Monday, 11 August 2014

We made it! (Part 1)

Day 47, Montefiascone to Viterbo, 18 km
Day 48, Viterbo to Vetralla, 18 km
Day 49, Vetralla to Sutri, 21 km
Day 50, Sutri to Formello, 30 km
Day 51, Formello to St Peter's Square, Rome, 35 km

Just over a week ago we staggered our way into the Vatican to cheers from the crowd, where we were toasted like royalty and treated to a private audience with the Pope (or 'Papa Francesco' as they call him in Italy) while the crowds outside chanted our names.  

In fact that's not quite true, though the staggering bit is.  Instead we sank down in the shade of the obelisk in St Peter's square next to a sleeping Dutch dog, sculled a litre of water, and considered what we had just done.
(Knackered in St Peter's Square-sleeping dog as welcoming committee)

The last days of the walk saw us leaving the hills of Tuscsany far behind, walking into the flatter areas of Lazio province near Rome.  We continued our strolling through sunflower fields and on ancient Roman roads: the most well preserved sections so far which included intact curbside pathing and distance marker posts.

Having Suzie with us meant we finally had someone else to talk to and tell our stories from the previous weeks.  That's the hard thing about spending all your time with one other person- there is nothing you can tell them that they didn't also experience.  
(How many hundreds of thousands have walked this road? Amazing.)

We were also typically hampered by fickle weather. On Day 47 we figured on arriving in Rome on August 1st. So we organised onward travel, booked accomodation etc.  The next day it started pelting down at lunch time, so we had to stop walking early- putting us a day behind schedule.  This meant Suzie would have to leave us a day early and take a train in order to get her flight.

We tried playing catch up the following day, but sometime after lunch took an alternate route and ended up walking up and down rainforest paths for the next few hours. This was a welcome and beautiful surprise- rainforests near Rome (WTF!?)- but meant we took longer and couldn't make it to the further town as expected. But, as this trip has shown us, unplanned accidents can lead to good fortune and we ended up staying in Sutri, a cool old town with Etruscan (ie pre-Roman) ruins including a ampitheatre, catacombs and church.
(Nick in Sutri, being a goof.)

The following day was our longest to date at approximately 30 km, thanks to a wrong turn that added some extra distance! Lucky! Somewhere along the way Suzie grew a blister on the ball of her foot, and burst it on a descent before she knew it was there. We arrived in Formello, expecting a general bland modern suburban city, but instead ended up staying in their magnificent old town in a restored Castello. 

The Castello had a clear spiral staircase leading to the hostel on the top floor, then further into the bell tower. On each step was the name of a key town on the Via Francigena, starting in Switzerland all the way to Rome. As we walked up the stairs we could trace our journey through each stage, one step at a time.

Below us in the courtyard a baroque quartet was warming up for the evening's free community concert and from the window you could see in the distance the sprawling suburbs of Rome.  In amongst this our conversation turned and we suddenly decided to just 'hang it', and do the full remaining distance, what would normally be 1.5-2 days walk, the following day. 

So we did. 
(Suzie and I walking on the last day)

The final day we covered about 35 km, walking the first section on country paths and quiet roads  before we hit the outer suburb/satellite town of La Storta 17 km out from St Peters Square- our final destination.  

(So close! A signpost about 19 km out from the Vatican.)

As we expected, the last 12 kms were the most tedious, and probably dangerous, of the whole trip. We entered on the Via Trionfale, a key arterial through the north western suburbs (think Bell St) which was noisy, dirty, and stressful. Some sections had no footpath, so we walked facing the traffic close to the shoulder. At times trees had overgrown the road, meaning we had to cross into the middle of the lane before scooting back to the side.  It wasn't great. 

We later found out that most people don't walk this section, but instead take the train from La Storta. I'm glad we chose to walk- it rounded out our journey, finishing in the manner we began. It also meant we took the slow approach to St Peters, via Monte Mario.  As we walked up the path we got our first view of the inner city, and the dome of the Cathedral we had been walking towards for the past seven and a bit weeks.
(First view of St Peter's from Monte Mario)

From there it was just a (relatively) short stroll down the hill to meet the swarms of tourists in the Vatican City.  We approached with the mixture of excitement and exhaustion that only someone who's been walking for 51 days can feel. St Peter's Square was busy, bustling and hot. We sank down in the only shade we could find feeling sore, tired, happy and just a bit relieved it was finally over. 
(And we're done!)

