@bradypus is walking! (in Italy)

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 31 - Hospice Grand St Bernard to Aosta

An excellent day. The cloud around the Col vanished very quickly during the steep and rocky descent to Saint Rhemy. Very punishing for the knees. Made me grateful for the far more gentle approach to the Col from the north. After Saint Rhemy the trail was a pleasure to walk with moderate slopes and good surfaces almost all the way. Also excellent signposting. Varied scenery with woodland, lush open meadows and several attractive small villages. I was surprised at how diverse the wild flowers and grasses were in the meadows. A lot of clovers and vetches. Is it cut for winter fodder?

The parish accommodation in Aosta was full on arrival. Perhaps no surprise with only 3 beds. A lot of the accommodation on the VF is very small. I hope that this will not prove to be the norm along the way.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 32 - Aosta to Chatillon

Weather-wise an excellent day: sunny and pleasantly warm. The thunderstorm in the forecast did not appear until 9.30pm. Pleasant walking mainly through vineyards and tiny villages. 600+ metres each of ascent and descent, mostly in short stages. Opportunities to buy coffee and food at two points along the way. Plenty of water fountains. As I left Aosta I met a French pilgrim who had stayed in the parish albergue alone. We met up several times and are sharing the Capuchins' guest room here with David and a German lady. Very enjoyable meal together in a restaurant this evening. About to go to sleep to the mixed sounds of a prayer service with hymns and distant thunder.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 33 - Chatillon to Pont Saint Martin

A dry and comfortably warm day. The forecast thunderstorm has not yet appeared. Chatillon and Saint Vincent are only 2km apart but very different towns. The wealth of Saint Vincent very obvious in its casino, many hotels and spas. The route as far as Verres was much like yesterday: hilly, small villages, vineyards, gardens and fruit trees. After that it mainly ran on the valley floor with one stiff climb to get past the stark Napoleonic fort at Bard. I walked for an hour or so with Alessandro - a young EU civil servant.

No success in finding a parish bed in Donnas. No answer to phone calls and a man in the parochial house simply closed the door on me when he found I did not speak Italian. The Casa Antica turned out to be a moderately expensive B&B. Success a few hundred metres further at the positively luxurious and enormous municipal ostello. Fresh bed linen, bidets and footbaths! The icing on the cake is Angela the hospitalera - a lady whose personal warmth and enthusiasm could probably heat this barn of a place in January. I am sharing the building with a group of 8 older French pilgrims who are walking the VF in short stages. On Angela's recommendation we ate at a nearby pizzeria which proved to be excellent value. A good way to round off the day.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 34 - Pont Saint Martin to Burolo

A difficult day. The weather was good and the scenery varied as I passed from the hillsides of the Val d'Aosta down on to the plain at Ivrea. Ivrea looked an attractive town and I wish I had the energy to give it more attention. Unfortunately my body is not cooperating today. I set off feeling unaccountably lethargic. Very soon I was also feeling nausea and a headache. Then diarrhea appeared to complete the picture. As a result I made very slow progress and arrived in Ivrea later than expected. After looking at accommodation I had hoped to reach Piverone but stopped at Burolo instead where a hospitable eco-community shelter pilgrims. An English-speaking nurse has just been to check on my condition. I feel much better but will not eat tonight. With luck I will be able to carry on tomorrow as normal.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 35 - Burolo to Santhia

A much better day. My headache and gut troubles had cleared up by morning. A lingering washed-out feeling was cured with water, coffee and pastries in a couple of villages early on. I was especially pleased with the very smart water dispenser selling filtered chilled acqua frizzante at 5 cents a litre - bring your own bottle. So a gentle stroll through rolling vineyards and woods to Cavaglia. A leisurely trattoria lunch and then an enjoyable 12km or so through arable fields - flat as a pancake - to Santhia. Rich fertile country and well-worked.

Santhia turns out to be a welcoming unassuming town, rather bigger than expected from the walk in. A very active local group of friends of the VF provide an excellent 6 bed hostel right in the main square. Several members haved called in. Sharing tonight with Marie who I met in Chatillon and an Italian pilgrim Salvatore. All Spanish Camino survivors! That seems to be the norm, at least among the non-Italians walking the VF.

