Saturday, 23 August 2008

Assisi Diary Post 12: 21/08/2008, Vetrella

Assisi Post 12 - 21/08/2008, Vetralla 360 kms left

Well this is another milestone as although I still have over 300 kms to walk, I am now less than 100 kms from Rome.

The last posting seems to have been quite a while ago so this one might be a bit on the long side. I have been going through photos as well and seem to have a bumper crop!

To take up where I left off last time, I was leaving Sarzana to walk for a day by the coast. In fact I had a day and a half by the coast as I decided not to head inland after Massa Marina but to continue along the coast and head inland at Pietrasanta Marina. Arriving at the coast was quite a culture shock! After the beauty and art of Sarzana I was confronted by garish 'bucket and spade' type shops. The sea was not often visible as the beaches were mainly private, owned by the bar or restaurant establishment which hired out sun loungers and umbrellas. Occasionally there would be a public beach where a tantalising glimpse of the sea was visible.

But was it hot! And was it humid! Back came the memories of the Riviera coast walk of 2006. I arrived at my accommodation just before midday and promptly went to bed for an hour. Got up and went for a swim - had been carrying a swimsuit since England and I was not going to ignore an opportunity to use it. Luckily the hostel I was staying in was right at the sea front and beside a public beach. The seabed was disappointingly stony/rocky so I had to be very careful of my lovely feet! And of course I took a photo of them in the sea - C below

(and Marion, I made sure my nails would be up to scratch - pardon the pun!)

Back to my room and I was again exhausted so went to bed for another hour. This was only the 2nd or 3rd time I had had to rest in the afternoon in the whole of the walk. After resting I went off for food and came across a beautiful but modern Church. Alas I was not able to photo it. However en route back I did get my first sunset photo - below

The following day as I said I continued along the seafront until heading inland for Pietrasanta. There was a lovely walk up through a park and I was listening to some Breton music and my favourite dance tune came on - it's a Breton dance called ¨K'Host ar Kwaht¨ (that is absolutely not the correct spelling but it is approximately right). Anyway I just could not resist dancing. So I did. An 'ould fella' on a bike though it was highly amusing, so I brought a smile to someone's face that day! In Pietrasanta there was an amazing display of figures. They were not sculptures as such, I think they were made out of that resin type material. But they were giant heads sort of scattered in the main square. See example below. Some were on their side, some upside down.

OK I am not going to give a day by day account of events since the last Diary, nor am I going to keep referring back to the 2006 walk, but ....... there were a couple of other things about that day I wanted to share. The first was the incredibly generous welcome I was given in Valpromaro and the really helpful, pilgrim friendly girl in the Tourist Office in Pietrasanta. I had been intending stopping in Camiore and on reaching Pietr. called at the Tourist Office to ask her to phone the number for the pilgrim refuge. It turned out that this facility had been a one-off & there was no accommodation for pilgrims. She suggested I stay in the town which has a very nice refuge but I was committed to being in Lucca the following day and the distance was too great. So we chatted and in the end I decided I would try and get to the town beyond Camiore, Valpromaro, even though I was now faced with a pretty long day. I said I would be arriving late and she said they would wait for me. So off I went and arrived eventually about 17:00 after nearly 30 kms walk, to be greeted by the Mayor who gave me an account of the history of the area and the Church which had been a hospital for pilgrims very much like similar establishments on the routes of St James. He also opened the Church for me and gave me fresh lettuce and tomatoes from the parish garden! Anyway, I would recommend a stop in the village (I have not been bribed, honest) for those who want to stay in pilgrim accommodation. The village has a shop and a bar (very important) and the refuge, although a camp bed in a meeting room, does have a kitchen and there is the all important hot shower. It also has an amazingly friendly cat! It was a beautiful long-haired grey animal, picture below.

