PILGRIM TALES 2016

1.2 Million Pilgrim Steps

20 Oct 2016

 

When I added up the number of steps in the month of walking it was 1,228,146 or 942.05km. That was between 17 September and 16 October.

Today I attended the Papal audience in St Peter's Square along with about another 100,000.

Daniel and Nelly Noel Belgium friends I met about five years ago on the Pilgrimage Portuguese flew down to Rome so we could catch up. It has been a delight to see them again.

Last week the total was 291,491. I stayed overnight in Radicofani, San Lorenzo , Montefiascone, Vescovo, Capranica, Campagnano, Di Roma, Roma (outskirts) and Roma.

It was a surprise to walk into a Papal Mass on Sunday morning. It is actually the second time this has happened to me I remember walking into to Canonisation Mass for the founder of Opus Dei.

All in all it has been an enriching experience. There have been pluses and minuses in carrying the iPad. One plus is that in writing a few things down it inevitably will jog the memory and hopefully I will not be asked too many times "What was the best part?" Doesn't that annoy you?

Check out yr.no the weather service in Norway, an excellent resource when travelling? Type in Melbourne and have a look.

Just a few quirky things that have stuck in my mind:

The problem of rubbish both in producing it and disposing of it

Amazing the number of toilet seats that I have sat on that move (an Italian design fault?)

As the first pilgrim (sometimes only) pilgrim on the track in the morning you frequently are bursting through unseen spider webs. I don't mean the circular variety but more the what appears to be single strands from one side of the track to the other. How do spiders do it?

The joy and welcome one feels when walking as a pilgrim. In Viterbo when passing a late 50s woman she offered "Bravo". Now I can't be definitive, it could have been because I was wearing my cross or because I looked old and tired, but I think it was her recognition of a pilgrim. Often people will offer a greeting as you pass. Just last week I was walking along a reasonable quiet road and the distinctive blue of the Carabinieri car approached coming from the opposite direction as they drew level they slowed tooted waved and smiled.

A good note on which to end Pilgrim Tales.

Lazio's Social Squad

16 Oct 2016

 

I am on the very outskirts of Rome. My only complaint is the paucity of way marking signs. I walked 31.86km or 42,532 steps today. Memorable for two reasons passing what a bike rider told me was Lazio's social squad's training facility. I don't know what AFL facilities are like these days but if this was their "social squad's" goodness knows what the real thing looks like. The other thing is I had my second fall. Walking along a farm working track with water covering the track there was a well-worn path off the track alongside the water. I almost made it. Fell at the last in racing parlance. Not gracefully landed on my bum in the middle of the clay coloured water. Having just past two farmers who were making some attempt at repairing the track, they very kindly came to make sure I was ok. To add to my indignity one of them by gesture (putting his two index figures up to his eyes suggested that I look where I am going. Having negotiated hundreds and hundreds of these situations, I could only smile.

A remarkable thing happened at the very end of my walk today. I decided to walk beyond the recommended penultimate night before Rome a place called La Storta following the via Cassia. As mentioned the way marking is disgraceful. There is apparently a turn to the right on the via Trionfale. I missed it and continued along the via Cassia for a few hundred metres. I had nowhere in mind but felt that there must be hotels on the way into Rome. I passed the St Dominic's Institute, a large building with many shuttered windows. I stopped and then retraced my steps then down another street to a large iron gate. There were two choices of buzzers to press one marked gardener the other St Dominic's Institute. I pressed the latter. There was a click and a push on the gate gained me entry. This however only allowed me into what might be called the outer perimeter. Another gate another button another click and another entry. Expecting whoever was controlling security to appear I waited then approached what looked like the main entrance. Nothing. Nobody. What was plan B?


After about 10 minutes by which time I realised that I might have got in but how do I get out? Another 5 minutes and the first gate opened allowing a small red car to emerge. Two religious sisters emerged. Both spoke English. Thee first question even before and identity check was how I got in? I explained and added to their consternation because the gates should not have opened. They informed me this was a school and there was no accommodation.

 

However just 200 metres back on the opposite side of the road was a Polish establishment that did in fact accommodate pilgrims. I had passed it but did not even notice the Polish flag. JP ll established the facility in 1982 taking over a seminary or monastery (not sure which) for Polish pilgrims. Well here I am about 10km from St Peter's having just enjoyed a Polish dinner, celebrated Mass and ready for breakfast at 6.30am. The cost was €30 something Euros... I gave them €40.


