I was tempted to call this post “All You Need to Know About Walking the Italian Via Francigena”. However as we are all individuals, no doubt we all have quite different experiences of walking 1000km through Italy. Instead, this post has a more modest title.
Modesty aside, what I hope this post does achieve is a comprehensive summary of the planning, the actual experience on a day-to-day basis, and then the obligatory post-walk reflections. I also hope it saves you a bit of legwork as you tackle you own planning.
There’s a whole lot of mythology out there about walking a camino in Spain.
To you, it may appear to be an attractive romantic notion – out there strolling across the Spanish countryside, breathing in that fresh country air and restoring yourself at the end of each day with copious quantities of vino tinto.
It may also seem to be something well out of your comfort zone and far above your fitness levels.
This post will remove some of the mystique and hopefully a few barriers stopping you lacing up your walking shoes and joining the friendly flow of folk on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
It took a particularly wet and miserable Autumn day to keep me inside. As a rule I love rainy days as they happen so rarely in Australia and it was the perfect excuse to dust off my well-loved copy of the movie, The Way.
I put my hand up and admit that this is possibly my sixth or seventh viewing of The Way so obviously I am a bit of a fan. It never fails to create a sense of wanderlust and the urge to walk out my back door and just keep going.
But, how accurate is it? Does it really portray the highs and lows of walking the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain? Or is it all glossed over with a thick layer of Hollywood schmaltz?
A very good question and one I asked myself continually during our 17-hour visit.
White Cliffs, in Outback NSW, is located approximately 1 020km West of Sydney and 268km North East of Broken Hill. When we jumped in the car in Broken Hill to head towards our destination it was already 34°C and leapt to 38°C in three minutes and it was only 938am!
When you are heading down Hobart way, there are at least two must-see places:
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and
Salamanca is an area set slightly back from Hobart’s waterfront and wharf area. Its backdrop is a row of stunning old sandstone warehouses and on Saturday mornings, the foreground is chockful of market stalls.
Feel like a piece of chewy biltong? Want to buy some new socks?
Or how about a taste of the freshest and sweetest natural honey?
Like millions of other people around the World, I have had my travel wings severely clipped. By now I should be regaling you with stories about our Everest Base Camp adventure and dazzling you with photos of snow-capped mountains and breathtaking valleys. But, all our gear has been packed away, ready to walk another day.
I am the first to agree that my inability to travel is very much a ‘First World’ problem and there are millions of people around the Globe who have much more urgent and important issues to deal with.
Personally, travel brings me such joy and fulfilment that I do genuinely feel its loss and so I have decided that if I can’t travel physically, then I need to find a whole range of ways to travel mentally and emotionally.
I am a bit partial to wanders through lush, green spaces and nothing fits the bill better than a visit to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens on the edge of the Hobart CBD.
The gardens are one of Australia’s oldest, established in the early years of the colony over 200 years ago. While it may not be the size and scale of more famous gardens, it has a variety and beauty that makes for a very enjoyable couple of hours or a longer day out.
Like so many other people, my travel plans have been affected by the virus that is currently sweeping the World.
In a few short days I was to be lacing on my hiking boots and taking my first few tentative steps in the Himalayas, Nepal. But not anymore.
The backpacks have been unpacked and put away, and all the medicines and bits and pieces stored in a separate tub in the hope that the trip will be rescheduled one day. Ever the optimist.
While I am very disappointed, it is time to be a bit philosophical and grateful for all that I do have – a full belly, clothes on my back, a roof over my head, loving family and good friends. Many people don’t even have that.
So in the meantime I will focus on sharing my travels around Australia and have everything crossed that my next camino in Spain, scheduled for early May, comes off.
Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson! (For all the Lost in Space fans out there.)
Navel gazing post ahead!
March 2020 will see me celebrating, perhaps acknowledging is a more appropriate word, my four year blog anniversary and it’s time for a little reflection, and hopefully some interaction/feedback from your good selves.
Head West out of Sydney. West over the Blue Mountains. West through Dubbo and past Cobar until you nearly drive into Wilcannia. So far you are a mere 960km from the Sydney Opera House.
Turn left on a dusty, bumpy dirt road and head south-west from Wilcannia and after about 160 dry, sandy kilometres, with any luck you will hit the tar again and be enjoying the bright lights of the thriving metropolis of Menindee. Population 551 (on a good day).
Your next question, “Why on Earth would you want to visit Menindee?”
I have these fantastic visions of me being a super-fit individual with a trim, taut physique, but needless to say there is a vast gap between imagining and reality. The pressure is on though as it is only a few short weeks before we will be donning the down jackets and trekking to Everest Base Camp deep in Nepal’s Himalayas.
I need to transform this middle-age spread into a more compact form and dramatically reduce the number of blubbery kilograms that I must haul up endless mountains.
In the past I have shared a number of blog posts highlighting the growing trend of installing sculptures in every town, street, park or wherever you darn well please. I love that outdoor sculptures break down any barriers that may exist between art and the general public. Perhaps it is art by stealth? Who cares? It encourages anyone and everyone to interact with the pieces and instantly, everyone’s an expert!
There are few places in Australia that ‘do’ outside sculpture like the small rural New South Wales town of Walcha.
The Camino Primitivo will be the last official section of my 2020 Spanish Camino adventure.
This Camino itinerary will be a bit like a burger ‘with the lot’ as it combines a number of paths – Caminos Madrid, Frances, San Salvador, Primitivo, Verde, del Norte and then a final stint of the Frances down into Santiago de Compostela on the last day. All combined in an effort to see new parts of Spain and to avoid the camino hordes.
Broken Hill is located around 1 150km west of Sydney and 520km from Adelaide and is officially in the middle of Nowhere! Despite its remote location, the city does have a fascinating history (which I will share in a later post) and its other huge selling point is the depth and diversity of artistic talent.
