After blissful sleep Friday night in our lovely hostel room—including a loft that held two of the five beds, a real thrill for our 5-year-old—we awoke on Saturday morning with good intentions of getting groceries and seeing a bit of Bregenz and the various special events taking place. Instead Andrew and I spent the whole morning blazing away on our respective computers trying to get things done that the normal course of pilgrimage days does not permit. Only at 1 p.m. did we finally emerge from the fog and declare our intention to get out of the room at last.
But it was exactly then that the door flew open and in burst our dear Aussie friends Phil and Marianne and their three boys, also resident in Strasbourg these days. I’m not sure whose expression was more amusing, mine of dumbfoundedness or my in-laws’ of smug satisfaction at having kept such a secret from us. Zeke was delighted to see his three pals too (not least of all because they brought along a late birthday present of Playmobil dinosaurs) and all our plans very happily changed. We wandered out and found a local vendor selling Backhendl (baked chicken in the local style) so we bought a flock and sat in the park on the edge of Lake Constance enjoying good food and company. After that Andrew and I had to devote a couple more hours of our time to the idol of the internet at a café; the rest of the evening was spent playing in the hostel toyroom with Legos and just lounging around and chatting. We didn’t know ahead of time that it was exactly what we needed, but it was.
Most of the next morning was dissipated in packing up with all the stuff we’ll need for the next 12 days till our next refill and meeting with Andrew’s parents before we realized that it was Sunday, and by the time we realized that, it was too late to do anything about church. We hoped for the same happy blessing as last week in finding evening church, but it didn’t happen, so we made do with our usual morning and evening devotions and listening to Bach’s Mass in B Minor instead. We said our last goodbye to Zeke and Roger and Ginny in Bregenz (when we meet again they’ll be along for the rest of the trip). Phil walked along with us for the first 10 km and we introduced him to the pleasures of whacking the ubiquitous pink touch-me-nots, whose seed pods explode on contact. If it’s possible to be brilliant at considerateness, then Phil and Marianne are: they had brought us fresh bread, Provençal nougat, and Strasbourg cookies, a packet of dried mango slices (our favorite dried fruit), and some hand cream for me (the sun and wind are pretty hard on the skin, and I was getting fed up with my tiny hiker’s pot of Vaseline)—and during the 10 km accompaniment, Phil pushed their youngest’s stroller holding not their youngest but our backpacks. Wow, 10 km without anything hanging off our shoulders… it was amazing. And a foretaste of Italy, when we can ditch most of our stuff in the camper van and walk a little lighter. Not to mention more authentically—Luther and his companion were allowed a knife and a small bag, nothing more. Smart friars.
Sunday was also remarkable in that it was the first really glorious day we’ve had after four weeks on the road. The sun was bright and warm, it wasn’t too breezy, and for once we weren’t cold. The land is a perfectly flat flood plain ringed round with mountains, devoted now to corn and cows. At every turn the fields were covered with pale purple autumn crocuses. Once we saw an emerald-green lizard poking his head up through a crack in the pavement (until a cyclist whizzed by and nearly decapitated it).
This was in stark contrast to some of the small towns we passed through. Most things are closed on Sundays, of course, but the McDonald’s in Hohenems seemed to cram in all of the local teenagers, that is, those of the local teenagers who weren’t roaring up and down the streets on motorcycles and scooters. (I guess it is possible to get bored with the gorgeous scenery after a lifetime of looking at it.)
After 28 km we pulled in for the evening at Gasthof Adler, welcomed by the very friendly local family curious to hear all about our trip and expressing, as many people have on our trip so far, that the differences between Lutherans and Catholics really aren’t all that great (which perhaps means, not worth 1700 km on foot!). I sacked out pretty early, as I seem to be getting the cold now that Andrew’s just recovering from (prayers please!). Another night’s rest, another breakfast, another day of glorious weather—at last—and before long we were walking all the Rhine, out of Austria and into… Liechtenstein!