GPX Tracks for the Via di Francesco – Florence to Assisi to Rome.

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It’s now possible to download GPX tracks that cover the exact route of The Way of St. Francis book. Here’s how to do it:

You will need to purchase the book and create a Cicerone Library to collect the GPX files.

  • Go to the http://www.cicerone.co.uk website.
  • Click on “My Account” to log in or register as a Cicerone member
  • Once you’ve become a member, go to “My Library”
  • Click on “Books and Routes.”

If you purchased your book directly from Cicerone it will already appear in your library.

  • Click on the cover image
  • Click “Download GPX files”

If it does not appear then you can add it to your virtual bookshelf.

  • Click on “Add a Book”
  • Type in “The Way of St Francis”
  • Click on the cover image
  • Click “Download GPX files”

Looking back at the Via di San Francesco

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My constant companion — note the reading on the odometer, which records my total kilometers walking since May 20.

Yesterday I walked the last stage of the Via di San Francesco and I’m definitely feeling bittersweet as I hang up my hiking boots for the summer. I’m glad the primary research for my guidebook, The Way of St. Francis, is now complete, but I know I’ll miss Italia. I leave for Seattle in two weeks, saying goodbye to this warm and rich country I’ve come to love.

As I walked each day I held in my right hand the little device on the left — a Garmin Oregon 650 GPS, given me as a farewell gift by the kind folk at First United Methodist Church of Seattle. It tabulated each days’ journey into the total for the whole trip — 845.2km (525 miles). Thanks to the Garmin I was able to record my tracks, so now I have GPX files to share with other pilgrims to help them find their way.

In my left hand was my other companion — my iPhone 4s — which I used for dictation of walking notes. I ended up with 41 separate audio files for something around 16 hours of notes, which I transcribed each evening after I walked. These all were distilled into twenty-nine chapters of walking descriptions for 32,100 words.

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Each writing stage, checked off when written.

Clothing-wise: I brought my favorite pair of hiking boots with me which unfortunately will not make the trip back home. They already had about 400 miles on them and were growing bald with age (like their owner). After I bought it in Vienna I wore my fluorescent yellow running shirt almost every day, along with the North Face hiking shorts I brought with me — the best shorts I’ve ever had (cool, stretchy, quick-dry). I almost never used my rain jacket or black, quilted North Face jacket — just too warm here.

Thanks to the loan of a great Sony camera by Robin Werner I’ve recorded the experience in 2,156 RAW-format photographs. It’s taken all the storage available on my laptop, but some of the pics are pretty good and will form the visual core of the upcoming book.

One of the best parts was walking with two people I enjoy. I walked from Santuario della Verna with Jacqueline Zeindlinger of Austria, part of our 2011 camino family and a big help in various aspects of this project. Then on July 15 I was joined by Theresa Elliot and we had two weeks of fun as we walked from Spoleto to Rome. I’ll never forget Theresa, dangling between the iron bars at the cupola atop St. Peter’s Basilica.

Some have asked for my daily itinerary. I walked 29 separate daily stages, but had to repeat five of them either to find the best route or to create a good GPX track.  Here are the stages of the Way of St. Francis that will be the core of my book:

  • Florence to Pontassieve
  • Pontassieve to Consuma
  • Consuma to Stia
  • Stia to Camaldoli
  • Camaldoli to Badia Prataglia
  • Badia Prataglia to Santuario della Verna
  • Santuario della Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano
  • Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro
  • Sansepolcro to Citerna
  • Citerna to Citta di Castello
  • Citta di Castello to Pietralunga
  • Pietralunga to Gubbio
  • Gubbio to Biscina
  • Biscina to Valfabbrica
  • Valfabbrica to Assisi
  • Assisi to Spello
  • Spello to Trevi
  • Trevi to Spoleto
  • Spoleto to Ceselli
  • Ceselli to Arrone
  • Arrone to Piediluco
  • Piediluco to Poggio Bustone
  • Poggio Bustone to Rieti
  • Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo
  • Poggio San Lorenzo to Ponticelli
  • Ponticelli to Monterotondo
  • Monterotondo to Monte Sacro
  • Monte Sacro to Saint Peter’s in Rome
  • The Seven Pilgrimage Churches of Rome
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Elevation profile of yesterday’s walk — 800m climb.