The reality is that I will be in St Peter's Square by 9.30 tomorrow morning.

An Act of Kindness

14 Oct 2016

 

One of the problems with the Via Francigena (name of Canterbury to Rome walk) is the lack of uniformity of the way marking signs. There are at least a dozen different signs not to mention the colours of the arrows (when employed). Sometimes there are two signs pointing in opposite directions. On the whole there are enough of them but they are not always well placed and sometimes abandon you at critical times. For the pilgrim the sun is your best compass and your tongue the best map. However what do you do when you can't see the sun and you are in wilderness? Pilgrim's hunch predicated on general sense of direction and close inspection of the track looking for footprints or bike tracks. Very handy when you come to a fork or multiple choices.

I did not have to climb the gate. The woman who opened up for me obviously had the same trouble as me with the padlock (all it needed was some oil) because when I got back after dinner the chain was being held by an unlocked lock. However when I left this morning at 7am the lock was locked and had been oiled. I had no trouble with my key.

Experienced an act of kindness on Thursday morning. For only the second time on this trip I was attacked by a dog (I think Italians have more and bigger dogs than the French). I noticed this white dog on the opposite side of the road and as I drew level it ran across the road barking and looking mildly menacing. Up came my two poles in a defensive pose. This had the opposite effect to what I had hoped as the dog appeared more angry. At this critical point in the contest a car appeared going the opposite way to me. The dog retreated from whence it had come; momentarily. As soon as the car had passed the dog was ready to resume hostilities, however unbeknownst to me another car came from the opposite direction and the driver immediately summed up the situation and placed his car between the dog and me slowing to my walking pace. He continued to be buffer until the dog gave up and retreated. I gave the driver a big wave and friendly smile.

Montefiascone has a connection between my nephew Craig his wife Sue and myself, inasmuch as I recounted to them the legend of est est est when they took me to dinner when I was in Sydney to a restaurant called Est. I thought Craig and Sue might be interested in what I wrote hence an email. Only trouble was that the Wifi connection in the two star hotel where I am staying does not seem to work.

Me being me having typed the email wanted to send it straight away even though the time back home was 4.30am Friday. Therefore I thought I would go to the cafe a few doors away with Wifi where I had a cup of tea earlier in the afternoon. I walked in and saw a man and young boy, not taking any notice I preceded to the counter when the man called out Noel. Of course my prosopagnosia immediately came into play. But he was very good in identifying himself as one of my two saviours from yesterday. I travelled 26 km today, he lives in a village 15km away but had brought his son into Capranica for a guitar lesson at 5pm. As he was running early he he decided to call into that cafe for a cup of coffee.

I then proceeded to a church that had an outside poster saying that Mass was daily at 19.00. I walked in just as the priest and four old lady's were singing the opening hymn. It was 17.00. This was more good fortune as I was after Mass able to obtain my daily pilgrim stamp from the church.

The second half of today's walk was in drenching rain. Arrived into Capranica just after 1pm cold and wet. So cold in fact that I had to warm my hands with hot water before I could undo my shoe laces. My sodden boots are stuffed with newspaper to absorb some of the water.

There is a trattoria that I am told is very good right next store to the hotel. It was closed at 2.15 when I made my first foray. I am assured it will be open tonight.

Musings of a Pilgrim

13 Oct 2016

 

It is amazing how when walking over an uneven surface the eye can inform the brain, the brain sends a message to the leg and finally the foot chooses the safest path, all of this happening while the next foot is about to land.

I did expect young Italians to be able to speak English, such has not generally been my experience. Given the Italian tongue does not command a large global audience I thought there would have been a greater emphasis on diversity. Early on I was surprised to see so many young people smoking.

It is becoming more difficult to manage without a mobile phone. An example is the public phone has all but disappeared, posing a problem when one arrives at the door of the pilgrim hostel of a small village to find the door locked with a notice on the door asking you to ring a particular phone number. I have not given up the fight just yet but I do understand the mobile is becoming an inseparable attachment to the human. Perhaps you already know this and I just haven't noticed. I did try to buy a phone card early on just in case I needed to make a phone call. I don't think such things exist any more. I guess that is a logical extension of the demise of the public phone. Young people reading this probably don't know that you could buy a card that had a security number go to a public telephone and use your card to make a phone call.

Two things Italians should excel at are cycling and shooting. So many bike riders and hardly a day goes by without hearing shoots from the woods. Italian cyclists never warn they are passing, even a cough or whistle would be appreciated.

