Posts Tagged With: pilgrimage

The Way of St. Francis: Ups and Downs on Day One

Pieve Santo Stefano was our destination today, an easy stage according to our guidebook. And I guess it wasn’t too bad, although we did climb 1,700 feet before arriving at this lush green meadow.

The meadow was irresistible and knowing that our feet were not yet trail tough, we enjoyed a snack and the view, sans shoes and socks, while we recharged body, mind and spirit.

Eventually, far below us, Pieve Santo Stefano came into view. It was a good day…a quiet day. We saw just two bicyclists and three other picnicking walkers during our eleven mile/six hour day. The Hotel Santo Stefano has been a good choice for these two weary Pilgrims.

Tomorrow we lace up our boots and tackle a more challenging walk to Sansepolcro.

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The Way of St. Francis: Chiusi della Verna

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The sleepy village of Chiusi Della Verna awoke to brilliant sunshine today, Friday. We started with pastry, strong coffee (yum!), tangerines and packaged toast and jam downstairs in the hotel Bellavista, in photos above. Our room’s small window shows a burst of early spring.

We are pausing in this village, dating to the 13th century, to get our time-zone footing before our first steps on the Way of St. Francis on Saturday. The village, at nearly 4,000 feet in Tuscany east of Florence, is dominated by stone buildings with red tile roofs. The monastery and chapel stand on the mountaintop behind us.

We have yet to hear a word of English from the friendly locals, who have smiled with question marks in their eyes when we speak Italianish.

At a tiny market around the corner (most corners here are hairpins), we bought cheese by using our fingers to show how much we wanted. We greeted two wiry Austrians, who carried huge backpacks, as they began another day on their trek from Florence to Rome.

We already have a sense that this is a trail few travel, if we compare it to our other treks in Europe. We shared a restaurant last night with three other hiking couples, including the Austrians we  saw this morning. As far as we know, the eight of us make up the pilgrim total here, one of the most important stops on the Way of St. Francis. All appeared beyond working age. We had a nice chat in English with two other Austrians.

Later today, we look forward to visiting the monastery and historic churches, but the stone path will be a steep challenge. Peaceful is the word of the day.

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The Way of St. Francis: Packed and Ready to Go

Ready or not, we’re off to Italy where we’ll begin The Way of St. Francis, a pilgrimage that traces the pathway traveled by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century.

Our journey begins in the eastern portion of central Tuscany in Chiusi Della Verna, a small community located below Santaurio (Sanctuary) Della Verna. It was in this area that St. Francis is said to have received the stigmata. We’ve allowed two nights here to explore the history and beauty of the region…and to catch our breath after what promises to be two pretty hectic travel days.

Then we start walking, traveling mostly southward, with a goal of reaching Vatican City (not quite 300 miles away) by mid-May.

Many thanks to Sandy Brown for allowing me to use the above map, his incredibly detailed trekking guide, the links and foolproof instructions for downloading the GPX tracks onto my phone app and for hosting the Way of St Francis (Official Group) Facebook page. The information is invaluable!

As always, we will post on our blog when we’re able, so feel free to follow along on our journey as we walk The Way of St. Francis.

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The Way of Saint Francis: Training Begins

I stopped for a quick photo this morning as Reg and I neared the top of the 500 foot climb behind our home.

With our upcoming Italian pilgrimage (The Way of Saint Francis) just around the corner, today seemed like a good day to reacquaint ourselves with our backpacks. If the weather cooperates, we should have a couple months to work out any kinks!

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Hip, hip hooray for Marion!

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.

Ian and Marion journeyed from their home in Oxford, England in spring 2013 to tackle the 500-plus mile Camino de Santiago. We met them on our first day out from Pamplona, Spain and we quickly became friends, enjoying laughs and stories over coffee, drinks, and meals.

Ian and Marion take a break during their 2013 Camino trek.

Like so many other Camino trekkers, Marion battled blisters. She doctored them each day, but they got worse and worse. More than most people, she was determined to conquer the Camino.

Then, she suffered a stress fracture of the shin, but continued to trudge on. Finally, after several hundred miles, she hit the wall. Sue and I were so sad when she and Ian returned home, but we were not nearly as disappointed as Marion was.

You see, Marion had tried and tried when many trekkers of all ages would have quit.

Last month, Marion laced up her boots to try again. She and Ian returned to finish their Camino, taking on the Galicia section, marked by many mountain climbs and descents as well as spectacular scenery.

We eagerly awaited Ian's eloquent e-mail reports and were happier than the Camino cuckoo birds when they made it to Santiago de Compostela.

But we were not surprised. We knew Marion would succeed.

I now raise my gin and tonic and say, “Cheers, Marion!”

 

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Life’s path redirected by chance meeting

 

When James and Gitta unexpectedly crossed paths, a new journey began for them both.

