Tuesday, 12 August 2014 00:00

A European Odyssey

Written by
European Peace Walk
Photo courtesy of Simon de Grève
European Peace Walkers en route to Italy


To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the European Peace Walk has set up a transnational walkway along the borders of Central Europe. Since 28 July groups of walkers have been embarking daily on a 550km journey from Vienna in Austria to Trieste in Italy. E&M's Frances Jackson caught up with Peace Walk participant Simon de Grève, a 22 year old engineering graduate from Belgium, whose group set out on 29 July.

E&M: How far have you got so far?

SdG:  We arrived in Croatia today and have walked about 250km over the course of the first 11 days, so we're almost half way and there is a really good atmosphere in our group.

E&M: Why did you decide to take part in the European Peace Walk? Did your decision have anything to do with the fact that you're from Belgium, a country that was so very badly ravaged by the First World War?

SdG: I finished my degree in June and for my last 'long holidays' I wanted to do something different or special before embarking on my professional career. A Spanish Erasmus student who I met during my final internship abroad told me about a 23-day walk that she was planning to attempt in August with some friends. I found the idea of the walk a really interesting personal challenge and eventually I decided to try the adventure myself. My internship in a foreign country also opened my eyes to people from other countries and I was looking for an opportunity to find other people who might share my interests and style of life. My decision to take part in this walk thus has nothing to do with the war, only with the expectation of meeting new people and a desire to test my limits and complete a challenge.

E&M: And what about your fellow walkers? What motivated them?

SdG: As far as I know, I think that they have quite similar motivations to me. Some of those who joined us from the first group to set off mentioned that many people in that group really were walking for peace and to remember the war, but it's a bit different with us. I came to the group together with three other 'young' people: two girls from Spain, aged 23 and 24 years old, and one from Belgium who's 21. We were expecting to meet more people of our age, but unfortunately the others are all over 40. This doesn't make the trip any less interesting, though; we've learnt a lot from them and they are really friendly.

E&M: Is the First World War present as a topic of conversation while you're walking?

SdG: We hardly ever talk about the war during our trip, but maybe it's different in the other groups. Up until now I've never talked about it for more than 20 minutes in total with any of the others. Instead, people usually tell stories about things they experienced on other walks, or we simply share the particularities of our own countries. We don't talk all day though; during the more difficult moments we often just walk in a row and keep silent. That offers us lots of time to meditate and think about life.

E&M: What did you hope to achieve by taking part? Do you really think that walking 550km will make any difference to pan-European relations?

SdG: Oh, I think this walk can change the relations between Europeans. Taking in part in such a hard adventure for more than 20 days with other people creates connections that you cannot forget. This walk and, I think, all the others of its type (for example the Camino Peace Pilgrimage in Spain) bring European people together with a shared goal and create really strong links and an understanding of each other. It is a really good experience.

E&M: What were you most looking forward to about the journey before you started?

SdG: I was actually really looking forward to meeting many people of my age from different European countries... So I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in the beginning. But now I see this trip differently: we are a group and we all want to finish the walk together; it's a kind of like a big family and everybody helps each other. My second expectation was being able to overcome myself and the challenge of covering 550km by foot. This one is still far from accomplished, but I'm starting to truly believe in it.

E&M: What has most surprised you so far?

SdG: I have been really surprised by the courage and the perseverance of the older people (some of whom are over 60), who never thought they'd be able to walk so far each day, but also by the wonderful welcomes we've received from local people when we arrive at our final destination of the day. They are always really enthusiastic and all devoted to us, it's amazing.

E&M: Would you want to repeat the experience?

SdG: I'll try to finish this first walk in one piece before starting to think about another! But yes, I think that in the future I'll participate again in events like this – I find the experience really enriching.

E&M: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Simon, and all the best for the coming days.


Last modified on Monday, 01 September 2014 17:03

If the Editorial team had an actual office it would have to stretch from the corner of Britain to the edges of Spain, Sweden, Germany and beyond. (With frequent trips to America too) .  The term 'from the editorial office' then, is very much a figure of speech. 

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