The other thing I wanted to mention about that particular day is a really lovely friendly bar situated at the top of a hard climb. I cannot remember the name of the village (and I have sent the maps back), but you come out of Pietrasanta and eventually start a really long climb and in fact walkers can short cut the end of it by going up a path that is invitingly wide initially but eventually narrows to about 18 inches so not suitable for bikes or I think horses. Anyway you get to the top and there is an open bar! It was there and open in 2006 and I remember writing in my diary that it was a very friendly place. This year was no exception. It is the first bar you come to, so to those who do the route, I thoroughly recommend it.

OK, now some general views of the Camino. First the hills around that area I was talking about above - see below!

Next a flower, or more accurately a shrub - a Fuchsia. This reminds me of Ireland where they grow wild. it was the first time and so far the only time I saw a Fuchsia. The flower always reminds me also of ballerinas in those lovely full skirts

And while we are on the subject of flowers, remember the huge plantain I found a couple of posts ago? Well I also found an absolutely enormous flower!

Several more days walking took me into Tuscany, beautiful countryside, but oh those hills! Also to my consternation the heat was not abating, but increasing. As I walked into San Miniato Basso at 14:30 the temperature was reading 41 degrees! The following morning I was rewarded for my early start by a beautiful sunrise

Also now the blackberries were starting to be in season so I had some tasty desserts!

and as a completely unrelated item, I came across a new type of waymark.

OK I was whingeing earlier about the hills, but the up-side is the views

Last posting I said a friend had foolishly agreed to come out and walk with me. Well surprisingly enough he is still talking to me! In fact he is proving to be a very tolerant, amiable companion and we have had much fun chatting along the route and jointly preferring the level parts rather than the ascents! (I can't put in what we actually say about the constant ascents which seem to be much higher and longer than the corresponding descents!). He joined me as planned at Siena and the first day's walk although hot was not too bad as it was not a hugely long day. But the next day was a right baptism of fire! In all it was nearly 30 kms and the heat and the hills were ........ But we survived and enjoyed some lovely wine sitting on L-shaped marble sculptures just outside the Collegiate Church at San Quirico d'Orcia, on the beautiful balmy evening. A just reward for the effort we had put in.

The next day had another brutal climb and we reached our destination, Le Briccole with just an hour or so spare before the weather broke and a fabulous storm broke out. Then it was followed by a rainbow.

I haven't said much about other pilgrims although since Vertrelli I have been encountering them. I had meant to mention this in earlier postings but somehow never quite did. There was a Swiss couple at Vercelli that Vanda and I kept meeting but I have not seen them since just before Pavia. They crossed the Po the day after me, Danilo the boatman told me they were expected. Then I met a Belgian couple just before crossing the Cisa Pass but have not seen them since either. Then there was the German lady, Frederika who I met several days running but she went ahead of me after San Quirico. Then there was a lovely group of young Italians who caught up with us at Radicofani. There is a lovely pilgrim refuge there and you have a communal meal. During this meal, when they found out I had walked from London, Matteo (I hope I have the spelling right) said ¨Are you the author of 'walk2rome'¨?

Well I was just a bit surprised to be asked if I was the author of a website in English by an Italian! Apparently he had seen one of my entries in a refuge 'Pilgrim Comments Book' and had asked a friend to look it up. His friend was following my diary and Matteo said it was a really lovely site.

I have to say I was flattered! ¨I'm famous¨ I thought to myself! Seriously though I was very pleased that the diary had appealed to someone from Italy as I love the country.

We saw them for a few days but they have now gone ahead. But they were great fun and we shared a few meals with them. I took photos of our times together and for once I remembered to ask if I coul;d publish them on the web. They agreed so here are photos of Matteo, Giulia, Vitorio, Cecilia and Sara. We might meet some of them in Rome as they will be spending some days there so might still be there when we arrive. Amazingly enough too, Matteo and Cecilia know the music of an Asturian piper called Hevia. We spent an evening chatting music and found we had similar tastes.

