The camp host encouraged us to make the short walk to see the Umpqua Lighthouse not just during daylight, but also after dark. Intrigued, we bundled up last night and headed out to the coast, curious to discover what mysterious sights we might behold.Once the sun went down and dark settled over us, the signature beams (two white-one red) lit up the sky, continuously sweeping a circle overhead. As we turned and looked over the ocean we could see the light stretching out toward the horizon…visible more than 20 miles out to sea.
While the first heatwave of summer bakes the Rogue Valley back home, we awoke to day four of our cool 2 1/2 week coastal escape. A note in our hiking book suggested the “not to be missed” Umpqua Discovery Center located on “Reedsport’s scenic riverfront boardwalk.” Somewhat skeptical, but wanting to stick close to our home base at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park today, we made the short drive north.Built entirely with grants and donations, the center is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Impressive displays, some interactive, explain the Natural and Cultural History of the Oregon Coast. Massive murals, painted by artist Peggy O’Neal, are beautifully done and anchor each of the many displays. We were told each mural took about a year to complete. Take in the views up and down the river from the boardwalk or grab a bite to eat at one of the neighboring restaurants. The Umpqua Discovery Center is located just off Highway 101 and Highway 38 in Reedsport, Oregon. Open daily with a reasonable admission charge.
Friends Lan and Jeff suggested a morning hike along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that would lead us to Little Hyatt Lake reservoir. A couple thousand feet above Ashland we found spring blooming throughout a series of lush, green meadows.
We reached the spillway below the reservoir and climbed to a ledge overlooking the lake. A perfect spot to rest and have a bite to eat before our return trip.
Standing with our backs to Rome’s Trevi Fountain six years ago, we tossed coins into the water, wishing for our return to Rome.
Our dream has come true, but when we returned to the fountain Monday, it was closed. Why? Three days a week, the Trevi Fountain goes dry and the coins are vacuumed and packed into white bags that fill the back of a small white truck.
What happens to the piles of cash? The money goes to the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, which helps feed the needy in 200 nations and territories.
How much coin is tossed into the Trevi Fountain each year? About a million and a quarter dollars worth.
So when you are in Rome, toss those coins into the fountain, for good luck —- and a good cause.
Minutes after the coins were sucked up, the Trevi Fountain returned to life. Money immediately began raining down, perhaps bringing good luck, but, more certainly, help for those in need.
Were it not for the line of curiosity seekers, we might never have found the peephole we were looking for. It’s there, just to the right of the white hat brim, looking very much like a round keyhole. It is, in fact, known as The Aventine Keyhole and is part of the property owned by the Priory of the Knights of Malta, one of the last surviving orders of knights left from the Crusades.
It was the rumored view through this peephole that led us to climb Aventine Hill to the piazza Cavalieri di Malta.
Was it worth it? I don’t know…what do you think?
Rome is a great place to be as we miss the daily adventures of the Way of St. Francis.
We returned to Vatican City Friday for a nighttime visit to the Vatican Museums, where we marveled at Michelangelo’s genius in the Sistine Chapel for an hour. Perhaps we had not cleaned up well enough after our trek, because fewer than 100 people joined us. We were tempted to slide down the handrail at the spiral ramp on the way out.
Saturday, we left the comfort of our hotel, which is in a quiet section of Campo Fiori, for a city walkabout that included a successful search for our favorite gelato. It was everything we remembered from six years ago.
We are back in our room, sipping wine, wondering where to find some good pizza or pasta for dinner. Hmmm…
We were rewarded with our testimonium Friday at the Vatican. Our bodies are happy we reached the end of the Way of St. Francis. Our minds are swirling as we reflect.
The numbers from our trek: 23 days walking, 258 miles (415 km) afoot, 79,923 feet of elevation.
Toughest trek yet: What made it more difficult than Spain’s Camino de Santiago, Scotland’s West Highland Way, and the Alps’ Tour du Mont Blanc? We loved the Camino, but it is a stroll in the park comparatively. The Camino is longer, but the surfaces here test shoes and your body much more. And the climbing and descending are relentless and treacherous at times. There are rarely nice bars for a break. Mont Blanc had more elevation per day, but it was “only” 110 miles, and we didn’t carry everything on our backs in the Alps.
Best trek? For us, it is almost like saying which son we love most. We hold all four treks close to our hearts. They all have special qualities and memories.
Camaraderie: We saw fewer fellow St. Francis trekkers in 23 days than we saw in just one typical morning in Spain. On many days in Italy, we saw no fellow trekkers. We befriended a few fellow “pilgrims” now and then, but just for a day or two.
La Verna to Rome: Of the trekkers we talked to, all were walking a shorter section of the Way of St. Francis than La Verna to Rome, which we walked. Some were doing a few days, intending to return another year. We met more people going to Assisi, Francis’ home, than to Rome. Francis walked to Rome to get the pope’s blessing for his work.
Who does this trek? From our small sample, most were much younger than us. Two were Canadian, the rest Europeans. No Americans. This trek attracts people who enjoy solitude.
English? Most trekkers knew some English. The storekeepers and bar and restaurant servers, not so much. Many of our lodging hosts also did not speak English. Most were gracious in helping us with our limited Italian. Pantomimes helped. Lots of smiles and laughs as we all struggled to communicate.
Italian people: In village after village, bar after bar, hotel after hotel, people wanted to help us. A small crowd came to our rescue when we had trouble getting in the front door at a B&B. A young woman in a bar dropped everything to make us an early dinner of fresh pizzas.