In the early part of my journey I was surprised how many hotels had closed. You do notice many businesses on life-support. I particularly feel sorry for those trying to run a hardware store, given the amount of stock they have to carry. It must be a big day when somebody actually comes in and buys something.

So many footpaths and roads badly pot-holed, I guess the money is not there for repairs.

4WD to San Martino

13 Oct 2016

 

I did omit last week to mention what an absolute delight it was walking the hills of Tuscany. Beautiful.

The weather has been very kind with just one wet day, although you can certainly notice the difference in the early morning and evening. I guess it is just like mid-March to mid-April for us.

Having given the weather a tick; it rained today (Tues). Tuesday night I stayed in Montefiascone having previously visited with the Bourke's and Meldrum's. It is a town famous for its wine or more particularly a legend surrounding its wine. The story goes that centuries ago a German bishop was travelling to Rome to meet the Pope. He sent a junior prelate before him (that much is still true) to check out where the best wine might be located. On finding something good he was instructed to write est (Latin "it is") above the inn door. At Montefiascone he wrote est est est. The legend expands even further with the young prelate having such a good time at the inn, he was found dead in the morning. You can Google it yourself.

I must tell you two stories one yesterday and one today (Wed). I arrived in Montefiascone around 3pm, tired (something over 30km) and wet. It rained in the afternoon. The book I have is called a Lightfoot Guide, I have nicknamed it Lightweight. It listed three possible places to stay. I had no preference but the first person I asked sent me in the direction of Monastero di San Pietro. It became a complicated operation to find the monastery. I am now seriously tired and wet on seeing a 3 star hotel it was not difficult to decide to stay there. Closed. I persisted and eventually found the place. The front door looked rather dilapidated but it opened. Rang a bell (one of those that also has a video monitor). Good luck the female on the other end spoke English. Having bared my soul and even played the priest card, she told me to wait. After about 5 mins the inner door was opened and I think a Benedictian sister stood in front of me. She spoke not a word of English which nicely matched my Italian. However by gesture, repeated words and expression I knew there was no room at the inn. I was annoyed that the person I could communicate with did not at any stage appear. Mother Superior or whoever she was was perfectly happy to turn away somebody in need.


What to do now?


As I left the first person coming up the street was a woman with an umbrella. I blurted out something like Casa for piligrino. The woman returned from whence I came. Only good manners prevented me from walking off. She returned and motioned that I was to follow her. In about 5 mins we were inside another monastery   /convent type building. Again another bell and in a few seconds it was obvious that a bed had been found. There were about 6 nuns living there the youngest being about 80. They provided a bed and evening meal for me and a French woman all for €25.

Today was even more remarkable. I decided to walk from Montefiascone to San Martino al Cimino opting not to stay in the big town of Viterbo. San Martino was about 8km further on. I made a decision in Viterbo not to refill my second water bottle. Always a bad choice.


I left Viterbo about noon and estimated that I it should take no more than a couple of hours to walk to San Martino. I need to point out this is an alternative route and has degraded way-marking. I began to worry about 2.30 (I remember the days when I did not wear a watch. (Incidentally many of the church clocks - remember there was only "public time" nobody had individual time-pieces strike the previous o'clock then with a different chime the half hour. A blessing in days gone by when there must have been uncertainty if it was 12.30 or 1 or half past one).
I was never lost because I was following way-marking signs, however by 3o'clock I knew that San Martino had been by-passed. The problem was that I was in a forest and had had no idea how far the next town was. I began to think Corsica. Anyway with about 37km on the clock, I came to a bitumen road (I had no idea if I should turn left or right). I ascended to the road from the track gratified to find another form of potential existence. As I mounted the road a 4 wheel type vehicle literally appeared as I put my first step on the bitumen. I offered my walking poles as a sign of distress. The vehicle slowed; and stopped. One person was a ranger the other spoke English. Their kindness and concern had to be experienced. They offered to drive me to San Martino (or anywhere else). There concern was that I would be going back about 6km. Mine on the other hand was to find somewhere to sleep.


They did drive me to San Martino. I then asked the question if they knew where accommodation for the pilgrim might be had. The English speaker pulled out his mobile located a place, made a phone call and then they drove me to the place with  instructions to wait as the person with the key is from another town. She did arrive opened the gate on a couple do hectares property with about 8 buildings hosting about 10 units. It must be some sort of retreat centre/school camp facility. I am the only person resident tonight.


