Sunday, August 24, 2014

Returning to Barcelona

Traveling allows you to exercise your creativity and test yourself to see what you can accomplish, if you allow it. You go where you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs or the rules. You get lost. You get frustrated. You lose your patience and just want to go back where things are familiar, where everybody knows your name. But you can’t, at least not immediately and you have to deal with whatever comes your way; you have no choice. If necessity is the mother of invention, she’s also the mother of the resourceful and creative traveler.

Finding my way from Rome to the coast and then to Barcelona was no great accomplishment: I was in the middle of one of the world's biggest tourist cities where finding someone who spoke English was about as difficult as finding a Starbucks in Seattle. Everything I wanted to see was within easy walking distance, and all I had to do was ask a few questions, in English, to find anything I needed. But as I made my way to the train station in Rome to catch a train to Civitavecchia, where I’d board a ferry to take me across the Mediterranean to Barcelona, I thought about the past ten weeks: walking the GR trails through Spain and France, getting lost in the middle of nowhere, and having to regularly consult my map and compass to find some road to hopefully take me in the direction of the day’s planned destination. I thought about the times people had appeared to help me at just the right moment to save me from disaster and the people who had invited me into their homes for a comfortable night’s sleep, provided me dinner and breakfast, and had given me advice on the best route to my next stop. I thought of all my pre-planning of the route from Barcelona to Montpellier, and how it all got thrown out the window before I’d even walked a week, as friends in Vic (Spain) helped me plan a safer route. (The GR trails were more difficult to negotiate, but I’m still alive to say I didn’t get run over by any trucks on the roads I had originally planned.) I’d gone places I hadn’t planned, spent more money than I had planned, and as a result had to skip over parts of the route I’d planned. All in all, I’d have to say the only thing that went according to the plan I had developed over more than a year, was that I started in Barcelona and finished in Rome. In all other things I was flying by the seat of my pants. Even taking the ferry across the Mediterranean was a surprise to me. I had planned to fly, but as I got closer to Rome and considered my three-month tourist visa was about to expire, the thought of going through customs at an airport just didn’t set well with me. And the truth is, I’m tired of airports and security checks. The thought of a leisurely Mediterranean crossing seemed like the perfect end to ten weeks of walking.
About three weeks away from Rome I stopped at a travel agency and inquired about taking a ferry to Barcelona from Rome and it turned out to be easy and just slightly less expensive than flying a discount airline. I couldn’t make the reservation at that time because I wasn’t sure which day I’d be traveling, but about five days from Rome I was pretty sure of my schedule and called the agent to buy the ticket. I spent the extra money for a sleeping cabin, the crossing was a twenty-hour trip and the ferry left at 10:00 at night.
The travel agent told me that the train from Rome to the coast would take me right to the dock area in Civitavecchia, but by then I knew better than to trust any non-walker who told me that anything was close to anything else. Good call. When I arrived at the train station in Civitavecchia, I was prepared for the walk to the docks. I had no idea where they were, but by this time I was an expert at following my nose and finding where I was supposed to go (with the help of some policemen who directed me to the right gate once I got to the dock area).

If you want to see a slice of life, spend an hour or two waiting for a ferry, or a train, or a bus for that matter. You’ll probably never see a Bill Gates waiting in line for any type of mass transportation, but just about anybody else is going to be there. Christian Louboutin to flip flops, finely coiffed hair to dreadlocks, it’s all there (although flip flops and dreadlocks are generally the rule).

As I was still traveling with my pilgrim kit – nothing unnecessary – I had nothing to read or occupy my mind while I waited. I had my computer with me, but a Microsoft Surface is not a “laptop” computer; it doesn’t sit easily in your lap for use, so I didn’t even try to pass the time with that. Plus, even though most public places say they have free Wi-Fi, the Surface seems to frequently have problems connecting to it. I don’t know if I could have connected at the ferry’s waiting area though, as Wi-Fi wasn’t free, and I had no intention of paying eight Euros an hour to use it. (That’s almost $12 an hour! Are you kidding!? That was a portent of things to come, as a simple dinner of pasta and a glass of wine cost over $24 on the ferry.)

