VIA FRANCIGENA – The Road From France (Canterbury to Rome) – Part 3 by Michael Tarte

We join Michael for the final part of his epic journey.  I am in awe, what an amazing walk and how beautifully it has been documented with both pictures and text.  

Now there is a gap in my records as we were without WiFi for a couple of days and I was too tired to make notes except I recall the guide book mileage did not match with the signage to Sivizzano and we walked 46 kilometres that day.

Early Morning in Aulla

I take up my story in Sivizzano. From there we walked to Bercetto over rocky, narrow tracks. Anjo was waiting at the hostel and cooked dinner. We had the company of two Czech fellows, Vladimir and Jan, and a Frenchman, Roget. Anjo had the company of Roberto the night before, so he had slipped ahead of us by one day. From Bercetto to Pontremoli and into the Appenines. The first part of the day was a continuous climb of nine kilometres on a bitumen road. At the top of the climb is Passo dela Cisa. The road and the pass were built in 1808 as an initiative of Napoleon. Our B&B in Pontremoli was a single ugly box of a building and looking very much as if abandoned. But inside it was a palace and we had it to ourselves – the Tardis! Andrew’s archille’s tendon on his left foot was causing him quite some pain. We decided that he should take the train to Aulla where Anjo was waiting for us at the church Ostello and we took a rest day there. I walked and the track was over rough stone tracks through woodland.

Walking out of Sarzana

Andrew and I left Aulla on a cold and foggy morning. We had the choice of rough tracks or the roadway. Because of Andrew’s foot we took the roadway. The fog lifted and it was a beautiful, sunny day. We made good time to Sarzana and took up a strategic position at a bar near the cathedral and had barely finished our first beers when Anjo appeared, walking from the station. We booked a B&B online and it was immediately available and only 150 metres away. It was a delightful apartment; statuary on the wide marble staircase up to the third floor. That night we went to a small restaurant in a lane at the back of our B&B. The owner who served us had been a master mariner and he told us he had been to both the North Pole and the South Pole. His wife was the chef and a very good one. There was another couple in the restaurant sitting near us and we all began chatting. He was Irish and his wife was Chinese from Shanghai and who spoke English very well but which was studded with blasphemies and profanities. Her name was Huise – rhymes with ‘squeeze’. The fellow led us to believe that he was as rich as Croesus. Huise liked to dine out often but in the part of Ireland where they lived the opportunities were limited. So when friends came Huise had to cook. (Blasphemy) I have to go to the (profanity) fishmarkets and buy (profanity) fish and bring it home and cook a (profanity) dozen dishes. (Blasphemy). Who do they think I am? I really warmed to Huise. Sometime during our meal Huise went to see the restaurant owner. When we were about to leave he told us she had paid for our meal.

Statues in Pictrasanta

The next day Andrew and I walked on to Camiore. We had lunch in Pictrasanta which was a town awash in statues and art. We met up with Anjo at the end of the day and stayed in an ostello. Anjo was in trouble when she was accused by a Frenchman of shifting his washing which he had put on a rack in the dining area. He was very angry with her so she explained this to the manageress. It was the manageress who had shifted the washing to the drying room. The Frenchman apologised. Then Anjo was accused by an older Italian man of taking and using his tomatoes which were in the refrigerator. She had seen them in there but of course she hadn’t taken them. Then the fellow came to our table while we were having dinner and accused us collectively of eating his tomatoes.

From Camiore we walked to Lucca where Anjo was waiting for us having secured accommodation. We walked for some time beside a river, the Serchio, and in shade. Lucca is a beautiful city and of course full of tourists. I came across an American, Adam McBride, in whose company we had dinner a week before. His wife had joined him and they would walk together to Rome. We took a rest day in Lucca.

Tuscany in the early morning light
Anjo & Andrew in the Piazzo del Campo, Sienna

From Lucca Anjo travelled on to Sienna and Andrew and I walked to Altopascio. We were in flat country and had left the Apennines behind. There are marshes and in the old days the church bells tolled continuously to guide pilgrims through the marsh dogs to higher ground. And the next day we walked to San Miniato Alto, two kilometres from and 100 metres above Miniato Basso. From Miniato Alto to Gampassi Terme. We walked along and across ridges and there was a great deal of climbing and descending. We are in Tuscany and the vistas are magic!

The next day we walked to Colle Di Valle d’Elsa. We stopped for lunch at the town of San Gimignano. It is old and beautiful and full of tourists. The hunters were busy in the forest that day; out with their dogs and shotguns and killing things. And so the next day we walked to Sienna where Anjo was waiting for us.  Our hotel is a bit out of town so we took the bus to visit the old city.  Anjo and I have been here before and we visit the Piazzo del Campo where they hold the horse race, The Palio, once every two years.  From Sienna we walked to Ponte d’Arbia and the next day to San Quirico d’Orcia,  Anjo goes two days ahead.  In the early light after dawn, as we were getting ready to leave our ortello, a young Italian man, asked me if I would like a cup of coffee as he was making some.  Yes please!  He was a fifth year psychology student walking with his girl friend who was in her fifth year of medicine.  They were walking for five days during the university break.

A tow with a thermal pool on the way to Radicofani

From San Quirico we walked to Radicofani.  Radicofani is a hill top town crowned with a fort.  It stands bold against the skyline and as you walk towards it, it never gets any closer.  We met with our young Italian friends of the morning.  His name is Paule and her name is Michaela – I congratulate her on such a splendid name.  He comes from Padua and she from Verona.

