Tuesday, 19 December 2017

E3 through Eastern Europe: Conclusion

I have hiked 3,000 kilometres through Eastern Europe - mostly on the E3 route. Mostly, because there is no continuous E3 trail yet! Just one year ago a big gap was closed when Romania's "Siebenb├╝rgischer Karpatenverein" created a route through Romania which I have been "testing". There still is a gap in Serbia between the Danube and the start of the Kom Emine Trail in Bulgaria - and Serbia's hiking association has not been responsive at all in this respect. I ended up roadwalking that section.

Did I like this hike? Yes, definitely - but this hike has not been pure bliss either. Every hike has different aspects - and the E3 could score in many but was problematic in others. In the cultural and historical aspect this has been one of the most interesting hikes I have ever undertaken. On this route you are constantly confronted with different cultures, religions and languages - and you will learn so  much about European history! Francis Tapon called Eastern Europe the "Hidden Europe" - and it is true. As Western Europeans or Americans we do not know much about these countries which is a shame.

Landscape was sometimes really breathtaking especially in the Giant Mountains in Czech Republic or the Stara Planina in Bulgaria but generally speaking there are more spectacular trails in Europe. But on the other hand there were no really ugly or boring sections on the E3 either. Technically the E3 is easy - except for one or two "hairy" sections in Romania. You don't have to be a mountaineer - any halfway fit person can hike the E3!

The fun factor on the E3 extremely high due to various reasons. First of all all Eastern European countries are still much cheaper than the West. That meant for me that I could stay in hotels and eat out much more often than usual. And in all these countries hotel and restaurant quality was high! The route also takes you through very interesting places where I did a lot of sightseeing - again relatively cheaply. Not to mention the fantastic thermal baths in Slovakia and Hungary! This is a trail where you can really pamper yourself if needed and wanted - and I thoroughly enjoyed a little bit of luxury once in a while.

But this "cheap" living standards also has a downside: Romania and Bulgaria are the poorest countries in the EU. It was shocking for me to see in what conditions especially old people are still living in the countryside: no running water in the house, low pensions combined with high prices for food, rural depopulation etc. Not being able to communicate with people due to language problems was an extra mental challenge for me. I was confronted with lots of situations I could not "read": How do I deal with aggressive sheepdog? What do I say to the toothless ragged farmer whose first question is "are you alone?" Every potentially dangerous encounter turned out to be harmless - but I was unsettled. But I have to emphasize that this is only a problem in Romania and Bulgaria. In the Western half of this hike there were no such problems!

So would I recommend this hike to a friend? I can absolutely recommend the Western half to anyone, even to beginners in long-distance hiking. The Eastern half is truly fascinating and I am very glad that I have hiked it - but you need some determination and dedication to enjoy. If you don't have a special liking for Eastern Europe or want to explore something new then you are probably better off in Western Europe. But I myself, I will be back!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice pictures, useful information, interesting and sometimes exciting stories... wow! I had a great trip! Thank you, dunka!
dubrock ;-)