We chatted to a Dutch family (and their dog) who congratulated us on the journey, and relaxed for a bit before dragging our weary bones to our hostel for the night. There we met up with other pilgrims who had finished the trip at the same time, including Ezio and Gabrielle, a wonderful Italian couple who we had shared parts of the journey with for the last two or so weeks.
(Ezio, Suzie, Gabriella, me, Nick and Rita. San Jacopo pilgrims hostel in Rome.)

The next morning we went back into St Peter's to show our pilgrim passports (a credential that was stamped at every place we stayed), be registered officially as completing the walk and receive our 'testamonium.'  Then we did what any self-respecting pilgrims would do. We bought new non-walking clothes, got haircuts, did the final laundry of our filthy clothes and SLEPT.  

And then we started the next part of the journey- figuring out what on earth we had just done, and why? 
(Completed pilgrim passport from Grand St Bernard to Rome)

(Our testimoniums with official papal seal. Pretty cool huh!?)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

What a lark!

Day 32, Sarzana to Marina di Massa, 17 km
Day 33, Marina di Massa to Lucca, by train
Day 34, Rest day
Day 35, Lucca to Altopascio, 18 km
Day 36, Altopascio to San Miniato Basso, 24 km
Day 37, San Miniato Basso to Gambassi Terme, 25 km
Day 38, Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano, 14 km
Day 39, San Gimignano to Abbadia-di-Isola, 22 km
Day 40, Abbadia-di-Isola to Siena, 21 km
Day 41, Siena to Ponte d'Arbia, 28 km
Day 42, Ponte d'Arbia to San Quirico d'Orcia, 27 km
Day 43, San Quirico d'Orcia to Radicofani, 29 km
Day 44, Radicofani to Acquapendente, 26 km
Day 45, Acquapendente to Bolsena, 22 km
Day 46, Bolsena to Montefiascone, 18 km

So, we have 100 kms to go!  Wooo! The next time I post we will be in Rome! Woooo! My sister has joined for the last week of the walk! Wooooo! Nick and I are absolutely wrecked! Woooooo! 

(Just outside Montefiascone-100 kms to the Tomb of Saint Peter in Rome. Bit morbid really)

The last two weeks of the walk has just sped by, perhaps due to us being in a state of perpetual exhaustion. Days blend into the next and I've now reached the point where I can't remember where we stayed three days ago.  I thought this trip would bring a heightened sense of awareness, a better taking-in, of what is around us, but in some ways i've found the opposite: there is so much to take in, it's almost overwhelming.

As we left the Appenines behind we reached the low plains of the coast, and I was able to go to the BEACH!  I went swimming (in my underwear mind you), and we ate steaks and drank coronas. It felt like Mexico and was glorious!!!  
(The beach at Marina di Massa)

We awoke the next morning to a massive thunderstorm, with torrential rain and flooding glutters.  Great. After much agonizing we made the call, and took a train to Lucca, skipping two stages, and taking two days of rest instead.  Since then we have also had to abadon another walk half way through due to rain. It's funny, that even though walking in a downpour is akin to madness we still went through a process of analysing and justifying our decision to ourselves, including discussing whether pilgrims in days of old would have taken the option of a covered cart ride if it were offered to them on a rainy day. I mean, of course they bloody would've!!

The days of rest were well needed, probably not quite sufficient, but still gave us enough energy to keep on going.  The following days of walking through Tuscany were just beautiful, with big open blue skies and rolling green and gold hills. We stayed in some of the most stunning places- medieval towns perched on hilltops or old monasteries looking over olive groves and vineyards.  For me, this was the Italy I expected to see. 
(The walk out of San Gimignano. Probably our most favourite town so far.)

(Sunflower field- Tuscany)

The walks themselves have been some of the most challenging so far (I think i've said that a few times now) with high temperatures, a lot of distance to cover and endless up and downs over the hills.  We moved our starting time earlier to beat the heat, often leaving by six in the morning.  The most physically exhausting day we walked 25 km across broad exposed hills, me with a knee brace on because i'd strained a muscle the day before. By the time we finished at around 4pm it was 34 degrees.  