At the appointed time, I went to the gate to board the ferry. Well, not really board, but stand in line to wait to board. My idea of a pleasant, leisurely cruise was not getting off to a good start. We all stood for about 45 minutes before they started the boarding process, then I found out we still had to go through a security check. There were hundreds of people waiting to board, so I got out my cell phone/portable music device and cranked up Pink Floyd’s The Wall while I waited. (I’m showing my age, but I’m old enough not to care.)

Yeah, we still had to go through a security scanner and they looked at my passport to verify the name in the passport matched the name on the ticket, but it was dark and the light was bad, so I really can’t imagine they would have noticed if weren’t the person named on the ticket. And we put our luggage (backpack) through a scanner, but I don’t think anyone was paying attention to what was showing on the screen, if anything was actually displayed. At any rate, my knife, which created such a problem at the Vatican, didn’t seem to bother anyone and I passed through without remark. I suppose the threat of hijacking a ferry is somewhat less than with an airliner.

We finally got aboard and I found my cabin after walking the entire length of the ferry three times in hallways where my cabin was not. This was a big boat. (You’d think the numbers would be arranged in some logical order, but that’s because you’re not familiar with Italian ferries.) I stowed my stuff in the cabin and met one of my cabin mates, an ex-South African currently living in Amsterdam, on holiday with his girlfriend, an ex-Philippina currently living in Spain. (Have I mentioned recently that I love international travel because of the people you meet?) I went topside to walk around and enjoy the view (not really – an industrial shipyard view is nothing to write home about) and ran into my cabin mate and his girlfriend at the bar. He bought me a glass of wine (friendly chap) and we started talking. Turns out he left South Africa because of the prevalence of violence there; his girlfriend left the Philippines for lack of work. They’re both happy in their new countries. I didn’t pursue the question of how a man living in the Netherlands and a woman in Spain can pursue a relationship – it was none of my business, and after all, we’d just met. But the thought did cross my mind.
We were due to leave at 10:00 but didn’t get underway until after 11:00. Since I was still on pilgrim time, where 0-dark:30 is usually about when you go to bed, it was way past my normal bed time and I was tired, so I excused myself and returned to the cabin.

Sometime in the night, I awoke suddenly to the sound of the ship scraping the bottom of the sea, or possibly we had gone off course and the rocks of the shore were tearing into the hull. The noise was thunderous, awesome; I expected the lifeboat sirens to sound at any second.

Then I realized it was only the sound of the third cabin mate snoring – such snoring as I’ve never heard in my life, and as a pilgrim who has spent many a night in albergues crowded with snoring men and women (OK, mostly men, but there were some women who gave the best of the men a run for their money in the snoring department), I thought I’d heard it all. How this man could sleep through the sound he was making is a mystery science has yet to uncover. I’ve been awakened by the volume of snoring on the other side of a wall in hostels and pensions, even with ear plugs inserted nearly to my eardrums, but they didn’t begin to compare with the snorting, rasping, gurgling, and other sounds that have, as yet, escaped the distinction of onomatopoeia, emanating from this man. The only thing that kept me from smothering him with a pillow was the fact that from the sound of him I was sure he was near death anyway; I only had to wait a little longer and I’d be able to sleep again. I would have thought that the din of his snoring would awaken anyone, but the South African/Netherlander was obviously sleeping blissfully through the racket, as he was snoring also, albeit not quite as badly as cabin-mate number three.

Somehow I managed to get some sleep, either because cabin mate #3 died or I was so tired I was able to sleep through the racket. By the time I awoke, he was out of the cabin. As you might expect, later in the afternoon I tried to take a nap, being tired from not getting much sleep the previous night and just to pass away the time. We were sailing into strong headwinds and that, coupled with our late start, meant we were going to be three and a half hours late getting into Barcelona. Naturally, cabin mate #3 had the same idea. A few minutes after I lay down, he came into the cabin and within minutes was fast asleep, sawing logs as the night before. I went back to the bar.

