Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Stage 12. An early morning cool start to the day.

Pont-d'Arbia to Siena, 28th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 283km

It was a truly memorable evening in the restaurant chatting to the various Pilgrims, each one of us extolling the adventures we had had along the way. At one point Claire tried to relieve a Canadian pilgrim from his very scrummy looking cheesecake, but he was quick off the mark and bravely fought her off.

Despite the main road being below the bedroom window we all had a good nights sleep and before the cockerel had a chance to wake up and crow, most of us were up and dressed and the first troop leaving before the sunrise. We soon followed and we were in the bar before 7am ordering breakfast. Before we left, other Pilgrims were heading in to order their breakfast and that was when Claire and I learnt a new Italian word...........Krapfen. Yes it sounds very German but it actually means doughnut.

With supplies bought before the supermarket had officially opened we were leaving Pont-d'Arbia behind and heading across the fields to join the direction of the railway. The morning was nippy with a crisp air, Claire was dressed in all her warm clothing, including hat and gloves. Carlo was repeating the word allora again a lot and commenting on how cold it was. I on the other hand was still wearing shorts, t-shirt and warm top, just pootling along. The sun was very low in the sky and the hills masked the early morning rays so for a few hours we were walking in the shade. We passed two dogs running wild in a field and Carlo mentioned that today was another hunting day. I'm not sure what they were hunting or looking for because there was absolutely nothing to be seen. 

Initially the way was easy going as we followed the railway line along stony white tracks. We walked through Quinciano with the strange sided Cappella Pieri Nerli dominating the hill as we approached the village. Our journey took us close the edge of Monteroni d'Arbia and from the many high points of the journey we looked down upon it.

The Via Francigena has now many unofficial routes and it can be quite frustrating when the path just circumnavigates a carpark instead of going straight ahead - in the village of Cuna one such detour now exists. From both directions of the VF path there are signs that pass the village by. This is a huge shame as in the village there is the Cuna Grange, now sadly encased in scaffolding but it is one of the best preserved medieval fortified farms. Fortified to safeguard the storing of grain and other cereals. In the 12th century the site was  a "Spedale", lodgings that assisted Pilgrims and merchants travelling along the Via Francigena.

15km into the day we came across a bar and decided to take a quick break. The day had become a bit of a route march as Carlo had a bus to catch in Sienna to connect with a train in Florence that would take him home. Everyone was tired and it was a warm and humid day. We found a table outside and quickly unloaded some food and ate it without too much chatter while Carlo had a coffee and a quick pee. 

In no time at all we were back on track..........or so we thought. I recalled this section from last time but with new signage it was decided to follow that. In no time at all we were walking between allotments and to a dead end. Carlo asked a local the way and he just waved in the opposite direction. We retraced our steps and now I was guiding people the correct way but Carlo was sure in his mind that the route was on the other side of the track and set off that way. I stopped with Claire, checked the map and the GPS and yes I was correct, there was an underpass at the station. We called Carlo back and explained the direction of travel and off we went again, chomping away.

After passing under the railway line we came to a road and once again the signs disappeared, we went this way, then that way and then stopped and Claire re-enacted the route South. Eventually we on the right course and once again we stomped our way forward, mindful now that time was not on our side for Carlo. We followed the main road across a new pathway for 3km before resuming across fields at the edge of Sienna.

I had mentioned the details of the terrain and whether there were many hills before we set off and everyone was aware that the final 5km was to be an uphill climb to the city. What I had not mentioned was it was uphill all the way on a small Tarmac road that was a short cut to the main road below us. Effectively it was like walking on a race track, with us dodging the traffic and switching from one side of the road to the other to keep visible to the traffic.

By now Carlo was late in arriving, Siena was in our sights but not appearing to get any closer so with bus stops on the road, he sought advice from some of the locals on whether he could get a bus from here. I don't think it was made very clear but when a bus did arrive, he moved closer to the middle of the road and waved at the driver..................the bus slowed down and then carried on ignoring Carlo. Well Claire and I were not surprised................we were in Italy.

Eventually we walked through the main gateway of Porta Romana and bid farewell to Carlo. Yes, he made the bus on time and yes he managed to get his train home.

Carlo will join me in 2018 as we walk along the South of France to Arles, I look forward to his company once more.


Stage 10. A long dusty track

Radocofina to San Quirico, 26th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 232km

Whilst in Radocofini last night we had all visited the local grocery store and been introduced to two local Tuscan dishes, both involved bread. The first Panzanella, a dish of onions, tomatoes, bread, oil all chopped up and serve cold.

