Everything seems better in clean clothes

Derelict church in upper Macenano

Day five: Ceselli to Arrone — 17 km (10.6 miles)

We walked from our lovely hotel today through Macenano and then out the Nera Valley to Ferentillo and Arrone. Who would ever guess that Arrone’s central piazza would include an ultramodern laundromat? The couple of hours spent cleaning clothes will make life much more pleasant, I’m sure.

Group pic at the start of the day in front of Abbazia San Pietro, our hotel.

Quiet times for the local Communist Party.

The Nera Valley.

Who would guess that this little Italian hill town would have….

…a state of the art laundromat right in the main piazza?

Mountain paths, amazing views

Bas-relief sculptures from 10th century on the facade of Spoleto’s Chiesa San Pietro

Day four: Spoleto to Ceselli — 17km (10.6 miles)

With the Ponte delle Torri closed in Spoleto we walked around via San Pietro, then climbed the giant hill. From there it was over the hump to Valnerina and our overnight at gorgeous Abbazia San Pietro in Valle.

We gave hikers the option of walking today’s mighty hill or taking the van. Five of eleven walked with me. Here we gather for a photo.

The currently closed bridge.

Hiking up toward the summit after Monteluco sanctuary.

Eating at the lunch pasture.

Photo op above the gorge.

The gorge.

“Look how high up we are!”

From below, that is where we were. Way up there above the cliffs

Our stop Forbes the night — Abbazia San Pietro in Valle.

Pentecost, with 250 Well-Dressed Italians

May 19, 2013 — Ceselli to Arrone

Today ended up being about clothes — clean pilgrim utilitarian, dirty pilgrim utilitarian, and fancy Italian festival.

After we awoke in our Ceselli “agritourismo” (rural guest house) our first task was to check whether our hand-washed clothes had dried overnight. No luck, they were still damp. We’d managed to wash a load of laundry back in Spello, but by now all 2-3 changes of all our clothes were dirty. Our hopes for a washer and dryer at Ceselli were quashed by our host, who told us (standing in his immaculate outfit) that the nearest laundromat is in Trevi, 20 miles away. So we’d washed a few things and set them out to dry overnight, hoping for better luck at tonight’s lodging in Arrone.

Even as we checked our clothes we noticed it was raining outside, so we put off our departure until 9:45, when the rain had let up a bit.
20130519-191433.jpgDeparting under cloudy skies

We knew today’s track would be quite flat, so we began our walk in good spirits, in spite of the fact we were each wearing dirty clothes. The path followed a quiet gravel road alongside the river all morning,

Along the way we met our first fellow pilgrim in two days — Johann of Holland. He is a well-traveled, older man, walking from somewhere before Assisi, like us to Rome. We said goodbye when the sun became too warm for our raingear and we had to stop for a change of clothes mid-path.

We enjoyed a quick coffee at 11:00 at a small cafe staffed by three older women and then an elegant luncheon (with cloth napkins) at 12:30 in Ferentillo.

20130519-191946.jpgA plate of gnocchi and mozzarella with pomodoro at Ferentillo

20130519-192456.jpgFerentillo and castle above

I asked our lunch host if the twin ruins opposite each other on the high walls of the gorge were churches or castles. “Castles,” he answered in Italian. “One on each side so people walking through would have to pay taxes.”

As we continued our walk, we came across two Italian pilgrims walking toward us, older women who’d already been to Rome. The phone of the one wearing a parka rang just then and, busy with the distraction they left in a chorus of “Ciao!” and “Arrivederci!” In about 250 meters we found a new women’s North Face baseball cap lying in the path and were certain it belonged to the Italian women, who by now were too far away for us to find easily. So, Jacqueline now has a nice, new hat — a pilgrim blessing.

20130519-214312.jpgPoppies basking in the sun

The valley broadened out as we walked and it was clear the mountains on either side were receding. We knew we would soon be in Arrone, our goal for tonight. We arrived at the upper piazza, where we were directed to an agritourismo below. At the reception desk we were offered a huge, three bedroom, two bath suite for 27 Euros each — the “pilgrim price.” We quickly accepted, then asked the day’s important question: do you have a washing machine? To our delight, the answer was “Yes!” (emphasis mine).

We’d noticed the posting for a Pentecost Sunday evening service at the church in the upper city, so our next question was, “Which dirty clothes shall we wear to church while our other clothes are being washed?” We chose various odd pieces, with and without underwear, and headed to services.