We finally made it to Barcelona at 9:30, as they had reported the revised estimated time of arrival, but the ferry carries 1,000 people, more or less.  By the time my feet were on Spanish soil it was close to 10:15. I had made a reservation at a youth hostel (I don’t know why they call them that – there were plenty of old farts there in addition to me) and guaranteed payment for the first night, so I wasn’t concerned with being late. But where was it? For some reason, the woman I talked to at the hostel when making the reservation told me to take the red line metro and get off at Paral-lel. (That’s how they spell it in Catalan.) As soon as I got off the ferry I asked the first Spanish policeman I came to where the metro station was and he directed me. Strange thing was, I came to the hostel before I found the metro station. I don’t know why the person I talked with didn’t tell me the hostel was an easy walk from the dock. My experience had been the opposite for my entire adventure. I got to The Ramblas – quite a place to be late at night, if you ever get the chance – and still didn’t see a metro station. I asked a cab driver where one was and told him where I was going. I had half a mind to just take a cab, but it turned out I was about 100 yards from the hostel at that point.

That’s it for now. It was sure nice being back where I could talk with people and ask directions. It was warm and pretty humid, and it had been a long, nearly sleepless passage across the Mediterranean, but I was overjoyed to be back in Spain. 
The Ramblas in Barcelona close to midnight

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Day in Rome

July 27, 2014

There I was in Rome, finally, after ten weeks of walking mostly solo through Spain, France, and Italy. Since leaving Barcelona I hadn’t experienced any huge cities, and even Barcelona is small compared with Rome, or seems to be. Maybe it was because I’d been ten weeks walking mostly silent countryside roads and paths – the only sounds were birds, cowbells, and an
St. Peter's Square
occasional car, motorcycle, or truck passing by, and the only people I encountered, sometimes for days at a time, were hospitalers and bar keepers –and here I was, suddenly thrust among a million tourists, cars, buses, mopeds, bicycles, and every type of sign, banner, and gizmo the mind of man has yet come up with to attract attention to something for sale.

Whatever the reason, I couldn’t wait to leave. I’m sure Rome is a wonderful place if you’re prepared for it and that’s where you want to be, but it’s a difficult environment for one who has come in out of the cold, as it were, without a period of transition back to normal life. And that’s only if life amidst a million tourists can be called normal.

I did take in some of the sights. Naturally, I spent some time in St. Peter’s Basilica. (Editorial comment: Is it just me, or do other people have a problem with St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church and all the rest. Aren’t they Jesus’ basilicas, cathedrals, and churches? Would it be so difficult to say, for example, St. Peter Basilica or St. Paul Cathedral, without the possessive to indicate the saint’s name is just that: a name? Seems to me we shouldn’t say the basilica belongs to or is in honor of Peter, only that it’s been given a name to make it easier to find in the phone book. Things have gotten all wound around the axle the last couple thousand years, in my humble opinion.)

Getting back to the basilica, I have to say, that’s one impressive building. The sheer size of it alone is enough to give pause and make you wonder how on Earth it was ever built, much less considering that it was begun half a millennium ago. I know it took 120 years to build, but still, that only takes us to 1626 for its completion. How was even one marble column lifted up? Then how was a roof put on it? The building has to be one of the engineering marvels of the world. People inside are dwarfed by the scale of everything inside this building. Even the cute, little cherubs in the sculptures are ten feet tall. The only sculpture in the basilica that doesn’t dwarf every human being in the place is Michelangelo’s PietĂ , and you can’t get near that, ever since a crazy man attacked it with a hammer over 30 years ago. It’s now behind bullet proof glass.

The size alone is impressive, but then you look down at your feet and see almost every square foot of the floor is inlaid marble of exquisite design and craftsmanship. Every detail in the basilica was painstakingly created by the best craftsmen and designers that could be found. Ralph Waldo Emerson said of the basilica, it is "an ornament of the earth ... the sublime of the beautiful." I’d have to agree.

The only thing I wanted to make sure I did was to attend mass in the basilica. A tourist office employee told me that if I went to St. Peter’s Square at about 7:45 in the morning I wouldn’t have to wait in line to get in and that mass was at 8:30. The pilgrim hostel was about two and a half kilometers away, but that was nothing after a pilgrimage of almost 2,000 kilometers, so I got up early and walked to the basilica. I had no idea what to expect, except that among the million or so tourists, there had to be a good number of Catholics who would also wanted to attend mass in St. Peter’s. As has been the case so often in my 57 years, I was wrong. I entered the church at about 7:45 and took my time walking around its interior counter-clockwise, trying to look at everything that was open to the public. As it was getting close to 8:30, I was starting to wonder where mass would be celebrated. I assumed it would be in the Chapel of the Sacrament, at the front of the building where the morning sun shines through Bernini’s Dove. There were a few hundred chairs set up there, and it looked like a logical place to hold mass for the throngs of faithful Catholic tourists who must be waiting for mass to start, also wandering around the basilica as I was.