Another day we left at five in the morning, again to beat the heat, and also because the last 8 km involved a steady climb. But naturally on this day, it stormed again, so the last few hours were done in rain as we slowly crept up the mountain. 

(Early morning start. San Miniato Basso)
(See the mountains in the distance? We walked there. It was hot.)

On days like this, where we are struggling with tiredness and either furious heat or soul-dampening rain it is hard to keep on going. The kilometres just drag by and we question what we are doing.  I get caught in brain-loops where I find that i've been thinking, and often worrying, about something entirely trivial for the last half an hour.  But we keep on going, and now, we are almost there. 

With over 800 kms down and about 100 to go Rome seems very near.  I'm thinking already about buying an outfit which isn't hiking related, getting a haircut and plucking my eyebrows. And sleeping of course.  I'm also wondering how I will view this experience when I look back on it in future.  At the moment it seems almost too overwhelming, and at times painful, exhausting and boring, as well as joyous.  But I think in time the hard bits will soften, and we will remember the fun stuff, the amazing scenery and people and think "remember that time we walked to Rome, that was a lark!"

(The dorm overflow in San Miniato Basso: the ambulance comms caravan)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The pilgrim experience

Day 24, Fidenza to Medesano, 22 km
Day 25, Medesano to Sivizzano, 20 km
Day 26, Sivizzano to Cassio, 13 km
Day 27, Cassio to Ostello-della-Cisa, 17 km
Day 28, Ostello-della-Cisa to Pontremoli, 21 km
Day 29, Pontremoli to Villafranca-in-Lunigiana, 18 km
Day 30, Villafranca-in-Lunigiana to Aulla, 15 km
Day 31, Aulla to Sarzana, 17 km

So, it looks like we have been walking for a month already. Piece of cake really, nothing new in that. Nick has walked the past 18 days in a row, me 15. In the last week we've gone from the flat northern plains, across the Apennine mountain range and into Tuscany.  We are over halfway through in terms of both distance and time. And i'll tell you something: I am knackered.
(Crossing the Cisa Pass in the Apennines)

Waking up in Aulla I could barely open my eyes. An hour or so later we were dragging ourselves 500 metres up a mountain (that's ascent, not actual distance) and down the other side. It was a long day, with calf-popping climbs and slippery descents over loose rock and shale. We stumbled through forests, over logs and through so many spiderwebs I lost count.

We walked through two giant muddy puddles as the path was so hemmed in by metre-high blackberry bushes there was no way around. We've seen lonesome socks and sad undies lying on the path from where a blackberry branch has plucked them off the backpack of an unsuspecting pilgrim, who just wanted some dry clothes, for pities sake!  
(Unhappy puddle face)

In the past few weeks I've found that the fundamentals of living: getting clean and dry, getting food and having somewhere to sleep, become the focus of your attention. Everything else tends to fall away as you aim to get these basic needs met.

Getting clothing clean and dry is virtually impossible.  The first day we started walking up the Apennines it was unbelievably hot and humid.  I'm a sweaty person at the best of times, but after one hour it was like I'd been thrown in a swimming pool. I had to take off my pants and top and dry them on a picnic table. I'm sure that was a nice surprise for the cyclist that passed by.  

The following days it was so cold and rainy it wasn't even worth trying to handwash and dry anything. We went three days with soggy footwear, unwashed pants and damp and sweaty backpacks. Leaving the mountains and finding a laundromat can now actually be counted as highlight of the trip. We just smelt so good!
(Nick about to get rained on...again)

Food can be another tricky thing. Generally we have breakfast where we stay or grab a coffee and croissant as we leave town. We usually carry our lunch: bread, meat, cheese, fruit, snacks etc and have mini picnics on park benchs, church steps, or the side of the road. Dinner is as much delicious food we can stuff into our tired bodies. 
(Lunigiana speciality: Testaroli- grilled pasta with fresh pesto- almost like a pancake. Noms)

But twice we have arrived in towns at the end of the day to find that nothing is open. Either the town has no restuarant or grocery store, or they are closed- usually on Sundays and Mondays. The first time this happened in Santa Christina- think an Italian version of Swan Hill- the bar was able to supply us with ample sustenance: lunchtime's reheated margherita pizza, beer, mineral water and a gelati.  The next day we arrived in another small town reasonably early and sought out lunch (Orio Litta- a bit like Hopetoun- if you've never heard of it there's a reason why.) No restaurants were open, and the town didn't have a supermarket, so into the bar we went. We feasted on preheated margherita pizza, beer, mineral water and gelati. Variety is indeed the spice of life.

