Bonassola to 4km East of Sestri Levante – April 29

I’ve read of studies which demonstrated that using two walking poles enables the transfer of about 20% of load (i.e. from the backpack) to the arms and shoulders. I certainly needed that 20% today for the walk up from Bonassola. The thought is always present when you are descending into a valley that you will have to climb out of it. The climb which linked up with a secondary road had one of those rare experiences on this trip and that was to go onto a very infrequently used path for some of the way. It reminded me of walking in Spain when it led past the front door of one house and under an arch attached to another.

There was always the threat of rain. It was overcast all day, but very little of the wet
stuff fell from the sky. What did, occurred at the two hour mark so I took my break in the relative comfort of an abandoned house. A mist hung about in the valleys for most of the day. High up the road was wet but not from rain. It was one of those areas where there is always moisture in the air.

Several times on the climb in the early afternoon I stopped, looked into the valley below, enjoyed the green of the tree tops, closed my eyes, and felt the silence. The
only interruptions were birds singing their tunes, or the sound of a gentle wind swirling around me. These were treasured moments. There was very little traffic
today, but when the road I was on crossed the path of the Autostrada a couple of hundred metres below the noise from it still managed to find its way to me.

Today was a tough one climbing from sea level to 615m. The climb took 4 hours and I only managed to cover 12km in that time. When I got to Bracco I sat opposite an albergo while I checked my map. I was so tempted to give up, go in and collapse onto a bed. It was a test of my psychological strength to continue on even though
my mind was telling me to give up. I pushed on for another 8km and found a camping ground on the outskirts of Siestri Levante, where I am tonight.

Its been a slow news day. Met no one. Hardly saw anyone, and didn’t even have to contend with any quantity of cars until the very end of the day.

High Above Corniglia to Bonassola – April 28

I didn’t realize when I stopped to make camp last night that I was just a couple of hundred metres from the top of the mountain, so it was literally all down hill today. It was an easy walk aerobically, but torrid on my knees.

Today has been a most productive one for conversations in English. It fascinates me how I recently have been describing a lack of them and today I was presented with three. First, there were Monica and Matteo, an Italian couple from the north of the country, sitting by the side of the road as I passed. Matteo looked out his down turned window and spoke. He and I talked for about 10 minutes. Monica hardly said a thing. We learned a little about each other and when he asked how far I had come I realized that the location we were speaking I was at the 500km mark. I
had only done the sums while in La Spezia.

My second conversation commenced on the outskirts of Levanto when I was asked directions by three Irish women from Galway, two sisters and their friend. I didn’t get their names. They’d been doing the Cinque Terre, had travelled to Levanto by train and were about to walk back to Monterosso al Mare, the most westerly of the five villages, where they were staying. While I was speaking about the fundraising part of my walk one of the women handed me some Euros towards my goal. I declined, handing her a leaflet and inviting all three to have a look at my website if they wanted to make a donation. I’d earlier given the Italian couple a brochure. I normally just invite people to go to the webiste where it will be obvious they can make a donation. I usually also say that I write a daily blog.

After arriving in Levanto I chose a restaurant with outside seating and which had a pasta dish I wanted to eat, in this case spaghetti alle vongoli, a dish I fell in love with in Positano on a visit there in 1987. Already sitting at the table next to mine were Dianna and Richard from Pennsylvania in the USA, who were in the area also to do the Cinque Terra. We chatted for about 45 minutes during lunch. Again, I spoke
about what I was doing, and why. They also got a copy of my brochure. I was still seated as they were leaving. Diana lent over, gave me a hug and wished me well. This friendly gesture made me think that what we say, and sometimes more importantly, how we say it, enables us to connect with people in a way that is not obvious at the time.

Today’s journey was one of panoramic views of mountains, valleys, ravines, cliffs and blue ocean dotted with some of the villages that make up the Cinque Terre which from high up look like dolls houses in pastel shades of yellow, orange, and pink.

The walk from Levanto to Bonassola was a fascinating one. I exited Levanto via a long boardwalk which led to the first of about five tunnels that connect it with my destination. The longest of the tunnels is about one kilometre and all of them are for the exclusive use of pedestrians and cyclists. The trip which I thought was going to take an hour of solid walking took just 35 minutes.

I’ve just had a beautiful meal at my hotel: a set menu of four courses and fruit for
just €13. One of the dishes was lasagna made with béchamel and pesto sauces. Pesto is a specialty of this district. I’m getting used to eating a salad at the end of the meal- quite refreshing and cleansing.

Tomorrow I’ve got a 30km walk to Sestri Levante, but it won’t be an early start because breakfast doesn’t begin until 8.00am. Sometimes we just have to make sacrifices.

Eleven Things I’ve Learned in Italy – April 28

I’ve now been on the road for a month. It’s time I shared some things I’ve learned in that time from walking, and going to restaurants and hotels. Of course, it is a little tongue in cheek.

1. Pedestrian crossings are merely advisory to drivers of an area of the road where some fool may be stupid enough to cross.

2. Italian drivers use their indicator lights sparingly for fear of blowing a light bulb.

3. It is forbidden to use a pedestrian crossing without first determining that there is
not a car to be seen in either direction.

4. Signs that indicate the distance to the next town should not be taken as gospel: they are merely a rough guess.

5. Arrows which appear to be directing you to the left or the right are really saying ‘go straight ahead’. Italians learned very early on that to point an arrow skywards to indicate straight ahead would lead to chaos.

6. Italians like talking on their mobile telephones when driving, especially truck
drivers negotiating steep downhill slopes in the Tuscan hills.

7. Adornments hanging from rear vision mirrors are compulsory, particularly a set of rosary beads.

8. Bidet’s in hotel bathrooms should only be used to do hand washing.

9. Hotel shower units are impossibly small to give Italian medical researchers the opportunity to study the effects of water on claustrophobia.

10. No conversation in a public place, like a restaurant, is ever too loud.

11. Using hands to express yourself is mandatory. When driving a motor car taking both hands off the wheel to express oneself is a most desirable skill to possess.

Helmuts Wife

La Spezia to High Above Corniglia – April 27

Me walking in my silhouette.

In couldn’t get the Internet at my hotel last night so I returned to the restaurant where I ate last night, knowing it was available there, sat outside and posted for April 26. Tonight I’m blogging from inside my tent, around 500m altitude, in a clearing in a pine forest. I relish the contrast between one day and the next.

I made my way out if La Spezia seeing some lovely old buildings. As you begin to ascend, the mountain range behind the city seems to merge with the sea. The city has a wonderful mix of residential, retail and commercial living side by side. I took a very scenic road to Fabio Alto. It wasn’t my intended path so when I reached there out came the Google maps. A climb up a set of stairs got me back on course.

There are a number of tunnels through the mountains. The first one I navigated was gun barrel straight and went for nearly 2km. It’s kind of weird walking on the roadway of a dimly lit tunnel seeing a set of head lights far off, and taking what seemed an eternity to reach me by which time I had retreated to a narrow walkway.

At the end of this tunnel the was the perfect place to rest and eat. I felt so relaxed it was about an hour and a half before I got going again. The time was by then nearly three o’clock.