Under the 15th century frescoes of this smallish church were 250 well-dressed Italians enjoying confirmation, with the local bishop presiding in his finest regalia. Several of the men were dressed in the finest Armani. Most women were dressed, made-up and coiffed to kill. Even the kids were scrubbed clean and fitted out in the newest fashions their proud parents could afford.

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We in our grimy gear had only the solace of knowing that, like St. Francis whom we were following, we were living a simple life of patience and humility.

Sadly, we learned after our dinner of pizza and profiteroles that the spin cycle of the agritourismo’s washer wasn’t working just right, and our clothes came out of the early evening wash quite wet. Will they be dry in the morning? Let’s hope.

20130519-220044.jpgPilgrim pizza in dirty clothes near a church full of clean and well dressed Italians

This Can’t be Italy

May 18, 2013 — Spoleto to Ceselli

Our room for the night in Spoleto had three beds — two singles and one double — and somehow I managed to score the double! That meant a luxurious night in a bed which was not only big, but comfortable. I slept well.

We awoke at 6:30 to discover the water was back on, so it was showers all around, followed by a breakfast of brioches (croissants) and Nutella, which seems delightfully omnipresent. By 8:30 we were out the door, then off to the ATM for cash, then up to the top of town to find the waymarks for our route.

At the sunny Duoma Piazza we discovered the road blocked due to more filming of the Terence Hill show. Next to the policeman who told us to find another way to our goal was our friend Daniele, with Atan. He was eagerly awaiting Terence Hill’s arrival so he could get an autograph, and it was great to share a final “arrivaderci!”

Our detour led us handily to the necessary waymarks and we were soon climbing east of the piazza toward the castle above. The castle sits on a circular mountain above the city and we walked around its base to the side opposite the city, where we discovered an enormous stone bridge that stretched across the canyon to the next mountain. Our waymarks directed us across the bridge and we made the most of the acrobatic walk, snapping photos of the wooded mountains and distant valleys.

At the end of the bridge the signs directed us to a steep, gravel path that switched back and forth up the mountain, climbing 300 meters (900 ft) in two kilometers (1.4 miles) through thick forest to the tiny settlement of Monteluco. Here we found a hotel with an outdoor bar, where we enjoyed an orange juice and rest, well-earned after our tiring climb.

As we paid the bill, Sebastian pointed out an old motorcycle sitting across from the bar. “Come,” the bartender said, and he led us back to his shop/showroom full of restored and nearly-restored Italian bikes. We recognized Moto Guzzi, Vespa, Piaggio, and many others. After admiring his motorcycles and thanking him for the tour we headed along the path and discovered a small, medieval Franciscan monastery from the year 1218. We toured the tiny monks’ cells, met a young friar, and asked him to stamp our pilgrim credentials, a task to which he cheerfully obliged.

We headed again to the trail, knowing we were only part way through with today’s ascent. After first missing our marker near a field below the monastery we rejoined the gravel path up the mountain. By noon we reached the summit of our climb, Valico Castel del Monte, nearly 500 meters (1500 ft) and just 7 km (4.5 miles) from our starting point in Spoleto. As we shared a lunch of bread sticks, tomatoes, cherries and cheese looking down on a view of green mountains and rich valleys we congratulated ourselves on how quickly our legs were at pilgrim strength, allowing us a big climb in good time with little pain or weariness. After four days we felt ready to climb anything.

For today’s hike it was all downhill from here. We walked down and down, by vast vistas of mountains and valleys, through the ghost village of Sensati, then past a cemetery and the tiny town of Nevi. Finally at about 3:30 we reached Ceselli and were waved into the town’s single hotel, “Il Ruscello,” by it’s proprietor. Famished as we were by now we accepted his offer to take us to Schreggino, where we had beer and ice cream for snacks and bought pasta for dinner. Arriving back in Ceselli we had showers, did laundry, then cooked our dinner, which we enjoyed over a bottle of the local vintage.

Most surprising of the day was the realization that the miles of green mountains we’d enjoyed were Italy. I’d always thought Italy was made up of dry grass, barren hills and lone cypress trees pointing to the sky. Turns out this part of Italy could just as easily be the hills of North Carolina or France or Wisconsin. Today was a beautiful experience in joy and beauty in a warm, green place with dear friends. A day that began in an annoying detour ended in a gracious meal of pasta and wine and loving conversation.

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