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.

 

Hey, Mom. A book contract just arrived in the mail!

Cicerone-delNorte001Wow, this fall has seen a lot of changes in my life. My marital status changed to “separated,” I moved in with someone I’ve loved for the last 26 years (my 26 year old son), I sold my car. and I’ve signed a contract to write a book. The first item includes more complexities, sadnesses and ambivalence than I could possibly explain in a blog post. The second item is a great joy. Who’d have thought that I’d live in a great apartment with one of my favorite people in the world who just happened to be looking for a roommate at the same time as me? The third item is a challenge. I’ve had a car since I was 16 and even bike-friendlyish slash transit-equipped Seattle isn’t the easiest place to get around in without a car. The final item is a delight — researching and writing a book will give a little structure and meaning to my private life in 2014.

Here’s how it all happened. Last July I wrote a review of a Cicerone Press guidebook for my blog and for the Internet Camino Forum I help moderate. I made contact with the editor so I could run the review past the book’s author. Then on a whim I asked her if the press she works for ever works with new authors. The answer was “yes,” and soon I was in contact with the publisher himself. He asked for my qualifications and a synopsis, was interested, and then asked for a writing sample, a detailed outline, and sample photographs. While I was at my sister’s house in Hawaii in September (taking a break from  my marriage breakup) I researched my potential itinerary, drafted the writing sample and chose the photos I’d use. When I returned from Hawaii I sent in my submission — and earlier this month it was approved. I had a conversation with the publisher over the phone, and then a couple of weeks later a contract arrived in the mail.

My book will be a walking guide to “The Saint Francis Way,” a 550 kilometer walk from Florence, to Assisi to Rome. As I discovered last year, there’s no guidebook in English for this route and it’s a truly spectacular walk — every bit as amazing as the Camino de Santiago — and it ends with a genuine apostolic tomb (or two, or three) at the finish!

Early next year I’ll begin researching the walk by reading books on St. Francis and doing Internet surfing about important sites along the route. Next summer I’ll walk the full route, carefully taking notes, GPS readings, and photographs. When I return I’ll gather these together and, by the terms of the contract, will have them in publishable form to Cicerone Press by December 31, 2014. The result will be a book very much like the one in the photo above, only with the name “Sandy Brown” as author and the title “The St. Francis Way.”

San Damiano window with St. Francis preaching to all creatures.

San Damiano window with St. Francis preaching to all creatures

I love how this project will combine some of my favorite things — helping people discover the joys of pilgrimage, learning and explaining history, sharing stories of spirit and faith, and of course walking in Europe. As I look ahead it sends my mind back to the mid-1990’s as I was researching and writing my doctoral project. Lots of work, a tight, self-imposed deadline, and the reward of learning and growing. It also sends my mind back to last summer as I walked from Assisi to Rome with my dear friends, Sebi, Jacqueline and Andreas.Jacqueline has already been a big help as she sends me notes about the strategies revealed in the German language guide for this walk.

Over the next weeks I’ll make more detailed plans about schedules and flights. There’ll also be a lot of research to do about GPS mapping hardware and software. The next step will be convincing friends to join me and walk some of this amazing pilgrimage. After that, some language study, and then….next year, in Rome!

Final Wrap-Up of Cammino di San Francesco 2013

May 30, 2013 — Rome

20130530-184257.jpgOur last full day together in Rome –goofing off in front of Trevi Fountain
It’s been an amazing camino, with the best as always being the times spent with fellow pilgrims. I’d happily walk anywhere in the world with Sebastian, Jacqueline and Andreas. We’ve become a close family that has grown stronger through daily reliance on each other and mutual trust and affection. I’ll miss these three tomorrow when I head to the airport.

Last night was a highlight. A Seattle friend, AJ Boyd, is doing a doctorate at the Pontifical Institute here and is living in a church-owned residence just above the Colliseo. He invited us to join him for a walk in the gardens, for dinner there and to meet the community of lay students with whom he lives. We could immediately tell this was a dream of a place, and when we sat down with the 40 or so students for dinner we were all reminded of the blessing of community life. If I were a little earlier in my earthly pilgrimage I’d have to find a way to study in a place like that, with friends like those.

One of my reasons for blogging my caminos is to share with potential pilgrims the lessons I’ve learned in order to help them on their way. As I prepared for my first camino I appreciated online forums and camino seminars, but the most helpful and enjoyable lessons came from those who took time to write down their adventures and share them in books and blogs. Hence my daily blog posts, aimed toward friends and family, but also future pilgrims who one day will travel these paths.