Nope. Not there. Close to 8:30 and it was still devoid of people.

I asked a group of nuns who were standing outside one of the other chapels where the 8:30 mass would be held. They had no idea, but directed me to someone very official-looking who pointed to a chapel on the other side of the church. I made my way there, was allowed in by a guard making sure that only mass attendees were allowed through, and took a seat in one of the pews of the smallest chapel in the basilica among the other 20 or so people, about a quarter of whom were nuns. So this was it? Millions of tourists in the Eternal City, Vatican City itself, the pope’s hang out, and this is the best the faithful Catholic population could do? Shocked is the word: I was shocked. Well, it was only 8:30 after all. Maybe everyone had been up late at the bars last night and they’d be at the afternoon mass. But then they’d have to stand in line for hours just to get in – there’s no special line for Catholics or anyone else for that matter wanting to go to mass in St. Peter’s. Personally, I think there should be, as there should be a separate line in Starbucks for people who only want drip coffee. But no one asks my opinion of these things.

After the basilica I wandered the streets, taking in the Museum of Rome at the Palazzo Braschi, the Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain (being restored and waterless behind massive amounts of scaffolding), and just generally spent the rest of the day trying to see what I could without spending money. I would like to have seen the Sistine Chapel, but I was unwilling to wait in line while my life ebbed away. Same with going up to the dome of the basilica. Honestly, after seeing St. Peter's, I'd had enough of Italy and Rome and just wanted to head back to Spain where I would find a place to live and finally be able to get dressed in the morning without digging through a backpack. Another time, in another universe I’ll visit Rome and see more of the sights, but at this time in my life, I was killing time until my train to Civitavecchia and the ferry across the Mediterranean to Barcelona. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Arriving in the Eternal City

July 27, 2014

In Campagnolo-de-Roma I caught up with Eva, a German pilgrim I’d crossed paths with over the last couple of weeks, walking an occasional day with her here and there. We walked to La-Storta, the final city before Rome, then walked into Rome together.

Every town I had walked through previous to La-Storta had a “centro storico,” an historic district composed of the most ancient part of the city, normally from Medieval times. La-Storta seemed to be a town that grew up as a suburb of Rome in the 20th Century, no centro storico to be found. It did, however, have very nice pilgrim accommodations with plenty of beds, even considering the large group of previously mentioned high school students were there. The town also had a very nice restaurant, although it didn’t open until 7:30; the norm for all restaurants except bar/cafes. That schedule doesn’t fit in well with that of a pilgrim. We’re normally up and on the trail by 7:30, some much earlier, and by noon we’ve had lunch and are ready for dinner well before 7:30. As soon as night falls we’re tired and sleep comes early. Waiting until after 7:30 for a restaurant to open for dinner just doesn’t work.

With that said, I was in the mood for pizza, and not just a slice of pre-made pizza you find in a bar, I wanted a freshly made-to-order Italian pizza for my last night on the road. The next day’s walk was relatively short so we didn’t have to worry about getting an early start. Eva didn’t mind indulging my whim, so we had beer and tapas while waiting for the restaurant. Good decision.

I don’t have the name of the restaurant, but I doubt many readers will be going to Campagnolo-de-Rome anyway. If you go, it’s the only pizza restaurant on the main road through town and very near the church on
The restaurant is near this church on a hill.
the hill (pictured). It had a gorgeous interior courtyard complete with shade trees and canopies to protect patrons from the sun. I enjoy outdoor dining in Europe, but normally you have to put up with street noise. At this restaurant we had the added benefit that the courtyard was well behind the restaurant building, so it was insulated from the traffic noise, making for a very pleasant dining experience.

