May, 2018

D-34 (31 May—Thursday) Biscina to Valfabbrica and on to Assisi

Couldn’t make it in one fell swoop and still have time/energy to see a pharmacist / doctor about my heel, check into the hotel, and get my Testimonium at the St. Francis Basilica Pilgrim’s Office. So, I stopped after 16 km (10 mi) and climbing about 1500 ft, had lunch, and waited two hours for a bus that everyone was trying to tell me wasn’t coming. He finally came, and I was the only passenger. He didn’t have his ticket machine set up, so I traveled free. He saved me another 13 km (8 mi), but most importantly another 1500 ft of climbing. Although from where he dropped me off in Assisi, I still had about 300 ft to climb!

The pharmacist couldn’t help me, but said that I’d have better luck at tomorrow’s destination—it’ll be a bigger city. After my shower, I came to realize that I have a blister in this very awkward place on the side of my heel. That’s not a showstopper!

In a nutshell, Assisi is amazing. I thought Gubbio (2 towns back) was hilly, but Assisi tops them all—steep and narrow streets—and very medieval looking. I only spent time at the St Frances Basilica to get my Testimonium and attend a special pilgrims’ benediction mass—very beautifully done. The only other pilgrim I knew was the British fellow who actually lives here. I include one pic from the outside, and one I grabbed from the internet of the inside. 

Interesting crucifix I saw on the way. And the view of Assisi at a distance.

D-33 (30 May—Wednesday) Gubbio to Biscina

I did 22 km (14 mi) and 2940 ft of climbing on a great walking day despite drizzle for the first 3 hrs or so. About an hour out from Gubbio, I came across a stream that I opted not to cross and circumnavigated it on “county” roads. The side of my left heel had been tender all day, so it was a good decision for more than one reason—I couldn’t have tolerated a rocky path. At the end of the day, I discovered what felt like a bone spur on the left side of the heel—very unusual place. They’re either on the bottom of the heel (fasciitis related) or at back of heel (Achilles tendinitis related). I’ll use mole skin tomorrow to see if I can keep the tenderness down—we’ll see. At any rate, I’m disappointed and hope it doesn’t get . . . .

A fallout from my decision to circumnavigate the stream crossing is that I came across a restaurant and just at the right spot, but it was closed. So I eat the sandwich I made at breakfast and had one of my bottles of water with it while sitting at one of their tables outside. As I was getting to leave, the owner opened the place (despite it being his day of closure) and made me a cappuccino. We got to know each other—I him, more than he me. But we touched each other’s souls. He had a business in NYC, but came back home to Italy right after 9/11. Business here was good, until the freeway (autostrada) took cars from the county road away—typical Route 66 syndrome! Now he can’t make his mortgage payment. Meanwhile he became immersed in spiritualism and got to know one of the Indian gurus—his restaurant reflects his spiritual beliefs. Quite a guy—I really felt for him.

Lodging tonight is at an Agriturismo B&B with three or four others staying here. The pictures certainly paint a resortsy atmosphere—but that may only be at the surface? A pool area, vineyards surround us, and a beautiful landscapes!

D-32 (29 May—Tuesday) Pietralunga to Gubbio

The journey was 25 km (15,6 mi) and 2570 ft. and made for a tiring day. Coming out of the Agriturismo lodging, I continued walking up the hill rather than going down and essentially climbing back up. Although the temp hugged the high 70s with good cloud cover, it still seemed warm, and I consumed at least three quarts of water.

With all climbing behind me but still 10 km ahead, I ran into a cool water source with spigot. Not only did I use it to cool down, but I guzzled a quart and a half of water on the spot—it tasted so incredibly good!

The city of Gubbio is built on the side of a hill and its history goes back to the Bronze Age. In fact, they discovered the Iguvine Tablets that probably date to the third century BC—they’re a rich source of history and language of the early Umbrian people. Nothing like it exists, except in Asia. I spotted a Roman theater and the medieval walls give it a feeling it’s been around for a while.

I included a picture of the crucifix because they’re often seen at such special places with commanding views.

D-31 (27 & 28 May—Sunday & Monday) Citta di Costello to Pietralunga

This covers two nights at the Hotel le Mure because the distance between the two cities is 31 km (19.4 mi)—a little bit much for one day. Since it was very hard communicating with the driver through the English-speaking receptionist, I gave up on the idea that the driver would pick me up after a one-way walk. I didn’t trust that he could find me, so on the first day, Sunday, I headed to the next day’s destination and ended up walking 16 km (10 mi) round trip—a cushy walk with nearly empty backpack while enjoying the scenery.

On that walk I became aware of the Umbrian custom of growing olives next to their vineyards—this dates back thousands of years and is called “coltura promiscua.” They really complement each other in terms of ripening time, similarity of processing procedure, and infrastructure. Mixed farming of the two crops may have other benefits: the Umbrian practice of coltura promiscua was credited with regional resistance to phylloxera!

At the end of the first day, I explored Citta di Costello and ran into a German walking buddy I met about a week ago—it was the two-night stay that enabled meeting him. He had meanwhile chummed up with three other German ladies.

Today I headed out from the hotel with a Dutch couple to a “midway” point that allowed us to continue to Pietralunga. Although they had their luggage shipped and walked with day packs, I soon left them behind me. My lodging at Pietralunga is a Agriturismo stay—not sure what qualifies it as such. I always likened it to a farm stay, but today’s stay isn’t even close. Before finding it on the outskirts of town, I stopped for a beer at the local bar and used their toilet. I was surprised to find an Asian-style fixture—only the second one of that kind while on the road—never in any of my lodgings. It was explained that they used to be popular and are quite costly to change out so they just leave them. They’re usually in the unisex toilets.

pics comments:

dog that first chased me and barked at me, then befriended me and walked with me about half a mile!

you see the bricks used in Città—only good building material

my luxury hotel room in Citta

D-29 (May 26–Saturday) Citerna to Città di Costello

This blog

Citerna lodging 750 meters from town

British friend, Luke, living in Assisi for 30 years,

At Citerna’s Belvedere Restaurant

My favorite dessert: cheese plate with red wine.

Enjoying my cheese

Patricia’s Rustic Hotel with super hospitality


D-27 (24 May—Thursday) Ceprese Michelangelo to Sansepolcro

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.

D-26 (23 May—Wednesday) Chiusi della Verna to Ceprese Michelangelo

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.

D-25 (May 22–Tuesday) Badia Prataglia to Santuario della Verna

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!

D-24 (May 21–Monday) Stia to Camaldoli

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.

D-23 (May 20–Sunday) Consuma to Stia

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!