As I neared the turnoff for Riomaggiore, the first if five towns which make up the Cinque Terre, the others being Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso as you move westwards, I toyed with the idea of making the descent to Riomaggiore. I did. From there I walked to Manarola. There is a route which would have taken me to Vernazza, my intended destination but I chose to make the climb back up onto the main road. Not a good move. Apart from missing out on the coastal walk, after leaving Manzrola I did nothing but climb, climb and climb. I felt so exhausted I had to find a spot to pitch camp. I’ve settled on a clearing just off the main road and out

of view of view of passing traffic.

I should say something about Cinque Terre and so I’ll simply repeat a paragraph from a brochure: “The territory of the Cinque Terre is the result of a thousand years of work by peasant farmers who transformed the steep cliffs into fertile terraces for the cultivation of vines and the production of famous wine. The delicate balance between the natural elements and human actions has created a unique scenery, and is included in the list of cultural assets belonging to the World Heritage, by UNESCO”.

Photograph by Helmut, a German man I met by the side of the road with his wife Rosemarie

On my way up the mountain tonight I stopped at a vantage point when a German couple, Rosemary and Helmut pulled up. I had a conversation with Rosemary who translated for her husband. I can’t tell you how good it was to have a conversation in English, particularly with such friendly people. Some things we take for granted.

North of Marina di Massa to La Spezia – April 26

I had an excellent sleep in my little tent last night. It was a small camping ground with few people in residence. Very quiet.

Some experiences just warm your heart. Yesterday I saw a man picking up rubbish from the footpath and placing it onto a trolley he was pushing. It didn’t look an official job, but that was what he was doing. When I drew beside him he said something. I thought he asked me where I was headed. I said, “Espana”, to which he gave a chuckle of the ‘yeah, right’ type. Then I mentioned Santiago de Compostela to which he threw his hand over his heart. His face lit up and he repeated the name of my destination in a way that suggested it was somewhere he
would like to go, or had been there and had the fondest memories of it. I told him I was a pilgrim. We parted.

Today I passed through Marina di Carrara. This place had a serious amount of public parklands, something I’ve not seen a lot of in my travels. The temperature got up to 25 degrees. It was good to be back in some open country again, although the sea was never too far away. Instead of going over a mountain like I did in Tuscany, today I went around one. A giant loop in my approach to La Spezia. I could have taken a more coastal route, but it looked much longer and today was 26.5km anyway.
I made good time today taking little time to rest, unlike yesterday which seemed to be full of rest periods, even though I still managed to cover 22km. Today I felt a lot tougher psychologically.

It had to happen. I was waiting to see my first Che Guevara flag. You know the iconic image of him with beard and beret with his eyes turned to his right. Today was the day. There it was draped over a balcony in a residential block with the Italian flag alongside. Maybe its owner’s grandparents belonged go the Red Brigade.

It was a tedious entry into La Spezia with docklands commencing at least 5kms out and running right into the city centre. Nothing excited my interest except a naval aircraft carrier, but I couldn’t get a good enough look at it from the road.

Life’s full of contrasts: last night a one person tent and tonight a 3 star hotel. I should add in my defense that I first went to a one star albergo and was told there was no vacancy. Sometimes I think they take one look at me and refuse, like what happened in Tolfa where the night clerk miraculously found a room one minute after
saying he didn’t have one. I think they see the backpack and my walking clothes and make the presumptuous judgment that I may not be able to afford it. I’ve lost count of the number of hotel clerks who, as soon as I have told them what I want, tell me the price. When the price includes breakfast I eat long and heartily.

My feet were a little sore after today’s effort, but nothing that a good massage and a rest won’t fix by tomorrow morning. My back gave me no problem today. It’s a mystery. As I was passing through this seaside town today there was a set of scales on the street. I stepped on with pack and walking poles. I should add that I wasn’t
carrying two days food like I did in Tuscany. My weight was 99kg. I know I’ve shed some weight while on the walk. If those scales were accurate it seems like I’m carrying around 20kg. No wonder my back is singing a song of lament.

There were virtually no restaurants in the area my hotel is located but I did manage go find my way to a splendid seafood place where the food was just divine. I’m not sure if it will be a camping night tomorrow but just in case I’ve stocked up on food after doing a supermarket shop this afternoon. More weight, but what’s a kilo or two when I’ve got the load I have.

Viareggio to North of Marina di Massa – April 25

I felt really sluggish for my first two hours of walking. A muscle in my back near the left should blade has been giving me hell. One thing I’ve noticed is that at the start of each day’s walk a different weakness or sore spot emerges only to disappear during the day. Not so today with the back muscle.

My present plan is to be in La Spezia tomorrow, having worked my way up the coast today. This coastline is a tourist Mecca. There has been no end of stalls, mobile street vendors, restaurants, cafes and hotels for a lot of today’s walk but the first 10km, in particular. Push bikes are very popular. They aren’t your high-tech type, but the good old style with no gears, hand brakes, (no, not that old in style to have a back-pedal brake) and a guard over the chain on both men and women’s bikes. No
one wears a helmet, except for the occasional child. There are hundreds upon hundreds of people out walking.

It’s hard for us as Australians to imagine that beach could be privately owned, but it is in this area. For at least 10-12kms of today’s walk I saw beachfront that appeared go be allocated to private clubs that provided their clientele with an area fenced off from the hordes where you could sit undisturbed in one of their deck chairs under one of their umbrellas and be served drinks as required. Where these places did not take
up space the beachfront was allocated to restaurants and other businesses.
Kilometre after kilometre the restaurants were doing a roaring trade.

I spent most of the walk just looking at people, which can be challenging by trying to avoid being judgmental. And it was another day of admiring the beautiful clothes people were wearing. Scarves made from open weave fabrics tied loosely around the neck are popular with both men and women, especially men. Men over 40 are not afraid to wear pink, usually as a pullover, or jeans in pastel colours.

It was flat walking all day, but their is an impressive mountain range just kilometres
to the east of the coast. The peaks look much higher than anything I encountered in the past week or so. The beach sand is lighter in colour (mid brown) than when I was last on a beach north of Civitavecchia where it was a gunmetal grey. There was a polo match (the type played on horses) in progress on the beach as I passed by. The commentator called a goal that made the score 7-5. (No other information is available at this stage.)

I’m staying at at a camping ground tonight. It’s located on the main road which isn’t carrying a lot of traffic around 9.30pm as I am about to post this blog. It’s not as

good camping as in the Tuscan hills, but you do get a hot shower and that’s worth the €10 site fee.

Anzac Day 2011 – April 25

It is only since 2005 that I have actively taken part in Anzac Day celebrations by being with some of those men with whom I served in Vietnam in 1969 – 1970. Becoming involved was a decision a long time in the making.

War can affect people in quite different ways. For my part for a very long time I felt ashamed of my participation in that war. The overwhelming public feeling at the time was that Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War was wrong. However, what the ‘public’ failed to recognize was the distinction between the politics of Australia’s involvement and the reasons why individuals, like myself, became participants. So it was that if you were a participant you became branded as someone who agreed with
the politics of the war. A large number of us were conscripted into the armed
services and conscription was introduced in order to provide the troops needed to prosecute a political decision.

For the whole of the time I was in the army I cannot recall a single conversation
about whether it was right or wrong for Australia to be participating in the war. We just went about doing what we were told to do, and when in Vietnam the overwhelming considerationn was getting out of the place alive.

Things do change for the better. One only has to see the recognition given to soldiers who have participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though many of the public, including myself, regard our participation in those wars as misguided.