The second was Ribollita, a warm soup that basically contains any vegetables that are left over. These are placed in a pan and with the lid on made to sweat until they start to give of a juice. To the juice is added oil and finally bread. The secret is to let it go cold and then reheat the next day and the more time it is reheated the better and more mature the vegetable stock becomes. 

We had been told which restaurant to go to the night before and booked a table because they were so popular. Once seated we all ordered Ribollita and soon it was brought to the table. A steaming large bowl of hot vegetables, beans (flageolet) and bread with a ladle in for us to help ourselves. We all had three helpings it was that good.

Back at the Ostello we had spread our things around a six bedded room so that we could keep it to ourselves, and after a really good night sleep we all woke early to get a good start on the 32km walk ahead.

As Radicofani is on a hill, naturally the first six kilometres was all downhill. The road being a mixture of walking on the grass verge by the road or on gravels tracks when there was the opportunity to leave the road behind. Part way down we came across a sheep that had escaped out the field. Carlo managed to open the fence enough for the sheep to get back in and I proceeded to try to round the sheep up. It had other ideas. Every time it tried to get back in the field the silly think just ran straight into the fence rather than through the gap that had been made. Eventually the sheep got fed up this game and ran like mad away from us, we gave up to but left the fence open. Hopefully it did not get run over.

When we turned onto the main road and stopped going downhill the path again move away from the road and followed the river bed. It as easy going and it was nice to be safe from being run over by crazy Italian drivers.

From following the river bed we turned left past the ancient village of Formone and once the home of a post station dating back to the thirteenth century and a chapel. Now it has been made into a modern home. 

There is a saying....what goes down must go up, and true to that from we started to ascend round the hillside and into the next valley. We were blessed with warm weather and very little clouds in the sky so we had spectacular views all around us of the Tuscan hillside as well as back to Radicofini every now and then.

Italy is peppered with medieval buildings and ancient pathways, sadly all to many of them in a bad state of neglect or disrepair. We passed through a small farm and chapel that was once the site of the Hospice of Bricole and a major resting place on the Via Francigena. Among its guest, Phiippe Auguste, the King of France and Charles d'Anjou's troops in 1288.

In the 10th century it was mentioned as Abricula by Archbishop Sigeric. The farmhouse is a derelict mess and the beautiful tiny chapel that still has traces of the original paintwork has sadly been used to house farm animals and is now just full of poo! Why o why......this could be such a wonderful treasure for Pilgrims to rest or pass through again for them to receive their vitals!

By now it was getting towards midday and it was hot and humid and with the mention of lunch I explained that I was familiar with somewhere not too far away. We pressed on and soon cam to the spot, except it was not the one I had in mind. We stopped and despite the area having a fair scattering of dog poo, we were too hungry and foot wary to care. We just made sure that the pesky flies stayed away from any food. needless to say it was not too pleasant and we certainly did not take our time to each lunch. 

Before finishing two pilgrims came towards us also looking for somewhere to sit and eat, there was no space near us and feeling guilty mentioned that we had passed by somewhere close to where we were currently. I pointed the spot out, a shady place for two complete with a table and a view across the valley. It turned out that they were two American Pilgrims, but only walking a short section and only carrying day bags. Their main luggage being transported for them.

After a quick lunch we left the dog poo and the dog to add to the collection.

We pressed on continuing to wind our way through the hillside along the tracks, every now and then stepping to one side as a car appeared, past us and covered us in a shower of dust...... A bit like being crop sprayed every now and then. 

By late afternoon we descended the hills side and briefly up the up the other side of the valley to Vignoni Bagno, home to a thermal natural spa, a big posh hotel and a large square thermal pool around a courtyard. Claire was eager to paddle in it but it was not one of those places so instead we decided to go for a beer and put our feet up and rest for a while.

With the heat of the day and being tired the beer soon left its mark on me and once my shoes were back on I rather squiffly got to my feet and set off on the final ascent of the day. 250 metres straight up to the village of Vignoni, a small ancient stronghold with a Romanesque parish church and a tower from the eleven century castle.

By 4.30 we were entering San Quirico it origins being Etruscan and the earliest mention of it being in 712AD. Our home for the night would be in one of the medieval buildings above the tourist information office in the old part of the village.


Stage 11. Not that way......but this one.

San Quirico to Ponte-d'Arbia, 27th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 258km

It was a 26km walk today so we were all awake by 6am, washed, packed and all ablutions just about completed and in the cafe for breakfast by 6.45. 7am saw us outside the church in Piazza Chigi raring to go and with the final photos in the bag, off we went.

