Archive for August, 2014

Day 34: Pisa

This morning we took the train to Pisa. Those things are pretty fast, I must say. Landscape is simply passing by. But anyway…

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In Pisa, the tower, the cemetery, the cathedral and so on are literally crammed in one place overcrowded with tourists. I’m sure if you had loads of time, you could also go explore the city itself. For today, we stayed with all the other tourists. It’s way too expensive, but we climbed the tower for 18€ to get a spectacular view. It’s 257 stairs up there. I counted differently, but I’m sure they know better…

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We had started our visit with the cemetery before that. But in tourist land things are stressful so I had to rush to the appointed tower tour. I convinced the lady at the cemetery to let me back in afterwards. She agreed. Thank you. It had totally been destroyed in world war 2 and been rebuilt afterwards. All by hand. Incredible. I actually watched them do it in a film…

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Next on the list is the baptism building. Yes, a whole building just for baptisms. It holds an altar and one of those old basins in which the children used to be baptised. Not just a splash of water on the head, but with a full bath.

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After an overly expensive but quite good lunch, we make our way to the cathedral. It’s beautiful. And we even manage to get a stamp for our pilgrims credential.

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We are leaving again. But not before kissing an angel!

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Day 33: Camaiore to Lucca

For once I managed to get up quite early and leave before seven. The truth is, that after a month, I usually wake up at six anyway. So why not make something of it by arriving at places early, I thought.
So I stopped for a coffee and on I went. The first time the signs varied from the description in my book, I followed the signs. Only to find they were leading my in a strange zigzag way to avoid the road. All extra steps my friends. No thank you. So I went back on the road and ignored all signs. Finally I had to climb up a steep hill covered in horse flies. Again. These little monsters are everywhere! The views are great however. And just so that you know they still exist, here is a picture of a madonna shrine…

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The landscape is very hilly and the sun is quite strong already at 9am. But there is shade again and again, and I pass through some very nice little villages.

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I reached Lucca by 12.30pm. Entering through one of the old gates, I make my way to the tourist office to get a map.

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After checking into the hostel, I have some lunch and climb a really important tower called Torre Guinigi to have an amazing view of the city. After doing the first steps, I realize I have already walked 25km in the morning. The view is amazing though.

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I make my way to the cathedral, where the entrance is free for pilgrims (everything costs money here. Tourist town…) so we can get the stamp.

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I have a coffee and meet an Italian guy who used to work in Timmendorf, next to where I live… He says we should have dinner together. At 21.30. Italian time. Too late for me. And I wanted to be on my own anyway. I keep wandering to look at everything important and then go to a Puccini concert in a church in the evening. Very happy!

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Returning to the hostel I run into Mery, the Spanish pilgrim I met on day two. Since she wants to go there too, we head to Pisa together today. A day to relax from the pilgrimage…


Day 32: Marina di Massa to Camaiore

It was a long straight walk along a street so close to the sea yet not close enough to see it today. This is the region where marble is produced. You might have heard of Carrara. The region is called Massa-Carrara. After that endless walk through a hopeless tourist area, I left this region behind.

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However, obviously, I had to go for a swim before doing so since I didn’t go yesterday. The detour should at least have been worth it. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. All of the beaches down there are privately owned and you can only use them if you rent a sun umbrella or chairs. Since I’m from Germany where every beach is public (as far as I’m aware of) this seems ridiculous to me. Technically, they can’t forbid you to go for a swim. It’s just that you can’t reach the ocean. We learned it the hard way today. Eventually we made it to about five metres of public beach and I finally got my well deserved swim I. The salty water. Do you know what it’s like when you lie in the sea on your back? Your ears go underwater and you just stay above without any motion necessary. It was joyful. My whole body relaxed and I heard the most amazing sound of the day: silence! I enjoyed it very much.

Shortly after, Jesper’s and my way parted. He is taking a rest day at the sea, I wanted to walk on to maybe go to Pisa for a day while I’m in Lucca, which I should be reaching tomorrow. A rest day is needed. But after all the tourists in board shorts, I know I’d rather take it in a city with loads of culture to admire (and things NOT to buy…).

I intended to walk back up to the Via to reach Camaiore only to realise the way was twice as far as I thought. So Jesper convinced me to take the bus. I happily agreed. It was a detour of five kilometres to go to the beach. I’m happy to take the bus back. And I really enjoy this place here.

Well, when I arrived, the ostello seemed to be closed. But I asked around and found a different entrance. A little boy found the right person for me inside after telling him I. My three Italian words that I wanted to sleep here. The guy says they are full since a group of forty people is staying here tonight. I can’t believe it! I say that I got a mattress, if he maybe has a little space for me. He does. It’s the room that leads to all of the storage spaces to there is constant coming and going he says. No privacy. But he makes me a proper bed with a mattress, so I don’t care.

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What I love even more is the shower. It’s crazy how walking in the heat makes you smell so badly (seriously!) and feel so dirty. Showering is what makes you feel human again.
So then I went for a long walk around the city. It’s beautiful.

