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.

https://youtube.com/shorts/Bk2oHjHs_jY?feature=share

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?

https://youtube.com/shorts/2pGhVDsZg0A?feature=share

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. “Bonjour..do 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!

Day70 Berceta to Pontremoli – A steep decent into Tuscany

Morning Update

First we promised not to have a long day today…and failed. Today was 29.6km (more than 31 after you add in the grocery shopping excursion). Tomorrow is 31….but then we are done with it….I promise.

The day started with a nice leisurely morning. We slept in until 7:30. Luxury. After a quick grocery store stop we were off to finish up the Appenine crossing at the Cisa Pass (which I kept calling Cibo pass for some reason in the videos).

It was steep but for some reason, despite yesterday’s efforts I was flying up the hills. Allison normally leaves me in the dust on uphill climbs but today I led the way.

Can anyone identify this track. It’s about 3”dia
Goodbye

Soon we were at the Cisa pass and peered back to see from whence we’d come. Goodbye Parmigiano-Reggiano, hello Tuscany.

The view from where we’d come
Fun on a bridge
Roxanne and Juliet

At the top we met two Belgian ladies who were on and appenine backpacking/camping adventure. They were on Day1 and were surprised to see us coming all the way from London by foot.

A cool entrance to Tuscany

The rest of the day was beautiful but technically challenging. It didn’t help that we’d been told that the day was only 26km. That’s not a small distance by any means, especially on difficult terrain, but when it turned out to be 30 we were hurting. Those last 4 are killers.

Along the way there were several stone bridges. This region held out a long time against the Romans. The entire population was deported to another region as a result. Having a high strategic value guarding the pass to Po Valley, the Middle Ages the region was “owned” by Genoa, Pisa, and others

Bridges

We made it to the Convento Frati Cappuccini and we’re kindly explained the rules of entry and shown to our room. Normally we’d immediately shower and do our laundry but due to the late hour we thought it wise to stock up with food for tomorrow first.

We ended our night with an overly long walk to the nearest grocery and then finally we were able to sit down for a nice dinner at Trattoria Da Nori. Two pastas and a shared meat dish (pork in a sauce with peas) was just perfect.

By the way, meet JeanYves with whom we e walked on and off for weeks.

Good night all.

Day67 Cadeo to Fidenza – Near Death to Near Life

Sorry for the ominous subtitle. Let me explain.

Morning Update – Near Death. This is hard to hear because of all the traffic flying by at 100mph

Life on the highway – still all smiles despite the impending doom of the traffic

Morning Update Part II. – Near Life.

It was only “near” life because the walk today wore us out. It was longer and more pavement-filled that we expected. But we put yet another 20+mi day in the books.

Chiaravalle Abbey -12th Century

But we did get to visit a real treasure, the 12th century Abbey of Chiaravalle del Colombo. The abbey is nearly in its original condition and operated well after most monasteries had foundered. Napoleon, after his victories in Italy eventually “closed” the Abbey allowing only 2 monks to remain.

The abbey’s foundation and construction is well documented having been built to exacting plans laid out by none other than Saint Bernard himself.

https://youtube.com/shorts/RZ7U61iEhXQ?feature=share

The cloister is neither the most elaborate or most interesting that I’ve seen but it had a simple beauty in its symmetry.

https://youtube.com/shorts/8zKPBvHsVpw?feature=share

Getting closer

The rest of the day was a bit of a slog along country roads until we entered Fidenza itself. Here we met again our friend Jacques from France. We met him at work around day 36. He was working this week in Fidenza and we managed to get together for dinner.

Jacques had received a restaurant tip from a co-worker and it was a good one. We only had a single course but it was excellent pasta and even better company. On our way out we swung by the Cathedral which is famous for its statuary. Jacques had had a tour earlier and shared his knowledge of the images. Thanks again Jacques.

Day65 Miraldo Terme to Corte Sant’Andrea – Wind and Good Friends

I slept a long time – a very long time. I woke at 6:30am feeling 1000% better. Sleep is good medicine and so is water. Today being an extra short day made it all the better.

Morning Update Day65

There was no rush to leave the pilgrim house but sometimes routines are hard to break. There were four of us in the parochial donativo and we were all up and about by seven. Breakfast was meager but we all shared what we had and there was enough.

Allison and I left first and within a few minutes the rain sprinkles began to arrive and we stopped under a tree to don our rain gear.