 

 

 

Much like a well-worn trail, life provides a beautiful journey of highs and lows. We smile easily from the mountaintop where possibilities seem endless. It is when we gaze up from below, unsure where our path will lead, that our optimisim is challenged.

We met James and Gitta while hiking the Camino de Santiago in April of 2013. Both far more experienced walkers than we were, they taught us how to embrace the Camino Spirit…and not to walk over 12 miles each day!

We learned that Gitta had completed her first Camino several years earlier, walking from her home in Copenhagen, Denmark, through to Santiago, in celebration of her 60th birthday. The trek took her six months. We were in awe! Now she was back, accompanying James as he completed the missing segment of his first Camino.

As it has done for hundreds of years, the Camino continues to provide modern day Pilgrims with a sense of purpose; to ask questions, to seek answers, to reflect, express gratitude…to take a chance.

One evening, James shared with us the story of what led him to originally walk the Camino, and how that chance decision changed the path of his life.

It was at his late wife's burial that James' good friend suggested they walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago together. Standing at one of life's many crossroads, James immediately agreed and their plan was set in motion.

Six months after their return, James and his friend made plans to attend a meeting of fellow Camino Pilgrims. However, at the last minute, his trekking partner was unable to attend, leaving James with a decision to make: Enjoy an unexpected quiet evening alone or step into a room filled with unfamiliar faces. After some thought, James took a chance and made the decision to attend the meeting solo. As luck would have it (perhaps it was destiny or the magic of the Camino) Gitta too, chose to attend that same meeting where, at some point in the evening, she crossed paths with James.

The rest, as they say, is history!

 

 

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Startling Rooftop Surprise: Camino de Santiago

We returned to the cathedral at 6pm for the final rooftop segment of our cathedral tour. After climbing 105 steps, we expected to be led out onto a courtyard type area atop the cathedral; a place where we could safely take in the view of the various towers and the surrounding Santiago cityscape.

The views were truly amazing, but imagine our surprise when we found ourselves walking across what seemed to be five inch thick granite shingles! We all quickly took a seat as our guide explained the history and different architectural styles that comprise this beautiful cathedral.

The rooftop tour is not for anyone with a fear of heights. Pilgrims are no longer able to place their hand in the Tree of Jesse, the central column of the Door of Glory. If you look closely in the bottom right photo, you can see the imprint of the hands of millions of Pilgrims who have arrived in Santiago.

 

 

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Sweet Distraction: Camino de Santiago

If you have a sweet tooth, don't miss the Chocolate con Churros while in Spain. It will surely bring a smile to your face!

 

What could be better than chocolate to soothe the leftover aches and pains of the Camino? Prior to leaving, my friend Annie recommended we try the hot chocolate while in Spain. ” It's like drinking a melted Hershey bar,” she wrote.

When a light rain began to fall this morning, we ducked inside a Santiago bar for a double order of Chocolate con Churros.

With a renewed source of energy, Reg and I sped off for a tour of the cathedral and adjoining museum.

We continue to bump into Pilgrim friends from weeks ago. This morning we greeted the brother/sister duo from Texas and then an Australian woman we shared dinner and lodging with way back in Carrion.

We're on the lookout for the arrival of two more Pilgrims here in Santiago, and then I think we will have reconnected with most everyone we've spent time with along the way.

 

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How to Say Goodbye? Camino de Santiago

We hadn't seen New Zealanders Sue and Geoff in a week until they caught up with us last night. It had been over two weeks since we chatted with this group of Canadians and Americans. I shared a quick hug with our 22 year old Irish friend. Reg and I pose for a photo at the cathedral in Santiago.

This morning was different. As we tied our shoes and struggled into our backpacks, we knew this would be our last day of walking. Reaching Santiago was always the goal…until we started the Camino. I think we realized, after our first night in the Albergue outside of Pamplona, that this journey would be about so much more than simply reaching Santiago.

We've each had our struggles; everything from blisters to coed bathrooms (it's true!). The Camino tests everyone, and spares no one. But at the end of each day there is a bed (usually warm!), a meal, friendly conversation and laughter…and an eagerness to get up and do all again the next morning.

We walked into Santiago this afternoon with a mixture of joy and sadness. We had done it! But now what? That is the question we Pilgrims are asking each other as we prepare to go our separate ways.

 

 

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Churches, Bell Towers and Steeples: Camino de Santiago

They've served as our guideposts for the past four weeks. Most often perched upon a hill, signaling yet another climb up to a new village. Mostly we've simply admired them in passing, sometimes peeking inside when the opportunity allowed. Often they have marked our destination for the evening.
The churches of the Camino are as varied and beautiful as the people and landscapes of Spain. They remind us of the true path of the Camino; a path we've felt honored to have traveled.

Every city, town and village has a church. They're built in all shapes and sizes, each with a unique design.

Often the church bells actually rang. Other times we found them to be recordings, but either way, the sounds add a unique flavor to the Camino.

 

 

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