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September 7, 2010 – Pilger – Part I – Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Schrozberg – approx. 22 km. (more if you get lost).

Pilger (German) refers to both pilgrim and pilgrimage depending on the context used.

So…the tale begins…..

All set to go!

Pack on, all set to go, take that first step … and my first thought is:  “I should have cut my toenails.”  My second thought: “I hope I never drop anything because otherwise I am going to be doing a lot of headstands.”

However, balance issues quickly got sorted and off I went, excitement and anxiety competing for equal space in my thoughts.

My first problem, how to actually get on the “Way”, had been resolved a couple of days previously with the help of a friendly shopkeeper with whom I had shared a couple of glasses of sherry.  She was the first of many who would help me along my journey, because as it turns out I have a particular talent for getting lost.  By the time I quit the pilgrimage this talent had been honed to a calibre rarely seen.  *Pilger tip #1- bring a map and learn how to tell North from South, etc.  North, as I discovered, is not always in front of my nose.

Road to the right is where I entered the woods.

Anyway, getting out of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was problematic because:  1. My German reading skills are not that good, and there seemed to be an uncommon number of compound words in the wee guidebook.  Germans have a bad habit of simply adding two or more words together to make a new one instead of coming up with a nice short new word, for instance the word for tank is about 26 letters long.  2. No signs are allowed to be posted within the city walls, so how was I to find the yellow shell on a blue background (sign of the Way).  3. There are at least seven towers along the wall of Rothenburg and it really wasn’t clear (to me) which one to leave from as indicated by the guidebook.

Gate I left through

However, my friendly, shopkeeper got that sorted for me, and I proceeded with confidence.  To make doubly sure of a confident beginning I had scouted out the “Way” for a couple of kilometres two days previously.  I even discovered a shortcut which would knock off at least 1\2 Km from the trip.  Believe me that would count!  Well, in no time I lost the shortcut and in wandering around trying to find it I
probably added a kilometer.  Sigh.

But, I was off!  It was excellent walking weather – overcast, but not cold, and, although my Lady pack was heavy, it rode comfortably on my back.

All was going well.  I stopped at the suggested rest place to have the suggested last look at Rothenburg and took suggested photos.

Last view of Rothenburg

Weather did not hold and it started to sprinkle, but that was still ok, I had a poncho.   Although, I did have a few suggestions of my own about what was supposed to be a non-rainy day.

By the time I reached Enzenweiler, a village about 7.5Km from Rothenburg, my feet were getting sore and the sprinkle had stepped up a couple of notches.  Still ok though and the yellow shell signs were right were they were supposed to be.

Yellow shell - sign of the Way

That all went South (or wherever) when I left Enzenweiler as there was no indication where to go next beyond turning right at the crossroad and then left at the village end.  Sure that I had missed a yellow shell marker I retraced my steps, but no, I was on track.   Still it seemed to me that the village had ended a couple of kilometres back and that was before the suggested right turn on the crossroad.  So, which village end were they talking about???  In talking with another Pilger a few days later – she also got turned around here and ended up in a village not in the guidebook. Gratifying to know I wasn’t alone – in this instance anyway.

Failing any signage I strode straight ahead (my default setting) figuring I would come to a village sooner or later and then see where I was.  And, so it came to pass.  Unluckily for me though this was not a village named either in the guidebook or shown on the sketchy map in said guidebook.  I was losing confidence in the guidebook.  Still at its end there were several signs indicating village this and that, this way or that way.  With the exception of one, none of these village names were in the guidebook or its less than helpful little map.

Along the way. The Windrader in the distance were landmarks to look for.

However, the one recognizable name riveted my attention because it said:  Rothenburg ob der Tauber (that way) 5 Km.  Keep in mind that by now, with backtracking and discovering new villages, I had probably walked at least 12 Km.  So, upon seeing this sign, I said to myself:

“Why gee willikers, would you look at that.  I’ve been walking in a circle.  Gosh darn it, don’t that beat all.” (or words to that effect).

