I’d like to share with you a little video I filmed during my walk to Rome. Maybe it gives you a little impression of what pilgrim life on the road looks like 🙂
It’s my birthday today. I’m now twenty nine years old. Still not thirty, that is. So all day, that’s what I celebrated. Firstly by walking via streets and paths along railroad tracks to Miraldo Terme, which we shouldn’t have passed. Again, like so many times before the track has been changed and poor little pilgrims have to walk extra kilomtres. That’s already annoying in general. Today, however, it’s even more so, because we left late (since I had to check my birthday messages) and don’t have much time to be at the river Po at noon to catch the ferry. We do believe that the guy will wait some minutes for us though. So we make our way through bushes and fields, including a fair amount of churches, along a beautiful castle (which I decide to move into) in Chignolo Po, and finally onto a dam. The whole path there has been newly built especially for pilgrims. It looks amazing.
We are twenty minutes late and he, the private person who offers this service, didn’t wait for us afterall. Eventually we manage to reach him via phone and he tells us he’ll be there at 4pm. It’s 12.30…. So we wait…
He finally picks us up with his friends on board. It’s not a ferry btw but a small ship that races across the river to the other side in about five minutes. I mean seriously, he couldn’t fit that in at 1pm? Anyway, I read a book while waiting so never mind. We arrive to something like a party and are offered beer and also cake when they hear it’s my birthday. We get the stamp and move on.
The restaurant for the second stamp of today turns out to be the same thing. Shame. I’m a little disappointed. Hours of waiting, no real ferry and just one stamp so far…
We walk on past tomato fields to Calendasco.
The hostel doesn’t seem to be what we thought it was either the room is VERY basic and the English dude doesn’t seem too nice. More African refugees here btw. It’s so strange how you hear in the news that they are in Italy but only realise they really are when you get here and see them. I hope they’ll be well. We try to find a place to eat but everything is closed. Well. It’s Monday. I should have known. A guy we ask offers to drive us to a trattoria and the menu is amazing. We have too much food and too much wine. We then walk the 1.5 kilometres back to Calendasco. We try to hitch but no one stops. Instead they turn on their brights and speed up. Great.
We return to our hostel. Enea the English (son of the) owner has done our laundry, with a mashine, it smells so nice and clean. But it isn’t dry so he offers us a beer while waiting. He drinks with us. After learning it’s my birthday he decides it’s necessary to drink more. He even brings out tiramisu as my birthday cake. So we keep on drinking beer after beer. Apparently they have to take in the refugees. It’s their second round and this time it’s much better. One of the former refugees is now his kitchen aid. Enea says he’s a good guy. I think he made the tiramisu. Well done. Thanks!
Finally we have to go to bed. Taking our fresh clothes with us. I’m happy. It’s been a great birthday on the road. Thank you Günter and Enea. Tonight was awesome. All the best to all of you too.
My feet are in a lot of pain by the way. The tendons are blue and swollen. Not a good sign if you ask me.
Today’s journey went mostly via streets through many little villages with all bars closed since it’s Sunday. I don’t get it. Shouldn’t all the bars be open on Sundays because there’s nothing else to do? Anyway. So we walked out of beautiful Pavia (so sorry to leave…) and basically followed road after road, having little breaks and finally finding a bar in Borgioioso, which is 17 of today’s 27 kilometres. We get tired to be honest. I don’t get these people walking a minimum of 30km per day. It’s too much! For me at least. (Not meaning to be disrespectful!) So after 17 kilometres we’re tired and just keep walking on. Once more we are being eaten alive by the mosquitoes and stop at a nice fountain for a second coke just before we arrive at today’s goal. That’s another thing. Usually I never drink coke or any other kind of sugary water. Here, every day, it’s nearly essential. Maybe due to all the walking I need the sugar. But a cold coke on the way feels like heaven. (Dear Coca cola, you should sponsor me for this ad!) After another short walk we arrive in Santa Cristina. The Oratorio is fine although the showers are cold. Very glad I’ve been walking through the heat all day… We meet a Canadian couple from Quebec and have a beer and then dinner together. I get to practice my French again and even manage to communicate with that very own accent. The evening is good although the food doesn’t fulfil it’s usual Italian standard. (Maybe we shouldn’t have gone to a restaurant owned by Chinese people, being in Italy and all. But since it’s Sunday and the village is tiny, everything else is closed.) I’m tipsy after half a litre of beer and a quarter litre of bad wine. So off to bed it is. It’s my birthday tomorrow. I’m turning 29. But I guess I won’t make it to midnight… I get to be on a cool ferry tomorrow though and get to collect three amazing stamps instead of one. Yes, life of a pilgrim is very modest. I’m looking forward to my birthday on the road tomorrow. Sleep well.
