Posts Tagged With: Photos

The Way of St. Francis: A View Through Two Countries

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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?

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The Way of St. Francis: Reflections from our journey

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Way of St. Francis: Finito!

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The Way of St. Francis: The End is Near

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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.

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The Way of St. Francis: Are We There Yet?

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The dawn of a new day found us three days out from our last rest day in Rieti, with just three more days to walk until we reach Rome, our final destination.  Our feet are tired, our hips are sore and barking dogs are getting on our nerves.

But we’re still doing it…uphill and down, along miles of ribbon-thin trails through wet thigh-high grass, trails of sticky, gooey mud and trails so steep they must be paved to keep from washing away…and we are having the time of our lives!

But, there are still miles to go and much to see before we’ll feel lucky enough to relax and truly celebrate.

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The Way of St. Francis: Trattoria Favorita is a Favorite

B & B Piazza Cavour in Rieti has been a perfect place to rest our packs as we ready ourselves for the last 6 days to Rome.  Our corner balcony (one down from the top) overlooked the piazza and was just a short walk across the river to the Historic City Center.

We discovered a great little place to eat this evening, just across the square from our place. It could have been the family atmosphere, but we felt the folks at the aptly named Trattoria Favorita served us one of the best pasta meals of the trip.

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As usual, we were the first to be seated for an early (by Italian standards) evening meal, but Mariannina (left) greeted us warmly, and with limited English, made us feel right at home.  Francesca (a daughter?) was every bit as warm and welcoming and we had a wonderful time pantomiming our conversations.  Lots of smiles, nodding and laughter!  If you have the chance, Trattoria Favorita on Piazza Cavour offers good food, a warm welcome and a comfortable atmosphere.

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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: 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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