I was thrilled to read this review today of The Way of St Francis, but I even more I admired the beautiful photography. Click on the photo to read the whole article.
(Editors note: At our request, Bill Bennett, an Australian filmmaker and pilgrimage lover, has written his reflections on the Via di Francesco. We shared an advance copy of The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome with Bill so he could check the itinerary and get back to us with comments and suggestions. Bill can be reached through his website and blog.
Earlier this year my wife and I and a group of five others walked a section of the Via di Francesco, from Santuario della Verna to Assisi.
That we were able to do it so capably, without once getting lost, was testament to Sandy Brown and his wonderful book, which I believe will become as essential to this walk as John Brierley’s guide is to the Camino Frances.
Sandy also very kindly provided us with GPX coordinates which, once coupled to an app on our iPhones, meant we knew exactly where we were at any given moment.
Sandy, thank you for making this pilgrimage so easy for us!
We were all experienced pilgrims. We’d all previously walked the Camino Frances, and other Caminos too – but without doubt we would count the Via di Francesco as the most sublime, profound, and spiritual of any walk we’ve ever done. Why?
We stayed in the monastery the night before we began our pilgrimage. It was a wonderful introduction to the life of the saint. We participated in the traditional procession to the Chapel, which has happened each day at 3pm for centuries. It takes you from a small church through a covered corridor, the walls painted with frescos depicting the life of St. Francis.
The following morning we set off, following instructions in Sandy’s book, and his GPX coordinates. For the next ten days we meandered our way south, through some of the most glorious country I’ve ever seen. I have to say of all the walks I’ve done, the Via di Francesco is by far the most scenic. At times you have to just stop and take in the wonder of what you’re seeing.
The walk also takes you through some wonderful Tuscan and Umbrian towns – and the food is incredible. Not expensive, but it’s the best Italian food I’ve ever had, and I’ve travelled extensively in Italy.
Because we were a fairly large group we chose to stay in hotels – and so that dictated our stage lengths each day. With a fewer number we could have stayed in agriturismos, which are cheaper and get you closer to the local people. If I were to do the walk again, and I’m thinking of it because it was just so wonderful, I would definitely stay in these rural B&Bs.
Reaching Assisi, and spending time in that sacred city, was the highlight of the walk. If you are seeking a spiritual experience, there is nothing more profound than going to St. Francis’s tomb at the Basilica. If you’re simply wanting to hang out in one of Italy’s most beautiful historic cities, then Assisi has everything you could want.
Some months later now, the power of this pilgrimage stays with me. I have recurring memories of moments of exquisite beauty, and of a transcendent spirituality that is palpable on this walk.
I would not have attempted this without Sandy Brown. I mean that. Knowing that the route had been meticulously tracked, and there was a guide book which I could constantly refer to, gave me enormous comfort. I found that the information in Sandy’s book was accurate often down to the metre! He even described barking dogs on one section, and as I walked along it, sure enough there were barking dogs!
The Via di Francesco will never supplant the Camino Frances, however I believe it’s more beautiful, it’s just as profound as a spiritual journey, and it gives you the life and story of St. Francis, which will stay with you for the rest of your life – and beyond!
Late last night I pinged Lois, head editor at Cicerone Press, to see if the cover had been designed for The Way of St. Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome. My hope was that, given the time difference from Cumbria to Seattle, I’d wake up to good news. Sure enough. When I woke up this morning there was a lovely image awaiting me in my Inbox. I just had to sit and stare for a few moments as feelings of joy, satisfaction and excitement swept over me.
Over the last weeks I’ve been working with Cicerone’s designated editor, Georgia Laval, to get the manuscript ready for publication. Georgia is a young woman, graduate of editing and proofreading school, who has a keen eye for typos, grammatical mistakes, inconsistencies, ambiguities and other obstacles that writers unwittingly put in the way of publishers as we write our manuscripts. Georgia read the text through then sat down with it, meticulously comparing the text with maps and profiles so she could ensure the routes are as clear as possible for the book’s end users. She had lots of suggestions and sent them first in an “edit queries” document, followed by a full “draft” edited text. As I reviewed her edits I also sat down with the maps and marked items on them that we both felt should be called out in each daily stage.
An example of the work is the map to the left. The red line is my GPX track from walking this stage in August (or, actually, from riding a rental bike that day). The track was superimposed onto the map by Cicerone, then I marked in black the beginning and end of the stage while marking in red various highlights from the text. This particular route happens to be a combination of the Via di Francesco and the Cammino di Assisi and solves a dilemma of how to get from Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro in just one day. The map will be divided into two sections and then will be presented on two different pages in the book. Cicerone’s job is to make it all look pretty and professional in the finished product.