It’s time to get off the beaten track a little with a visit to Wauchope. Not that Wauchope is remote or hidden away, but this town definitely lives in the shadow of its much larger coastal neighbour, Port Macquarie.
I have rabbited on in some recent blogs about how the drought in Australia is crippling farmers and their surrounding communities. Some regions have not had any useful rain (more than a couple of millimetres) in over two years. Needless to say, like the dams and paddocks, farming income has completely dried up.
Often the face of the drought is a devastated farmer standing brokenhearted in a completely barren landscape. What many people don’t consider is the flow-on impact on the rural towns and the many small businesses that make up the fabric of these communities. When farmers have no money to spend, the cash flow also dries up for rural supply businesses, hairdressers, supermarkets and gift stores etc.
In an effort to support rural business, a social media campaign has kicked off to buy from the bush (#buyfromthebush, @buyfromthebush), encouraging everyone to source their Christmas gifts from retailers and producers located in rural, regional and remote Australia.
On a recent visit to the small New South Wales (NSW) town of Walcha, I rolled up my sleeves and made a concerted effort to inject a little bit of cash into the local shops.
The Camino Madrid will be the first stage of my 2020 camino adventure. I am combining three main camino paths with a sprinkling of Camino Frances, Verde and del Norte for good measure, and then making it up a bit towards the end by going cross-country.
These plans always sound fabulous in theory, but it takes a fair dose of sweat and determination to find out how they work in practice. I will take each day as it comes and will be doing my best Doris Day impression as I ‘que sera sera’ through the Spanish countryside. A scary thought if you have heard me sing!
When I am on the road somewhere, it is easy to sit in the car and just drive. The concept of the ‘journey’ goes out the car window and the focus is on the destination at any cost.
For years I have been driving North from my home town, zipping through some scrubby, unattractive bush and straight past the turn off for the site of Hands on Rock. As the name indicates, there are hands and rock, but it is so much more than that. It is a stunning introduction to some classic Aboriginal art and culture right in my own backyard.
For us southern hemisphere dwellers Spring is here and Summer is threatening just around the corner. As soon as the weather warms my thoughts go to lazy BBQs and outdoor dining, and something cool and refreshing in my hand.
When I saw the promotion for a local ‘Gintelligence’ class, I thought that this was definitely something I needed to learn more about. Who knew that getting educated could be so much fun?
With a fellow gin-lover by my side, we rolled up our sleeves and poured ourselves into the history of gin.
Book Title: The Valley of the Assassins And Other Persian Travels
Author: Freya Stark
Promotional Blurb: Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.
Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society.
Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view. Source Continue reading →
Australia is blessed with an abundance of beaches. I guess that comes with the territory as Australia would be the World’s largest island if we weren’t classified as a continent!
Many visitors to Australia make a bee line to Bondi or Manly beaches on Sydney’s outskirts or head straight to Queensland’s Gold Coast or further North to Cairns and the Barrier Reef. Yes, these are all very picturesque destinations, but they represent only a very small selection of the endless beach beauty that can be found all around our coastline.
To me, beaches are more than long stretches of sparkling white sand. They become magnets to walk, swim, sail, fish and be dazzled by all sorts of bird and sea life.
Growing up on a farm, when things were good and the seasons were kind, we would escape to the beach for a dose of salty sea air and sand between our toes. Invariably the road would take us North to the North Coast of New South Wales (NSW) or even further north into the glitz and bling of Queensland’s Gold Coast.
It is only now that I start to discover the gems I missed out on tucked away on the South Coast of NSW.
If you are visiting Sydney and feel the need to escape the towering buildings and concrete jungle, then include this short stroll on your itinerary. It is sure to blast out the cobwebs with salty, sea air.
As the title says, this post describes the third section of the Bondi Beach to Manly route, this time from Rose Bay to Darling Point. As this stage was my third for the day, I actually cut it a bit short as after +25km, the ol’ legs were starting to protest.
Interested in more stunning views of Sydney and palatial homes?
As the title says, this post describes the second stage of the Bondi to Manly Coastal Path, this time from Watsons Bay to Rose Bay. Of the three stages I completed on a sparkling June day, this was my favourite.
For background on this 80km path and to start from the ‘beginning’ check out my post about Stage 1.
By now you may have gathered that I am happy to travel anywhere, anytime. I reckon I could pack for an international trip in less than ten minutes and not leave anything important behind.
As I am always rabbiting on about all the wonderful places I go and experiences I enjoy, I thought I would challenge myself to write a post discussing places I would NOT return to or travel to in the first place…
Trips to Sydney, colloquially referred to as The Big Smoke, are few and far between for me these days. When I do undertake the four-hour drive it is often a fleeting, overnight trip and I am more than ready to make my escape back to the bush.
This changed in early June when I had an opportunity to spend four days just playing tourist. What a luxury and novelty. One of the things on my bucket list was a visit to the Archibald Prize for Portrait Painting at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney.
I’m no artist, but I do enjoy opening my eyes and mind to new and creative things.
March 2019 saw me notch up my three year blogging anniversary. Yes, that is long time to be sending my waffly words out into the ether, but it has also been an interesting, challenging and rewarding experience from this side of the computer.
If you are thinking about getting into the Blogosphere, here are a few tips and tricks that I have learned along the way…
Book Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru
Author: Dervla Murphy
Promotional Blurb: The eight feet belong to Dervla Murphy, her nine-year-old daughter Rachel and Juana, an elegant mule, who together clambered the length of Peru, from Cajamarca near the border with Ecuador, to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, over 1300 miles to the south.
With only the most basic necessities to sustain them and spending most of their time above 10,000 feet, their journey was marked by extreme discomfort, occasional danger and even the temporary loss of Juana over a precipice. Yet mother and daughter, a formidable duo, were unflagging in their sympathetic response to the perilous beauty and impoverished people of the Andes.