In that spirit, here are some statistics, reflections and practical notes about our 2013 pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome.

Overall Statistics and Impressions
The walk from Assisi to Rome was 235 kilometers (146 miles), which we accomplished in 13 days of walking. For Camino de Santiago veterans, the 18 km/day average seems light, however this is a much more difficult walk, in terms of terrain, in directions and in lack of infrastructure. There are many very significant uphill/downhill stretches and the uphills in particular eat up the time. It was not unusual to have an 18 km day that took 8 hours to walk. We often compared the 690 meter ascent on the first day out of Assisi to the climb over the Route Napoleon that begins the Camino Frances, but in reality it is about half the elevation gain. Still, almost every day there were similar stretches, with the result that this camino feels more difficult. Basically a person climbs from mountain to mountain each day. In the first week, by the time you get to Piediluco, the boundary between Umbria and Lazio, you have climbed 2800 meters (roughly 8400 ft). This is Route Napoleon, Alto de Perdon and Cruce de Ferro all rolled into one week. The next two days after Piediluco feature nearly 1000 meters more to climb, which gets you to the halfway point between Assisi and Rome.

So, pilgrims should be prepared for an aggressive walk, more physically challenging than the Camino Frances, but with its own rewards, as I hope my daily reflections point out.

Daily Itinerary and Lodging
Here are the places where we stayed along the way. Note that in all cases, even the hostels, beds came with sheets and blankets. This allowed us to leave our sleeping bags at home, which helped us keep our pack weight quite low — mine was about 6 kilos (13 pounds).

Our lodgings ranged in price from 25e to 50e per person per night. Here are our overnights:

AssisiCamere Carli. This is a pensione near the top of the town, off Piazza San Rufino. Just below is a cute shop owned by the same man, and adjacent is a separate cafe for breakfast and snacks.

Spello — It’s nice to find something right on the trail, and that happened to us as we walked through Spello and found Il Cacciatore midway through town. This is a pleasant hotel with a great, green view to the south. The restaurant is super and rooms were pleasantly warm.

Trevi — As we walked into Trevi we had no idea where we’d stay, so we stopped at Tourist Info where we heard about a four-star hotel with a special room for pilgrims. Soon we were climbing the spiral staircase to our room at Hotel Antica Dimora alla Rocca. The young owners are doing a great job with this grand, old hotel.

Spoleto — Toward the top of town, just a block or two below the Duomo is Hotel Il Panciolle, where we had a nice view room and a fine dinner in the restaurant below. Unfortunately there was no heat in our room and no laundry service available. Still, we’d come back here again for location and to enjoy the nice staff.

Ceselli — This remote little town is a surprising place to end a stage of this camino since there is only a tiny store/bar open for only a few hours each day. There’s no hotel, but thank heavens there’s Case Vacanza Il Ruscello where the owners kindly drove us 4km to the next town so we could buy groceries to cook for ourselves.

Arrone — Again we had no idea where to stay, but when we asked for suggestions in this town where everyone was very helpful we were directed to the Case Vacanza Fiocchi where we were shown to an enormous 3-bedroom apartment at an excellent price. The staff washed our clothes and we hung them out to dry. A good night’s rest in our biggest accommodation of the camino.

Piediluco — We walked the entire length of this lakeside town before being referred to La Locanda dei Frati Hotel above the town’s main church. The hotel rose from the rubble of a medieval monastery, which gives it charm, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.

Poggio Bustone — The first actual hostel of our stay: La Locanda Francescana. Feliciano and his partner have a nice hostel and a good restaurant a few blocks away. Laundry service was available, but without a machine to dry. Without heat in the building that meant two days for our clothes to be ready to wear. Still, we loved the hospitality of our hosts and the cleanliness of this super hostel.

Rieti — Jacqueline went ahead by bus, so by the time the rest of us arrived she had us set up at the Grand Albergo Quattro Statione just off the main piazza. Breakfast in the morning included eggs — perhaps the best breakfast of our walk. And it was warm inside. The elegant style in this grand old building and the great location make it a winner.

Poggio San Lorenzo — We saw signs for many miles, then realized we should have immediatrly followed the arrows to Agriturismo Santa Giusta. This stone farmhouse a few kilometers from Poggio San Lorenzo has several rooms and a large dining room. The food was excellent but we wished for more heat as well as laundry service. The staff was very hospitable and this was only choice near PSL — so we took it and didn’t regret it.

