The Way of St. Francis: One Wrong Turn

Our walk yesterday took us from the picturesque village of Poggio Bustone, through forest lands and into the bustling city of Rieti, population 50,000.

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Lulled by lonely trails and quiet country roads, we missed our turn to the village of Cantalice, finding ourselves with (what else) a steep uphill climb to reclaim our path.  Then, a series of steps snaked ever higher through a residential area, eventually leveling out at the 19th century church of San Felix.

 

Safely back on course, we arrived at Santa Maria Della Foresta, one of our more peaceful picnic spots.

 

This morning, our rest day in Rieti began with blue skies and warm sun.  Perfect for a walk around the city.

 

 

 

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The Way of St. Francis: Pizza, pizza, pizza!

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Local Italian culture filled the tiny Pizzeria da Paldo next door to our B&B Thursday night in Rieti. We thought we ordered four pieces of pizza and a salad, but the enthusiastic man behind the counter served up a platter double-stacked with four kinds of pizza and a big plate of ensalada mista. We ate and ate the superb bar pizza while a steady stream of customers walked out with folded pizza pieces to eat on the run. We wrapped up the considerable leftovers, then expected bad news when I asked for the check. It was just 15 euro (about $18), including a large bottle of water. You can’t see them in the photo, but my eyes were bigger than my stomach!

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The Way of St. Francis: Italy at its best

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As I sipped coffee at a bar in Poggio Bustone Wednesday afternoon, Sue wandered down the road a few doors and returned with a dinner invitation. The fellow in the white t-shirt runs the La Laconda Francescana Ristorante and hostel, where he later served us a delicious two-course meal with more wine than we could drink for just 27 euro, about $33. The chef (dad?) was pleased to be part of the after-meal photograph.

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The view as we walked back to our wonderful accommodation, the San Francesco Suite, perched somewhere in this photo of Poggio Bustone. Such a quintessential Italian evening!

 

 

 

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The Way of St. Francis: With a Little Help…

With a little help from our friends at the front desk of Hotel Miralago, who arranged a taxi, we arrived at our destination today, Poggio Bustone, dry and none too worse for the wear.

The short ride up a winding mountain road allowed us to beat the torrential afternoon rains we feared might once again materialize, drenching us on the trail after a long morning of climbing.

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Not that we got off easy though.  We were still left with 2,000 feet of climbing and even more downhill. At times the trail seemed to vanish as in the above photo.

A worried flock of feathered friends egged us on,  clucking their concerns and advice as we passed a small farm.

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Our surprisingly modern room is comfy and although it has just one small window, the view is larger than life!

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The Way of St. Francis: Twists and turns

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The mountainous challenge of two days ago faded into the distance as our Tuesday morning walk from Arrone led us through a wide river valley. A peaceful, easy stroll. I glanced ahead and saw our day was about to change.

The mountains quickly got higher and closer. The Way of St. Francis turned left and up 600 feet in just a half mile, through another dense forest. My hips and legs quickly remembered their aches from our Sunday climb.

What did we find at the top?

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A tourist center, of course! Bars, restaurants, gift shops, a hotel and coed bathroom. Play equipment for kids, a museum, campground and lush parklands.

Why here? It dates back 2,300 years when the Romans developed a system to drain swamps. Now a dam and reservoir, the system is turned on and off during the day to feed water to huge power-generating turbines. A siren beckons tourists to viewing sites when the waterfall is switched on. We missed the viewing, but coffee and jelly doughnuts fit our needs just fine.

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Our pilgrimage path to Rome led us past a dam and lakeside resorts. We expected it would take us along the shore for several miles to our hotel, but it turned left—again…

 

…into swampland and forest where Tarzan would have felt at home. At several places, our trekking poles were bushwacking tools. Around one turn, a cackling voice sounded an alarm from the forest ahead. A woman, eyes large, emerged, holding a handful of greenery. Was she warning us to turn around or calling for help? As she passed, the “crazy lady of the lake” paused long enough to say “buon giorno” then walked on, still cackling.

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Now, safely in our lakeside Miralago Hotel room, we have discovered that our guidebook warned about the overgrown “impassable” path and suggested a detour. Oops.

St. Francis and European monarchs came to the village of Piediluco centuries ago, before the lake was made. As I write, loud thunder and torrential rain are having their way with the afternoon. They are expected to return tomorrow, when we face our greatest climbing challenge of this trek, up into the dense forest beyond. Our hotel host warned us to pack plenty of food and water for the remote journey. Stay tuned.

 

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The Way of St. Francis: An Easy Stroll Along The River

After our marathon day yesterday, we spent a leisurely morning, enjoying the hospitality of the folks at 3 Archi Hotel.