Looking back to Radicofani

Andrew and I walked the next day to Acquapendente.  There was a choice of routes:  the new one up into the hills or the old one along the busy road which is six kilometres shorter.  We chose the shorter, busy road as did the seven others who left Radicofani that morning.  Halfway through the morning it rained.  What a bedraggled, motley lot we were spread out in single file jumping out of the way of trucks and cars.  Andrew and I stopped twice at bars for hot coffee and form, because of a streppy throat, a generous shot of medicinal whiskey.  Paule and I walked together for a while, lamenting about the selfishness of drivers who came too close.  Paule asked if the phrase ‘ screw you’ was very rude.  I said it was very rude but it did make the point very clearly and quickly.

An alleyway in Bolsena

From Acquapendente we walked to Bolsena where we met up with Anjo once more.  Paule and Michaela left us to return home.  And from Bolsena to Montefiascone and from there the next day to Vertibo where we met with Anjo again. There was nothing remarkable about this walk except we walked on a Roman road for much of the way.  The stones were there exactly as they were laid in the 1st or 2nd centuries BC, still smooth and carrying farm vehicles.

 

Vertibo is a very old city and is big with a population in excess of 70,000.  Now my streppy throat had turned into something meaner and with it a constant, dry cough.  About 4.30 in the afternoon I decided I needed some medication so I set out to find a nearby pharmacy.  The pharmacy was a bit further away than I thought but I bought some stuff that would do the job.  That’s when the trouble started.  I got lost.  I didn’t have the address or Andrew’s phone number.  I walked continuously searching for our  apartment for over six hours.  Meanwhile, as darkness fell, Anjo and Andrew were becoming concerned.  They saw the owners of the apartment who also owned a nearby restaurant where we were to have dinner.  The owners sought the help of a young lady, a university student who had good English, and who was having dinner there with her boyfriend.  They called the police.  The police contacted all the hospitals but of course I wasn’t in any of them and there was a general alert to all police cars.  The young lady’s boyfriend and the restaurant owner went out in a car to look for me.  I believe I was getting very close to home when a police car pulled up beside me.  Two beaming policemen confirmed by single word questions that I was the lost party.  So I climbed in the back of the police car.  And everyone was there to welcome the prodigal son home: the apartment/restaurant owners, the young lady and her boyfriend, and of course Anjo and Andrew.  During my walk I had to use the toilet on a number of occasions.  I went into bars but I don’t like using their facilities without buying something.  During the evening I drank one chardonnay, two whiskies, two cups of coffee, and a bottle of mineral water.

Old olive trees on the way to Vertibo

The next day Andrew and  I walked from from Vertibo to Vertralla.  Anjo, on leaving Vertibo, went into a shop which sold household goods and asked about the best way of getting to the city bus terminal.  They explained where it was but it was three kilometres away.  The owner of the shop drove her there.  When Andrew and I set out from Vertralla the next day for Sutri it was raining but not heavily.  We walked through forest and the signs were becoming less and less frequent. After about three hours we realised we had not seen any signs for some time.  We had missed a turn off.  To go back or to go forward, making a new route to Sutri?  We decided to go forward.  Now it was raining very hard.  My rain jacket could not cope and my boots were full.  After some time we came to the entry sign to the township of Vertralla.  After more than four hours we had come full circle!  There was a large car park and a bar nearby so we made for that.  There were perhaps a dozen fellows standing under the awning and chatting.  Andrew bought some coffees and I put on a dry shirt.  Two old fellows were sitting outside and called to me.  I sat down with them and explained that I didn’t speak Italian.  No matter, they didn’t speak English!  The conversation continued and somehow we all made ourselves understood.  We were walking the Via Francigena.  Ah!  A Roma.  From England – Canterbury.  Bravo!  English?  No, Australian.  Australian, amazing!  I asked about getting a taxi to Sutri.  No taxi, only bus.  Then one said, I drive you!  His mate laughed and cheered.  So the four of us set off in his very big, new Mercedes.  The two Italians chattered and laughed all the way.  Andrew had been in contact with Anjo and the B&B owners would collect us at the piazza.  We went to a bar but the owner would not let us stand inside because we were dripping wet – we could stand at the door.  We left and went to the restaurant next door.  I apologised for our wet feet.  No matter, come in and sit down.  We had a splendid lunch with whiskey, then wine, then coffee.  That night the B&B owner and his wife cooked a wonderful dinner for us.  The next morning he drove us into town, Andrew and I to walk and Anjo to catch a bus.  But it was Sunday and there was no bus.  Anjo started walking and had not gone far when a Romanian man travelling with his young son offered her a lift.  He dropped her off about four kilometres from Campagno Di Roma at the turn off where she was almost immediately offered a lift by a farm worker.

From the window of our B&B at Sutri

From Campagno Di Roma we walked the next day to La Storta.  The traffic, now we were closer to Rome, became heavier and we walked the whole way along the road.  FromLa Storta we set out on our last day of walking.  It’s a short day and we reach St Peter’s Square by midday.  It is teaming with people, the faithful and the curious.  We found Anjo there fairly quickly and we made for our B&B which is only a few hundred yards away.  Andrew was to leave the next morning for London and we had one last meal together in a restaurant around the corner.  We were to head home in three days.  I could not have had a better walking companion than Andrew and I enjoyed every day on the road we had together.  And we could not have better support than that which Anjo gave us.  The walk is one of the really good things I have done in my life.

St Peter’s Square – the walk is completed.