Latest book updates and important news from the Via di Francesco

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Russell Jackson’s guidebook at the end of his Way of St Francis pilgrimage, as seen in his post on the Way of St Francis (official group) page on June 12, 2016.

As The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome enters the heart of its inaugural pilgrimage walking season it’s been an exercise in joy (and a little worry) to watch pilgrims from all over the world use this new resource as they make their way on the Via di Francesco in Italy. On our Facebook group — which has become a gathering place for over 400 pilgrims to share questions and stories about their present, past and future pilgrimage adventures — I’ve enjoyed celebrating pilgrim achievements and wincing at the occasional pitfall. What I’ve learned is that the trail is ever-changing due to weather and human-made changes, that it’s vitally important for pilgrims to follow the directions (!) and that pilgrim guidebooks are a group effort. The book really benefits from pilgrims’ actual experiences and I’ve taken many suggestions to heart in the new update I’ve prepared. So, make sure to follow the directions — and then send me your suggested book updates.

If you’re planning to walk in 2016, please download and use this update. The update will also soon be available on the book’s Cicerone page. Here you go:

Author Update June 2016

Highlights of the update:

  • Credential and testimonium — important new information about how to receive these.
  • Additional directions for Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro — a logging operation has obscured the path and pilgrims have reported difficulty in the 500m after the Euro Hotel. These new directions should reduce confusion.
  • Lodging updates throughout.

Now for the important news. We have learned from pilgrim stewards in Umbria the very good news that this year the Via di Francesco route in Umbria will be combined with the route of Di Qui Passo San Francesco (sometimes known as “Angela’s Route”). This means that the large blue/yellow signs for the Via di Francesco and the painted yellow “Tau” signs for Di Qui Passo will be replaced with new way mark signs all throughout Umbria. In most cases the routes are already identical, but in some cases the two routes have diverged. Most importantly, the “Challenging Route” on Mount Subasio between Assisi and Spello will be replaced with Angela’s route. The “easy route” remains the same. Also, our guidebook’s route on the bike path between Trevi and Spoleto will become a formal, way marked, option for pilgrims who want to save a day and don’t mind missing Poreta. After Spoleto, the Via di Francesco route, which our guidebook follows, becomes the sole route and Angela’s route will be mothballed. We will post updates on the revised, combined route as we receive them from Umbria. It’s outstanding news that these routes will be combined. The fact that Italian pilgrim stewards are becoming more united in their trail markings is great news for pilgrims from all nations.

How to order your Via di Francesco credential

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2014 Credential for the Via di Francesco from Florence to Rome

I’ve lately fielded several requests from people about how to secure a pilgrim’s credential for the Via di Francesco. Although I give pretty specific instructions in the guidebook, The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome, the process has changed slightly and it requires a little Italian and some computer skill to get it just right.

First, what is a credential? Experienced pilgrims (and few others) know that a credential is a pilgrim passport that identifies the pilgrim, allows them to stay overnight in pilgrim-only accommodations, and, if they meet the criteria, to receive a completion certificate at the end of their walk. The pilgrim secures a stamp (tinbro) at or before the start of their walk and then has it stamped each evening at their place of lodging — one stamp per overnight as proof of having walked the previous day.

What credential do we recommend for the Way of St. Francis? There are three main routes to and around Assisi (we won’t go into details here), but the credential of the Via di Francesco is the only one that is officially approved by the Region of Umbria, the Conference of Umbrian Bishops and the Franciscan Family of Orders at Assisi. It’s also the biggest and prettiest, which means a lot since you’ll be lugging it around everywhere you go and it’ll be a keepsake from the walk. So for those and other reasons, this is the best option for walkers along the Way of St Francis.

You should know, too, that your completed Via di Francesco credential qualifies you for a completion certificate — a testimonium — in Assisi or in Rome. A lovely memento of your walk. I should say too that we’re working to make this process much easier. Credentials will be available in Florence soon, but the wheels of change move slowly in Italy!

