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.

Day76 Lucca to Lucca – Rest Day

Our first rest day since Day40 in Besancon France. That was 36 days ago peeps. This was certainly overdue and what a fun city to choose.

Back in 1999, Allison and I visited Lucca for an afternoon and hoped one day we’d be back. We’d never have guessed we’d WALK here, but that’s how life changes you.

Morning Update

Lucca is a walled city and has its full share of tourists and vendors hawking touristy goods. But it’s such a pretty place that you can overlook all that as you walk around its twisted streets that all have Roman roots.

In the piazza Anphiteatro you are literally in the center of a Roman Amphitheater.

The 13th century Duomo borders the Roman Forum. It contains several important art works on the interior (some of which irritated me for reasons I won’t explain here). The one image of the last supper I enjoyed because it was from an unusual perspective.

Zoom in!

But the two things that intrigued me most were the labyrinth carved onto one pillar and the carvings for each month and the zodiac on the front portico.

Labyrinths are associated with a pilgrimage and some full size ones exist throughout Europe. The exterior has magnificent marble columns as well.


The 13th century Cathedral at San Michele is just as beautiful. The interior is stark but the crucifix above the alter shows Christ not suffering but triumphant in death. I like different representations like these.

Since this was a rest day the “waking around” had to stop. So Allison and I sought out a good spot for lunch. Serendipitously (good word right), we walked passed a couple who sat beside us at dinner last evening. They recommended the bistro called Ciacco who’s “motto” was “No pasta, so pizza, no stress”. There were no tables available so we walked on. Finding nothing better we returned and a spot had opened up. “Due insalasti per favore!”

We talked again to Jim and Brenda, and their two friends Scott and Lisa. Brenda had already hooked up with this blog so…a shout out to these guys and the laughter we shared one afternoon in Lucca.

After the late lunch we were done for the day. It was time to take off the vacation hat and become pilgrims again. A quick trip to the supermarket yielded groceries for dinner (microwave stew and a pre-packaged salad) and breakfast and lunch for the next day. It was sad to return to living in relative luxury. We are once again poor pilgrims.

Pilgrim dining in the hallway

Funny story to end the evening. The microwave we thought we’d see in the Ostello….was a toaster. Hmmmm. We’ll figure it out somehow.

P.S. more and more pilgrims joining the route. Yay!

Day75 Camaiore to Lucca – Happy Returns

Early morning and fast packing meant that we were on our way by 7 after already having a yogurt breakfast.

We shot a morning update but embarrassingly left the lens cap on. Oh well, enjoy the audio anyway.

The morning was cool when we left Camaiore. Four Polish ladies who’d shared the B&B left at the same time and we walked with them briefly until Allison’s 5th gear kicked in and we were off to the races.

It’s good that it was cool because three strenuous climbs awaited us. Ok, so they were nothing like the Alps in expanse but for a morning it got us huffing and puffing. The first climb was intentional, the second was labeled Via Francigena, but apparently it wasn’t the main route but rather an alternate “panoramic route”. We didn’t see that detail until we’d rejoined the main route and looked back at a sign. Oh well… ?? We needed the exercise ??


The third climb was also intentional but this time the “official route” climbed but there was a flatter/easier alternative…and that was our morning.

We started running into “Passion crosses” which were popular at the turn of the 20th century when a group called the Passionistas (no joke), were popular. These crosses all share features from the biblical account of the crucifixion such as a spear and a sponge on a pole Sometimes there is a crown of thorns and a hammer and nails as well.

A passion cross

We ate a rather posh lunch of Parmesan cheese, crackers and smoked salmon before making our way into town. Lodging had not been firmed up but in the end we opted for a hotel/B&B instead of the Pilgrim Ostello. We both needed a break.

The walk into Lucca along the Fume Serchio was nicely shaded and but the suburbs were big and the afternoon dragged on until we met the walls of Lucca.

22yrs ago, Allison and I visited Lucca. Here is our reflection of that event and a brief tour walking into the town.