Teaser

This was the first of what was forecasted to be a wet day. However, after this first light rain the clouds broke up and we had a beautiful, dryer, and cooler day. The wind was very strong however and we both had to hold onto our hats at times.

https://youtube.com/shorts/xalA_Q2gaq8?feature=share

When walking, you never know where the path will take you or what you will see; take motocross practice for example:

https://youtube.com/shorts/1mC5zkc82bg?feature=share

Crossing the Lambro

The route took us across the Lambro river and through small towns until we reached Orio Litta. Here Allison and I stopped for a coffee and Allison also treated herself to a gelato. For once I didn’t indulge – I’d had a bigger breakfast.

As we were exiting the town, we passed the large mansion/castle of Litta Carnini. Here we met three family members whose family used to own the place. Some misfortune had taken it from them but the family gathers yearly at the “home place”. Covid had stopped it until this year.

They were very interested in the idea of pilgrimage and we spoke to them for quite a few minutes. One of the sisters wanted to encourage the idea to her children. Pictures were taken.

The last few kms were easy and beautiful. But I was eager to get to this historic stopping point. I’d received a few emails over the past week from a friend from our Camino2014. We’d met our Italian friends, Alessandro and his daughter Lara, about 3/4 of the way through Spain but we had so much in common and we’d tried to keep in touch. Time, however, has a way of ripping people apart.

Knowing we’d be walking through Italy we’d contacted Lara and she’d put us back in touch with Alessandro. He drove 2hrs each way to meet us at this spot and have lunch together. He and his wife Barbara drove us to a nearby town (no open restaurant here) and the kindly invited JeanYves to join along.

What a wonderful treat to meet again and how much it meant to reconnect with Alessandro. I truly hope to make an intentional visit to Italy to get to know them even better. Just good people.

Barbara, Alessandro, Me and Allison = Joy

We parted ways and started the whole Pilgrim routine again (shower, laundry, etc). This particular donativo is plush. Amenities include a full kitchen WITH food, a washing machine, dining room, lounge etc. It is decked out. There are only four of us here so far, but it is set up for many more. In fact, as I was typing, a bike pilgrim just showed up. His name is Carlos and he’s walked all the way from Lisbon. Today he walked 50km. That’s nuts.

This place having a washing machine meant EVERYTHING went in – leaving me only my rain pants. Perhaps only pilgrims can appreciate that.

We ended the evening with Allison and I cooking for everyone – pasta of course. It seemed to be appreciated. Carlos had extra pasta – he’d earned it.

One last entry…I’d swear I’d have gained all weight last in France back with all the pasta we’ve eaten. But this place had a scale and if it is accurate I’ve now lost a total of 17lbs (about 10%). That’s a good number to stick with. Allison wouldn’t want it published so let’s just say the percentage is a few percentage points more. Walking is a great diet plan folks. Stop walking however, and you can’t keep eating like we do undoubtedly. Wouldn’t life be wonderful if you could though.

Day64 Pavia to Miradolo Terme – Pain

It was a tough start to a tough day this morning. Last night the sound of traffic well past 4am made sleeping difficult. It didn’t help that I had a really bad headache (likely due to dehydration).

We taped our morning update from the Ponte Coperta (covered bridge) which had been constructed in post war period. The original medieval bridge had been bombed by the allies during WWII.

Remains of the medieval bridge

I was disappointed to have missed touring some of Pavia’s sights (this happens too often due to fatigue and a busy schedule). But today was to be a long day and we didn’t have a place to stay for the evening yet.

Morning Update

Much to our disappointment when we called at 9am, we received the news that our intended place was closed. This left only one viable option – going 20+miles yet again in the hot sun.

Fall is a comin’

Mid day update

As I mentioned, I wasn’t feeling great anyway and this really hurt. My headache continued through the day and the glare and heat made the miles drag on. To make matters worse my back began to ache and for the last 8miles was actually spasming occasionally.

What’s wrong with this picture
Interesting weeds

Our only different wildlife sightings were all dead things. Except a very colorful caterpillar. FYI, these are the crawdad guys that I mentioned yesterday.

We stopped to rest at Belgioioso and had a pizza and coke. We ended up only eating half a had the rest for dinner. It was labeled a cheese and wurst pizza. Turns out it was hotdog. So I had my first hotdog pizza. It wasn’t bad at all.

We stumbled into our original destination of Santa Christina (still an hour and and a half short of our final destination) and had a sit for a bit. We had a sports drink and an ice cream and enjoyed listening to all the local men sitting outside playing cards.

An amazing house near Torre del Negri. The color didn’t help my headache- haha

The last 1-1/2hrs seemed to take 3. I was very uncomfortable; but there was nothing to do but plow on. We made it to Miraldo Terme and did our best to do our chores before crashing and attempting a nap. As it happens, Jean Yves and a Belgian pilgrim Steven ended up at the same place, so there was no rest to be had.

