Listening to the Echoes of St. Francis in Poggio Bustone

Rest day, May 22, 2013 — Poggio Bustone
20130522-123012.jpgThe panoramic view from our room as we awoke, window closed

20130522-123107.jpgThe panoramic view an hour later, window open

As I write this post I’m sitting in the shade next to a statue, overlooking the Church of St James above Poggio. It was here and at the cave above that Francis of Assisi would begin to gather the spiritual strength and vision that would propel him from Spain to Jerusalem and many places between, and that would begin his order of brothers and his message of simplicity and trust.

The day began with a cloudy walk to breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. Poggio Bustone sits midway up a tall peak and seems often to be obscured by the clouds that enfold the mountain.

After breakfast we climbed up to the Convento San Giacomo, where Francis had experienced a genuine sense of forgiveness from God and joy in life. A Methodist would say “his heart was strangely warmed.” It was a key moment in his development and there are small portions of the cloisters that contain parts of the church Francis would have seen and perhaps touched.

As we were walking out of the church we met a Sikh yogi, Capt. Brij Paul Singh of India (formerly a police officer in London at Scotland Yard) and his two Italian guides. Capt. Singh is a gracious man, a disciple of Ravi Shankar, who teaches yoga breathing all around the world.

After our pleasant visit the others in our group headed up to the cave above the church while I waited at the viewpoint below to write, meditate and pray while enjoying the warmth of the sun and the gentle singing of birds.

20130522-160902.jpgFrom left: Andreas, Sebastian, Jacqueline, me

At this point, about halfway through this pilgrimage, I’m starting to feel strong, relaxed and joyful. I’ve started to discover once again this part of me that wants to talk to everyone, to hear their story and to share our joy together. This feature has been noticed by the others in our group. In fact, we’ve assigned ourselves specific roles in our walk.

*Jacqueline — maker of plans and keeper schedules
*Sebastian — cutter of things (mostly fruit and cheese)
*Andreas — singer of songs (often “Liturgical, post-Rock” but sometimes hymns or Hobbit or dwarf songs of Middle Earth) sung in a tenor voice with Swedish/Finnish accent,
*Sandy — Talker of words

I’m sure the words come easily because of the friendliness and openness of these Italians. But I know too that walking in nature for days fills my soul with the fullness that comes only from solitude, and that fullness spills out when I meet others.

So, I’ve learned to speak my version of Italian — it’s Spanish, only louder — and people seem ok in their understanding of it. I’ve become the one who asks directions or prices or times and I feel myself reaching toward a grandmother or a farmer or a tight-jeaned motorcyclist with a smile brimming over with joy.

I know too that being the talker of words comes from my informal role as Dad of this little group. Sebastian is a responsible fireman from Bonn, but he’s still young, just 32. Jacqueline is a youthful 34, and Andreas is just 23. My 55 years gives me senior status and usually the youngsters defer to me in negotiations with the locals.

But I know my heart is full, too, because of the spirit of this place. Francis walked these hills and prayed at these churches and found God among these people and these birds under this beautiful sun. His spirit persists like the echoes of a song, a simple song of joy and love beyond words, ringing quietly in these mountains upward toward heaven, the stars and God. I want to sing his song with my life and live always in that simple, trusting place of warmth and grace and love.

20130522-152429.jpgA plaque at the top of yesterday’s climb — the prayer of St Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”

Lost and Found on the Via San Francesco

May 21,2013 — Piediluco to Poggio Bustone

Last night’s dinner was over-the-top delicious and plentiful, which led us to wonder how much we would owe for the privilege of enjoying it. We’d made a bargain with the hotel/restaurant proprietor yesterday to rent a room, then later agreed to have dinner too, but we realized we’d asked the price for the room but not the dinner. This morning when we headed to reception to settle the bill we learned our per-person total was 70 euros for the rooms, dinner, breakfast wine and snacks in the afternoon, plus a big bottle of water for the road. Not a bad price really, but we realized we should be more careful in the future to get the whole price before confirming.