If that weren’t enough, the pizza was excellent, the best Italy has to offer. I had a “white” pizza: that’s one with no tomato sauce. The crust is topped with cheese and whatever meat and vegetables you choose. Mine was sausage, mushroom, and some type of lettuce. Yes, you read that right: lettuce. It had the appearance of being very healthy. Whether it was or not, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Besides, if you walk 25 kilometers a day for nearly three months, everything you eat is healthy. Your body seems to find whatever it needs from whatever you eat and keeps on truckin’ without gaining weight. Pizza and beer are no competition for vigorous, daily exercise. We had our choice of Roma or Napoli style pizzas, which I found out are thin and thick crust, respectively. I like thin, so I chose Roma. I don’t mind saying that the best pizzas I’ve ever had were in Italy, and this was the best of the best. It was baked in a wood oven on a stone slab, well-seasoned by a hundred thousand other pizzas over the years. The crust was light, airy, crunchy, and delicious. I normally leave the thick part of the pizza crust on the plate, but I ate every part of this one. Every bite of the flash-baked lettuce (can’t think of any other way to describe it) with the sausage and mushrooms, and the perfect amount of mozzarella cheese were like an orgasm for the tongue. You may think I exaggerate, but until you’ve tasted the best pizza Italy has to offer, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’d had enough beer that day, so I opted for the house table wine. I’ve mentioned before that, in my experience, the house wine in France beats the pants off what is served in Spain and Italy, but it made no difference; I was so thoroughly enjoying the pizza that I could have been drinking Cool-aid and still enjoyed the meal. I had every intention of stopping with the pizza, but the waitress suggested desert, and being the last night on the Via Francigena, I allowed myself another indulgence. I chose a chocolate cake filled with a chocolate fudge sauce. I think most American restaurants would call it, “Death by Chocolate.” This restaurant didn’t have to come up with any catchy names for their desert; this one spoke for itself. As good as the pizza was in the pizza category, this was equally good in the desert category. I offered Eva some, even asked for a second spoon for her, but she wasn’t into chocolate and only had one bite, which was fortunate for me – I would have had to order another one.

That was one of the highlights of my Italian experience, even without the two mafia guys who came in and sat at the table next to us. Not that they told us they were mafia – you can just tell about these things, the way they come in the back door, the owner greets them with respect, shows them to their “usual” table, and they talk in hushed, gravely voices. Yes, I’m sure they were mafia.

The last day’s walk was not too pleasant until we finally got to a walking path, which was only recently created. After about two hours of walking along a very busy, noisy, and dangerous street, most of the time lacking even a sidewalk, we stopped at a bar for a little mid-morning refreshment. (Eva and I have the same routines when it comes to the morning part of the walk. After about two hours it’s time to look for a bar and stop to enjoy the local cuisine and beer.) Just as we sat down at an outdoor table the heavens opened up and we made a hasty retreat inside the cafĂ©, barely avoiding a good soaking. We took our time there until the rain subsided, then hit the road again. There was no clear marking of the Via Francigena trail, so we asked a passerby if he could tell us where it was. He didn’t know, but he told us that there was a recently-created path that went almost to St. Peter’s Square and showed us where it was. From there we had a pleasant walk to Vatican City, away from traffic and noise, for which we were immensely grateful. 

As a side note, and to be completely open and honest, and without putting too delicate a spin on it: Italy has a trash problem. I don’t know what the root of the problem is, but I suspect that there is no house-to-house trash pickup in most Italian towns, and many people seem to dispose of their garbage where ever they can, whenever no one is looking. Or maybe everyone does it so no one even cares if anyone is looking. All along every road I walked as I got within a few hundred kilometers of Rome there was trash. And not just litter, but trash in bags, trash falling out of broken bags, trash that never saw the inside of a bag. There was construction debris, appliances, cars, trucks, tires and other auto parts. It was incredibly sad; I walked through some beautiful countryside, but every kilometer of it was lined with trash along the road. The closer to Rome I got the more trash there was.