This was a tough walk. Tougher than the Camino de Santiago. Yesterday was an 800 meter (2600 ft) climb, and most every day of the first six includes climbs like this. Future pilgrims need to know that this is not for the faint hearted.

All told, though, I’ve loved it — every moment of it. This summer I’ve learned some basic Italian, I’m gotten into decent physical shape, I’ve met new and interesting people, I’ve lived in a charming foreign country for a few months, and I researched the basis of a book that I hope will be helpful for pilgrims who follow after me. The best part has been digging into the geography and culture of this amazing country. I love Italy and I know I’ll be back.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll flesh the book out by adding helpful and interesting information about each of the places mentioned in the walking guide. When I get back to Seattle I’ll complete the introduction, sort my photos, draw my maps and then, by December 31, submit the corpus to my publisher. But first, I’m accepting the invitation of a friend to visit his family in Catania, Sicily, and on my way back I’m stopping in London to meet my publisher. Two weeks from today, God willing, I’ll land on the tarmac at Seattle and see my favorite walking companion, Theresa, plus my boys and family, for a happy reunion after a summer of walking, work, walking, learning, walking, and adventure.

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One scene from yesterday’s walk in the Parco Nazionale Foreste Casetinesi, to the Hermitage at Camaldoli.

The Via di Francesco in Forty Panoramas

Tomorrow is the last day of walking this year. I’ve covered every stage but one, and I’ve walked some of the stages twice in order to get my descriptions just right. Most days I’ve used my iPhone to take a panorama, and many of those I’ve shared on Facebook. Here’s a compilation of the panoramas, which I hope gives a good sense of what this amazing Via di Francesco looks like.

A morning walk through Perugia to the store

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The door of the building where my little temporary apartment can be found.

I’ve now been writing and editing my walking guidebook, The Way of St. Francis, for five days solid and thought I might share some additional examples of life at my temporary hangout in this charming town of Perugia. I’m coming to love it very much and will miss its warmth and charm in three weeks when I leave. When I do leave I will have completed the entire first draft of the book.

The writing and editing are going well. Essentially I’m changing my dictation transcriptions — painstakingly typed from voice recordings made during each walking stage — into actual book chapters that contain walking directions for each stage. By tomorrow morning I’ll complete my first draft on the walking stages I’ve already finished — 22 of 29 total. Then I’ll hit the road and walk or re-walk the remaining stages, returning to Casa Sandy each night to write and edit the day’s results. The process is a little tedious as I reconstruct some of the transcriptions that are now a month old, but at least my notes became increasingly specific and much more helpful the farther I walked last month.

So, when I’m not writing I’m simply enjoying life here in this town of 150,000 or so inhabitants. My daily routine in Perugia is simple: each morning after completing a chapter I walk to the grocery store to pick up the day’s supplies, carrying my cloth grocery sack. Afterward I return to my apartment and write some more, and when I’m done with that I write some more. This month there’s a nightly organ concert at the cathedral, so that becomes the highlight of each day. But the second best thing is my daily walk to the store.

Today is Saturday, so people are strolling about or having a slow coffee at an outdoor cafe, enjoying the coolness of the morning before the sun makes everything a little too warm. For fun, I decided to take a photo every 50 steps of my walk to the grocery store so others could see what my neighborhood is like. The results are in the gallery below.

This walk highlights for me what makes these medieval towns so wonderful — they are human scale, mostly free of cars and even mostly free of bikes. Back in the U.S. there are very few places where you can take a 15 minute walk to the store, pass restaurants, shops and churches, and never cross an automobile road.

More quotidian details: today I’ll have pasta for lunch at my apartment, so I bought a fresh loaf of bread, some fruit and, anticipating completion of the first stage of my book, I found a bottle of Sicilian limoncello to celebrate. That’s enough to last me a year, but what is Italy without an evening glass of that delightfully sweet, tart digestivo?

 

Surprising ways Perugia is more civilized than Seattle

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No, America. The bowl on the left is not an extra sink.