We checked into our b&b which is just inside the old Roman Amphitheater.

We ended our evening with some class. A concert (opera) and a nice dinner together.

Here’s to over 75% through this adventure.

Day74 Massa to Camaiore – Forts and Statues

We really struggled to get out of Massa due to a triple take exit of the city.

The steps

The walk started with a climb up a steep set of steps. Halfway up I noticed an unusual <click> sound. Looking down at my pole I noticed the rubber stopper that I use on pavement wasn’t attached. This is actually normal – we’re always taking them on and off – but this morning I’d looked to make sure it was on before leaving the Ostello. So….back down the steps I went. I found it at the second to bottom step. Micro-crisis averted.

Morning Updates

When we reached the top of the steps the Via took a right turn. Allison got to the corner first and let out a small groan. The steps were replaced with a long uphill slope that was quite steep. The air was cool but humid, so we both worked up a quick sweat first thing in the morning.

At the top, Allison mentioned something about the keys to the Ostello. “Oh No!” They we’re still in my pocket. So…I told Allison to sit tight and I went back down the slope and then back down the steps, dropped off the keys and then did it all again. What a start!

The day got dramatically better after that. We continued the climb up to Castello Aghinolfi which was incorporated into Hitler’s Gothic Line and paid a heavy price as a result.

The climb also provided some panoramic views of the sea and coastline we’d walked yesterday.

As we descended off of the mountain we entered a heavy industry section where every other business seemed to be part of the marble trade. The huge chunks of pretty marble set my mind to buzzing about how much inventory cost they dealt with. We even saw a yard where they were actively sawing the huge chucks to 1”-2” slabs.

The big town of the day was Pietrasanta. As we entered the village we passed a different kind of marble trade – one that made sense a bit later. This shop clearly carved marble for art and/or statuary. We peeked through the fence and saw a massive marble statue. I sure wish I knew where it was going.

Pietrasanta, as we soon found out, is a hub of art, particularly carving in marble and bronze. There was a school of art and art boutiques and artwork scattered throughout the town.

The main Piazza with its Duomo and bell tower were the site for our gourmet lunch of canned tuna, hard seed crackers and two day old Parmesan. It doesn’t sound wonderful, but honestly when you are hungry everything tastes better.

Leaving Pietrasanta the trail was normal hills and streets with nothing notable. However coming down a small country road we came upon two gentlemen working on Cable TV lines. They’d stopped work for a bit and were having lunch in the road next to their car. We struck up a conversation that ended up lasting for an hour.

These two guys were astounded with our pilgrimage walk and ended up offering us a taste of the wine they were having for lunch. It was a good Tuscan red. For their generosity they received two keys and we explained their meaning. One of the two was very excited with the gift and it’s significance. The other struggled with language a bit more and I think the details were lost in translation.

Our Ostello for tonight is a bit disappointing. It has everything you’d need but half of those things are either not working or “closed for Covid. The price of 18E/person is reasonable but expensive for Pilgrims.

The kitchen is one of those items that is “closed for Covid” so we will have to go out to eat at a restaurant. Honestly I prefer what Allison makes. In the end we opted for microwaveable dishes and ate at the Ostello.

At dinner we celebrated JeanYves 70 something birthday. Happy Birthday pilgrim.

Day73 Dogana to Massa – Coasting

Morning Update

Well the storm we passed through yesterday was apparently no ordinary storm. See today’s headlines.

It was newsworthy.

Since we’d been forced along to Dogana we resisted the urge to move farther ahead and just kept with the original stage ending in Massa. This stage would have been a tiring 32km walk almost entirely along pavement but we’d already completed 9km the previous day. Net result, we slept in. 🙂

After a leisurely morning and huge breakfast which included finishing off the leftover ice cream from dinner – Yeah, I know – we hit the pavement (literally). The route was all roads and sidewalks as promised.