In the church I ask the only person there for a stamp: the cleaning lady. She finds one. And is super nice.

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I get myself some mandarins for tomorrow and strawberries to eat straight away. It feels like the whole town is looking at me while I walk happily down the road. Time for ice cream.
On a postcard I discovered that there is a Badia church so I set out to find it. And I do. The organist is practicing for a wedding when I enter. So beautiful!

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Then I buy a little notebook and have dinner in the square. All by myself. I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the solitude. Company was amazing so far. But being alone is just right now.

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Day 31: Sarzana to Marina di Massa

After leaving Sarzana this morning I had to return immediately to pick up my walking stick in the café. First extra kilometre. I then attached them both to the backpack. Hands free now. Then we followed the signs to end up at a roundabout with no more signs. Apparently we missed a turn and walked some more additional kilometres up to that beautiful old castle. Today, however, I don’t mind. It’s hot already and pretty exhausting. Sweat is running down everywhere. But the weather is nice and so is the road. I’m annoyed, yes. But I don’t mind the walk.

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Back on the Via, we cross beautiful Tuscany. I can’t describe how amazing things look and smell. The colours are bright, olive trees everywhere, cacti all around…

And then, we reach the sea. Stopping for a cool coke we get our first chance to enjoy the view.

Several kilometres further on, having set up tent on a campsite and having showered long and with massive amounts of soap against the sweat from walking in the hot sun for half a day, we finally make it into the sea.

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Feeling fresh and nice again, we have dinner at the beach to come back to machine washed clothes. I have mentioned before the amazing feeling and smell of it.

Today was amazing. And because of days like these I love travelling. It’s been one month on the road for me today! Unbelievable! Don’t rest in one place. There are so many others to be discovered!

PS: I have amazing pictures of today, but the internet is being stupidly slow on full reception. I’ll put them all in tomorrow. Sleep well y’all.


Day 30: Villafranca to Sarzana

Due to all the rain and the paths through the woods being really muddy, we take the cycling path from Villafranca to Aulla. It’s like being in the rain forest. Including humid air, light rain and horse flies. We even encounter a wild hog. Very glad it stayed hidden in the trees after making some frightening noises…

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We come last a little village called Lusuolo which seems perfect for a nice calm holiday in the hills.

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The sky stays grey the whole time, but it doesn’t rain too badly. In the next village Barbarasco we even take off the rain gear. Through Terrarossa we make it to Aulla. We considered staying here but it’s only around eleven when we get there. So we get a stamp in the abbey which is also the pilgrims hostel and try to figure out what to do next. The very nice, very modern Italian priest gives me a coffee and biscuits and sits down with us. He advises us not to take the path through the woods because although it’s doable it would be very hard. The little road has been blocked by mud coming down the hills he says. So our only option is the national road. It’s not too bad as it only has two lanes and the cars aren’t going too fast. The sky has cleared up, the sun is shining. We have lunch and wait for traffic to slow down and on we march. It’s strenuous. And eight kilometres before our goal we give up. After buying some new things at Decathlon, we make our way to the train. It takes EIGHT MINUTES to get to Sarzana. We would have walked another two hours… Arriving, we run into the Italians again. Some of them took the hiking trail and jumped onto a bus eventually. Jesper and I have a look around tone and then a very nice dinner. Afterwards we have some beers with the five Italians in the backyard of the church we’re staying at. It’s a great evening and I can use my two Italian sentences I learned with my app so far. Then I mostly speak English…

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We are now sitting in the square having breakfast watching the market people setting up. Off to the sea today. Massa here we come. Get your bathing suits ready!

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Day 29: Pontremoli to Villafranca in Lunigiana

Today it rained. That’s really all I have to say. The thing with rain on a pilgrimage/hike is that not only are you getting very wet (which s***s) but you also kind of constantly look down. I bought a rain poncho and I’m very happy about that decision. However, the quality isn’t great so it ripped in two places. But even without those wholes you’re wet. Your face, your legs, most of all your shoes. Rain is dripping down the hood…. It’s simply very enjoyable! As you can imagine.
When we left Pontremoli this morning, the Canadians were already gone and we were yet to make the decision if we wanted to do a 34 kilometre tour or not. Well, with all the water… Anyway. It was still ok when we started walking and we followed some beautiful paths and little villages (all extra kilometres but for once we didn’t mind). When it started raining the fun stopped. A group of Italian pilgrims we had bumped into a couple of days ago in Cassio and who had stayed at the same places every night since, walked past us. Apparently our detours slowed us down a lot. We saw that they were walking down the road now and made the choice to follow suit. It was wet and busy with cars. Unpleasant! But a little shorter. When we reached Villafranca we really only wanted to stay there. It took us over an hour to search for a place to sleep. Finally we found the “parrocchia” which turned out to be a hotel. The owner gave us a pilgrim’a discount which I’m sure is the normal price! We took the room anyway. After a nap and having put out the shoes for drying, we went for a tour around town since it stopped raining for a moment. Stocked up on food for tomorrow, we are now ready to have a pizza dinner (which we didn’t get yesterday. Everything seemed to be closed so we ended up having our own food on the convents roof terrace with a view over Pontremoli, which was quite cool.) We are gearing up for a long walk of 34 kilometres tomorrow. This part of the Via Francigena is a bit nasty since eventually we’ll have to do a long tour of over 30k. I personally think between 20 and 25 is enough. We decided it’s better to do this march without your skin being wet. So I’m holding my thumbs for tomorrow… Send out a prayer (or other note) for us, if you feel like it 🙂

