Simon, our British expat living in Germany, finds the long, cold Bavarian winters quite disheartening. He tells us about a book that kept him going during the short and dark days: The adventures of a young man walking across Europe through the snow…
Spring is definitely in the air, Hurrah! It is a particularly exciting time of year here in Bavaria where the winters are colder and the coming of summer represents endless weekends of sun baked outdoor adventures. There is so much to look forward to as I polish my walking boots and make some timely repairs to my collection of bicycles – only a few weeks now and they will be in action again!
To get me in the mood, I have been reading an extraordinary account of a walking trip across Europe by a man with a very fancy name: Patrick Leigh Fermor. In 1933 aged only 18, he took it upon himself to walk from Rotterdam to Istanbul and 44 years later he got his journals out of the closet and wrote A Time of Gifts – his account of the first half of that journey.
So whimsical was his disposition as a young man, that he set off on his expedition as soon as the idea crossed his mind, regardless of the fact that it happened to be early December. So nearly all the action in this book happens in deep winter, drudging through snow, marvelling at frosty mornings and seeking warm shelter wherever available.
Despite this and with the benefit of thirty years between the time of writing and the actual events, he manages to make the adventure sound like a non-stop jamboree of happy moments and pleasant company. Virtually no mention of hardship is made at all. The romance of it is all that remains: the countless encounters with people from all walks of life, the generosity with which he is universally greeted and the incredible freedom of a life on the road.
Reading this book in the midst of a particularly cold February in Bavaria I can imagine that it was far from easy going. Getting to the supermarket and back has felt like an artic expedition at points in the last few weeks and I’m sure he must have encountered some very cold days and nights in the journey.
However, as the cold has started to thaw out just a little here and the anticipation of spring is already with us, reading the book has been a timely reminder of the joys of an outdoor existence. He writes with a flowery, old world eloquence describing, in detail, the nature around him and his enjoyment of it. One passage struck me particularly the other day where he described his first night under the stars, camped next to the Danube, listening to all the calls of unknown creatures across a marshy plain: “I lay deep in one of those protracted moments of rapture which scatter this journey like asterisks … why should the thought that nobody knew where I was … generate such a feeling of triumph? It always did.”
I can remember enjoying such a moment in spring last year somewhere out in the Bavarian forest. Feeling exhilarated by the arrival of one of the first really hot days, I had headed out of town on my bike and without planning to just kept going until I did a big loop up towards the mountains and back along the Wasserweg. I cycled without stopping for a long time and then suddenly needed to heed the call of nature. I stopped in the middle of a cross roads in the forest, relieved myself, lay down and dozed in the afternoon sun. I must have been there well over an hour, half asleep, conscious of nothing but the breeze rustling the tree tops. I felt comfortable and exhilarated at the same time, and would probably not have dragged myself out of this lazy stupor for much longer had my mobile phone not ended the dream with a high-pitched rendition of the Monaco Franze theme tune. Where had I disappeared to, she wanted to know?
You can’t manufacture these moments and they are fairly fleeting when they do arrive. But whether on your own or with company, the romance of a beautiful day outdoors is something to be savoured and I certainly intend to make sure I get plenty of mini-adventures of my own in this year.
Photos by Phil Champion (1), Gillian May (2), Jeff Collins (4). All photos courtesy of Wikemedia Commons.
Thank you Simon Goodall for your contribution to our blog.