What an epic day. This morning we got kicked out of the abbey quite early so hit the road at 7.30am. The weather was nice and the path pretty even and simple.
We walk on for ten kilometres, which is supposed to be half way to the next village and two fifths of today’s journey. After stopping for a pick nick (with the steak sandwiches from yesterday) in the shade, however, we reach Tromello in just another 30 minutes. We decide that means we’ll walk further than originally planned. So we enter Tromello and want to stop for a coke in a bar where there seem to be a thousand people and no seats. It’s a bank holiday. Everyone’s on the streets. By the way, that’s something I really like about Italy. Everybody is always outside, spending time with others, drinking coffee and beer and talking talking talking loud and non stop. Great! Anyway, a man grabs me and asks me to follow him. I think he wants to show me another bar when he starts talking about a man, another one. So he leads me to this place in a backyard, where another pilgrim is resting, Jean-Luc from Switzerland. We are the first pilgrims he met on his twelve days on the road. The place belongs to Carlo. He takes care of the pilgrims. He gives us coke, a Via button, I as a girl also get a Mary key ting, and then he runs to the street to give us biscuits (they are selling them there because of mentioned bank holiday). Carlo is amazing! He so hands us a certificate and doesn’t want any money for all of this. “Pilgrims don’t pay!”
We walk on with Jean-Luc who is happy to have someone to talk to after two weeks. We walk along Santa Bozzola which has a massive madonna church and have the obligatory coke (you really need the sugar here!) We see done donkeys and goats…
…just before we come across a little party for the holiday. Since we stop to take a photo we are invited to join and have a drink. We also get offered cake and watermelon. They are a group of volunteers organising a party for disabled people who would otherwise be alone in this day. Of course, pilgrims are welcome too.
Just a little bit further on, bambi walks towards us. He’s lost and tries to find his way back. Poor thing decides to jump into the river to cross it. Only that its walls are made of concrete, so he can’t escape anymore.
We walk down the river with him for a while but are unable to help. Then our path leaves the river. I’m devastated. Poor bambi. I hope he makes it. After a cemetery, Italians are obviously putting a lot of money towards their dead, we make it to our final village. There, in the canal, we see Bambi again. He’s been swimming all this way with the current and is no stuck without escape. Günter steps in, manages to grab him by his horns and pulls him out of the water!!! Pewwww! He saved him! Bambi runs away all shaky to hide in a side street. We hope he gets some rest and finds his way home or a new life. It’s all we can do. Sorry, I didn’t take a photo. It was one of those moments when you stare because you think you can help someone with sheer will power… Thanks Günter! Very heroic!!! 🙂
We are now at the parocchia, where the pastor didn’t care too much about us, but the other guys had a beer with three tired pilgrims and talked a lot to us. Jean-Luc had reserved a B&B and we’re meeting him for dinner now. I had a great day full of action and kindness! The first part of my credential is full. My Achilles’ tendons hurt again. Yes, both of them. But I’m just hoping it’ll go away! Very happy! 🙂
Today’s walk was great. We had sunshine and mild wind, walked through more rice fields and what seemed to be “bush land”. (Seriously, get someone in to mow the freaking stuff…)
Arriving in Mortara we get to stay in a beautiful abbey. We are being let in before they usually open the doors to pilgrims and settle in. The people are amazing. The lady here brings us cold water and fruit straight away. We then make our way back into the centre of the village to enjoy some Italian life.
I can’t even begin to explain the taste. And so cheap! On return to the abbey we are served dinner which is incredible and way too much to eat. We get pasta and steak with salad. Wine too. There is so much food, we manage to make steak sandwiches for tomorrow. And even pack some fruit. There will be breakfast too. Everything is perfect for a pilgrim. A nice bed, shower with hot water, a place to wash your clothes and to put them in the sun to dry. The father comes by just to give us our stamp for the pilgrims credential. And all of this is for a DONATION! No particular amount of money asked. Crazy! We’re in pilgrim heaven (partially due to the sugar rush from our little feast earlier, I guess).
