (in fact, most E-paths) are very badly or not at all signposted. What I did not know is that even local tourism departments do not know their trails, map publishers keep copying each other's errors, oh, and did I mention that E11 is actually impassable around Eisleben? This should be interesting.
But back to Halle. I am thoroughly in love with this city. If you want to be moved by buildings, Halle is the place to be.
So now I'm off to my rendezvous with E11 or the Lutherweg as it is called in this part of the woods. My feet are light again since, luckily, my second CS host, Norbert, is also a trained masseuse...Seriously, what is happening.
(Did I mention that his neighbour is Benjamin Löffler, an amazing ropedancer? Go hire him. He's class.)
Map and compass have led me safely to my wonderful couchsurfing host (who helped me buy a new camera as camera 1 died on day 1) which is where I can give you a quick rundown of the last 4 days.
To make things short, I am having a fabulous time. The least exciting things first.
Thankfully not too many. The first two days my feet weren't quite sure what was happening, but they're starting to get the message.
Fields upon fields of grain dotted with windfarms and almost empty roads flanked by neat rows of equidistant trees for miles and miles, stunning views early in the morning. I will particularly remember the almost eerie silence in the Thümmlitzer Wald (a forest close to Grimma) and the castle in Leisnig.
What will stick with me most, though, is this overgrown country lane one hour outside of Dresden which my Google Maps printouts said I should take (fair play to you, Google). There's probably a message in there somewhere.
Extremely friendly and helpful all around. I keep getting offered lifts into town which I have to politely refuse (looks of puzzlement mixed with bemusement).
But the absolute highlight (apart from today) was Day 2. More experienced hikers might be used to this sort of thing but I was simply blown away.
After a long and very hot day with too many cars on the road, I just wanted a quiet place to lay my head. Walking up to a house behind a field with a few trees, I asked Helmut, the owner of the house and grower of vegetables and flowers, if he would mind me camping out in front of his house. He said the field was not his but would I not camp out in his garden? I would indeed, kind sir.
A short while later, my tent was pitched under a tree next to the chicken coop, I had had a bath and was sitting around the barbecue sipping beer and chatting away with Helmut, Petra, dog Gina and the fattest cat I've ever seen (Helmut swears it's just the fur).
After breakfast the next morning, I left with Helmut's moving note in my journal, a fresh cucumber and an impossibly generous donation to Fighting Blindness.
Pardon me for not being more eloquent but How. Cool. Is that.
Next update in Halle with our first guest piece.
Right. Let's do this. Two weeks after the worst floods in Dresden and many other places since 2002 and the wettest May since 1881, this is Day 1 of trying to walk back to Cork.
Wish me luck.
Before heading off later this week, I wanted to share with you the route I plan to take during the first half of the trip up until the ferry to England. The initial (not so serious) idea was simply to follow Google Maps' excellent directions. This would have meant walking busy national roads all the way to Cork, not the safest or most scenic route exactly (although it may entitle me to sue Google).
So why not test out Europe's very own 'long-distance pedestrian infrastructure'? There must be such a thing, right? Yes, there is. Kind of. Europe is criss-crossed by twelve so-called European Long-Distance Paths designated by the European Ramblers' Association. These paths connect local, regional and national trails across multiple countries to form quite an extensive network. The most convenient path for reaching the ferry at Hoek van Holland turns out to be the E11, running from the Polish-Lithuanian border all the way to Scheveningen in the Netherlands. It is a path with quite a bit of history both in terms of the towns it passes as well as its inception (it was extended into Poland after the fall of the Iron Curtain to stimulate East-West integration).
The plan now is to head northwest to join up with the E11 in recently flooded Halle via Leipzig and follow it all the way to the end/start. As the E11, or rather its constituent trails, zigzag quite a bit along the way, it is a good chunk longer than the direct route (I calculated an additional 250km, hence the term 'rambling'). I do expect the scenery to make up for it, though.
And once on the ferry, I'm half-way there.
What could possibly go wrong?
Who I am and Where I Was
My name is Gregor Herda and at the time of the walk I was a graduate planning student at University College Cork. You can see some of the towns and cities I passed on this map, though my route in between was different.