Ponticelli (Salaria) — This is another example of lack of infrastructure on this camino. The stage ends at Ponticelli, a lovely town with no lodging options. Several agritourismos are within a few km of the main piazza, but we opted to catch a 15-minute car ride with our Dutch friend to the Salaria Hotel. Here we had access to heat, a laundromat and a nice restaurant. We liked the “hotel” experience after many days in farmhouses and hostels.

Monterotondo — While catching a quick gelato and wondering where we’d stay, a Google search led us to a delightful B&B just a few quick blocks from the main piazza. La Cupella has about four rooms, each with a renovated bathroom, and a great rooftop breakfast room with views of the town. Jacqueline loved having a heater that worked and everyone loved the showers.

Monte Sacro — The Domus Citta Giardino appeared on our left as we walked the last steps to the piazza in this Roman suburb. A relaxing garden, a nice shower, and a nearby laundromat made this a great choice.

Rome — Near the Vatican and reasonably priced, the Hotel Santa Maria Alle Fornaci met our needs very well. The dorm-like hotel is run by the Trinitarian Fathers and presents a Spartan but clean and handy option. The walk to the Vatican is just 10 minutes and a nice laundry within two blocks will wash your clothes.

In spite of the occasional lack of infrastructure we loved our Italian camino. In comparison with the Spaniards, the Italians have a higher quality standard for food and each day seemed like a new adventure in great cooking.

And of course we enjoyed becoming familiar with St Francis, the famous friar of Assisi. He daily reminded us of the life of trust and simplicity that leads to joy in the presence of God’s beautiful creation.
20130530-031208.jpgInterior of the Church of St John in the Lateran

20130530-031237.jpgFrancis monument opposite Lateran church

20130530-031304.jpgFour pilgrims in front of the Colisseo

Dancing to the Tomb of St Peter

May 28, 2013 — Monte Sacro to Vatican City

I was trying to describe to Sebastian this morning how I feel when I near a pilgrimage destination on foot. It’s happened all four times on the way to Santiago. I feel like I’m walking downhill and the forces of momentum and gravity are carrying me forward beyond my ability to control. When the end goal is less than a day away — even perhaps 40+ kilometres (25+ miles) — I can’t seem to stop. I have to go until I get there, no matter the cost.

I was trying to explain that this morning as Sebastian was trying to tell me in his kind way that I was stupid for wanting to walk all the way to Rome yesterday. We’d just finished a 28 km day. Why would I want to walk another 30 km right after?

When I woke up this morning, 15 km shy of Rome, there it was — that pull. I’d managed to subdue it yesterday, and wait with my friends to walk the remaining 15 km, but it expressed itself today in an almost manic happiness at breakfast, followed by a blistering pace with me in the lead for our first kilometers.

20130528-145521.jpgJacqueline found this, our first waymark of the day

We set out at 9:00 from our B&B in Monte Sacro and found our first waymark, a pitifully worn yellow marker on the sidewalk of the street corner a few blocks away. These painted waymarks usually are two squares, side by side, one with the image of St Peter’s keys, the other with the image of San Francesco’s hands lifted to the stars and birds. This pitiful waymark had definitely seen better days, but finding it was one of many little victories today that ended up leading us directly to the Vatican.
20130528-145945.jpgOur path followed the river through glades of bamboo

Whoever planned the pilgrim track into Rome clearly had a specific idea in mind — keep pilgrims near the parks and away from the traffic. That is precisely what they accomplished. Our path from Monte Sacro all the way to the Vatican was like a surgeon slicing through flesh but missing every vital organ. The very first Roman monument we would see, after walking all the way through the Eternal City, was St Peter’s Basilica. No Victor Emmanuel, no Pantheon, no Coliseum, no Spanish Steps. This neat task was accomplished by keeping us on a bike path past two huge Roman parks, then hugging the river as it winds its way through the city. We marked our progress by counting parks and bridges, and then in one surprising moment we looked across a riverbend and behold!, the Vatican. Gravity won, the inevitable, irresistible pull had tugged us to the goal. We had arrived — a day later than I might have if I’d been walking alone, but we had arrived, and together which is really the best way of all.
20130528-150025.jpgFollowing the bike paths by Rome’s big parks

The huge and diverse crowds around the entry to St Peter’s Square could not delay us as we elbowed our way toward our goal. As we stood in awe before the immense building we heard the sounds of English being spoken and asked for our photos to be taken before the church facade. Then we dropped our backpacks off at our nearby housing and returned to secure our final credential stamps and inspect the site.
20130528-150043.jpgAh, there it is!

