The old town of Brugg, like so many of the smaller places on the trip at this time of the year, wakes with deep sharp shadows, and a sense that the entire population is still at the beach, somewhere else.
The clean, everything is so clean, perhaps this is why graffiti is so popular, pedestrian streets are empty as I walk to the station, under it, and off towards a Roman amphitheatre, about a kilometer away.
The ruins are significant, and do not seem to have been completely excavated yet. Tom doesn’t mention the Romans – here. And he is always keen to deploy his Oxford classics education. It makes me realise that all the way from Splungen the Romans have been with us; they’ve built hundreds of Rhine bridges in their time, though the only one to survive in a functioning sense until Tom’s time was at Rhinefelden, today’s destination.
Brugg emphasises the here and the not here. I begin to fumble a vague theory about Roman remains as they are considered in Tom’s time, the early years of the Seventeenth century. This is before the widespeard antiquarian movement, the Grand Shopping Tours of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. But it is after the Renaissance Boom in rediscovering and then teaching the classical texts. Perhaps, most crucially for us, it is 350 years before Darwin, 300 years before dinosaur bones meant something deadly for the Biblical narrative that saw the world as 4004 years old.
Were The Romans Tom’s concrete connection to his past? Did they stand-in for the textual illogicalities of The Bible, now being made available to local, vernacular, translations without (so much) danger to their authors and printers? Tom was now in a publishing hotspot, Gutenberg’s long shadow looming down from Zurich, Basel and the German cities and towns. He’s following – as far as I can tell – one or some of the main postal routes that connected, say, London to Venice, or Paris to Strasbourg. And postal routes leave traces, like the faded old holiday paperbacks that pepper the shelves of cheap hotels, everywhere, read and discarded.
Tom would have seen Shakespeare’s (and others’) Julius Caesar, the second best known global historical celebrity, after Christ. He’d know his history, through Justinian in Istanbul, Jerome, Aquinas, down to Luther, Bucer, Erasmus and, perhaps even, Montaigne.Did he feel the echo of some lost Roman soldier, as I feel the echo of Tom, and of seemingly every Western fault line, from religious persecution through intellectual rigour to the nascent stirrings of acceptance of what is now Romanticism and Nature.
Tom visited the Monastery here, a fine complex and a stirring church. This morning at 8am there are a group of men and women already dressed as Romans, I don’t ask why, it just fits my mood. Food has already been cooked on stones on the ground. BarBQ Breakfast the Brugg way. I walk back past a psychiatric hospital in the same grounds, and then through an Alphaville mid-town, all underpasses and railway sidings and post-modernist office blocks. Strangely perhaps everything looks great, unbrutalised. I’m mellowing into an enjoyment of all the typos of visual stimulation available. The Lynchian suburbs, the old towns and the modernist sprawls that have grown to accommodate population explosions, now that the great annihilating plagues that define Europe for hundreds of years are, seemingly, gone – thanks in part, no doubt, to the wonders of Swiss pharmaceuticals.
I see another MIGROS store, they have been everywhere since Thusis. Yesterday Roli and Norbert told me about this store/bank/everything. It gives 1% of its turnover, not profits, to Swiss culture.
I’ve also made my mental peace with cyclists, bikers, pretty much everything shy of Heavy Goods Vehicles flying down the autobahn too close to my wanderweg.
The sun is magnificently, Swiss Airly, out. I cross the river down near the medieval gate. I turn, it is always important to look back: it is the view of traveller coming the other way. Brugg: quietly calm on a Sunday morning.
I climb out of the town on a series of streets, the housing shifts for a while into decked apartments, each with a terrace, some covered now in lichen, that hug the hillside. It is a sublime day, the rain has gone, I am riverside soon, and striding out. Yesterday’s wet brings a moisture to the trees and grass. I walk on, as Tom must have, following the river.
25 kilometres to go: first scheduled stop Efiingen, about an hour and a half away. At ten I sit at a riverside bench and email Portia, recording in Los Angeles, perhaps still awake. I finish my water, Effingen soon.
Then I check my GMapp application on the IPAD. Soon a glowing circle shows me where I am, and my destination route. Fantastic: mobile technology at its best.
Except that I have walked down the wrong river, gone south, not north. Not quite GLost, but GPS-ly hopeless. I ask a couple for the nearest cafe. It is hot, they argue about its location. I cross the river, hop through some gardens and then some David Lynch Landscapes: no restaurant. Finally I follow the railway line to the station. I am in Bad Somewhere, and even here nothing is open. I shovel coins into a machine, buy and drink ice-tea, water and then some more. Plus chocolate: this is going to be an energy sapping day. Then I turn around, follow the river on the other bank until I see signs for Linn, once upon a time, today, a 45 minute skip from Brugg.