Since 2005 I have marched with pride on Anzac Day with men with whom I served. It is difficult to describe the bond that forms from having the experiences we had, but it is a bond that will link us for the rest if our lives. So to you boys from 3 Platoon, A Company, 5th Battalion, second tour 69-70, have a great day. I’ll be thinking of
you today as I march up the west coast of Italy. You have a beer for me and I’ll light a candle for you.

Pisa to Viareggio – April 24

I made my way from Hotel Roseto by way of Via Roma (sounds more exotic than Rome Street) which took me past the University of Pisa. Such was my ignorance of the streets of Pisa that Via Roma led me directly to the Duome and the Leaning Tower. I was able to get a look inside that wonderful cathedral. There’s something I’ve noticed about these large churches: there never seems to be enough pews. This one, like others I’ve seen supplement the seatimg with plastic chairs which appear quite out of place. Maybe pews were a later addition and originally people just stood for the whole of the service.

I’m now back on the Via Aurelia, which doubles for a lot of the time as the SS1 (for
you road code buffs). I started on this road back in Rome as I left the precinct of St Peter’s Basilica. It’s one of the main roads that joins Rome with cities north of it. It gets it’s name, as I think I mentioned earlier, from it being an original pilgrim route which followed the coastline from France via Menton to Rome.

Pisa doesn’t occupy a very large geographical area but as for tourists per square centimetre it’s happening in that city. Like a lot of of other large European cities I’ve visited recently, such as Paris, the African migrants become the mobile street vendors
with their trays of sunglasses, bunches of umbrellas or displays of cosmetic jewellery.
They congregate around the tourist spots to sell their wares. I’ve seen a small number of Indians doing the same.

A few hundred metres north of the Duoma is an area where tourist buses park to disgorge their organized tour groups who then foot it into the tourist precinct which possibly includes a stroll down Corso Italia after crossing the river which snakes its way through the city.

As I walked well beyond the city the incoming traffic was bumper to bumper at times. I felt like I was in a goldfish bowl as I slowly passed them. As the holiday season approaches there are a lot more mobile homes on the road. I started a 45 minute break around 11.45am and then walked until 4.30pm without a break. I feel like I’m getting stronger as the days go by. My feet are now in excellent condition for walking

but my back and shoulders are racked with pain at the end of each day. It’s a constant job getting the balance right between weight on the hips and weight on the shoulders. It seems I still haven’t got that balance right yet. Today’s walk was about
23km from hotel to hotel. Today there were some really long straight stretches of road. I’m now so used to them they are just another part of the journey. I’ve stopped resisting them and now flow with them.

What do you do at the end of a days walk? You go for another walk to explore the place you’ve stopped in. Viareggio is a large sea port. There is a canal that runs into the citybfrom the ocean in an easily direction where fishing and pleasure vessels tie up. it has an ocean promenade at least 3km in length. Along the promenade are
shops and restaurants. The shops were open and still doing business at seven o’clock tonight. There are thousands of people making their way in both directions. I’ve not seen a better dressed crowd. They are of all ages. There’s lots of gelato being eaten. I sat to make some notes just as the sun was setting over the Mediterranean Ocean which was about 100 metres from me. This place is a world apart from Pisa which is a little over 20km away.

Around 7.30pm I made my way back towards the canal where I had dinner at one of
the many restaurants. I then returned to the hotel via the canal which looked much
prettier at night than it did earlier.

I haven’t eaten one piece of chocolate on this Easter Sunday. There’s always tomorrow.

Pontedera to Pisa – April 23

What can I say about a walk like todays? Tedious! The whole of the 21km between Pontedera and Pisa was development of one kind or another – mainly retail, But including residential and commercial. The physical part of the walk was fine. I made excellent time doing 15km before a break. The exception were the treacherous footpaths which seem to rise and fall an twist and turn with each new building. I think I’ve been spoilt by the Tuscan hills. Looking at shopfronts kilometre after kilometre cannot compare with what I experienced in the past week.

I shudder to think what the coastline will be like from here to Genoa. I’m so looking forward to reaching the mountain pass that will take me from Italy into France, and
even more looking forward to experiencing some French countryside, but that’s a couple of weeks away yet.

My arrival into Pisa didn’t go as smoothly as expected. It must be Easter Sunday and the celebration and ceremony surrounding it because I spent about an hour and a half looking for a hotel that wasn’t fully booked. I eventually got on the telephone and found a two star hotel near the railway station. Even though it’s just two stars the price was €70 for one night. That’s Pisa this time of the year, and probably for
most of the tourist season.

Because I plan to leave Pisa through the west of the city I made a point of going to see the Leaning Tower located in the north-eastern section. I was last there in 1987 but have next to no memory of that occasion. Yes, it’s still leaning. Unfortunately by the time I arrived, the cathedral, located next to the tower, was closed. Last visitors a admitted at 7.30pm. That was a disappointment. From the outside it’s ofma monumental size.

Pisa is thick with tourists, but I haven’t heard much English being spoken. Even though my visit has been a short one I’ll be glad to leave here. It’s not so much this city but the fact that it is a city and cities can be difficult to navigate and often feel like they don’t have a heart. I much prefer the intimacy of the towns and villages.

It’s over to the coast for me tomorrow where I’ll try and do some more camping.

My Day in Pontedera – April 22

As daylight peeked through my window shutters somehow I thought it was much earlier than 8.00am. I could get used to this wake up time. Breakfast was a charm in a room of antiques.

I went for a walk to get a feel for the day. What I saw was Good Friday being observed with business as usual in a country largely regarded as Catholic. Or at least that was what was happening in this city where people were going about their ordinary affairs, the postman was doing his rounds, and all the shops were trading. Is it just in Australia that we declare this day to be a public holiday? Observance of religious ritual was left to the night when around 9.30pm I observed a procession down the Main street led by local people and followed by about ten priests ahead of a platform on which was mounted a statue of Mary dressed in black with a fallen Christ at her feet. The procession made its way to the church where a service commenced.

I’ve had a rather exhausting day getting the blog up to date, however, I’ve been able to do adobe acrobat pro extended it in a peaceful setting looking out onto the terrace garden while enjoying the quietness of my room. During one of my breaks from blogging I spotted a menswear store with striking suit, shirt and tie combinations. Oh to be a lawyer again and feel good in the clothes I have on. Did I say that?

I’m off to Pisa tomorrow, which is a change from my most recent plan that had me

going to Lucca. Pisa is just 21km away. From there I’ll be just a days walk from the coast after which I make my way to La Spezia.

La Sterza to Pontedera – April 21

Today was the most harrowing of walks. During the first 4km I did battle with the morning traffic, including a large number of heavy vehicles, as I straddled the edge of the bitumen where there was no verge to speak of. As the trucks and buses approached I was forced, for my own safety, to step to one side until they passed. Most cars upon seeing me will move to their left. For this I am grateful. It was 4km of hypervigilance.

At La Rosa I was able to leave this road and join another main road at Peccioli. The decision makers of Peccioli have done well by installing a three metre wide cycle and walking track that parallels the main road for about five kilometres. It felt such a
relief to be car free, and this only the second time on my walk.

My first stop was at a rare roadside rest area which was incorporated into the walking track. Here, a car park was included where runners and joggers could leave their cars and join the track. I sat under the shade of a pergola and ate while my previous night’s hand washing dried in the sun. The rest of the day was quite a boring walk. I was tested mentally by the long, flat stretches of bitumen roadway. The monotony was broken as I passed by a machine laying a new bitumen road. Small mercies.