I also had 2 further opportunities to use the swimsuit. The first was Bolsena Lake. I had stayed in Bolsena in 2006 but only explored a very small part of the town as the pilgrim refuge I had stayed in was up in the hills on the outskirts. I had not realised the town was actually on the lake side. However this time we stayed in a refuge just across from the Basilica of Santa Christina in the town. So we wandered down to the lake and found a public beach where I was able to have a swim - and photo the feet of course!

The next opportunity was en route to Viterbo where the Via Francigena goes right past some very old thermal baths. I almost certainly wrote about these in my 2006 Diary and there are photos of the baths in the 2006 Photo Gallery. Interestingly Joe thought there had been more water in the baths last time he walked and I felt there were definitely baths which had dried up which were not in 2006. This time there was only water in 2 of the bathing areas. Although the sun was now a little weaker than it had been (36 degrees at 14:30 instead of 41 degrees), it was still strong so I could not stay out in it for long. One of the pools was about 3 feet deep and it was lovely to just wallow! Naturally I had to photo the feet so see below, but I forgot to photo the baths themselves. But if you're interested I'm fairly sure there is a photo on the 2006 Gallery.

In terms of unusual scenery, the road out from Viterbo takes you through what nearly feels like a canyon or gorge, with tall sides of rock.

Also that area has exceptionally well preserved examples of very old Roman Roads constructed from basalt.

And two final photos - one of the many roadside shrines

and the other is another example of the vivid colours that the camera sometimes catches because of the strong sunlight.

By the next time I write, I will again be on my own and have started out on the final leg of my journey - Rome to Assisi. I hope the temperature drops a little more but not so far as to bring the rain!

Take care all

Monday, 4 August 2008

Assisi Diary Post 11: 03/08/2008, Sarzana

Assisi Post 11 - 03/08/2008, Sarzana. 728 kms to go

Well this is another milestone or rather a couple of milestones.

I have just crossed another mountain range, the Apennines and I have arrived at Sarzana where in 2006 I joined the Via Francigena having walked from Santiago de Compostela. That day I was suffering mildly from an extremely late night and 5 pints of Guinness! In Sarzana I stayed in the Franciscan Convent, my first pilgrim accommodation since just before crossing into Italy. I remember feeling a sense of being at home there. At the time Sarzana was hopping as there was a huge antiques fair all over the old town. Also there was an outdoor 'live' painting session going on where several artists had huge canvases which they painted over several days. There were chairs set out for the public to sit and watch the proceedings I remember being amazed at the confidence in the weather - what if it had rained overnight? I could not imagine a similar event happening in England. OK enough of the reminisces, what about now?

Well I didn't have 5 pints of Guinness last night although I could have the night before in Pontremoli (but that's another story). However I am again staying in the Franciscan Convent and amazingly enough the antiques fair is here and the open air painting has started - see below

So how has the walking been I hear you ask!

For a start the heat that I had been expecting for weeks has now kicked in with a vengeance. In my 2006 diary, like the pain I was suffering with my feet, I played down the severity of the temperatures. Who wants to read a diary that is full of negative remarks like "I was in constant pain for xxx hours" or ¨I thought I would collapse with the heat¨? Anyway I had been dreading the onset of real heat as I know I cannot walk very far in it! Well it has finally arrived. For example, this morning at 10:40 the temperature was 33 degrees. If you have had a dry sauna (as opposed to a steam sauna), just imagine being in the sauna room with a 26lb backpack on, and walking. That will give you some idea of what it can be like if there is no shade and in 2006 often there was not! Mind you, in 2006 the heat had been really climbing since about mid-June and continued until about the start of the 2nd week of August. For over two weeks when I walked in Italy the temperature did not drop below 29 degrees, even at night, so sleep was difficult. Oh and during that period, add in high humidity. So enduring this heat only for the last 6 or so days has not been so bad. Also I was fortunate in that as I said earlier I have just crossed the Apennines and the temperature moderated as I got higher.

