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!
Date: Wednesday 5 September
Distance covered to Rome: 695.2/1027km
Terrain: rolling Tuscan hills and country back roads
Overnight: Ostello Sigerico, €12
Feeling: hungry and a bit perplexed about the next two days.
So this is what I was expecting! The rolling hills of Tuscany and the many layers of valleys with the hills behind them.
It was stunning walking as the sun rose this morning. Everywhere I turned was yet another amazing view. I am sure my photos won’t do it justice, but I tried to capture the softness of the colours and that layering effect.
The countryside changed from ancient olive groves, to endless grape vines, to more open country and what looked like wheat stubble. I am not sure how they plough and harvest such steep country, but they have obviously been doing it for hundreds of years. Practice makes perfect.
Accompanying me on today’s stroll were about 100 biting flies and they were all determined to have a piece of me! I sorted them out with the RID, but they were persistent buggers. I think they are something like our March flies. Not pleasant.
My other small incident came straight out of the movies. Picture me striding along happily, picture car coming towards me at some pace, picture car driving straight through a largish puddle and making no effort to avoid it. Picture me with cranky face as I wipe off mud and water! It always looks much funnier in the movies…
And now I wait for tonight’s ostello to open. I seem to be getting used to waiting. I have had muesli for lunch as the restaurant that is promoted everywhere in this location, closes on Wednesdays. Bugger.
Date: Tuesday 4 September
Distance covered to Rome: 671/1027km
Terrain: mostlying forest paths and country roads
Overnight: Ostello San Miniato, €16
Feeling: like I know what I am doing….sort of!
Ah, what a difference a day makes! Today was much more enjoyable, despite the long distance.
It was the usual haul out of town on tar roads, but within a couple of kilometres it was onto back country roads and forest paths. So much more enjoyable.
The bonus today was that there were lots of interpretative signs explaining the history of the region, the path and the flora. At one stage I was even walking on Roman roads. A sign said that in 1804 this stretch of road was described as ‘appalling’ as carts and carriages would frequently roll over. I bet the same could be said for some of our modern day roads.
Tonight I am staying in a place called San Miniato. I thought my accommodation was in San Miniato Basso (lower), but of course not! I am in San Miniato Alto (high) which meant a huge climb up an equally huge hill! My current challenge, as I write, is to find a bed. I had booked at one ostello, but it looked completely abandoned and no one was there. My gut told me to move on, so now I wait for a much nicer ostello to open their doors….only a five hour wait ahead of me!
And it has started raining again. Oh well, at least it has cooled things down again.
Tip of the day: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck!
Postscript: all good. I have a bed. Now I need to chase some food!
Date: Monday 3 September
Distance covered to Rome: 639.9/1027km
Terrain: Again, too much edge-of-road walking.
Overnight: Comune o biblioteca, €10
Feeling: glad to be off the busy roads
There is not much I can write about today other than it was gloriously short!
The path seemed to stick to roads and streets the whole way and most of them were busy. There were a couple of short stretches through the fields to escape the traffic, but they didn’t last long. I have been surprised by the amount of road walking on this route. For some reason I assumed it would be more rural or cross-country. Maybe the few stretches I did in the north are all I am going to get.
At least it was cool and overcast the whole walk. Perhaps this is the start of Autumn?
My big news for the day is that tonight I am sharing a room with a lady from Canowindra! Talk about small world!
Tip of the day: just because there are walkers ahead doesn’t mean they know where they are going. Follow your own directions!
Date: Saturday 1 September
Distance covered to Rome: 620.5/1027km
Terrain: Too much edge-of-road walking.
Overnight: Mimi Apartment, €72.50
Feeling: Happy to have a rest day tomorrow.
This morning I woke up at 200am thinking, “gee, it’s windy outside”. Then the penny dropped that it wasn’t wind, it was teeming rain! Uh oh!
It had eased dramatically when I made a start on the day, but I didn’t get fair without stopping to put my rain poncho on. Two kilometres down the road and it was teeming again and I had to make a call whether to walk back to Pietrasanta and catch a bus or train to Lucca, or push on. As the rain eased again, the optimist in me won out and now with my gaiters on, I set off up the road.
There was a lot of road walking today, and while it is fine when there isn’t much traffic, it’s not fun when the cars and trucks are coming thick and fast.
The grey clouds hung around all morning and then they started to be acccompanied by thunder and then lightning….and then bucketing rain. Now this is definitely the definition of un-fun!
I determinedly pushed on convincing myself that every step was a step closer to Lucca until the thunder and lightning seemed to be getting closer AND it started to HAIL! That was the last straw! By this stage I was sheltering in a motorbike shop and the lovely man called me a taxi. The best damn €15 I have ever spent!!
So, I missed out on 4km, but much better that than drowning, being fried by lightning or flattened by a truck. Yes, I have come to wisdom late!
Tip of the day: you can’t out walk an Italian storm!
Date: Friday 31 August
Distance covered to Rome: 590/1027km
Terrain: two stiff climbs and the rest doable.
Overnight: Casa Diocesana La Rocca, €10
Feeling: Tired, but surprisingly OK.
I was interested to see how the body pulled up this morning after such a big day yesterday. Other than being a bit tired, my legs were OK and ready to face another day. The good news is I only have another two +30km days to do over the next 18 days. Or perhaps I should just add here ‘that I know of’!
As I walked out of Avenza this morning I was teased with the perfume of freshly baked croissants! How cruel, but delicious at the same time. These sorts of walks really engage all the senses and smell is an important one. Yesterday it was the scent of apples as I walked past some orchards and then later today it was the smell of grapes being processed. There are also plenty of stinky smells I would prefer to avoid and I won’t plague you with them here.
All day today it was the sea on my right (about 10km away) and grape vines terraced up to the sky on my left. Another engineering masterpiece and would give the grape pickers a serious workout!
The region is also marble country – think Carrara marble. I haven’t walked through Carrara, but it is not far away. I was fascinated to walk past many industrial yards with marble blocks and slabs aplenty. I even saw a machine in the process of slicing a block into slabs. Yes, I know I am easily amused!
Just resting the legs now and then later I will head out to explore. Pietransanta looks like an amazing town with oodles of street art and sculpture.
Date: Thursday 30 August
Distance covered to Rome: 559/1027km
Terrain: Hard climbs and descents and endless flat.
Overnight: Parrochia San Pietro Apostela, €10
Phew! What a day!
I wasn’t expecting today to be quite so long. The schedule said 33km, but the reality was quite different. In the scheme of things 3km isn’t much, but at the end of a long day, it can seem massive.
Way back when I was working out the plan for this trip, I thought it would be possible to combine a couple of days. How hard could that be? (See commentary on Day 1)
What I didn’t understand at that stage was that their definition of flat and MY definition of flat could be quite different. I also didn’t understand their relaxed attitude to distances – give or take 3-5km!
So today, as well as walking the ‘challenging’ 17km stage, I thought I would tack on 16km of flat. However their flat involved near vertical climbs out of towns and innumerable ups and downs. Go figure!?
The good news is that I saw the sea today and apparently I am quite close to the resort town of La Spezia. Now there is temptation, right there!
As you can see by the photos, the views continue to amaze. I saw so many hilltop towns today and I took photos of almost every one. I am sure the novelty will wear off, but I am loving them all at the moment.
Tip of the day: when it is thundering, the power of positive thinking is pretty useless.
Date: Wednesday 29 August
Distance covered to Rome: 523.1/1027km
Terrain: Mixed. Busy roads and forest paths.
Overnight: Ostello di San Caprasio, €10
Feeling: Excited!!! Over half way now.
You would think that with all this fresh air and exercise I would be sleeping like a log, but No. I toss and turn for hours and then am awake at 400am! Maybe it is the pure excitement of another +30km day! Not!
More edge-of-road walking to start the day. It is not pleasant, but at least there is little traffic at that time of day. Once that was done, it was really pretty walking. I spent most of the day on small back roads and country lanes. The lanes were often lined with old, old rock walls, now covered in moss. Most of the walls are in a pretty sad state and no one seems to bother maintaining them anymore. That’s a bit sad as I can imagine what an important part those lanes played in the past. These tracks would have been the links between all the small villages, like little communication lines.
The disappointing thing is that some people think these lanes are their own personal garbage dump. I was about 500m down one lane and there were all these large plastic bags full of bottles and cans. Why?? Why not walk to the closest recycling bin or simply put them out on collection day? They do seem to have an active recycling programme over here, which makes it even more confusing. I just don’t get it.