In this extraordinary adventure, Dervla Murphy is at her intrepid best, facing up to the terrors, horrors and joys of her journey along the mountain paths. Source
My Thoughts: To date, I have not travelled anywhere in South America and have read very little about this continent. Spotting this book in a second hand bookstore was the perfect opportunity to remedy this situation. The fact that the book was about a walking adventure made it even more appealing!
This is an eye-opening read. Their bravery or downright foolhardiness is as breathtaking as the scenery they scramble through. I do not know if I am more in awe of Dervla for her unquestioning belief that walking 1300 miles through the Andes is an interesting and enjoyable way to spend ten weeks of your life OR her daughter Rachel who merrily and uncomplainingly traipsed along after her mother. The adventurous spirit must be a genetic thing and I suspect you could count on one hand the number of other nine year olds in the World who would willingly follow a parent through such terrain and under such conditions.
Murphy is quoted as saying, “the hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security”. Wise words.
Amidst all the blood, sweat and tears, Murphy waxes lyrical about the breathtaking natural scenery and at times, struggles to find enough superlatives to describe what she is seeing. Luckily for the reader she knows to check herself and balances much of the floral prose with snippets of historical information as they follow the path of the early Spanish conquistadores.
A really enjoyable read that is a good mix of adventure, stunning landscape, human mishaps, history and reflections about colonial invasion. I gave it 8/10.
Author bio: Dervla Murphy was born on 28 November 1931 of parents whose families were both settled in Dublin as far back as can be traced. Her grandfather and most of his family were involved in the Irish Republican movement. Her father was appointed Waterford County Librarian in 1930 after three years internment in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne. Her mother was invalided by arthritis when Dervla was one year old.
She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was fourteen, when, because of the wartime shortage of servants, she left to keep house for her father and to nurse her mother. Dervla did this for sixteen years with occasional breaks bicycling on the Continent.
Her mother’s death left her free to go farther afield and in 1963 she cycled to India. There she worked with Tibetan refugee children before returning home after a year to write her first two books.
Dervla Murphy’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Over 20 other titles have followed. Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer. Source
The light was starting to soften and the breeze picked up as we zipped up our jackets and tucked in our scarves. Although Summer was just around the corner, it was still definitely wintery as we strode across the ochre sand of the Thar Desert.
We had driven about 40km further west out of Jaisalmer, and 40km closer to Pakistan, to enjoy a night in a ‘luxury’ desert camp and the obligatory sunset camel ride. This was all part of our Webjet package tour and would prove to be one of the more memorable activities during our visit to India.
You know, it’s not such a quantum leap from being a walk-for-health-and-enjoyment walker to becoming a let’s-walk-900km walker! You simply do the same things day after day, as you slowly move from point A to B.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the required change in mindset and here are some tips to help you develop the confidence to step out and step up to a big walking adventure…
Well, I don’t hate cooking, but if I had the option I would prefer to watch paint dry than have to think about ‘what’s for dinner’. So, it was with no little trepidation that I voluntarily agreed to participate in an Indian cooking class.
I believe that you need to be a committed optimist to truly enjoy international travel. If you stopped and thought about all the things that could possibly go wrong as soon as you step outside your front door, you would never leave home.
On the other hand, perhaps we need the occasional travel disaster to make us appreciate all the fabulous things about setting out on an international adventure. Continue reading →
Last year I took on the biggest physical challenge of my life – the Italian leg of the Via Francigena pilgrimage trail. Over a period of 40 days, I covered 1 046.9km (yes, that 0.9km is very important) and there were many days when I really questioned my sanity!
However, now that seven months have passed and, I imagine a little like the pain of childbirth the hard times have faded, I may be able to assess the whole thing a little more objectively… Continue reading →
Those graceful white sails are instantly recognisable. They soar away from the city and out towards the harbour, floating above the home of quality Australian music and performance.
There was a happy buzz around Circular Quay as we strolled towards the Sydney Opera House. The young and groovy were just starting to come out to play and international visitors were surging to see the iconic scenery lit up at night.
Us? We were about to experience some world-class jazz.
Book Title: On The Trail of Genghis Khan – An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads
Author: Tim Cope
Promotional Blurb: The relationship between man and horse on the Eurasian steppe gave rise to a succession of rich nomadic cultures. Among them were the Mongols of the thirteenth century – a small tribe, which, under the charismatic leadership of Genghis Khan, created the largest contiguous land empire in history. Inspired by the extraordinary life nomads still lead today, Tim Cope embarked on a journey that hadn’t been successfully completed since those times: to travel on horseback across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe, from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary.
From horse-riding novice to travelling three years and 10 000 kilometres on horseback, accompanied by his dog Tigon, Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaus, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians. Along the way, he was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and told him their recent history: Stalin’s push for industrialisation brought calamity to the steepe and forced collectivism that in Kazakhstan alone led to the loss of several million livestock and the starvation of more than a million nomads. Today Cope bears witness to how the traditional ways hang precariously in the balance in the post-Soviet world. Source
My Thoughts: I had heard about this book many, many years ago and it sat in my To Be Read pile for the same amount of years. I had to get my mind ready for an epic journey – ready to tackle an adventure of this size and scale.
This IS an adventure to beat ALL adventures!
Throughout the book I was boggled by Cope’s ability to withstand the searing or freezing temperatures, the constant threats to personal safety and his ability to survive on a diet heavily laced with camel’s head and pig fat, and all washed down with a never-ending stream of vodka.
I like to think I am a fairly adventurous soul, but I am positively pedestrian when compared to Cope. His journey from Mongolia to Hungary was an exercise in pure resilience. I was blown away by Cope’s passion for the journey and the history of the regions he passed through and its people, and his sheer stamina to do it day after day even under constant threat to his safety.
