Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Assisi Diary Post 13: 01/09/2008, Poggio Mirteto

Assisi Post 13, 01/09/2008, Poggio Mirteto 209 kms left (in theory - see below!)

This posting has 2 headlines.

Headline 1: Isn't it amazing how God brings us together?
Joe and I continued our way to Rome, discovering en route another section of old Roman road. We had decided to take an alternative route from Campagnano to La Storta which was outlined on the Psoni maps but was not way marked. Somehow we did not end up on the correct path crossing the Cassia but found ourselves on an old basalt Roman road.

We were very exited and thought ourselves real trailblazers! However this was short-lived as we discovered we were in a field with a high fence, high gate to match and no way out! The next thing a man appeared, I though to tell us off for trespassing, but no, he had a wire clippers and undid some of the fencing at the edge to let us out. He then offered us a coffee - it turned out he owned the nearby bar. We were certainly ready for a coffee and break.

We reached La Storta, the last stop before Rome without further mishap and after showering and dinner etc. discovered a Guinness pub just across the road from where we were staying. It seemed most appropriate!

Our walk into Rome the following day, Monday 25th August was amazing as we were accompanied by Alberto Alberti, a good friend of Joe's (and by the way who gave me a brilliant guided tour of Rome in 2006) and who has written a guide to the Via F between Siena and Rome. He brought us in through fields and trees and even in the centre of Rome we picked blackberries and figs and saw wildlife and farm animals - see pictures below

And finally we arrived in St Peter's Square

This was the end of the journey for Joe but just a short rest period for me.

After giving thanks for our safe arrival and discovering that I could not get my Testimonium in the afternoon, we went for a celebratory beer. Leaving Joe to look after the rucksacks, I went to the post office to collect the parcel of maps etc sent to me (thanks Jill) and just as I came out of the PO who did I meet but the group of Italians I wrote about in the last diary - though minus Matteo as he had had to return to work.

We couldn't believe it and squealed in delight and hugged each other. I had meant to contact them to say when we would arrive but thought they had already left. They came along to meet Joe and we arranged to meet the following evening.

Joe and I went to our accommodation, ate and to my dismay my body went into shut-down mode and I had to go to bed - it was only 21:45. I think it must have been because I had walked non-stop since 3rd August and the emotional release of arriving in Rome.

Next evening we meet Cecilia, Sara etc as planned and at long last I got the chance to wear my posh frock I had bought some time ago and which was in the parcel with maps etc. We had a great evening, Joe managed to find again the restaurant in which he and a friend had had an excellent meal a few years ago after walking the Via F from Lausanne. I was very touched when Cecilia gave me a candle to take with me and light at Assisi.

The next day was spent sorting out maps etc for the next leg of my journey as well as getting my Testimonium. Afterwards we went to Mass in the Vatican which appropriately was celebrated by Don Bruno who has just minutes before presented my with the Testimonium. I was leaving the Chapel after Mass and I saw someone I thought I recognised. I said to myself ´It can't be, can it?´ Then I saw who was standing beside him and I thought ´It is, it is´, and right enough it was!

It was Tom and Anne, set dance teachers from London, whom I have known for several years. Tom knew I was walking to Rome and Assisi but never dreamed he would meet me. They were not even staying in Rome but in La Verna and had only come to Rome for the day. And had come to visit St Peters and had been just in time to hear the bell for Mass. Tom said that when he went up to Communion he saw me and was thinking ´That's Ann, I'm sure that's Ann!´ So that was an even more amazing meeting, though given the surroundings we were not jumping up and down and squealing! Alas we were unable to do more than exchange greetings and hugs as Joe and I were already meeting Don Bruno again as well as Alberto. So Tom promised to give my love to the class and we parted. I am still amazed by that meeting, St Peters is so big it would have been so easy not to have met!

In no time at all it was Thursday and Joe departed for London. I had a solitary breakfast and later that day sat at lunchtime with a large bottle of Peroni but only one glass. Then Friday dawned and it was time for me to start the final part of my pilgrimage.