After 33km I was desperate for a shower and to pull my boots off, but the ostello was closed until 3pm! That is heartbreaking for a sweaty walker, but those are the hours that most Italians keep (900am-1230pm, 300pm-700pm). It takes a bit of getting used to and understanding which shops and bars will be open and when. First World problem!
Tip of the day: ear plugs are essential when you are sleeping next to the church bells.
Date: Tuesday 28 August
Distance covered to Rome: 490/1027km
Terrain: Down, down, down the Apennines. (descent = 1325m)
Overnight: Ostello Castello del Piagnroella, €11
Feeling: a wee bit tried today.
What goes up must come down and I did for the best part of 6.5 hours.
I have decided that to tackle the Via Francigena you need a head for heights, no fear of narrow paths with sheer drops off the side, no fear of swinging bridges or angry dogs, and a very good pair of knees. I thought I had good knees, but we will see what state they are in when I get to Rome!
It was slow and steady wins the race today as many of the descents were incredibly steep with loose stone under foot. I think I may have mentioned my miraculous walking poles once or twice before?
I seemed to do it hard all day as I was short a few calories from yesterday (yes, another small catering miscalculation) and of course today there was not a bar or cafe to be seen. All praise to biscuits!
The slow pace gave me plenty of opportunity to admire the scenery, the tiny villages and awesome autostrada. That thing is just an engineering wonder as it disappears under massive mountains and sails across valleys on towering bridges. Why can’t we have that sort of engineering/development vision in Australia? Needless to say I wouldn’t want to live next to such a thing, but boy it would be handy!
I was rewarded for my hard slog with some very picturesque forest strolls over babbling brooks and ancient stone bridges. It is moments like those which make me realize how very special this walk is. Hard, but special.
My big news is that I am staying in a genuine castle tonight! The castle is a museum, but they also provide accommodation for pilgrims. I am surrounded by ramparts and towers and massive stone walls. How lucky am I?
Tip of the day: just because they tell you there is a bar, don’t assume it will be open before 3pm or serve food before 730pm!
Date: Monday 27 August
Distance covered to Rome: 467.1/1027km
Terrain: More up up up the Apennines. (ascent = 678m)
Overnight: Ostello della Cisa, €10
Feeling: surprisingly good!
Today had been described in various books and guides as the most difficult section of the whole Italian section of the Via Francigena. That is not a particularly attractive description, especially to someone who has to walk it! As it turned out, it wasn’t as hard as yesterday. Bonus!
However, it was no cake walk and there were some very steep sections, but they were short and sharp, and then they would plateau for a bit before another up. Again the views were stunning today. More mountains than I could count, more valleys with picturesque villages all tolling their bells.
The good news is that a good portion of the path was on beautiful forest paths and the trees provided lovely shade. The last couple of days have been slightly cooler, which I am loving, and I hope it is a sign of things to come. Ever the optimist!
I can’t remember if I have chatted about the Via Francigena app I am using on my phone. I am now an app convert and this one is a cracker. I love to see the little red dot (me) scurrying along the designated path, but I learned today that it is not perfect! I came to a point in the path where it split – one higher and one lower. My logic said to take the higher one as we were climbing, but my app mate said the lower one was the go. Off I happily trundled down hill, down, down and into a farmer’s paddock, frightening a gorgeous doe in the process, until the path became decidedly un-path-like. My red dot was now officially in the middle of nowhere and it was sensible to turn around and slog back up the hill again! Sure enough, the higher path was the correct one and the waymarking signs appeared again within about 100m. So, I have decided that to get from A to B in the shortest possible time, I must use a combination of the app, the signs and a healthy dose of common sense!
You learn something every day and it’s a dull day when you don’t!
Tip of the day: don’t believe everything the guide books tell you and always add 2km to their estimated distance.
Date: Sunday 26 August
Distance covered to Rome: 448.3/1027km
Terrain: Up up up the Apennines. (ascent = 997m)
Overnight: Ostello di Cassio, €16
Feeling: very glad there are no more mountains….today!
I knew today was going to be tough and I was not disappointed. Luckily I hit my first climb when it was still dark, so I couldn’t see what I was in for! No such luck with all the others!
I won’t bore you with every single sweaty step (and believe me there were plenty of them). It was a day of digging deep and even then I had some doubts whether I would make it. The only thing is that the path takes you to the middle of nowhere, so you just HAVE to make it. I did pass through a few small villages, but nothing was open, no buses and certainly no taxis.
The upside is that I was surrounded by stunning views and I didn’t need much encouragement to stop and enjoy them. There is a certain satisfaction to looking back and seeing where you have come from, until you turn around to see what is yet to be done.
With only 1.5km to go, the path wanted to take me bush again and I decided I had had enough bush for one day and chose to stick to the road for the remainder. Being a Sunday there were plenty of motor cyclists out enjoying the sweeping bends and downhill runs. Half their luck!
The ostello here is quite amazing. It looks like a combination of Copperart and a $2-dollar shop have vomited the decor! There are plastic flowers, dried flowers, stuff toys, dolls, kitten pictures, hot pink bedspreads and I have Thomas the Tank Engine sheets! But, I have it all to myself and I couldn’t care less who designed the decor.
Tip of the day: skip this section if you don’t like slogging up hills.
Date: Saturday 25 August
Distance covered to Rome: 427.3/1027km
Terrain: Stiff climbs
Overnight: Ostello Parrochia Santa Maria Assunta, €10
Feeling: Tired, but pleased to have the day done.
A shocker of a sleep last night saw me awake for a good part of it! It is just so hot and there is little relief at night, even with a fan on. So, I gave in and got up extra early and was on the road before 430am. I know that is nuts, but it beats tossing and turning in bed.
I feel perfectly safe out at that time and have my headlamp on to make sure I don’t miss any of the signs or waymarks. They were predicting thunderstorms and showers today and that was another reason to make an early start – attempting to get as many kilometres done before it set in.
Thankfully it never set in and instead, was gloriously cool for 90% of the walk. Heaven!
Today marked the first day of climbing and I do admit to a couple of “you’ve got to be kidding” moments. One climb seemed to go straight up through the middle of a farmer’s lucerne paddock. I have no idea how they farm on such inclines, but everything was ploughed and planted to within an inch of the path. No doubt I provided a some entertainment for the man on his tractor as I wheezed and puffed my way to the top.
Despite all that, it was a very beautiful walk today. More like the Italy we see in the media with the pencil pines and iconic farm houses. Again this region looks very prosperous, so there must be money in lucerne and stinky intensive cattle and pigs.
Apologies for the quality of the photos, it was a hazy sort of day.
The good news is I have caught up with Gerard from Sydney, so have some company in the ostello tonight.
Tip of the day: ice cream is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food.
Date: Friday 24 August
Distance covered to Rome: 394.9/1027km
Terrain: Flat and farmland
Overnight: Ospitale San Donnino, €10 (donation)
Feeling: a bit nervous about the climbs starting tomorrow!
Today was my last hurrah on the flatlands and I will no longer be trucking along at around 5.5km an hour. From tomorrow it is ‘Hello, hill climbs’. I know I have had it good for a long time and I just have to balance the strenuousness with the stunning views. Or that is what I am hoping anyway.
Very pleasant walking out with the farmers this morning. They were busy in the paddocks slashing, harvesting the tomatoes and ploughing. I know this probably falls into the category of ‘ too much information’, but they plough in the most amazing way over here. Their plough is only about 2m wide, but the disks/tynes are about 1.5m high. It turns over great sods of dark soil, almost a metre high. Obviously ‘no till’ agriculture is not a thing over here.
Unfortunately the number of angry and frustrated dogs was not so pleasant. Italians obviously love dogs as every second house has one or three, but they also have large signs saying ATTENTI LA CANE or Beware of the Dog. As I walk past the dogs, without exception, they all want to have me for breakfast. Big dogs, little dogs – it doesn’t matter. I find it a bit off-putting to get this sort of ‘welcome’, but feel sad for the dogs that this is the sum total of their lives. Maybe they are only being super brave and ferocious because there is a fence separating us? I don’t intend to find out.
Arrived at Fidenza nice and early, and certainly before the worst of the heat set in. A relaxing afternoon following the Australian political farce. I am glad to be out of the country and in ‘stable’ Italy!!
Tip of the day: Italian dogs do not like Australian accents!