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Day 28: Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli

Only briefly, because we’re about to have dinner and I won’t have wifi afterwards… After breakfast today, we made the last few kilometres to the pass.

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We enter Tuscany with beautiful views all over. Today, most of the walking is downhill, which will give us muscle pain in our legs and lower back tomorrow for sure…

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We enjoy the view for hours to then reach Pontremoli, where we are staying with the Convento Capuccini. I have to say at this point, after my rant the other day, that I have encountered many nice and helpful church people on the way too. These ones included! The city is beautiful. And I’m nearly through the mountains. On foot. After I thought I might have to take the bus with all my injuries. Very proud!

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Day 27: Cassio to Passo della Cisa

Apparently in the Italian mountains it’s impossible to have any internet connection. I’m very sorry. Quite some catching up to do.
So, yesterday we left Cassio in the morning after a great breakfast at the amazing Ostello. All uphill, we run into an Italian girl and a German guy walking in the opposite direction to Turin. We pass a cute little village and after a lot more uphill, horrible sweating and heavy breathing, we reach Berceto. Beautiful!

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There we have a nice pick nick and then visit the market and the dome. On the way out we pay a visit to a lovely little patisserie to get one of their dolci for the road. We choose and the owner decides to “pay” for us. It’s on the house. Farewell pilgrims. Thank you so much!

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After walking up and down through the bushes some more, we change into the road where our hostel for the night is. Ostello della Cisa. It’s not actually on the pass, so we only get to see that the next day. But we have dinner with our Canadian friends once more and the view is awesome. Btw, there are more African refugees here.
The walking wasn’t easy that day, but my feet, knee and shoulder are alright. So no complaints here.

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Day 26: Fornovo di Taro to Cassio

After saying goodbye to Günter in the morning we start our descend quite late around half past eight. It’s a lot of uphill and naturally it’s raining that day! The views are nice however and we take some shortcuts along the road to not constantly walk through mud while being attacked by mean insects.

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Eventually we really need to take a break but can’t find any rainproof shelter. So we hide under someone’s staircase. When I get up again, an old lady is standing at her door. She invites us in while having half the family for a visit. We only want to use the bathroom but are being fed home made ravioli and white wine.

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We continue walking through fog and mud. It’s wet and cold and anything but comfortable. After finding a bar, we have a hot drink to warm up and go back onto the road. Eventually we make it to Cassio. Obviously, when we arrive the sun comes back out. The ostello is amazing. You can take all you want to eat and then donate some money. They don’t have internet though. The day before we met the Canadians again at the hostel and they are now on the same trek. In Cassio we have a nice apero together. Today we are on the way higher up to the Passo della Cisa. More later…

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Day 25: Costamezzana to Fornovo di Taro

Halfway! I seriously cannot believe that I managed to walk half of the kilometres to Rome. I am very happy to have done so indeed, because it is an encouragement that is needed. Today I couldn’t help but be tired of walking. Nearly four weeks on the road, walking with my backpack and sticks every single day, it gets boring. I mean, seeing new things everyday, staying in a different place every night really is amazing. It’s simply the fact that I’m continuously doing this, especially the walking part, that bores me a little bit. I’m good though.
Günter is leaving us tomorrow morning to go back home and continue his walk next year to finish in Rome. He will be missed! We had so much fun together… Jesper and I are emotionally preparing for the hills (I was told they are no mountains at and altitude of 1200m…) just ahead of us. It’s going to take three days to get through. I hope I’ll make it. My heel was ok today. My shoulder made it too. They are both painful but in an endurable way.
This morning we had a great breakfast then walked uphill for the first time in a week, and passed some locked gates in the middle of nowhere.

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The landscape today was beautiful. So even if it’s more exhausting, there is a good side to hilly landscapes.

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We stopped at a church I enjoyed some time on the playground.

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Later on we passed a very old oak tree with a mailbox set up next to it. Jesper opened it and it turns out it holds a notebook for pilgrims to leave a thought. How amazing an idea.

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We put in another break for ice cream. (Really would have loved to have one of their delicious cakes…)

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After an endless detour along the lake which made us walk 25 instead of the once 20 kilometres (we were outraged!!!) we finally reached the bridge across to Fornovo.

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Onward and upwards!