After 30 minutes in the security line we were inside the Basilica, looking at our amazing surroundings then looking for the Sacristy where we would get our credential stamps. We were led back to a grand and ornate room where a man behind a desk stamped our pilgrim passports, then we headed out of the church to find where to get our “Testimonium,” the official completion certificate. We finally discovered the “afternoon location” of the office and, after our credentials were inspected, were assured our certificates would soon be in the mail.
20130528-150055.jpgPilgrims arrive at the tomb of St Peter

That left us an afternoon to relax and then our first of three evenings to enjoy the cuisine of this great city.

Tomorrow we will go to the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Coliseum, to my friend AJ’s community of scholars, and most importantly we will visit the Church of St John at the Lateran. This is where Francis of Assisi concluded his original Roman pilgrimage with his audience with the Pope and it is where we will pray and give our thanks and meditate on this amazing two weeks of walking in the footsteps of the simple man of Assisi.
20130528-181639.jpgThis beautiful church was always on my list to see.

20130528-235133.jpgMy pilgrim credential, with today’s stamp, final for this walk, in the lower right

First Views of Rome

May 27, 2013 — Monterotondo to Monte Sacro

Our B&B in Monterotondo won our hearts — space heaters in the rooms to get rid of the chill, warm showers and a rooftop breakfast room with views of the red tile roofs and TV antennas of this classic, Italian hill town.

After breakfast we headed down and out of town, following road names that remember saints like Santa Chiara and Catholic orders like Brothers Minor — just one more way Italy celebrates its Catholic heritage.

20130527-195444.jpgWay, way off in the distance: St Peter’s Basilica — 30 km away

The biggest part of our walk today was through a vast wildlife refuge on the outskirts of Monte Sacro. To get there, though, we had to successfully navigate two unusually difficult obstacles.

First, we arrived at the bottom of a hill where our gravel road took a hard right turn apparently through a series of farms. Oddly, the waymark sign pointed left instead of right. Andreas grabbed the sign and turned it on its mount so that the arrow on its back side pointed right. Then, believing we’d done future generations of pilgrims a big favor, we began walking that way. We then heard shouts from a man working in a field 50 meters away, “Go the other way,” he shouted, pointing to a field of tall grass with no apparent trail. We puzzled about our odd choice, then changed the sign back and plunged into the virgin field, finding a dim track of hardened earth beneath our feet. This invisible track carried us around the man’s farm and precisely to the correct location suggested on our map. Who knows where the “obvious” path would have taken us, but we were thankful for the man who encouraged us to follow the sign that seemingly led nowhere.

The second obstacle presented itself about 3km later. We followed a paved road that we were certain was our correct path until it ended in a “T” at a gravel road atop a hill. Momentarily we were distracted by what was obviously a distant view of Rome, crowned by Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s. When we went to find our route, though, we realized that the gravel road ended both to the left and right at gates sternly marked “Private Property.” We stood befuddled for about 5 minutes, debating what to do, when a man smoking a cigar drove up in a black Mercedes and explained that our path was around the private gate at the right. While he unlocked the gate and drove through we ducked around the narrow opening on the right. Before long we were clearly back on track, but who would’ve guessed that a major pilgrim path would require a person to disregard a private property sign?

20130527-195559.jpgThree pilgrims, nearing Rome

After these obstacles we settled into a walker’s paradise — a gravel road through car-free wildlife refuge with crisp sunshine and mild temps. The reserve includes vast fields of red poppies, tall evergreen trees, and the soft sounds of the occasional burbling brook. These were among the most pleasant miles I’ve ever walked on any camino.
20130527-195653.jpgThree pilgrims ahead, getting close to Rome

All good things must end, and the wildlife area turned after several kilometers into the exurbs of Monte Sacro, which in reality are the ex- exurbs of Rome. Our gravel path became an asphalt road, and soon we were hopping on and off sidewalks at pedestrian crossings between zipping cars and motorcycles. The noise reminded us of how long we’ve been away from city life and how odd it feels to someone who hasn’t relied, if even just for two weeks, on the 2- and 4-wheeled conveyances that help us do our work and play and that unsettle and complicate our lives in so many ways.
20130527-195801.jpgChurch of Angelli Custodi, Monte Sacro

After a quick gelato at a strip mall cafe we trudged through the noisy streets toward the end of today’s stage, the Church of the Angelli Custodi. Just a few blocks before our goal we nearly walked right past a B&B which we would ultimately choose as our lodging for the evening. With a laundromat across the street and a pizza/rotisserie takeout a few blocks away we were set for a relaxing evening — our last night outside of Rome.