It was a mild morning for me, Claire was wrapped up prior to taking her clothes off enroute, as is the norm and Carlo, because he's Italian he kept saying it's chilly, allora it's chilly. We descended below the arched road that takes traffic into the town, that sweeps round in a majestic curve with its many arches.

The guide book was easy follow and the Via Francigena signs were plentiful as we ambled through the morning air. There was the occasional buzzard calling in the sky and Carlo pointed out two Roe deer in the distance, before they skipped away. I mentioned that wildlife is not something that I have seen a lot of whilst walking in Italy, I'm not sure why.

After 4km and still following signs we came to a junction and with no clear indication where to go we turned right. At the farm ahead Carlo asked about the Via Francigena and where was Torrinieri, a place we were to pass through. The farmer explained we could continue ahead but it was not the Francigena path. We retraced our steps and at a railway crossing, Carlo asked the same question of a workman. "Eye well tha nose, there's lots o paths round ear. Francigena passes around ear two but if it were me, but it's not, eye wood carry on up thee er to next village and paths thee er! "

Now I know he was not a Yorkshireman and we're not walking in Yorkshire, but I thought I would add the gist of what was said in my own words.

We had clearly missed the turn off to the right and we're a bit confused as we had passed a number of signs leading this way. We pressed on knowing that we would eventually join the path. The original route did pass over the busy Via Cassia road further East and we did the same but only west. I decided to take the safe route and following the path under the road and as I made my way there came across a Via Francigena marker! Now I won't damage the readers eyes by putting into words what I may have said at that point in time, but Carlo beckoned for us to cross the road as it was quiet and we crossed over to the other side.

Our journey continued following the occasional VF marker along rolling sweeping fields, barren from any crops but still exuding their own beauty in the colour of the soil and the contours of the land in the fields. We climbed and climbed the valley and after a few kilometres met up with the official route coming from our right.

We gladly followed it into the town of Torrenieri and at a cafe decided to have second breakfast. I went inside with Carlo to order and Claire went in search of a bakery for supplies for the journey ahead. 10 minutes later she returned successful but apologetic that the bakery only had one type of bread. A hard crusty brick and white at that too. I'm not sure why but the Italians do seem to enjoy this type of bread and even more so...white bread. Claire and I enjoy the more majestic savouring of a good dark bread, brown/black with either seeds, grains and other sumptuous delights we may come across. The one we like also keeps you regular too, white bread just clogs your insides up like glue.

Carlo mentioned that as he'd finished his coffee he would go in search of a sandwich and we should join him on the edge of the town. With coffees quaffed we donned our packs and went in search of him. I spied him ahead before he disappeared from view and we made our way to meet him. As we reached the crest of the main street we saw he'd entered the local coop, something Claire had not seen as she'd not ventured this far out of town. We went inside and at the bakery section decided to ditch the white bread in favour of Panne multicereal. I think our bodies were giving off sighs of relief as we paid for our goods.

Our journey continued away from the village and by now it was around Pellegrini time, on this occasion our Pilgrims looked very different. The first a women carrying a decent size pack, suitably dressed and looking confident as she walked. The second, a man that looked as though he was drawing his last breath, very weather beaten looks and wrinkly (if I may say that?) and carrying the largest pack I'd ever seen. It not only looked as though it was heavy but the top part had a an unusual square wide top to it, was there a piano in there too?. He was also carrying a large plastic bag which gave the impression of being heavy too. His walked ever so slowly and carefully placed each foot down as he shuffled forward. We looked back in amusement half expecting him to have expired on the path, but he hadn't.

We pressed on slowly ascending and winding our way through the undulating valleys with the sun providing some winter warmth so that one by one, in our time we stopped, removed a layer of clothing and then continued ahead comfy that we were not too hot or cold as we continued. The area we were passing through was called the Val d'Orcia an area that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.  As we walked through it you could certainly understand how and why such a prestiges accolade has been given to the area.

Before arriving in Buonconvento we traveled through the vineyards of Castello Altesi and the wine making factory and I'm always amused to see signs that invite Pilgrims in for an afternoon meal that includes wine. I wonder how many Pilgrims take up that offer? If I chose that detour I know that the rest of the afternoon would have to be written off for a cheeky sleep.

The grape vines extend for 400 hectares and at the edge stands castle originally built in the thirteenth century by the Altesi family but not completed until 1441 by the Tricerchi family. It was used as a fortress for Pilgrims marching to Rome on the Fracigena road. IN 1982 it was declared as an artistic and historical heritage site and is an imposing vision along the path.

The journey into Buonconvento took us along the Via Cassia once more. The village is described as one of the most beautiful in Tuscany but like most modern places it's a place of two halves. On the periphery is a modern urban sprawl that is just that. But at its heart is a medieval centre of narrow streets, old houses and obvious signs where horses were tethered in the streets. The name Buonconvento comes from the Latin "bonus conventus' which means "happy, lucky place".