As we walked outside we were greeted by a cool, dry day with high clouds. We crossed our fingers, hoping the clouds would keep their moisture to themselves so we would have a dry climb up the anticipated 2100 ft (700 meter) elevation gain to Poggio Bustone, an important St. Francis site in the Rieti valley, just across the mountains standing before us.

20130521-210131.jpg“See the town on the mountain up ahead?” “Yes.” “Good. We are climbing there.”
As we turned out of Piediluco, passing the Italian National Crew (rowing) headquarters, we noticed a hill town high up ahead and wondered if it was Labro, our intermediate stop for the day.

Before long something important became obvious: the waymarks were becoming fewer and less noticeable. We had relied on a blue and yellow stripe combination since the very start, but now the blue was gone and an occasional, halfhearted yellow stripe haphazardly appeared. Our theory was that we’d just left the region of Umbria and now were in the region of Lazio, whose waymark caretakers aren’t as diligent as their Umbrian peers. The lack of good waymarks would become important as the day continued.

In spite of the infrequent trail markings we managed to make our way up a gravel road to Labro, about one quarter of today’s elevation gain. Labro is a typically quaint and gorgeous Italian hill town, with centuries-old tile roofed houses stacked atop each other, all of them clinging to steep hillsides and separated by cobbled streets.

Somehow we missed the “centro storico” (old city) with its crenelated walls and ended up walking on a road at mid-city height that spit us out without coffee or croissants at the police station on the edge of town. It was only 10:30 anyway, so we kept climbing up the asphalt road, then turned onto a gravel road next to a cow pasture with two classic, tiny Fiats rusting under a tree. “I want that one,” said a wise Andreas who recognized them as stylish, urban collectors’ items — anywhere but in Italy.

We followed the road as it snaked uphill several kilometers while it started to rain, then arrived at the little town of Morro Reatino, which was blessed with an open cafe. Though at 11:30 we were very ready for pizza we settled for coffee and croissants since pizza would not be served until noon.

During our snack we studied our Lazio guide booklet, which indicated the direction to Poggio Bustone. Less hungry now, we faithfully followed yhe scarce marking and vague guidebook directions in the cold rain. Higher and higher we walked until we reached the top of our climb where we were presented with a confusing intersection.

In one direction was a sign for Faggio Bustone, the “beech tree of St. Francis” where tradition says he prayed and performed a miracle. In another direction were the yellow waymarks, seemingly pointing to Poggio Bustone, our goal for the day, but oddly north of the road we’d taken up — the opposite direction of Poggio. Our map suggested another possibility, that we go to the miraculous beech tree and walk past it to Poggio. The final option was presented by a shepherd, sitting in his old, white Rabbit pickup, who pointed vaguely at the road we’d just come up as the road to Poggio.

20130521-210340.jpgTiny chapel at the Beech Tree of St. Francis
After a discussion of several minutes we opted to follow the map. During an hour of uphill climbing we met several handsome tan colored horses, a half dozen white cows, and two Swiss hikers — coming toward us, in their words: “in the direction of Poggio Bustone.” We now realized we were lost. We tried our cell phones to see if we could find our location on a suitable map. No signal.

By now it was 2:30 and I started to do a calculation in my mind of a) the amount of daylight left, b) the amount of food we had with us, and c) the downward direction of the temperatures.

We stopped to discuss where to go. Straight ahead would take us north. Going back would cost us another hour of time. Finally we opted to head back to the Beech Tree, where we’d seen our last waymark.

Fifty minutes later we were back at the Beech Tree chapel, where our Swiss friends were taking their lunch. While the others in our party shared the little bits of cheese, crumbled bread sticks and cherry tomatoes we had left, I walked down across a large meadow and found a new set of waymarks –red and white stripes — one of which had two welcome words written on it in black marker: “Poggio Bustone.”

We briefly headed back to the confusing intersection, which we still couldn’t sort out, then finally opted to follow the red/white striped waymarks I’d scouted back near the chapel. These waymarks, it turned out, were meticulously painted, leaving no doubts about our direction. Following the markings we picked our way down a steep, slippery trail to a dirt road below. Our direction clearly was now southerly and carefully following the markings we found ourselves after two hours on the outskirts of the scenic town of Poggio Bustone (applause!).

