Today I covered 25 km (15.6 mi) and climbed some 1650 ft. It was a marvelous hiking day: no mud, no rain, not too many rocky paths, and no slippery places. I struggled with the last third energy-wise, maybe because it reached the high 70s and I was a bit tight on water—I expected some water sources on the last third that never materialized. Finally just outside of my destination town I found a bar/cafe and guzzled a liter of Powerade.
Much of the route along the middle of the way hugged the rolling hills of Tuscany—I felt the rare essence of solitude and serenity. The landscape consumed me, as I did it—we bonded—no one else around. No houses close by, no arable land, no vineyards, just spotty forests and wild grasses. This is the priceless quintessence of a pilgrimage that one never forgets. And I may never experience that euphoria again on this Camino—that’s OK—today was worth it. That was “the hole-in-one” that keeps the golfer coming back.
By the way, this city, Sansepolcro, has a fantastic 1000-year history and a crazy reason why it was spared damage in WW II. That’s for another place and time.
Last evening, a well-intentioned deed turned disastrous. While trying to confine my muddy clothes to the bathroom, specifically the shower, I needed to sit to remove my socks. Of course, on top of the toilet cover—well, it cracked into dozens of pieces and left me wondering how I could explain this in Italian! This morning came the time of reckoning—and luckily, the owner spoke German and settled for 20 Euros. To all you pilgrims out there who might be staying in a hotel, let this be a lesson!
So with a clean conscience, I started the route of 16 km (10 mi) and 1600 ft of climb. And with only a light drizzle it made for a reasonable day—although rocky trails, mud, and slippery paths were about the same as yesterday.
The special treat at my destination is Michelangelo’s birth house and the museum that surrounds it. Known as Caprese’s Castle, it’s situated atop a hill with 360 deg view of the valleys (one pic shows a sample view). They have a respectable collection of copies and casts of his sculptures—you’ll recognize the one I chose.
At 18 km (11 mi) and 3900 feet of climbing, it would have been challenging enough, but the rain for at least half the day, and getting caught in a rainstorm with no shelter in sight made it even more memorable. The more it rained, the more slippery the steep slopes got. A number of sections I found myself having to sidestep up to make sure I didn’t fall backwards. It was an exciting and long day—8 hrs walking and sliding, not counting a one-hour lunch break to re-energize.
A comical moment happened when my trail crossed a paved road, went downhill some 30 yards and abruptly ended at a 15-ft wide, fast-moving stream. There was no way I could cross this—you can imagine my thoughts. I went back up to the road and took it for a few miles, then crossed that stream over a bridge and continued climbing. The road was actually marked as the trail! One picture shows the wild stream in a waterfall.
By the way, I may be eligible for triple credit—a large part of today’s route followed all three routes: the Via Francigena, Via Assisi, and Via Romea!
Did 17.5 km (11 mi) and climbed 2140 ft—with drizzle, but I just called it quits a little early and called my lodging in Badia Prataglia to ask if they can pick me up. Would have to have climbed another 1200 ft and hiked only 8.5 km (5 mi) but just didn’t have the energy. Took a break at hotel/Cafe del Parco (owned by Famiglia Baroldi—wonder if any relation to Anita) and will have to wait two hours until they can pick me up—oh well.
It was a great day, walking much of it in forest with only one stream that was a big challenge that I managed and very little mud. Also, I have to give credit to the folks who paint the red/white way markers—I must encounter over 100 of them each day, and they‘re an inspiration in themselves. Someone actually came to these remote spots and painted these stripes to let you know you’re on track and wish you well until the next marker. They’re the official Via Francigena markers, which actually is a bit of a different route than the Via Assisi that goes only from Florence to Assisi.
At only 16 km (10 mi) and a 1760 ft climb (half of yesterday’s) you’d think this would have been a cake walk. Well it was the stream crossings and mud that showed me who’s boss: the final score today was Kurt five and streams two and mud came in the winner. I didn’t fall into either of them, but I slipped on some rocks and ended up stepping into the water and there were a half dozen places where I just couldn’t walk around the mud, so I had to bite the bullet. I took my shoes and socks into the shower with me. Shoes are drying in the bidet—clever, huh!
Twice I said to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I missed my turn by about 100 yards, which ended up turning off a six-foot wide muddy path onto a steep uphill one-foot wide path that the deer would use. Then about a mile up this path, a bunch of trees were cut right across the path, blocking your way. Luckily I found a bypass.
It was fun at the end of the day to find my German buddy sitting at a bar/cafe. We had to compare stream and mud stories!
Toughest day, yet, covering 19 km.(12 mi.) and climbing the entire way for 3349 ft.—only one day will have a harder climb. The climb at times was gentle, but many times quite steep. At about a third of the way, I met another pilgrim in his late 40s from northern Germany and we had a great time walking together. He‘s also headed to Rome—his first pilgrimage. He told me that I was his motivation to keep up the pace—obviously made me feel good.
The trail led mostly over narrow, paved country roads, but it also had its share of backwoods rocky and muddy paths over which streams were trickling to find their way down the hill. The latter measurably slowed me down, but the poles helped me keep my balance. The pictures show some of the more difficult sections as well as some of the countryside.
The arrangement for lodging tonight seemed a bit out of the ordinary. After arriving at my destination village, I was to call the designated B&B. Well, first of all, my phone is nonop—I never bought a simcard! That’s where my hiking buddy helped out. Indeed, someone came and picked me up, but then drove over 20 min for about 13 km (8 mi)—way out in the boondocks, but what a luxurious, roomy place. I was blown away—my only complaint is that it’s terribly cold (and was shivering)! Some of that is due to my metabolism having drastically changed and pushing hard today. On Caminos, I usually start shivering at night on about day 4 or 5 (as I recall). It’s now bedtime and I’ve rehydrated, had electrolyte capsules, and a good hearty dinner, but unfortunately had to pass on wine.
My 21st day on the “Camino.” Completed my Stage I to Padua and just had a beautiful first hiking day on the Assisi Way (Camino Francigena) covering 14 miles (22 km) with 2000 ft of climbing. The trail surfaces varied from normal sidewalks to leave Florence (that took over an hour) to paved farm roads to rocky and dirt surfaces (not many of these).
Couldn’t resist a ciabatta with prosciutto at the snack bar set up at a local street market—especially since it was just before the second thousand-foot climb. That’s to Italy as the hamburger is to the USA. Compare this stand to where I had lunch yesterday in Florence at the Mercato di San Lorenzo with crowds of people.
1. Lunch yesterday at the crowded Mercato di San Lorenzo
2. 3. 4. 7. The path through the countryside.
5. 6. A snack bar stand in small town with street market; ciabatta with prosciutto
9. Looking at Florence in the distance over olive orchards
Traveled by train a little over two hfrom Padua to Florence to start Stage II of my Walk. I trained well for the walk, but not to deal with the throngs of people—I wasn’t ready for this, not after 18 days of relative solitude. Wow. My first quest was to get the starting stamps for my pilgrim’s credentials: first from Santa Croce and then from The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower.
Santa Croce is the world’s largest Franciscan Church with tombs of some of Italy’s greatest: Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and monuments without the tombs for Dante, da Vinci, Fermi, etc. Too much to get your arms around, but I did get my stamp.
The Cathedral, some 800 meters away, was a problem getting in. It was already closed, and the last few people were being ushered out. I pleaded with one of the security guards and he let me in and another got my credentials stamped—sweet. Mission Accomplished—then I played tourist for another three hours: seeing the statues in and around the Loggia dei Lanzi (including a copy of David); walking along the Arno, then over the Ponte Vecchio; and having some genuine gelato!