Cope’s passion for adventure is balanced by his love of history and his book is littered with background information on the Mongols, Cossacks, Russians and Tatars. It was the impact of the Russians which really opened my eyes. Their systematic programme of ethnic cleansing all but wiped out the individual cultures and replaced it with bland and severe Soviet architecture, social and political systems, Russian language and a seemingly limitless stream of vodka. It has just broken the identity of so many countries and it makes me wonder if they will ever recover. Amidst all the desolation and cultural devastation there were small pockets of resistance and I hope they can find a foothold and eventually blossom.
I must admit that I did lose track of some of the history and it all got a bit confusing at times, but that is more of a comment about me than Cope’s writing.
Another thing I have been wondering is whether this sort of adventure is still possible today. We live in such an incredibly connected world these days, is it possible to truly go ‘off grid’ like Cope did?
Also, with so much political tension in the World, would it be possible to move from country to country like Cope did, although I acknowledge that this was not straight forward for him either 15 years ago.
It has certainly tweaked my interest to travel to some of these little known countries.
If you like an adventurous read that makes you think AND opens your eyes to both history and ancient cultures, then make sure you track down a copy of Cope’s epic.
Author bio: Born in 1978, Tim Cope, F.R.G.S., is an award-winning adventurer, author and film-maker with a special interest in the traditional cultures of Central Asia and Russia. He has studied as a wilderness guide in the Finnish and Russian subarctic, ridden a bicycle across Russia to China, and rowed a boat along the Yenisey River through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. Tim’s most renowned journey was a three year journey by horse from Mongolia to Hungary on the trail of Genghis Khan. He is also the creator of several documentary films, including the award winning series “The Trail of Genghis Khan,” (commissioned by ABC Australia and ZDF/Arte in Europe). Tim lives in Victoria, Australia, and annually guides trekking journeys to remote western Mongolia for World Expeditions.Source
You may have seen the print and other ads for the Webjet tour business and wondered if they were too good to be true. The prices seem incredibly low and chockful of meals, entrance tickets and other add-ons, making you wonder, ‘how can they do it’?
Since 2013 I have walked three caminos, all concluding at Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. The ever-popular Camino Frances was my introduction to the wonderful world of long distance walking. Bitten by the bug, I returned to Spain for the Via de la Plata from Seville in 2014 and then stepped out on my own on the Camino Portuguese from Lisbon in 2016.
With all those caminos under my belt I thought it was time to break out of Spain (J) and, for something different, last year I walked 1046.9km through Italy on the Via Francigena.
But what is the difference between the two? And which is the right one for you? Continue reading →
Each day brings exciting, and sometimes challenging, new sights, sounds and smells.
We are now down in southern Rajasthan at the romantic white city, Udaipur. In the last week we have: • been stunned by the living city inside the Jaisalmer Fort, • ridden camels across the sand dunes of the Thar Desert and walked bow-legged for a while afterwards!😉 • listened to soothing chakra music in the imposing Mehrangarh Fort and • stood amused and confused in the colourful chaos of the old Jodhpur bazaar. • bumped and jiggled and rattled over the back roads to soaring Jain temples, • edged slowly through, joyous singing and dancing weddings and • had more selfie photos taken than I have had hot dinners! • Laughed at the traffic and the ability to fit a complete car chassis in the back of a small tuk tuk, • Visited a small desert school to drop off some school supplies. The children stared at us as if we had dropped in from out of space, but hopefully the pens and pencils will be useful. • Stared open mouthed at the opulence of the City Palace in Udaipur, and • Watched the golden walls of the Palace glow at sunset as we bobbed around Lake Pichola.
More accurately, we are not in little ol’ Mudgee anymore. Instead we are in a car driving through the depths of dusty Rajasthan, India.
Today will be day five of our Opulence of Rajasthan tour and I am struggling to put into words all that we have seen. India is such a land of contrasts – from gobsmacking beauty to heartbreaking sadness, and always an eye opener.
Our little traveling party of three women, and our patient driver, left New Delhi on Monday. We have been working our way eastwards and arrived in Jaisalmer yesterday afternoon. As we have travelled, the terrain has become increasingly desolate and now we are well and truly on the outskirts of the Thar Desert. To the point where this afternoon our plan is to pull on our johdpurs, mount up and head off on our camels out over the sand dunes.
In the meantime I will try to share a little of what we have seen so far. Even in the middle of nowhere there is something to look at, even if it just the crazy traffic.
Asif, our driver, is great company and is happy answer all our crazy questions and sometimes even he has his camera out taking photos too!
Enjoy the snaps below. I will try to be a better blogger over the next couple of weeks, but no guarantees!
Chandi Cowl market in Old Delhi
Through the streets of Jaisalmer
Sunset over Jaisalmer
Views from the car
Making new friends at Ramdevra Hindu Temple
The inhospitable countryside as we edge closer to the Thar Desert
Happy pilgrims on their way to Ramdevra
Transport in India!!
Thousands of rats at Rat temple at Phalodi
A rubbish mountain (the photo really doesn’t show its true size) at Bikaner
One of the main things I enjoy about walking pilgrim trails is that often the trails lead me through all manner of remote countryside and many small towns and villages that would not normally be on a tourist’s agenda.
Piacenza, in northern Italy, is one of those gems which reward a curious visitor as well as an exhausted hiker, and truly hum with the energy of local life.
Unfortunately I am not one of them, especially when it comes to anything remotely artistic or creative. I am strictly a stick figure artist and even then you have to use a fair bit of imagination to see what I am getting at, but I do love to see the magical creations of others.
On a recent stroll through many Italian towns and cities, I was spoilt for creative choice
I know I am terribly biased, but I love my home town of Mudgee. Yes, it is only small and, Yes, it is a solid three and a half or four hour drive from Sydney, but when you get here it is a feast for the senses, especially the tastebuds.