Our Italian Movie — “The Full Monte”

May 26, 2013 — Ponticelli to Monterotondo

Sebastian ended the night sad and Johann happy as the two finished their night by watching the European Team Championships in soccer. Powerhouse Munich was playing against Sebi’s team and it didn’t go that well for my dear friend’s soccer club.

By the morning Sebastian was over it, and after breakfast and a ride back to Ponticelli we were back on the trail.

Over dinner we, the original four, had decided to push on to Monterotondo today. This would mean a 28 km (17.5 mile) walk, but it would also get us into Rome a full day earlier than our original itinerary. Unfortunately it would also mean we would say “goodbye” to Johann, since he both was weary from yesterday’s walk and already had a reservation for Montelibretti, just 15 km ahead.

At 9:00, as we began, Johann came to understand what a determined group we can be when we have a challenging goal ahead. At Ponticelli we set a brisk pace up and down the requisite Italian hills, and by 11:00 we were already at the halfway point for Johann — the little town of Acquaviva. He wanted to stop there for a break so he wouldn’t grt into Montelibretti too early, but for us it was just too soon in the long day to pause. We exchanged phone numbers and said our goodbyes, with promises to get together in Rome in a few days. I think we all felt sad to let our new friend go, but it was easier knowing we’d see him in just a bit.

We set out for Montelibretti and, to our surprise, arrived at the base of the Montelibretti hill at about noon. By 12:15 we were in the main piazza of he town, enjoying the cheese, crackers, apples and bananas Sebastian and Andreas had purchased yesterday. We’d realized that most every Italian store would be closed today — Sunday — so the two loaded up on groceries for us in preparation for today’s lunch.

As we sat and enjoyed our simple meal I noticed another hill town off on the horizon and asked a dignified looking Italian gentleman if it was Monterotondo. “Yes,” he said, and then gave me driving directions for how to get there. I told him, in Spanish, that we were walking there today and his eyes widened in surprise. “It’s 15 kilometers,” he said. “Yep,” I replied in my best Span-talian, “we’re pilgrims to Rome.” Impressed, he tipped his hat and wished us a good trip.

Since we hadn’t done our push-ups, we did our three sets of 20 in the sunny piazza. Afterwards we headed down the nearby road which we followed out of town. The sun came out and a long afternoon of walking followed.

By 3:00 we were all beginning to drag somewhat, so since we were on a quiet road between farms we simply laid out a picnic spread in a shady spot under an old oak tree and enjoyed the leftover cheese, crackers and fruit. A half hour later we were back on the road to Monterotondo.

The thick forests of Umbria and northern Lazio have gradually given way first to olive orchards, then to vineyards and now to vast pastures, hay fields and grassy open areas. The mountains of the north are now rolling hills that are visibly opening up to wide plains. We’ve noticed also that weekend homes for urban dwellers are becoming more common and that the pace of life is quickening. Hill towns of Umbria would be quiet and empty on a Sunday afternoon, but these towns are a beehive of activity.

In keeping with this change our quiet country road gradually turned into an urban arterial and we found ourselves navigating the narrow white stripe at the edge of the highway as Italian drivers speeded by. After an hour or so of this we crossed into Monterotondo, climbed to the upper city, asked directions to the lower upper piazza, and strategized about our hotel options while enjoying a gelato off the upper upper piazza. Before long we found ourselves in an inexpensive B&B just a few blocks from the cathedral. We enjoyed dinner at a takeout pizzeria, then settled in for the night. Tomorrow’s goal is Monte Sacro, just one day from St. Peter’s in Rome.

