Sunday, 20 September 2015

A taxi to the start of the walk

Distance from Viverone 14.7km Distance from Dijon 481km    

Thursday 6/8/15

We had asked for breakfast early to try and complete much of the walk before the midday heat of the sun. Breakfast was laid out for us both and once again we were treated to to a sumptuous feast of delights. A welcome change from the meagre croissant, jam and coffee we were used to in France.

Our host had very kindly offered to drive us to the village we had finished at the previous day and we both accepted without a second thought. Soon we were at the start and we jumped out of the car and said our goodbyes and went in search of water for the day. Outside the Tabac with a handful of small bottles between us we decanted them into our containers and set off. After only a few metres I happened to notice I had something missing, my hat, my sunglasses, my guide book and my notes. Rachel was not happy at my forgetfulness and so we returned to the Tabac to call our previous nights host. Eventually after trying quite a few times I finally got to speak to her for her say she was waiting in the square she had dropped us off. Wasting no time I ran to retrieve my things, apologising also to her for my stupidity and I would sometimes forget my head if it was not screwed on tight.

As I left her I noticed four people with rucksacks and eating pastries and drinking coffee. I asked if they were walking the Francigena and they all nodded excitedly and laughed when I said I was too and would see them in Santhia later in the day. I returned to Rachel with the news.

As we headed out of the village the first thing we came across was a bed and breakfast with a swimming pool.......Well if it was meant to be it was meant to be. We both just thought about being in that pool the previous night!

The route continued to be the one that Pilgrims took in the 12th and 13th century and may of the villages have remnants from that time, usually in the form of the towers in them. Two kilometres outside Piverone is the 9th century church of Gesiun and despite there being no roof and open to the elements one small painted section still exists.

Passing through vineyards soon there were views of lake Viverone to our right a vast expanse of water that we walked by for the first half of the morning. We both took the opportunity for a comfort break in the first village we came to, and for me to top up my caffeine levels with a strong hit of coffee. As one village rolled into another we soon passed the four Italians I had met earlier in the morning. Rachel and I both commented and queried how they had got in front of us since they had not passed us, had they got a bus or a taxi? We continued on.......

Last year when we travelled together, me walking and Rachel either pushing or riding her bike, neither of us had any problems with the distance or the heat. For Rachel this time it was to be different. From the first day she had started walking with me this time she had a developed a heat rash on her legs and today it was getting worse and more intense. By lunch time we were both ready for a cool drink and Rachel needed to resolve the issue with her legs so we took a pit stop in a cafe. Rachel immediately disappeared to the bathroom and came back with cool wet paper towels over the backs of both legs.....quite a sight but a lot happier!

With a more permanent solution now required to keep the sun off the backs of her legs Rachel went in search of a Farmacie. Once located a large roll of tape was purchased and soon the cool damp paper towels were a permanent fixture and fashion accessory to her legs.

The kilometres were slowly eaten away and by mid afternoon and the hottest part of the day behind us we were strolling into Santhia and our home for the night. We had secured Pilgrim accommodation here the day before and we're glad we had as it turned out that of the six beds available there were seven staying with one person sleeping on a camp bed on the floor of the office. The Ostellier was centrally located on the edge of the town square and while I quaffed my beer Rachel went to lay claim to our bunk beds for the night. 

Once the beds had been claimed we both sat in the square enjoying the peace and quite, the late afternoon sun drinking our drinks. After we'd been sat there for a while the four Italians came round the corner and once more we all exchanged pleasantries as they too sat down for drinks. It transpired that these four Pilgrims were not booked into our accommodation so that meant there were now to be eleven in town for the night.  I had never seen so many in one place since I had set off from Canterbury!

We bid our farewells to our new friends and went to get showered and cleaned up. Now I am a big believer in fate and the notion that sometimes we are in particular time and place for a reason, today was one of those reasons. We had been in the Ostellier for about an hour and two more Pilgrims arrived, one staying outside on the phone. I never took any notice and just happened to glance out of the window as one passed by.  Mmmm I thought, I am sure I recognise that person but ignored it not being able to place a name or location to the person. I carried on and went to the bunk room to do some faffing. The second person walked into the the room and I looked up, Tony she uttered and gave me a hug! It turned out that these two people were some Italians we had walked with last year on the Francigena. Isaac came into the room having finished his phone call and was just cool at the whole notion of bumping into each other again.