But back to the story, Eva and I eventually came to that crest on a hill where we looked out and saw the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica amidst the buildings of the Eternal City. I wish I could say I had a great
The first view of St. Peter's Basilica
emotional wave of elation, or that tears welled up in my eyes, or that the past two and a half months of walking through Spain, France, and Italy suddenly flashed before my eyes and I suddenly knew, spiritually and emotionally, why I had made this pilgrimage. But all I felt was relief – I was finally here, in Rome. The journey was at an end. I would soon be able to not live out of a back pack and search every night for that hostel, abbey, or monastery so I could eat something and go to bed. The difference between my first view of St. Peter’s and the Cathedral of Santiago two years prior couldn’t be more stark, but I’ll save that discussion for a future post.

It was already 11:00, and we wanted to get our “testimonials” as soon as possible because Eva’s guide said the office closed at 1:00 and we still had a ways to go to St. Peter’s Square, and then had to find out where we had to go to get them. We found out later that the office didn’t close at 1:00 and it would have been better to check in at the hostel first. We also found out there are two testimonials a pilgrim can receive: one is for those making the pilgrimage for spiritual or religious reasons which is received at the sacristy. The other is for those making the pilgrimage for other reasons – historical, cultural, or just for the fun of it which is available at a tourist office. I asked a Swiss guard where the pilgrim office was, thinking of the sacristy, and he directed us to the tourist office. Since we were looking for the sacristy, when we got to the building he directed us to, we didn’t realize we were at an office where we could get a testimonial. Neither did we realize that that testimonial was exactly the same as the one we’d later receive at the sacristy and could have been acquired much more easily. So we kept looking and Eva saw a Portuguese pilgrim about a block away whom she had met some days earlier. We followed and caught up with him. He asked another Swiss guard were we could get the testimonial, who directed us to a police van just outside the gate where we had to check in first.

Here’s one place where the differences between the Camino and the Via are very apparent. When you get to Santiago you easily find a clearly marked pilgrim office near the cathedral. There is ample room to set down your backpack, then you climb a flight of stairs and wait in line for the next available person who warmly welcomes you to Santiago, verifies your pilgrim credentials, congratulates you on having made the pilgrimage from whatever location you began, and prints out your “Compostela,” the certificate that designates you as one of the millions who have made the pilgrimage over the last millennium. For one Euro you can purchase a hard cardboard tube to place your compostela in for protection as you travel back home, and you walk away calm and relaxed to find a hostel or the nearest bar for a beer to celebrate your accomplishment.

Arriving at the Vatican is a little different. The three of us, Marcos, Eva, and I, went to the police van as instructed and told them we were pilgrims and wanted to go to the sacristy for our testimonials. The guard first asked us if we had any knives in our backpacks. How foolish would one have to be to backpack 2,000 kilometers through Europe without carrying a knife? I didn’t say that to the surly gentleman guarding the pope, but it’s certainly what I thought. What I said was, yes, I have a knife in my backpack. He said we couldn’t enter the sacristy with knives. I asked what we could do with them. Could we leave them at the police van and pick them up after we got the testimonials? No. I asked if he could suggest what we might do with them. No answer. Surly stare. Did we have to throw them away? No answer. Increasing surliness. They were being very uncooperative, as if they’d never encountered pilgrims before and we were nothing more than a complete nuisance on a mission to complicate their day. We decided to go to a bar to see if we might be able to leave our knives there and return after the mission to the sacristy to retrieve them. That worked, so we returned to the guard, reported that we had no knives, and then our backpacks were given a very cursory inspection to see if there might be other contraband contained in them. We were then directed to another office where we identified ourselves and surrendered our passports. Then they gave us a permission slip and directed us to the sacristy. We thought we were home free at that point, as if we’d go to the office as we had in Santiago (all three of us had made the Santiago pilgrimage), climb the stairs to the office, be warmly greeted and all would be well.