We Americans somehow are taught to believe we’re ahead of the rest of the world, but after spending the last two months in Italy, I’m pretty impressed and occasionally a little bothered by how surprisingly civilized this place is. This is true in my temporary residence in Perugia, sister city to Seattle, my home town.

I don’t want to pretend Italy is always clean and proper. A man stopped Theresa and me the other day, and after discovering we are American, went on a long rant about how Italians throw garbage everywhere. Sure enough, in Rome the other day I chose not to take a picture of two men sitting on park benches surrounded by litter. I didn’t want it sullying the Chamber of Commerce style photos I’ll use in my guidebook.

But still, Italians are surprisingly progressive, and Perugia is a good example of this. For instance,

  • Every day is a bidet day — As I’ve traveled Italy for the last two months I lived with a family and also stayed in a variety of hotels. Without exception each bathroom came equipped with a bidet or bidet-equipped toilet. These refreshing devices are virtually unknown in America, so a little instruction could be necessary for us Yanks. The goal is cleanliness — even, as we say in America, where the sun don’t shine. That’s progress.
  • Garbage is picked up SIX times a week — While progressive Seattle is considering
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    Tonight is my first blue sack night!

    moving to biweekly garbage pickup, Perugia picks up four types of garbage a total of six times a week. On Monday put your landfill garbage on the doorstep. On Tuesday put out your paper and cardboard. On Wednesday,  your compostable. Thursday put out your plastic, glass and metal. Friday it’s compostables again. On Saturday, take a day off to rest because on Sunday — it’s compostable day once more. I was up late and watched the process last night: a worker comes by in a tiny, white dump truck and picks up the bags. No smelly outside garbage cans at all, at least here in the historic center city.

  • Don’t touch the fruit — Correct etiquette at Italian supermarkets is to use handy, disposable plastic gloves to pick out your fruits and vegetables. Even at fruit stands you point at what you want and the clerk gets it for you. I thought about the need for cleanliness in American supermarkets last spring. I watched as someone in front of me squeezed a half dozen plums with her bare hands before picking her own. I don’t know that she was carrying any germs of any kind, but how do you disinfect a plum before eating it?
  • The streets get swept — Last night two serious-looking men with long, Italian, witch-
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    This garbage dump truck is about the size of my Mini Cooper.

    style brooms wearing reflective vests walked down the narrow street outside my window and swept little bits of trash into the middle of the road. Right behind them came a mechanical street sweeper that swept and vacuumed up the debris, finishing the cleaning with a gentle rinse. I remember Mayor McGinn of Seattle desperately asking Seattle residents to go out to the corner and pick up fallen leaves because a rainstorm was coming. At least in Perugia, nothing stays around long enough on the street to clog anything.

  • My morning coffee costs €1.50 — Yep, all that great, inexpensive Italian coffee has scared away Starbucks. Who would buy a $3.50 latte when a real, Italian cafe latte is the equivalent of about $2.00? Yes, I drink it standing up in a cafe/bar with no WiFi or cushy chairs that doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m., but tastes just as good — maybe better. And I don’t have to tell the barista what my plans are for the day.
  • Italians take a nap in the afternoon — Americans think this is incredibly lazy, but the hot afternoons explain why Italians button up their stores at 1:00 and don’t return until 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. They are cool at home, with the shutters and windows closed
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    It’s 11:00 pm in Perugia and the outdoor restaurants are packed.

    on the sunny side of their home or apartment, where the stone walls absorb the heat during the day and radiate it at night. Who’s outside in the heat of the day? As it turns out, it’s the tourists. They sweat their way through the shopping streets, wondering why all the stores are closed. Italian business owners would never think of opening their doors midday for the tourists — forget the business, it’s just too hot.

  • You’re not going to read about gun violence — You knew I’d mention this. Yes, Italy’s gun death rate — in spite of all the Mafia talk — is only 1.28 per 100,000. The USA is 9.42. According to my calculator, which I have no reason to disbelieve, we’re 7.4 times more likely to die by a gun in the US than in Italy. Yesterday the wind slammed the door of my bedroom shut, which sounded to me a lot like a gun going off. I worried that my neighbors would wonder if I’d fired a weapon, but then I realized they’re not living in gun culture here. They probably thought it was just a door.
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“Enough carrots,” Bugs says. “Prosciutto today!” Sorry, Porky Pig, but Italians are into ham. Big time.