Date: Thursday 23 August
Distance covered to Rome: 371.7/1027km
Terrain: Flat and amongst the traffic. Not fun!
Overnight: Parrochia di San Fiorenzo, €10 (donation)
Feeling: a bit foot sore.
A shocker of a start to the day with 10 solid kilometres of industrial estates and edge of road walking. I understand that in the latest guide book, it even suggests skipping this whole stage and I know a few of our previous pilgrim party did just that. Some are pressed for time so they made the call to catch the train from Piacenza straight here. A wise choice I think.
Thankfully the path did improve and it followed small country roads through an intensive farming area. Corn is still featuring strongly although there are also great swathes of tomatoes, lush lucerne paddocks and I was passed by a large semi-trailer filled to the brim with onions. The farms looked very prosperous and there was plenty of serious farm equipment about.
Glad to see the town and the cathedral spire on the horizon and get in out of the heat.
The most exciting thing of the whole day is that I have been able to do a load of washing in a WASHING MACHINE!! Too exciting for words.
Tip of the day: a large bowl of penne with bolognese sauce is a wonderful post-walk wind down!
(Apologies everyone. I am having terrible email troubles again and WiFi is as scarce as hen’s teeth!)
Date: Tuesday 21 August
Distance covered to Rome: 338.4/1027km
Terrain: Flat and a bit ordinary
Overnight: Duomo Guesthouse, €65
Feeling: a bit nervous about the next stage.
Today was another nice short walk although the nice bit relates more to the length/distance rather than the scenery.
We started the day happily with a ferry ride across the River Po. This trip is one of the highlights of the walk as the boatman is a real character. He truly embraces his role as the boatman and not only does he transport us, but he explains the history, stamps our credentials and we must sign his massive ledger and have the obligatory photo. All before we can start walking again.
From there it was just a slog into Piacenza. 95% of the path today was on the edge of quite busy roads so you needed to be conscious of where you were and what the traffic was doing. It then took us through a very rough and ready industrial estate before the final 5km slog into the city, also along the edge of busy roads.
I was not encouraged to see many of the farmacias displaying the temperature which ranged from 30C-34C. Too hot to be walking!
But I have a rest day scheduled for tomorrow and that is a beautiful thing!
Tip of the day: you just have to take the good with the bad.
Date: Monday 20 August
Distance covered to Rome: 320.1/1027km
Terrain: Flat with a couple of tiny climbs
Overnight: Ostello Grangia Benedettina, €10 (donativo)
Ah, if only everyday was a 17km day! It is such a civilized distance. One that you can knock over before breakfast even. Well, third breakfast anyway. Is it a Hobbit thing where they had multiple breakfasts every day?
So, how it works is that I get up early and head out the door, and as I walk I tuck into a muesli bar or similar. After two hours, if I am lucky enough to find a bar open, it will be coffee and a pastry if something looks appetising. If not, I will find somewhere comfortable to sit and eat from my well-stocked tucker bag. Another two hours and break and breakfast number two, and repeat until I reach my destination.
NB: cafe Americano and donut this morning was €2! Yes, I am in for a rude shock when I return to Australia.
I have been really surprised and pleased at how welcoming everyone has been so far. Most people (old and young) cannot believe I am walking to Rome, on my own and that I am from Australia. Through a mishmash of Italian and English I learn about their aunts, brothers, nieces in Sydney and Melbourne and unfailingly they wish me a good trip.
It is lovely to make these little connections as I walk and to share a joke and a smile. This morning when I bought some biscuits the man behind the counter didn’t speak any English, but in Italian he said (pointing to all the coins in my hand) that money is the international language! He is right.
The pilgrim group seems to ebb and flow daily. Today there are nine of us, two Italians, one Swiss, one Belgian, two Irish, two Aussies and one grumpy Russian. I will be a bit sad to lose them tomorrow as I have a rest day in Piacenza. Hopefully our paths will cross again in the next four weeks and hopefully I will meet up with others when I start walking again on Thursday.
Tip of the day: if you are coming to Italy, do try to learn even the most basic Italian. You will be welcomed with open arms.
Date: Sunday 19 August
Distance covered to Rome: 303/1027km
Terrain: Flat with a couple of tiny climbs
Overnight: Parochial Santa Cristina, €10 (donativo)
Feeling: like I am melting.
The heat is amazing. I think I am going to have to have a serious think about some of the longer days in the next month. I am not sure they are doable without walking a good portion of it in the dark. This morning I left at 505am and it was already hinting of the heat ahead. By 830am I was melting and by 1130am (when I thankfully arrived at my destination), I really was not interested in taking another step.
I must have looked pretty desperate as I went straight into a small bar to buy a cold drink and when I went to pay, the barmaid told me that a man further up the bar had already paid for it. He must have a very kind heart or incredibly bad eyesight as I am certainly no oil painting after sweating through 29km!
There are eight of us her tonight. Gerard from Sydney, William from Belgium, Thea and Mary, a Swiss couple and a ciclo (bicycle) pilgrim. It is all very social although we are all resting up now to avoid the afternoon heat.
A quirk of this ostello is that they would not open the doors before 230pm. I had time to kill, and I needed some sustenance, so I walked straight into the pizzeria and ordered lunch. The largest pizza ever was placed in front of me and miraculously it disappeared!
Tip of the day: carry more water than you think you need. No fountains today.
Date: Saturday 18 August
Distance covered to Rome: 273.8/1027km
Terrain: Flat with some Bush bashing
Overnight: Ostello Santa Maria in Betlem, €20 (including air conditioning!!!)
Feeling: under control.
I obviously survived the night to walk another day and I was soon stepping out into the dawn. I fired up the head lamp this morning as I knew I would be going slightly off piste to start with. I didn’t want to misstep and tumble into the canal to sink without a trace.
More rice, rice, rice, corn (see previous posts) and then a little hay and perhaps some lupins(?). My early morning peace was overtaken by multiple camouflage-clad men with dogs in dusty 4WD cars. Obviously Saturday is ‘huntin’ season’ and I scuttled along a bit faster.
I was lucky to score a coffee stop at about 730am and had a little moment when John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’ came lilting out of the bar! Where am I? Moments like these really make me smile.
From then on I felt like I was in a very tame David Attenborough documentary. The path took me off the road and down by the riverside. There were birds aplenty and then there were the multiple lizards, rabbits and a very shiny black snake! Who knew that Italy had snakes? Thankfully we scared each other in equal parts and headed speedily in opposite directions.
Relaxing in Pavia as we speak. A really beautiful city with an amazing covered bridge.
Tip of the day: Don forget that you’re the Voice and you’ve just got to understand it!
Date: Friday 17 August
Distance covered to Rome: 250.4/1027km
Terrain: pancake flat
Overnight: Casa del Pellegrino Exodus, €20 Lunch, Dinner, Bed (donation)
Feeling: Good nah nah nah nah nah!
So, there was little sleep last night as the church clock, right next to the ostello, chimed the hour and half loud and long ALL NIGHT! I think if I lived in this town I would have to lobby for more civilised hours or carry out some sabotage! By 0430 I knew there was going to be no more sleep for me and I should just get up and get on with the day.
Rice, rice, rice, rice, rice, corn, rice, rice, rice, rice. No variation and no photos to show no variation. If you have walked the Camino Frances, I am guessing this region would equate to the Meseta. Apparently a lot of people skip this whole section, but I figure later on I will be begging for flat terrain, so I am enjoying it while it lasts.
The first town today was Mortara and I fell on the first coffee shop I came too and ordered two pastries and a coffee. I was missing some calories from yesterday and those two really hit the spot. Not sure if it was the caffeine or the sugar, but I felt almost human afterwards.
More rice, rice, rice, corn, rice, rice, rice, rice and it was time for a little break at Tremello. I had no sooner got my backpack off and a little old man cycled up on a red, white and green bicycle and wanted me to go with him. I tried to explain that I was just having a little rest and he cycled away only to return a few seconds later with Mary from Ireland! Carlo is the official pilgrim greeter in this town and he insisted on stamping our credentials, giving us a special certificate, a badge and plying us with ice cold mineral water! Now, that is a welcome!
Mary and Thea (English) started the day after me (from Great Saint Bernard Pass) and we had a lovely chat. I had been feeling a bit flat and lonely and meeting them perked me up no end. We walked for a while together, but our paces are different, so I left them to it. It was getting terribly hot and I wanted to get to my accommodation. Hopefully I will see them again tomorrow and on our way to Rome.