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Our day was a short one, just over 6 miles to our next stop in Arrone.  We took one last look back toward the mountains we had scaled yesterday, thankful for our flat, low altitude stroll along the river.

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Just after our lunch stop, we met this gentleman, a Pilgrim from Luxembourg.  Traveling alone, he was eager to stop for a chat and told us he was on his way north to Assisi.  Rather than carrying his belongings, he had a unique towing system, his cart strapped to his belt.  Reg and I wondered how he’d fare on the mountain pass.

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The Way of St. Francis: It was going so well

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Our Sunday began shortly after 8 a.m. when we departed our Spoleto apartment for a detour from the usual Way of St. Francis. A 2016 earthquake left the Roman acqueduct unsafe to cross (actually, Sue was relieved she didn’t have to cross the narrow walkway over a deep gorge), so we went downhill and uphill to find the trail across from the fort.

Then the fun began. Two-plus hours of steep uphill. Rocky, narrow, slippery, so tough that we dared not pause for a photo until the path widened. One trekker passed us, saying “I don’t speak English.” He is the only fellow pilgrim we have seen on the trail for three days.

We climbed about 2,100 feet and followed a ridge for hours, pausing for a quick picnic. Lord of the Rings fans would love the dark pine forest, drippy mist and eerie silence. Sue and I loved the Sunday “stroll” up to this point. We even talked about how strong we felt after two weeks walking in Italy.

But the hard part remained. The 2,200 feet of descent would be a test on its own, but the treacherous, rocky, wet footing made most steps a calculation. Sue wondered how she would ever get help if I fell.

At 4:30, we found our isolated hotel and ristorante four miles beyond the bottom of the mountain trail. Four generations of a family live here and run it. A toddler runs around the dining room as we eat our yummy spaghetti carbonara. It is a surreal setting after a day that seems so real every time we move a muscle.

 

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The Way of St. Francis: Escalators to history

 

History is written all over Spoleto and our apartment is within the medieval Umbrian city center. We took a day away from the Way of St. Francis to explore an area where civilization dates to the bronze age.

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An aqueduct and theater helped emperors strengthen their control in Umbria.

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Popes extended their influence here through the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the 14th century Rocca Albornoziana. The fort still stands guard above the city.

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With the help of many, many euro from the European Union, Spoleto has built an elaborate people-mover system to help old folks like us get up the steep hills. It starts with elevators in hallways behind nondescript entryways around the city. They take you down to one of three escalator lines. Each line offers several landing areas where riders can exit for access to their destinations.

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Unfortunately, we are unlikely to find any more escalators as we resume our mountainous trek to Rome. But, there will be wine, beer and Italian cuisine at the end of each day. We walk 11 out of the next 12 days, with what appears to be the more difficult half ahead. We could blame it on St. Francis, but instead will honor him for laying the groundwork for this great challenge.

 

 

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The Way of St. Francis: Over The Hump

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Trevi so incredibly soaking wet that the owner simply handed us our key. No passports, no check-in, no formalities. Plenty of time for that after showers and hot tea!

We awoke to more rain this morning and grudgingly donned our rain gear as we set out to cross the invisible halfway point on our trail to Rome. By days end, our feet will have taken us 141 miles with 43,742 feet of elevation change throughout our twelve days on the trail.

As the skies cleared, our waterproofs instantly morphed into personal saunas. While Reg changed his clothes trailside, I fashioned my rain pants into a pair capris and we again set off toward our destination – the ancient city of Spoleto.

We’d walked a few hundred yards when Reg suddenly stopped and said, “Oh no! My glasses!”

Sure enough, they were not on his nose where they belonged. A quick about face and we retraced our steps.

How lucky he was that we chose the bike trail route, and that we had it mostly to ourselves…and that his glasses didn’t go flying into the tall grass or we might still be looking for them!

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The Way of St. Francis: Spello Spelled Fun

The charming hilltop town of Spello stands guard over acres and acres of olive trees that the Angelini family (pictured above) is passionate about. We would also learn of their passion for wine.

Yesterday our path took us through the olive groves on our way to what would be a delightful and educational dinner at Enoteca Properzio, located in the heart of Spello. Based on the recommendation of a fellow English-speaking tourist, we sat ourselves down at a table outside.

Questions about wine quickly brought the owner’s son to our table, and gosh, what a charmer he was! Oozing enthusiasm, he explained that he had recently returned from three months in the U.S. where he’d been wine tasting. His English was quite good and he was very knowledgeable about local wines and the olive oil the family makes. Then his father came over to shake our hands. Before we knew what was happening, we each had a glass of local white wine and a mouthwatering plate of bruschetta in front of us, dripping with their best olive oil. We were beginning to feel like family!

When I suggested a photo, Mr. Angelini broke into a smile, grabbed my hand as we ran to the front of the store where we all posed for what will be a special memory for us.

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