OK that's the hard luck story over and done with so how about the Camino?

For quite some time I had been walking through fairly flat countryside. The area prior to my last posting is a rice growing area so is quite wet. Where you have warm and wet you also have mosquitoes! Even beyond the rice area the mosquitoes continued to plague me. However I seem to have left them behind now. There have been fields of those round straw bales that somehow remind me of weetabix (and yes I know weetabix is not round but oval!) so I thought you might like to see a pic

The approach to the Apennines included a stage which I decided was too long, given the heat and the ascent requirements. It was only about 26 kms which I can do but it included a quite steep climb of around 800 metres. Now the walk up to St Bernard's Pass entailed an ascent of 1000 metres and granted I was pretty wiped out when I arrived, but I was able to do it. That day it was clear blue skies and sun but I suspect the temperature remained below 30 (surprisingly enough a thermometer is not among the items I carry). Here it was different. Somehow when the heat is turned up, the rucksack gains about 7lbs (or so it seems) and the effort to walk is so much more as your body is now working overtime to try and keep you cool. Anyway I decided I would camp wild - this being the first time this year in Italy. After a steep ascent through a wooded area I found a suitable place and pitched the tent - pic below. It was only about 5 kms from the next pilgrim refuge.

Yet again I was being looked after (thank you all for your prayers) as about 30 mins after getting the tent up, the clouds gathered and a storm broke out, thunder, lightening and of course rain! After the storm died down, I heard my first 'unknown animal' noise. I have not heard it before and it was a cross between a bark and someone saying 'bear' at the same time. Given that I had pitched in a field I felt that whatever it was would probably stay in the woods and not approach the tent. Later that night the thunder and lightening returned so it was a bit on the sleepless side. The following morning it was overcast and looked as though rain was imminent so despite still being tired I got up and packed and was on the road at 06:00.

In fact the clouds disappeared and the rain didn't appear. My decision to wild camp though was vindicated as it took me more than 2 hours to do the next 5 kms. I stopped in the village for coffee and met 2 Belgian pilgrims I had encountered the day before when I stopped for a break. They had stayed behind to eat at the Bar/Restaurant. At the time I wondered whether they realised how hot it would get, and how difficult the route was. Anyway when I met them again they said it had also taken them well over 2 hours to do that stretch and had not reached their accommodation until 19:00.

Given that I am on a pilgrimage to Assisi, (don't you love the way I change subject with no warning!) at long last I have received a stamp from a Church dedicated to St Francis.

This was in Fidenza where I stayed at accommodation provided by the Parish Church of St Francis run by Franciscan Friars.

Also I like to photo water features and the one I took in Fidenza came out reasonably so I thought I would include it for your edification!

And not to be outdone by man, I feel it appropriate to include this water feature done by nature (it was not taken at Fidenza though)

As I said earlier I have crossed the Apennines. This was at the Pass of Cisa a mere 1041 metres high. Although on the day I crossed I only had to ascend 200 metres, I had to go down over 800 metres to reach my destination, Pontremoli. My leg muscles are still complaining! Perched right at the top of the pass was a beautiful (and open) little Church

As I sat taking my well-earned rest at the Pass and supped my coffee, the souvenir shop opposite was just opening for business. Out came a bucket of brightly coloured windmills to attract the children and suddenly I had an 'I want one' moment. So I now have a very brightly adorned rucksack! Alas the power generated by the windmill is not enough to actually carry the rucksack.

Well that's about it for now. Tomorrow I head for the coast for just one day's walking by the Mediterranean Sea so expect a photo of feet in sea in the next posting. And my pilgrimage enters another new phase as a good friend of mine is coming to Siena to walk with me. I found a Guinness pub in Siena in 2006 so no doubt we will sup a drop or two!

Before I go I should include a photo or two of the route up to the Pass

Take care all