We have around 40 wineries, breweries and distilleries in the countryside surrounding the town, however in this post I am encouraging you to park the car, pocket the keys and explore Mudgee itself. Being small, everything is in easy walking distance.
Promotional Blurb: It was the late night Tai Bo fitness commercial warning him that life comes to an end after 40 that prompted Peter Moore to chase a boyhood dream. To go to Italy and seek out its celebrated dolce vita from the back of a Vespa.
But it couldn’t be just any old Vespa. Peter wanted a bike as old as he was and in the same sort of condition: a little rough round the edges, a bit slow in the mornings perhaps, but basically still OK. And it had to have saddle seats. And temperamental electrics. And a little too much chrome. The sort of scooter you’d imagine a sharp-suited, Ray Ban-wearing young Marcello Mastroianni riding. Her name was Sophia.
From picnicking in the Italian alps and rattling through cobbled hilltop to gate-crashing Frances Mayes’s villa and re-enacting ‘Roman Holiday’, Vroom with a View is as much a romance as a travel adventure. For not only does Peter win the woman of his dreams, he falls for a side of Italy others rarely see. Along with Sophia, of course… Source: Book Depository
My Thoughts: This is a wonderful, quirky travel read, especially enjoyable for those of us with a soft spot for all things Italian.
It really resonated with me so soon after my return from my latest walk, this time in Italy. I was pleased to see he traveled to a few of the same places that I visited. He even mentioned the Via Francigena a couple of times and I do admit to often looking longingly at Vespas and other small motor bikes. How much easier and quicker would it have been to jump on one of those machines, even an old one like Sophia, and putter up some of the %$#@! hills?
He has a very easy and entertaining style. His voice is informal and relaxed, but interesting at the same time. He has a good eye and ear, and captures the sights, smells and sounds of Italy. Most importantly, he captures the warmth of the Italian people.
Author bio: Peter is an author who writes about travel. He is always searching for places that are authentic and a little bit different. No floaty sundresses or hipster beards here. Born in Sydney. Living in London. Author of six best-selling travel narratives. Travelled through 105 countries. Always looking for the next dodgy lane to wander down.Source
It must be a wee bit frustrating being a small town or city in Italy, struggling to share the limelight with heavy-hitters such as Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. No amount of marketing budget will ever be enough to compete with their tourism profile and yet there are so many smaller, magical places with great stories to tell.
So, here is a small promotion for the city of Vercelli…
Having packed away the hiking boots and washed all my incredibly grotty hiking clothes that could possibly have walked home on their own, I thought it might be timely to share some key learnings from my latest long distance walk through Italy.
The greatest joy of travel are those moments when you go, ‘Huh? I didn’t expect that’. On a recent stroll through Italy I was constantly surprised and my expectations and assumptions regularly challenged.
Perhaps this is more of a reflection of my own ignorance and biases, and this is what I found… Continue reading →
When we think of Switzerland we naturally picture soaring snow-capped mountains, lush green fields, cows with cowbells, chocolate, watches and possibly, St Bernard dogs with their trusty brandy barrels fastened below their chins.
But did you know that the dogs have been named after their home? The Great Saint Bernard Pass.
I would love to be one of those laid back, chilled out individuals.
One of those people who seem to cruise through life and things seem to effortlessly fall into place.
But, No. That’s just not me…
I am a planner, an organiser, and I try to cover every eventuality. This goes into overdrive when I am planning a long walk, but now that I have completed my fourth long distance stroll, I have finally identified the top five things I DON’T need to worry about. Continue reading →
I suspect that there is little in this world more subject to personal preferences than what gets packed for an overseas or extended trip. Our individual sense of ‘priority’ is as precisely different as we are.
About now, I suspect a whole bunch of my friends are rolling their eyes as our all-too-infrequent weekends away together, highlight our contrasting packing styles. Me with my small, light, carry-on-style suitcase….and their steamer trunks!
Date: Thursday 20 September
Distance covered to Rome: 1046.9km
Terrain: busy roads, forest paths, busy streets
Overnight: Barbineri Luxury Rooms (a very generous description), €72
Feeling: happy and amazed!
When I woke up this morning I could hear the swish of car tyres on the roadway which indicated one thing and one thing only. Rain! It was a bit disappointing, but we weren’t going to let it stop us striding into Rome and doing a happy dance in St Peter’s Square.
Before that we still had a few kilometres to cover and all of them in the drizzle. It was that annoying sort of rain – enough to wet you, but not enough to make you put a rain jacket on. In those situations you are often wetter and hotter in the rain coat than in the rain.
I tried to be an optimist and wish the rain away and eventually, with 5km to go, it worked. We managed to get some hazy photos from Monte Moro and then the real thing in the Square itself.
To be honest I am feeling a bit numb at the moment. I can’t believe I am here and I did it! There were days when I really thought I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I guess you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach your goal. How’s that for some mixed metaphors??
Thanks for all your comments, likes and support. It was truly appreciated!
Tip of the day: it is always beer o’clock somewhere in the World!
Hmmmm, now where to next????
(Sorry for the delay in posting. More internet issues!)
Date: Wednesday 19 September
Distance covered to Rome: 1025.7/1027km
Terrain: not what I expected.
Overnight: Hotel Cassia, €55 (Double)
Feeling: excited and amazed that I am almost in Rome.
Today wasn’t what I expected at all. I was thinking that, because we are so close to Rome, we would be subjected to endless industrial estates, road walking and monotonous traffic. Instead I was pleasantly surprised with lots of paddocks, sheep, even more babbling brooks and Etruscan ruins.
The weather forecast for today was rain from 900am so we got an early start in the hope of getting as many kilometres done before the rain set in. Our luck held although it was very humid and sticky and the sweat just poured out of us. Perhaps they should promote this walk as a cleansing process as the pores really get a work out.
