Paul Coelho writes in his book "On the Way of St. James", pilgrimage is a spiritual journey inward. But what is the inside? Where do I end up when I travel there? This question is probably asked by all pilgrims who are thinking about setting out for the first time. I also thought a lot about what the long distance walk would change in me. I planned, pondered and planned some more. And then I didn't want to think about it anymore, I just wanted to go. And that's what I did. In April, I left my hometown of Munich and hiked across Austria, Switzerland and France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The start of such a long journey on foot is not something you do without a doubt. Have I forgotten anything important? Do I really want to walk day after day for three and a half to four months? Will my shoes and my feet be able to cope with the five million or so steps? But the longer I was on the road and the more daily stages I hiked, the further away all these thoughts flew. In time, I became completely absorbed in the rhythm of my steps, could feel the sensuality of nature and concentrate completely on myself.
Shortly after I had conquered the highest point on my way, the Arlberg, I met an elderly lady in the Klostertal. She must have recognized a pilgrim in me. She approached me and we got into conversation. I can still remember what she said to me later: "Whether an ordinary long-distance hike becomes a pilgrimage is decided solely by the person who walks it. If you let yourself go for it, a pilgrimage leads you not only to a special place, but above all to yourself." Then she offered me a bed in her own house for the night. I accepted, glad not to have to look around first after the exhausting day's journey. At her farm I was served a wonderful dinner - home-raised veal with traditional dumplings and vegetables from the garden outside the window. I had not eaten so deliciously in a long time. For dessert we drank a good drop of wine together and tasted mountain cheese from a Klostertal alp. The difficulties of the last days were forgotten after this meal.
Somewhat melancholy I set off the next day. But just a few days later I met two other pilgrims who shared much of the rest of the way and interesting conversations with me. And at the end of the summer, I stood in front of my final destination, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Even today, I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think back to that moment of my long journey. But if I could choose just one moment to relive, I would repeat the evening at the farm in Klostertal, Austria. The hospitality of the farmer and her family, the interesting conversations about God and the world, and the wonderful regional food will stay with me forever. Because the "Way of St. James" continues to accompany you, even after your journey.
A short moment
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