A Long Walk Starts (and Ends) With a Step

I was just taking another look at Matt Gross’ Frugal Travel section of the New York Times and discovered that after writing the piece I published on 13 June he left the NYT. I wonder if he was so inspired by Paddy’s travels that he decided to take off and cover the whole route? Perhaps not. Here is his signing off piece from his NYT Blog.

By MATT GROSS

This weekend’s Travel section cover story — “Frugal Europe, On Foot” — is my last as the paper’s Frugal Traveler columnist. After four years of roaming the world on a budget, from Alabama and Albania to Uruguay and Urumqi, I’m taking a rest, and handing over the illustrious mantle to a new shoestringer, who’ll appear in this space next month.

But for my final feature, I wanted an adventure that would challenge me — physically, psychologically, culturally, linguistically, technologically, logistically and, of course, financially. Maybe a sailing adventure? Done that. A lengthy train journey? Done. A trek into the mountains? Done — on foot and on horseback. I’ve gone round the world, across America and grandly circled Europe, so what was left to be done?

The answer came in the form of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the 95-year-old war hero who’s known as Britain’s greatest living travel writer. His books “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water” chronicle his nearly penniless journey, in 1933 and 1934, from Rotterdam to Istanbul — on foot. And when I looked at the route he took through the remains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I realized I had an adventure in the making: a two-week walking tour that would take me from Vienna through Slovakia to Budapest.

Throughout 180 miles, I dealt with three official languages (German, Slovak, Hungarian) and some unofficial ones (Italian, English, French, Hebrew). I used maps both paper and electronic. I took inspiration from literature: not just Mr. Leigh Fermor’s books but also “The Unnamed,” by Joshua Ferris, “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy, “The Places in Between,” by Rory Stewart, and “The Long Walk,” by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). I found great bars and restaurants via Twitter and Foursquare — and through common, random luck. I walked till my ankles screamed, and sang to myself during long hours alone.

And when I met new people — as I did just about everywhere — I was amazed, again and again, at their spontaneous generosity, their willingness to feed, shelter and befriend a mysterious stranger attempting to do what few sane travelers would even contemplate.

In other words, I don’t expect you, my readers, to follow precisely in my blistered footsteps, but I hope this story — and all the Frugal Traveler articles I’ve written — will inspire you to set off on your own crazy adventures, confident in the knowledge that no matter how little money you have, the world will, if you embrace it fully, take very good care of you indeed.

Are you inspired? I know I am. It would be a nice idea if perhaps next year we could get a bunch of people together and walk some of the route. On the other hand perhaps it is best to do as Paddy did and make a solo attempt. If anyone has ideas on this get in touch with me tsawford[at]btinternet.com or post a comment below.

Related article:

Walking Paddy’s Route in Mitelleuropa: Frugal Europe, on Foot

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