Aragon

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Two weeks of walking from Seville to Caceres.
Sep29

Two weeks of walking from Seville to Caceres.

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The road out of Sevilla

It is normally the kiss of death to say that a journey is going smoothly, as I did when looking at a whole region full of olive trees out of the train window. We took an early morning taxi to Liverpool airport, Ryanair to Malaga, a suburban train and then a “medio distance” train across olive stuffed Andalusia to Sevilla. Finally a walk across Sevilla to the hostel. It all went very smoothly indeed. Sevilla seems to be stuffed full of glorious old buildings and young people. Our experience of Sevilla seemed at odds with the terrible youth unemployment statistics. There were art schools, music schools and enormous public and religious buildings. The food was also great. Ellen thought Sevilla had all the attractions of Florence but without the deathly crush of tourists. This morning we ventured into the Cathedral. It was as if somebody had joined four or five cathedrals together and then knocked down the walls. There were altars and chapels everywhere. The guard stamped our pilgrims credentials and I watched a mass and allowed myself a little holy moment, while Ellen explored. After a great breakfast we walked for about 5 hours. Fairly typical outer urban stuff, slowly giving way to a beautiful parched Andalusian landscape. The only impression of note was that it was cool, windy, grey and occasionally damp. Ring any bells. Tonight we are in a private hostel with bottom bunks with old Italian and French men for company. I do mean old. I'm looking out at a “papelleria” with a queue stretching down the street. They really like their paper in this town. Buen Camino along your own way. Paul...

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A Way? To Florence..
Apr10

A Way? To Florence..

You could say we have arrived in Tuscany, even though we crossed the border back in the mountains. Whereas it has been built up, busy and working, the scenery is now gentle hills, random collections of pencil like cypress trees punctuating olive groves and ancient buildings. This is romantic Tuscany. We are staying in a great hill top monastery in a village called San Miniato, Florence without the tourists. We have a day extra to kill waiting for the Dunnes to arrive, so we can start the four day hike to Sienna. They have been lured by the leaning tower so we will fill our extra day touring the local vineyards. Another big touristy city lacks appeal, compared with our present circumstances. You may notice from the map that we skipped a bit. When we left ancient Pontremoli we spent another day on roads. Very little care is taken protecting soft flesh from solid metal, both by road designers and drivers. It is noisy and a little scary, especially the lorries which pass close enough to blow your hat off. The route occasionally takes you away from the road but only at the expense of a gratuitously large detour along paths that are very difficult after the recent rains. We arrived after a long day to a very warm welcome in a small hotel in Villafranca. It was kept in a state of perfect military cleanliness, fresh flowers in the rooms and on the tables, all supervised by an energetic eighty year old perfectionist. At lunch the restaurant was full of working men with working boots, sat at tables with frilly table cloths and posh cutlery all tucking into great food, served by a platoon of middle aged women wearing frou frou hair nets. It was about the only perfect thing about Villafranca, which appears to have suffered from large factory closures. It was obvious that the next three days would be urban and along roads. It would also be Easter and everything threatened to close. The roads really swung it. We took a train to Florence and booked a cheap hotel which as it turned out was great, central, quiet and warm. I had never been to Firenze (Florence) and I wasn't disappointed. Pretty amazing place, but we were unprepared for the shear weight of tourist numbers. It made just walking about difficult. The whole of the USA seemed to have decamped over to Italy. We pondered on the Via Francigena (VF) and what it means. Whereas the route to Santiago was definitely a Camino or way, you couldn't really say that about the VF. The Camino was...

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Italian Mayors
Apr02

Italian Mayors

Knock knock. In he comes anyway. Someone just knocked on Ellen's door, opened it and then scarpered when she said hello. Naturally Ellen was scared and wanted me to sleep in the same room as her. To set the scene. We are in a monastery, rather a huge edifice. With at least 70 or 80 separate rooms and two Benedictine cappuchine monks in sole charge. It is situated overlooking the charmingly ancient town of Pontremoli (trembling bridge), our first stop in the region of Tuscany. I suspect that because Ellen changed rooms, her light drew the attention of one of the brown clad monks. Anyway she is a bit spooked. We have managed to cross the Northern appennines in the last few days. We left you in the city of Piacenza, well and truly situated on the Po valley flats. We arrived rather tired after seven straight days of walking. The tourist information was luckily both easy to find and very helpful. Given the dire weather warnings for last Wednesday and Thursday we decided to sit it out and stay in a couple of slightly expensive B&B's run by efficient middle aged ladies. Wednesday delivered the weather we had been led to expect, unrelenting heavy rain. Thursday did not rain at all but was merely grey and chilly. We were committed to staying put so we mooched around all day.   Meanwhile Ellen's feet, whose condition are a constant news feed, had become to much for her. More about this in a later fascinating post, but she finally succumbed to a pair of very un-Ellen like pair of livid blue Nike trainers. Since then barely a whisper has passed through her lips regarding the feet. The old heavy rigid coffin shoes were committed to the great shoe pile in the sky, never to bother the feet again. She does look an interesting sight, bright blue shoes purple trousers and a bright blue jacket.   Which brings us to a pilgrim's dilemma. We had two more days of flat to go, around 45km. This is in itself not a problem however we were running up against routes. The route spent a considerable amount of time on narrow, quiet roads. There are no quiet Italian roads. To counter this the modern route planners would contrive a most inefficient route that involves multiple unnecessary detours around huge fields thus increasing the distance walked considerably. Paul Haines who did the trip last year said he took the quicker road option most of the time. I now see why he did this. He said that quite a few people didn't like or feel safe...

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