Our B&B

We entered the town of Carrara- famous for the marble that has been mined here since pre-Roman times. The town became wealthy in the trade of quality marble. They go a bit crazy for it here though. It was nice that the main church and piazza were entirely marble.

It was slightly more posh when we found ourselves walking on the marble sidewalks. But it was just crazy when later we noticed that curbs and storm drain covers were also marble. Well, I guess if you have got it, you might as well make good use of the stuff.

Seriously, curbs made of Marble???

The VF on this stage reaches its closest point to the Tyrrhenian Sea – only about 1.5km away. The temptation was too great and we created a slightly longer but flatter route that would take us to the sea.

We were initially disappointed because the street we chose ran not to a nice Mediterranean beach, but rather an active port where truckloads of ….you guessed it, marble, were queued up to load onto large cargo ships.

Rocky beaches. Those are wet chunks of ….marble.

We weren’t deterred as we turned south along the coast and soon we were out of the port area and first rocky and later sandy beaches stretched for miles. Walking along the beach is nice when you are barefoot. Walking along with hiking shoes and a backpack however is less than ideal. After about a km we traded the beach for a series of coastal boardwalks, small-boat harbors and streets.

A sandy beach!

At one beach cafe we stopped and made a couple of calls to Nadine and Cindy to show them the water and our accomplishment of making it all the way across a continent. It was fun to touch base with them for a few minutes and show them the sea and mountains where the marble is quarried.

Mountains of marble

The walk ended with an uninteresting walk from the coast into the town of Massa. It was traffic-filled and loud. But the time went by quickly.

The village of Massa has a beautiful castle and some stereotypical Italian piazzas. Our Ostello for the night is recently renovated and located on the Piazzo Mercure.

Day72 Aulla to Dogana – Shocking!!!

First a bit a note about our maps. I found out today that I has ant been updating. (Someone should have told me!! :). But it is fixed now. Check out the Maps page.

Morning Update:

Despite our attempt to have a short day, there were no lodging opportunities at Sarzana. We grouped together with Paulo (Portugal) and JeanYves (France) and booked an AirB&B at a nearby suburb of Dogana and headed out for the day. Our path took us sharply up.

But the views are nice.

Now, you’d think that after tackling the Juras, the Alps, and the Appenines, we be used to it but today was hard. The weather had turned sour and it was both warm and very humid AND rainy.

Having rain gear on really traps in the heat and because the humidity was so high we both struggled. The reward was some picturesque hilltop fortified villages. Their names all blurred together but they all felt old – ancient really.

Our plan was to get to Sarzana and then take an ugly, but direct road route to our B&B. But those plans changed.

As we entered Sarzana the skies opened up. It was a soaking rain – this alone was OK, but since it was lunch we sought out a cafe to get a coffee.

Twice we had to seek shelter from the rain, but we found a coffee shop and sat down. The timing was excellent. Almost as soon as we did, a flash and an instantaneous loud crash of thunder rattled the shop. Over the next hour a lightning storm of epic proportions shook us and we started talking about alternatives to a walk along a busy road in an electrical storm – smart, eh?

Wine? Oil?

We still needed to get some groceries and made a dash to a local supermarket and then promptly called a cab. Yes, I know – a cab for a pikgrim isn’t really kosher but we had bought supper and breakfast meals for four and the lightening and torrential rain made it an easy decision.

It turned out to be a very smart move. Because the lightning and rain only got harder after we arrived. Jean Yves struggled in after 7pm with these words. “ you have room for a pilgrim coming from Hell?” Haha. He’d had a rough evening.

Dinner with Paulo and eventually JeanYves (who decided to walk) was prepared by chef Allison. Man was it good. But somehow it ended like this. Long story…

Phillipe on the left with Jean Yves

Trying to find his way to the B&B JeanYves had stumbled on a Belgian family living here. They came by for a visit and we had a funny and fun evening goofing off. JeanYves always lands on his feet.

Oh, a Portuguese saying “a good story never starts with ‘one day I was eating a salad’”.

What a wild day!