Let's be completely honest: I did not have high expectations for Germany. Lots of forest, flat terrain, cocky Germans. Things, I thought would be awaiting me hiking Germany.
As a result, I don't feel overly enthusiastic when I resume my hike in Flensburg on a wet and cold spring day. But my not too optimistic mindset is actually helping me to be positively surprised. By the trail, the scenery and by the people. In fact, I very much enjoy my hike across Germany.
Yes, the terrain is flat for most of the first three weeks. A hill of more than 200 meters is the exception. A highlight even. Yet, the walk from Eckernförde to Kiel along the Ostsee is one to remember. Especially day two, in wonderful late spring weather, along a beautiful, deserted stretch of rugged coastline that I have all for myself.
After this highlight, things are getting back to normal as the trail is meandering across Schleswig-Holstein towards Hamburg. At least plenty of lakes are offering a nice change and with the warmer temperatures inviting me for a swim.
The temperatures stay high, however, unfortunately, the lakes disappear as I cross the Lüneburger Heide and make my way towards Frankfurt. All the dead forest caused by the previous dry summers and a bug killing the trees make the landscape look desolate and the heat unbearable at times. Sleeping places were sometimes hard to find. Yet with 1nitetent and basic shelters along the way I am always lucky enough to have a somewhat okay place to overnight.
Luckily, during this rather difficult period, I meet some wonderful people on my journey, who make my walk way more enjoyable. Great talks, plenty of food and a dry roof over my head every now and then. Trail magic at work.
Once past Frankfurt and the Odenwald, I enter the Black Forest. While physically demanding, I get rewarded with one spectacular sunset after another. And once I spot the Swiss Alps in the far distance, my hiking spirit soars.
The good weather and the mostly easy trails across Germany make progress good and since I have plenty of time left I decide to continue to the Swiss Italian border. These last 250 kilometers across Switzerland are different to Germany. First and foremost, they are on home turf, then there is the terrain: mountainous with lakes every couple of kilometers. The way I like it.
Furthermore, there's the great company of Fredy and the wonderful surprise of meeting Klaus and Gisela. This all adds for a lovely 10 days in Switzerland. Yet, I am happy to reach the Italian border. My feet feel tired and the the hot weather too, has left its marks.
And Italy? Well, that is a whole different story again. After a three week working break in the Engadin, I resume E1 in Porto Ceresio. From the very beginning, it is somewhat of a struggle. The
three week break is too short to fully recover from the previous stint across Germany and Switzerland, yet long enough to throw me out of my thru-hiking rythm. Additionally, the first
week, leading me across the Po flat, is mentally demanding: flat out boring through a desolate landscape with the odd dirty, smelly village thrown inbetween. Dogs keep barking at me.
For most of the time, hiking trails are often non-existent and thus plenty of the first 250 kilometers on asphalt. The cycle tracks along the Ticino River are okay while the
stretches on roads are, thanks to the terrible Italian drivers, not a lot of fun. Depite theîr tiny Fiats, they don't leave me much space. Sometimes, I stumble across E1
signs, sometimes there are none for hours. I have to find my own way. Luckily, I meet Pierangelo along the way, an artist and trail angel from Bernate Ticino, who, with his hospitality is able to
lift my hiking spirit.
Things change dramatically once I enter the Ligurian Mountains, where proper, well marked hiking trails are popping up. With the clearer air and the higher altitude the views are getting better with every day. Once I spot the Mediterranean, I have to shed a tear of joy as I start to realize how far I have come on my E1 adventure. Mentally, this helps me a lot. And I need this extra motivation as the trail is getting physically demanding as I head into the Apennine. Lots of ups and downs, sometimes on technically demanding trails. Never dangerous or too exposed though. E1 becomes surprisingly remote at times, meaning my backpack is generally rather heavy with food for up to six days and plenty of water. However, my effort is rewarded with spectacular ridge walkes, breathtaking views and lovely camping spots (while officially not allowed, wild camping in Italy is absolutely doable. Especially in the Ligurian Mountains and the Apennine I never struggle to find a spot). It's exquisite hiking and one of the best so far on E1.
Yet, as I come abeam Florence, I decide it's a good time to call it a thru-hiking year. 2500 kilometers, 70 days.
While I there'd be enough time to squeeze in another 500 kilomers, I feel like I hiked enough, I feel like doing something different than hiking. Simply being a completely normal tourist. Sightseeing, exploring the Italian culture and cuisine, enjoying the company of other people.
Geographically, Italy is a long country. Despite hiking 600 kilometers in Italy so far, I am still a long way from Sicily. As E1 is not fully completed yet, I don't have an exact distance but if I hike the whole length of Italy and Sicily I still have around 2000 kilometers through undulating terrain ahead of me. Work and physical condition permitting, I hope to be able to complete E1 by 2023.