This morning we meet a Dutch guy in the convento at breakfast and agree to walk into town together since Günter and I also want to look at those very old churches before leaving. When we’re outside, he’s nowhere to be seen. We wait for ten minutes then leave. Rain has already started but is at a decent level. We set out to the town centre when the rain picks up and gets quite heavy. Günter and I decide there is no point in sightseeing in this weather so we make our way back in the Via. The rain increases and turns into some kind of waterfall. We walk on, knowing there will be a village after about ten kilometres for a little rest. It feels like forever since we get just so very wet. By the time we see a car under the highway bridge and Günter wonders what the guy might be doing there, I am soaking wet. My raincoat isn’t protecting me, water us running down my spine and stomach, even my feet inside my shoes start getting wet. I feel like I’m fully dressed in a shower. (I’m wondering later on if god was judging us for not waiting for the Dutch guy…) The thing is, if I was going home, I wouldn’t even mind. You just take a hot bath and put your things out for drying. On the Via, everything will stay wet for quite a while. Therefore, when you’re past the emotional caring, your reason jumps I and tells you, that this is stupid. So instead of wondering what the car is doing under the bridge, I approach the guy who owns it and politely ask if he’s going to Robbio. “That way. Straight on,” he replies and I point out that I was actually referring to him driving and taking us with him. He thinks for a moment and then tells us to throw our stuff in the back and jump in. Ok, should I be walking every kilometre of the Via to be a real pilgrim, is the question? Maybe. But seriously, it’s not supposed to be torture and I’m not willing to get ill and walk in wet shoes for blisters so that I have to quit in the end. So, judge me. I don’t care. It was the perfect decision. Because it kept raining for half the day. And this way, our shoes are nearly dry again. I need to point out however, that we’ve been truly blessed today. The Italian driver, I’ll just call him Luigi, saved us and the people in town were so generous. The lady at the church gave us umbrellas, several people pointed the way to the place to stay, unasked, the police showed us through and the community didn’t even let us donate any money for the stay but welcomed “due pilligrini con agua!” Where in the world does this still happen? Right, in Italy! In addition, you can go to a restaurant opposite the train station and order pasta for nine euros which is to die for. Elizabeth Gilbert knew why Italy got the “eat” part in her book… We only walked five kilometres today in impossible rain, but the day was simply amazing. Keep caring for others. And adapt to the situation. Onwards.
Getting up this morning felt easy. We packed our things and had a little breakfast at the campsite. Then all I wanted to do was walk. I might have got annoyed by the “tick tick” sound of my walking sticks and was therefore trying to escape it, but I really just felt full of energy and wanted to get to my goal. I was in no hurry though. I stopped to take photographs of four churches, two with cemeteries. Two of them weren’t even on my way and I did a detour, knowingly! Fascinating. We also stopped for coffee and later on had a pizza break in the grass. By the time we came close to Santhià, I have to admit, however, that my feet were aching again. And the intense heat was doing its job quite well also by pushing me down. It was seriously close to impossible to stop in the sun. It was like a cloud that pressed you into the ground. In addition we saw the first rice fields today. The area here is famous for it and there will be much more tomorrow. (Which also explains the plague if mosquitoes. The count if my bites is now over thirty)
I think it’s so great to see the landscape change while you’re walking through it. I guess, walking, you really perceive the world around you and don’t just rush from one place to another. Tonight we’re staying in a pilgrims’ hostel with six beds led by the church. It’s very nice. It’s got all the little things you need, like a clothes horse. We’re even getting little lavender bags for the backpack. (I also bought febreeze, since it’s smelling badly…) we did some shopping in a proper supermarket for tomorrow’s 30km hike. Phew! I felt like a normal person when I entered. How impressive. Off to enjoy some nice dinner now. Will let you know tomorrow how bad the 30k were!!!
Today’s walk was beautiful. I’m proud to say I climbed every single stupid mountain just to descend at the other side. (And yes, it was climbing. I nearly broke my ankles quite a few times…) I made all of the useless detours to look at all of those churches that look pretty much the same and even more important are locked! Yes, in catholic Italy the churches are locked. Well. We simply stopped trying eventually. The path went through beautiful old villages, vineyards and forests, over some roads and in between very old stone walls. All in all, as I said, it was beautiful. And for the first time, my legs didn’t hurt so much. I could actually squad for a photo and get back up without any pain. Both my Achilles’ tendons are ok. I can feel them once in a while, but mainly they behave. The soles of my feet hurt after about twenty kilometres, but I think that’s fair enough. I have to say, today’s walk was good. I enjoyed it and took a lot of photos. Staying in a little B&B where we will have dinner with the family later on. Finally back in pilgrim mode. I had a great day! We left the Aosta Valley. There are a few more little peaks ahead of us, but I’m looking forward to reaching some nice lakes tomorrow.
