126 days, 16 countries (passed or stayed in), around 17.000 kilometres of travel, more than 1000 kilometres on foot, 31 accommodations, 18 trains, ten coaches, seven cars, four planes, four boats, three ferries, three taxis, two bicycles, one motorbike, countless metros, trams and city busses, one pair of shoes, many hundreds of coffees, too many chocolates, no single cigarette and one – fortunately relatively minor – motorbike accident later I am at home. Finally.
Thankfully, a blue spot on my breast and the scratched knee remained the only wounds or illnesses on the whole journey – my gratitude goes to my guardian angel, whoever this might have been. That unsightly blue spot ironically resulted from my Fujifilm that I have fallen on in this particular accident – such a robust piece of a camera! 🙂
The most and warmest thanks though go of course to my lover and partner who not only supported this crazy idea but also have joined me for one month of traveling from Athens to Zagreb through the exciting Balkans. Anyway, I promise not to go on the road again that soon, at least not alone… ?
Needless to say that the whole trip was by no means something like a Cheryl Strayed outdoor experience of going to the physical limits, even if my two backpacks together could have been called Monster as well – not by size maybe, but by weight. Fortunately, I did not have to carry them all the way… puh!
It was also not an adventure in the classical sense. It is simply not possible to travel through Europe today like I did and call it then an adventure trip – at least not equipped with a mobile phone and a credit card. Therefore, everything is way too easy in Europe. I have never experienced hunger or thirst, I have never found me in an unsafe or dangerous situation and the bears who are supposed to live somewhere in the forests of the Balkans I haven’t spotted either.
Nevertheless, for me personally the journey was an exceptional adventure without any question – mostly happening in my head and due to so many little stories and encounters that I have experienced and made on the road.
No, seriously, I have met so many interesting, nice and very different people that this alone was worth the journey.
I had the chance to see some of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes and to enjoy the peace and the quiet of its fantastic and lovely countryside.
Furthermore, I also was able to visit many extremely vibrant and exciting cities…
…as well as incredible cultural heritage sites.
I do not want to hide the fact, however, that besides all the amazing beauty, the immense prosperity and Europe’s cultural diversity and richness I also witnessed some of the dark sides Europe can show as well – at least to some extent: Poverty, hopelessness, decay and injustice, sometimes even surrounded by a shameless accumulation of an enormous wealth.
Just to speak clearly: Those dark sides represent by no means just the legacies of a failed socialist era in East and South-East Europe but roughly as often they unmask the ugly face of an unleashed capitalism or simply of inhumanity. I have already dedicated an own blog post to one of my saddest experiences in that way here. But it’s not the time now for an in-depth analysis and a conclusion of the journey, for answering the initial questions I have formulated before I have started my trip or for a deeper thinking about the European identity. For all that I will take my time and write about those issues in several following posts.
Now it is about time to make a first personal summary about the path I myself have gone and about what it has taught me.
Even that is so diverse and so complex and of course it is not yet reflected at all. Be that as it may, for sure I can clearly obtain some first findings based on the experiences I have made on the road. Sometimes you just have to change your perspective to get another angle and thus another view on your live.
One of the most important and actually obvious findings – nevertheless being surprisingly hefty for me on most parts of my journey – is easiest to put into words with the title of a French movie: “Ensemble, c’est tout” (English title: “Hunting and Gathering”).
Even though I definitely much enjoy to be entirely on myself from time to time I have found it quite difficult to travel alone for such a long time – interestingly it was all the more difficult in cities being surrounded by many people than in the countryside or in the nature. There is a significant difference in being alone and being lonely and I felt too often lonely on my journey – especially when I wanted to share the very sad or the very exciting experiences I have made just now. I feel, moreover, that this sharing would improve my photography even if it’s sometimes not easy to find the time and personal space to make pictures while not being alone. To exchange views immediately after a first experience can help to give it another try though.
The second point that I definitely have underestimated is how exhausting this way of traveling sometimes can be.
Although it was never planned to be a holiday trip I have to admit that – at least on certain days – I was really longing for a nice and restful holiday in a fantastic country house somewhere in the southern-French province where I could let the things slide… 😉
The third and of course most important point directly relates to my general idea of a project-like journey and it also includes the impossibility of implementing my kind of photography within this approach – at least as I wanted to do it initially. I have already realized that issue in a very early stage of my journey and it has not changed till the end. To put it bluntly, I am still a little bit disappointed about both my photographic outcomes as well as about my thematic insights into the question of an European identity. But as suggested earlier, this has less to do with a failure, a personal weakness or a lack of effort than simply with a slightly underestimated complexity of things. Neither is it easy to find answers to my questions nor is it easy to transform them into pictures. Just as there are no simple answers to complex questions, a deeper understanding of social contexts does not work en passant. It costs a lot of time and it requires much patience. At least the former I simply did not have. Period.
So, do I regret having done the journey therefore? Finally, I have spend a lot of money for this idea and besides that it has cost me a huge amount of energy…
The answer is simple: No, I don’t regret it! I might not have found exactly what I was searching for, but I’ve got so many other things and new thoughts instead. And I definitely have opened a window to my own and personal view on Europe that will remain open in future…
… and, by the way, the one or the other picture that I have brought with me from this long and exciting journey should be quite suitable as well. 🙂