The following Monday in Sivizzano, I discovered that what the caretaker had tried to explain to me over the phone in Italian, was that there would be no shops open when we arrived, so we should buy food in the town 8 kms before. 


But she was lovely, and gave us ingredients for pasta and some snacks. In the morning she loaned me her bike to whizz down to the now-open grocer and buy our breakfast and lunch. 
(Santa Margherita Monastery)
Our accomodation there in Sivizzano was probably the most magical we have experienced- sleeping in the 10th century Santa Margherita monastery, with it's arched rock walls and patio out onto a courtyard beside the church. Other places we stay are more traditional, a B&B or hotel if that's the only option, but we try to stay in the religious and community run hostels where possible.   The Cappucini Convent in Pontremoli had individual rooms for each pilgrim in what would originally be monks' cells, with a bed, desk, cupboard and washbasin.  We stayed in a Francigena-pilgrim specific hostel in Cassio in the Appenines which was stuffed to the gills with food for us to eat. It was crazy. Kind of like a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house for pilgrims. 
(Pretty Pontremoli)

(Overwhemed and a little scared by food choice is Cassio)
So, really, sometimes all the things we need do come together at once. A ton of food when we really need it, a wood fire to dry shoes when its been pelting with rain, a laundromat popping up on our route into town, a comfy bed and a warm blanket. Even a dentist in a small town when I chipped my tooth on an olive.  The dentist was amazing, gave me a new improved tooth, a kiss on the forehead (it's his signature welcome to the clinic apparently) and a reduced bill as he knew we were pilgrims.  

So maybe i should just worry a bit less about the basics, and let them take care of themselves. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

You made my day

Day 15, Vercelli to Robbio, 20 km
Day 16, Robbio to Mortara, 16 km
Day 17, Mortara to Madonna-della-Bazzola, 19 km (Liz started walking again here)
Day 18, Madonna-della-Bazzola to Pavia, 27 km
Day 19, Pavia to Santa-Cristina, 28 km
Day 20, Santa-Christina to Orio Litta, 17 km
Day 21, Orio Litta to Piacenza, 22 km (including 4 km by ferry)
Day 22, Piacenza to Fiorenzula-d'Arda, 25 km
Day 23, Fiorenzula-d'Arda to Fidenza, 23 km

So.... I am officially back on board!! Thank you all for the kind concern and foot healing tips! I never thought I would miss walking but after 3 days of Nick going it alone out in the rice fields I was bored out of my brain, and itching to get into my new sneakers and back on track. I must be sick.

I went to a doctor (a real one this time) who told me my toes weren't going to drop off, but that I should consider new footwear. My new hiking shoes are much more flexible, airy and suited to this walk, and all the bad foot stuff has been sorted or is on its way out (fingers crossed).
(Still life: Hiker tying shoes in rice field)

Choosing this walk, Nick and I knew we were opting for a road far less travelled (sorry Mr Frost) than it's Spanish cousin- the Camino Santiago. But I think we were unaware how un-frequented this path still is. Since we started three weeks ago we have met only 16 other pilgrims. I also think I saw three others in a resturant one night (they looked tired and dirty and were eating alot) but Nick says that doesn't count.Most are starting and ending at different points, some are heading in the opposite direction. 

We've only met one other person also walking from St Bernard to Rome as we are- Gilbert, a lovely retired Frenchman and seasoned Camino walker, who we've also walked a few days with.  The day I resumed, we took an alternate route to our guidebook. Gilbert was about an hour ahead of us and where the signs had disappeared or were unclear he drew a big arrow and a 'G' in the dirt to help us find our way. What a legend!
(Gilbert and I squinting into the wind on the speedboat ferry across the River Po.)