Headline 2: Walking in Italy is not the same as walking in France
(or the best laid plans of mice, men and pilgrims do not always go as expected!)

I had decided to formally start the next stage from the St Francis Church of the Stigmata, attending Mass there and perhaps getting a stamp. So I set off from St Peter's Square and walked to St Francis only to discover the Church was closed for renovations and Mass was not being celebrated there until September.

Off I went feeling a little disappointed but in reasonable spirits. I wondered what this next stage would bring. It took a long time to get out of Rome but at last I passed the 'you are leaving Rome' sign and ahead lay hills/mountains. I have to say I did not relish the idea of going up them!

I reached the turning for Guidonia, my destination for the day and great, there was a cafe. I stopped for a very good (and cheap) meal and discovered my map was gone. It had dropped out of my bag. Well at least I knew where I was going that day and I thought the town would be big enough that I should get another. It also looked big enough to have a hotel - I had no idea where I would sleep that night, but still had the tent so if the worse came to the worse, could camp wild.

Did manage to get a replacement map and have now been walking for 3 days. I did have to climb a bit on day 2 but it was hardly noticeable, the views were great

and the route took me along a lovely flat road running along the hillside. I also enjoyed lots of figs!

However I have run into a major obstacle - route finding. When I devised my itinerary I based it on a couple of guidebooks which I had borrowed. I had no time in England to buy these or indeed the appropriate maps. I assumed I would find the necessary material in Rome. Not so! The largest scale map I can find is 1 cm to 1.5 kms. I could not find either of the guidebooks. What I have now discovered is that there are several instances of 'as the crow flies' sections in my itinerary, and alas I am not a crow!

To explain take for example Day 6, Calvi del Umbria to Stroncone, 20 kms. The itinerary goes Calvi, Vasciano, Aguizzo, Coppa & Stroncone. The distance between Calvi and Vasciano looks to be about 10 kms but there is no direct road linking the two, there is just mountains. No doubt there is a track or path but its not marked. To go by road is about 27 kms. Similarly there is no direct road between Vasciano and Aguizzo. In fact the road stops dead at Aguizzo! There is no direct route either between Calvi and Stroncone so I can't just march down the main road to get there.

I decided to get to Poggio Mirteto as I could do so reasonably easily and it is a large town, and try and get more detailed information. But no, the tourist office is shut on Mondays and does not open until 14:00 tomorrow. Also the well stocked looking bookshop has no larger scale maps than I have already. Therein lies the headline. When I did a similar pilgrimage in France in 2003, heading off with just an itinerary of towns and no idea what I would find in terms of accommodation or route, maps of scale 1 cm to 1 km and 1 cm to 0.25 km of that region were easily available in tabac shops. Sometimes the little shops would have maps of neighbouring regions, but these could normally be found in larger towns as well so route finding was not a problem. In addition I found Tourist Offices in France readily available (and open) sometimes even in quite small towns and they were very helpful in finding accommodation. They often had free large scale maps of the town/local area showing local footpaths thus allowing me to plot more off-road options than I could have otherwise. I did not realise at the time how fortunate I was, never having walked anywhere before!

I know there are marked routes around Rieti, and it is the capital of the province and a very large town so I have decided to take a bus there and stay for 2 nights so that I can spend tomorrow trying to get more detailed maps or guides. If I cannot, I will have to redraw my itinerary using the maps I have. I may even postpone the walk altogether until next year by which time I will have been able to order the necessary maps and guides. I am too adept at getting lost and there is absolutely no way I am heading into the mountains without detailed maps or instructions. As I said earlier, I am not a crow, but neither am I some kind of strong Amazonian superwoman! I had wanted this stage to be a slow, meditative pilgrimage, almost a retreat so if I cannot continue the walk I will spend the time in a Monastery, perhaps in or near Assisi. A friend has kindly agreed to come out and meet me in Assisi so I intend to visit there anyway (and there'll be another opportunity to wear the posh frock!).

So take care all. We will see what the next day brings.

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