A highlight of the day was to see quite a few mobs of sheep being closely guarded by their Maremma dogs. The dogs are so calm and gentle, but I am assuming that would change quickly if the flock was threatened.
You may be thinking, from the distance figure above, that tomorrow I am going to overshoot Rome and start heading south. When I did my original planning I searched the internet for as much information as possible about each stage/leg and selected the longest distance for each stage to develop a ‘worst case scenario’ overall distance. Even with all that, it seems I have underestimated the distance, but what’s 20km between friends?
Date: Tuesday 18 September
Distance covered to Rome: 1001/1027km
Terrain: flattish farms and countryside climbs.
Overnight: Centro Parrocchiale, €10 (Donativo)
Feeling: happy to be inside out of the storm.
We survived the festival last night and managed to get some sleep despite the fireworks. We all agreed that the fireworks were more like massive explosions rather than the normal ooh-ahhh fireworks we experience in Australia. The pyrotechnics were showcased at a Roman amphitheatre. I can’t help but wonder about the impact of all that detonation on the ancient structure. It would certainly have shaken the dust out of the rafters!
We have decided that this part of the world is in the commuter belt to Rome. Even at an early hour the roads were super-busy and people seemed to be carpooling to get to work. Thankfully we weren’t on the roads much today and we could stay well out of their way.
The path does seem to be getting busier though and last night we met seven Americans who are just walking the last 100km with baggage transport and hotel accommodation only. Each to their own and perhaps they are way smarter than me!
Olive groves, hazelnut trees of all different ages and stages, and immaculate golf courses that were being pedantically groomed. Eucalyptus trees to remind me of home, gurgling streams and dashing waterfalls, and angry dogs to ensure I don’t get too comfortable.
And then there was the marijuana! Well, I am not an expert by any means, but it looked like a carefully cultivated crop, complete with irrirrigation. Perhaps it was hemp instead? I have noticed in a few towns there are ‘Weed’ shops. Perhaps it is legal in Italy or it is for medicinal purposes only? Or maybe they just don’t inhale?
Tip of the day: If you are walking strongly at this stage of the game, consider combining some of these last days to reduce the number to two or three stages. Accommodation seems to be more plentiful, but so are the number of walkers.
Date: Monday 17 September
Distance covered to Rome: 974.8/1027km
Terrain: babbling brooks and forest paths.
Overnight: Hotel Sutrium, €50 (Double)
Feeling: ready to sprint into Rome.
These last few days have been a great way to finish off the via Francigena. The terrain has been relatively kind, the days short and the scenery attractive. Today was no different with lots of forest paths, dappled shade and babbling brooks. Yes, there is the odd unexpected breathtaking climb into or out of a town, but generally the path is more consistently flat.
We were also treated to extensive hazelnut groves (or orchards?). The farmer had hung tonnes of signs warning of poisonous sprays, danger etc etc. I am wondering if this may be a ploy to discourage hungry pilgrims from filling their backpacks with fresh nuts?
We are back into a small 2-star hotel tonight as all the ostello accommodation was booked or closed. At least we get WIFI!
Sutri is a gorgeous little town. We received a royal welcome with celebratory fireworks. Apparently that is just a warm up for tonight’s fiesta, so there may not be much sleep!!
Tip of the day: sometimes you need to ignore both the signs AND the app to get to your destination!
Date: Sunday 16 September
Distance covered to Rome: 951.7/1027km
Terrain: nothing too strenuous.
Overnight: Monasterio Regina Pacis, €25 (DBB)
Feeling: very relaxed.
What a difference it makes to both body and mind when you are only doing short days. I realise 19km is not everyone’s idea of a short day, but in comparison to some I have walked over the past month, it is a breeze.
It was quite unremarkable walking today. The path was intent on keeping us away from towns and cafes, as well as main roads and other asphalt surfaces. It meant there were no coffee stops however we were lucky to score a coffee before leaving the hotel this morning, so we were turbo charged before even stepping out the door.
Olive trees were today’s feature. Lots and lots of very old olive trees marching in rows up and down the hills. The olives themselves seemed to be very small and hard and a conversation ensued about when they are normally harvested. It wouldn’t be much of a harvest at the moment. Can anyone shed any light?
More angry dogs and more farmers out shooting up Sunday with their trusty double-barrel shotguns. Supposed views of the sea lost in the early morning haze and Roman and Etruscan ruins that never appeared.
Hard to believe we will be in Rome in only four short days.
Tip of the day: good conversation makes the walking time fly.
Date: Saturday 15 September
Distance covered to Rome: 932.3/1027km
Terrain: mostly flat on back country roads.
Overnight: Hotel Tuscia, €55
Our walking party grew to six today with the addition of my husband. It felt a bit strange to see him striding out ahead when I hadn’t seen him for over a month. He quickly ‘got with the programme’ and looked like he had been part of the scenery for the past 34 days.
This morning’s walk was all about the play of the mist. Just when I thought the colours couldn’t get any softer or more muted, the heavy mist added a whole new dimension. The mist also kept the sun at bay and the temperature down, and you have been spared more boring sunrise photos!
The highlight of the day was that our group was adopted by a very friendly and very large white dog. He bounded up to us, across a large paddock, as we were having a breakfast break and was more than happy to receive pats from us all and lead the way as we set off walking again. We walked and walked and the dog trotted along happily doing the usual dog things and checking that we were following. We started to worry that he was going to be a long way from home, but what could we do?
After about 4km a small, rusted out car stopped on the road up ahead and a wizened up old man got out and started yelling. It was hilarious to see the dog’s reaction as you could tell it had been sprung big time by its owner. The dog headed across country, but we were able to lure it back and the old man opened the back door of the car and the dog jumped in with a very sheepish look on its face. Obviously a repeat offender!
The sad news of the day is that we have said goodbye to Thea, Victoria and Mary. They need to skip ahead a bit so that they can catch up with the Pope on Wednesday. They have been fabulous company and it is a real highlight of walks such as these to meet such warm and generous people who are strangers for only a split second before becoming firm friends.