I would never had been able to locate and then negotiate entry without my new best friends.
There are a couple of problems. There is no hot water. The lock on my door does not work. The lock on the gate worked only after about 10 attempts. It is so difficult that the person who let me in left the padlock unlocked. In daylight I estimated that I could climb the gate. In the dark...

 

I have just enjoyed a very good meal: mushroom soup, mixed salad (almost the only recourse to vegetables and a scrumptious spaghetti carbonara along with a half litre of red. Bring on the gate.

Arrived in Lucca               

10 Oct 2016

 

I arrived in Lucca late Sunday afternoon. Tired. I had walked around 43km. The first problem was that the town itself was not visible, the last 6 or 7km was along a river on one side and trees on the other blocking out any chance of seeing how far it was to Lucca. The next problem was encountering a town that was teeming with people. After the solitude of two weeks walking without really seeing another pilgrim on the track (they seem to materialise at night) I had a strange aversion to being with so many people. Even for dinner I purposefully sought out a restaurant that was quiet. It was just strange for a city person like me not really wanting to be with people.

Monday was an interesting day. I walked out of Lucca intending to walk further than the suggested stage of 18km. Achieved that by noon and walked through Altopascio intending to walk to Fucecchio that I incorrectly thought was about 10km. It was 20. I discovered my mistake in a place called Galleno when I saw a sign saying Fucecchio was another 10km.


It was then that the town meeting occurred. I asked someone for verification. This caused a couple of builders to down tools and offer their best advice (all in Italian), there were also three young men walking past, not to forget the driver double parked on the road. It became apparent that I was being offered a ride; a prospect that I found very appealing. The driver and I took off at what could be described as a good clip. He stopped at a town before Fucecchio where I was commanded by actions and I'm sure words. No luck- no accommodation available. On to Fucecchio that I noticed had a couple of restaurants worthy of further investigation. Again by royal command I was to stay put in the car. Again no accommodation. So on to San Miniato by now around 25km from the town meeting in Galleno. I had just gained a day. The accommodation was first rate, and found an excellent place for dinner. San Miniato is a stunning hilltop village.


San Gimainano was interesting in the sense of what happened. I had determined that I would attempt to send some more photos and the likely/unlikely place to go was the church. Churches are easy to find but church offices are something different. After spending a good deal of time following dead-ends I found the church office and was treated by the priest who had as much English as I have Italian. However enter the parish secretary Susan who immediately broke into her Floridian accent; everything was going to be just fine. Susan married an Italian 50 years ago and now calls Italy home. She could not have been more helpful.


This week I have stayed at Lucca, San Miniato, Gambassi Terme, Colle-di- val-D'Elsa, Siena, Ponte D'Arbia, San Quirico, and tonight Sunday in Radicofani. Fitbit tells me that I clocked up 300,196 steps for the week.


Rome is just 232km away.

The Priest in Fiorenzuola-d'Arda

3 Oct 2016

 

I forgot to mention my encounter with a priest in Fiorenzuola-d'Arda last Sat 24/9. The building next to one of the churches (there are always several - Vercelli pop.10,000 has 15 basilica sized churches). The sign at the door indicated that pilgrims would be admitted after 3pm. A young man (I thought he was far too young to be a priest) with a cross and chain appeared. He took particular interest in the silver cross that I always wear. He explained he had one just like it but it was lost. Was I a suspect?


He then showed me the cross he was wearing and correctly pointed out that both his and mine were made by an artist in France. He pointed out the artist's stamp on the back of both crosses. I told him the address of the shop in Paris where I bought it and assured him that Madame Cheret was the reputable owner. I was of course immediately admitted to the lodgings and was assured that I would have a single room. He later drove me to another part of town where I concelebrated 6pm Mass.

Monday was different. Enter the Appenines. It was an exhilarating feeling after a week walking essentially on a flat surface to begin walking in the rolling foothills of the Appenines. It is much more interesting with undulation and twists and turns. However the foothills are the entree to the mountains. Tuesday was particularly strenuous with not only the climbing up but the descent knowing that another climb was ahead. It is interesting to ponder the individual merits of the mountains V the flat. Each have their challenges, on the flat you often see too far ahead and the km's have sometimes to be relentlessly overcome. The mountains on the other hand offer surprises around every bend. I have this pithy saying I say to myself, "You can't see round the corner so don't try to anticipate what is ahead". Certainly the mountains are more strenuous but there is plus and minus for both.