About 30min from our final destination. Despite all the issues of the day we still had some fun.

But getting out of the sun and just lying around did wonders. All seems to be better now and I think with a nights sleep we will be ready to go again. Tomorrow is a short day !! Yay. The first we’ve had in a while. However it is predicted to be quite rainy. It’s amazing to think we’ve only had one real full day of rain this entire trip. Time to unpack the rain gear.

Day58 Pont St Martin to Ivrea – Italian 101!

Ok, first – two thumbs up to La Casello for a great night sleep in a super clean private room and a lovely balcony where we could have a take out pizza for supper. Funny thing – the only restaurant open in town was a NY Pizza restaurant – but the pizza was fast and excellent.

Time to harvest

We woke refreshed and had a great breakfast with Prosciutto and homemade jam and both chocolate and strawberry croissants, bread, butter, coffee, and two fruit juices. We left satisfied.

Our walk began by walking past the Roman bridge again. And then we did climb a bit. The overall day was nice mix of trails and road. Throw a few castle and mountains in and that more or less sums up the sights for the day.

The highlight today was the wonderful company. We met 4 Italians hiking and they kindly took us under their wing. We learned more Italian words as they were very patient with us.

After stopping for some amazing gelato for lunch (yes,…we had ice cream for lunch – remember this is a no-judgement blog), we had become fast friends. I was sorry to see them all go home and maybe a little bit jealous too. They were all on a short pilgrimage.

Other than learn some Italian we did have a special treat. I don’t know why I asked but I did.

“Do you sing”

“Si”

“Can you sing some Italian songs?”

“Ah, Yes, …do you know ‘Volare’?”

<Mark bellows>. “VOLARE!….o o o o!”

…and for the next several minutes we were treated to Italian songs and lots of laughter.

Not to worry, we were asked to sing as well and we resorted to children’s songs and we all had a good laugh.

Later in the day we danced together to some 50’s Rock and Roll just for the fun of it. We have very few pictures of ourselves but Giovanna was kind to share a few she took. The smiles say it all.

Grace personified

Finally we arrived in Ivrea, unsuccessfully looked for a stamp for our pilgrim credential at the cathedral, and it was time for them to head to the train station.

The sunlight coming through the windows of the Cathedral of Ivrea was stunning.

For us it was time to find our Ostello. This was an odd one. It is a standard Ostello in many ways but it is also a whitewater kayak center. Imagine that combination?

For only the second time we also had a self-cooked pilgrim dinner. Allison and I made a pancetta, zucchini, tomato pasta dish and we all had fun through the evening.

An unsociable native!

We’ve also made a decision driven mainly by some minor frustration finding lodging. We are going to make the next three days into two. That means some long days, yes, but at least we have some lodging.

Ciao Alpi

FYI. We said goodbye to the Alps today. They are still beside us, but they’ve turned into hills nearby. In the next week we face a tough mental challenge – the flat plains of the Po valley. It’s the last mental obstacle, but those that know me will understand that this will be tough for me. Allison will struggle as well, but without a physical challenge I know I not be a happy camper. Prayers please.

Day53 Grand Saint Bernard to Etchevannoz – Coming off a High aka Buongiorno!

Day53 Morning Uodate

Tough night last night since both Allison and I were having GI issues. At breakfast others also mentioned issues. So either the food or altitude or combination of the two caused some problems.

Bowls of Coffee

We went to a special Pilgrim blessing service at 7:15am but didn’t get much out of it I’m afraid. Then it was off to a toast and coffee breakfast. The coffee was good and something warm in the belly helped a bit.

Bundled

After breakfast we packed up and headed out for the short (about 50m) walk to the Swiss/Italian border. Just past the border we took photos at the St Bernard statue before starting the multi-day downhill hike. It was cold 6C and we put on our cold-weather gear. Ten minutes later it was back off as we began walking and also were exposed to some sun.

The views were spectacular and a small wave of depression came over me to know we were beginning the journey away from their majesty. I really would rather not leave. But many Italian joys await.

Today was going to be a long painful downhill day but we’ve decided to cut it in half at the recommendation of many who have gone before us. This will use up one of our spare days, but that’s what they are for.

The tops of the mountains were mostly shrouded in cloud, but they were intermittently brought into view when a cloud broke. The snow on some of them sparkled and the rock faces of others looked strong and bold.

Mystery

The decline started out steep and rocky and then changed to outright cruel but less rocky. By the time we hit St Rhemy en Bosses my knees were pretty sore but the trail just got steeper. Finally, we leveled out a bit and we got a reprieve into the town of St Oyen. All of these little villages are little more than 3sqkm in size but each played a role in either guarding the valley pass or serving as guides and escorts for travelers trading across the Alps.