20130521-210443.jpgOur view to below after climbing 2100 ft (700 meters)

None of us were ever scared in the slightest that we might have to overnight in the cold, wet mountains of Lazio, but we all knew we could begin to see the limits of our stamina and the potential dangers ahead. The red/white markers were a huge relief and the kilometers melted away under our tired feet.

As we walked down the gravel road to Poggio Bustone we were startled by a large, white cow who charged out of the bushes ahead of us. We noticed her udder was dry and that she was quite alone in this very remote stretch of mountain territory. Since we’d walked throughout the valley we knew quite well that the nearest herd was at least 2-3 kilometers away, and we felt for her as our presence on the isolated road inadvertently nudged her farther and farther down the valley. Later, as we entered Poggio we saw an old, bleached cow skull and thought about life and death in the remote mountains and about the lone cow somewhere in the hills without her herd.
20130522-092734.jpgIn Sebastian’s words, “In a couple more wrong turns we would have looked like this.”

We’d made a reservation at La Locanda Francescanna in Poggio and were surprised to be greeted by its proprietor as we made our way into town. He’d driven to the end of the road, where the path spills out on the north side of town, perhaps to check up on our well being. It was 5:30, a few hours more than a normal walk should take from Piediluco, and we were late to receive his hospitality.

His employee greeted us kindly at the hotel’s reception desk, then we rested and showered before enjoying an ample dinner at the hotel’s restaurant a few blocks away from the hotel itself. OK, yes. We did get lost getting to the restaurant. But we’re used to that by now!

Package price for overnight, dinner and breakfast? A prearranged 45 euros. We’d learned our lesson about pre-negotiating our price, as I think we also learned not to be caught under-prepared for a hike in the cool, wet mountains of Lazio.

Short and Beautiful Walk Leads to Happy Reunion

May 20, 2013 — Arrone to Piediluco

20130520-153439.jpgViews toward Arrone as we left town after breakfast and shopping

Our morning started with a breakfast of coffee and “biscotti,” which sounds promising to an American used to the Starbucks variety of biscotti, but which in Italy seems to mean a sugary pastry preserved forever in a plastic Twinkie® bag. Still, smothered in jam or Nutella these biscotti give ample, sweet calories for a day’s walk. We lingered over breakfast, then lingered some more after breakfast, to give ample time for our clothes to dry in the morning sun.

After buying apples, checking my weight at a crowded pharmacy (down 3 pounds), buying toothpaste, and clarifying directions with a helpful member of the local polizia we left Arrone under partly cloudy skies, in shirtsleeve temps on a level track through the valley behind the town.

20130520-153535.jpgOne of the many fisherman along the accompanying river out of Arrone

By the topographical chart we knew we had level ground as far as the Marmare Waterfall, but at that point we’d climb about 400 feet to the Marmare viewpoint. We were excited about seeing a beautiful waterfall, even if it meant a steep climb to get to the top.

The climb ended up being quite steep — like a stairway without the steps. Sebastian led the way up, up and up to the large park above the falls that includes a museum, food kiosks, ballfields and a campground. The steep climb had prepared us for a bite of lunch, which we took at one of the kiosks near the ticket office. We asked about the cost of tickets and learned they would go on sale “when they turn on the waterfall.” Seems the beautiful falls do double duty as a power generator and part of the day the water is diverted to make electricity for nearby towns.

Rather than wait a couple of hours for the waterworks we headed on toward our goal of Piediluco which was just 7k ahead. About two-thirds of this track was on tranquil, gravel road next to a wide canal, but unfortunately the other one-third was on the edge of a busy two-lane highway. So we made our way into Piediluco alternately in either sun-splashed bliss or barely controlled terror.