On the flat I am walking 5km per hour it is more difficult to estimate the mountains. I am carrying two litres of water (2kg) and drinking 3-4 litres per day. At the moment there is enough light to begin at 7am. From a bar I get a croissant does me till dinner unless I arrive early enough somewhere for lunch.


This week I stayed a night in Fornove-di-Taro, Berceto, Pontremoli, Aulla, Sarzana, Pietrasanta, and tonight in Lucca.
One funny thing happened in Pontremoli where I stayed in a  Capuchin monastery. The shower had both a leaver and a knob. Now I can hear you saying "don't give him two mechanical things at the same time". Well I could not turn the hot water off and despite strenuous efforts on my part for 30 minutes I could not locate a soul. Eventually I went to another shower and carefully observed how the tap turned on and off and was then able to repeat the procedure on "my" tap.


On Friday I had a fall coming down from the mountains -literally about 50 meters from bitumen. Small stones going downhill always a risk. Anyway I did injure my right hand but can report good progress over two days. Even as I lay on the track and detached my backpack I reached for the Italian equivalent of  Vontarin And completed the first treatment before I got up.


As I just checked Fitbit I note I have walked exactly 61000 steps today. Last week 261763 steps but remember these were mountain steps or 196.1 km.

Road to Recovery

19 Sep 2016


Friday did not begin well. Alexis was to pick me up outside the hotel in St Savin at 6am to catch the 6.30am from Lourdes to Paris. He slept in. He arrived at 6.19am allowing only 11 minutes to cover the 14km.
We arrived at the station at 6.36 remarkably the train was 7 minutes late leaving. We therefore did not have to embark on his fall back position of chasing the train to Pau.

 

Six hours later arrived at Monpanasse station followed by a swift Metro to Gare Lyon where I had about 90 minutes before another 6 hour trip to Turin. I opted for a snack at a place called Potager de Monde. Choosing a vegetable soup and salmon roll and enjoyed both perched at the window watching life unfold. My attention was drawn towards a truck or more particularly the driver who was picking up used clothing in bags (something like a St Vinnes bin). After throwing some items towards the back of the truck he took more care placing the remaining items near the tail-gate. As he was driving off a man appeared from nowhere and scooped on of the bags from the truck. It was an action that any bird of prey would be proud. I kept the swooper in sight as I finished my lunch the casually walked passed him and observed he had indeed chosen well.


The trip to Turin was uneventful and had my night's accommodation booked at the Roma Hotel very close to Porta Nova station. The courteous man at the hotel gave me what proved to be a good recommendation for dinner. It was a restaurant/pasta shop, the family have been making pasta since 1872. I retired tired but well satisfied.
Saturday did not begin well. When I woke up both my eyelids were stuck together and required bathing to remedy the problem. Then the act of blowing my nose brought on a nose bleed. Poor me.


I got to the station at 8.35am only to find the train did not leave until 11.30am. I went to the Duomo to see once again where the Shroud of Turin was housed. Returning to the station I encountered the exorbitant charge of 1 Euro to go to the toilet. I refused to be part of this extortion opting instead to go to a nearby bar and enjoy not only a cup of tea but the toilet as well for 1.30Euros.


The 64km to Ivrea was pleasant and without incident. The only difficulty was trying to find somewhere to stay. I was variously given directions to the Tourist office and also told there was not any such thing. It closed last year. Ivrea's claim to fame is that it is where Señor Olivetti sent up his factory to make typewriters. After spending 5 hours looking for somewhere to stay I found myself back at the railway station and saw a train almost ready to pull out. I asked an official looking person if the train went to Santhia 35km along the walk. The railway official acted swiftly reaching up to the driver's cabin and conveying the message that the train was about to gain another passenger.

Getting on board the conductor told me I could buy a ticket on the train but it would be more expensive. He conveyed something to the driver that he was to wait until we returned. We sprinted to the kiosk (no ticket counter here) and purchased the 4.75 Euro ticket then re boarded the train. As I sat down I realised that I had left my guide book on the kiosk counter. I briefly thought of asking the driver to stop the train but decided it would be poor form to do so.


Santhia proved an easier place to find accommodation, a hotel opposite the station. Before dinner I walked to the church where Mass had just finished. The priest was kind enough to invite me to celebrate Mass on my own (a new experience for me) at 7.15am. The sacristan took some photos so if I ever work out how to send them I will do so.
Fitbit tells me I walked 46,722 steps today. Whilst the cough is still with me I am no longer subject to coughing fits.

 

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