My ostello is slightly off the beaten track so I fired up Google Maps to bring me to the door. I wasn’t quite sure what I had struck when I walked in. Picture about 30 young men, pierced, shaved and tattooed to within an inch of their lives. I did a quick scan of the table and there were also a few women (normal) and children.
Not a lot of English was spoken, but I pieced together that this place is a home for troubled young men and they help them get their lives back together. Now I was feeling like I was intruding, but they insisted I share their lunch and afterwards escorted me to the pilgrims accommodation. I have the whole place to myself and they provide dinner tonight. Don’t worry, I feel very safe.
The other bonus is that even though I had to walk a further 2km to get here, tomorrow’s path is only about 300m away and will save me a couple of kilometres of walking! YES!
Tip of the day: trust a man bearing ice cold mineral water.
(With the photo in the header, I am wondering if I wear my scarf on my head, will some bloke carry my backpack??)
Date: Thursday 16 August
Distance covered to Rome: 220.4/1027km
Terrain: pancake flat
Overnight: Ospitale San Giacomo Madonnina, €10 (donation)
My rest day disappeared in a haze of slow strolling and sloth. When we walked into Vercelli on Tuesday the place was jumping, and yet I woke up in a ghost town! It was the annual Ferro gosto holiday and everyone seemed to have left town. Oh well, at least it was relaxing.
Up and at ’em this morning and back out into the rice fields and the whole day was accompanied by the plip, plip, plop of the little frogs diving into the rice paddies. They obviously didn’t trust me, but I reckon they should have been more worried about all the herons and ibis hanging about.
I made good time even though the heat was pretty energy-sapping. At one stage I had a nice chat to Alfredo from Rome who is cycling northwards to Great Saint Bernard Pass. I do not envy the ride up!
My first significant ‘lost in translation’ moment has occurred here in Nicorvo. I booked via email and when the lady replied she mentioned shops and a pizzeria. The only downside is that I missed the key word – CLOSED! So I have a night in a tiny village with nothing open and a town clock next door that chimes the hour and half hour with gusto!
I do have a fair few snacks and so far I have consumed, 60gm of fruit leather, a handful of nuts, a 200gm bag of lollies! To come are some biscuits and a couple of cans of tuna. The diet of champions!
Date: Sunday 12 August
Distance covered to Rome: 194.9/1027km
Terrain: pancake flat
Overnight: La Casa Colonello, €60
Feeling: pretty amazed that I completed nearly a fifth of the walk.
I had the best night’s sleep of the whole journey last night. It may have had something to do with yesterday’s distance, but I suspect it related more to the very large beer (0.79c) I rewarded myself with at dinner. I shared the ostello room with a lovely young man (am I sounding old?) from Scotland called Liam. He is walking northwards on the via, so it was good to compare notes on the path so far. I was interested to see that his backpack was actually bigger than mine and he wasn’t using walking poles. I warned him about day 3 and I hope he takes extra care if he does decide to attempt it.
Corn as far as the eye could see this morning, which wasn’t very far when you consider it is 9ft high! Then it was corn and rice, and then just rice. Liam had warned me about the mosquitoes and I had the Aeroguard at the ready! They were definitely hungry!
I found a cafe, inhaled a coffee and was ready for the last 17km into Vercelli. As I left the village I was pleased to see another walker ahead. She turned, waved and waited for me to catch up. Fulvia has walked from the Great Saint Bernard Pass with her schnauzer dog for company and today was their last day. It would add a whole other layer of complexity to the walk to have a dog as company, but Fulvia wouldn’t have it any other way.
The time passed quickly as we talked all the way into Vercelli, and you wouldn’t believe the coincidence, that we were booked into the same little hotel.
A nice day, good company, and a trip to the laundromat meant sweet-smelling clothes for the first time in a week!
Tip of the day: kick off the boots, it’s a rest day!
Date: Monday 13 August
Distance covered to Rome: 166/1027km
Terrain: lots of flat and rolling hills
Overnight: Ostello Santhia sulla via Francigena, €10 (donation)
Feeling: footsore, but pretty pleased with today’s kilometres.
Yes, what a difference a few days of manageable terrain does to the confidence levels and kilometre count. Originally today was going to be a much shorter stage, but it was relatively cool and a breeze seemed to follow me all day, so I just had to make the most of that.
There was almost a stampede to pack and leave early this morning, so I am guessing other people were thinking about putting in a big day too. When I finally tied my boots on at 530am, I seemed to be the only person left. I thought they had all charged out the door and left me for dead. No matter, I set off into the breaking dawn.
I know what you’re thinking…..I am supposed to be on ‘holidays’….why am I getting out of bed at that horrific hour?? Yes, I’m hearing you, but it truly is the best time of the day to be walking.
The first part of the day was through some lush forests and then on some rural back roads. At one stage the app wanted to send me up yet another mountain to check out yet another historic church, but when I checked it out further, I could simply keep walking straight ahead, miss the ascent and the historical experience, and join up with the path again! Can you see I am finally starting to get a little wisdom?? Not much, just a little.
After the nightmare first three days I have decided to make this walk work for me, and if that means adapting the path slightly, then so be it! Possibly famous last words?
Anyway, I was making good time today with the slightly cooler temperatures and the flattish terrain. My pace was helped along by a couple of aggressive dogs who weren’t that fond of people walking on their patch. One sneaky bugger had a couple of goes at me, pretending to run away and then sneak up on me again! Once more I gave thanks for my trusty walking poles.
Over the last couple of days the path has started to take me closer to or through villages. This has dramatically increased my chance of a morning coffee. It doesn’t work out every day, but when it does, it is a very sound investment of €1. I realise I am probably a bit of a Philistine ordering a cafe Americano. Hopefully my €1 is as good as the next person’s.
I hit the 27.5km mark at 1200pm and the weather was still holding, so I made the decision to push on. The views were full of fields of corn and intensive animal farms. Other than in the Alps, I haven’t seen any cows in paddocks as such. I wonder why they feedlot all their stock?
These deep philosophical ponderings were accompanied by some very threatening thunder and when I turned to see what that was all about, there was a massive black thunderstorm bearing down on me! I doubt there was any visibly noticeable change in speed, but I hustled along and managed to tumble through the door of the ostello just as the heavens opened! My lucky day!
Not so lucky for all the other pilgrims who were actually behind me, NOT in front of me as I had thought.
Tip of the day: never say no to coffee or a cool breeze.
Date: Sunday 12 August
Distance covered to Rome: 127.6/1027km
Terrain: a mixture of stiff climbs and strolls through orchards and vineyards
Overnight: Ostello Ivrea/Canoa Club, €15.
Feeling: like I’m getting the hang of this thing
The further I head south, the more steamy and humid it is becoming. I was expecting the heat, but not the humidity. And Italians don’t seem to use fans, well not in this part of Italy anyway. I started walking at 530am as it was cooler outside than inside the ostello!
Straight up a mountainside to start the day and then it was through a rich agricultural region – grapes, corn, peaches, pears, plums and apples and the largest tomatoes I have ever seen! I was sorely tempted just to lean out from the path to grab a taste, but I refrained as it wouldn’t be fair on the farmer.
The good news is that I have finally left the autostrada behind and now I can walk in the relative quiet.
As I took a break for breakfast number two, I could see a huge thunderstorm working its way up the valley. Time to break out the new poncho! It worked a treat although I would have looked pretty funny trying to shimmy into the darn thing! Very hard to get it over my backpack. For the next little while I had to step carefully as everything was very slippery.
There were a few short road sections to be covered today. I was pleased to get those knocked over early when there wasn’t much traffic. The cars are quite considerate and give me a wide berth, but they move FAST!
Stayed in another really good ostello, right on the river at Ivrea. It is actually the canoe club and they hosted the World under 23 years canoe championships last month. It was great to sit and watch the Sunday paddlers navigate the course.
24 pilgrims in this ostello and 7 in MY room! VERY hard on the olfactory senses!
A proper Italian dinner tonight with risotto and grilled vegetables!
Tip of the day: when answering the call of nature, clear the area of stinging nettles and deer!
Date: Saturday 11 August
Distance covered to Rome: 104.1/1027km
Terrain: mostly flat and damn enjoyable
Overnight: Ostello Communale, €15.
Feeling: stiff and sore, but generally a happy camper
Yay! Light at the end of the tunnel or at least some flat terrain at last.