Seeking a cheap hotel in Viterbo we found that they don’t exist. Oh well, it is nice to have a private bathroom and WiFi for a change!
Tip of the day: not every dog in Italy is mean and nasty!
Date: Friday 14 September
Distance covered to Rome: 914.3/1027km
Terrain: constant climbs, both big and small.
Overnight: Convento Divini Amore, €15
Feeling: gobsmacked and loved!
None of us wanted to be late this morning as it was our first day walking as a quintet rather than a quartet. We arrived at the designated meeting point early when the girls spotted a bar with its lights on and all thoughts of walking to Montefiascone were postponed until a sufficient amount of caffeine was consumed.
The rest of the morning was completely unremarkable. The path climbed steadily all day, but we were given some lovely glimpses of Bolsena Lake through the trees. The lake is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and covers around 153sq km. Last night we saw fishermen making the most of the sunset and today it was the sailboat’s turn.
We made good time and arrived before it got too hot. After showering and the usual domestics, it was time to track down some lunch. Ross, Mary and I found a small bar in the main square and settled in. After a few minutes Ross got up and said he would be back in a minute and disappeared. Then he returned with a very tall man wearing a backpack.
“And who is this now?”, asks Mary.
“That’s my husband”, said I!!!!!
Yes, can you believe it?? My husband flew all the way from Australia to surprise me and walk the last week with me into Rome! How lucky am I?
For the first (and probably only) time in my life, I was truly speechless!
Date: Thursday 13 September
Distance covered to Rome: 895.8/1027km
Terrain: a pleasant stroll through the countryside with water views.
Overnight: Casa di Preghiera Santa Cristina, €11
Feeling: excited with only 7 walking days to go.
None of us got much sleep last night with the rally drivers and motocross riders using the incredibly narrow street outside our window as a race track. How there were no accidents I will never know. You would be taking your life in your hands just stepping out of your front door.
Despite that we were packed and walking by 0529 and again were treated to a breathtaking sunrise. Every morning I tell myself that I am not taking any sunrise photos today, but I just can’t resist. The colours are just so attractive.
Thankfully today was mostly on dirt roads and farm tracks through paddocks and paddocks of potatoes. It was fascinating to watch them being harvested, but we couldn’t understand why they left so many behind. It seemed such a waste to leave the really large and the small ones behind, but maybe it is simply uneconomic to collect them all. More Italian agricultural mysteries!
We left the fields behind and were treated to beautiful views over Lake Bolsena. A massive lake edged with many touristy and holiday towns. It was a grey day today so the tourists weren’t as plentiful and, I understand, the European Summer holidays are now almost over. Back to the grindstone again.
Walking into Bolsena we were greeted by the smiling face of Ross from Sydney. Ross and I are going to walk to Rome, but in the meantime he must also contend with Mary, Thea and Victoria, plus Moi! A very brave man!
Tip of the day: it is better to have Radicofani in the far distance behind you, than in front!
Date: Wednesday 12 September
Distance covered to Rome: 872/1027km
Terrain: down, down, down, flat, flat, up and up.
Overnight: Casa del Pellegrino San Rocco, €10 (donativo)
Feeling: almost ‘over’ pasta and pizza.
I was feeling a bit doughy this morning when we set off. Normally I seem to refresh overnight, but I guess the big distance, endless climbs and heat took a bit out of me. Perhaps having already walked 872km may have something to do with it too?
Anyway, the legs warmed up soon enough on the big descent from Radicofani.
We seemed to follow series of ridge lines as we descended which gave us a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside. Even the farmers were up early and out in their paddocks. Italian farmers must have a strong ticker to maneuver their tractors on such death-defying gradients. Many of the tractors are more like mini bulldozers on tracks (to lower their centre of gravity I am guessing) although some farmers still use the traditional wheeled variety. I am in awe.
A highlight of my day was watching a small fox pup playing on the road. It kept bouncing in and out of the blackberry bushes trying to work out if I was friend or foe. It eventually must have decided I was a rough and ready looking sort and disappeared for good.
Lots of road walking in the last half of the stroll undid some of the enjoyment of the early morning. Oh well, swings and roundabouts.
Tip of the day: when a car drives by and its breeze ruffles the hairs on your legs, it is time to lift your game!
Date: Tuesday 11 September
Distance covered to Rome: 846.3/1027km
Terrain: OMG! Ascent: 983m, Descent: 612m
Overnight: Rifugio Comunale A Gestri, €16.70
Feeling: Completely stuffed!
Today was the hardest day’s work I have done in a long, long time. Yes there have been some tough days in the last month and today was right up there with best, or worst, of them. The app describes today as ‘ very challenging’. The only ‘ very challenging’ rating in the whole Italian section of the Via Francigena. They were not kidding!
I was climbing soon as I left the streets of San Quirico. It did not augur well for the rest of the day, which turned out to be a series of ever-steeper climbs and finished with the last 8 km of straight up climbing! By this stage, the day was really starting to warm up and it was a real challenge to stay hydrated. Luckily there were some water points along the way, but no food.
I can only imagine what the people in cars and on motor bikes were thinking as they flew past. Yes, another nutter walking the via Francigena!
For a good part of the walk I could not even see my destination, Radicofani. Even though it is located at the top of a mountain, there were equally high mountains in front of it, blocking the view! Yes, I am a nutter!
So, 7 hours and 21 minutes later, I finally made it to Radicofani. No town ever looked so good!
I have shared some photos here from the early part of the day. For the bulk of it, I just didn’t have the energy to drag the camera out of its case.
Date: Monday 10 September
Distance covered to Rome: 814.3/1027km
Terrain: non-stop climbing and only a little descending under Tuscan skies
Overnight: il Palazzo Pellegrini, €10.50
Feeling: like all roads are leading to Rome!