PS: quite a few mosquitoes around here…
This morning I felt better though still a little weak. We walked on but decided to do only a “short” day of 22km for me to get back on track. For the first hour we mainly walked uphill and my lungs were burning as if they were about to explode while the sweat was dripping down my body like I was taking a shower. I felt amazing, as you can imagine. Then finally God showed some mercy and let me walk downhill on a path covered by the shade of trees. I thanked him a lot and he showed kindness by pushing some clouds in front of the sun and providing me with an alternative route that skipped yet another mountain of more than a hundred meters difference in hight. I was a very happy girl and got stronger by drinking tea and eating more dry bread things. We walked along a river and saw a beautiful church with amazing murals as well as a pretty cool castle (which we didn’t enter since they asked for money. Ridiculous!)
We encountered many a thousand dogs barking at us from every visible and invisible corner, like everyday I should say. However, today I caught one in action! And there were many more garden gnomes to admire. I won’t keep them from you. You deserve the same pleasures I experience.
Next door, the B&B for pilgrims, in an equally old building. Amazing. We keep going (uphill) to look for a diocesan to take us in since we want to safe some money. Just to find out, that is now the B&B. So we walk back, what are another thousand steps. Arrived, we realise the B&B is closed. Sure. What did we expect, really? So, again, we walk on and uphill, as we need to reach the next village for shelter for the night. Until there are no signs anymore. Great. We must have looked very lost when a nice Italian man approached us. He explained in French (I really need to learn some Italian) that we simply need to walk straight to get to Hône. That description is much better than any guide so we follow.
We see some people climbing walls, why not, and reach a little osteria. We ask if maybe they have rooms too, which they don’t. They too tell us to continue down the “chemin”. We do so and realise this is the main road. Fast cars and nearly no escape. Perfect. After a strenuous walk we arrive in Hône and ask for the B&B we were told to seek. We find it. We ring the bell. Someone opens. Thank you world. Finally. Well, nearly. Guess what? They’re full. Of course they are. But the lady is amazing and calls around for another place to stay. It’s August. It’s busy. We should make reservations, she says. And she finds us a place to stay. We walk more and get here.
Just when we finally arrive in our room, it starts raining outside. Which I think is positive. We shower, wash our clothes, make a tea (the usual life of a pilgrim) and walk to a nice restaurante when the rain stops. The food is amazing.
I can’t get up from the table. And this is the first time it is not due to pain in my feet and legs. When we get outside the rain has turned into something like a waterfall and accompanied by thunder and lightning we rush back to our “home”. We’re warming up again now. Oh, what a day.
So, instead of 22km, we walked 31,6 and only made 30km on the route. Perfect! 🙂 more tomorrow.
I didn’t have internet yesterday so here is my update for both days. After breakfast at the hospice in St. Bernard with Helen and Arjen, the Dutch couple (horrible coffee once again, definitely time for Italy) the sun waited for us outside.
We crossed the border 200m later. Not much of a difference if you ask me. We took great photos and were very glad we didn’t try to descend the day before tired, cold and wet. This way it was beautiful. And it still took quite a while to get to St. Rémy.
We walked through some more villages, all downhill, until we arrived very tired in Étroubles where we had lunch. Luana left us three kilometres later as she couldn’t walk on. Maybe she also wanted to walk a bit of her own way again too.
We were exhausted too, but Günter and I pushed on through a magic forest, mainly, to Gignod. On the way we ran into Helen and Arjen. We stay at the campsite and have a wonderful dinner together in a great restaurant for nearly no money. Viva Italia!
It was pretty cold at night, apparently we are still in the mountains. But the amazing espresso for breakfast made up for that big time. 1€! So today Günter and I set out to Aosta, one of the bigger cities on the way and did some sight seeing there. I used my proper camera so don’t have too many photos. After a coffee with the Dutch, yes, we met again, we walked on. And I can’t describe the landscapes and views much, because mainly it was hot! Instead of the cold Swiss rain, we now got dry Italian heat. Perfect. Got a tan already. And dragged on the next 16km. Only to find out, that the church in Nus doesn’t take in any pilgrims. I was furious! But am now in a nice cheap hotel (special prices for pilgrims! Somebody cares!) and can finally relax my feet!