I left the ostello early again as I was wide awake at a ridiculous hour. There were about 15 other pilgrims at the ostello last night, mostly French and Italian. I didn’t see any of them during the day as they seem to keep more European hours (eat late, sleep late) than me.
It was very pleasant walking following the river through pretty stone villages and over bridges. The directional signage was very good and even better, there were lots of other signs explaining the historic sites AND they were in English. I love to learn as I walk rather than just saying ‘oh, that’s pretty’.
It was wonderful to see the original Roman road and arch as I walked into Donnas. I am continually amazed that something so old could still be standing.
Pont Saint Martin was jumping when I walked into the town centre. I had forgotten it was Saturday, plus Summer holidays, plus market day. I always feel incredibly self-conscious when I have to mix with the general public. I am hot, sweaty and grubby, and of course, everyone else is the height of fashion!
I found a bakery, pastries, and a quiet corner to work out where I was in the town in relation to the tonight’s ostello. What did we do before Google maps? A really excellent ostello in this town and I had the luxury of a room to myself.
I am yet to get into the local food and restaurants, perhaps that will come when I meet up with a few other walkers. In the meantime I am becoming expert at the supermarkets with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, salami and bread.
Tip of the day: stop and read all the signs. It looks like you are really interested and culturally-aware, but you are actually catching your breath!
Date: Friday 10 August
Distance covered to Rome: 85.1/1027km
Terrain: a nightmare of dangerously steep climbs and descents
Overnight: Ostello Il Casello, €24 B&B
Feeling: as if I may not make it
I turned into a mountain goat today! Admittedly a very arthritic and slow moving mountain goat, but I needed to dig deep and find my inner alpine fauna to simply survive the day.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, today was another to test my resolve and my sanity. I reckon those map-making people must have a sadistic streak! Yes, I appreciate that they want to get us off the road, out of the traffic, and perhaps show us a bit of scenery, but do they really need to take it to such extremes?
The day started with an all-but vertical climb out of Chatillon. OK, I can handle that and much better to get it out of the road early when I am relatively fresh. It was then a pleasant walk long enough to lull me into a false sense of security. The path edged the mountains and took me onto soft dirt tracks, under heavily laden grape arbors and over babbling streams. Once I was suitably distracted, reality kicked in and it all went to Hell in a hand basket. The climbs got increasingly vertical and the descents to match. This was made even more complicated with loose rock and tree roots underfoot. Maybe that is what all those religious shrines are for? Placed there by exhausted pilgrims in the hope that they won’t tumble off the mountain?
I do admit to have used a broad range of colourful language that day and it took me nearly 8 hours to cover the 21.9km!
Today was rated ‘Challenging’. You are not kidding!
Date: Thursday 9 August
Distance to Rome: 63.2/1027km
Terrain: gloriously flat
Overnight: Monasterio Franciscani Cappuccini, €donation.
Feeling: absolutely knackered x 2
This was another huge day, but I ‘cheated’ today and instead of following the designated walking route, I got smart and followed the cycling route which hugged the river virtually all the way to Chatillon.
The very thought of yet more cruel climbs and descents brought tears to my eyes and I knew I physically could not tackle that sort of terrain today, without doing some sort of permanent damage to my legs. That may sound a tad dramatic, but the day was about preservation not recreation!
So with every muscle screaming I set off in the early morning light to make the most distance I could while it was still cool. Even at 6am it is around 17℃ and only gets warmer from there.
The scenery was quite beautiful as the path twisted and turned with the river. Unfortunately the valley is also dominated by a four lane autostrada, so as well as the constant roar of river water you have the constant roar of traffic.
Fellow walkers will know that at the end of a long walking day, your accommodation will always be located at the top of a very steep hill. Today was no different.
Unlike the Spanish caminos, the via Francigena does not have the same sort of albergue accommodation. Instead you get to stay at monasteries and convents. What this monastery lacked in sophistication they made up for with a warm welcome. However I am not sure whether you have ever tried to use a squat toilet when every leg muscle is screaming at you not to bend or move an inch. It is not a pretty sight, but you have to laugh…or at least grimace.
I shared my room with a drop dead gorgeous Italian man and a vivacious French woman. I left them to it to go out to dinner and I passed out with exhaustion!
Sorry, not many photos today. I just had to get the day done.
Date: Wednesday 8 August
Distance to Rome: 31/1027km
Terrain: down-bloody-hill all the way
Overnight: La Belle Epoque,€48
Feeling: absolutely knackered!
Well, I can honestly say that I waaaaaaaay underestimated the via Francigena. I had heard about the Swiss alps and seen pictures of course, but I never knew the buggers were so big.
In my naivety I thought 30km in the crisp mountain air would be challenging, but doable. Ohh how wrong could I be?
I started walking just after 6 am and all-but crawled into Aosta at nearly 4.30 p.m. with absolutely nothing left in the tank and every muscle screaming blue murder.
A normal person would pay attention to the guide/map makers who recommend that this stage be split over two days, but me being the eternal optimist thought that one day would be fine.
Over the 10 hours I descended 1852 metres and my knees and leg muscles knew everyone of those metres intimately. It was a day to doubt my sanity, but when I took a moment to look up instead of where my feet were going, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. I could not believe the pockets of snow still nestled at the mountain tops and the lushness of the forests, the fields of cows and obligatory cowbells.
￼I also could not believe the amount of people out walking on the same path. People of all ages, young and old, all out for a hike. Obviously they breed them tough over here. One additional challenge is for me to know whether to greet them with ‘bonjour’ or ‘buon giorno’ as French and Italian are spoken equally in this part of Italy.
For a good part of the day the path followed an extensive water canal construction that provided irrigation water for the many farmers and their pastures. Even though Europeans are screaming about the drought it just seems to be endless water here in the north of Italy.
A memorable day for all the wrong, and quite a few right, reasons!
Tip of the day: buy yourself a good set of walking poles and bring them!!
Next week I will be stepping out of the Australian Winter and into the European, specifically the Italian, Summer. While I am definitely looking forward to the temperature change, I do have some reservations about the language change! Continue reading →
One of the most important pieces of equipment for any traveller heading slightly off the beaten track is a backpack. Not everyone wants or needs to carry their own gear, but a backpack is certainly a great way to maximise independence and mobility.
Buying a backpack can be quite a confusing experience. There are so many brands on the market with so many actual and hypothetical features, it can be a real challenge choosing a pack that best meets your needs. Continue reading →
It’s all systems go as I count down for my next long distance walk. This time stepping out on the Italian leg of the Via Francigena.
If I was really committed (or should that be, “I should be committed”!) I would start at the very beginning of the Via Francigena with my first steps from Canterbury Cathedral in England. But No, I will have to be satisfied with a simple Italian stroll instead. Continue reading →
When visiting a large city, it is easy to sometimes feel a bit removed from Nature and find yourself trapped in high rises and on hard surfaces.
Whilst that can be both interesting and entertaining, I find myself hankering for a break from the man-made uniformity of concrete and steel, even if it is just for a quick recharge before diving back into the hustle and bustle once more.
I posted a few weeks ago about a walking tour of Melbourne’s historic arcades. This time our walk takes us away from the streets and onto the leafy paths of the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens.
Of late, my thoughts has been focussed on all things walking and I can’t help but fondly remember my three Spanish caminos. I am hoping my next adventure, the Italian leg of the Via Francigena, will be just as enjoyable, or perhaps, ‘same, same but different’.
As I follow in other bloggers ‘virtual footsteps throughout the Iberian peninsula, I thought it may be useful to some would-be pilgrims to share my own experience and to compare and contrast the three separate walks I have completed to date. Hopefully this will help people choose the one that suits them best. Continue reading →
Unfortunately this post is a tad redundant as JETGO Airlines went into voluntary administration last week! The joys of running a small airline, servicing regional Australia where the margins are slim or non-existent.
However, should they get back on their feet and into the air, I have nothing but positive things to say about JETGO. Continue reading →
Rattling into Udaipur on a public bus, tired after around five hours of weaving through random traffic and over broken dirt roads, it was hard to believe that Udaipur was the beauty that everyone raved about.
Our bus coughed and wheezed into the chaotic public bus station and we stiffly stepped out to be swamped by the usual hoard of enthusiastic tuk tuk and taxi drivers. This is one of the huge advantages of travelling in a group with a guide. Ankita haggled and hassled until we had our four tuk tuks lined up and we were soon back, weaving through the choking traffic once more.