The villages of St Rhemy and Etroubles for instance were granted exclusive rights by the House of Savoy to act as escorts for a period of time in exchange for hosting the Savoy landlords and their guests for free.

Lampposts Pilgrim welcome in St Rhemy

St Rhemy (Eudracinum in Roman times) also served as a horse trade-off post and a last chance resting place for travelers attempting the Alpine crossing at St Bernard pass.

Just past Etroubles we were forced to walk along a busy road. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to be walking.

But we were soon at the tiny village of Echevennoz, our resting place for the night. We are staying at a L’Abri lodging. I didn’t know much about them. Check out their founding and mission here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Abri

It’s a beautiful little place and we’ll be having dinner at the family trattoria later this evening. But for now, I’m chillin’ in this cool chair.

Chillin’

For dinner we ate with a pilgrim from Switzerland. He speaks excellent English, Italian and French. We had our first Italian meal with pasta, chicken and polenta. Yum. Glad to be here.

Day49 St Maurice to Martigny

Morning Update Day 49

This was going to be a great day. I knew it from the start. In some ways ,yesterday was the end of the beginning ,and the beginning of the end of this voyage. We finished our last day of pushing and had built up enough buffer days to allow for some time off in Italy and the ability to slow down. Also, in just the 24hrs since we last posted we’ve met two pilgrims ,from the Netherlands, two German historians, a young priest, and of course our friend Mona from San Diego who walked with us all day today.

The view from our window this morning.

Tonight ,we are staying at a crypt donativo Catholic parish. Memories of the Camino have flooded back and honestly ,I love it.

The other thing that showed promise for the day, was a “whopping” 11mi on the itinerary. That’s just over half of what we have been waking for the last several days. The difference this makes is astonishing….but back to our day.

Wow!

Allison and I were not only in separate beds last evening, but also in separate rooms. That was odd! We both woke ,however ,before 5:30 for no other reason other than it was habit to do so. We readied ourselves and then went to breakfast in the “guardhouse” of the chapel. We were served toast ,jam and coffee…the usual fare.

Breakfast

We ate breakfast with other pilgrims from the Netherlands and Germany. It felt more like a pilgrim meal than any other breakfast we have had yet. We are finally making connection. This is life, connection!

Our friend Mona was waiting for us after breakfast. She had a more substantial breakfast and I was jealous that she had fresh figs as an option. I adore figs.

It was so relaxing to walk along without the need to push or put miles. It was also an easy day because despite my claim yesterday, There was little elevation to conquer.. We strolled along and stopped to take ridiculously normal photos. We also got to know and appreciate our new friend Mona. She is a nurse…so Allison is in heaven for a kindred soul to share.

Virginia plates? In the Alps? Whaaaat?

The scenic highlight of the day was the spectacular Pissevache falls (I’ll leave it to you to translate the French). The falls were gorgeous and the cool mist would soak you quickly if you didn’t hide behind the rocks. I snuck around the side of the falls and was treated to a beautiful site.

The remainder of the short day was tainted only slightly by some mosquitoes but they were only a nuisance for a short while.

We arrived into Martigny and its beautiful castle and alpine backdrop. Crossing the turbulent Rhône River and looking up we could see the task awaiting us tomorrow. This will be a challenge, undoubtedly. The town has numerous restaurants and cafes but our super cool lodging has a kitchen so we’re cooking for ourselves tonight.

Our kitchen for the night. Chef Mona at work!

So… to that point… we are staying at the Catholic Parrish donativo which is underground adjacent to the church. The lady who greeted us here and checked us in was so kind and happy and full of Godly love. It was wonderful! And…the priest even came down to meet us and chat for a few minutes. This place has such a feeling of love. This a really cool set up and personally I’m in pilgrim heaven.

Our crypt for the evening.

Can you tell it’s been a good day? Told ya so!

Day47 Lausanne to Montreux- Grapes

We woke again early this morning and had a good breakfast at the Lausanne hostel. We both had cereal with milk – something I rarely have at home but had been desiring for a while. The coffee was bottomless – bonus.

Morning Update Day47

Disappointingly the mountains across the lake were shrouded by cloud so we missed the magic hours for photography, but throughout the day the clouds lifted and we drew closer with every step to the steep peaks of the Alps.

But after walking for a few hours out of the sprawling Lausanne suburbs (the rich Riviera side of town this time), the landscape changed from suburban to vineyards. For the remainder of the day until the last couple of hours we were surrounded by Swiss vineyards.