We don't see many other pilgrims, so it's really the local people we meet on the road, throughout the long hot days, and the humid rainy ones, which make the journey for us. We greet all passers-by with a 'buon giorno' or 'salve'. Some stop to have a chat, ask where we're from, and where we are walking to. One white haired old fella burst into hysterical laughter when we told him we were walking to Rome. Others look confused, or like we're mad, or they haven't heard us properly. 

But most are supportive. Many say 'complementi', 'bravi' or 'buon camina' (have a good walk). Early yesterday outside a church, a man walking with his down-syndrome teenage son recognised that we were pilgrims and was so overcome all he could think to say was 'buon tutti'- i.e. 'have a good everything!'

Later that day a group of men, outside another church, were so excited to meet people on the Via Francigena that they had their photo taken with us. This morning, outside a fruit shop, we met a lady who had walked the road last year. She asked us to think of her while we walked, and said she would do the same when she walks the Camino Santiago later this year.

It's very pleasant, and somehow comforting, to realise that you will become an anecdote, or part of the day that people will describe to their family and friends, probably round a dinner table, or with mates at the bar: "Hey, you'll never guess who I met today- two Australians, walking to ROME!"  When you travel like this, you become an event in some small way, to the people you meet. And in reverse, the people we meet become an event for us.
(This little dude, painted and stuck on poles, trees, bridges etc is the MOST helpful.)

Some people will stay with us I think. Like Carlo, a retired mechanic who rode up to us on his Italian coloured bike as we walked into his town Tromello.  He is an official pilgrim ambassador: a local guy in one of the towns en route, who provides advice and a welcome to pilgrims. He offered us a drink and a sit down and gave us some tips on the second half of the days walk and where to stay in the next town. 

Yesterday we met possibly the most beautiful man (both inside and out) that exists (and I think Nick has a boy-crush on). Massimo is just a regular dude, a secondary school teacher, that knows his house is on the route, and has put a sign up to welcome in travellers and offer them hospitality.  He came out of his quiet country house and offered as some coffee, beer and food. We talked about travel, his dog Mimi, a bit of politics, school holidays, and just...stuff. 
(Carlo and his bike. Italian colours with Via Francigena stickers)

Every few days Nick will say something like "now we are entering the region of friendly farmers" or "people here are way more chatty" or "wow, this town is happy!" But perhaps it's not that people are getting more friendly, happy or chatty, but as we are getting more relaxed and comfortable in our walking, we are becoming more open to them. 

(View from an Italian autopass. Note guys in white ute waving to us. We thought the people in the multi-kilometre traffic jam were the suckers, but they probably thought the same about us.)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A walk in the park?

Day 5, Chatillon to Issonge, 20 km (plus 2 km being lost and 2 km in search of dinner.)
Day 6, Rest day (but 6km to get to chemist, shop etc)
Day 7, Issogne to Pont St Martin, 13 km
Day 8, Pont St Martin to Ivrea, 22 (excruciating) km
Days 9, 10 & 11, Rest days (short walks to get gelati and pizza)
Day 12, Ivrea to Piverone, 16 km
Day 13, Piverone to Santhia, 22 km
Day 14, Santhia to Vercelli, 28 km (Nick- 7.5 hrs by foot, Liz-11 mins by train)

Walk 1008 kms, they said. It would be easy, they said.  Actually, they didn't. I did. And I was wrong.

By Day 5 my sandal and sock combination seemed to have done me in (I think it was in retaliation for all the mean comments on facebook) with new blisters arising in, oh, about a dozen places. This was exacerbated by an additional 1.5 hours we spent wandering around after walking PAST a signpost cannily hidden behind an olive tree. I can't tell you how I cursed when we finally found it. 

Day 6 we rested, both to give my feet a break, and to allow some space to reflect on the passing of Nick's Granny and to make phone calls, send emails, make some toasts etc. 