We took advantage of two benches side by side and stopped for lunch. Once again the usual routine unfolded, boots off, empty plastic bags laid down as tablecloths, food spread out and me with penknife in hand liberally chopping everything that needed reducing in size. Once our appetites were sated, we packed up and headed for a coffee and another opportunity to take the boots off.

By mid afternoon we were taking the final 90 minute walk through the heavy, thick wooden door in the archway of Porta Senese of the village and back out to the lush autumn countryside. We wound our way up and down hill, between fields now barren of any crops but still with their own beauty to reach the accommodation of the night - Centro Cresti, a big old farmhouse on the main road. Downstairs there is a large dining and sitting room with a huge industrial size kitchen. Upstairs there are several rooms all of different sizes and for our evening ahead, the house was teeming with Pilgrims from all nationalities - Canadian, American, Dutch, English and Austrian.

We located some empty bunks and commenced with our own nesting process ready for a good nights sleep ahead.......hopefully.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Stage 9. The only way is up

Aquapendente to Radicofini, 25th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 200km

After a day's rest we are now three Pilgrims walking together. The previous night my good Italian Pilgrim friend Carlo Carli joined us and will be walking the next three stages with us to Siena, our next planned rest point.

The day was going to be a tough one so we all set off bright and early after picking up food for the mid-day meal. Radicofini sits on the top of a hill and there were two ways to get there. The first route is along quiet country lanes and through fields but the total mileage would be 32 km. The second route meant walking the first 10 km along the busy Via Cassia road and reducing the total mileage by 7 km. We chose the shorter route!

After only 2km we passed the first Pelligrini, three Italians going the other way, heads down and just getting on with the journey. We all called Buon Camoni across the traffic as it whizzed past.

At the 4th kilometre Claire was undertaking the now familiar routine of taking her clothes off......I won't say much more because that way it's more fun just leaving the reader in suspense.

We all pressed on walking in single file, heads down and also just getting on with it. There was the odd accession when there was a brief respite as we followed parts of the old road away from the new section. It was no more fun but at least there was no chance of us being run over. Conversation was limited to the odd occasion when it was safe to talk and by lunchtime we had reached the half way point, where we turned off the road and onto a gravel track that would take us nearly all the way to Radicofini.

We stopped at the cafe and all refuelled. By now it was after Pelligrini time where we met others coming the opposite way. As we stepped onto the pavement a very smartly dressed gentleman stepped towards the cafe and I immediately detected and English twang. I bid the smartly dressed gentleman good day and he reciprocated. It transpired he had set off from London. 

Now as the three of us continued on our way, we all agreed that our English Pilgrim did not really look like a walker and certainly not one that had walked from London. I agree there is no such thing as the stereotypical long distance walker, but this gentleman looked as though he had just stepped out of his house complete with smart soft loafer shoes to walk in. 

The second half of the day involved a long slow uphill walk on a chalky stone pathetic was very slippery and steep in sections. The only real benefit of the section being the stupendous views we were rewarded with all around as we just climbed and climbed and climbed. Every now and then we did get a glimmer of Radocofoni on the horizon, way up in the sky and far away.

The afternoon air was humid but there was the occasional relief of a gentle breeze as we climbed and climbed and climbed. Claire mentioned that the final part of the walk was almost equivalent to the height of climbing a small Munro (Scottish mountain) due to the height in meters we were ascending.

Eventually by late afternoon we were making the final journey through the old gateway into the medieval street to reach the end of the stage. We were early to check in, so after taking photos of where we had just walked from we sat down for a glass of wine in the sun. Whilst sitting there a Hearst rolled up and parked outside the church where we were. The driver got out and he approached Carli and started chatting away.

It transpired that the driver was also one of the caretakers of our pilgrim accommodation, he mentioned that he was busy with the funeral and apologised that he'd left the keys to our lodgings at home. He would go back and return within the hour. Mmmmmmm after nearly two hours, we were starting to get cold and fed up of waiting but he finally arrived.  

We were grateful to be inside in the warmth and with all the formalities completed we settled into our own room, spreading ourselves across the various beds to make it look like it was a bit full. It's not the normal procedure for Pilgrim accommodation but as there were plenty of other rooms we did not feel guilty at our transgression.

I have had the pleasure of staying at this accommodation before, it is warm, very comfortable and has the added bonus of a decent kitchen for self caterers - we were not one of those.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Stage 8. Run, Forest........run

Stage 8. Bolsena to Aquapendente, 23rd October 2017

Distance from Rome: 168km

We had arrived in Viterbo the previous day and then spent nearly 2 hours deciding on accommodation. We were wet and tired and the thoughts of staying in the Covent with other Pilgrims in one room and nowhere to dry clothes put us off staying there.

I tried unsuccessfully to plead a bargain deal with the Zodiac hotel, somewhere I'd stayed previously, but I was unsuccessful. We did find somewhere else that offered rooms for €15, a good price, but when we asked for directions found that it was 2km further on to walk.

I'd past by a B & B next door to the convent, so with a script prepared, I called and was greeted by a very excited Italian Senora. Between both us I secured a good price that included breakfast and explained we'd be there in 5 minutes. Upon arrival the Senora was still excited and talked at hundred miles an hour and left me quite exhausted listening to her. We were shown to our room, a bit like Fawlty Towers, lovely green decor, some very inexpensive pictures probably from a car boot or from a grandparent left in a will! But on a positive note and something that was expressed throughout our stay..............it had a lovely balcony overlooking the Santa Cristi Piazze and the church.

Our breakfast was exceptionally brown, but Claire did manage to have a Latte prepared by me, in what could only be described as a soup bowl because only the English do mugs. Needless to say we soon left the place and made our way through the medieval town.

The route took us up a long flight of manageable steps to the castle at the top and there we were blessed with via Francigena signs everywhere, going in all directions and bearing no resemblance to my guide book. After some comings and goings and much scratching of heads we finally identified the way forward.

The day was going to be of two halves with an afternoon lunch stop at San Lorenzo Nuovo and today we were blessed with cloudless skies and an anticipated temperature around 24 degrees.

We took our time leaving the edge of the town, taking every opportunity of taking photographs back across to the castle and the lake below with a backdrop of a cloudless blue sky. Initially the journey was a slow steady climb past the Roman town of Volsnii near the site of the Etruscan settlement of Veltna, conquered by the Romans in 265 BC.

Within thirty minutes we were once again walking between olive groves interspersed with views to our left of the lake unfolding between its branches. Parts of the route were being cleared by a couple of the local people, we chatted away in our own languages and in-between laughing I offered to swap my pack to do some of the work.

It was easy going as we both settled into our walk routine of scouring the way ahead for the Via Francigena signs peppered in all manner of places, some easy to locate others just wrapped around the odd twig of a tree.

The final part of the journey to San Lorenzo was not that pleasant as it involved 3km of the very busy and windy Via Cassia road. There has been an ongoing dispute with a land owner over the rights of way of a track that runs through his land. Obviously his quite happy for walkers to be either run over or killed on the road.

In San Lorenzo Nuovo we met a Canadian family who had spent five months travelling, what a fabulous experience for the children. Mum and dad were carrying enough for all of them, their walk taking them from Siena to Rome - two weeks on the road with no electronic gizmos or gadget.

In the town we made our way to the cafe in the Piazza, ordered two beers and paninis for lunch and sat in the sun and just talked about nothing and something. As we sat we were reminded of the influx of immigrants in Italy as there was a small group in the square totally engrossed in their mobile phones.

After settling the bill we were back on the road, the way ahead I remembered as not that interesting as we would slowly wind our way around the fields to Aquapendente. How wrong I would be!

Part way through our journey along the fields Claire stopped to remove some articles of clothing......she's getting good at that as we walk together. Once dressed more comfortably we pressed on. About a kilometre further on Claire suddenly stopped...."my walking pole, where's my walking pole"? She exclaimed. "O know, I've left it back where we stopped"

Like a true gentleman I am, I quickly threw off my pack and ran all the way back there to retrieve the walking pole. Claire obviously thought this was a truly heroic deed as unbeknown to me she felt it was an appropriate opportunity to record my marathon sprint. I have to say having seen the video, I was quite good and my running style is very professional!

Once stick was retrieved we progressed through the fields and by late afternoon we had arrived at the hotel Il Borgo that was going to be our home for two nights.


Stage7. An 18km swim!

Stage 7. Montefiascone to Bolsena, 22nd October 2017

Distance from Rome 146km

We woke early in our cell of the Convent having both slept really well. It was dark and gloomy outside, but then we were on the top of a hill. We returned to the cafe in Pizza Emanuale to make use of the free wifi and to have breakfast.

Today was going to be a wet one and before we left the sanctuary of a warm dry inside space, the heavens started to open and the rain just fell out of the sky. We slowly put our waterproof clothing on and bravely stepped outside. There was no point playing dodge the puddles as we travelled along the medieval street and through the ancient gateway. As we left the old town there was a brief respite in the weather.