The accommodation was not a huge space, just one room with three pair of bunk beds and some floor space. An office as an overflow for the odd camp bed and one room with a toilet and shower and that was it.  The princely price for the this sumptuous luxury, ten Euros. Now I am not speaking out of turn or turning my nose at the facilities and was more than happy at what was being offered and the price. I just wish such accommodation was more frequent along the route of the Francigena.

Rachel's first day walking....proper!

Distance from Pont-Saint-Martin 21.8km Distance from Dijon.

Wednesday 5/8/15

After a good breakfast and with full tummies we were soon on our way. Our route out of Pont Saint Martin took us over the impressive Roman Bridge to then skirt the back of the house along the vineyard terraces and out of the town. This was Rachel's full experience walking through the Italian countryside and soon she was taking every opportunity to stop and take photographs to preserve the memories.

It was not to be too much of a long day but at over 20 kilometresl it would test Rachel's stamina. She had been practising on similar terrain at home, with her rucksack full of the tinned produce from our kitchen cupboard she had jauntily bounced around the hillside in the Dales.

Whilst the weight was of a similar nature the terrain was a different kettle of fish. The path meandered along grapevine terraces, through sleepy villages, all the time climbing and descending the hillside at all too frequent intervals. Very much like step training at the gym, but outside and in the sun!

As we took a brief respite from the hills and walked alongside a busy stretch of roadway two additional Pilgrims briefly caught up with us. We exchanged pleasant  waves to acknowledge each other but we never got the opportunity for a chat. By lunchtime we were both ready to put our feet up and have something to eat. On the outskirts of Montestrutto we spied a picnic bench in a playground and made a beeline to it. With packs off our backs I gazed around and by chance happen to see a cafe in the distance, we were sat outside it within seconds. With two ice cold cans of Fanta unopened we took advantage of rolling the can around our necks, face, arms, legs to cool down. What a sight we must have looked. We shared an apple strudel cake and then took advantage of a flat surface to make our sandwiches which we would later eat on the hoof. Reluctantly it was time to leave, we were about half way through the day and not too much more climbing left before the end of the day.

Now I have mentioned Rachel's keenness to get some training in before walking with me in Italy, what she could not train for was the heat. It certainly took its toll on her until she developed an ingenious way to cool down. In every village there is, somewhere a tap or a Lavoire (wash house) dispensing cool drinkable water. Upon coming across one such fountain of coolness Rachel promptly took her hat off and put her head straight under the tap. Once cooled down she then proceeded to fill her hat with water and then put it on her head. This technique she practised regularly and with absolute gay abandonment at every opportunity that arose.

All too soon we were skirting the commercial district of Ivrea before descending into the town. Tonight we were staying at the Canoe club a Pilgrim hostel that offered all the facilities we needed, bed, shower and kitchen. What we did not bargain for was the mosquitoes! 

The accommodation proved just what we wanted and all for the princely sum of twelve Euros per person. We had experienced the lack of food outlets in France so we were carrying some dried supplies with us for tea and breakfast so with the exception of a Chouffe beer for me, some water and eggs for sandwiches the next day, it proved to me an inexpensive overnight stay.

More rest and recuperation......but in luxury!

Distance from Pont Saint-Martin 21.8km Distance from Dijon 448km

Monday 3/8 - Tuesday 4/8/15

So I found myself in forced rest due to ill health and needing the bathroom every two seconds. I spent the first day at the Al Castel bed and breakfast asleep. By the following morning I was still feeling washed out, breakfast was served at 8.30am as we had asked for and was a small banquet of delights. Fresh fruit, pastries, yogurts, cereals, juice etc etc etc. Unfortunately I was only able to succumb to a coffee and a pastry. With breakfast over and with very little strength I stayed around my room, making use of the small lounge area and the covered terrace to get fresh air. Once again taking the opportunity to sleep when the need arose.

I was fortunate on two fronts as Rachel was a vey able and willing nurse to tend to my every whim and the bed and breakfast was free for us to take advantage of an extra days rest. The thoughts of donning a large pack and walking at that very moment a daunting thought.

By late afternoon and with bathroom visits becoming less urgent and less frequent I was now starting to add increasing morsels of food to my depleted body. 

The afternoon continued to provide a surprise in the form of two additional guests who's room was suddenly prepared and they as soon, arrived. Now I am not one to caste assumptions but after a couple of hours he appeared and returned to the room carrying plates of food from somewhere! Maybe they needed to replenish their energy levels.... A few hours later they left never to return.........

