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

Nice town you got here, St. Francis

May 13, 2013 — Assisi, Umbria, Italy

IMG_2135The first thing I noticed about Italy when I awoke just before noon today was how much different it smells from Spain. There is a spicy, kind of sagey smell to Italy and as we looked down into the valley below Assisi I imagined the smell emanated from the countless, verdant orchards and farms below.

Yep, I woke at noon. The jet lag was responsible, and maybe the cold I’ve nursed for the last ten days. My kind friends, Sebastian and Jacqueline, sneaked out quietly this morning so I could get some extra shut-eye in preparation for the many miles ahead.

After an early afternoon shower I headed out to coffee and soon saw Sebi and Jacqueline walking up the hill toward the cafe near our pension. We paused for a breakfast slash lunch and then headed out for tours of Assisi’s amazing churches.

First stop was nearby San Rufino, then off to Santa Chiara with its relics of Francis and Clare. Then to San Damiano where Francis heard his mission to “rebuild the church.” From there we crossed town to the spectacular Basilica of San Francesco. When I was here in 1999 the upper church was closed for earthquake repairs. This time it was open and the historic 13th c. frescoes lived up to their billing. They depict in stark medieval style the important scenes from the life and death of St. Francis and the overall sense is of ancient, otherworldly mystery and power. The feeling deepened as we made our way to the lower church with its tombs of Francis and his friends.

20130514-213151.jpg

Three pilgrims in front of our first waymark for the Via di San Francesco

After walking the town we stopped in true pilgrim style for beers and conversation. Seated next to us in the cafe were a delightful couple, Margo and Carol, from Illinois. They’re touring Italy with a jolly bus group from the States which we happened to meet later at dinner.

Following our meal it was back to Camere Carli for showers and sleep in advance of our first day of walking. Tomorrow’s goal: 25 km to Foligno, or if necessary, just 17 km to Spello.

Cheers to friends who are following us via FB and this blog! We love you and are thankful for the many joyful wishes and prayers for a safe and fun camino 2013.