Our journey took us past St Flaviano church, well worth a visit inside if you are every in the area. On the outskirts of the new part of the town we decided to make the days walk shorter by taking the route along what was described as a quite road. I think the gods were against as once again the heavens erupted as the rain fell out of the sky. As we stopped to let a car pass by at a junction, it stopped and the window came down and a very nice lady proceeded to ask if we need an umbrella and started to take hers off the back seat and started waving it as us. We politely declined saying Grazie mille, Grazie mille.....many thanks but no thank you. We all went on our way and as we trudged through the rain we both acknowledged what a wonderful gesture that was.

The road was not quiet and the rain did not stop. On the odd occasion we tried to seek sanctuary under trees to avoid the heaviest of the rain but it really was quite futile and so rather than stand and get cold we pressed on. After six kilometres we left the the road behind and the traffic and soon we were again travelling along the old Roman road of the Via Cassia.

From the Roman road we continued along descending through the woods. It was poorly marked and the guide book was not much use and with paths going in all directions but slowly we made our way. The book mentioned crossing a stream by a derelict house and as I pressed on Claire called me back pointing to markers I had missed on the left. I was sure that I was going in the right direction and mentioned that but decided that maybe I was wrong and decided to follow the directions Claire had found.

As mentioned in the book it took us across a stream but not one with a bridge. We gingerly crossed over using the stepping stones that had naturally fallen as a vague route and yes there was a ruined house but on the wrong side to what the book had described.

We ascended the bank and up the hillside to come across a very clear stone track with a Via Francigena sign pointing to our right. The route we had decided to take was obviously a short cut someone had created. I may point that out in my walk notes so that the readers can then make their own decision as to which route they take.

It was well after midday and we were both hungry. At a small chapel there was a picnic bench and we decided it was an ideal spot to have lunch. Whilst stood there acorns occasionally plopped out of the tree either onto our heads or the floor. As we laid out our meal of slightly hard Foccacia bread, cheese and tomotoes the sky once again decided to grace us with some wet stuff once again. We hurriedly packed everything away but not before my sandwich got a bit soggy. On the plus side it made it a bit easier to chew. Needless to say we skipped desert.

The afternoon saw us slowly wind our way up through the woods ascending one side of the hillside before we started to descend into Bolsena. As we rounded a corner the lake just unfolding like a carpet before us and below us. We both stopped to take some pictures and as the rain had stopped, remove some clothes.

As we entered the town we looked like two tired travelling tinkers, with our clothes hanging from our rucksacks but we didn't mind. We had made it and we were mostly dry except from the perspiration from the 80% humidity.

Stage 6. The Sisters of Divine Love!

Stage 6. Viterbo to Montefiascone, 21st October 2017

Distance from Rome: 128km

Viterbo is truly a wonderful place for a Pilgrim rest day. Our apartment had everything we needed, a washing machine, his and hers sinks, a kitchen with an oven that tripped the electricity and a gas hob that needed turning off on the main tap because it leaked! Despite those few quirks, it was very comfy and very central.

Our rested day had consisted of walking through and around the walls of the old town, winding our way through the streets following the direction of the walls. Three quarters of the way round I came across where I had stayed before at a Franciscan Monastery, my accommodation being in one of the old towers that line the walls. Claire and I ventured inside, wandered around the Cloister graced with frescos on all four sides and poked our noses in all the doors we could find open, unfortunately the church was not one of those.

We continued on our way and shortly after midday we went back to where we had eaten the night before - L'Accheta. We sat outside and had a two hour lunch, drinking wine and dining on a platter of battered fresh vegetables, cheese, bread, salad, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Before we sat down the place was empty with only an hour before closing. After we sat down the place suddenly became a hive of eaters commandeering all the tables inside and out. I suggested that I should ask for commission for bringing everyone in, but my Italian does not stretch to that manner of conversation.

We slowly made our way back to the apartment and I checked how far we had walked - 10.6km, not bad for a rest day.

We woke early and were leaving the apartment in haste, both excited at the thought of spending some time in the Thermal pools along the way. Initially the journey saw us making our way along one of the main roads out of Viterbo and then past the cemetary. Viterbo must have a lot of residents or maybe just a lot of people die there because the cemetary has been extended and there is now a large, very modern, several storeys highs gothic monstrosity at the side of the old one. It has to be seen to be believed.

After 7km we came across the pool and as we had been told by other Pilgrims it was very busy with the car park almost bumper to bumper with Recreational Vehicles or Camper vans as I would call them. We paid our Pilgrim fee of €5 and received a stamp for our pilgrim passport and then we were in. We had both come prepared and soon we had just whipped our clothes off - Claire down to shorts and short top and me down to my Budgie smuggler type pants!

