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.

The joys of walking to Rome with Theresa Elliott

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Theresa in Spoleto sporting skorts.

I hope my pilgrim friends will forgive me for this, but I have to say it: of all the people I’ve walked with in 3,500 kilometers of pilgrimages my favorite walking partner is my sweetheart, Theresa Elliott. I’m not just saying this because of how I feel about her. No, there are some specific reasons why I get a kick out of walking with this amazing woman.

A big part of it is that it’s fun to watch Theresa be seen by Italians. Over and over again I see women (and, of course, Italian men) stop and stare at Theresa as we walk by. In Monterotondo I watched a woman with an ice cream cone stop mid-lick with her mouth wide open, ice cream melting onto her fingers, and stare at Theresa as we walked by. I saw it so often that, for fun I started counting. “One, two … six …. ninety-eight …. four-hundred….”

I’m not sure exactly what it is. Maybe it’s the skorts.

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See? Skorts are part shorts, which comes in handy if you’re riding a lion.

For the uninformed, skorts are a combination of shorts and skirt, in this case made of Spandex®. Theresa found two pair at Costco before leaving Seattle and she’s worn them almost every day while walking. Even for pilgrim women a hiking skirt is a little uncommon, but Theresa has proven skorts a great choice for hot weather walking. I’m not certain Italian women find the combination of skorts and pilgrim hiking boots to be leading edge fashion, runway bound, but the look attracts attention.

I know it’s also that Theresa is in great physical shape and her figure brings admiring looks. All those years of yoga, dancing and good self-care have given Theresa a very athletic build. She also has excellent posture and all the things our mothers told us about standing up straight (it’ll make you look 10 years younger and 10 pound lighter) come true with Theresa. She’s just a few years younger than me, but there’s a youthful spring in her step that gives her a winsome energy, which is in distinct contrast to another unusual aspect of Theresa’s appearance.

She has naturally grey hair.

I noticed soon after arriving in Italy in May that the hair of Italian women never turns grey. It’s the most incredible thing. Older women, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, elderly women in walkers, gypsy panhandler grandmothers — all have hair in various shades of blonde, brown or black, surprisingly with no strands of grey or white. I began to be suspicious until it was revealed to me by an actual Italian woman — they dye their hair. All of them do it. Just as soon as any grey appears.

Theresa does not dye her hair. Ever. She has a healthy, thick head of black, grey and white — a color combination that is not for sale at any drug store. When Italian women see this athletic, shapely, grey-haired, skort-clad, booted, American yoga teacher strolling down the lane in red lipstick they are, well, sbalordito, which according to Google Translate means … “flabbergasted.”

Consider, for instance, the three 80-ish year old men near Labro who were standing outside a farmhouse as we walked by, on our way up to the lonely peak of Faggio Bustone on a blustery morning last week. Between the three of these elderly farmers there were not enough teeth for one complete set. As we walked by they stopped mid-sentence and stared at us in bewildered amusement. Then they peppered us with questions. “Where are you from?” “Where are you going?” “Do you know there’s going to be a rainstorm today?” “Are you carrying a tent?” “Where are you staying tonight?” “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” “Do you know how steep the climb is?” And then the question most pressing on their minds: “We understand why a man would do this, but why are you bringing this pretty woman with you?” “Much less this yoga teacher in skorts?

OK, the last question was mine, but the other questions were theirs and they are all versions of the same basic fact: Theresa makes a strong impression on these Italians. And I love that. It happened again tonight after dinner. I watched a woman stop eating and just stare as we walked by. I know that one of her thoughts is, “What a striking woman,” and I know the other thought, as she sizes me up, is: “Hmmm. He must be rich.”

But watching Italians watch her is not the only reason why I’ve enjoyed having Theresa with me these two weeks during my months-long Italian sojourn. What’s even more fun is that I get to see Italy through Theresa’s eyes.

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Theresa in skorts at the Spoleto cemetery.

Take for instance her fascination with cemeteries. I’ve passed right by countless cemeteries in my pilgrimages in Spain and Italy. They’re usually on the outskirts of the villages and towns along the way and, to me, seem sad and a little eery. When we arrived at Spoleto and headed to the UNESCO-listed basilica, Theresa was much more interested in the cemetery nearby. She described it to me as a fascination with the little buildings, the lives and stories they held, and the care with which they are maintained. As we walked toward Rome, Theresa most looked forward to finding another cemetery to explore.

It was interesting, too, to see how Theresa dealt with the issues around the pilgrimage itself. Remember, we averaged almost 15 miles of walking each day, sometimes on difficult terrain through brambles or up and down steep hillsides. Theresa’s athleticism helped her overcome every day’s challenges. More than that, she taught me some lessons about listening to your body.

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Pilgrimage is over. At the Spanish Steps in New Dress #2.

Each day of a pilgrimage I assume I’m in for an ordeal, punctuated with beauty and meditation of course. I push my body ahead whether I’m hot, cold, hungry or thirsty and keep a uniform pace all day long, onward toward the goal. Theresa’s pace varied depending on how she felt, and she was comfortable either being in the lead or being behind by 20 meters. She was always appropriately tired after the walk, but once at the hotel Theresa would take a one hour nap, after which — no matter how long we’d walked in the day — she would bounce up and be wanting to wash clothes, shop, or explore. She is so connected to her body. I push and push, collapse in fatigue at night, and drag myself grimly onward the next day. She feeds, soothes, listens, comforts and honors her body and then is quickly ready for the next day’s challenge.

During our walk Theresa overcame a couple of difficult skin rashes on her legs, as well as some sunburn on her shoulders and a few blisters on her feet. She never complained one single time. She never asked for pity or comfort. She is a very strong person and I can’t help but admire her stamina and composure.

She’s also curious. As we walked she gathered a pocketful of mementoes. Some stones, a few broken tiles, a piece of jewelry and a tiny plastic arm from a child’s small doll. I trudged past each of these little treasures, not wanting to weigh myself down with extra ounces that add up to pounds. I know she will keep these shiny little objects and treasure them as part of her long walk to Rome.

And of course it’s fun to be with her because, well, she’s a girl. She’s totally into the art and architecture and archeology we’ve seen along the way, but she can’t pass a dress shop without wondering if that dress will fit. Among the highlights of Rome — the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Forum, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain — the dress shops could not be missed. Sure enough, we found a couple of beautiful dresses that look very Italian, which just means even more people will notice this strong, smart and pretty American woman as she enjoys her time in this Eternal City.

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After a very long first day of hiking, Theresa is still smiling as we arrive at Abbazia San Pietro in Valle.

Here at Assisi, Halfway to Rome

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So many sunflowers on the way to Valfabbrica.

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:

Distance Log

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.

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And this amazing 500-year old painting was just hanging there in the empty cathedral.

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.

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Funny, I have no photos of myself. But I did take one with the cool new shirt I bought in Vienna.

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.