We set off on Day 7 (me back in boots) in light misty rain, which soon brightened into clear blue sky as we walked further down the valley. We passed Roman era terraced vineyards, still in use, and an old Roman road where the wheelcarts of generations of travellers had carved permanent grooves into the rock. That night our hotel overlooked an amazing 2000+ year old Roman bridge.
(Terraced vineyards)

(Modern day centurion. Note wheel tracks in stone leading up the arch. Via Roma, the Donnas)

(The view from our hotel of the roman bridge, or 'Ponte Romano')

There ended the sight seeing, as by Day 8 I couldn't comprehend any of the amazing scenery we were passing through but was totally absorbed by the excruciating pain radiating from my feet. We got through 22km. The last eight km being particularly hysterical with me in tears and close to waving down cars for a lift and Nick not knowing how to help me.  A friendly dog walker gave us a short-cut tip and we arrived in Ivrea. Me with broken feet. Nick, still feeling perky.

So, what's the deal with your feet Liz, you may ask? Well, dear reader, as 'Dr.' Anna suggested via a skype session that night, and the pharmacist confirmed in the morning with a step back and sharp intake of breathe, I do indeed have the 'funghi.' That's right, I have tinea. What. A. Fuckup. 
(Fancy Bidet Footbath)

Days 9, 10 and 11 were therefore self-imposed rest days as we waited for my feet to start healing from both the tinea AND the friction blisters. Anna made a suprise, and greatly appreciated, sortie across the Swiss-Italian border bringing extra socks, tape, foot cream, chocolate, a change of clothes and other great stuff. She also kept us company for two days and saved us from killing each other from boredom. (Anna- we are forever grateful for your generosity!) Her visit also highlighted how far we'd come: far enough for her to drive to us in just over two hours. It took us seven days to walk. 

In some ways this makes me feel sick and like a bit of an idiot. But it's also the whole point really, to consider and experience what it's like to journey a long distance by foot. Lately i've thought about people, such as refugees, who have to walk long distances to save their lives. From the comfort of our middle class backgrounds Nick and I can make a choice about this novel form of travelling, but for others walking is often the only way out of desperate situations.  It just makes you think. And be thankful.

But still, I can't be thankful for the tinea. The three days of rest sorted my feet out somewhat. Day 12 started with a walk in the humid rain through woods and open fields. But 8 km in, my pinkie toe starts to burn and then I'm sitting on a wet log in the middle of a paddock changing back to sandles and socks. 

(Honestly- WTF are we doing?)

Day 13 the mega sandle blisters start again and it's like groundhog day, but with no Bill Murray, so really what's the point? On this day however some nice things happened: we still walked 22 km; I didn't cry at all (except in the morning when I couldn't put my boots on but I don't think that counts); the walk was flat and beautiful through vineyards, beside a lake, then leading into corn fields; friendly farmers on tractors waved to us; and I also saw kiwi fruit trees/vines for the first time! So I'm thankful for the small things.
(Lake Viverone)

But really, this foot rubbish is getting to be a joke, so we made the executive decision for me to skip stages and properly rest until my feet are sorted. And also see a dr about a possible infected pinkie toe nail and get some different shoes if need be. This trip we are spending all our money on sports gear and medical supplies instead of beer. Something is really wrong.

So this morning, Day 14, I bid farewell to Nick from a small cafe in the town square. He walked the 28 km to Vercelli (which is an amazing effort!), while I took the train.  It took him about 7.5 hours. The train took 11 minutes and cost me €2.70. 

We have hit the Po river valley so for the next week it is just flat rice plains.  I'm not particularly sad to miss this mosquito-infested part of the walk but in some ways it's hard for me admit I need to stop and take a break. It will also be hard and tedious for Nick as he wanders this 'waiting for godot'-esque bland landscape by himself for hours. 

So for the next while it will be Nick walking, with me acting as support crew and training/bussing from town to town to meet him. I wonder who will have more fun?....
(According to Nick, today's scenery included a tree and a telephone exchange building)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Dedication

Yesterday Nick received some deeply significant news. This is his post.

On Monday morning I was awoken with a 6:30am phone call from my Dad in France. 
He'd just recieved a call from the police in Adelaide advising of my Grandmother's death earlier that day.

By all accounts she died peacefully in her sleep, and was found by a staff member at her retirement village on a regular check-in round.