Visiting a country just to shop, would never be something I would consciously do. I have heard of people booking trips to all manner of Asian and other destinations just so they can blitz the shops. That sounds like the epitome of boredom to me, but even I was dazzled by the art, craft and pure entertainment value of shopping in India.
Tuncurry is a tiny jewel in the string of coastal gems that make up the mid-north coast region of New South Wales.
About four hours drive north of Sydney, Tuncurry and its sister town Forster, are slightly off the beaten track i.e. off the main north-south Pacific Highway. Rather than creating a sad feeling that the World has passed it by, the detour required to reach both these towns means that they retain their laid back ambience. A huge positive when you want a stress-free beach break.
So many visitors to Australia stick to the tried and true path, and miss out on the best bits! Their focus remains firmly fixed on the heavily promoted destinations of Sydney, the Gold Coast and Great Barrier Reef, and yet the hidden gems that represent the best of Australia, remain just that – hidden.
Just between you and me, and ‘ssshhh, don’t tell anyone’, it’s time to discover Merimbula!
Promotional Blurb: This funny and tender book combines three of Alice Steinbach’s greatest passions: learning, traveling, and writing. After chronicling her European journey of self-discovery in Without Reservations, this Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Baltimore Sun quit her job and left home again. This time she roamed the world, taking lessons and courses in such things as French cooking in Paris, Border collie training in Scotland, traditional Japanese arts in Kyoto, and architecture and art in Havana. With warmth and wit, Steinbach guides us through the pleasures and perils of discovering how to be a student again. She also learns the true value of this second chance at educating herself: the opportunity to connect with and learn from the people she meets along the way. Source
My Thoughts: I really, really, really (get the picture?) enjoyed Steinbach’s first book – Without Reservations – so I pounced on this one, ready to recapture the magic of her first adventure as an independent traveller. And I was disappointed.
While it was just as beautifully written, and set in equally exotic and attractive locations around the world, this one came across as quite self-indulgent and conceited. Yes, she was indulging her desire to travel and learn, but this time it appeared to me like she was showing off, and we know how us Aussies do not like show-offs.
Perhaps it was jealousy on my part, and I viewed her writing through green-tinted glasses, but there was a sense of ‘look at me, how clever I am, and my wealth’ as she swanned from one part of the world to the other. I am the first to admit that perhaps I need to re-read her book as I may be judging her harshly.
Despite my criticism, I am supportive of her ability to follow her dreams, set her own goals and go after them, even in the face of naysayers. Perhaps her book wasn’t so bad after all.
Author bio: Alice Steinbach, whose work at the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1985, was a freelance writer until 1999. She was appointed the 1998-1999 McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University and was the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland and passed away in March 2012 from cancer. (Source)
The joy of travel is that there is a destination or activity to suit any taste or interest. You can lounge on a beach, hike a mountain or sail the seven seas. Alternatively, you can connect with the locals outside of the usual tourist traps.
If you enjoy immersing yourself in a destination without sacrificing any creature comforts, then consider Nepal. It is certainly more than just postcard perfect mountains, and offers a range of activities, sights and interests to satisfy the choosiest traveller.
In this post I will share our home-based adventure as an AirBnB host. In reality it is a pretty tame adventure, but hopefully this post will be useful if you have ever considered signing up as an AirBnB host.
Over the years we have stayed in a few AirBnBs ourselves. As my work was very quiet at the beginning of 2017 and because the kids have now left home, The Brave Man* thought becoming a host on AirBnB would be a good thing for us to be part of. Needless to say, since we joined AirBnB my work has gone ballistic, but we are still managing to keep all the balls in the air.
Promotional Blurb:Without Reservations is about a woman’s dream come true – taking a year off to travel the world and rediscover what it is like to be an independent woman, without ties and without reservations. ‘In many ways, I was an independent woman,’ writes Alice Steinbach, single working mother and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. ‘For years I’d made my own choices, paid my own bills, shovelled my own snow, and had relationships that allowed for a lot of freedom on both sides.’ Slowly, however, she saw that she had become quite dependent in another way. ‘I had fallen into the habit of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me.’ Who am I, she wanted to know, away from the things that define me – my family, children, job, friends? Steinbach searches for the answer in some of the most exciting places in the world – Paris, where she finds a soulmate in a Japanese man; Oxford, where she learns more from a ballroom dancing lesson than any of her studies; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards Steinbach wrote home to herself, this is an unforgettable voyage of discovery. Source:Book Depository
My Thoughts: Although I read this book many years ago, it still resonates with me today. I was struck by her courage to cast off the expectations of other people, as well as the limitations that she placed on herself. She wondered what happened to her old self, the missing woman, who was adventurous, curious and more of a risk-taker? Of course it helped that she had the financial wherewithal to afford her very own brand of international irresponsibility, but what a way to pursue a journey of self-discovery.
I use the word ‘courage’ because I believe she was pretty brave to step away from the comfort of her routine life, but also because she stepped out into the world on her own, with no real plans. How liberating would that be? She ticks off her personal highlights – Paris, London, Oxford and Italy, and throughout the book she includes copies of postcards that she sent herself, capturing a snapshot of what she was experiencing that day. Note to self: time to start sending postcards to self!
I have included, at the end of this review, an interesting Q&A session she completed on the release of Without Reservations.
A light and enjoyable read, especially if you have visited any of Alice’s destinations, or if you also hanker to cast off the bow lines and sail out into the world.
Author bio: Alice Steinbach, whose work at the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1985, was a freelance writer until 1999. She was appointed the 1998-1999 McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University and was the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland and passed away in March 2012 from cancer. (Source)
The hum and energy in the air was palpable, as I edged my way through the crowd, to find a massive pair of eyes locked onto mine. Wherever I went, the eyes followed my every move. I simply could not escape.
I like to think I am well-travelled and worldly wise, but I get a reality check every time I discover a place that I have never heard of before. On a recent trip to Nepal I was introduced to the fabulous city of Pokhara. After the hustle and mania of Kathmandu, it was a welcome relief to breathe the sweet mountain air.
How easy is it to be dazzled by the romance of an exotic destination, and your own backyard gets ignored? I know I am guilty of this sometimes, until I make myself stop and acknowledge the beauty right under my nose.
Promotional Blurb:When A.J. Mackinnon quits his job in Australia, he knows only that he longs to travel to the Well at the World’s End, a mysterious pool on a remote Scottish island whose waters, legend has it, hold the secret to eternal youth. Determined not to fly (‘It would feel like cheating’), he sets out with a rucksack, some fireworks and a map of the world and trusts chance to take care of the rest. By land and by sea, by train, truck, horse and yacht, he makes his way across the globe – and through a series of hilarious adventures. He survives a bus crash in Australia, marries a princess in Laos, is attacked by Komodo dragons and does time in a Chinese jail. The next lift – or the next near-miss – is always just a happy accident away. This is the astonishing true story of a remarkable voyage, an old-fashioned quest by a modern-day adventurer. (Source)
My Thoughts: I love a good adventure, and even more than that, an adventure that turns into a comedy of errors. I give Mackinnon full marks for audacity, vision and perhaps a fair dose of stupidity thrown in there. He was lucky to get out alive!
How is it that some people can dream up these journeys, and rationalise in their own minds that such trips are perfectly acceptable, and perfectly achievable? I guess that is what sets us apart – true adventurers and absolute novices.
He seems to lurch from one disaster to the next, meeting ever more fantastical characters, and brushing ever nearer to death. He gets arrested, jailed, deported, married, kidnapped, becalmed, and continuously re-routed on his two-step-forward-one-step-back progress, battling to get out of the Southern Hemisphere, let alone to a remote island off Scotland. In fact, over 230 pages of the book are devoted to lurching around Australia, New Zealand and Asia, before racing through the Mediterranean, Europe and finally to England in the last handful of pages.
Similar to his debut novel, he travels and writes quoting great swathes of poetry, and in this book, playing his tin whistle to earn his keep.
No wonder he travels solo!
It is hard to read Mackinnon’s story and not wonder how much is true and how much is simply wishful thinking. After all, this book covers a year of adventure in 1990, and this book was not released until 2011. Surely the lapse of 21 years has polished the tales to a golden hue?
Regardless, it is an enjoyable read and I look forward to him packing his bags, or at least putting pen to paper, again soon.