20130520-153622.jpgStepping off the path to watch a visiting painter

By 3:00 we were in the lakeside town and a kind man directed us to the only open hotel in town, a renovated monastery above the famous Church of San Francesco from the 13th century. We settled into our room, showered and headed to the terrace, just above the church’s tile roof, to write in our blogs and diaries. As we wrote we were charmed by various local cats and by the hotel owner, too, who brought us bread, cheese and a couple of tiny pizza slices for a snack.

Even though we’d seen some beautiful scenery, the big event of the day was the arrival of our 2011 camino friend, Andreas of Finland. We long ago knew he’d be able to join us starting on May 20, but it wasn’t clear until a couple of days ago that our rendezvous would be here in Piediluco.

20130520-182133.jpgFisherman among the boats at Lake Piediluco, a place also popular with Italy’s competitive rowing teams

Andreas is much-loved in our 2011 pilgrim family. I appreciated especially his jokes, skits, and comedy sketches. He’s a faithful Lutheran and a student of theology and journalism.

Tomorrow we head into “real” St. Francis territory as we cross from Umbria into Lazio and overnight at Poggio Bostone, a place closely associated with St. Francis’ life and spiritual development.

20130520-215140.jpgFrim left: me, Sevastian, our host restaurateur/hotelier, Jacqueline, and new arrival Andreas

Pentecost, with 250 Well-Dressed Italians

May 19, 2013 — Ceselli to Arrone

Today ended up being about clothes — clean pilgrim utilitarian, dirty pilgrim utilitarian, and fancy Italian festival.

After we awoke in our Ceselli “agritourismo” (rural guest house) our first task was to check whether our hand-washed clothes had dried overnight. No luck, they were still damp. We’d managed to wash a load of laundry back in Spello, but by now all 2-3 changes of all our clothes were dirty. Our hopes for a washer and dryer at Ceselli were quashed by our host, who told us (standing in his immaculate outfit) that the nearest laundromat is in Trevi, 20 miles away. So we’d washed a few things and set them out to dry overnight, hoping for better luck at tonight’s lodging in Arrone.

Even as we checked our clothes we noticed it was raining outside, so we put off our departure until 9:45, when the rain had let up a bit.
20130519-191433.jpgDeparting under cloudy skies

We knew today’s track would be quite flat, so we began our walk in good spirits, in spite of the fact we were each wearing dirty clothes. The path followed a quiet gravel road alongside the river all morning,

Along the way we met our first fellow pilgrim in two days — Johann of Holland. He is a well-traveled, older man, walking from somewhere before Assisi, like us to Rome. We said goodbye when the sun became too warm for our raingear and we had to stop for a change of clothes mid-path.

We enjoyed a quick coffee at 11:00 at a small cafe staffed by three older women and then an elegant luncheon (with cloth napkins) at 12:30 in Ferentillo.

20130519-191946.jpgA plate of gnocchi and mozzarella with pomodoro at Ferentillo

20130519-192456.jpgFerentillo and castle above

I asked our lunch host if the twin ruins opposite each other on the high walls of the gorge were churches or castles. “Castles,” he answered in Italian. “One on each side so people walking through would have to pay taxes.”

As we continued our walk, we came across two Italian pilgrims walking toward us, older women who’d already been to Rome. The phone of the one wearing a parka rang just then and, busy with the distraction they left in a chorus of “Ciao!” and “Arrivederci!” In about 250 meters we found a new women’s North Face baseball cap lying in the path and were certain it belonged to the Italian women, who by now were too far away for us to find easily. So, Jacqueline now has a nice, new hat — a pilgrim blessing.

20130519-214312.jpgPoppies basking in the sun

The valley broadened out as we walked and it was clear the mountains on either side were receding. We knew we would soon be in Arrone, our goal for tonight. We arrived at the upper piazza, where we were directed to an agritourismo below. At the reception desk we were offered a huge, three bedroom, two bath suite for 27 Euros each — the “pilgrim price.” We quickly accepted, then asked the day’s important question: do you have a washing machine? To our delight, the answer was “Yes!” (emphasis mine).