The wildlife note of the day is the impressive collection of itchy insect bites I've acquired. Advice is that it will get much worse over the next few days. Must be more generous with the DEET cream. The mosquitoes are particularly vicious.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 36 - Santhia to Palestro.

Rice. Lots of it. In contrast to the varied landscapes recently the stage from Santhia to Vercelli was very monotonous. Rice fields all the way. Flat for miles around. I ran into the French group first seen at Pont Saint Martin about an hour from Vercelli. Vercelli looked quite pleasant but almost entirely closed as I passed through, pausing briefly for a disappointing pizza at a Chinese-owned pizzeria.

The stage from Vercelli to Palestro proved more interesting. More trees - plantations of poplar and acacia. Also for a large section the route ran on top of a high embankment which seemed to be part of either flood defences or an irrigation scheme. About 3 km from Palestro I met an Italian pilgrim on his way to Santiago. Fair exchange: I gave him a map showing the ostello in Vercelli, he told me a little about my accommodation for tonight and my companion Phillipe. A man who has been walking for 6 months: Santiago to Rome, the Franciscan Way, and now heading for France. The accommodation is a private ostello in a high brick tower belonging to Ambra and Paolo, a welcoming young couple. Impossible to miss! We were invited to join in a meal with three of their friends which ran late into the evening. Fireflies darting around as Phillipe and I climbed upstairs to bed. People and place to remember with pleasure.

Wildlife: thousands (literally) of small frogs in the rice paddies, huge variety of dragonflies, and white egrets and grey herons which presumably eat the frogs. Apparently local people do too which accounts for the two men seen earlier today catching miniscule frogs with long fishing poles.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 37 - Palestro to Mortara

It rained during the night but my companion Phillipe had saved our laundry from a soaking and also made coffee for breakfast. Useful man! There was heavy cloud as I walked through more rice and maize fields towards Mortars. It rained heavily twice, and during one prolonged shower I lost the trail. Marie did exactly the same several hours later. After sheltering in a cemetery to check my position and route I headed into Mortara along several km of main road.

I arrived in Mortara at 1.30pm to find almost all bars and cafes closed. Lunch was Coke and kebab - not the Sunday treat I'd hoped for. With thunder and more cloud I decided not to risk the further 20km to the next ostello and stopped at Mortara's ostello in a small ex-abbey just outside town. Marie and Tatiana arrived later and we three ate a good meal of pasta, fried chicken, peaches and salad prepared by the resident caretaker. The acoustics in the little church are superb and I really enjoyed singing a couple of hymns at high volume to hear the deep reverberation. Disappointed by the weather and short distance today but very pleased with the accommodation. Probably the right decision.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 38 - Mortara to Gropello Cairoli

A mixture of a day. I slept very well despite heavy rain overnight. It had stopped by 7.30am as I left the abbey. More rice, more maize, more insects, no hills. Heavy cloud cover always threatening rain but only producing a couple of light showers. A friendly welcome in Tromello from a gentleman on a bike inscribed "Via Francigena" who took our credencials and cycled off to return a few minutes later with them stamped and also presented us with a neat little Testimonium and a lapel badge. A performance done three times as 3 pilgrims arrived several minutes apart.

The plan to walk to Pavia fell apart near Garlasco when I lost the trail again. Badly this time. With 100% cloud I had no sun for reference. I lost my compass a couple of weeks ago and today I discovered - far too late - that my mobile phone compass is displaying 180 degrees out: so it says North when pointing south. I estimate it took 7km at least to return to the point I'd gone wrong. Not happy. Anyone within earshot would have understood that, although some of my language would not appear in most school textbooks. So I abandoned the plan to reach Pavia and stopped in the small town of Gropello Cairoli which has a comfortable ostello and a surprisingly large number of bars.