By 7.30pm it was our turn to head out for something to eat and we headed off to somewhere that had been recommended to us. I don't think that there were any tourists in town because the hotel restaurant turned out to be the locals haunt. The food was very nice but Rachel's was very plain. I don't think herbs or spices are used on the continent, if they are we never ever find them in our meals. My meal choice was the blueberry and mushroom risotto. Now I would never have considered blueberries in a savoury dish but to be honest once I had recovered from the colour of the meal it was surprisingly different and not altogether unpleasant. With full tummies we strolled back to our room to watch a movie.

By the next morning I was definitely feeling much better and raring to go for a walk. Once more a breakfast banquet was awaiting us and we both indulged to excess. After setting the bill and saying our goodbyes we were on our way to Ivrea.

Rest, recuperation and then a wee stroll !

Distance from Issogne 14.7km. Distance from Dijon 426.2km

Saturday 1/8 - Monday 3/8/15

Well the first night was exciting as Rachel (my wife) was en route and trying to locate me somewhere along the Aosta valley. Once located she just had to work out how to physically get to me, bus, train, boat, plane, taxi, bike, foot or mule!

As soon as I arrived in the village I let here know I was safe, a common practise required when I travel alone. Back came the response that she was waiting for the next train to a nearby station and then once more had to work out the next mode of transport......we do lead very exciting lives!

I settled into my hotel room, making sure it did not resemble a bomb sight for when she arrived. I decided to have a well deserved catnap and just as I was about to fall asleep,  the phone rang. Rachel had arrived at her next stage of the journey and upon arrival had wandered into a bar to ask about the local bus service. I believe a conversation ensued and a very kind young man offered to give her a lift once he had finished his beer. Soon she was on her way and within ten minutes I saw her step out a car. A funny conversation then ensued with me telling Rachel I could see her but she could not see me and I guided her round cars, telling her the make and colour before sending down the road to the hotel and me sitting laughing on the terrace. 

I left Rachel to nest in the room and later joined her to discuss the evening meal options. Ha ha image my surprise and joy at seeing that every available surface was now covered with something of Rachel's.....well I guess she was making her self at home.

We had been recommended to try the local restaurant and had booked a table earlier in the evening. We turned up like two scruffy urchins and were shown to out table. It turned out the restaurant was owned by the family and they all lived on the premises. Our waiter spoke good English having been to sent to Scarborough on the North East coast of England ......a sea-side town when still at school. We both wondered how fate had sent home there rather than one of the main cities.

The meal was excellent and I won't make your mouth water by going into the details, suffice to say we skipped out like two very happy bunnies.

The next morning we had decided to check out the shop for provisions and to visit the local Castle by the side of our hotel. It was cheap enough to visit and although the guide was only in Italian we were provided with an English map and each room had some extra information we could both read. Following earlier Roman occupation a fortification building was part of the Bishop's of Aosta's possession around the 12th century before being handed to the Challant family. Now it his in the hands of the local municipality but there is every possibility that it used to provide religious Pilgrims sanctuary from the weary road to Rome.

The day continued uneventfully with us just catching up on chores that needed completing. For the evening we were to dine in the I wished I had had a premonition of what was in store for me...

Meal completed we drifted off to our rooms and with bags packed for an early start, off we went to sleep......O my goodness, in the middle of the night I raced the bathroom and literally did not know which way to turn first. After turning myself inside out several times, I returned to my bed like a rung out dishcloth. Rachel slumbered on totally unaware.....bless!

An hour later I was forced to repeat the whole experience again, this time Rachel woke up and some wifely tender loving care was administered which did make me feel a bit better. I drifted off to a disturbed sleep and woke up at 7.30am to start the day. I stayed where I was and dispatched Rachel for breakfast knowing that I had got food poisoning! 

I got ready with bags packed and then promptly undressed and went back to bed for another two hours. We left the hotel after paying the bill and slowly ambled through the village once supplies for the day had been purchased. After three miles of the planned seven miles under our belts I took advantage of a bus shelter to catch my breathe and sit down. I never did manage to walk again that day. My energy was totally depleted and with the thoughts of probably collapsing, once again common sense prevailed and we caught the bus to Pont Saint-Martin. 

We had pre-booked a nice bed and breakfast that we had been told was worth every penny but could not get in until after three in the afternoon. Having arrived too early we found a bench, Rachel sat down and I curled up like a ball resting my head on her lap and fell asleep for and hour and a half.

Shortly after three we trundled to the bed and breakfast and by just after four the owner arrived, we settled in and I went straight to bed for another two hours.