We’d noticed the posting for a Pentecost Sunday evening service at the church in the upper city, so our next question was, “Which dirty clothes shall we wear to church while our other clothes are being washed?” We chose various odd pieces, with and without underwear, and headed to services.

Under the 15th century frescoes of this smallish church were 250 well-dressed Italians enjoying confirmation, with the local bishop presiding in his finest regalia. Several of the men were dressed in the finest Armani. Most women were dressed, made-up and coiffed to kill. Even the kids were scrubbed clean and fitted out in the newest fashions their proud parents could afford.

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We in our grimy gear had only the solace of knowing that, like St. Francis whom we were following, we were living a simple life of patience and humility.

Sadly, we learned after our dinner of pizza and profiteroles that the spin cycle of the agritourismo’s washer wasn’t working just right, and our clothes came out of the early evening wash quite wet. Will they be dry in the morning? Let’s hope.

20130519-220044.jpgPilgrim pizza in dirty clothes near a church full of clean and well dressed Italians

This Can’t be Italy

May 18, 2013 — Spoleto to Ceselli

Our room for the night in Spoleto had three beds — two singles and one double — and somehow I managed to score the double! That meant a luxurious night in a bed which was not only big, but comfortable. I slept well.

We awoke at 6:30 to discover the water was back on, so it was showers all around, followed by a breakfast of brioches (croissants) and Nutella, which seems delightfully omnipresent. By 8:30 we were out the door, then off to the ATM for cash, then up to the top of town to find the waymarks for our route.

At the sunny Duoma Piazza we discovered the road blocked due to more filming of the Terence Hill show. Next to the policeman who told us to find another way to our goal was our friend Daniele, with Atan. He was eagerly awaiting Terence Hill’s arrival so he could get an autograph, and it was great to share a final “arrivaderci!”

Our detour led us handily to the necessary waymarks and we were soon climbing east of the piazza toward the castle above. The castle sits on a circular mountain above the city and we walked around its base to the side opposite the city, where we discovered an enormous stone bridge that stretched across the canyon to the next mountain. Our waymarks directed us across the bridge and we made the most of the acrobatic walk, snapping photos of the wooded mountains and distant valleys.

At the end of the bridge the signs directed us to a steep, gravel path that switched back and forth up the mountain, climbing 300 meters (900 ft) in two kilometers (1.4 miles) through thick forest to the tiny settlement of Monteluco. Here we found a hotel with an outdoor bar, where we enjoyed an orange juice and rest, well-earned after our tiring climb.

As we paid the bill, Sebastian pointed out an old motorcycle sitting across from the bar. “Come,” the bartender said, and he led us back to his shop/showroom full of restored and nearly-restored Italian bikes. We recognized Moto Guzzi, Vespa, Piaggio, and many others. After admiring his motorcycles and thanking him for the tour we headed along the path and discovered a small, medieval Franciscan monastery from the year 1218. We toured the tiny monks’ cells, met a young friar, and asked him to stamp our pilgrim credentials, a task to which he cheerfully obliged.

We headed again to the trail, knowing we were only part way through with today’s ascent. After first missing our marker near a field below the monastery we rejoined the gravel path up the mountain. By noon we reached the summit of our climb, Valico Castel del Monte, nearly 500 meters (1500 ft) and just 7 km (4.5 miles) from our starting point in Spoleto. As we shared a lunch of bread sticks, tomatoes, cherries and cheese looking down on a view of green mountains and rich valleys we congratulated ourselves on how quickly our legs were at pilgrim strength, allowing us a big climb in good time with little pain or weariness. After four days we felt ready to climb anything.

For today’s hike it was all downhill from here. We walked down and down, by vast vistas of mountains and valleys, through the ghost village of Sensati, then past a cemetery and the tiny town of Nevi. Finally at about 3:30 we reached Ceselli and were waved into the town’s single hotel, “Il Ruscello,” by it’s proprietor. Famished as we were by now we accepted his offer to take us to Schreggino, where we had beer and ice cream for snacks and bought pasta for dinner. Arriving back in Ceselli we had showers, did laundry, then cooked our dinner, which we enjoyed over a bottle of the local vintage.

