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Epilogue

Posted by on September 10, 2019

On Wednesday, 4 Sept 2019, I walked into the Central Train Station in downtown Oslo, Norway, bringing to a conclusion my walk across Europe.  The trek transited seven countries in 151 days, beginning in Athens, Greece on 7 January 2019.  The walk was all I had hoped it would be, and so much more.  In this Epilogue, I will provide some data about the trip and also a few thoughts on some of the observations I made while backpacking thorough the amazingly beautiful, but diverse, European countries of Greece, Italy, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  

First, a few statistics.  The 2314 mile (3724 kilometer) walk took 151 days, divided into two parts.  Part 1 began on Monday, 7 January, in Athens, Greece, and ended on 12 March in Verona, Italy.  During this 65 day period, Dave Alcorn and I walked 18 days across the Peloponnesian Peninsula and the mainland of Greece, ferried across the Adriatic Sea to the southern coast of Italy, and then walked 47 days through the heart of Italy.  We saw the beautiful shorelines of the Greek Isles, the Adriatic Coast of Italy, as well as Rome and Florence.  At the end of Part 1, we flew back to the U.S. for a 90 day break while observing the European Union’s restrictions on extended travel in Europe.  

On 11 June, I flew back to Verona and continued the walk, spending the next 10 days completing the Italian portion of the walk, including transiting Brenner Pass in the Italian Alps.  After Italy, it took only 5 days to walk across a very narrow stretch of Austria, including the beautiful city of Innsbruck. After Austria, I began a 46 day stretch through the heart of Germany, transiting the cities of Munich, Nuremberg, Hanover, Hamburg, and my favorite, Lubeck, located on the Baltic Sea.  But the highlight of Germany was definitely the many small Bavarian towns and villages I stayed in or walked through.  

After Germany, I took a short ferry boat ride to Denmark where I began my trek through the first of three Scandinavian countries.  Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen, was one of the highlights of the entire trip with it Baltic coastline and beautiful canals.  After a week in Denmark, it was on to Sweden, where I spent a little over two weeks walking along its North Sea coast and through the city of Gothenburg.  The walk ended in Oslo after walking five days in Norway.  

In all, the walk took me to seven countries, totaling 151 days, with 13 of those being days off to rest.  I stayed in 143 different hotels and ate out 453 times.  I averaged 16.9 miles per day on the days I walked, with the longest day being a 27 mile day in Germany.  I went through four pairs of shoes, and went to the doctor one time with an infected blister on my foot.  There were two places where I did not actually walk; both in Greece.  First, Dave and I took a ride in the back of a pickup truck for about a quarter of a mile to get past some aggressive dogs blocking our route on a remote road.  Second, we were unable to get past a girl collecting tolls at a tunnel that prohibited pedestrians.  We stood at the toll booth until two nice men gave us a ride in their car for three miles through the tunnel.  Other than that, plus the three ferry rides that transited waterways with no bridges, I walked all 2314 miles.  

Now for some thoughts and observations I made during my five months in Europe.  Please understand these comments are not based on any scientific data; they’re just my interpretation of what I observed and experiences as I crept my way through the seven countries I visited.  

First, Europeans are not addicted to their cell phones.  They don’t use them in public places like Americans do, and I can count on my fingers the number of times I saw someone looking at or talking on their cell phone while driving.  And that is based on me making eye contact with literally tens of thousands of cars and their drivers as I walked along Europe’s highways. 

Second, as I mentioned earlier in one of my journal postings, it was my general observation that most people in Europe do not attend church.  Most small towns have one church, usually in the middle of town.  Larger cities have several churches.  However, I walked through many towns during times when you would expect to see people at these churches and rarely did I see anyone there.  And I can’t remember seeing any churches in the suburbs; something you would call your local church.  

People in Europe, especially Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, are very disciplined about following rules and regulations.  Rarely did I see anyone jaywalking, running red lights, cutting ahead of people in line, drivers cutting off other drivers in traffic, not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, etc..  

Most people in Europe do not initiate conversation with strangers.  Rarely would someone greet me on the street by saying “Good Morning”, “Hello,” etc..  Only if I spoke first would they return a greeting.  However, if I initiated the greeting or conversation, people were very warm and cordial.  

People in Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, almost exclusively use plastic (credit card/debit card) vs. cash.  In Denmark, I could not find a single place to exchange currency.  Not even their banks have actual currency on hand.  The same held true for Sweden.  The only sources for actual money were a few money exchanges like Western Union or an ATM machine.  By the time I got to Norway, I didn’t even bother getting any of their currency.  I just used my plastic like everyone else.  

Southern Europe is very affordable; northern Europe is very expensive.  Beginning in Greece, hotels, restaurants, and anything else a tourist would want was inexpensive.  As I worked my way north, things got more expensive.  A $120 hotel room in the U.S. would cost $50 in Greece and $200+ in Norway.  

Food was plentiful and very good everywhere I went.  There were regional specialties in every country, but the one consistency in all seven countries I visited was Italian food.  There is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria in every town, big and small, in Europe.  And generally speaking, every country’s  local beer is cheaper to drink than soda, and in many cases, cheaper than water.  

There is absolutely no fear of random violence in the European countries I visited.  I discussed this issue with several people I met, including police officers, and they attribute this to the fact that there is no public gun ownership in most European countries.  It’s a cultural thing, and they just shake their heads in disbelief at the number of random shootings we have in America.  Their greatest fear is of being attacked by terrorist; not an attack from their own fellow citizens. 

People in Europe, especially northern Europe, ride their bicycles, walk, or use public transportation to get from point A to B.  For example, there are more bicycles in Denmark than automobiles.  And the public transportation systems, both busses and trains, are cheap, reliable, and on time.  I rode a bus 15 miles from one town to another in Sweden and we passed 17 bus stops, scattered all along the rural highway we were on, between the two cities.  This makes it possible for even those living in rural areas to use public transportation, and they do. 

Language is not a barrier in Europe.  Most people in the countries I visited spoke some English.  In northern Europe, almost everyone, regardless of age, spoke English as a second language.  For example, in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, students take four years of English beginning in first grade.  

Finally, I was surprised to find that all the countries I walked through, with the exception of Greece, are extremely agricultural.  Cash crops like wheat and corn are everywhere in Europe.  

In closing, I want to emphasize how cordial the people were in all seven countries I visited.  I never had an experience where I felt being an American in a foreign country was creating a barrier.  To the contrary, when I told someone I was from Texas, I always was greeted with the stereotypical conversation about cowboys, horses, and hot weather.  

So that puts a wrap on this 5 month long adventure in Europe.  I can honestly say it was every bit as rewarding as my walk across America in 2015.  I would highly recommend that any of you who have never been to any of the seven countries I visited to please go and visit.  You will be as highly enriched by the cultural experience as I was.  JB

Being greeted at the airport by granddaughters Bailey and Ava.

My airport greeting in Austin.

Back home again in San Antonio.

   

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E. Ridley Briggs
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E. Ridley Briggs

John, you are truly amazing! I mean, really, I don’t think there is another man in the world that would have done the planning, the expense, and the fulfillment of what you have accomplished. And the mission was to make sure that Aggie veterans of combat would forever have the incredible Aggie ring to wear . . . . . because you cared enough to make it possible. You make me proud, my friend!

Ann Kepner
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Ann Kepner

John, this adventure agreed with you! You never looked better! Thanks again for keeping us posted daily! It was a great ride! Ann