Well, there are some things that seem little uncivilized, too. Like, I’m not sure why cashiers don’t put my change right into my hand rather than into a little dish by the register. And I wish Italy would ban smoking in outdoor restaurants as well as indoors. Also, I wish there were cold, unsweetened drinks available somewhere — anywhere. And I still don’t get how moms, dads, grandparents, teenagers and babies in strollers can stay out each night until after midnight, wandering the streets in nice clothes with gelato cones in hand. At that time of day in America we’re all watching TV.

But this is how it’s done in a traditional and ancient country that sometimes is a little more civilized.

 

The last chapter is done, now for the first twenty-eight

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Interior of my little apartment on Via San Giacomo in Perugia. Note writing futon on right.

After a great month of Italian language study followed by another month of walking the Via di Francesco from Florence to Rome I’ve now started writing my pilgrimage guidebook: The Way of St. Francis: From Florence to Assisi to Rome. In fact, today I finished the final chapter. I just need to finish the first twenty-eight and I’ll be done.

Last spring as I planned the Italian research phase of my project I knew I’d stay in Italy for three-ish months. In the first month I would study Italian, in the second month I’d walk the pilgrimage route, and in the third month I’d catch up on anything I’d missed, including walking the route a second time if necessary. When I finished walking the route for the first time last week — with the amazing Theresa Elliott — I also finalized my plan for my last month. I decided to rent an apartment in Perugia, which is very central to all locations on the walk, and from here I can start writing while catching up on any missing pieces.

There are plenty of missing pieces. Although I’ve walked 626km (388 miles) I missed or was rained out on three stages (Stia to Camaldoli, Assisi to Spello, Trevi to Spoleto). I got lost in one stage so I need to repeat that (La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano), and I messed up on a portion of another stage, so I’ll need to repeat that one, too (Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro). Also, in talking with a local pilgrimage expert I’ve discovered an alternate track for the first two days (Firenze to Pontassieve and Pontassieve to Consuma). This track solves some problems and may be worth including, so I’ll explore it as well. This adds up to about six more days of walking before I’m truly done with the walking/research phase.

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Smooth heel bottoms. On the sides of the heel you can see that the cushioning has compressed over time.

One problem with the upcoming days of walking is that my beloved Treksta Assault GTX hiking boots finally bit the dust. As I walked the last couple of weeks I felt the bottoms become slippery on downhills, and the boots have hardened over the many miles I’ve used them. As I think back, I realize I walked 700km with them in 2012 on the Camino del Norte and 626km here. They’ve done well over 1300km (800 miles) and I’ll replace them when I’m briefly in Florence this weekend. I hope I can find a pair that’s half as good. These have been excellent boots — few blisters and very comfortable — perfect for the long haul.

So during August, in between walking trips, I’ll be writing. Editing, really. As I’ve walked each stage I’ve dictated the walking directions into a program on my iPhone. Each night after I’ve walked I’ve transcribed my dictation onto my laptop — creating twenty-four separate documents. Just today I compiled all the transcriptions into a single file entitled “Manuscript” and made a startling discovery. I’m already 3,000 words over my 40,000 word limit! This means I’ll have to edit and smooth the text of the central chapters, bringing them down to about 35,000 words to make room for the Introduction and the text boxes in each chapter that describe important sites. My goal is to have the twenty-nine core chapters of the book finished when I step on the plane to Seattle around Labor Day. Then back in Seattle I’ll choose from among my 1,400 photos, compile the elevation profiles, create the maps, and then groom it all into a final submission to the publisher by year’s end.

If you should happen by Via San Giacomo in Perugia you may find me sitting on the futon in the living room of my tiny apartment on this ancient street below the Porta Eburnea, typing into my laptop. If I’m not there I’m likely walking a leftover stage between towns not far away. I’m learning to stay cool in the hot Italian summer, and enjoying this odd and productive moment in my life while I prepare what I hope will be a blessing to pilgrims who someday walk along this way.

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This is what it looks like to research a pilgrim guidebook. Backpack…. boots….iPhone in left hand for dictation…. GPS in right hand to record the track. Crossing the aqueduct at Spoleto.