Posts Tagged With: trekking

The Way of St. Francis: Reflections from our journey

8240D2C6-05F1-4851-8B0D-F273C292BBA6

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Way of St. Francis: The End is Near

9FC9460D-3387-4315-80B4-266D368E627D

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.

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Way of St. Francis: A deserted pilgrimage

55302430-BF52-4D5B-9F07-532F63EBA289

The red line has led us through trials and celebrations, more medieval villages than we can count, and memorable meetings with gracious Italians brimming with enthusiasm. We have met friendly and fascinating fellow trekkers, but many days we have not seen even one. We have yet to meet another American walker. We have not talked to anyone going as far as we hope to go.

How far have we come? After 20 days of trekking on the Way of St. Francis, we have come 226 miles with our backpacks (and many more exploring places without them, especially on rest days). More than 71,000 feet of elevation change, including 6,000 on Sunday. The steepness has been a surprise — there have been times it has been so steep that it has been difficult to stand when we stopped to take a breath.

A few scenes from the past two days:

0A90863C-7303-4ABF-AC50-0F2CDEAECB0D

D6AD113B-70A8-4712-BDB9-0E0D972B31D0

The bridge carrying highway travelers reminds us Rome is near, but the trail quickly takes us back into remote places.

4F06EE2B-B094-475A-A25D-34868A910B4C

The guidebook today said to turn left at the fountain and two pine trees, but for us it was time for lunch.

7FA17F0D-3E9F-4EA7-B832-1AAE599B779B

We are staying Monday in Montelibretti, barely visible from its mountaintop perch.

The Way of St. Francis is unique and especially tough, but it shares one characteristic with the other long treks we have done: the closer we get to finishing, the more we don’t want it to end.

 

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

624E8083-5CB4-45A4-B95D-F8FA07116A8E

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.

4CAF6472-00B5-4C59-B767-72CCF1A84BFF

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

E1B4B102-CEF8-4AE9-AB32-728F02BBBA5B

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!

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

EBDC3FE6-E200-41FE-8876-B3F1B3933AD7

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.

4298DCE9-9069-46B4-A945-4CA78979A2BF

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.

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

4B088FB9-1A11-43D1-A7ED-93DF0C7C90B0

0A40929E-33F0-4697-93E2-6B7884C5D1C1

 

26B541F2-8E48-4AED-859C-BD4A40B5A162

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.

 

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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!

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Way of St. Francis: The Way to Assisi

The Way of St. Francis led us into Assisi yesterday, our ninth day of walking. We’ve covered 109 miles and endured 37,046 feet of elevation change. While the above photo appears to show a pleasant downhill stroll, in reality our day began and ended with steep climbs. All a distant memory today as we enjoy the sites of this beautiful city.

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: