Castles, mountains and olives

Marco fills us in on cold press extra virgin olive oil in the Poggio San Lorenzo frantoio that’s been in his family for 400 years

Day ten: Poggio San Lorenzo to Ponticelli — 22 km (13.7 miles)

Luke drove us in the van back to Poggio San Lorenzo and when we arrived we had a lecture from a Marco about his olive oil press. A big thanks to Francesco Lucioli for setting it up. Then we walked to Ponticelli via Poggio Moiano and had a great time in the gorgeous scenery.

Our group poses with Francesco and Marco.

Hanging with Francesco.

Then we walked….

….through beautiful scenery …..

….met new friends……

….stopped at ancient churches……

….with amazing exterior carvings……

….and beautiful interiors.

San Martini church, Poggio Moiano.

Poggio Moiano bridge.

Then we stayed the night in 15th century Castello Orsini.

New friendships made as the miles accumulate

May delRe’s photo of our group at dinner. Our hotel was once a prince’s hunting lodge

Day nine: Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo — 21 km (13 miles)

We walked from Rieti to Ponte Sambuco where we met three Austrian Pilgrims and had lunch. Then the stronger walkers went on to Poggio San Lorenzo while the others returned by van to the hotel (Villa Park Potenziani) where they enjoyed a few more hours in the lovely setting. I’m loving how barriers are coming down in the group and we are starting to really enjoy each other’s company.

We walk along Via Salaria to leave Rieti.

Roman bridge at Ponte Sambuco (third century).

Ornaro in the distance.

Our group in the woods.

Look closely at the sign and you’ll see the group is at the 100km left to Rome marker.

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.

Getting Closer to Rome, but First the Mountains and Valleys of Lazio

May 26, 2013 — Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo
20130524-170703.jpgSerendipity in the piazza

Sometimes you see the darnedest things if you pay attention, and today was an example. We awoke, got breakfast, headed out the door, then waited in the sunny piazza of Rieti while Jacqueline ran an errand. While she was gone a large group of food servers suddenly spilled out of a building, assembled a few tables, then gathered for a photo. I jumped in, said “fromaggio!” and snapped a photo of my own, to the surprise of the assembled group. They shouted “Queso!” “Fromaggio!” and “Cheese!” with big smiles. Then as quickly as they appeared they were gone, leaving us wondering what had just happened.

Jacqueline soon returned and we gathered up our things and headed to the supermarket for lunch items, asked directions to get out of town and then were off.

20130524-172955.jpgJust 100 kilometers left until Rome

About a kilometer later, just south of town, we saw an important sign by our trail: “100 kilometers (70 miles) to the Tomb of St Peter in Rome.” More important is what was just behind us — the Cottorella bottled water factory which bottles the pure waters of this region and distributes them all over Italy.

As we snapped our photos it began to feel like the beginning of the end of our pilgrimage. Just 4-5 days more and we will be in Rome. Perhaps it was that our goal was looming closer or perhaps it was the threatening clouds ahead –either way we walked ahead crisply, grimly and with unusually few words.

The trail followed the highway for some time, then ducked across the valley to a gravel track beneath a double row of stately trees. To our delight this continued on for several kilometers before the track moved beside the creek at the center of the valley. We followed its burbling sounds for several more long kilometers and then followed the trail through meadows to a quiet road on the west side of the valley. After a couple of kilometers we found a concrete bulkhead next to the road and shared our simple lunch of focaccia bread, cheese and nectarines.

20130524-173614.jpgTrail beside the burbling creek

At about 15 kilometers we followed markers to a gravel road that veered off to the right and followed this for several more kilometers. By now we were starting to get weary from our long walk, and we began to notice signs for an agritourismo (rural guest house) near our goal, Poggio San Lorenzo.

20130524-190220.jpgMy view much of the day, this time on a steep uphill

The gravel trail ended at a narrow, two-lane road with a hopeful sign: “800 meters ahead” to the agritourismo. The waymarks, though, pointed in exactly the opposite direction. We bravely followed them, ignoring thoughts of beds and showers and food, and walked uphill for 30 minutes until we saw another sign for the same agritourismo: “800 meters ahead.” The deal was sealed — we were staying there.

A quick call to the posted number and our rooms were reserved. A few minutes after that we were comfortably in our rooms, a day closer to Rome, ready for dinner at 7:30. As we waited for our evening meal we hand washed laundry, quietly wrote in our diaries and blogs and noticed from the warmth of our rooms it had started to rain outside.

20130524-191231.jpgPilgrims’ self portrait