One odd moment this morning: Tatiana apologized very politely then slapped me on the face. I was a little puzzled until I realized that she had just removed a large vampire insect from my cheek! I will be glad to get into drier and less insect infested country.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 39 - Gropello Cairoli to Santa Cristina

It rained several times during the night and the ground was wet when I left the ostello. It soon turned out to be a warm morning and the two elements combined to produce a rich crop of biting insects. Despite dousing myself with repellent I seem to be irresistible. The problem only became worse as the route left the rice fields and instead ran through woodland next to the Ticino river for the final 7km or so into Pavia. There were moments of irritation so intense I think I lost all sense of proportion. If it was in my power I would have drained the entire north Italian plain from Genoa to the Adriatic and covered the entire countryside in concrete. Perhaps an overreaction. In any event I was grateful to find that almost all my walk from Pavia to Santa Cristina was on tarmac and at a safe distance from the pestilential rice paddies. Unfortunately I think there will be more swamp to come. For the moment I am glad to have reached country with a few modest slopes.

Near the end of the afternoon my right foot began to hurt quite badly. No obvious injury and no noticeable swelling. I bandaged it and took some paracetamol and carried on for 7km or so. I'm hoping that rest, paracetamol and ibuprofen will improve matters overnight.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 40 - Santa Cristina to Piacenza

I slept surprisingly well. No pain in the foot until I got up in the morning. Bearing weight is clearly an issue. I decided to bandage it again and then remove the bandage during the day to see which was better. Turns out to be better without. I was impressed at the number of small shops open in the village before 8am. So I could replace the insect repellent I lost somewhere yesterday. Then it was a gentle lopsided plod towards a pleasant light lunch in Corte Sant'Andrea. I had not pre-booked the ferry across the Po and was not surprised to find it was not running, even in holiday season. So I took the longer route along the north bank to Piacenza.

In retrospect it would have been better to try for an early halt at the ostello in Senna Lodigiana. The only accommodation close to the northern route. I arrived in Piacenza around 7.30pm. The large ostello was almost an hour's walk further south. It was closed for holidays. Ironically it reopens tomorrow. Piacenza seems an upmarket city and I passed no obvious cheap alternatives on my way south. Too late to leave the city and camp. So I am spending the night in an expensive hotel. I will try for a shorter day tomorrow.

Last night my friend Andy asked me how much further and how many more days to Rome. I had to say that I have no idea. I have deliberately not kept a running total of distances walked or remaining. It is such a long journey from Canterbury to Rome that even a long day like today or yesterday - both probably a little under 50km - barely registers as progress when compared to the total. Far too depressing to focus on how little you have covered and how far left to go!
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 41- Piacenza to Fiorenzuola d'Arda

A hot dusty thirsty day. I made the most of my luxurious hotel bed and lavish breakfast before setting off about 8.30am. It seemed to take hours (actually 2) to cross southern Piacenza to rejoin the VF then reach Montane where the route leaves the main road. A notice said the waymarked VF was closed and to follow signs along the main road. There were no signs. Signposting today generally has been poor. Using the strip-map printout I found a way around. Today's farming interest was a large number of tomato fields with harvesting in progress. Trailers loaded with tonnes of red fruit. No public water taps that I could see but a bar and a farm vegetable shop kindly refilled my bottles. It was badly needed. After last night's accommodation trouble it was a relief to have a warm calm welcome here. Sharing my room with a man of similar age from Lausanne.

My right foot is a worry. This morning it was painful for about an hour then gave very little trouble. It was bandaged for most of the day. This evening it is visibly swollen and unpleasant to walk on. I have taken ibuprofen and will see what a night's rest does.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 42 - Fiorenzuola d'Arda to Cabriolo