Upon reaching the outskirts of Pontedera I came across an amazing community garden project. Men (men only that I could see) were working their plots which measured about 5m x 12m. The gardens covered a few hectares. It was quite impressive.

The hotel I booked into I saw marked on a Google Map. What a place. The owners are antique collectors. The place is awash with antiques of every description, drawings, sketches and paintings. My room, which is quite tiny, has eight framed
sketches on the walls and overlooks a courtyard garden that gets the setting sun which flows on through my open windows.

The city has a cosmopolitan feel about it. Apart from Rome it’s the first place I’ve visited on this walk where there are people obviously not of Italian descent, in this case people from Africa. Opposite the hotel there is a huge church where mass, marking the end of lent, was being celebrated by four priests who were being assisted by three others. I joined in about half way through and made my way to near the front where I stood with others in the aisle watching the mass.

After the service I walked the main street. It’s amazing to me how much activity centres on one street. If you walk away 50 metres there’s hardly a soul to be seen. Surprisingly there are very few restaurants in the area of my hotel. After dinner I returned to the church, lit candles for those I know who are suffering and sat for a short time in quiet contemplation. I then returned to my hotel for a reasonably early night. My night in Pontedera at the end of this day’s walk was like finding a diamond in a coalfield.

Compassion

About three years ago I realized I had become more compassionate towards the smaller creatures, the beetles, spiders, ants etc. If I found one in the house I’d capture it and release it in the garden. This compassion was not something that I was aware was slowly unfolding, but something that dawned upon me one day. I should hasten to say that cockroaches, that most resilient of creatures, did not find the same favour with me, there always being a folded newspaper at hand to cause their early demise.

On this walk I’ve been respectful of the small creatures as I pass them by altering my step if need be to avoid walking on them. Sometimes I see a worm or caterpillar
making its way towards the other side of a two lane road and think of the difficulties that lie ahead of it. This helps to put my walk into perspective.

About a week or so ago I stopped walking to admire a lizard that was sunning itself on the road. It was the first of it’s kind I had seen, about 30cm long and a vivid lime green from nose to tail. As I was watching the lizard a car approached. My immediate premonition was that the car would run over the lizard, which it did. The lizard was left with it’s head and shoulders thrust skywards with what to me appeared
to be an expression of pain on it’s face. I thought I should have done something to
save it like hurrying it off the road before the car arrived. All that was left to do was to move it from the road to prevent it from suffering any further indignity.

Before leaving Australia I was reading the Tibetan Master Sogyal Rinpoche’s book ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’. In it he speaks of a teaching where we can offer our own suffering to help all those in the world who are themselves suffering. I have adopted this teaching on my walk by making the same offering. Each day I recite words like, “I offer the suffering I may experience on this walk to all those in this world who are presently suffering.”. At the same time I also individually think of

those people who are close to me who are suffering because of illness.

Near Casaglia to La Sterza – April 20

How good was that shower after four days on the road and three nights camping. The feel of the first contact of a hot stream of water with my head and face was exquisite. I made it last.

The final 5.5km into La Sterza were without water. It wasn’t so much bad judgment but it had been more than 40km since I had had the opportunity to replenish my supply. About two kilometres out of La Sterza I remembered I was carrying a cucumber I planned to use in a salad. I stopped, had that cucumber peeled in no time and was savoring every juicy mouthful within minutes. It’s marvelous how a 10-15 minute break can really invigorate. When I recommended to walk the contrast
between then and how I was before I stopped was remarkable. It demonstrated once again how important it is to listen to my body and satisfy its needs rather than stick to some rigid, irrational, self-imposed schedule.

The weather over the past few days has been following a similar pattern – cool to cold nights, heavy dew on the ground each morning, and warm days with a breeze that gives respite from the heat. Today there was no breeze as I came down from the mountains and the country flattened out.

I found La Sterza an unattractive place with the focal point being the hotel situated on the main road. There aren’t many other buildings in town. The hotel appears to be a place where people occasionally stay, and eat at it’s restaurant. It seemed to be a family run business. When I enquired about accommodation the woman who ran the albergo quoted me €50 for the night. An exhausted traveler will accept any price. I ate that night at the hotel restaurant. When I was presented with my bill it included my accommodation, the price of which had dropped to €30. It was fantastic to eat a hot meal after four days of eating from cans and packets. Some things, like a hot meal, we should never take for granted. I must add that I have not been able to use my stove because I can’t buy gas for it in Italy. I’ve given up trying.

Between arriving in La Sterza and going to bed I drank two and a half litres of water. It wasn’t the effort of the last five kilometres or so, it was the previous four days when I only got to drink what water I could carry. When doing a walk like I am my body needs to be constantly hydrated but it is often hard to strike a balance when out on the road.

I’ve got so used to walking on bitumen roads we’re now friends. As a walking surface it’s unforgiving, but it does make for smoother walking than is my experience on any of the tracks in Spain.

Beyond Canneto to Casaglia – April 19

It felt like a disturbed, fitful sleep last night, but spending 10 hours in a small tent and being awake for a couple of hours during the night still left me with a good amount of sleep, even if it was not the most peaceful. The morning was very cold. I spent no time sitting in my sleeping bag checking my emails as I have some mornings. I put on my boots first thing to keep my feet warm. It took an hour of walking before my hands finally thawed and I could take off a couple of layers of clothing. My morning meditation was against the brick wall of a community building just off to the side of the road with the sun streaming onto my face.

By the time I reached the valley floor I had long, flat stretches of walking with
mountains to either side for the next 10km. I stopped at Gabella to restock my food. The bar, come grocer was the only building in town. While I was eating a group of four cyclists pulled in for coffee. They were speaking German. Most Germans I’ve met in recent years also speak English and so as I was packing up to leave I asked them if anyone spoke English. One of them literally leapt out of his chair and after finding out where I was from and what I was doing descsribed me as a ‘crazy Aussie’. He is Swiss and had lived at Gray’s Point in the Sutherland Shire (of Sydney, for those readers who don’t live in this city) for 14 years. He told me that he and his friends had come to Tuscany for a week, like many other nationalities, to ride around

the mountains in the beautiful Tuscan spring weather. About ten minutes later the
four riders passed me on the road and as they went by the former Gray’s Point resident called out, “See you later mate.”

This afternoon I did something I don’t normally do. I walked into a tiny village off the main road just to take a look. The one kilometre climb was horrendously steep. I arrived in a state if exhaustion to a place that can only be described as bizarre. I walked up a flight of stairs to a group of tables all numbered like an outdoor cafe setting. A couple of children appeared. The boy spoke a little English. No, there was no cafe. I looked up to see myself being watched from a window. There was no
one else around but I could hear the sound of grass being cut nearby. After sitting for a short time I decided to leave. On the walls of buildings were signs describing streets a private roads even though they appeared to be public streets in a village named on a map. It felt very unfriendly. I imagined it to be somewhere that clandestine meetings were held by secret organizations, or that the village had a disturbing secret it desperately wanted to keep. The one very attractive thing Casaglia did have was 360 degree views of the surrounding valleys.

After descending from Casaglia my legs did not want to go any further. I made about another kilometre before finding a place to camp. I was in bed by 6.45pm listening
to the approaching night.