So many proprietors went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable. Several times, we had trouble contacting our accommodation host when we arrived. Each time, local people volunteered to track them down for us. And they go about life with such passion!
Pilgrimage: This trek is designed to follow St. Francis’ steps to Rome. There are many churches and other sites where pilgrims can honor his memory and work.
The next Camino? The Way of St. Francis is gradually becoming better known, but I can’t see it attracting big crowds. Most people probably don’t want to work so hard and there are other trails that are better designed for leisure trekking. Accommodations are not as plentiful and are far more spread out than some treks, especially the Camino de Santiago. The Italian path is rough and at times disappears. Too much asphalt for many folks. But, I can see parts of it, such as Gubbio to Assisi, becoming more popular.
Finding the way: We could not have done this trek without the help of Sandy Brown, author of the Cicerone guidebook and Facebook forum. He answered Sue’s questions while we were on the trek. He gave directions to downloading maps, which were critical to finding our way using GPS and Galileo Pro. We are so grateful for Sandy’s help!
Expensive? This trek does not offer as many opportunities to get by on the cheap, like the Camino de Santiago does. There are some monasteries, convents and hostels that offer inexpensive lodging, though. Pilgrims usually need to phone ahead at such places to arrange arrival time. We stayed in B&Bs, hotels, and one agriturisimo. Nothing fancy, but all had private baths and were clean. Many were in small villages and a few were in a building far from town. We paid from 50 to 90 euro a night, and almost all included continental breakfast. Rome is the exception…we opted for location and a bit of luxury, so we are paying more.
Explorers? At times, the trail was so remote and without fellow trekkers that we felt like explorers. The mountains of Umbria are higher and more rugged than we expected.
Greetings by locals: In Spain, many people greeted us as we passed. The Camino is the economic life for their communities and has such history and tradition. The Way of St. Francis lacks that sense of community, but when we greeted locals, they almost always returned our outreach. Some drivers honked and waved. A few seemed to honk to tell us to get off the road. One truck driver swerved and stopped to block a loose dog that was barking at us. He yelled at the dog to leave the pellegrinos alone.
Booking.com: We used the website for most of our rooms and we learned to start with “booking.com” when we arrived.
Weather: The sun followed us the first two weeks, making some afternoons uncomfortably warm. Rain and thunderstorms threatened the rest of the way. Thankfully, we got stronger and faster, allowing us to beat torrential afternoon thunder and lightening storms. We walked in rain several times. Spring flowers were abundant almost the entire way. I would not attempt this walk during Italy’s hot summer.
Distances: It is incredible how far our feet took us. We would turn around after walking a few miles from the village where we stayed and it appeared so far away. It doesn’t work at the end of a long day, though. The town on the hilltop looks so close, but it takes forever to reach it. By then we were exhausted and so ready for a hot shower.
The way to travel: For us, trekking is the best way to see a country and get to know its culture. We see villages and experience views we could only get by walking. It slows down and simplifies life. It is empowering to get by with so little. We feel fortunate to be healthy enough to do treks.
In the end, was it worth it? The Way of St. Francis was so many things to us. It tested us like no other experience has. When we arrived at the Santiago Cathedral in Spain, I felt strong emotion. Thursday, I was happy to stand before St. Peter’s Basilica, but I had little deep reaction. Later, as we sat on a building ledge at the Vatican, I folded my trekking poles and tied them to my pack for the first time in a month. Out of nowhere, I was overcome. That’s why I walk.
Reg blazed another trail through the tall grass and thistle today, our last day of walking through the countryside. Tomorrow we’ll aim our boots towards Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City, a ten mile walk that will officially complete our journey.
A castle tower caught our eye today, but this sculpture made us wonder why it was standing in this trailside field.
Intermittent showers followed us Tuesday on the Way of St. Francis from Montelibretti to Monterotondo, a busy city of 41,000 that makes us feel like we leaped forward hundreds of years.
It is how we got here that is the day’s story. About noon, we turned from a lazy, tree-canopied lane onto a busy two-lane highway where cars zoomed by at motorway speeds. It was a shock after several hours of countryside trekking. Then the rain decided to fall faster too.
A loud noise snapped us back to the future further. Through the drips from our hats, we saw the source: a motorway filled with speeding vehicles. How do we get to the other side, where our apartment awaits? Harder rain confused us until we spotted a yellow stripe painted uphill on a pole to our right. Is that where St. Francis went? It must have been, because after climbing through knee-high weeds over a berm, along a strip of aging asphalt under tree branches that we ducked under, we found bent grasses that told us someone had walked this way.
Down we went until the motorway blocked us again. More bent grass led us down a steep slope along a fence to a rickety, five-foot-long, 18-inch-wide wooden walkway with no railings that crossed a concrete culvert. The rain followed us across, then down farther to a road — and an underpass!
As we walked on a soggy path to Monterontondo, we paused for a selfie. A few twists and crosswalks brought us to salvation: an Italian bar, where a young man and woman made us tall cups of coffee to go with our flaky-crusted berry torte. They worked so hard to make us feel welcome, a trait that helps make this country great in our eyes.
Now I sit in our modern one-bedroom apartment. I hear faint sounds of Italian voices from the apartment above. I sip a glass of wine as Sue prepares our dinner.
The Way of St. Francis is full of surprises. That’s one reason why I want it to last forever.