Most surprising of the day was the realization that the miles of green mountains we’d enjoyed were Italy. I’d always thought Italy was made up of dry grass, barren hills and lone cypress trees pointing to the sky. Turns out this part of Italy could just as easily be the hills of North Carolina or France or Wisconsin. Today was a beautiful experience in joy and beauty in a warm, green place with dear friends. A day that began in an annoying detour ended in a gracious meal of pasta and wine and loving conversation.

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Who in the World is Terence Hill?

Goodbye to Trevi

Goodbye to Trevi

May 17, 2013 — Trevi to Spoleto

“What do you do when it rains?” asked the skeptical American tourist, seated across from us at breakfast this morning at our hotel in Trevi. “We have rain gear!” we replied cheerfully. As we left the hotel an hour later, the same American waved to us from the dry comfort of his rental car as he passed by with his wipers busily clearing rain from his windshield.

The weather reports had predicted rain for today, and they nailed it. It came on and off for the first hour of our walk — once again through olive groves — then it came with a windy fury after a couple of hours. Within seconds of the worst deluge we were discovering the limits of our rain gear. I had started the day with just my rain jacket, but during the hardest downpour we found a garage and ducked in so I could put on my long pants (to keep rain out of my boots), my long sleeved T-shirt, and my down sweater for beneath my dripping rain jacket.

The torrent continued as the trail led us down to the valley floor, and after a left turn onto the highway we found a bar where we took off our wet gear and warmed ourselves with coffee and hot croissants. Soon we were joined by our four French friends we’d met in Assisi, and also a quiet Italian couple we’d seen several times along the way. All of us took refuge on the covered patio as we waited for the rain to subside.

After about an hour the rain slackened and we all headed out, just a little drier than before. We walked along the highway, then turned right onto a quiet, paved track alongside an irrigation ditch. Here we met one of the most interesting characters from any of my caminos, Daniele Marini of Italy, and his dog Atan.

Daniele and Aran, pilgrims to the world

Daniele and Aran, pilgrims to the world

Daniele is a tiny 25-year old with a quick and warm smile who’s off on a 10-12 year walk around the world. He’s already walked from his home to Rome, Barcelona, Santiago and other places. He’s now heading to Rome, then is off to Sardinia, France, Germany, then Asia and Africa, followed by North and South America. He subsists solely on the generous offerings of strangers and the occasional odd job as a bartender or laborer. Today he is heading to Spoleto because Terrence Hill is there filming a TV show.

When he told me this, my first question was, “Who in the world is Terence Hill?” Daniele and Sebastian were shocked that I didn’t know this famous European movie star. I quickly consulted Wikipedia and discovered that I have not seen a single movie in the Terence Hill filmography, not even Miami Supercops or I Quatro del Ave Maria or Nobody Hits like Don Camillo with his sidekick Bud Spencer. Apparently I know nothing about movies. 😉 When I return to the US I’ll begin a raid of the Netflix archives to find out what all the fuss is about.

Engrossed in conversation with Daniele and seeing no waymarks for awhile we started to get nervous about directions to Spoleto. Since the rain had stopped and the town was clearly visible on the hillside ahead we shifted to the highway which went in that direction and in an hour or two were having lunch (our treat) with Daniele and Atan at a nice outdoor lunch spot in Spoleto.

We walked up to the Duomo at the top of town, where Daniele had heard Terence Hill would be filming. As we arrived we passed films crews staked out all over the Duomo Piazza and Daniele pointed out a blue movie star’s chair emblazoned with the name, “Terence Hill.” Since our goal was the Duomo, not the movie star, we said a fond farewell to Daniele and headed into the beautiful church.

Just as Jacqueline and I were finishing our tour of the cathedral, Sebastian rushed through the front door and said, “We have to leave now! The film crews are clearing the Piazza!” Sure enough, we were instructed to leave right away, and as we walked off the piazza we noticed an older man in a black priest’s cassock wearing a black baseball cap. “That’s him!” said Sebastian. “That’s Terence Hill!” I took a quick photo of the back of his head as stage hands instructed me in Italian, “No fotos!” and as we turned the corner off the piazza I noticed Daniele and his dog, discretely situated across the piazza, out of view of the cameras.