3km North of Canneto – April 18

I did something unusual today by not eating breakfast before starting to walk. I only went a couple of kilometres before finding a spot to eat just off to one side of the road. I sat with my backpack supporting me. By 10.00am the traffic had slowed to a trickle. After eating I did a half hour meditation with the morning sun warming me all over. It was a beautiful half hour.

The next 10km was flat walking. I was ready for another stop. It’s interesting for me how something I need will present itself just at the right time. I saw to my left a tree about 60m from the road. Around the base of the tree had been piled stones in a conical shape. I headed there for a snack and another meditation. Getting up and starting to walk immediately after a meditation does not seem real for a while.

I decided to avoid Monteverdi, my intended destination because it was 4km out of my way. At the intersection there was a warning sign which I understood enough was telling cars they could not go the way I was headed. It proved a blessing. Much further on was the reason for the sign. A section of the road had collapsed making it impassable for vehicles, but not for walkers. I had the road to myself apart from groups of bike riders out in their matching Lycra outfits.

The last 6km into Canneto was a steady climb. The town is an unusual place. It
appears that most of it’s inhabitants live in one huge building about 80m long and a few storeys high perched on the top of a ridge and looking like it could slide into the valley at any time. I walked around it’s intricate mix of streets, one of which was a mere 10m long. The church was an integral part of this complex, but it was closed. Canneto has a very helpful bar owner who let me recharge my iPad for the time I was there and who provided me with hot water, gratis, so I could make tea with the Japanese green tea I am carrying.

It felt like it was going to be a cold night but I found an absolute plumb campsite in a disused building which was part of a group of buildings once devoted to Saint Rosa, with whose work I’m not familiar. My accommodation was a very airy building, dirt floor, open doorway, about 10m x 5m with a 5m high roof that had collapsed at one end. At one other end where i put up my tent I was protected from the wind. I feel that there is a very secure feeling having walls of a tent surrounding me at night when I sleep, however unrealistic this may be. Both times I’ve slept in buildings I’ve had restless nights. I think there is a reason for this. I’ll say something about this
reason in another blog. But for this night I felt blessed to have found such a place.

J

Massa Marittima to Half Way to Canneto – April 17

Another 8.00am wake up meant I did not start walking until around 10.30am, not the most ideal way to recommence the journey. Breakfast is an important meal and I make the most of them when included in the price of a hotel room. I called my son Vincent this morning while at breakfast. It was tearful for me to hear his voice even after just a short time apart.

It didn’t take long to drop into the valley floor from the mountain top on which Massa is located. It was a small valley, but oh so beautiful, filled with dozens of olive groves. A lot more Agriturismo businesses are beginning to appear. But the hardest walking I’ve had so far lay ahead of me. The climb out of that valley over the next
mountain was the most taxing and aerobically demanding yet with ascents of 60 degrees that kept going, and going, and going. I needed three rests stops on my way to the top to catch my breath. Rest stops are only for a couple of minutes, where I stand still, lean on my walking poles while I regain my composure. Once my heart rate has settled I’m off again.

The views from the mountain top looking back towards Massa were breathtaking. It was then another descent, but a less demanding climb to a ridge line which I followed for quite a few kilometres. I much prefer to climb than descend. In part it’s got to do with how my body is built. I prefer to lean forward, which is the posture for
climbing, whereas when descending the weight of the backpack is pulling me backwards and the load on the knees seems to increase.

I spent the night in a little mowed paddock by the edge of some bushes with a small fall in the land giving me visual protection from the road, about 50 metres away. Finding a campsite takes some skill. When I’m getting ready to stop for the night (which tonight was around 6.00pm) I start scanning both sides of the road for likely locations. Tonight’s spot had all the right attributes: visual protection from passers by, grassy base for my tent, and bushes providing protection from wind. Perfect.

I was truly ready to stop when I pulled off the road today. It was about a 24km walk, but the bulk of it was up and down hills which I find quite demanding on both my knees and hips, both of which were crying for relief. The good thing is that by tomorrow they’ll be ready to go again.

A Day in Massa Marittima – April 16

I really enjoyed the sleep in until 8.00am and the late breakfast. Today had all the makings of one of those where you get around a bit but nothing much seems to happen. As it was a Saturday there were a few more guests at the hotel than the two of us on the Friday. The summer season hasn’t yet arrived.

This place has that tourist destination feel about it – somewhere you visit for a weekend. The difference between it any any where in Australia is that in the old part of town where my hotel was located buildings date back to the 13th century. There are a couple of significant churches. That of Saint Augustine was commenced in 1197 and completed in 1273 and, according to the plaque outside contains transition
elements from Romanesque to Gothic style. And there is the Duomo, in Piazza Garibaldi, the town’s main square, where the historical museum is also located. Both churches have 17th and 18th century paintings on their walls, and there is one in the Duomo from the 13th century, all by Italian painters. The baptismal font at the Duomo measures about 3m x 3m square and stands over a metre high. This must seem like an olympic sized swimming pool to the babe about to get dunked.

I spent some time just walking and exploring. You know how it’s done. Randomly taking a left or right turn at a whim to see where it takes you: up alleyways, down
stairs, under arches. I was enjoying the freedom of being able to walk around without the weight of a pack on my back.

I had a late lunch, around 3.00pm, where Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ was playing in the restaurant, followed by a gravely voiced Italian counterpart, Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin. You get the style of music this place liked to play.

It seems that wild boar is the object of hunters in this region. It’s on the menu and the shooters are well catered for in the two shops where all manner of prohibited weapons are on window display.

There’ve been a couple of times since commencing this journey that I’ve been tempted to have a glass of red, but haven’t. They were ‘this is the moment’, or ‘this is the place’ occasions.

Altogether, it was a lazy, relaxed, peaceful and enjoyable day.

Why no Blog?

ince leaving Massa Marittima on April 17 until reaching La Sterza on the afternoon of April 20 I have been walking through the Tuscan hills where Internet service was sketchy at best. Sometimes I would be part way through an email when the connection failed. I knew better than to try to blog. The other issue was that spending three nights camping I had no access to power to recharge my iPad, except for one kind bar owner who gave me access to a power point for the 20 minutes I was at her bar. Today, April 22, I’m spending a day in Pontedera catching up with the blog.

Notes from the Road – April 1- 15

ITALIAN DRIVERS

They’ve been very respectful of my presence by the side of the road. I check every oncoming car to see what line it’s taking. When I’m assured it’s not going to come too close to me I can look away. If it maintains it’s line towards me it usually indicates that there is a car coming in the opposite direction and it has no where to move, in which case I stop, step off the road and wait until they pass.

INTERNATIONAL CODES OF DRIVER CONDUCT

There’s an international code for showing approval or disapproval of people who walk, but don’t drive on roads. Two short bips of the horn is a friendly gesture and indicates approval. Two short bips accompanied by a wave is very friendly. Whereas a long single blast of the horn is unfriendly, and if accompanied by something yelled loudly in your direction, that’s very unfriendly, bordering on hostility.

POPULAR MOTOR VEHICLES IN ITALY

By far the most popular car I’ve seen on Italy’s roads is the Audi. And for you truck drivers it’s the Iveco. I know this because I look at the front of everyone of them.

