Via Francigena 2019: Epilogue

Why did it take two months to complete our tale.

Short answer is LIFE.

As we got closer to Rome our social life picked up, we went out most evenings with other pilgrims and the blog took a back seat.

In Rome we got our Testimoniums from a very nice priest who pulled us out of the tourist line-up and made a bit of a fuss over us, which we had been told NOT to expect. So that was nice.

We also had dinner not once but twice with Kees, but ultimately had to say goodbye. His walk was not over.

After we left Italy I went to Croatia looking for some sun, which continued to evade me, and Rand went to England to walk the Cotswalds Way.

And after we got home to Vancouver we had six weeks of house, garden and pet issues to catch up on, friends to see, bills to pay!

So why now?

We are visiting family in the countryside and the weather (as everywhere we go, apparently) is “variable.” So there is time. And there is a desire for completion. And a tick off the list. There is guilt for having dropped the ball.

Mostly there is a desire to have a complete and accurate record of this adventure. We tried to include things we most wondered about when planning our trip. But our blog posts are for us first, and if it is interesting or useful to someone else that’s wonderful.

And a final reason is that our next walk is looming. In about 6 weeks we will be commencing the Pfalzer Weinsteig – an 11 day, fairly hilly walk in Germany’s Rhineland- Palatinate region. We planned this to coincide with the Wurst Markt (literally Sausage Festival – do not laugh) – held annually in Bad Durkheim.

Notwithstanding the name, this is actually Europe’s biggest wine festival. It’s like Octoberfest but with 2000 different wines.

We like wine. Not quite as much as beer, but we can be flexible. For me it would go Beer, then Wine then Sausage. For Rand it would go…hmm. well sausage would not be last anyway.

So if you like walking, Germany, wine, sausages or whatever, you may wish to follow along.

After our walk we will rent bicycles and ride around the Bodensee. Then we will do something else. It’s a surprise. For all of us.

Last thoughts on the Francigena

When to go

-We went in May and the weather was not what we hoped. Some other folks in blogland did the identical walk one month later. We were sometimes cold and they were sometimes hot. Read their adventures here and you can decide for yourself which is for you.

-The sooner you start walking the sooner you will have your legs in shape for summer back home.

-If you like wildflowers, then May is for you. I have never seen their equal.

-If the possibility of bedbugs wig you out, spring may be better than fall. A lot of people have slept in those hostel beds by September….

-If this is your big or only trip of the year, you may not want to find yourself wishing the summer away in anticipation.

-The tourist fatigue is likely less in the spring. Compared to other places we have travelled in recent years, the Italians did seem a little weary.

And some tips we haven’t seen rounded up elsewhere:

If you purchase a per day overseas extension for your current phone plan you will pay a lot more than necessary. Leave your sim card at home and buy one from Vodaphone on arrival in Italy. Haggle a little. We have had phone store guys offer us student rates when we made as if to shop around. Best deal was 20 Euro for 20 gigs of data for 30 days. About 100 minutes of phone for calling ahead for rooms. All you need. This time we bought Wind. It was less satisfactory when we changed countries.

Know what stinging nettles look like.

-Bring tweezers or a tick scoop and small amount of polysporin. A little goes a long way but you will likely need it. We always do.

-If you need sunscreen shampoo conditioner etc buy these at a grocery store or dollar store. You will pay triple at a pharmacy displaying a green cross in Europe.

Packing cubes are the bomb! Great way to keep your gear organized and easy to pack back up.

-The Italian postal service is quick and efficient. If your pack is too heavy, do a cull and send some stuff ahead for 10 euros or thereabouts.

-The part of this walk that we did was largely what would be considered a road walk. Farm roads, gravel roads and wider trails. Little need for a heavy hiking shoe.

-Baggage service is available but much more costly than in Spain and Portugal: 15 Euro a day for the first bag, less for the second.

-Look up how to drain a blister with a needle and cotton thread – brilliant!

-The Via Francigena is not the Camino. Similar but different so try not to compare if possible.

-See Rands post on Navigation, above

More as they occur to us.

Over and out! Thanks for reading.

Via Francigena Day 24 – Onwards to Rome…

Every journey has an ending and every traveler has an idea of how that should look.

Our Dutch friend from Day 20 met up with her partner in Sutri and they walked the last stages together, about 15km per day, to savor it.

Q (also Dutch) had a friend fly in to finish the walk with her. They were put off by what they had heard about walking along the Via Cassia from La Storta and so took a bus to the midway point of the last stage to avoid that.

Kees, who was our first and last ( and also Dutch) friend on this walk, teamed up with Kathy from the U.S. Both fast walkers, they decided to leave early and try to catch the Pope’s appearance in St Peter’s square at noon.

And so there were two. We wanted to arrive together, of course, and preferably in the sunshine. One out of two isn’t bad, right?

We left early, but determined not to rush our last steps. We didn’t expect to see the Pope, and the interweb told us that the pilgrim office where we would receive our testimonium was open until 5 pm, seven days a week.

This is the Via Cassia: cracked sidewalks and overflowing garbage.

So we set off in the rain, for what we knew would be about 7 km of walking beside a busy arterial road. We had planned for this stage to be walked on a Sunday to reduce traffic and that was probably a good thing. It was not in any way a dangerous walk, nor was it in any way pleasant.

