(Guide says 25km – 15.5, but we walked 32km – 19.8 miles)
I’m so happy to be walking the EPW (European Peace Walk) with my dear Camino friend, Jenny, and a good friend and fellow teacher from Hawaii, Gary. Although the EPW guidebook states that the EPW should not be compared with the Camino experience, Jenny and I have agreed that it is virtually impossible not to compare the two. I’ve also walked portions of Japan’s Kumano Kodo Temple Pilgrimage and so far, I honestly find that the EPW has many more similarities to it than to the Camino. We compare these things because we are humans, and after all, it is human nature to make comparisons of similar experiences, right?
We didn’t exactly get off to a good start to be honest. In fact, we couldn’t find the starting point, even after using Google Maps to follow the coordinates that had been emailed. We ended up 1.5 km away from the first marker. After walking and searching an additional 30 minutes we happened upon a bunch of red arrows, which are the symbols that mark the route, and decided to just begin from there. There was a brief thought of going back to find the actual starting point but we had just climbed a long, steep, city hill in Sopron that had sapped us of our time and our morning energy. Instead, we made a unanimous decision to carry on and try to contact the organizers via email to find out if there was anything important that we had missed.
After locating Hotel Fagus, a land mark mentioned in the first stage of the guidebook, we felt more confident that we were in the correct place and began walking down a path leading into the woods. The path meandered a bit before coming to a long, gradual hill. About the time we commented that it was quite lovely, the hill began a steep ascent up to a point we couldn’t even see. As we climbed and climbed and climbed, we couldn’t help but think of the words we had read several times before committing to this, “Mostly flat walk through six European countries.” Finally cresting the hill, we were faced with a sheer drop that prompted thoughts of just sliding down on our bums to avoid falling with our heavy packs. We now knew we were in for much more than we had bargained for. The discussion became centered upon perspective when writing hiking guides. We decided two things: that this guide has been written by someone who IS extremely fit, and that we are NOT. Recent events in life have prevented us each from completing our pre-EPW training, but it is what it is, and here we are. All we can do now is press on. We decided that we might need to take a rest day or two along the way, but that we will walk every single step and not resort to taking taxis unless there is an injury.
Coming out of the woods, we were distracted by some beautiful horses and completely missed our right turn to the Austrian border. After walking several moments and realizing the red guiding arrows were nowhere to be found, Jenny and I relied on our mad Camino skills to map out a plan. In the end, we took the second, “long cut” of the day, but found our way forward to the arrows without having to backtrack and eventually made it to the border.
From this point, the arrows guided us along the side of a paved road which dipped and curved through farmland fields abundant with grapevines and unopened sunflowers. The views were magnificent, but the traffic on the road…not so much. The road is approximately one and a half lanes wide, similar to a Cornish lane but without the hedgerows. Each time two cars meet from opposite directions, they either maintain their speed and drive way out onto the shoulders of the road to pass at high speed, or one pulls over and waits. Either way, this makes it difficult if you happen to be walking down the roadside. It wouldn’t be a big deal if it were only for a short while, but 3/4 of the walk was along the roadside on day one.
After getting lost in conversation and then literally lost again, we found a man walking with his son and inquired about a restaurant. (Thank goodness for Jenny and her ability to speak German!) He recommended Gasthof zur Traube and although it was a short additional distance away from the route down into the town of Neckenmarkt, it was entirely worth it! We had ice cold water, and cappuccinos, along with delectable homemade cheese and raspberry strudel. The treats helped to refresh us and we had such a good time chatting with the cheery Austrians who owned the café. We set off again in the mounting heat with very high spirits.
As we were leaving, we ran into five women who are also EPW walkers and they confirmed that there wasn’t an actual meeting held at the start to launch the walk. This is a bit confusing as each walker is given a digital ticket via email and told that they must have it with them when they report to the starting point at 6:00am, eluding to there being a checkpoint of some sort. We were relieved to learn that we hadn’t missed anything after all, but annoyed that we could’ve started even earlier to avoid the heat of the day. Good thing we didn’t continue to spend time and energy looking for a place to check in! It was about this time that we became very curious about what happens with the €60 per person registration fee for the walk. So far, the only expense we can find the organizers have incurred, is the purchase of red arrow stickers and spray paint to mark the route.
We noticed that the other walkers had tiny little packs and they looked so lively compared to how we were feeling at this point. They shared that they had pitched in and hired a taxi to transport their bags to the next stop. I was immediately so jealous of their energy and the fact that they would likely end the first day without blisters or extreme fatigue. Of course, there was also the great likely hood that they had actually trained for the walk and considering how they looked, I’d say it was the case. We decided that we really should have arranged for transport of our bags as well, but considering the difficulty we had in simply locating the starting point, I’m certain the logistics would’ve put us completely over the edge on the first day.
It didn’t take long after leaving the café for the heat to bake the happiness right out of us. That combined with the continued trek down the side of a narrow, winding, extremely busy road, made the afternoon painfully long. The guidebook mentioned lakes that made the trek sound quite serene, yet, there were no lakes to be seen. What we did see was several large lorries (semi-trucks) and all sorts of huge, interesting farm machines that sent us climbing into the ditches and covered us in dirt as they flew past.
All in all, Jenny’s tracker tells us that we somehow managed to make the 21km walk (13 miles) into a 32km (19.8 miles) walk with our three “long cuts” (Jenny’s word, which when you think about it seems perfectly logical) and we survived the first day with some funny moments, but I finished exhausted and with blisters. Not ideal on day one.
The resting place for the first night was pretty cool though. A hotel with a yurt field that is also a small farm, and the five ladies we met earlier camped next to us. As we spent time chatting with them, we learned that four are traveling together from Australia and the other, who is from Victoria, B.C., is actually a friend of another Camino friend of mine. What a very small Camino world it is! One of the ladies tells us she knows the gent who wrote the guide and that he’s a former military member. This helps to shed some light on how the step by step directions are worded. We know one thing is for sure, we must stop having such lively, enthralling conversations that we wander off of the path unaware and become lost multiple times each day. If this continues we will never, ever make it to the finish!
The day ends, as all good days should, with a bottle of red wine and very good conversation.
+43 5 7083 770
Shared yurt with communal shower & bathroom. (30 Euros per person)
Buffet dinner and Breakfast included.
Bag transport to next stop FREE, thanks to Gabor!
A few favorite pics for the day: