Day80 San Gimignano to Abbadia Isola – The Long or Short way?

The streets of San Gimignano were empty when we got outside this morning. What a huge change from the throngs of tourists in the squares yesterday.

Morning Update

Today’s walk contains a choice of routes long-but-wooded or short-but-asphalt. We decided on the longer route because we’d done a lot of road walking the previous two days.

We walked past a Swedish hiker who’s name was Borg (we think). He was a retired Lutheran priest and was taking his time walking for as long as it suited him. How nice is that.

As we were speaking with him it began to sprinkle and Allison donned her rain gear. I decided to chance it with just my rain jacket acting like a poncho. It doesn’t really do the trick but if the rain stayed very light it would suffice. This time my guess (and of course it was just that) turned out to be correct and soon enough we were climbing a hill and the rain ceased. Allison quickly packed up her rain pants and jacket and we were off again.

In that period of time however we landed at the dividing point between the long and short variants of the Via. Because of the rain we changed plans and bore left opting for the short way.

This variant had one advantage in addition to its shorter length. It travelled through Colle di Val d’Elsa, the “city of glass”. Colle was renown in the Middle Ages for its fine crystal, and art form that is still prevalent today.

But before we reached Colle we stopped for a coffee in the small village of Le Grazie (the Thank You). They had really good pastries!

Colle’s medieval walls are mostly gone but the “new” gate still exists and makes an impressive entryway.

Inside Colle we visited the Basilica. Three particular paintings caught my attention. The first depicts an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream warning him to leave Bethlehem for Egypt with his wife and the child Jesus.

The second shows the moment soon after the resurrection when Jesus bids Mary not to touch him because he’d not yet ascended to the Father.

The third was the moment Jesus appeared to Thomas after his resurrection. Thomas, doubting his own eyes was invited to touch the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet and the spear wound in his side. I liked these because they are rarely the subject of paintings.

Leaving Colle was a difficult few hours along very busy roads with little curb or margin. That was mentally tiring. But we did manage to find a little shade against a concrete wall by one of the many industrial zones we passed. So of course, that is exactly where we ate lunch. We joked about how relaxing our spot was however we will actually miss the carefree lunches once we return home.

When we finally arrived at the tiny village of Abbadia Isola (outside of Monteriggioni) we had a small problem. Paulo had made our reservation for the night at the small donativo in town. When we arrived however we were somewhat briskly told that there was no such reservation for any of us. It seems the number he’d called was misprinted in two of our three guides and actually belonged to a different hostel in a different town. Fortunately for us there was another hostel practically next door and they had space foe us for a good price.

Showered and clothes washed we had only to have a quick dinner and crash for the night. Tomorrow our destination is Siena. Tomorrow we also bid arrivederci to Paulo. He will not stop there or will at a minimum not spend a rest day there.

So our dinner together was a bit of a farewell meal. Sorry to see him move on…but that’s the pilgrimage way.

Day79 Castelfiorentino to San Gimignano – just awesome

Woke at 5 after a fitful nights “sleep” due to the heat and a persistent mosquito in the room. In fact I was so uncomfortable being completely inside my sheet to protect from the mosquitoes that I moved my pillow to the marble floor and slept there for a hour just to cool down. Allison says “she slept like a baby”. Not really fair is it? Haha.

1hr in = An early start

Walking under the street lights leaving the sleeping town was nice. No cars and no people; just Allison and I. Not even the birds were awake yet.

We soon began the climb to rejoin the VF which we’d left yesterday to get to our hostel. It was a pleasant climb through vineyards and rolling hills.

Like in the US, several of the vineyards also serve as wedding venues. We saw this unfortunate result of a wedding reception.

The sunrise was pretty but didn’t compare to yesterday’s sunrise. There was a magical fog in the valleys however that made for some dramatic views.


The climb to Gambasi Termi where Sigeric stayed on his 20th day from Rome was significant. We kept up a serious pace for no reason whatsoever except that we could.

Once in Gambasi Termi we stopped for refreshments which included a pastry each and a coffee. A second breakfast is good for long distance hikers. But as we were eating we chatted about the shock our bodies will have once we return home with our normal diet of little sugar and low carbs.

Stopping for coffee and a pastry.

The rest of the morning is classified as “easy” but we’re not sure how they could come up with that rating because we found it tough. Perhaps it was the 1000’ climb beforehand. Either way it was a lot of ups and downs before we saw our first glimpse of San Gimignano.

San Gimignano is a top tourist destination and by all accounts it is a top spot for pilgrims as well. The town grew because of its location at the intersection of two trade routes and its crop of saffron. In most cities the church or castle is the most prominent structure. In San Gimignano it is the private towers built by its wealthy inhabitants.

At one time there were 70 of them. Today only 13 survive but the town retains its medieval roots. Once the tour busses leave it takes on an ancient feel.

This might make you a bit dizzy. Sorry.

We ended our night with a home cooked dinner in our “tower”. Joining with JeanYves and Paulo helps save some money.

My pasta creation. Not bad using frozen veggies.

Day78 Pointe a Cappiano to Castelfiorentino – sunrise and hilltops

Our day began early and was cold as we left in the dark.

Morning Update

The sunrise, though, was spectacular!

And for family and friends that know me well, know I do not watch many sunrises because that means getting up early. But getting up and out early on a day that involves many kilometers is the ideal way to hike.

We walked along a canal on a grass road first thing as the sun rose. It was a beautiful and peaceful way to begin the day. The path then changed to cinder and dirt and finally to asphalt for most of the day.

As we continued on the way we crossed the Arno river. This was a major landmark as a north/south border within Tuscany. The Arno also flows through Fierenza (Florence).

Our first pit stop was in the village of San Miniato. But just before arriving we found our first pilgrim donativo stand. Thanks for the gracious gift friends of the pilgrim.

Donotivo Stand Italian style! Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

At the top of the village of San Miniato is a tower. Of course we had to climb to the top even if there was an entrance fee. Each floor provided a little history of the town or tower and then the views at the top were impressive.

On our way down the many steps we noticed two pigeons who had broken through the man made barrier to watch all the people below. It was a funny sight.

People watching. Are they breaking in or out?

Daily life continues as we walk through history of course. We stumbled across these beautiful flower girls waiting the the wedding to begin. I loved the shoes.

On our way out of town we stepped into a church which was an art museum dedicated to a local artist who actually painted religious scenes. But of course to be famous as an artist usually means you are dead so we just saw a picture of the painter. But a local lady chatted with us inside the church and told us all about Napoleon and some history of the area. This was all in italian and we understood some of what she said. And there was a pilgrim stamp there too.

We hit the trail or pavement again. Right around lunch time we crested a hill to find a rest area for pilgrims including a picnic table, trash can, water, and two people we know…JeanYves and Paulo. It is always nice to see familiar faces. They were going to make an extra long day of it so we bit them adieu and went off the VF toward our lodging.

Unfortunately it was a slog along pavement for the rest of the trip and until 30min before we arrived the heat and humidity seemed to increase with every step. The relief came with a crash of thunder ahead and a gust of wind. The sky darkened and our pace quickened. We were 30min away from our goal….would we make it?

We kept glancing at the hilltops where we knew JeanYves and Paulo were still hiking. It sure looked dark and menacing up there. Sure enough we were about 30 feet from our Ostello in Castelfiorentino when the first drops of rain fell.

There was shopping left to do so as Allison showered I grabbed my rain jacket and bolted to the supermarket. About 2min into the route the skies opened up and I took shelter.

The skies opened up.

My shelter turned out to be just outside an ice cream shop. You’ll be happy to know that with great fortitude I resisted having an ice cream without Allison. I opted to have a video chat with our daughter Sarah and granddaughter Evelyn.

Shopping complete, I returned and did the whole shower and laundry deal. So here I sit.

Typical generic hostel with clothes drying all around.

You know one of the great joys of traveling is trying new and exotic foods and lovely intricate wines….and then there is this: “Oh how low we have sunk.”

Not only box wine, but generic store brand box wine and prepackaged sandwiches. Ugh. Worst yet…there are no cups or…yea baby, straight out of the box.

We ended our night with a video call with Isabel our baby girl and her new puppy Sully. Life is good.

Sully back home in NC.

Day77 Lucca to Ponte a Cappiano – Sweet Ride

Today we put our pilgrim hats back on and woke up at 5:30 (5:00 for me) and had a quick breakfast after packing. We were able to hit the road before 6:45am for our 29km re-entry to the pilgrim life.

Morning Update

The morning was pleasantly cool and less humid than the last several days.

Leaving Lucca

The walk out of Lucca was stereotypical Italian suburb with fast paced cars and progressively rural neighborhoods passing one after another.

During our walk we left the governance of Lucca and entered Pisa. Each town we passed had a 12th century church and a history related in some way to the growing pilgrim path. Over 1100 years ago Sigeric passed this way and most of the towns are easily recognizable for his records.

Pick out all the details on this passion cross.

We also crossed a significant geological dividing line where sandy soil and a more arid environment predominates.

The destination for the day was Ponte a Cappiano and more specifically the Ostello Ponte di Medici. This Ostello is actually on a bridge over the canale Maestro. At one time the bridge held all the accoutrements of a mill including a gorge, mill, tavern and hostel. The tavern survives as an Ostello. The glass floors and interesting views of the Ostello make it a fun place to stay.

I’d emailed ahead a d was assured that there was a kitchen and a nearby supermarket so that we could do dinner here tonight but somehow some signals got crossed. There was indeed a nice kitchen but the supermarket is 1/2mile away. Ugh.

Allison went with JeanYves and Paulo for groceries and I was left to guard the bridge. They brought back a feast and we ended the day with a pilgrim meal of our own making.