A shorter and easier day than yesterday, though more complicated than I'd hoped. Like yesterday my right foot was painful to begin with, settling down to merely grumbling after an hour or so. I think it may be a very small stress fracture. Having walked over 100km with the problem I decided to keep going but try for a few shorter days. So the plan was to stop in Fidenza - about 23km. An easier walk than yesterday: more water, more bars, more shade, better signs. I made good progress and arrived a little after 2pm. Some food and drink then off to the Capuchin friary on my accommodation list. Where I learned they had not accepted pilgrims for over a year. I declined the suggestion of going to ask at the tourist office in town. I hate back-tracking. So I set off for the next option: the parocchia in the tiny hamlet of Cabriolo. No one at home but water and an accessible toilet behind the house, and a playing field where I could pitch my tent. A pretty fair campsite. A young man on a scooter told me the priest Don Marek was on holiday in the mountains. So I pitched my tent close to the house. Less than an hour later Don Marek returned from holiday and rightly assumed I'd prefer his home comforts to my tent. He kindly pointed me to a bed, shower, toilet and kitchen then graciously left me to enjoy them in peace while he caught up with work. So a very satisfactory end to a slightly frustrating day.

The wildlife highlights of the day were reptiles: rescuing a tiny lizard trapped in the parocchia's deep outdoor sink, watching a pencil-sized snake pass only inches from my feet on a concrete bridge, and most dramatically almost stepping on a very large grass snake outside the parocchia and watching it vanish into the bushes at very high speed.

PS: I was very pleased to discover that the little church here in Cabriolo - closed for building work at the moment - is San Tomasso Becket
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 43 - Cabriolo to Fornovo di Taro

A glorious day. From the start I was going up and down hills: something I've missed since Ivrea. Long ridges and deep green valleys, with higher hills grey in haze further off. Beautiful country. For once I arrived in town to find a restaurant serving lunch. So a pleasant hour spent in Medesano. By the time I set off for Fornovo it was uncomfortably hot (33C) but some kind people have placed roofed benches at a couple of places along the way so I could rest in shade and drink plenty of water. I arrived in Fornovo about 5pm and found the parish ostello very quickly. I am sharing with one other pilgrim, a young Spanish woman also walking from Canterbury who began in June.

Tomorrow I begin the climb up to Cassio and the Passo della Cisa. No doubt that the rice swamps are long gone! Looking forward to it eagerly.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 44 - Fornovo to Cassio

It was a sharp climb of about 200m out of Fornovo this morning - only to drop the same height into the next valley. That set the tone for a day mostly spent gradually and sweatily climbing up to 800m, but with a few steep descents to keep things interesting. Beautiful mountains and valleys. An almost traffic-free road until Terenzo then a long off-road section of steep rocky tracks in very welcome shade. Nearing Cassio I passed a chain-link fence hung with crosses made of sticks - an idea probably borrowed from the Santiago airport fence.

At Cassio I stopped for lunch at a restaurant opposite the ostello. A mistake: overpriced, uninspired and ludicrously slow. My body assumed the day's walk was over and stiffened up. Very difficult to get going again. I decided to try for a bed in the ostello which proved to be very pleasant and with a welcoming hospitalero. A very good feature is a huge stock of food and drink and free use of the kitchen - take whatever you want and leave a donation. So I and the other two pilgrims watched the sunset from the garden, ate, drank and talked. A good evening.

A special mention for Sivizzano - a small village really trying to welcome pilgrims. An ostello. A bar open on this Sunday morning. Information boards in Italian and English. Best of all was a hand-written sign in Italian and English on a garden gate: "Welcome pilgrims! Come in and rest. Drink from our fountain. Pitch your tent on the grass." Simple practical hospitality.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 45 - Cassio to Passo della Cisa

A short day. Partly to rest my injured foot and partly because I knew there was little other accommodation for another 20+ km beyond. A fellow pilgrim in Cassio turned out to be a pharmacist with a personal supply of ketoprofene - a more powerful relative of ibuprofen. She kindly gave me 3 day's worth. I was prescribed it for a back injury some time ago and know it is very effective. Sadly I had just taken ibuprofen and couldn't use it immediately. My foot was very painful for the first hour walking: probably in response to the previous day's rough tracks. So I decided to walk mainly on the main road with only a few off-road sections.

