Many travelers will tell you that the worst time to visit a popular travel destination is in or around the time that it has been devastated by war. I would tell you the exact opposite. Once you get past the fact that months or years of war has deforested, depopulated, debeautified, and stripped the inhabitants of whatever wealth they had scrabbled there is still much to enjoy. It is cheap to visit these places. With all the vacant housing why stay at an inn! You get to avoid the crowds and really connect with a place on a personal level. With any luck you can use some of these tips before the region is rehabilitated, subjected to further war, or occupied by Tartars.
Stay Out of Areas Where Conflict
It is best to visit areas when conflict has ceased completely. If there are two hostile armies in a region it’s smart to stay away. Some would say there’s something idyllic about visiting a war zone—the clash of arms and all that. Observing the sublime folly of man bringing the world to ruin may be a larf, but it’s not such a larf when you are pressed into the service of the Guelphs and obliged to dig entrenchments for two weeks before deserting. Be aware that foraging parties of soldiers would have no qualms about robbing and murdering you either.
Sell Fake Relics
Religious fervor often follows in the wake of the misery of prolonged war. Such a shame that the uninhibited licentiousness of so many of my favorite places have been altered to piety in the form of continuous prayer, hymns, self flagellation and other such bothersome practices. Nevertheless there is opportunity in the gullibility of these altered characters. You would not believe the amazement these people have for chunks of wood or nails from their Lord and Savior’s cross nor for the vast sums of money they would spend to attain such fraudulent items. If you don’t take advantage someone else will.
Avoid Areas Crawling
When ill fed, underclothed, mercenary soldiers from all over Europe group together plague is almost inescapable. Once while traveling near Halberstadt I was pleased to hear that the Count of Lorraine who had been besieging the settlement had retreated in disorder and the town was again free. Upon entering I got the strong sense that the town was engulfed in plague by all of the death that surrounded me. I was only convinced when the town’s most famous chef dropped dead at my feet while serving me turnip stew. I left town immediately and began to treat myself by refraining from drinking water and stopped wearing boots altogether for several days on my hike (it was late autumn). Nevertheless I still almost died of fever. Thus, you can never be too safe when it comes to plague.
Don’t Flaunt Wealth
Inhabitants of war torn regions are usually desperate and angry. They have been systematically robbed by various armies for months and years and are in no mood to observe an outsider arrive in a stage coach led by six horses, and then gallivant around with an entourage of chefs, servants, astrologers, and acrobats. I made this mistake while visiting Picardy after the entire province had been devastated repeatedly by incursions from the Danes and the Thuringians. The best food, the best wines, and the best entertainments were flaunted in front of these poor people and, naturally, they set out to rob and murder me. Luckily they stormed the wrong chateau and savagely pummeled a merchant from Flanders looking to expand his wool market. By the time they realized the confusion I had already heard what was taking place and had escaped with all of my belongings. That the merchant later died of his injuries should encourage you all the more to conceal the extent of you prosperity.
One of the greatest things about traveling in war torn regions is the profusion of battlefields. The victorious army or the locals have already stripped the dead of whatever valuables they had, but in such desperate times much can be overlooked. I’ve found all sorts of weapons, slightly damaged armor, amulets, coinage, and made a killing redistributing them. Once, I even found the signet ring of the Duke of Montmorency while scavenging a battlefield in the Palatinate. I used the ring to convince the Duchess of Montmorency in a series of letters to send valuables, horses, and equipment to me serving as an agent for her husband in Speyer to then convey to him. The scam continued for months. When the Duchess learned of my ruse she sent out an edict offering a bounty to anyone that tore out my tongue. I had to lay low for a while but luckily the Duchess died of plague within a short time and I was soon free again to live in style.