A measure of how badly I had done this morning can be judged by the fact that I crossed three hills, saw bird sanctuaries, nature reserves, stunning vistas that must have crossed national borders, met elderly bike and pillion Sunday seekers, Was that really the Himalayas I could see, it already felt like it. I bumped into joggers with IPODs who yell kein problem as I wheezed up another glided hill towards Linn. And I knew, in my heart of hearts, and in my thighs, that Effingen, the first stop, was less than a quarter of the way to Rhinefelden, and the lovely spa-facility hotel I’d booked last night online.
Linn has nothing but beauty, views, nature, wells, birds and nice houses. I reach Effingen at 2.03, only four hours late. Again, everything is closed, even the petrol station. I sit at the bus stop bench, turn on the IPAD and discover that the Orange Pay to Go is over. In some miracle of GPS the GMap application is still working. I check my directions, but instead of the walking options I get the public transport. A bus schedule appears, there is a bus to Rhinefelden, four changes, in four minutes.
The Devil works in Strange Ways. I stand, walk away and head down the street for the next town, and then the next. Off river now; and The Rhine won’t appear until late in the day. The bus passes me, on time of course. I make it to Brozen, it’s about three something and there is a restaurant that is open. It is run by an Indian guy. I sit and eat the best wurst and cheese salad swimming in salad cream, washed down with half a gallon of water. I sit outside, inside half the town is enjoying a big Sunday banquet. Men and Women in suits and skirts sneak out for a cigarette, clutching glasses of Gavurttraminer, well, anyway, sweet looking wines. Pudding time.
After half an hour when I stand everything hurts, but especially my thighs, which are in shocked spasm. Those hills, those vistas. I try out Norbert”s Physician Heal Thyself Massage techniques, through the pockets of my jeans. I feel rather decadent, hope I pass no children’s funfairs; it is as if I am auditioning for some Parisian Club de Frottage. But blimey! It works, a sense of hope returns to my legs. I march on.
Bus Stops, then Barnhofs become the temptation. But I keep going, roadside now, through this town and that. A Fair. A Market. Long sessions by the autobahn on the cycle routes. Scrabbled journeys up verges and banks to walking routes. Up – never down. Then, around five, Stein. I ask a couple for the route to RhineBaden, so tired am I that I get the name wrong. With Swiss politeness they say, “To Germany? Tonight? Good Luck.” We work it out and they tell me to go down from Stein station to the old town. I can pick up the Rhine there, walk its banks all the way.
At Stein station I buy more water and watch a mother drop off her son, in full fatigues, to catch the train back to barracks. Nobody looks happy. Yesterday Roli and Norbert told about their one year conscriptions, compulsory military service with the Swiss Army: both ended up in “communications”. Roli said: the first thing my officer told me was that if there was a war we, the comms guys, would be the first to die. The enemy would just dial up our crappy walkie-takes and bomb us.
Norbert remembered being in the mountains for three days, waiting for a signal from his team. It never came. They just forget about us. It was great, he said. I realise that I am travelling with better technology, and access to information, than anyone, including the military until not so long ago. We have come a long way. If only I could read a map, or follow the right river.
The sun has gone, and the clouds are out. How long until dark, I wonder? I see the Rhine, muddy and broad, down below. But what is obsessing me is the yellow sign at Stein station which informs that it is 4 hours and 45 minutes to Rhinefelden: that gets me into town at around 10-something at night.
I stay high; three more hills, and a curve. Go straight, it will be quicker, I decide. Climbing again, then cycle paths, horses, sheep. Rhine-Lost, of course, somewhere else again. I think it begins to get dark-dark at eight. The Sunday night autobahn traffic is hurtling home now. Still no signs for Rhinefelden, not even the 15 kilometres away warning for motorists. It is raining, lightly. At least my hotel has a spa, I can get a massage, Bond style.
A field, a horse and carriage, lurching towards me. All four occupants in raincoats. Now I am higher again, scrabbling with half-bent back between trees and a wire fence. But I have seen a sign for The Place. An hour later, and rather nicely, as the bells hit Eight, yes Eight, I enter the old Rhine town of Rhinefelden. The Romans had a bridge here, and the labyrinthine streets would be great if I had a pulse.
My spa-hotel, isn’t. My receptionist is Basel (sic) Fawlty. He picks up the phone as I approach and laughs manically for a couple of hours. Finally a key and a room. I fall asleep fuming that I can’t turn the television on. I have just walked 50 kilometres. I’ve tried to tell Blofeld the Receptionist, but he’s too busy laughing at an old joke, perhaps it was about mad Tom Coryate.
The Gods are with me. I’d planned to stay in Rhinefelden for another night, get a massage, write up a few days. Instead I have breakfast alone at 6.30am, then root around the town a bit, then I am walking – the Rhine and NOTHING BUT – fresh and un-aching, at seven. This club de Frottage thing has legs, as we used to say to the newspaper business. I am off towards Basel, it is Einfach. I can’t quite believe it myself.
And The Rhine is now so close I can touch it. Now that’s What I Call Wanderweg.
Basel’s marketing strapline is Culture Unlimited.
Sounds good, if a little Guardian 2002.