Francesca and I arrived in Berceto together. We had coffee then I tried to visit the ancient church only to find a requiem mass in progress. So back on the road for a gentle stroll and early halt at the Ostello Via Francigena, close to the pass. A friendly place with pet geese and a remarkably tame pet chicken! The early halt was very useful: time for laundry, some reading and a long nap. Followed by an excellent home-cooked meal which did feature chicken but not our ginger friend who really adds character to the place :)
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 46 - Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli

A long slow but satisfying day. I left the ostello at about 7.30am and crossed into Tuscany about 8. My right foot felt good and I decided to take the forest paths rather than the road to Pontremoli. Mostly descents on sharp rocky paths. I went very slowly and cautiously to protect my foot. In doing so my balance was shifted awkwardly and I now have a little lower back pain which I hope will settle overnight. The scenery was beautiful, with the highlight being a short section of high mountain ridge with wooded hills and valleys all around. Stunning.

I arrived in Pontremoli in late afternoon and started looking for the Ostello Castello del Piagnaro - assuming it was named after the huge medieval fortress that dominates the town. Wrong. I am now in bed on the top floor of the second-highest tower, with a panoramic view of the town and surrounding hills. The pleasant lady at the ticket office handed me four keys, showed me to my room, showed me how to enter and leave after closing time, and told me where to deposit the key in the morning. I think I am the only person here tonight. An entire immaculately restored Tuscan castle with all mod cons to myself for 11 euro. Where would you find a better deal?

Near Groppoli I had to ford a stream next to the remains of a very new cable and plank bridge. The concrete anchor pad on the far bank had fallen into the stream, turning as it fell. A smart modern footbridge turned into a sad corkscrew of wood and stainless steel. Must be an expensive embarrassment for its builders.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 47 - Pontremoli to Aulla

I absent-mindedly switched off my phone and therefore my alarm last night. It didn't matter. A thunderstorm just before 7am worked just as well but far more dramatically. The rain had stopped by the time I left the castle, limping heavily with back pain. It left the morning very cool and pleasant fot walking. Fortunately today's route was fairly easy: mostly woodland, gentle slopes and fair surfaces. Small villages along the way were interesting and the woods were surprisingly busy with people foraging for mushrooms - a task for the knowledgeable and cautious. The only town along the way supplied the two things I wanted: lunch and a pharmacy. There I bought Codamol: a mixture of paracetamol and codeine. Certainly eased the back pain for several hours.

I arrived at the abbazia ostello to find two familiar faces - Swiss and Spanish - from earlier days. The usual routine of shower, washing clothes, short rest then out for an evening meal. Too tired and too sore for much else. Tomorrow I have the option of stopping at about 20km or 33km (very similar to today). In either case the day starts with a steep 400m ascent and descent. I will decide when I find out how the first 20km goes.
 

Andrea si

New Member
11 € for a night in a castle. Nice. How much are you spending on the average for a bed or room in Italy?
 

Bradypus

Active Member
I have been staying mostly in church or volunteer-run ostellos. Most ask for donations and I usually leave 10 euro. Two churches have had a fixed charge of 5 euro. Two private ostellos had fixed charges of 16 euro. I have only had to stay in a hotel room once, in difficult circumstances, and paid 77 euro. It was very good though.
 

Bradypus

Active Member
Day 48 - Aulla to Sarzana

The shortest day of my walk if you judge by distance covered. About 16km. Quite strenuous with steep slopes and rough trails. The climb began immediately on leaving Aulla. 400m of ascent through mixed woodland - mostly chestnut trees. Early on the trail passed Bibola where the houses were encrusted like limpets around the ruins of a castle on the summit of a conical hill. An image straight out of a medieval painting. Ranges of far higher and more dangerous looking mountains in the distance. Just above Ponzano Superiore I had my first glimpse of the Mediterranean. An important psychological moment.

My right foot and back gave little trouble on the hills. It was slow going this morning in any case and after 1pm as I reached Sarzana - a pleasant town. My decision to either stay here or walk a further 17km to Avenza was made easier by some short but painful jabs of pain from my back. An excellent lunch, a long nap, and good pizza in the evening. I will probably have another short day tomorrow and stop in Avenza. Quite level paths most of the way and only 2km from the beach. I do love to be beside the seaside.
 
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