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European Peace Walk: Day 14: Lenti, Hungary to Varazdin, Croatia

Note: My adherence to the itinerary of the European Peace Walk went off the rails on Day 13.  Any information after this day loosely follows the EPW guide.


 

I don’t walk Day 14. 

Varazdin, Croatia

Varazdin, Croatia

I sleep well and wake early.  Sitting on the terrace, I sip coffee at Hotel Denis in Lenti, Hungary before Gerard and Paulien from Holland join me.

Over breakfast, they suggest I visit Holland in May when the tulips are blooming.  Paulien tells me that next May, she and her best friend plan to walk the Pieterpad, a nearly 500-kilometer trail (306 miles) in the Netherlands.  She invites me to join them!  She explains that it’s low cost journey with plentiful accommodations along the very scenic way.

This is the magic of travel – before today I’d never heard of the Pieterpad and now I have an invitation.  And the wheels of destiny turn.  

Transport to our next destination has been arranged by Hotel Denis.  A woman driver with limited English understands that we need to reach Varazdin, Croatia.  “Passports?”  she asks.  Yes.  We are ready to leave Hungary and cross the borders of both Slovenia and Croatia in a mere half-hour drive.

Dramatic classical music plays over the car stereo as we leave Hungary and it is a fitting soundtrack.  In the EPW guide book, the directions include the following statement for Day 13:

“Say goodbye to Hungary – it’s been emotional.”

Yes!  It has been emotional!  If by emotional you mean full of frustration, elation, excitement, boredom, anger, worry, gratitude, pain and disillusionment.

Old town Varazdin, Croatia

Above the palace door in old-town Varazdin, Croatia

Had the European Peace Walk been advertised as an experimental endurance walk through challenging territory, most of the unpleasant emotions could have been avoided.  If only the reality of the walk was stated from the beginning.  It is not the Camino experience that many in our group were seeking.  It couldn’t be.  I intend to elaborate on that further in a future post.

The creator of this walk is a mad dreamer and I love that.  I dearly want to support his vision.  I love the concept of the walk and can not fathom the effort involved in organizing such a journey through six countries with varying languages, customs, and resources.  Just two years old, the European Peace Walk is in my view, like a toddler, fumbling and uncoordinated with many years of development ahead.

Sincerely, I intend no disrespect to the creators and volunteers in stating my experience.  But, I have to tell my truth and find it obligatory that I share my experience so people are aware of what they might be getting themselves into if deciding to walk the EPW.

My passport is stamped at the Croatian border.  Entering Croatia is like the door cracking open after 12 days in a dark closet.  Rolling through, one immediately notices signs of development, progress and wealth in comparison to Hungary.  Houses are bigger, streets are maintained, the population appears denser.

Amazingly, we see John and Gerry walking towards a highway overpass.  It’s 10:30 AM and already broiling.  I feel for them and worry again for their safety in the heat.  As we coast towards the city, we soon discover how far away they still are from the destination in Varazdin.

We arrive at the very posh Hotel Turist where there is a cafe, a bank and a grocery store within meters.  Ideally located, the walk to Varazdin’s famous old town is easy, and museums, parks and numerous cafes and restaurants are also accessible.

Angel above!

Angel above!

After getting a new currency (Croatian kunas) from an ATM, I sit for a coffee on the veranda and observe the cosmopolitan mix of people passing by.  People are smiling!  Women in flowery dresses walk in and greet sharply-dressed companions with kisses on each cheek.  Mothers stroll with babies in carriages and bicyclists abound.  Wow. Croatia is like a breath of fresh air.  There is energy here.  And happiness.

Suddenly John appears.  He confesses that he and Gerry took a cab from where we last saw them.  He explains that both he and Gerry got lost in the forest, and in their lost state they found each other. “The arrows were bad” John says.  He’s worried about Senja who is once again on her own.  And Mike too.  In blazing heat.

He explains that Rob, Helga and Gary moved on by taxi yesterday, not staying at the accommodations because they were desperate to explore a city.  As a group we’re surely hanging on by a thread.  It seems that everyone is now trying to extract what they need and want from the remaining days.  Some are hanging on tighter than others.

As Gerry and John debrief on the terrace trying to figure out where the instructions steered them wrong, Mike appears, sweaty and exhausted.  He is not happy.  He reports getting lost and ending up in a Roma (gypsy) village, then being followed by a man on a bike.   A scary experience for a lone walker.  He is worried that Senja might find herself alone there too.

Two hours later, Senja arrives.  She also got lost and bushwhacked her way through forests and corn fields.  Sunburned despite maximum protection sunscreen, dehydrated despite ample water, and exhausted, I show her to our room.  Senja is the type of woman who rarely swears.  If she does, she immediately apologizes.

As she sits on the edge of the bed with her head hanging, she says:

That was the worst day yet.  That was bullshit!  Are they trying to kill someone?”

Old town Varazdin, Croatia

Old town Varazdin, Croatia

So, in summary, four people walked.  All four got lost independently despite having the “guide book”.  On a day when temperatures soared.

Once again, not walking was the best decision.

While Senja works on collecting herself, I explore the beautiful city of Varazdin, Croatia.  Considered the most baroque town in Croatia, and the former capital, it now has a thriving population of 50,000 people.

The city has a rich history dating back to the 1200’s with many preserved buildings.  A ten-day music and arts festival ended yesterday but the air is still loaded with a celebratory feeling and some decoration remains, hanging over charming cobblestone streets.

Cafes with outside seating host hundreds of people relaxing on this summer day.  The streets are filled with artistic details: painted bikes hold flowerpots of cascading flowers, an angel is placed in a high window to treat the keen observer, beautiful architecture and sculpture is around every corner.  The streets are clean and tidy and lined with decorative lampposts.

Outside the old-town, modern architecture mixes with 1960’s-style housing developments, ancient churches, fountains where dogs get a cooling, and bike paths which are busy with travelers.

It’s lovely to be here.  Such a dramatic contrast to the feeling in Hungary.

Over dinner, the group talks about tomorrow.  Senja, is struggling with a headache and will be unable to see the city tonight.  I suggest that she and I stay another day.  Without the hesitation of previous days, she agrees.  We will stay.  Tomorrow, some in the group will go on by train and then take the 17-kilometer walk.  Some will take the train the whole way, avoiding the walk in high temperatures.  Senja and I will rejoin the group in Ljubljana, Slovenia in a few days.  Paulien and Gerard will be going home.

Thank you to Ginna Keulen for sponsoring today’s experience and this post.

[mappress mapid=”34″]

Photos of Varazdin, Croatia (click to view):

2 Comments

  1. I think this trail is simply trying to do too much too soon. The operators need to go back to the drawing board for next year and open only one section. Perhaps a 5-7 day hike starting in Vienna and going from there. Even spending the first day in Vienna for orientation. Concentrate on getting that done right. Then start to expand the trail over the following years.

    The trail also needs to address the lack of cultural sites along the route which have a relation to the ideal the trail is trying to promote to walkers. More Second World War sites. More border Cold War border sites (Iron Curtain trail linkage?). More stories from the small villages affected by the tumultuous events of bigger history that passed through their sleepy streets.

    Source: I have had 3 years experience seeing trail policy in action first-hand with Jeju Olle Trail (422km) in South Korea and 3 years attending the World Trails Conference as well as interviewing and meeting various trail leaders from around the world.

    • Hi Jim! These are my thoughts also. Coming from you, it is valuable insight based on your experience with the Jeju Olle Trail. Thanks for offering it.

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