Here in Assisi, the halfway point of my walk from Florence to Rome, I’ve stopped, relaxed a bit, and had a few moments to take stock of this camino so far. Since I walked last year from Assisi to Rome I’m back in familiar territory. The last weeks, between Florence and Assisi, have been an exploration and discovery. I set out on June 28 and today is July 12, so it’s been about two weeks of tough and beautiful walking.
So here’s what it looks like by the numbers:
If you study the chart closely, you’ll see that I’ve walked 272.9km over thirteen days. That’s an average of 21 km (13 miles) per day. This is about average for me compared to prior caminos. What is different is the aggregate elevation gained and lost. Camino de Santiago regulars are familiar with the Route Napoleon from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, a very tough uphill/downhill day that crosses the Pyrenees with an elevation gain of 1240 meters. Averaged over the 13 days of this camino the elevation gain is a daily 675 meters — about half a Route Napoleon per day. Two of these days almost match the Route Napoleon for elevation gain, and while the Route Napoleon loses only 469 meters by the end of the day the average daily elevation loss on this walk is nearly equal to the elevation gain.
On the bright side, though, there are some great views from the tops of these mountains around here.
A question I’m often asked about this route is — are there low-cost hostels so you can keep costs down? The answer is a qualified “yes.” There are hostels, almost always located around parish churches or monasteries, but you have to call in advance to book a room. In some cases, you have to have the correct credential or you will be turned away (there are three quasi-competing caminos covering much of this territory). Most of the time I have chosen to share a double room in a hotel which has meant that my nightly cost is about €30-35 plus meals.
Italians are famous for their food and you have to examine menus carefully to find inexpensive options. Breakfast is coffee and toast. Lunch is a panino. There’s always a snack in the afternoon. Dinner starts late — 8:00 pm — and can take hours and cost €€€ if you do the whole antipasto, primo, secondo, dolci ritual. People on a budget can turn to the “contorni” page (side dishes) find a mixed salad and then order a pizza or pasta for a main course, usually for around €10 total.
Really the biggest question should be, “Is it worth it?” For me, the answer is unequivocal. Yes. If you’re in fairly good shape, find a part of this walk and do it. If you have a month and can handle it — do it. There are many sections that are very manageable for any average walker, and many of the harder ones can be avoided by taking a bus or train. If you’re not scared of exercise, you will be rewarded if you do the whole thing.
The other day when I was walking around in the cathedral at Gubbio I started to realize how absolutely amazing this walk is. I walked from bay to bay on the left side of the nave and looked up at each individual painting hanging there. Here are masterworks of Virgilio Nucci and others from the 16th century — items any museum in America would be delighted to display. And they are just hanging there, almost ignored in this cathedral set high enough above the city that you really have to want to get there.
The same is true in almost every corner of this territory. Walk into an old church and you won’t be surprised to see a 12th century fresco. This saint or that saint walked over here or over there. Here’s an Etruscan arch from before the Roman era. Here’s an aqueduct from the time of Christ. Or a mosaic. Or a sculpture. Or a tomb. Amazing.
And I, how am I? Health-wise, I’m fine. Tanned, a little lighter than before, a little sore in the feet and legs. Most of all, I’ve walked alone a lot. I’d hoped to walk for a week with Jacqueline, but her extreme knee pain kept her in buses and hotels. Since she joined me at La Verna she had only two walking days. But she was great company at other times during her eight days total on this trip.
In terms of the book project, it’s going fine. I have dozens of pages of transcribed notes from each day’s walk. I’ll need to go back and redo a couple of stages, but I’ve covered the essentials for thirteen of the fourteen walking days. When I’m done with the remaining two weeks’ of materials I’ll hang out in Perugia for a month and gather my notes, work on the text itself, complete a thorough list of accommodations available each day, and then compile it all. I’ll be back in Seattle sometime just after Labor Day, and then will put the project to bed by the December 31 due date.
The walk has felt very much like work — the hard work of muscles, legs and feet. Sweaty. Thirsty. Hungry work. I’m hoping it will be more playful in the days ahead, when Theresa and her sweet spirit are here to greet me every day and to share the walk.
Sometimes from the middle of a project it’s hard to say, “Wow, this is great.” I know when it’s all done, though, I’ll look at this summer as a golden memory, a dream, a fantasy. But in the meantime . . . . tomorrow I walk.