Author bio: A. J. (Sandy) Mackinnon was born in Australia in 1963 and spent his childhood between England and Australia, travelling with his family on the last P&O liners to sail between the two countries. His interests include painting, philosophy, writing, conjuring and home-made fireworks. He is currently a teacher of English, Drama, Mathematics and Philosophy in the Victorian High Country. He is the author of The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow and The Well at the World’s End. (Source)
Being locked in a conference room for two days is not my idea of ‘fun’, especially when the conference is held in a new and tantalising city. I am also not good at sitting still at the best of times, and know I benefit from some early morning exercise before being locked away for the day.
I had a cunning plan though.
As I had been to Adelaide once before on a very short visit, I knew that the Torrens River was the perfect area to stretch my reluctant legs.
As you may have gathered by now, I will travel anywhere at any time, but up until recently, I had never travelled (as a genuine tourist) with a group. When offered the opportunity to join a group of +70 year old Country Women’s Association ladies to trip around the Nepal, who was I to say ‘no’?
It seems a bit rude to only spend 24 hours in a place. Surely it is impossible to get the sense of a city in one superficial skim? Where is the fairness in that? Where are my manners?
In my defence, I am not a city person, and this visit was a short stopover on the way to Nepal. When the focus is on the exoticism of Nepal, one day in the sprawling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur was more than enough for this visit.
Kuala Lumpur, including the Klang Valley, has a population of 7.25 million people, and covers an area of approximately 94 square kilometres. The sheer size of the city, and its frenetic traffic, could be overwhelming if you don’t have some sort of plan or strategy to move about.
Book Title: The Lost Continent. Travels in Small-Town America
Author: Bill Bryson
Promotional Blurb:‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to’
And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn’t hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14 000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. He discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land. (Source: http://www.penguin.co.uk)
Since returning from Nepal, I have been struggling to order my thoughts and photos, and process all that I have seen. I really am at a bit of a loss to know where to start.
First point though: Don’t believe the travel brochures. There is so much more to this country than its glorious mountains. Although we only enjoyed a ridiculously short four-day visit, it was jam packed with exotic sights, sounds and smells and NOT ONCE did I pull on my hiking boots!
Promotional Blurb:Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.
Until I put pen to paper (yes, literally – I am an old fashioned blogger), I hadn’t really thought about the range of emotions and feelings I experience pre-, during and post- travel.
While my travels have often been very physical and tangible, I find that travel also stretches me emotionally. And believe me, it is often from the highest of highs, to some pretty low lows. I love it all regardless.
Port Arthur looms large in the Aussie psyche. Maybe it is our convict heritage that keeps the connection strong or maybe our white-Australia history is so new and fresh, that we grab every opportunity that screams ‘history’ with both hands.
Port Arthur is the site of one of Australia’s most notorious penal colonies. Located 101km (by road) south-east of Hobart, on the Tasman peninsula, it was established as a ‘home away from home’ for some of Australia’s most committed criminals. Perhaps that should be changed to England’s most committed criminals, as the majority of the penitentiary’s residents were fully imported from the Mother Country.
I’m a terrible traveller. Well, I love to travel but I hate being a tourist.
Yes, I agree there is no logic in that statement, but I never said I was logical!
My reluctance to be branded a ‘tourist’ stems from all those ‘typical’ tourists you see being herded from pillar to post, blindly following a flag-waving guide, holding their iPhones aloft to ensure they don’t miss the next great vista.
In the first ‘Walk Mudgee’ blog post, I encouraged you to explore Mudgee and its fringes on foot. Now, I want to encourage you to jump in your car, take a little drive through gorgeous countryside, and then do a little more exploring on foot.
If you imagine Mudgee as the hub in the centre of the wheel for a weekend, it is possible to drive in any direction on the ‘spokes’ and discover something special.
Promotional Blurb: Nearly 900 years ago, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon set out on the First Crusade– and in our own time, author Tim Severin retraced his steps. The destination: Jerusalem, city of gold. For more than eight years, Severin followed the historic trail, riding through northern Europe’s green countryside and into the heat of the Near East. In the process, he covered more than 2 500 miles by horse, past ruined Crusader settlements and ancient battlefields, over arduous mountain passes, and across Anatolian steppes. A dazzling synthesis of adventure, practical history, and exploration, told by one of our finest and most respected travel writers – illustrated with his own photographs.
I stumbled across the Warm Showers group a couple of years ago when I started following a blog about cycling the length of the Mississippi River in the USA. Peter and Tracy are the most inspiring couple, and tackle the most astonishing cycling adventures.
A couple of years ago, they started way up at Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota USA, and 48 days, and 2 968km later, they arrived at Venice, Louisiana, in the deep south of USA. Along the way in their blog, they kept describing the wonderful warm welcome they received from various ‘Warm Showers’ hosts. That really intrigued me and I had to find out more.
Yes, I am a child of the 70s and 80s, flares, ponchos and Farrah-Fawcett-flick hairdos, but this song and its cutting edge film clip (for its day) does capture the essence of my South African adventure.
1983 was the year I grew up, had my mind opened (no drugs involved), and experienced the great outdoors of the Africa you see featured in postcards and travel brochures. I feel that, in some ways, I got to know Southern Africa better than many people because I lived there for 12 months, eventually learned the language, and travelled extensively. Continue reading →
How good is it when something you have been dreaming about for a long time, actually comes off? That is exactly what happened to me recently when I fulfilled a long-held dream to sail across the skies in a hot air balloon.
Book Title: The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow. A Mirror Odyssey from North Wales to the Black Sea
Author: AJ Mackinnon
Promotional Blurb: A couple of quiet weeks sailing the River Severn was the intention. Somehow things got out of hand – a year later I had reached Romania and was still going…
Truly hilarious books are rare. Even rarer are those based on real events. Join A.J. Mackinnon, your charming and eccentric guide, on an amazing voyage in a boat called Jack de Crow.
Equipped with his cheerful optimism and a pith helmet, this Australian Odysseus in a dinghy travels from the borders of North Wales to the Black Sea – 4,900 kilometres over salt and fresh water, under sail, at the oars, or at the end of a tow-rope – through twelve countries, 282 locks and numerous trials and adventures, including an encounter with Balkan pirates. Along the way he experiences the kindness of strangers, gets very lost, and perfects the art of slow travel.
My home town of Mudgee, Central West NSW, is already a popular weekend destination for Sydneysiders and others in need of a little down time and indulgence, but there is more to Mudgee than food and wine.
I am convinced that many people spend a sumptuous weekend in Mudgee without realising that there is a vast selection of natural wonders right on our door step. OK, ‘natural wonders’ may be a slight exaggeration, but we do have a delightful range of easy day walks and national parks that are within minutes, or less than an hour’s drive, of the Mudgee town clock.
Promotional Blurb: ‘When a Gandhi dies, nobody is safe.’ An assassination, a romance. A hijacking, several nuclear explosions and a religious experience … just some of the ingredients in the latest tour de force from the bestselling author of the Carpet Wars. In the searing summer of 2004, Christopher Kremmer returns to India, a country in the grip of enormous and sometimes violent change. As a young reporter in the 1990s, he first encountered this ancient and complex civilisation. Now, embarking on a yatra, or pilgrimage, he travels the dangerous frontier where religion and politics face off. Tracking down the players in a decisive decade, he takes us inside the enigmatic Gandhi dynasty, and introduces an operatic cast of political Brahmins, ‘cyber coolies’, low-caste messiahs and wrestling priests. A sprawling portrait of India at the crossroads, Inhaling the Mahatma is also an intensely personal story about coming to terms with a dazzlingly different culture, as the author’s fate is entwined with a cosmopolitan Hindu family of Old Delhi, and a guru who might just change his life.
Living in a foreign country is one thing, but working there is a completely different story!
Giving me a couple of days to acclimatise, if that is possible in a bustling Asian city, Miss Mai, my local contact, arrived at the apartment to introduce me to my placement at VietHealth. My role was to ‘Anglicise’ project proposals and other funding documents. As my background is in professional grant writing, I was confident that I could add some value. In my naivety, what I didn’t understand was the whole range of other cultural and personal dynamics that would colour the experience.
Picture this: it’s late Friday afternoon in Paris. We have finally arrived back in the City of Light after missing our train in Vernon (near Monet’s home at Giverny). The reason for the missed train was because we had been advised by some officious Frenchman, that we must pull our bikes apart, and bag them up, to be allowed to board the train. Sparks flew from both our spanners and our finger tips as we frantically disassembled the bikes but alas, the train doors slid shut and the train slowly pulled away from us and out of the station.