So, how do you get it now? Here are the easy steps to follow:

  1. Start about two months in advance of your walk. Download the Request Form either right here (RichiestaDellaCredenziale-) .
  2. Print it out — one form per person.
  3. Fill in the form(s). If you’re not an Italian speaker this is where the trouble begins. To help, I’ve created this handy translation of the form below (English in red). I recommend writing your mailing info in the upper left corner in the exact form that will satisfy your country’s postal service.
  4. VdF-Translated Credential2

    Translations in red. I recommend you add your mailing info in the upper left exactly as it should appear on the envelope.

  5. Fill in the form(s). If you’re not an Italian speaker this is where the trouble begins. To help, I’ve created this handy translation of the form at the right (English in red). Don’t forget to add your country and postal code since they’ll need all your mailing info.
  6. Once you’ve filled in the form(s), scan it on your scanner (or take it to FedEx/Kinko’s where they’ll put it on your thumb drive for you.
  7. Email the scanned form(s) to: piccolaccoglienzagubbio@gmail.com. Feel free to write your email in English, no problem. Every week the kind folks there answer emails like this, enroll pilgrims on the official pilgrim register, and send pilgrims all around the world their credentials for free. It’s a beautiful thing.
  8. If you would like to make a donation, the kind folk on the other end of your email will tell you how to transfer funds to their donation account. To initiate that, just write something like, “Can you send me information about how to make a donation to cover the cost of my credential?” They’ll send your their bank transfer numbers, which for security reasons I won’t post here. FYI this is commonly done in the EU and UK, but is rather expensive for people in the US or Australia.
  9. Your credential will arrive in the mail in about 6-7 weeks. The camino overseers there will move Heaven and Earth if necessary to get you your credential in time for your walk.

Also, you can simply pick it up at the pilgrim office in Assisi, if that’s where you’re beginning your walk.

That’s it! I hope this is helpful. Below are some photos of testimonia I received in Assisi and in Rome. Buon cammino!

 

 

Australian pilgrim Bill Bennett describes his walk on the Via di Francesco as “Sublime and Profound”

(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.

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Arrival in Assisi

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?

unnamed-6Starting off in the monastery at della Verna certainly was a deeply moving experience. This is the place where St. Francis experienced his stigmata, and it’s a crucial part of his story.

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.

unnamed-2Because 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.

unnamed-3I 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!

Bill Bennett

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More snapshots of Perugia, and tomorrow on foot to Assisi

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Yes, the dressing is pink and yes that is popcorn on my salad.

Some days ago Patricia of Holland had said, “Since we’re both in town on Sunday, let’s go to the Steve McCurry exhibit that day.” I said, “Sure,” then completely forgot about it until she texted me this morning as I sat in the sunshine at a café on Corso Garibaldi. I was there, waiting for my clothes to finish drying at the Bolle Blu, a nearby coin-operated laundromat.

When I packed for Perugia I was in something of a quandary about what to bring. I knew I’d bring my hiking clothes for my July/August walking adventures, but I didn’t want to wear hiking clothes for a month of language study in Perugia. I also didn’t want to have a big suitcase I’d have to park somewhere while on camino. Theresa offered a modest sized — though flamboyantly Hawaiian — L.L. Bean duffel bag with wheels and it seemed just right for a modest amount of street clothes to wear while in Perugia. I realize now that having just two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, three pairs of socks and six undershorts means I need to do wash about every 5-6 days.

Graziella, my Perugian mom, is happy to do my wash, but on the Sunday of a three-day weekend I just couldn’t bring myself to ask. So I loaded up my clothes and wandered off to the Bolle Blu, where it took just an hour (and €8) to have the machines wash my clothes.

With Patricia’s text I now had a somewhat more grand way to fill the day. After dropping off my clean clothes I met Patricia for a rather elegant lunch (see pic), and then headed down the hill with her to see the beautiful photographs of Steve McCurry. We all remember him as the photographer who captured the startlingly purple/blue eyes of the beautiful Afghan girl some years ago. I think the Umbrian Tourist Office commissioned him to take photos of Umbria for use in publicity since, though they were gorgeous, they did have a somewhat Chamber of Commerce quality to them. Still, I’d recommend the exhibit as a celebration of the art of photography and the beauty of Umbria.

After gelato I dropped off Patricia with Esther of Holland and Ibrahim of Canada and headed out on my own to complete the Porta Sant’Angelo Itinerary from the Perugia walking guidebook.

I walked toward the tall tower at Porta Sant’Angelo, noticed the familiar blue/yellow Via di Francesco way marks along the way, and as I walked I began to think ahead to my new plan for the rest of the weekend. Since tomorrow is my last free day in Perugia, and since I promised my editor I’d have a sample chapter to her by the end of June, this is my last chance to research a day’s walk. If I walk from Perugia to Assisi tomorrow I can get the info I need to create a sample chapter on this stage. This means 25.2 km (about 15.6 miles) on foot. I’ll walk there, take notes and photos — especially of Santa Maria Degli Angeli and the Basilica of St. Francis — and then find some way back.

As I returned home late this afternoon I stopped at a tiny store and bought some crackers and fruit for the journey. This evening I’ll pack for tomorrow’s day of walking to the city of St. Francis. I feel a sense of satisfaction and joy that tomorrow, at least, I’ll be a pilgrim again, with the road under my feet.

Below: photos from today’s walk through the medieval market, to the Steve McCurry exhibit, and off to Porta Sant’Angelo.

Amici in Bici and Amici con Gigi

Biking near the shores of Lago Trasimeno

Biking near the shores of Lago Trasimeno

Yesterday began with a puzzle — could I get to school on my own without getting lost? My class is now starting at 10:00, while Thomas heads to school for a 9:00 class, so without my guide today I would have to figure out the serpentine roads from Via dell Streghe down the hill to Comitato Linguistico, near the bus station. Google Maps was little help — it doesn’t know any of the side alleys and most of the stairways that shorten the trip. Still, I managed to make it in under 20 minutes, only about twice as long as it took with Thomas the day before.

When I arrived I learned from Frederica, who runs the school, that my class would be shortened since there are only two students. That means we’ll start now at 11:00. Once our teacher, Maria, arrived, Patricia and I went to work on some very basic but helpful material — what letters make what sounds, conjugation of the verb “avere” (to have), and some basic descriptors about people — work, education, marital status, etc.

Our biker gang outside the Touro train station.

Our biker gang outside the Touro train station.

When class finished at 1:00 I was starving, so I decided to head across the street for a quick slice of pizza before our bike excursion would leave at the prearranged time of 1:30. After two quick slices I returned to the school at 1:25, only to find that our bike group had already left. Frederica showed me to the bus so I could catch up to them at the train station, but when I arrived at the train station none of my schoolmates were there. To me this didn’t seem like too much of a problem, since it was raining hard and I now had two good excuses to go home and get some anti-jet lag sleep. I gave it one last try by calling Frederica and, while on the phone to her, Hugo, our guide for the trip, miraculously appeared in front of me. The other students had disappeared across the street for their own slices of pizza. Hugo apologized for leaving without me and I apologized for stepping out for an early lunch. Soon all 10 of us were gathered at the now sun-drenched train station, ready to head to Touro Sul Trasimeno, about 20 minutes away, for our bike trip.

I took on a hitchhiker.

I took on a hitchhiker.

After walking from the station to a bike rental shop we headed out along a dirt road near the lake in bright sunshine. I think we all enjoyed the combination of natural beauty and exercise. We did have a couple of accidents, the worst being a spill by Tamila that resulted in a few scrapes and, I’m certain, some bruises too. Roxanna’s bike pedal fell off, so I traded her bikes, and then Delia became exhausted and hitched a ride on the back of my bike for the last kilometer. This all contributed to helping me feel useful. We enjoyed a beer and gelato near the end of the trip, then jumped on the train back to Perugia.

A photo of Thomas taking a photo of the MiniMetro.

A photo of Thomas taking a photo of the MiniMetro.

Back in town we explored one of the amazing features of the Umbrian capital — the MiniMetro. It’s a light rail system with tiny cars that transport passengers up and down Perugia’s big hill — from the train station nearly to the top of the old city. It has its own tracks and tunnels and is a gleaming, modern example of how to enhance the pedestrian experience and keep people off the roads.