It was a day of ‘girl power’ as Thea, Mary, Victoria and I were up at 430am and out the door before 500am. None of us are fans of walking in the heat and are more than happy to sacrifice a few early hours of sleep for the benefit of walking in the cool.
We walked under cloudless sky which gave us a beautiful view of the stars. For some reason I wasn’t expecting to see many stars over here thinking that there would be too much light pollution and I was proven wrong again.
The terrain today was challenging and we seemed to climb constantly. In reality that is not the case, you have to come down sometime, but that is not what it felt like.
Again we were treated to a dazzling sunrise and the views are enough to make it easy to pause often to catch your breath, guzzle water and mop my brow. This is definitely not a delicate activity!
The path ended with a hefty 3km climb up to yet another hilltop town. I am continually amazed at how they built such substantial towns on such small tracts of land. The simple mechanics of hauling all the stone and timber up such steep inclines just beggars belief. I am in awe.
Tip of the day: directional signs are just as important as the miracle of a bar open at 600am serving coffee and fresh donuts!
Date: Sunday 9 September
Distance covered to Rome: 787.2/1027km
Terrain: endless rolling Tuscan hills
Overnight: Centro Cristi, €10 (donation)
Feeling: happy to have friends again.
I felt rested and strong when I woke up this morning. Obviously the day off the path yesterday did me the world of good. I was packed and gone within about 20 minutes and out onto the streets of Siena.
Once again I was thankful for the app on my phone to help me stay on track through the winding streets. I suspect that, being such a historic city, Siena controls what signs can be erected and consequently there were virtually no via Francigena signs and very few of the red and white stickers that often clearly mark the path.
As you can imagine it was very quiet at 530am on a Sunday morning, except for a few happy drunks singing quietly to themselves. And yet, I could sense I was being followed. I could hear murmuring behind me and I started to form a bit of a plan covering how loud I would yell and scream and whose door I would bang on first. Until I heard “is that you Mel”? Sure enough it was my Irish friends Thea and Mary, and Thea’s daughter, Victoria.
What a happy reunion it was in the pitch black dark! We haven’t seen each for the best part of three weeks and now we are on the path together again. It was lovely to walk and chatter away through and over the rolling Tuscan hills. I was conscious though that we had to keep one eye on the path as it is easy to get so caught up in the conversation and miss a turn or a signpost.
More brilliant views, delicate sunrises and leaping deer. It is all too special for words.
Tip of the day: you can’t beat a friendly face and an Irish lilt!
Date: Friday 7 September
Distance covered to Rome: 760/1027km
Terrain: a bit of everything today including heart-stopping climbs
Overnight: Attilio Camere, $100.50
Feeling: Relieved to have a rest day tomorrow.
There is nothing more disheartening than stepping out of the ostello into the very early morning darkness to be greeted by thunder and lightning. Not the best way to start to the day. On went the pack cover and poncho at the ready. I did get rained on, but it was only for about an hour and it was only light. Yes, you have to look for the upside in these situations.
I walked hard today as I had a lot territory to cover and I hoped to do that before it got really hot. The first 15km was through undulating farm land and I was treated to a spectacular sunrise with the sun coming up directly behind Monteriggioni. Monteriggioni is yet another ionic hilltop town and, believe me, you have to work hard to get there. You cruise along country paths and back roads, and then you turn onto a path that seems almost vertical! That coffee at the top tasted pretty damn good!
From there into Siena it was more country roads and forest paths. I was delighted to see the palest mauve crocus and pink cyclamens growing wild on the forest floor. A splash of colour amongst all the greens and browns.
The path seems to be getting busier as I head south and there were a few other walkers out and about yesterday. As I walked behind one group I couldn’t help but notice that one woman definitely didn’t want to be there. She was moaning continually, dragging her feet and every step was a chore. Why sign up for these things if you aren’t prepared to do the miles? I pity her walking partners having to jolly her along the whole time and to have to slow their own natural walking pace to match hers. It makes it tough for everyone.
Siena looks like an amazing city although it was quite a shock to see so many people and all of them strolling slowing and generally being tourists! I immediately had to adjust my mindset AND my walking pace. Perhaps I will be better at that tomorrow when I am clean and rested!
Tip of the day: supercharge your day with coffee!
(Apologies, I am having email issues again. Can’t access webmail)
Date: Thursday 6 September
Distance covered to Rome: 723/1027km
Terrain: Beautiful valley floors and many stiff climbs to get out of them!
Overnight: Convento di San Francisco, €10
Feeling: excited that this time in two weeks I will be walking into Rome.
Just when you think these early mornings in Tuscany can’t get any better, this morning I was treated to yet another gorgeous sunrise, but this time accompanied by five hot air balloons floating on the horizon! Talk about a Kodak moment. Unfortunately they were too far away for me to create my own Canon moment, but I enjoyed the spectacle none the less.
And then another doe sprints across my path. I have heard of ‘chick magnets’, but not deer magnets. I think my deer count is up to about seven now. I sat at a restaurant the other day and the waitress was doing her best to explain the menu. She couldn’t think of the English word for venison and instead told me that I could eat Bambi! Not the best marketing spiel I have ever heard!
Today’s path took me through the glorious hilltop town of San Gimignano. It was only just waking up when I walked through, but even then it had a great atmosphere and oozed history. I think I should have planned a lot more rest days to explore all these places or maybe it is a good excuse for a return visit….in a car!
The path also gave me an option of taking a variant from the official via Francigena path, which brought me to Colle in a much more direct and consequently, shorter route. I had aimed to walk 33km today to get to my destination. I hope this means those missing kilometres are not added to tomorrow’s count! Oh well, take it as it comes…
Tip of the day: beware of via Francigena signs giving you the scenic route through a town, rather than the most direct one. App to the rescue!