What makes us, all of a sudden, decide to step away from the comfort of our ordinary lives, and into the Great Unknown?
One day I am a plain-Jane, sensible-type. The next day I have locked myself into an adventure that is guaranteed to take me well out of my comfort zone.
In 2010, I was hankering to travel, but as my ‘better half’ couldn’t take time off work, I was looking for an adventure that would give me some sort of context or framework to travel in. After much searching and comparing, I decided to volunteer for a month in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Unbeknown to me, international volunteering is big business and some companies charge substantial fees to place a person in a volunteer role. Part of me still can’t understand the logic of paying for the privilege of working for free, but it was a good introduction to the contradictory nature of my time in Vietnam.
The company I chose to travel with is called IVHQ, based out of New Zealand. They seemed to have the largest range of volunteer opportunities at the most reasonable price, and they were happy to accept ‘older’ volunteers like myself. My teenage-gap-year days are far behind me, and I wanted to feel comfortable that my skills were going to be appreciated and useful, as well as providing me with a genuine opportunity to contribute.
The fees they charged covered the sourcing of a placement, my accommodation, meals and some local transport. I would also have local contacts in Hanoi to provide support and information. Not that I am a chicken or anything, but an Asian city with no local language or knowledge can be a tad intimidating.
Following multiple clarification emails, it was confirmed that I would be living in an apartment, not the organisation’s volunteer hostel. While more power to them, the thought of living with 40 squealing and partying 18-year-olds, made my blood run cold. Give me a bit of peace and privacy any day.
After the usual chaos and stress of packing and shutting down my business for a month, I was on the plane. Vietnam Airlines was a good introduction to my ultimate destination. The lights didn’t work, the video/entertainment didn’t work, the food was questionable, and there were various other broken and worn out parts of the plane’s interior. But, the staff were friendly, we took off and landed on time, and in one piece, and I knew I just had to go with the flow.
Hanoi airport was the typical chaos and cacophony of an Asian airport, with their hawkers and hasslers. Thankfully I was greeted by my local contact and transported to my hotel, only to find that the hotel had transferred my booking to a different hotel around the corner. I was quickly learning that things worked differently in Vietnam.
In the heart of the Old City, I played tourist for a couple of days, and then I was moved to my apartment in the north-western suburbs of Hanoi. During our trip through the suburbs, the taxi driver knocked over a lady on a motorbike, but he didn’t blink, slow down or stop. ‘OK’, I said to myself, ‘we obviously do things differently in Vietnam’.
There was some initial confusion, as my local contact tried to drive me to the volunteer hostel, until I gently, but firmly, confirmed that I was to live in an apartment. The taxi changed direction, and my new home became one those non-descript, high-rise apartment blocks that you see crammed closely together in rabbit warren streets, clustered on the fringes of countless Asian cities.
The apartment was quite spacious and the living areas were simply furnished. There were a few things lacking like beds, linen and the remotest hint of cleanliness or hygiene! Yes, it was filthy! I quietly inquired about the housekeeping arrangements and was told that a cook came daily and a cleaner once per week. Perhaps that week was in 1984!
My room was a bare mattress (none too clean) on the floor and a few scraggly wire coat hangers dangling precariously from electrical wiring protruding from the walls and ceiling. Before leaving Australia I had confirmed that all linen would be supplied, but obviously that had been lost in translation too. Luckily I had packed a silk sleeping sheet and brought along an old beach towel. That became my linen for the next month.
But again, the local staff were warm, friendly and welcoming and I was determined to make the most of the experience. After finding the local supermarket, I purchased the complete suite of cleaning materials and scrubbed my room and shared bathroom from top to bottom. Believe me, I am no neat freak, but even I could not live in someone else’s scum and grunge.
The apartment turned out to be a comfortable and enjoyable location with enough interesting flat mates over the month for me not to feel lonely. A trio of Irish girls had me in stitches with their aversion to bugs and anything else that crawled. There would be squealing and shrieking, and they would all be standing on their beds or chairs as I rushed in to remove the offending creepy crawly.
Like many Asian cities, electricity was sometimes an optional extra. Huge lightning storms would take out the whole suburb or maybe it was just our turn to lose power. Not a drama except for the lack of cooling and light. One day I returned to the apartment block and had to walk up 27 flights of stairs in the pitch dark! Phew! My work out for the day.
I enjoyed living amongst the local Vietnamese people and I suspect I would have been one of only a handful of Westerners in the whole suburb. Being tall, white and female, I attracted a fair bit of attention as I walked to the supermarket or to catch the bus. Once I said hello, good morning or how are you in my best Vietnamese, people would break into beaming smiles and return my greetings in their best English. Never underestimate the power of a genuine smile.
The daily commute to VietHealth was equal parts interesting and entertaining. As other commuters entered the bus there would be a stampede to sit next to me as I was a source of free English lessons for the next hour. Rarely have I felt so popular or so useful.
When I wasn’t conversing in English it was a joy to stare out the window at the overloaded bicycles, motorbikes and small trucks. One day we passed an old man on a bicycle carrying a four metre long ladder through peak hour traffic. Yet, it seemed effortless to him and no inconvenience for the surrounding traffic.
If I wanted to step out of my comfort zone on every level, then I got that in spades just by living in Hanoi.
Have you ever step right out of your comfort zone?
What: Volunteering with IVHQ starts from $180 per week, with over 33 countries to choose from.
Where: Living in the north-western suburbs of Hanoi and working in the north-eastern suburbs.
When: I visited in May. Like Goldilocks, not too hot and not to cold but a bit of everything weather-wise.
Why: Volunteering ticks all the boxes of culture, contribution, challenge and friendship.
How: I flew to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines. I am not sure they would be my airline of choice but at least I lived to tell the tale.
Who: Myself, four Irish girls, one American girl, and sundry bugs and bities.
Related Posts: For a walking perspective of the high mountains of Vietnam, have a peek at my post about walking at Sapa.
Book Title: Slow Journey South. Walking to Africa – A Year in Footsteps
Author: Paula Constant
Promotional Blurb:Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time. When Paula Constant and her husband, Gary, attempt to break away from the conventional 9-to-5 routine, a few weeks lazing in a resort or packed in a tour bus is not what they have in mind. What starts out as an idle daydream to embark on ‘a travel to end all travels’ turns into something far greater: an epic year-long 5000-kilometre walk from Trafalgar Square in London to Morocco and the threshold of the Sahara Desert. Quite an ambition for an unfit woman who favours sharing cigarettes and a few bottles of wine with friends over logging time on the treadmill. But if the sheer arduousness of walking over 25 kilometres a day through the landscapes and cultural labyrinths of France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco – without a support vehicle – is overlooked in her excitement, then so too is the unexpected journey of self-discovery and awakening that lies beyond every bend. Both the companions she meets on the road and the road itself provide what no university can offer: a chance to experience life’s simple truths face to face. Paula’s transformation from an urban primary school teacher into a successful expeditioner is a true tale of an ordinary woman achieving something extraordinary. It is a journey that begins with one footstep.
My Thoughts: I am going to have to stop reading these walking books. All they do is to fill me with an urgent wanderlust. I could pack and leave home tonight.
Paula and Gary Constant come up with the idea that they want to walk across the Sahara desert. This dream expands to walking from London to the Sahara, and they finally settle on walking from London to Cape Town!! And I thought I was a bit partial to a long stroll! All these dreams and plans are delayed and postponed, as they work up the courage to finally put one foot in front of the other and actually start walking.
I can’t believe how ill-prepared they were with virtually no training or fitness to speak of, AND carrying a pack the size and weight of which makes my back pack look like a day pack! I am surprised they even made it out of England let alone across France, Spain, Portugal and on to Morocco.
Although like me during my walks, they had some incredibly tough times, they also shared immense joy – especially with the people they met along the way.
There is so much that resounded with me in this book and Paula’s voice is honest and amusing. An entertaining read for walkers, dreamers and would-be adventurers.
Author bio: Paula Constant began walking from Trafalgar Square in 2004. Since then, she has walked over 12000km through eight countries: England, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. From 2005-2007, Paula walked over 7000km through the Sahara, until she was halted by civil war in Niger. Her first book, Slow Journey South, was released by Random House in 2008. Her second, Sahara, was released in October 2009. Paula is currently planning another walk, and lives in rural Victoria.