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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
It’s summertime 2003, these Aussie expats were keen to escape the English definition of Summer (18°C and raining) to the more familiar version (32°C and crystal clear, blue skies). A 15-Italian-cities-in-10-days itinerary was planned, a cheap and cheerful airline booked and we were soon stepping out of the crisp air-conditioning of Marco Polo Airport near Venice, into a wall of heat. Welcome to Italy!
Growing up on a farm, in a small country town, in rural New South Wales, in a country at the bottom of the World, always made places like Venice feel slightly out of reach. Like a tantalising jewel on the edge of my imagination. Now, at last, it was a reality.
Hot, confusing and equal parts mesmerising, Venice turned all my previous concepts of a ‘city’ upside down. I know I am a simple soul, but I was transfixed by the garbage boat (not truck), the delivery boat (not van) and the various traghettos, gondolas and ferries that moved the population around the liquid streets. On foot, I was not struggling with stop lights and pedestrian crossings, no road rage or exhaust fumes. If this was an alternative to traditional city-living, then more power to it!
With ubiquitous Lonely Planet guide in hand, we had three days to tick off all the big name sites. We must have looked like your typical stunned tourists as we strolled alongside the canals. Just when we thought we had seen the most amazing canal/street/church, we would turn another corner and be astounded all over again. A particular highlight of the first day was the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. In hindsight, I am not sure whether it was a church or a Harry Potter spell! At the time I was equally impressed by its elongated name as I was by its Titian paintings. Little did I know how ‘common’ the Great Masters were in Italy. Ho hum, yet another priceless work of art.
We had been given a tip to visit St Mark’s Basilica as early as possible in the day and tag onto the guided tour in English. While the tour didn’t cover the entire Basilica – that would take days and more information than we could ever possibly retain – it did cover a few select mosaic murals providing insight into some of the people and events that graced this floating city. Left to our own devices, we explored the rest of the building, climbing up to the Galleria for a birds-eye view of the Piazza. It confirmed our decision to start early in the day, as the square was now full-to-overflowing with both people and pigeons.
Trying to orient ourselves around the Main Canal, we wandered the cobbled streets, absorbing the atmosphere of this unique city. A gondola poling along a quiet narrow canal, an elaborate iron balcony, or a quaint, arched bridge all combined to make us believe we were experiencing something extra special.
Before leaving England, some locals had warned us, rather inelegantly, that Venice stinks in Summer. However, we did not find that at all and spent the majority of our visit walking happily alongside the canals or floating about out on the sea proper, completely oblivious to any sickening odours.
Taking a ferry ride out to the various islands surrounding Venice was a good way to understand the architectural feat that is Venice, as well as its relationship to the sea. There was a real vibrancy to the waterfront as buildings were progressively being restored and the hundreds of different water craft shuttled to and fro.
On our way out to the island of Lido, I was befriended by an aged Italian gentleman who graciously offered to spend the day with me, showing me around. When I said I would need to check that with my husband he cooled noticeably but, undeterred, he continued to enthusiastically promote the merits of his island home. After a brief stroll along the crowded beach, without my Italian escort, we cruised on to Burano – home of Burano lace – and the island of Murano, the centre of a spectacular glass industry.
I think the lace industry on Burano has seen better days and has mostly gone the way of Asian imports and knock-offs. I have never been a fan of the lace doily but the trip wasn’t wasted. Many of the homes and buildings in Burano are painted in a kaleidoscope of colours. It creates a happy and friendly atmosphere and an amusing shake-up for we residents of beige, bone and brown countries.
From Burano, we hopped on the next commuter ferry for the short trip to Murano. Another fascinating island and craft centre, but this time focusing on glass. We were lucky to stumble across a fornacé, or furnace, and were spellbound by the glass blowers in action. I truly admire the skill involved in working with such a fluid and fickle material, yet being able turn out such works of beauty and delicacy. I can only wonder how many times they burned themselves as they learned their trade! Sorry, it is just how my mind works!
Our Venetian experience was drawing to a golden close as we rode the twilight ferry back into Venice. The city appeared mystical as it materialised out of the dusky Summer haze – all ancient towers and lace-like balconies.
The last evening was spent walking the cool and shadowy footpaths beside serpentine canals, and jostling with the ever-present tourists. I doubt that we got even half-way through our Venice bucket list, but the places we experienced left a lasting and loving impression. We did not see all the churches, museums or canals but maybe that was on purpose.
The longing for Venice continues today.
What: First stop on a 10 day trip to Italy. In Venice, we stayed in the tiny but centrally located – Antica Casa Carrettoni
Where: Venice, Italy.
When: Late July 2003, hence the non-digital photography. Apologies!
Why: A good opportunity to escape the English version of Summer and yet another opportunity to absorb European history and culture.
How: We flew from Gatwick airport aboard budget airline Volare. We caught the shuttle bus into Venice and left Venice on the train bound for La Spezia.
Who: Myself, The Brave Man* and two bored children.
Related Blogs: For some fantastic photos and background information have a look at the Venice Travel Blog – http://venicetravelblog.com
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!