Where we are and where we’re going

We’re in the middle of a rough couple of travel days. Here’s our itinerary so far:

  • A six-hour drive that successfully got us from central Kentucky to Chicago. Our old minivan has been in the shop twice in the last couple of weeks with a major repair scheduled for when we return home, so we’re thrilled we didn’t break down along the way.
  • A six-hour flight from Chicago to Reykjavik that was delayed 90 minutes due to a medical emergency by a passenger. We just barely made our connecting flight.
  • A three-hour flight from Reykjavik to Amsterdam.

After half a day wandering the city, we’re currently on a train ride (all four kids fell asleep within five minutes of boarding) from Amsterdam to Düsseldorf, with hopes of making a midnight train that will take us overnight from Düsseldorf to Munich. But since our train out of Amsterdam was twenty minutes late, that may create a cascade of modifications to our itinerary, which takes us through Germany, Austria, and Italy on Tuesday. Our hope is to stay at a monastery in Venice tomorrow night. All told, we’ll not enjoy a bed between Sunday morning and Tuesday night.

Still, this is nothing compared to the inconveniences, dangers, and outright hostility encountered by pilgrims a millennium ago. According John Ure in his fascinating book Pilgrimages: The Great Adventure of the Middle Ages, highway robbers haunted the thick forests of Europe to victimize pilgrims. Bogus pilgrims struck up acquaintances with real pilgrims, only to lead them into ambushes. Rapacious innkeepers fleeced pilgrims. Leaky boats crewed by irresponsible sailors jeopardized the lives of hundreds of pilgrims bound for the Holy Land from European ports.

Sometimes it was just merely uncomfortable. Hans Von Mergenthal reported in 1476 that “the sleeping space allotted to each pilgrim was so narrow, that the passengers almost lay one on the other, tormented by the great heat, by swarms of insects, and even by great rats that raced over their bodies in the dark.” This despite the fact that Venetian regulations required a berth a foot and a half wide per passenger.

Making everything more difficult was how hard it was to plan. It is difficult now to comprehend the degree of insularity of medieval life. Lords and peasants alike lived in tight communities and will little aware of outside activities and cultures. Maps were almost non-existent or deeply misleading. To go on a long journey was almost like staggering out into the night.

By contrast, we’ve googled the heck out of this trip to make things as smooth and efficient as possible. I’m so tired right now I can barely type out this post, but the insane logistical issues and unpredictabilities of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages swamp anything we’re dealing with.

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