NON-DRIVING ITALIANS

My experience with ‘on the street’ Italians has been a very different experience to that which I’ve had in Spain where pilgrimage is part of the lives of Spaniards, particularly those in the north of the country where the most popular walking paths
are located. In Spain pilgrims bring much needed Euros into local impoverished communities that are largely agriculturally based. So there is in Spain a respect for pilgrims, even if sometimes given grudgingly. Nothing like this exists in Italy, at least not on the path I’ve taken where I’m simply a person walking along the road with a backpack. I’ve had looks of distrust, disinterest and suspicion. I think I’m seen as something of a curiosity. I see myself as an anomaly. So far I’ve not seen another person walking the road with backpack.

ITALIANS AND THEIR SECURITY

I’ve passed hundreds of properties set back from the road, sometimes just 50 or 100 metres. One thing they all have in common are the grand gateways that are the barrier between them and the rest of the world. Some are double gates which can span up to 5 metros in width. They can be three to four metres high, quite ornate, usually of metal construction, and always locked, sometimes electronically.

DOGS

Anyone who knows me well knows I haven’t had a happy history with dogs. Shirley
MacLaine, in a most esoteric account of her pilgrimage in Spain in the early 1980′s, threw a ‘love ball’ to any dog presenting with ill-intent in an effort to neutralise it. I adopted the MacLaine love ball practice on my first walk in Spain in 2007 and have continued it since, I have to say, with very limited success.

One thing I have noticed about Italian dogs is that they are mostly behind fences and those giant gates so when I pass by all they get to do is exercise their tonsils. There
is a particular strategy some adopt: as I walk beside their domain they run along the fence line to get level with me. When they realise I’ve moved on they move along a bit further to catch up. This continues until they come to the end of their property after which I get a few more barks to send me on my way. Of course all the commotion alerts neighbouring dogs and process starts all over again. They can be quite dogged with this behaviour. (I couldn’t help myself.) It’s a very rare country property I’ve passed which doesn’t have a dog, or two, or three.

WALKING POLES

What a blessing. They keep me upright which is handy for a walker. They provide a constant clicking sound as they strike the bitumen surface. Sometimes when I’ve moved a little to my left to make way for an oncoming car it’s only the right pole that is striking the road and it does so as my left foot touches the ground. This has taken me back to the parade ground at Singleton Army Barracks in 1968, when, as a National Serviceman, just conscripted into the army, I’m doing marching practice. I can hear the single beat from the snare drum as my left boot comes into contact with the parade ground while I desperately try to keep in step.

Outside Grilli to Massa Marittima – April 15

Again, last night’s sleep wasn’t so restful. Restless leg syndrome on my right side and osteoarthritis in my left foot prevented me from getting to sleep till late. It rained a little during the night but I kept very dry in my abandoned building, and surprisingly felt quite safe.

I stopped at a bar around 10.00am for something to eat and a warming cup of tea. The bar wasn’t open but the owner, a woman in her late 40′s, was extremely helpful arranging food and letting me re-charge my iPad. A chilling wind was blowing all morning, the sky remained overcast, and I needed my wet weather jacket to remain warm.

Today I did my most peaceful stretch of walking so far. I was about 3 hours from my destination and it lasted for about 5-6km. There were very few cars and apart from the metronomic striking of my walking poles on the road it was just quietness punctuated by the subtle sounds of nature.

I saw a horse today. In fact I saw two standing side by side in a paddock about 50 from the roadway. These were the first I’d seen in 15 days of walking. Seeing a horse was unremarkable, but what they did wasn’t. As I passed by they slowly
turned their heads in my direction and followed me. There’s something strange and a little unsettling about being stared at by two horses. I’ve not known this animal as the observant type. At one point one of them nudged the other in the ribs with it’s mouth and then looked back my way, probably saying something like, “It’s been a while since a pilgrim’s passed this way.”

I also saw my first Volvo. So what, you ask. I noticed because I look at the front of every car that approaches me and to date that would be well over a thousand.

I passed through a very small village called ‘La Pesta’. My first thought was that I know a few people who could live quite comfortably here. I called into the local church which had just 4 rows of pews divided by a central aisle. To my surprise there was a nun, in habit, speaking on a telephone. You’ll never guess who she was in conversation with. It seemed so odd to see a nun in this tiny church in a village that only had half a dozen buildings. The Catholic Church works in mysterious ways.

I made the point before, but why are the steepest climbs always the last few kilometres into towns perched on tops of mountains or on ridges, like where today’s destination is located? It’s especially demanding when it comes at the end of a day’s walk?

After booking into Hotel Il Sole I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between last night’s digs and tonight’s. We take things like running hot water, a shower, warm bed and clean surrounds for granted and it’s not until you experience sleeping out
that the contrast is driven home. It caused me to think about those thousands of homeless people in our cities and towns who live like this night after night without the means like me to book into a hotel whenever I liked. I feel blessed.

Bango Roselle to beyond Grilli – April 14

A not so good sleep last night. After doing some emailing in the tent I eventually lay down around nine. A car came to the end of the street just near where I was camped. It drove off and showed no interest in me. Paranoia. I didn’t get to sleep until after ten. I awoke to the sound of a garbage truck emptying the bins nearby.

What I would have given this morning to have had my hands wrapped around a hot mug of tea. It was a cold and it doesn’t help wearing shorts. I had to get walking to warm up.

The country has really flattened out, but in the distance to the west, north and east
is a mountain range I’ll be climbing tomorrow. Today I’ve been dog-legging north then west then north again getting a little closer to the coast as I shorten the gap to my destination.

This afternoon there’ve been few cars on the very country roads I’ve been walking.
At my second stop after 4 hours on the road it was so quiet that all that filled the air was the sound of chirping birds and the rustle of leaves on the trees.

Surprisingly, I’ve seen a lot less human activity today than any other day. There’s been the farmer bailing hay, another turning the hay for drying before bailing, and the occasional person on the streets. Today showed me how much we as human beings yearn for interaction, even as observers. Surviving being alone I feel sure will be one of the major lessons of this walk, at least for the first part through Italy and across half of France until I reach the more established pilgrim routes in both France and Spain.

It had to happen. Yes, it rained this afternoon. Just for about 30 minutes but enough to get the wet weather gear out of mothballs. Tonight the sky is still ominously overcast.

Tonight I’m sheltering under a derelict house just off the main road to where I’m headed tomorrow. It was a great find after being told in Grilli that the albergo was full. There are three rooms. I took the centre one after cleaning the fallen masonry from the concrete floor. My bedding is laid out and my belongings scattered around like I own the place. It’s a little after 8.00pm. I’m ready for bed. Good sleeping.

Scansano to Bagno Roselle – April 13

As I stepped out of my albergo to go to dinner last night I saw the whole of the valley engulfed with fog, and by the time I’d finished dinner it was sweeping across the town’s streets giving a very eerie feel to them, with very few people around and dim light coming from street lamps.

I awoke this morning to wet streets, light rain and a blustery wind buffeting the town, however, when it was time to set off for the day the streets were dry, the sun shining, but that cold wind was still blowing. I walked for a little over two hours before my first break. I’ve been pushing into a headwind all morning. The
countryside hasn’t been as pretty as yesterday.

I covered nearly two hours before stopping again. At this stop, after eating I lay on my back and massaged my feet. Because I ask soo much of them every day I try to remember to show them that I love them. The hillsides are given up to massive vineyards. At times wind gusts would push me off balance. Having two walking poles is a great leveler.