I have never been in a thermal pool and although it smelt like rotten eggs, once in the water it was lovely and warm and very soft. There were five pools or Bangos (Banyos) virtually full with bathers of all shapes, sizes and ages and I was immediately struck with the thought of wallowing hippos. But that would have been cruel to the hippos! Claire made me go in the plunge pool which was ice cold and I'm sure I had something before I went in but couldn't find it afterwards! An hour late and with a decent days walk ahead we got dressed and continued on our way.

We had missed Pelligrini time, 11.30am, but after only 2km we stumbled across a couple sat at the side of the path in the shade resting from the heat. We bid them Buon Camino and continued on only to pass another six more within the next 4km.

With 6km to the end of the walk we reached the best part of the day and something I was excited for Claire to experience. We passed under a railway line for the second time and then turned right to walk parallel with it. The track soon changed from Earth to large black cobbled stones of all sizes, carefully fitted together to form a path. I asked Claire if she knew what this was and she replied...."a Roman Road"?

Yes but not just any Roman road, this was the Via Cassia AD500 and it most places it looked like it had just been built. Our pace slowed, not only because of what we were walking on but also because by now the path had started the long ascent into Montefiascone.

Our path along the Via Cassia passed through olive groves, hazelnut trees and kiwi fruit groves, with the fruit of the kiwi looking very unpleasant, see the picture to draw your own thoughts.

The final few kilometres involved a 1600 foot climb up to Montefiascone, but it was well worth it once there. Before we walked through the old gate we made our way to the view point and looked out over Lake Bolsena, the largest volcanic lake in the world. It was once a chain of volcanos that over successive eruptions all collapsed in a on themselves and left the crater which over time filled up. There have been two further eruptions from Volcanos beneath the water and these have created two islands in the lake.

We walked through the door and at another view point we stopped for photos with the two iron pilgrim sculptures and the made our way to the Piazza Emanuele and the end of the stage.

Once the route had been saved on my GPS we made our way to the Instuto Divini Amore (The Sisters of Divine Love). No not some hippy 60's love institute but a convent. I rang the bell and explained who were and soon we were ushered in by a lovely bubbly Sister who looked about seventy and was only about four foot tall. After our passports and Pilgrim passports were handed over we were shown our cell for the night. Two comfy single beds and showers either end of the corridor. The Sister explained that we would receive an evening meal and she would come and knock on our door at 7.30pm and take us to dinner.

At just after 7.30 we were taken to the dining room and a feast was spread before us, fresh fruit, fresh cheese and bread, water and a bottle of Est Est Est rosso the local wine. I had mentioned that I was a vegetarian and for our first course we had fresh pasta in black pepper and then had a platter of fried eggs on salad leaves brought. It seemed a real mixture of food but it was heaven. We took our time with our meal and once completed our Sister arrived with our passports and we handed over the princely some of €20 each, all that was asked for our bed and evening meal.

The generosity and kind we received was very moving and we had many laughs over trying to talk to each other, not really understanding the true gist of what was being said.

It's probably not a common thing and maybe you could call it a tip but from the change I received I handed it back saying Donativo......a donation.

We slept like babies that night.

Stage 4. Plus 7km!

Stage 4 blog. Sutri  to Vetralla, 18th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 85km

Sutri really is a magical place and if you ever get a chance in life to visit it, I'm sure you would not be disappointed. We woke early and after the usual brown breakfast we decided we had enough time to go and have a look round the medieval centre and then buy provisions for the days walk.

We made our way towards one of the many view points and were provided with a beautiful early morning sunrise with a wisp of early morning mists in the air - it was going to be a hot day. Moving on we came across small nuggets of Roman and Etruscan past life, most notable the main arch into the central piazza.

After buying our healthy lunch provisions we quickly made our way back to our accommodation and soon we were on our way once more. We retraced our steps back out of the town and made our way along the small road that skirts the base of the tuffa rock the town sits on.

A quick left turn saw us soon leaving the few tourists behind as we wound our way along the valley floor. The peace and quiet was deafening in the morning sunlight as we slowly made progress. When I had past this way before there were three bridges to cross as the traveller crossed from one side of the stream to other. Then they were really precarious and in serious need of repair. The first one we came to had been replaced in a simple way - four large logs just strapped together, and the remaking two no different. Well on a positive note we were never going to break the handrails because there weren't any.

After 4 km we had reached the final point of the valley and we turned right and slowly started making the ascent out of the valley. Now there is a saying that what goes up must come down and that also applies when walking unless your on a beach or in Lincolnshire, England.