Over the last days we’ve climbed more hill towns than we can count — Monteleone, Montelibretti, Monterotondo, and tomorrow Monte Sacro. “Monte this,” “Monte that” — it’s a “full Monte” of beautiful cities, but we’re also excited about leaving the beautiful countryside behind and seeing St Peter’s as well as the Lateran Church, St Francis’ destination in his 13th century visit to see the Pope and launch the formal phase of his ministry.20130527-073309.jpgLook for the castle up there on the hill20130527-073329.jpgOur noontime piazza — Montelibretti20130527-073343.jpgJacqueline and Andreas marching onward, Montelibretti in the distant background20130527-073359.jpgSebastiano Pelegrino20130527-073442.jpgB&B on the left, typical street of Monte Rotondo straight ahead20130527-073453.jpgScene of our Sunday mass — The Duomo of Monterotondo

Wind, Rain, Hail and Wild Boars

May 25, 2013 — Poggio San Lorenzo to Ponticelli

This morning at Agritourusmo San Giusto we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with our new friend and fellow pilgrim, Johann of The Netherlands, did our push-ups, then headed out at 9:00 for an unexpectedly challenging day.

The push-ups are a practice we began about ten days ago — three sets of 20 push-ups (or however many we can manage) and today Johann called us on the obvious. We’d been doing “easy” push-ups, not touching our nose to the floor. At his insistence we corrected our form and, of course, reduced our total count. Even though he reduced our sense of satisfaction at an ever-increasing push-up total, we were coming to enjoy our new fellow pilgrim.

We had met Johann a few days earlier between Ceselli and Arrone and then we discovered him last night at our agritourismo. We shared dinner and conversation and found him to be sincere and enjoyable. He’s an experienced pilgrim who’s walked many hundreds of miles, including to Santiago from his home in The Netherlands.
20130525-180002.jpgWe set out from Poggio San Lorenzo under partly cloudy skies

Our agriturismo was a couple of km outside Poggio San Lorenzo, so our first task was to get to the town itself. We walked down the hill, then up a hill some more, then up more and more to the town. Actually, this was the story of the whole day — up and down from town to town.

After Poggio San Lorenzo it was up-down, up-down to Montelione, where we met an Italian woman who’d been a pilgrim to Santiago. She asked us if we’d walked there, then joyfully told us in Italian about her Camino Frances experiences. We understood a surprising amount, through the universal language of happy camino memories.
20130525-180108.jpgPiazza at Montelione en Sabina

As we entered town Andreas ducked into a grocery store for his lunch and the rest of us headed to a bar just off the piazza for panini and potato chips. We gave thanks that our day had been relatively dry so far.
20130525-180227.jpgWalking through vineyards

We headed down and out of Montileone, past the Church of Santa Vittoria from the 12th century, crossed an ancient bridge across a small creek, then trudged up an enormous, concrete-paved hill path opposite the town.

At this point we realized this camino is actually very physically challenging. We have walked up and down countless hills. In fact, we have been in hills or mountains basically the entire time. Unlike the Camino de Santiago there really are no long, flat stretches. You’re always either going up or going down. The result is lots of exercise. In fact, when we arrived in Poggio Maiono there was a .20 Euro outdoor scale. I popped a coin in, stepped on it, and discovered I’ve lost 4-5 lbs (2-3 kilos) in weight in just 10 days. What a nice surprise!
20130525-180318.jpgViews through sporadic rain as we approached Ponticelli among olive orchards

As we enjoyed cafe lattes and caldo chocolates in Poggio Moiono the rain began, briefly turning to hail before continuing as cold rain. We waited it out, then began the final two hours of our walk — to Ponticelli. Unfortunately, after leaving Poggio Moiono the rain began in earnest and we each realized our rain gear would be on for the rest of the day.
20130525-180826.jpgView from one of the “ups” in literally an up and down day

As we neared Ponticelli we heard rustling in the bushes and noticed a brown boar ahead in the pathway. “Look out!” said Sebastian in excited German (I learned the translation later), “they can be dangerous.” The boar ran off, and then a few moments later off to the left we noticed an adult wild boar, two feet tall, brown with light brown stripes, and three of her piglets. They scurried around as they heard us, and we realized we didn’t want to be in the way of a mother boar’s wild charge. We hurriedly continued walking and soon the boars were behind us.

After eight hours of tough terrain the town of Ponticelli appeared before us. Our next challenge was where will we sleep? Johann came to the rescue. “Why not my hotel?” he said. Soon a driver from his hotel appeared and before long we were ensconced in warm room at the Salaria Hotel, a 10-minute drive from hotel-free downtown Ponticelli. Warm showers, pizza and laundry filled the evening of a cold and challenging day of rain, hail and wild boars.