So, my work with Georgia has been to connect the maps (which I’d never seen before) with the text and profiles for each stage. Georgia also confirmed each of the lodging listings — a huge task — to make certain we’re not leading anyone astray. She did it all without complaining and, in fact, thanked me for a smooth and fun process when we finished a day or two ago.
Speaking of lodging on the route, our listings are something of a moving target. For instance, this week in Assisi there was a very special celebration — an inauguration of several improvements that will make life easier and better for St. Francis pilgrims. First, Assisi’s first pilgrim hostel has been christened — the Spedale dei Santi Francesco e Giacomo. It will be a hostel in the style of the Camino de Santiago and is located at the historic cemetery to the north of Assisi proper (about 600m from the Basilica of San Francesco). Second, a new pilgrim office, the Statio Peregrinorum, is now in place in the convent area of the Basilica. Here pilgrims can receive their testimoniums at the completion of their walks. Third, a daily 6pm mass celebrates completed pilgrimages. It’s held in the lower Basilica. Each improvement builds infrastructure and pulls this pilgrimage ahead in the future, making it more and more attractive for prospective pilgrims.
So, even as the book is being edited I’m watching carefully for developments along the way. As much as possible these will be included in the book before it goes to press. I’m expecting the next step of editing in a couple of weeks, followed by review of the galleys and then the long spell of waiting until the book is printed and ready for sale. I’ve enjoyed this project each step of the way and can’t hardly wait to watch The Way of St. Francis be put to use by pilgrims ready to walk the paths familiar to the humble man of Assisi.
According to traditional Catholic cosmology, Purgatory is that grey region between Heaven and Hell where souls continue to be tested before they are sent to their eternal reward or punishment. “Limbo,” it’s sometimes called, and I’ve felt lately it has a lot of similarity to that period of time between when a manuscript is written and when the finished book is published and goes on sale. And that’s precisely where I find myself right now.
After completing Way of St. Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome back in early January, I sent off the manuscript and immediately heard back from the publisher: they had put the book into their workflow. That meant that a freelance editor had been assigned and I’d be hearing back in a couple of months with edits to the text. While the editing process takes place a few decisions need to be made by the publisher and me.
The biggest decision is: in what scale will the maps appear? Our choices are 1:25,000 and 1:50,000. Both have their virtues. A tighter resolution of 1:25000 allows a very detailed view of the route — though it more than doubles the number of map pages. A zoomed out map at 1:50000 takes fewer pages and gives a better overview of the region, but lacks the detail walkers might need. According to the publisher, the book would be 288 pages with maps at 1:25000. Obviously, walkers want a helpful book, but they also don’t want to carry a lot of weight. Jonathan, publisher at Cicerone, promised to send along a couple of map samples using my GPX tracks so we could decide together what scale would be best for the book and whether the 1:25000 option is worth the extra pages. At the point the maps will be produced in draft form and I’ll begin the work of editing them to coordinate with the text.
So in the meantime, word has leaked out that the book is in production and I’ve been fielding inquiries from here in the US and also from as far away as Australia. Prospective pilgrims are interested in the route and are anxious to receive the book as soon as possible. They have questions about accommodations, way marks, best routes, and more. I heard from the Via di Francesco folk at the Umbria Tourism office in Italy that they’re also anxious for the book because they’re answering many inquiries from English speakers who want more information about walking to Rome.
That means that before and after my long days of campaigning for city council I’m in conversation with many of these people, providing what resources I can prior to publication of the book.
Some people’s plans are quite interesting. For instance, Bill Bennett from Australia is planning a culinary-focused April/May walk from Santuario della Verna to Assisi that looks fun and delicious. I’ve shared an unedited manuscript with him, along with my GPX tracks, so he can proof the text. A woman contacted me who’d like to walk from Florence to Rome, hoping to find solitude and peace after the death of her son. Another contacted me for a September walk, and we’re hoping the book will be finished on time so she can simply take it along.
Most surprising to me was meeting a local woman, Sheri Goodwin, who is giving talks about her walk from Assisi to Rome last year. Through her business, Transformational Journeys, Sheri trains women to walk on long treks. I was delighted to receive word that she was speaking on the Via di Francesco at a Rick Steves Europe event in Edmonds last month. Theresa and I attended and loved Sheri’s informative program and slides, which featured many locations dear to us from last year’s walk. We’ve agreed to team up for future talks at Rick Steves and other locations around the area once the book is published.