Life is not always a bowl of cherries!!!

The crazy Spanish cow and a chatty policeman!

Distance from Chattillon 20.3km Distance from Dijon 411.5 

Saturday 1/8/15

Well after an evening without a meal I was a bit hungry when I woke up. Breakfast was a meagre affair and the usual bread and jam but this time with two additional luxuries - orange juice and soft diary lee like triangular cheese. Once consumed, bill paid and stamp for my Credenza I was off. 

I was informed that rather than going back into town the Francigena passes the door, naturally uphill. Before I left the road and entered the hillside the path became a bit unclear so I hesitated to study my GPS and guide book map. No sooner had I done this then a voice was heard.....bonjourno, bonjourno.....I looked up to see a man rapidly getting out of his car and heading my way......Francigena he announced and some very obvious Italian that I did not have a clue about. I apologised and told him I did not speak Italian.........agh you are English......I am like a Spanish cow! He uttered in absolute and excitable enthusiasm... He directed me in the right direction and bid me chow as he returned to his car.

Today's route had been described as less strenuous that the St Bernard's pass day and there was the possibility of breaking the journey half way. I had already declined that option in my mind as my wife was joining me at the end of the stage, hopefully if she could find me.

I continued on my way and the route continued the by now familiar pattern of ups and downs, with what seemed more very steep ups than downs through the rolling hillside and valley terraces. All the time the valley of Aosta laying below me like a lazy gentle giant with the snow capped mountains at its head. In Saint Vincent the guide booked tested my patience and although there are waypoints every step of the way, there were several times when I had to retrace my steps to ensure my route. The final straw that nearly had me heading to the local for a beer was when the I was guided to go a particular route and turn right at a T-junction. Well I know what a T-junction is and I do know my left from right, but could I find the correct route with a yellow marker. I tried every conceivable option. Evtually I resorted to using my GPS map versus the guide book map. I concluded that I was in fact totally in the wrong place and to far below my intended course. I tracked the route back to the main road where hopefully my true path was just above me. As I looked at my GPS, identified that I should take the next write, there on that side of the road was a very bright VF sing and an arrow pointing up the hill. Formidabla.........all the time I had been directed right when it should have been left and the T-junction did not exist.....Over an hour trying to get on the right path! Slightly annoyed I continued and by the time I had reached my half way point I was already regretting not taking the option of breaking the journey, but love was calling me on.

After resting for half an hour with my boot less feet up on my bag resting, I was back on my way. The day by now was hot and sticky and despite only carrying a litre of water, I had taken every opportunity of rehydrating at every fountain I had come across. The route continued to be more of the same with the hills getting steeper and steeper with the valley below me becoming smaller and smaller. I had been warned about the possibility of dogs running loose and was always wary when passing them. During the afternoon I came across a sweet looking one that looked as though it was chained up. It never made a noise as I cautiously approached it, in fact it moved towards me and slightly behind a stone pillar almost out of view. I drew alongside, still no movement or noise, as I just got past it it leapt at me like a Tazmanian devil. Well it's a good job I have good bowl control.....I looked at it laughing my head off. I wonder how many times he completed his party piece at unsuspecting walkers? 

I always walk with on coming traffic facing me and as my path took me through one sleepy village I moved to one side as a police car approached........then stopped. It turned out to be the local forestry police. The passenger window opened and I really did not know what to expect! The driver leaned over his female colleague and the first words he uttered was.........Francigena, Via Francigena and then loads of Italian. Again I mentioned that I could not speak Italian.......agh you are English? We both then have a very lengthy chat about the walk, the route, where I had set off from and all manner of things. His female officer just smiled as if to say...........he's always doing this!

Just before Issogne my path was well above the valley floor and soon I was making a very steep and careful way down on the slippery stone cobbled track to river below. I followed this and was soon finishing the day, now to find a bed for the night. I had tried to book somewhere that had been recommended to me but tonight it was full. I had also asked if that accommodation could recommend somewhere and text me but I had received no message. 

With no knowledge of any obvious place I went in sight of a beer and some divine intervention. I sat down with said beer in hand and looked for an Internet connection, no chance. My gut feeling told me to call the accommodation that was full for tonight and see if anything had been arranged. I stepped outside into the rain and took shelter to don my waterproofs, whilst completing this the landlord stepped outside and presented me with a baseball cap to keep my head nice!

Fortunate was to be on my side today as unbeknown to me I had been booked into an Auberge in the village that I was not aware of, and even shown where it was...I am starting to find the Italians much more accommodation to Pilgrims than France.