The wind dropped off around three. I was feeling strong so I kept walking, eventually getting onto a local road, but still bitumen surfaced. I’ve now come to terms with walking on bitumen. It’s o’kay. I stopped around 5.30pm to send an email to my son Vincent, and set off again to find a campsite. I eventually found it at the end of 200m dead end street that ran alongside an abandoned sports ground. The side of a shed gave me protection from the wind and overhanging tree branches protection from the expected morning dew. Very close by were five giant rubbish bins. This was obviously a place for locals to drop off their domestic trash. Apart from this visual disturbance I’m looking over a green field in the direction of Grosetto.

As it was coming on dusk I saw a few locals but they did not spot me. There is security in anonymity. I didn’t raise my tent until just onn dark.

As it wa coming non dusk

Pomonte to Scansano – April 12

I wasn’t able to get the internet from where I camped last night but that wasn’t the big negative: because I was somewhat concerned about my safety at the location I’d chosen I couldn’t get to sleep until around 9.30pm, having got into my tent around eight. I awoke around 2.30am to the sound of chirping birds. I thought it was much later than what it was. At 6.30am I awoke to a very broad day light.

I only had a 200m walk from the campsite to a cafe on the edge of Pomonte which was already doing a healthy business. I resupplied my water and had a donut and hot chocolate. (I’m going with my whims, on occasions, and putting veganism aside, but in saying this last night’s meal was 5* vegan.)

It was a constant climb the whole 14km to Scansano. Why is it that the last few kilometres into these hilltop towns are always the steepest? After I make each crest in whatever direction I look there is another ultra green valley filled with grazing land, olive trees and vineyards. I’m not surprised that people who visit Tuscany fall in love with it. It’s got me thinking, again, about abandoning city life for somewhere in country NSW, probably in the hinterland of the far south coast.

Agricultural tourism (Agriturismo) is heavily present here in Tuscany. Some places offer no more than a bed for the night in a country setting, others are B & B, and some throw in horse riding and a swimming pool. Today I noticed signs for vineyards with wine and olive oil sales.

I arrived in Scansano around 12.30pm with a lot of time on my hands. I soon found accommodation (the only place in town) at an albergo, but nothing like a Spanish albergue. It’s big, has lots of rooms, and has an old fashioned quaintness about it.
The proprietors are friendly and this afternoon have been supplying me with hot water for my green tea. (I’ve rarely drunk any since I’ve been in Italy. For love nor money has it been possible to buy a canister of gas to fuel my portable stove.)

It appears the town has put a lot of effort into public seating. Everywhere you go there is somewhere to sit. I walked along lots of narrow streets, up and down stairs,
through arches and on a walkway on the southern edge of town where you can look out over a beautiful valley. I stopped there, sat on a bench and did a meditation for about a half hour with the afternoon sun warming my face. I visited the local church, originally from the 13th centuary, but for some unspecified reason had to be rebuilt in the 17th century. I lit a candle for all those people I know who are suffering.

I’ll camp tomorrow night and so I’ve been to the supermarket and stocked up on food that could last me two days. It’s 7.15pm and I’m off now into town for dinner. I love an early night.

Manciano to Pomonte – April 11

Leaving Manciano this morning was like stepping into another world. I didn’t think it possible in just a few kilometres after leaving Lazio and moving into Tuscany that the countryside could change so much. I was met with rolling green hills scattered with vineyards and olive groves and vast areas under other crops. There were very white sheep standing like fullstops on a very green page, and of course there were the villas built in those earthy colours.

The day was very hot. For the first time I needed to wipe the sweat from my brow. The sky has been a perfect blue. I really am ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. The weather has been so kind to me without a day of rain.

I stopped for a drink at a 15th centuary medieval village, Montemerano. I wandered around stooping under arches that were too low to pass under. I toyed with the idea
of stopping the night, but stuck with my original plan to walk to Pomonte, halfway to Scansano. It was just a 14 km walk but my troublesome toe, which is on the mend, needed more time to heal. It’s still carrying an infection. Today is the best it has felt
since day three.

I had lunch by a river and dried my clothes in the sun while I ate. I moved on
another 6km and found a bridge to sleep under. It wasn’t my ideal location. The river was close by, the water looked clean and so I bathed my feet in the cool,
running water.

Around 5.30pm as I was preparing dinner (a bed of mixed lettuce with lentils,
chickpeas, tomatoes, green and black olives, cheese and bread-dressed with balsamic vinegar) a family came by with a flock of sheep following closely behind. I can eat well but I have to be prepared to carry the extra weight.

I put up my tent in the best spot, none of which were particularly good. I felt very vulnerable in this location. Around 7.30pm I was still waiting for darkness to fall before climbing into my tent. I’m incredibly thirsty, but have to preserve my water for tomorrow’s walk. I don’t know what’s available at Pomonte and I can’t take chances with water.

The Road to Manciano – April 10

I awoke around 4.45am to a rustling sound near to my gear I’d left outside my tent. I soon realised it was a small animal, probably searching for food. Once I felt comfortable with it’s presence I became acutely aware of my surroundings. The air was filled with moisture. There was a beautiful stillness. I wondered how damp my gear would be having left it uncovered during the night. It was still quite dark. I commenced a meditation. The dawn seemed to break all of a sudden, or perhaps it was me being in meditation and not noticing. A dense fog was my first sight of the day.

I commenced these notes around 8.00am. A farmer has been out since seven on his
tractor. I’ve already eaten breakfast (apple, cheese and rice crackers) and packed my backpack. I said goodbye to my campsite around 8.10am where I’d felt safe and
snug all night. It was great find. I hope there are many more of them. I put the light on my hat for better visibility of me to oncoming traffic. I’ve only heard a few cars go by. This place has that country quietness about it.

I arrived in Manciano around 2.30pm. I needed three breaks along the 22km journey. I felt today was a hard walk. Manciano sits 444m above sea level and it was a steady climb all the way, especially the last 5km, and particularly the final
three. The sun didn’t break through until around midday, and the fog failed to lift for
at least another hour. However, I still managed to get the backs of my knees sunburnt. From the last 10 days on the road I now have one of those tans that stretch from the tops of the boots to the bottom of the shorts.

The trees are coming into blossom, the wild flowers are plentiful along the sides of the road and the hillsides are a lush green. Perfect for walking.

In Manciano I booked into Hotel Rossi, the first I came to. The shower was so good after nearly 7 hours on the road. I shouldn’t complain – in Vietnam when on an operation we’d go for a month without a shower. I got a good soaking while I did my
washing – by hand, of course. It’s all out on the balcony drying, along with my tent.

I’ve been for a walk around the town, parts of which are very old and the rest reasonably modern. There was a funeral procession with the mourners following the hearse down the street to the church on foot. I’m waiting for the supermarket to re-open so I can re-supply and make myself a meal tonight.

Montalto Marina to a campsite – April 9

It was another late start – 9.45am. I had to retrace my steps back into Montalto di Castro before making some headway today. I put in three hours before stopping for lunch by the side of the road. I took the opportunity to hang out the washing I had done last night in the shower and which had not completely dried overnight. The morning’s walk was again endless stretches of straight road. It was quite hot with the oly respite coming from the wind gusts from passing cars blowing onto my sweat saturated shirt. It might be a hot summer on the way.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance. I’m about half way between Montalto di Castro and Manciano, my next stop. As I’d covered about 20 km I started looking for a place go pitch my tent. Off the road to my left I saw a haystack under a shed. I decided that was the place for me. The road leading to it looked like it had not seen any recent traffic.

