Day 10 Via Francigena, Garlasco to Pavia, 23.4km

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!

Advertisements

Day 9 Via Francigena, Nicorvo to Garlasco, 30km

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??)

Day 8 Via Francigena, Vercelli to Nicorvo , 25.5km

Date: Thursday 16 August
Distance covered to Rome: 220.4/1027km
Terrain: pancake flat
Overnight: Ospitale San Giacomo Madonnina, €10 (donation)
Feeling: HUNGRY!

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!

It is going to be a long night!

Tip of the day: always carry bread rolls!

Day 7 Via Francigena, Santhia to Vercelli, 28.9km

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!

Day 6 Via Francigena, Ivrea to Santhia, 38.4km

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.

Day 5 Via Francigena, Pont Saint Martin to Ivrea, 23.5km

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!

Day 4 Via Francigena, Verres to Pont Saint Martin, 19km

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!

Day 3 Via Francigena, Chatillon to Verres, 21.9km

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!

Tip of the day: Catch the train!

Day 2 Via Francigena, Aosta to Chatillon, 32.2km

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.

Day 1 Via Francigena, Great Saint Bernard Pass to Aosta, 31km

Date: Wednesday 8 August
Distance to Rome: 31/1027km
Terrain: down-bloody-hill all the way
Overnight: La Belle Epoque,€48
Feeling: absolutely knackered!

20180807223729_IMG_2571_1Well, 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?

20180808155835_IMG_2596_1I 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.

20180808164326_IMG_2597_1I 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.

20180808171050_IMG_2601_1A 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!!

Ciao, Pronto, Prego – Learning Basic Italian

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

The Italian Via Francigena – Scenery and Stages

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

Via Francigena – Top Five Information Sources & Resources

You don’t wake up one day and decide, “I am going to walk 1000km”.

Or perhaps you do.

I have heard stories of people walking out the front door of their home in Switzerland, and walking all the way to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. So, it does happen

Me? I like to do a little more research.

Continue reading

Under the Tuscan Sun – in Hiking Boots

Yes, it’s on again! Or should I say, the walking boots are on again, and I’m excited!

In 8 months’ time I will be stepping out across the Italian countryside, powering over the rolling hills and inhaling gelato.

Continue reading