I confess that I gave serious consideration to walking back to Rothenburg, hopping a train, and pretending nothing ever happened.  However, with spirits and self considerably dampened as it was by now raining, I set about looking for someone to tell me how to get to Schrozberg (my end point for the day plus I had overnight
accommodation booked there).  *Pilger tip #2 – make sure you have proper rain gear. Poncho doesn’t cut it.

I did finally find a farmer who kindly stopped in his headlong rush from his barn to his warm, comfortable home to help me out.  He actually happened to be the only person I saw outside in this village.

Permit me to digress and mention a little something about German dialects.  The Schwäbisch dialect sounds like so much pea gravel and sand being swished around in a bucket of water.  I understood maybe three words out of this man’s directions.  I never did catch on to more than half of what anyone said to me in Schwäbisch.  The only dialect that was more incomprehensible was Badish.  Later in the week, I would meet two Badish Pilger.  Thankfully, they were not talking to me as based on my open mouthed look I’m sure they would have thought I had the IQ of a celery stick.  I understood one word, “gel” (hard “g” like in girl), and as it is like our “eh” it really isn’t a word after all.  The Bavarian folks, by the way, roll their “r” so vigorously that I’m surprised they don’t choke for air halfway through a sentence!

Anyway, at my “deer in the headlights” look the farmer slowed it down and spoke more Standard German giving me directions that all involved walking back the way I had come, but then turning towards Heligebronn (3 Km away) and then walking another 2Km or so, to Spielbach where there was a gas station in the middle of town (it’s down the road on the 2nd left when you get to the middle of the village – you can’t miss it.  Right.), and someone there would be bound to know the way to Schrozberg.

He was also the first that would ask me two common questions.  1.  You are alone?  2. You are walking?  all the while looking over my shoulder as if expecting people or a car to appear.  It got so that I was often tempted to have a look myself, even though I knew the air behind me would remain distressingly empty of companions, or A CAR.

So, he says “You are alone?”  “Yes” I say.  “You are walking?” He says.  “Yes”, I say.  “That is bad” he says.  “How so?” I say.  “Because it is a long way”, he says.  “Yup”, I think.  Of course, I have translated for your benefit, although, I’m pretty sure the thought bubble was in English.

Well, there was nothing for it and off I go and trust that I will reach Heligebronn and then Spielbach.  I had begun to put a lot of trust in trust because nothing else was working too well!  And, I did find Heligebronn and it was just where the farmer said it would be!  By this time though, my legs were aching something fierce and my feet were so sore I could feel blisters playing King of the Castle on my toes, and I was wet through and through.  I spotted a bus shelter and thought – screw it – I’m taking the bus to Schrozberg!  I had been walking for several hours with only one break.

*Pilger tip #3 – in small villages in Germany when kids are on school holidays – as they were until Sept.13 – buses do not run.

So, I have to drag my carcass to Spielbach after all.  What’s another 2 Km (in theory) to the 20 Km I must have walked already, eh?

Still, I am optimistic… until I get to the crossroad.  No signage and every direction looks equally well travelled.  I am so very tired, so very sore, so very wet and the wind has picked up and I am getting cold and there is NO ONE in sight, and I just cannot stomach retracing my steps yet again.  I give in, but only have enough vigour to perform about 30 seconds worth of the standard 2 minute dance of panic.  But, it’s enough to clear my head and, as per usual, I head straight.  I am rewarded in short order by the sight of houses.  I have made it to Spielbach!

Spielbach - fountain where I waited for Marlene. Appropriate.

I have NO intention of looking for gas stations, and instead phone Marlene, owner of the Gästehaus Im Tal that I am going to be staying at, to ask her if she could send a taxi for me.  I really, really cannot physically or mentally walk another step further.  Schrozberg is larger (about 4500 people) and it has taxis, a bus and a train station!

I never did get a chance to ask Marlene to send for a taxi, because after she got over her surprise that I was in Spielbach (she was aware of the correct pilger route), she said she would come and get me.  I spent the next four days in Marlene’s care.

Gästehaus Im Tal - Schrozberg.

Schrozberg, by the way, was another 8 Km away.

And, that, my friends, ended my first day of walking.

Hope this all finds you healthy and happy!




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