I’ve been here since about 4.30pm. As I type these words it going on for seven o’clock. I figured I would wait until the local farming community and their dogs were home for the night before pitching my tent. As I look around from the back of the haystack, where I can’t be seen from the road, there is a row of shrubs about two meters high to my right offering cover, and to my left is some long ago abandoned farm machinery and tractor. I’ll have to eat and pitch the tent before dark. I don’t want my presence made known by unnecessarily using a light. I mean no harm and I’ll respect this place.

Lido di Tarquinia to Montalto Marina – April 8

I didn’t wake until 8.10am after 9 beautiful hours of sleep and got away around 10.00am. These hours are nothing like I kept in Spain.

The morning’s walk was through what appeared to be small lot farmland where grain and vegetable crops were growing. Farmers on tractors towing trailers filled with recently harvested crops passed me by. I could still see the ocean to west. There were long stretches of narrow bitumen road. I’d intended to make the morning walk longer but sometimes you see a place that seems so ideallic it can’t be passed up. I saw such a place land stopped after two hours of walking. I indulgently stayed an hour sitting in the shade of a tree with boots and shirt off while they dried in the sun.

The afternoon walked turned into a 4 1/2 hour marathon. Google maps suggested a route but when I got to the point where I was supposed to leave the main road snd head towards the coast it would have meant crossing a major four lane expressway with a chest high metal barrier down the centre. I had little choice but to continue into Montalto di Castro and make my way from there to the coast, adding another four kilometers to the trip. In Montalto di Castro there was no hotel, no camping ground, and no suitable place to pitch my tent without a lot of scrutiny.

The last seven kilometres into Montalso di Castro were were the most hazardous I’ve ever had to do. I was walking on the side of the four land expressway with the flow of traffic. When I joined this road there was no place to cross to walk facing the oncoming traffic. It’s extremely unsettling and very scary not knowing what traffic is coming up behind you until it has passed. I had no place go go because there was a metal guardrail immediately to my right. I kept thinking that the next step I took may be my last. At one point the wind drag from a petrol tanker which passed particularly close-by nearly knocked me off my feet. What I did notice was that most of the larger vehicles did in fact move to their left when passing me because I could see them coming back into the right lane as they went by. Thank you drivers.

Montalto Marina is still asleep. A much bigger place than my previous night’s stop, full of town houses and apartments waiting to be rented during the holiday season. Shop proprietors and restauranteurs are cleaning up their buildings with a coat of paint and much needed repairs. You can feel that this place will really jump in a month or so.

I made my own dinner after a visit to the supermarket. How enjoyable it was to prepare something to my liking. For €21 I got enough supplies for dinner, and breakfast and lunch tomorrow. I’m heading a little inland tomorrow. Must keep away from these dangerous roads when I can.

Civitavecchia to Lido di Tarquinia – April 7

The early part of this walk was uninspiring, having to pass through industrial and petrochemical districts while exiting the city. After about 8km the country opened up to farmland. I’m starting to get a handle on Google maps which I hadn’t up to today. It was able to show me a route that was not on my conventional map which, although still bitumen, took me took me close to the coast through rural land.

Lido di Tarquinia, just 18km from Civitavecchia, is a small town on the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve booked into another hotel. I’ve decided that if a hotel is what I want for the night I’ll have one, otherwise I’ll camp. Mind you, there isn’t a camping ground around and I didn’t feel like pulling off to the side of the road tonight.

For the next few days I thought I’d limit myself to around 20km per day until this troublesome toe has healed. I had a walk along the beach to bathe my feet.

Tarquinia city, just a few kilometers away is just to the south of the site of the chief of the 12 Etruscan cities which were often at war with Rome, and lost. Modern Tarquinia had it’s name changed from Corneto in 1922. It has bee suggested that this not always accurate reversion to historical place names was in keeping with Italy’s former Fascist government’s policy designed to evoke past glories.

Lido di Tarquinia was last night deserted. The pleasant spring weather brought out the mums and kids to the beach. They were packing up as I headed there to bathe my feet. What I’ve noticed about this town is that it has the feel of a place about to be woken from it’s winter slumber. You know that in a month or two it will be teaming with people on vacation.

A Day in Civitavecchia – April 6

One of the reasons for staying an extra day in Civitavecchia was to give my only blistered toe a chance to heal. Thongs have become my footwear of choice when not walking the trail.

In the late morning I wandered around the waterfront district looking at what remains of Roman buildings and more recent structures built in the Middle Ages. Civitavecchia did not get it’s present name until the late 9th century. Building of a town and port commenced on the city’s present site between 107 and 108 AD. It serviced Rome, just 70km away, as a port. In 1432 it became part of the Pontifical State and remained that way until 1870, apart from a period of French rule between 1798 and
1815. Following a Papal visit in 1515 Leonardo da Vinci visited the city to sketch buildings that were about to be destroyed with the construction of new city walls. Most of the city’s significant buildings were damaged during WWII, including the magnificent four towered Fort Michaelangelo, which has since been repaired.

For those of you that are following the blog will have seen that I was busy catching up with my postings on the 6th while in Civitavecchia, but this did not stop me from finding a great little restaurant for lunch that had seating for only about 10 people.

I was tempted to stay another day and treat myself to a session at the thermal baths, just south of the city, in the expectation that this would speed up the healing of my one troublesome toe, but in the end I decided I should put some more distance between me and Rome. If feet are managed correctly they will quickly start to callous. I can see that the problem toe is beginning to callous and will only be a matter of days before it won’t bother me. It’ll then be a treat to walk pain free.

Tolfa to Civitavecchia April 5.

It was bound to be a late start because breakfast did not start until 7.30am at Hotel Tolfa. It interests me when traveling to see what the people of other countries eat at breakfast, in particular. The offerings at the hotel were sweet, without exception: tarts, chocolate croissants, small cakes and some very sweet cereals. Go to any breakfast bar in Italy and you will find people standing having cafe espresso and pastry. Not so in keeping with a vegan diet, but I joined in with moderation.

It was 22km walk into the seaport city, Civitavecchia with a north-east wind to accompany me. It was a particularly uninteresting walk. Street signs are a staple for a walker in a foreign country. In Italy there aren’t many that tell you the distance to
the next town, and if they do I’ve chosen not to believe them: they’re more of a guide, an estimate, or an approximation.

Arriving in any city for the first time, not knowing anyone, not having any where to sleep, not being familiar with the streets or buildings, can be quite dispiriting. Nothing seems to make sense. It can make you quite fearful. But stay a day or so and walk around while you are there and very quickly those places you remember from your way in become familiar landmarks, distances seem shorter, and you find yourself saying, “Oh yeah, I remember that.”.

After sorting out the problem I had with my Italian internet provider I headed to the taxi rank with the address of the only camping ground in the area, kindly written out for me by the proprietor of a gelato bar/cafe. After a €25 cab ride (the driver did warn me that it may not be open) we found it closed. I was kind of pleased because this place was way, way out of town.

I’m quickly becoming familiar with the way commercial and industrial areas are allocated to the outskirts of cities. On the way back from the camping ground I called into one and replaced the charger for my Ipad. I wasn’t so fortunate with replacing the English/European power point converter I was using for my digital camera charger so I was forced to buy a new camera.

The same taxi driver put me onto the Hotel Porto di Roma located in the old section of town near which I found a delightful little restaurant run by a husband and wife which had cheap, tasty meals, and less than 50m from my hotel. By nine o’clock I was ready for bed.