So far as we could tell, there was no garbage strike, but the infrastructure is wholly unable to keep up with the rubbish being produced. There are towering midens of garbage piled at the curb on every block. Its appalling, really, and lingers with me as I continue my own efforts to minimize my waste footprint.

Along the way we passed the turn for the campground where I stayed on my first visit to Rome, circa 1986.

We almost missed the route turn off the Via Cassia, and I almost wish we had.

While it was theoretically pleasing to find a large nature reserve so close to Rome, the trail here was so wet and so overgrown that we were absolutely soaked in minutes. It was about an hour of slogging through the overgrowth before we climbed out of this valley and could comfort ourselves with cake and coffee-in our soaken wet gear.

This is taken less than 10km from St Peter’s Square.

Then there was one last hurdle – a small mountain to get over. This afforded some lovely views, even in poor weather. It also afforded us a few opportunities to lose the trail. This was not a common event on this walk, so it was good to jam a few misdirections in at the very end.

Eventually, we could see our destination.

And then it was just a slippery switchback descent and a few km straight flat walking to Vatican City.

This is the very last trail marker of our walk.

And then we arrived. Ta da. The end.

So it wasn’t sunny but we did it together. Not surprisingly, the interweb let us down, and the testimonium office had closed an hour prior to our arrival. We had two nights in Rome, just nearby, so we could come back. It was time to take our boots off and feel our accomplishment.

Distance walked: 17 km

Where we stayed: Domus Giulia

Via Francigena Day 23 – Campagnano di Roma to La Storta

Our penultimate day on the Via seemed long and a bit tough. Were we running out of gas or was it really a long day? Who can say, but that is how it lingers in my memory.

It was a lovely warm morning and when we saw a sweet bench, we all stopped to sit on it, and photos were taken. After this, our differing paces separated us quickly.

Midday we approached a town, passing a few small, busy cafes on a noisy street. There were better places to stop inside the beckoning town walls, said intuition, common sense and, as it happens, wishful thinking.

On we trod, finding nothing but a grocery store on the far side of town. Luckily, we had leftover pizza and water so we went on bravely, promising ourselves a good rest as soon as we found a picnic table/bench/flat rock/whatever.

Turned out that sweet bench was the last public amenity of it’s kind. We walked through long fields of thistles that waved over our heads…

And eventually, in desperation, we leaned on a small retaining wall outside a gated community to scarf our pizza.

Later in the day we came across a route variation through another archeological park where thousands of Roman graves had been discovered. This deviation seemed a bit endless frankly. Again, not a single bench in sight, though miles of wooden fences had been erected.

The giggly sister who showed us to our room. She is tiny and I am grande.

At last we arrived at our destination: a lovely religious house on the Via Cassia where the sisters provided a comfortable room and delicious dinner of pasta and roast chicken. Oh happiness. It was time to sit down at last!

Distance walked: 23 km

Where we stayed: Casa Nostra Signora

Via Francigena Day 22 – Sutri to Campagnano di Roma

Our first stop, for beer-and-chips elevenses, was Monterosi. Leaving this town involved some walking behind metal barriers along a freeway, but soon we were back on country roads.

Again, the wildflowers wowed us. Our May weather was not as fine as hoped, but the flowers made up for it again and again.

Afternoon brought us to Monte Gelato Falls. These were hardly spectacular, as falls go, but a pleasant shady spot for a break and a foot soak.

These are the falls.

After seeing the old watermill, we grabbed a bite at the local pizzeria, which only offered pizza in the evening, sadly. The kittens there were adorable, however.

The day ended with rounds of prosecco with our camino family, before we broke into groups for different dinner adventures.

Ours involved hunting down a pizzeria that got raves on line, but didn’t come close to the BEST PIZZA EVER in Bolsena.

Where we stayed:

Andre’s House

We had the whole place to ourselves, though there were other bedrooms and generally shared facilities. The owner, who did not live in the house, told us she named it after one of her (5?) dogs.

Distance 24 km

Via Francigena Day 21 – Sutri Rest Day

If you want to do some shopping, Viterbo might be a better choice for a last rest day before the final push to Rome. But we are not shoppers and Sutri suited us to a T.

Our apartment was really comfortable and well located. There was sufficient provisions that we could have made a meal there. Very thoughtfully prepared with pilgrims in mind.

Awesome accomodation in Sutri: La Mia Cassata. Charmingly renovated within!

We spent our free day exploring the nearby archeological park, which encompassed Etruscan tombs, a Roman amphitheatre and Medieval church in a cave.

Etruscan tombs
Man cave part of an Etruscan tomb

We were a bit confused about what we bought a ticket for as most of the sites were easily accessible for viewing.

The ticket was required to walk into the amphitheatre, but there were free viewpoints over it as well.

We thought the church included in the ticket was on top of the butte, but that one was quite modern and also locked?

The ticket was actually for a chapel in the rock face itself, as we eventually determined.

This was opened once per hour for a short guided tour, and this was truly extraordinary. Our pictures just dont do it justice. It really brought home the historic nature of our walk, and reminded us of the millions of feet that had passed through this area over the centuries, heading for Rome.

The pilgrim detail is from the centre of this photo, just over the archway.

Our day ended with a very jolly meal with our growing camino family.