Monday, October 12, 2009

The Countdown Begins!

That first long climb of a rollercoaster brings together stomach-churning excitement coupled with the disarming reality that there’s no turning back. That's the sensation I had moments ago when I hit ‘send’ and confirmed the booking of my flight to Kyiv, Ukraine. Gulp! Yeah! (Gulp!) It’s far more real now than when I was just googling around for fares. I’m now committed to arrive in Kyiv on November 12th and plan on beginning the walk on November 16th. The countdown has officially begun.

Planning is high up there on the excitement scale of any trip, but the existence of a hard date makes it something of a race. There’s still a lot to be done: continue with the languages, understand as much as I can about the countries and regions I’ll be going through, obtain whatever letters of introduction I can, get my hiking gear in order, figure out an appropriate route… I should probably reread the Iliad and the Odyssey, maybe Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, while I’m at it… I could fill a month or a year with all of this preparatory stuff; it’s time to get on with it. The snow’s already flying here in Denver.

The pilgrimage will allow me to explore the route of St. Andrew, a peaceful guy of the first century. The legend behind his travels is as probable as the legends behind St. James, of Santiago de Compostela fame. Both were pretty young fellows, likely in their 20s, and illiterate fishermen. Andrew has the distinction of being the ‘first called’ to the apostleship, but I haven’t read anything about why he chose to go to the area north of the Black Sea, labeled as ‘Terra Incognita’ on the Roman maps of the day. Whatever his reason, it must have taken some combination of great faith and chutzpah.

I can imagine Andrew’s apprehension, though I don’t really share it. These days American’s don’t even need special visas to stay 90 days or less (I’m planning about 75) in Ukraine. Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece are all in the travel-friendly EU now, and I’ll be able to get a visa for Turkey at the border. The Terra’s pretty well Cognita-ed these days. I should arrive in Patras right around Easter. I’ll look forward to two Christmases this year – I’ll be walking through in an area that uses both the Eastern and Western calendars for religious events. In 2010, however, Easter is coincident on both calendars. Easier on the waistline (and gallbladder?).

The network of Roman roads in the first century would have given Andrew a path to walk on between the Danube delta and Patras (Greece) by way of Byzantium (Istanbul). It will be interesting to see if there are any remnants of these roads left, as I found between Germany and Santiago and Canterbury and Rome. Parts north of the Danube were roamed by nomadic tribes during Andrew’s day, although it seems there were permanent settlements. Among the northern-most of these was Trypillia. The legend seems to indicate that Andrew went up the Dnepr River, which empties into the Black Sea just west of Crimea, about 800 miles to Trypillia and talked with the locals about recent events down in Jerusalem. During one of his talks, he’s said to have stuck his staff into the ground proclaiming that ‘God will grace the land’. An eponymous church was later built on the site, now in the center of Kyiv (Kiev). So this will be my starting point – St Andrew’s Church.

The absence of Romans, and thus their lovely roads, only suggests that the Roman-style civilization prevalent in Western Europe will not have left a mark in the first half of my journey. In fact, the total 2,000-mile journey I’m undertaking can be divided by this distinction – the first half historically independent of the former Greek/Roman/Byzantine civilizations and the second half the heart of it. From the perspective of history, it will be very interesting to see how this influences the modern world.

Nonetheless, the differences between the varied regions will be more distinct than what I experienced in Western Europe. The languages, food, customs – it’ll be great! Я є паломника! (= I am a pilgrim.)


Amawalker said...

Buen camino peregrina! I'll be following your blogs again on this epic trek.
If you are planning on walking anywhere near the St Paul's Trail or the Lycian Way in Turkey you could contact Kate Clow who is responsible for those two trails.
Pilgrim hugs,

Compostelle 2008 said...

I loved reading your blog during your winter trail towards Santiago and I am looking forward to reading this pilgrimage also. I envy you a little bit. Enjoy!

Michèle from Ottawa(Canada)

Judith K. said...

Glad to hear that you got your flight... will follow your blog during the new pilgramage again. Enjoy and stay warm,
HUGS Judith & Edward

Debbie said...