The shock, denial, anger, sorrow and guilt of this news is still coursing through my veins.

Partly because I didn't return her voicemail she left on my birthday while we were in Bali. Partly because 6 days ago I sent her a postcard from Switzerland excitedly sharing our adventures that she now won't receive. But mostly because Liz and I are on the other side of the world, so far away, and at the start of a life changing pilgrimage.

The big question now is what do we do? Do we go back to Australia for the funeral and start the walk later on? Do we continue, and pay our respects in another way?

The way we dealt with this yesterday was to lace up our boots and walk 22km from Chatillon to Issogne. I don't think I could have coped sitting around in a strange hostel on an enforced "rest" day.

In retrospect it was the right decision to make. However Liz's feet didn't seem to think so. 

Today we spent the day resting in Issogne, reducing our weight by posting our sleeping bags and surplus clothes to Anna in Switzerland, stocking up on blister care supplies, and letting Liz thread her blisters with betadine. This should hopefully make her a happy camper. Or happier at least.

The question about what to do is still up in the air. My Granny was not an overly sentimental woman, never wanting a fuss to be made of her. 

All I know is that her strength and tenacity, illustrated by her training as a Doctor during WW2 (a feat for a woman in those days), emigrating from England to Australia in the 1960's and then teaching medicine at Flinders University late in her career, laid the foundation for my attitude to life. And one never to suffer fools, she always listened and offered advice to her frequently naive ( read foolish) grandson, Nicholas.

Her love of both France and Italy was what in part inspired this whole journey, and it may be only fitting to continue on our quest, and honour her with a lighted candle at St Peters in Rome.

    Vale Marjorie Dubberley

    Semper in corde meo.

    To you we dedicate our walk!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Up and down the ups and downs

Day 1, St Bernard Pass to Echevennoz, 14 km
Day 2, Echevennoz to Aosta, 14 km ( plus extra 2km wandering the city looking for accommodation)
Day 3, Aosta to Nus, 15 km 
Day 4, Nus to Chatillon, 14 km ( plus extra 1.5km due to a wrong turn)

My wonderful friend Anna dropped us at the St Bernard Hospice, on the border of Switzerland and Italy, late on Wednesday afternoon. As she drove away, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I had a cry, and then a beer, and felt immensely better.
(Three dorks at St Bernard Pass)

This is a pattern (give or take the beer-though it does help) that has started to develop on this walk- the days are full of ups and downs. 

Day one was glorious, a gentle descent down the pass into Italy with the sun shining on streams of melted ice. Below the snow line we crossed open slopes filled with wildflowers before decending into woods and tiny towns. We made a cracking pace, and even walked an extra 2km than planned. 
(Day 1- We spotted a Bond-villain lair!)

Day two dawned with my feet full of blisters.  The walking was slow. We laboured up and down through forests and towns with the sun beating down and not enough food to keep up going. By the time we arrived in Aosta I was a mess, with an additional three blisters, low blood sugar, no accommodation where we wanted to stay, and really low decision-making capabilities. We finally found a room, I had a cry, cleaned my feet up, then had a beer, and a ginourmous pizza.

(Day 2- Big pizza deserves a serious face)

By day three I could barely hobble. We waited for the sports shop to open. I cried. Then was over the moon when they had sports sandals which fitted and I could wear pain free. We walked through vineyards and little villages which dotted the side of the valley, until descending into the tiny town of Nus for the night. 
(Looking back up the Aosta valley towards France and Switzerland)

The descent had me in pieces again, but this was soothed by dinner comprising beer and the free snacks (savoury pastries, breads, weird hot-dog type things etc) you get with alcohol in bars. We ordered enough to drink so we didn't have to buy any dinner. 

Again, today, day four, had it's hard bits and it's beautiful bits.  A wrong turn that added some distance, but a nice chat with a local farmer who offered us a lift. Searing blister pain on some downhills, then amazing views down the valley with mist hanging over the mountain and old abandoned stone hamlets. A excruciatingly long wait for dinner (I cried again- I think its a blood sugar thing...) but a BATH at the hotel!  

So the days have been full of ups and downs. But i guess these blisters give me a good excuse to wear socks and sandals...
(Socks and sandals)