What? You’ve never had a Swiss wine? Well that’s because they don’t export the stuff. As they say “it’s just too good to send away”.

Anyway the vines were loaded with fruit – the harvest must be coming soon. The vineyards grew ever steeper with the vines being terraced to capture every last ray of sunlight. Vineyards of ripe black Pinot Noir mixed with a golden yellow grape variety known as Chasselas spread for miles and miles.

Now today’s journey was around lake Leman so you’d expect it to be quite gentle and flat, right? Well I did. Actually I did know that the path went up and down just a bit into a village or two. But boy did I underestimate it. Today was both long and tough. The ups and the downs were so steep that my knees were aching before lunchtime.

We did stumble onto a wine tasting tent around noon. The gentleman there gave us a tasting of two of the wines for free. He gave it to us as a gift toward our journey which was very nice. We also asked where the nearest grocery was and he told us it was about 45 minutes away. I forgot to factor in that travel time was by car. Mark kept pointing out all the restaurants we passed. I was sure we were almost to the grocery store. Well, by 2:30 pm we finallly had our lunch supplies.

David

We ate sitting by the lake and enjoyed people watching. It was a beautiful day after all so there was a buzz of activity. Kids and families were out playing in the sun and water sports of all flavors thrived. The area is known as the Swiss Riviera after all. You can tell by the video though that we (I) was getting pretty tired.

We stumbled into our final destination of Montreux still without a place to sleep. In “desperation” we stopped by a hotel and begged for a cheap room. Well….we for a room. It was at the discount price of 170SF ($187/night). Sadly this was actually a decent price. To make up for it we had ramen for dinner ($35 from the supermarket). Folks…I kid you not, this place is crazy expensive.

We did get treated to some awesome sunset views.

Tomorrow we leave the “Swiss Riviera” and enter the gorge valley. The adventure continues.

Day43 Mouthier-Haut-Pierre to Pontarlier – Gorges and Elevation

Starting off on a crisp morning.

Some trouble this evening with uploading images so despite the beauty, there will be few images and no video until we get home. (Post Via note: It’s all here now)

The expensive night at the hotel ended early with our 5:45 alarm. We’d left the window open to help our clothes dry and woke to a chilly room. The temperature had dropped into the high 40’s overnight. Good thing we had several blankets.

We decided to raid our food supply for breakfast. We feasted on an orange, and what passes for a breakfast bar and energy bar here. They are incredibly tiny and mostly sugar. I do miss our protein bars back home on these occasions. That left us with 1/4 baguette, four slices of cheese and one energy bar each. Slim pickings. But at least Mark’s pack was light.

So we left our key in the door to our room since that is how we found it. A hotel with an unmanned reception 24 hours a day….Maybe that is normal here, but it sure seems strange to me. Anyway we were on our way.

Boy, what a start! We climbed and climbed and walked in the woods around the Gorges de Nouailles (Noodle Gorge). It was absolutely beautiful!

Climbing up the gorge
Beauty

We did spend most of our morning climbing up the gorge. There were some terribly narrow paths with sheer drops. The Source of the River Loue was so spectacular.

Once we climbed above the river the world seemed so quiet. But do not worry, we continued to climb.

At the village of Ouhans we’d hoped to stop to get some lunch supplies. There was no evident store in town however but there was a pretty but small chapel located on a hill adjacent to the town. It was the Notre Dame du l’Engles. It was very beautiful inside.

Chapelle Notre Dame Des Anges

Our lady of the angels

Danger Danger Will Robinson!

The climb was relentless. We walked through forests and roads that were so steep there were warning signs for cars about the gradient of the road. Finally we could see the top come into sight. We were running on fumes and needed to eat and sit down for a few minutes. So we nibbled on the rest of our food provisions for lunch which was not much. But it was all we had: a piece of bread, cheese, a few nuts, and a breakfast bar.

Logging operations

While we were preparing our lunch a car drove by, stopped, and backed up. A gentleman who lives nearby just wanted to chat with us. It was a kind gesture. I am continually amazed at the kindness of the local people here in the south of France. He was a retired Air France pilot so Mark enjoyed talking Aerospace with him.

We ended our journey with a suburban entry into Pontarlier. It was nondescript except for the chance encounter with a Decathlon sports store.

At our youth hostel for the evening we finally had the chance to meet and talk with the pilgrims we’d met a few days ago. It made for a delightful dinner. We cooked up some food we’d bought at the local market (cassoulet, peas and sausages) and boiled some eggs for lunch tomorrow.

Well that’s it folks. Tomorrow is our last full day in France. We travel to Jougne on the Swiss border. I’ll end this with one last artsy shot from the Gorge