Finished with our brush with fame we headed to a hotel we’d passed along the way and were shown to a nice room with three beds, our home for the night. Jacqueline and Sebastian, full of energy, headed out for sightseeing while I snoozed for a couple of hours under the warm covers of my bed.

Sebastian awakened me at 7:30 for dinner and we made our way down to the hotel dining room. After ordering, we noticed the hotel owner seating a wiry young Italian man — Daniele! He joined us at our table and told us about how a nice woman in the Duomo Piazza had inquired about his dog and he’d told her he had no place to sleep for the night. “Come and stay in my hotel,” she said. So now we know how Daniele will make his way around the world — on the kindness of strangers, his friendly smile, and people’s love of dogs.

We voted Jacqueline to be first in the shower, but she immediately noticed there was no water coming from the tap. Checking with the desk, we learned that all human and canine guests will have to wait until the morning for the hotel’s main water line to be fixed. So while this entertaining day included the occasional mendicant hiker and Italian movie star, tonight there would be no showers or washing of clothes for our little pilgrim fellowship.

Ancient Villas, Australians, and Belgian Yoga Ladies

Town Hall at Foligno

Town Hall at Foligno

May 15, 2013 — Spello to Trevi

After covering 20 km in six and a half hours here we are, enjoying a cheese and beer snack in our four star hotel in the beautiful hill town of Trevi.

The day started with a breakfast of croissants and Nutella in the dining room of our Spello hotel. We visited in a combination of English and French with two Belgian ladies who were pleasantly surprised by our plan to walk to Rome. They’re scouting out the walk themselves for a future trip. We lingered over coffee since it was raining outside, then said goodbye and began our walk in rain gear down through the cobbled streets of medieval Spello to the busy roads at the valley floor below.

The well-marked path took us along the hillside through olive groves and small farms for several kilometers, then we rejoined the busy streets as we neared the center of Foligno. The rain let up, and we ditched our rain gear to keep cool in the warm air. In this portion of the day’s walk, often there were sidewalks, but sometimes we shared the quieter streets with the tiny Italian cars and mini-trucks.

Thankfully, central Foligno is a pedestrian-only zone and we enjoyed a coffee break in the main square with a view of the beautiful church, the Duomo of Foligno. As we chatted and sipped our coffee a gentleman next to us asked in a soft, Australian accent where we were from. We described our current adventure and past walks and he was surprised at our plan to walk all the way to Rome. Soon he and his wife were describing their adventure — they are here in Italy after a two-month cruise from Australia to Japan to India and on to the Mediterranean. “We’re ready to go home now,” said the man. “Yes,” said his wife, “so we can begin planning our next trip!”

Lovely vista of Trevi

Lovely vista of Trevi

We left central Foligno, to clouds but no rain, then ducked into a tiny pizzeria for a quick slice in order to avoid a sudden shower. The road then took us up into the foothills, once more among the olive trees, for a mostly gentle climb to the outskirts of Trevi. As we walked past a small, freshly mowed meadow, we noticed our two Belgian friends stretched out on the grass in yoga poses. We said, “Bonjour!” but a “Namaste!” might have been better. The ladies waved and shouted with cheerful smiles.

We were a little disappointed that the road once more turned steeply up, our legs are not quite yet recovered from yesterday’s grueling climb and descent. We were rewarded, though, with frequent vistas of the panoramic city of Trevi, our goal for the day.

We stopped at the Tourist Information office in an ancient villa on the outskirts of town and the friendly young woman in her office under 17th century frescoes found us a room with three beds in a four-star hotel for just 60 Euros per night, including breakfast.

That was a bargain too good to pass up, so soon we were settled into our room at the top of a spiral staircase, enjoying a snack of cheese, crackers and beer at our fancy hotel. Ahhhh. The life of a pilgrim!