Trust me when I tell you that the roads in virtually every kingdom under the sky are a miserable disgrace and a curse upon the weary traveler. I have traversed pathways so degraded I wouldn’t force a mountain goat to meander them. These roads are crumbling, dangerous, waterlogged, and often harassed by robbers. They exist almost as if to boast of what mankind can accomplish through centuries of neglect.
Why just last month while traveling from Florence to Siena, a mere 50 miles, 20 of the 24 mules I set off with did not survive the hellish roads. The journey itself took me two weeks, averaging four miles a day.
Now, although I shall focus here today on roads which are by far the worst, there are some very fine roads that shine as a beacon to what heights overland travel can aspire to. One such road is the King’s Highway in the Kingdom of France. This leveled, paved road is wide enough to accommodate four carriages traveling side by side! Alas, the road only connects the King’s palaces to his favored hunting lodges and would be of no use for trade, travel, or communications. What’s more, the road is banned to any other than the King and his household. By orders of the King all intruders are to have their right arm cut off from the shoulder. Still, it’s truly an impeccable pathway.
Having now given you a taste of the most heavenly of roads in our universe, I shall now warn you away from those most hellish.
The Tsarskabrskaya Passage
Some of the world’s most detestable roads are to be found in areas of the Kingdom of Russia not yet overrun by Tartars. If you were foolish enough to travel swampy wastelands dotted by small backwards hamlets between Arkhangelsk and Tarzhok (since burnt by Tartars) as I did in grand style to inaugurate my 35th Birthday, you would find that someone very long ago, for some strange reason decided to build a series of disconnected pathways. These pathways, if you could call them that, are leveled tree trunks that have been covered with soil. It is at best a treacherous path and often veers into swampland as if in a slap to the face from centuries ago.
In the span of our two-month journey I can confidently assert that we came across more skeletons by the side of the road than people actually on it.
The Klusendorf Byway
Once while visiting Munich I was stricken with such a debilitating toothache that I came close to seeking treatment from one of the witch doctors that dominate the medical profession of the city. A friend of mine once had a thumbnail ripped off to treat a boil that had appeared above his eye. He would later die of the infected boil or the thumb wound. I cannot recall which.
As it was, Augsburg, arguably the dental capital of Europe, was just a short carriage ride to the west. The Blauswig Path not said to have been improved since Roman times was the most likely route to take but passed through a war zone. The Klusendorf Byway seemed like my only option. If someone had dug wide trenches separated by five feet of muddy path for fifty miles you would have the Klusendorf Byway. Despite the fever and agonizing pain I was in, I found walking alongside my carriage a better option than to be thrown about inside of it. Additionally, even in my weakened state I outpaced the struggling carriage to a staggering degree.
Weeks later when we arrived in Augsburg the tooth had fallen out on its own. All that was left for me upon arriving was to appreciate the fine local wines and stews the city is known for.
The Desert Path
From Sijilmasa on the frontiers of the Almohad Caliphate’s territory in North Africa, there is a road that apparently leads to nowhere. It is a dry, sandy path. Being a desert path it is not even slightly muddy on account of scarcity of water. Of course I was not foolish enough to follow its course into the great oven that is the Sahara Desert.
Some will tell you that the road leads to the mystical city of Timbuktu that is governed by children, rare spices grow everywhere like weeds, and thunderbirds prowl the sky carrying off oxen and occasionally even full grown men.
I however prescribe to the notion that the road was built as a form of population control whereby the foolish and greedy could be lured into the desert. No one I have ever known that has traveled that way has returned. Still the prospect of rare spices would be a draw. Be sure to pack extra water and beware of thunderbirds.
When I travel there is what I love more than anything is to admire the beautiful scenery. There’s nothing like an awe inspiring coastline of jagged rocks, or a forest awash in the shades of autumn, or towering mountains capped by ice and snow. That is why I would advise against Roger’s Road. The Norman rulers of Sicily have had a habit for quite some time of lining the side of what is their only major road with severed heads atop pikes. This was an unfortunate road to take after celebrating my third wedding, as I was in a lofty mood. My new wife refused to be intimate in such gruesome surroundings.
Furthermore, while Roger’s Road may actually wind through some beautiful landscapes, all I remember are thousands of severed heads.
Just stay away. If you are foolish enough to travel into Tartar-controlled territories you will likely sink in the muddy quagmires that they call roads. If you should survive the roads, those that engineered them will feed you to their dogs. Then they will eat their dogs and have marmot for desert. But then again, I would never try to talk anyone out of visiting Kiev in the springtime.
In many parts of Germany semi autonomous princelings exert their marginal power by instituting tolls to cross their insipid little hillocks. Why one can travel from Aachen to Dorpmunde (stay away—hotbed of plague) and literally pay the life earnings of a skilled tradesman!
Then to cap it all one must suffer bears, wild boars, bandits, impassable roads, collapsed bridges, and suffer as I have already complained about in Sicily, tens of miles of path lined with severed heads.
Now toll roads are a major inconvenience but should you have no choice to take one, dress as a priest. Holy men are exempt from such tolls. Of course keep your servants armed. My propensity for foul language has unmasked the façade on several occasions and brute force proved to be my only method of traveling such roads without putting a serious dent in my pocketbook.