As we rounded a corner and started a very steep descent, still slippery from the morning dew, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view ahead and above us of Capranica, our destination for second breakfasts. All to soon we were at the bottom of a second valley and once again we started the slow ascent up. We entered Capranica through one of the two Roman gateways and wound our path along the medieval streets, bustling with cars and people and the first of a few Pellegrini's we would meet through the day.

We did not have time to really have a look around the town and we merely made a bee line along the Main Street and out of the other side and stopped at the first cafe we came across. By now the day was pleasantly warm to sit outside and Claire went inside to order our usual coffee choices an two Cornetto a la creme's.

Before  we feasted on our pastries "Wee man and his new friend Jessica rabbit had to get in the act and take a selfie photo of them posing with the pastries. Once completed they were soon devoured and we were then back on our way.

About one kilometre down the road, just before we turned left out of the town, Claire suddenly stopped and uttered "I didn't pay for the breakfast" We made our way back and Claire apologised profusely for having left without paying.....I think we had just stopped the owner calling the Carbinere to put an (APB) all points bulletin out for two suspicious Pellegrini, a small Irish man and a rabbit last seen leaving a cafe without paying. Well we thought it was very funny.

After paying we continued on our way and before long we were soon meeting up with more Pelligrini going the other way. Our route was a pleasant one, along an easy gravel track that passed between olive groves and close by the railway line. I had not walked this route before as I had decided to miss Vetralla out, instead taking in a more direct route from Viterbo to Sutri via a Cistercian Monestary.

We left the olive groves behind and with only 10km until the end we were sure to reach our Airbnb accommodation by 4pm as I had informed them. We turned left away from the via Cassia main road and were informed by the guide book that after 500 metres turn right. When we got to that point, there was a barrier across the entrance and it went straight into a hazelnut orchard. We felt that this was not correct but instead continued ahead. There were no more Via Francigena markers ahead so we stopped and reread the instructions. After much discussion we decided to retrace our steps and go back to the barrier. I mentioned to Claire that despite two VF markers either side of the barrier, it was not that way through the orchard.

We turned round and carried on down the hill towards the railway line, we crossed over despite the map in the book clearly showing this was not the way. I was aware that there Re sections of the path that have been changed or diverted so with that though I felt we were correct in our assumption of where the path was.

A car slowly rolled up to us and the driver said "Pelligrini", "Si" I replied. I pressed on with "Via Francigena"? He then proceeded to give us directions from where we were. By now the day was getting late and we had yet to have our lunch. At a small orchard we spied an agricultural building and a suitable place to sit rather than using the ground. We made our way there and while I prepared our lunch Claire went for a "wee" walk.

After a well deserved break we returned to the path and after 2km we came across what ruined out to be the correct path on the right coming out of the hazelnut orchard. I apologised to Claire profusely and I meant it too.

We pressed onto the via Cassia, crossed over and proceeded through an olive grove. It soon transpired that either we were wrong again or the path was not too well marked here. I told Claire to hang around while I retraced my footsteps back to the Via Cassia to have a good luck round. I couldn't find any more signs so assumed were correct, we pressed on a bit further only to decide that clearly somethings was not correct.

We decided to go back to the track before we had crossed the road and try from there. 1km back the way we had come Claire pointed out a VF sign we had both missed!

We pondered the map, tried to interpret reverse directions and both declared this was the correct way. By now it was well after 4pm and I set a new message to our host that our new ETA would be 6pm.......how wrong I was!

On the outskirts of Vetralla Claire declared that her pack had to come off as her back was sore. No sooner was it off then she was laid flat on her back on a picnic table with her knees up massaging her back. Thank fully there were no visitors to the park at this time of the day.

Before we set off I made Claire reduce the weight of her pack by off loading some of the content into mine. As we set off Claire was now skipping along and I was struggling to lift my legs with the increased weight of my pack.

We slowly made our way into town, 5 km further from our last stop and by now the light was beginning to get dark as the night drew in. I sent a further text to our host around 6.30pm to say that we were walking along the main road, via Roma and we'd be with her soon. 10 minutes later someone called Tony, Tony and it turned out to be our host. I don't think that either of us have ever been so pleased to see someone.

We were whisked away to out medieval apartment that everything and more for our comfort. We packs off and once instructions had been dispensed about where to leave keys, where the towels were etc I asked about the nearest Supermarket. I was informed that the supermarket was outside the town but there was another close by but was closing in five minutes.

After we'd said goodbye to our host we ran like we were being chased by the devil to get to the shop before it closed. Needless to say we managed it and we managed to buy everything we needed for a comfy night, including beer and wine!