After marveling at the MiniMetro I made it back home at about 8:00 along with a bag of soap, shampoo and other supplies from the Farmacia. Graziella had prepared heaping plates of “bow-tie” pasta in red sauce followed by some tasty cod as a second act. I cleaned my plates and then headed out at 10:00 p.m. to meet with Gigi.

As I had researched the Via di San Francesco I came to understand that there are three main tracks, the most well-funded one being sponsored by the Umbrian Office of Tourism. It’s well-marked by the familiar blue/yellow signs and has an excellent website, full of helpful information. After posting about my trip on my blog and others places I somehow soon was making Facebook friends with people in the Tourism office. I was told I had to meet Gigi (Gianluigi) Bettin, who has taken on the Via di San Francesco as his primary work. He had been following my blog and texted me just after I arrived in town, inviting me to meet and discuss all things cammino. Earlier today I’d set up a meeting for us at 10:00 p.m., the earliest my busy social calendar would allow.

Gigi (left), me, and Ciso, talking serious pilgrim talk.

Gigi (left), me, and Ciso, talking serious pilgrim talk. Gigi’s book is in the foreground.

We met at the fountain in the main piazza and Gigi had with him a gentleman named Ciso B_______, a government official who supervises the Tourism Department and other offices for Umbria. He’d run into Gigi on the street just before our meeting and Gigi invited him along to meet me. It was great to know Ciso, since it had been his decision that in 2008 set in motion the creation of the Via di San Francesco. Gigi was hired as a result, and he was responsible for commissioning the way marks and setting in place the website and infrastructure that created this cammino. I felt honored to spend time with these two gentlemen who’ve pulled together what I believe is a truly excellent pilgrimage walk.

As we talked, Gigi and Ciso showed a lot of interest in the post-Florence and pre-Rome stages I’ve included in my itinerary. They agreed that walking from Florence to the start of their itinerary at Santuario della Verna could be challenging. They also agreed that the walk into Rome needs more signage and infrastructure. I encouraged them to recognize that their Franciscan pilgrimage presents an attractive option for the 250,000 people each year who’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and are looking for their next great adventure.

Gigi also shared an interesting detail about his book, La Via di Francesco. His co-author is Paolo Giulietti, a local Catholic bishop who also serves as chaplain for the Italian Santiago confraternity. Don Paolo’s partnership closely connects the pilgrimage to the Catholic Church, which is a real plus for religious pilgrims. Gigi clearly has a great appreciation for the genuine spirituality of this man and I hope to meet him while I’m here. In addition to encouraging me to meet Don Paolo, Gigi invited me to several upcoming meetings — one with the Italian Santiago confraternity in a couple of weeks, and one with Italian pilgrims who’ve completed the Camino de Santiago, the Via Francigena and/or the Via di Francesco. One is here in Perugia and the other is in Florence in a couple of weeks — I’ll have to see if it can fit either onto my crowded calendar.

The subject of the Italian confraternity reminded me of my experience at the Albergue San Nicolas at Puntetitero, run by the Italian confraternity, on the Meseta in Spain. I’d walked there almost exactly three years ago, arriving in the evening after a long and somewhat waterless walk that had begun 37 km (23 miles) earlier that day. Gigi’s eyes sparkled as I told him the story. The place is now my favorite albergue, infused as it is by the joy of the Italian hospitaleros who put on purple capes and wash the feet of each weary pilgrim before serving them a meal of tasty pasta and wine. Their attitude is very Christlike, spiritual, and loving — and their attention makes San Nicolas one of the highlights of the Santiago pilgrimage, brought to you by Italy. I see this same love of pilgrimage in Gigi and Ciso and I look forward to a partnership with them in helping others discover their creation, the Via di San Francesco.

The busy-ness of the day is keeping me from being homesick, I know. I’m missing Theresa, missing the church, missing Seattle. But today was a day of new friends — “amici” — on “bici” (bikes) and with Gigi.

Exploring new territory in the Art of the Selfie

Exploring new territory in the Art of the Selfie