Walking alone with no Bert !

Distance from Aosta 28.4km. Distance from Dijon 391.2    

Friday 31/7/15

I am getting used to early mornings and today was no exception. Today was going to be a new chapter in my Pilgrim walk as Bert was heading home to his family, having completed his planned two week walk. We headed down for breakfast at 7am and were surprised to see a veritable feast of breakfast goodies. We were used to the meagre bread, jam and coffee options so to be greeted with fresh fruit, yogurts and chocolate desserts, pastries, breads, cheeses, eggs etc etc etc We certainly took advantage of what was on offer.

With full tummies we set off on our final path together. I took advantage of a local bakery / cafe to get bread to go with my eggs today. As I entered the shop my ears were blasted with a cacophony of noise coming from every direction. With everyone talking at and together at the same time, this was my very first taste of Italy. With fresh olive ciabatta bread bought, I very gladly left everyone to their own noise.

At the edge of the city it was time for me to say goodbye to my by now very good friend and walking buddy...Bert. We exchanged goodbyes and man hugs, promising to be in touch and swap the photographs we had each taken.

I set off on my own!

The guide book had stated that it was to be a strenuous walk along the valley hillside with the option of breaking the day at a village halfway. I had already planned to decline this option as my wife Rachel was flying to Italy today to hopefully meet me somewhere the next day. No sooner had I left the city than the hills started and this was to be the case for the whole of the morning. Soon I was out of water but in Italy there is so much water coming off the hills there are water fountains in every village. Ensuring the water was advertised as non potable I took my first hesitant taste at the first opportunity of water. It was very cold and slightly chalky but perfectly ok to drink.

By late morning I had reached my half way point and amazing views back down the valley to Aosta and the mountains far behind. I sat on a bench, took my boots off, put my feet up on my bag and made and scoffed with delight my fresh egg sandwiches. Once completed I was on my way again. The guide book was not wrong about the strenuous journey, I was already thinking that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I pressed on. Again the weather was hot but a slight breeze kept the heat out of the day. On and on I walked, up and down and up and down the path went along fields, tracks and vineyard terraces to Chatillon.

I arrived late in the afternoon and very very tired. After paying a visit to the church, my end point and naturally at the top of lots of steps, I went in search of a hotel and a beer. Fortunately there was both options in the square so I sat down at a table on the terrace and waited for somebody to come out and ask what I would like. This never happened, and after seeing the landlord come out and provide other guests with coffee and ignore me, I went in search of him. I approached the bar and in my English Italian I asked for a beer please, he looked at me after removing his eyes from the game he was playing on the phone as though I was stupid.......and no comment from those of you who know me! I tried again, same response so this time I pointed at the beer tap. O an bierro, now I ask what is the the difference between a beer and a bierro apart from the obvious O? I decided that I was not going to provide this hotel with my presence and went in search of somewhere else. My guidebook mentioned another one and off I went in search off it. Sometimes you just wish you had stuck with what you had been offered. Formidabla more hills and up and up it went to the hotel I was in search of. I walked through the door hot and bothered and very tired. I must have looked a state as the landlady asked if I would like and drink of orange which I drank eagerly. The landlady spoke no English and I spoke no Italian so with phrase book in hand I took a crash course in trying to make myself understood. I must have been almost fluent, I wish, as I secured a bed for the night at Pilgrim rate including breakfast. I think the landlady had the last laugh as she promptly escorted me to my room on the ground floor..........the disable appropriate!

My feet were making some serious complaints today and the thoughts of going down the hill and back up and speaking Italian was just too much. So I decided to stay in my room and save my appetite until breakfast. I thought maybe the Internet would take my mind off things as I had accommodation to secure the following night when Rachel would arrive. Stupid thought, backwards and forewords I went to reception to try and get on the Internet, eventually I plucked up courage and in Italian I said the Internet was buggered! Well I certainly felt like it. The landlady disappeared and her husband came back and reset the Internet modem. He came back and said ....five minutes, give it five minutes......English, English he could flipping speak English,

I returned to my room and made a request for some accommodation that had been recommended to me in Issogne my next day's destination. Soon my IPad rang and it was my wife On Skype calling. We had a god natter and I asked before we completed the call if she could send me some pastries that were in her room. She did but I could not eat them as they were pictures. With thoughts of fresh pizza, steaming bowls of pasta, and lush green salads I drifted off to sleep...........hungry!