Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Leaving Aix-la-Chapelle along St James' Street (Jakobsweg, in German), it took less than two hours of walking - uphill through the 'three-country' nature park, to reach Belgium by foot. In the forest with a light dusting of snow, the only way to know that the international border was crossed was the change in the trailmarker color - red scallop shells in Belgium compared with blue in Germany a few dozen paces later, my location was confirmed by the disruptive 'beep-beep' of my cellphone announcing a new service provider.

Crosses, crucifixes, and other small monument line the trails. I saw one dedicated to pilgrims to Santiago. Votive candles with protective glass cases flickered in the cold mist. There was no sense of solitude - joggers, horseback riders, foresters, and elderly strollers were never far away. 'Buon Camino' said by some who saw my scallop shell; 'Servus' said by others - the general mountain greeting expressed in Germanized Latin.

Already it's clear. In comparison to my pilgrimage last winter to Rome - not nearly as popular a pilgrim destination as Santiago - I have the sense that I'm viewed as an economic opportunity by those lucky enough to have shops along the well-marked trail to Spain. The path to Rome is not marked. I ought to do what I can to get off the marked trails in order to avoid being a marketing target.

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