Ha! Don’t make me laugh. We entered the building, turned left up the stairs, and were promptly halted by a fierce yell from yet another surly guard. We showed him our hall pass/permission slip and told him we were directed here for our testimonials. He studied our pass, then told us to wait there. Another guard came down the hall after a few minutes, took our pilgrim credentials, and returned some time later with the testimonials sans any form of “Welcome to Rome or congratulations on completing your pilgrimage.” The whole affair was very off-putting and unwelcoming. I’ll write a letter to Pope Francis and tell him about it. The folks in Santiago could teach the Romans a few things about welcoming pilgrims. 
St. Peter's Square (it's actually kind of an oval)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Getting Close

July 24th through 27th were relatively pleasant walks through the countryside. You’d never guess you were less than 100 kilometers from the Eternal City in Bolsena. Then as I walked from there to Montefiascone (7/25), Montefiascone to Viterbo (7/26), and then Viterbo to Capranica (7/27) I kept expecting that the countryside would become more populated, with more towns to walk through, more bars to stop at. I was wrong: until La Storta, the final city before walking into Rome, I was walking through farmland and between large estates of the upper crust of Italian society.

It was after Capranica, walking to Sutri, that I was wishing I were nearer a city. The directions in my guide book didn’t coincide at all with the Via Francigena signs I was seeing, but, as the signs had been fairly reliable, I decided to put the guide away and follow the VF signs. Had I known what I was getting into, I would have found the nearest bus stop and saved myself from feeling like Sir Henry Stanley searching for Dr. Livingstone. As I started down the trail it seemed innocent enough, but that’s probably how Adam felt when
I should have known to turn back when I saw this.
Eve handed him the apple. The night before I had had to stay in a bed and breakfast, as it was the only option available in Capranica. That was my Garden of Eden and what was to come was the cursed ground of thorns and thistles and two hours’ walk under the sweat of my brow.

Maybe I exaggerate, but just a little. I found out later that, as was the case so many times, there was an easy route, and a scenic route. I took the scenic route. Thank you, Italian Via Francigena path-maker people, for giving me the option. The night before brought thunderous storms with rain of biblical proportions. The windows of the B&B rattled, the wind whistled around the eaves of the building, animals were walking two by two past my bedroom window to some unknown destination. This kept up for about two hours, and then subsided, tapering off to a bright, if extremely humid morning. Because of the humidity, no water had evaporated and I walked through a rainforest of barely passable paths, sometimes not even being able to see a path, only hoping that at the other side of the field I’d find some marker telling me I was not lost. Ten minutes into my walk that morning my clothing was soaked – from the outside by the wet brush I was walking through and the trees still dripping from the previous night’s rain, and from the inside by perspiration. I have to admit: many parts of the walk to Sutri that morning were gorgeous. The humidity created a mist in the air that gave a visible presence to the sunshine streaming through the canopy of trees.
Yes, there's a trail to Rome in here somewhere.
Part of the way I walked along a brook. The water was clear as it rushed through the forest, with small waterfalls in many places. I found myself wishing I didn’t have to walk 25 kilometers that day so I could take more time to enjoy the environment I was in the middle of. But I had to get to Campagno-di-Roma and the path was muddy, rocky, full of tree roots, blocked by fallen trees, and in many places steep and dangerous. With my pack of 40 pounds on my back (one hostel I stayed at recently had a scale) I feel fortunate to not have slipped and fallen, spraining or breaking something important in the process.

Less than five kilometers should take less than an hour to walk. Unless you’re walking through a jungle. Then all bets are off. I don’t really know how far I walked, but the guide said the walk to Sutri was less than five km. It took me 2-1/2 hours to get there.



From there, the walk to Campagno-di-Roma was painless and pretty dull, to be honest. I walked along mostly country roads with long distances between towns (read: bars). Not that I’m a lush, but walking 15 to 20 kilometers, many days of the last two weeks of the journey even longer, between rest points with not even a bench or water fountain along the way, can make for long days.


When I got to Campagno-di-Roma I found the pilgrim hostel and discovered, much to my dismay that it was filled with a group of kids I had taken great pains to avoid. Not that I have any aversion to a group of high schoolers making a pilgrimage to Rome – I wish I had had the opportunity at their age – but the group was large and tended to take all available beds in the cheap hostels where ever they stopped. This was the case here, and I found I would be sleeping on the floor in a gymnasium. I was prepared for that with an air mattress, part of my 40-pound kit, but what I was not prepared for was the fact that I would be sleeping next to someone I had shared a room with a few nights previously; someone one snored like a bear
After Sutri the path got much easier.
and kept me awake the better part of that night even using ear plugs. I made a hasty exit and found a hotel. At this point in the journey, the extra money was negligible, and I needed some sleep.