There’s that phrase again, “once the book is published.” I hate to wish for time to pass quickly, but I’d love to move from the frustrating “not yet” into the joyful “already.” I’m starting to dream and scheme about heading to Italy after the election with a couple of boxes of books for a couple of weeks. It’d fun to see familiar sites and beloved friends again and introduce this book as a resource for others to use and enjoy in trekking on the Way of St. Francis.
But this purgatory requires patience. Let’s see, September 1 is exactly six months away. That’s about 180 days more of waiting and counting to go.
When I returned from Italy in September my top priority was reacquainting myself with the amazing Theresa Elliott, but after that my top priorities were beginning my run for Seattle City Council and finishing work on my guidebook, The Way of St. Francis: From Florence to Assisi to Rome. The reunion with Theresa was fabulous. The start of my campaign was smooth (as evidenced by this, this and this). And work on the book was….slow.
I returned from Italy with the basic text of the book’s 29 chapters complete. In September and October I contemplated my approach to the book’s Introduction, and then in November I returned to writing and editing.
It soon became clear that my biggest challenge would be the 40,000 word limit. In fact, by mid-December I was already at 57,000 words. I’d already had conversations about expanding the word limit with Cicerone Press, and they were none too keen on the idea. Long experience taught them that, the longer the book, the less likely people would want to carry it with them in their packs.
So, much of December was a process of culling the book down to its word boundary. A key issue became an extra chapter I’d written that covered the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. The walk had been an eyeopener for me, and I knew people would enjoy a walking guide to these important, historic churches. The last thing I wanted to do was cut this 2500 word chapter.
By the end of the process I’d culled out about 8,000 words and then negotiated a new limit of 50,000 words with Cicerone. Hooray! After some final edits I sent the manuscript in. Here how it worked out by the numbers:
- 29 chapters
- 140 photos
- 29 elevation profiles
- 6 proposed section maps, plus 29 chapter maps to be supplied by Cicerone
The next step is a thorough edit by a Cicerone editor, followed by editing of the photos and maps. This process takes about six months, with printing encompassing another two-three months. In September the finished book will appear, just in time for people to start planning their 2016 walks.
One of the funnest tasks? Choosing a cover photo. Here’s what Theresa and I chose — actually a photo by Jacqueline Zeindlinger from our 2013 Via di Francesco. If Cicerone approves, this will be the cover pic folks see each time they pick up the book. Thanks to everyone who’s helped make this book a reality.
I’m back to the writing routine for The Way of St. Frances: From Florence to Assisi to Rome and wanted to share some of the helpful info I’ve learned that might not make it into the book. One example is the graphic above of the many walks of St. Frances in and around Assisi.
As I’ve said before, my completed book will be the first one that actually guides pilgrims on every step between Florence, Assisi and Rome. The almost-complete guidebooks are Franziskusweg, a German book (in yellow above), along with the German language Outdoor Guide by the Dutchman Kees Roodenburg (not shown). Both of these guidebooks have pilgrims taking a train for the first day out of Florence and then taking public transport the last day or two into Rome. This is too bad, since there are good walking routes at both ends.
Another popular English (plus Italian and German) guidebook is by Angela Seracchioli (in purple above). Her thick and well-researched book covers the distances between La Verna and Poggio Bustone. The Via di Francesco (dark blue) of the Umbrian Tourism Department also starts at La Verna then continues on to Rieti, where the Via di Roma (light blue) picks up for the last 100 or so kilometers.
The Cammino di Assisi (in green) is a popular route among Italians that begins with non-Frances sites at Dovadola and then finishes at Assisi. There are several smaller routes as well, like the Holy Valley routes near Rieti and the Sentiero Francescano della Pace between Assisi and Gubbio.
The challenge I faced was to find a single route that actually has pilgrims walking on foot each step of the way between Florence, Assisi and Rome. This required some scouting and help from locals who know these routes well. The resulting route is marked above in red and, modeled after the Camino de Santiago in Spain, is doable in 30 days.
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 the books website at Cicerone.co.uk
- Go to the link toward the bottom of the page marked “Downloads.” Click.
- When you click on GPX downloads the site will send you to a “Sign-in or Register” page
- Once you’ve signed in or registered you’ll be returned to the GPX download page.
- Now you’re able to download the tracks.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?