Two weeks of walking from Seville to Caceres.
Sep29

Two weeks of walking from Seville to Caceres.

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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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Seven days
Mar25

Seven days

We have walked seven days without a break. Bland vistas, long straight paths, ditches carved out with mathematical precision surrounding exactly squared fields. Rectangular plots planted with poplars. The only deviancies are the quiet villages. Interspersing the sound of our plodding feet are the squeaks of lapwings, egret and heron screeches plus long discussions about whatever we've been reading. The constant walking has a meditative effect. Sometimes kilometres whizz by, then they crawl. The feeling of accomplishment can be quite undone when you realise that the zig zag path is taking you away from the visible village that you're aiming for, a giddy moment occurs when I want to go willy nilly over the fields and get there directly. But a glance down at the inevitable seething ditch puts paid to that. From time to time I pause to refer to Paul's diagram, to ponder. Meanwhile I've bought a pile of medical kit for the blister on my foot that has now deteriorated to a weeping wound. Spent a deal of time examining the Internet for sport shoe shops in Italy, as I have now decided that Paul's footwear is vastly superior to mine. As he quite often reminds me.  ...

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Flat lands.
Mar23

Flat lands.

Just finished our 6th day of walking. Flat would describe the underfoot conditions pretty well, although some minor hillocks have been introduced to the mix of paddy, farms, towns and enormous factories. I’ve just been informed that Ellen’s feet are improving. Despite Ellen’s murmurings that a restaurant was nearby, I insisted that turning left out of our abode tonight would lead to food. The mighty extra three mile evening food forage proved unsuccessful. We then found a lovely pilgrims restaurant 50 meters to the right! This didn’t even lead to an argument and Ellen’s feet held up. We haven’t quite fully understood food yet. It seems that if you order a coffee they give you food as well. If you order a beer you also get food. The more beer you order the fancier the food becomes. If you order food you get extra unasked for food. Last night we declined a pudding after a lovely filling dinner, only to be presented with a large custard doughnut, on the house!! These flat days have merged somewhat. Had one chilly, windy and drizzly day yesterday. We stopped early as just too chilly. Today an otter swam with us lazily along a dyke. Ellen swore to a beaver ( mmmmm) and a rather regal Italian hare finally decided to saunter off when we got too close. The birds and butterflies continue to delight despite being unnamed. We have seen no pilgrims but we have found that a venturesome Scott who set out from St Andrews passed through only 2 days ago. We have been forced into commercial accommodation more that we would have liked. Church beds seem to be non existent. Our two non commercial nights have been organised by rather civic minded parochial local government bodies. We are in a small town called Orio Litta, a short hare’s lope from the mighty Po, which we must cross tomorrow. The guide book made it clear that rooms were thin on the ground. Ellen courageously rang ahead last night, and was left unsure what she had achieved, our Italian being what it is. As we walked over the fields to a slightly elevated town, after 27km on the road a man suddenly hailed us from immediately behind. He gave us a bit of a shock. He was on a mountain bike dressed head to foot in cyclist’s Lycra, helmet and sunglasses. He introduced himself and said he was fore warned and had come to guide us in. He was very chatty and friendly. The ancient beautifully renovated civic centre was to be our home for the night. The tower (later to have...

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Flat Earth
Mar20

Flat Earth

If an Italian ever tells you something is flat, check he doesn't come from the Po valley. If he does then he will certainly know a thing or two about flat. I half expect to walk past the headquarters of the flat earth society. The highest we have been is our second floor hotel room. We have two more flat days to go. We spend our days lazily meandering around huge paddy fields. Dotted about are industrially sized farms, islands of dry land not protected by height but by defensive ditches. The towns are the same, no high ground at all just bigger ditches. This is unspectacular but prosperous land. Given there are only the first stirrings of spring, no obvious buds on the trees, the whole region has its own charm. I always think that it is very hard to make flat lands attractive. You can't hide your dirty architectural linen in a convenient fold in the landscape. However the sheer intensity of work that has gone into the making of the landscape lends it a certain charm. Literally every square inch has had several machines working on it. The irrigation system defies imagination in its complexity. It must look amazing in a couple of months time when the Alpine snow melt fills these fields. There are several thousand square miles of paddy fields. Beware of the mosquitoes! We are struggling to name one of the larger field birds. It is some sort of large spoonbill / egret / heron / ibis. It is white with black legs and bill, with a natty black rim around its otherwise white wings. Ellen reckons it is an Ibis, I err on the side of a spoonbill. Either way it's a startling bird. The flat lands were not able to hide an afternoon surprise today. In between towns the path took us across the railway and main road that we had been following all day. At a distance I could make out a plastic white chair with someone sitting on it just before the very level crossing. Strange I thought. As I drew closer it became clearer that a black woman was sitting on the chair together with plastic bag at her feet and chatting away on her mobile phone. Buon Giorno I said. She smiled. Then I noticed on the other side of the crossing and over the road another black lady on a similar cheap white plastic chair. We were in the middle of nowhere, just a dusty track, a few trees and cars streaking nearby. At the same moment that I saw a battered scruffy red umbrella on...

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Sore feet
Mar19

Sore feet

Paul has been asking me how many sore bits I have, I can't think why he wants to know- it's not as if I would ever go on about ailments. But I am aching and swelling in about five regions including of course, feet. Giant blisters have erupted and we have walked for only two days. Meanwhile Paul is gliding on his amazing new footwear like Jesus on water, and he doesn't have a single sore bit! This region around Milan is flat, if I turn to the north I can see the Alps disappearing in the haze. But apart from that there are miles of finely tilled fields with manicured ditches waiting to fill up. The whole area is an enormous rice paddy, in the summer it will feel like a sauna with mosquitos. I'm glad we're walking now in spring. No other pilgrims around, the last one to pass through police station last night left in February. Only us and the herons.  ...

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Vercelli
Mar19

Vercelli

We got here with no problems at all. We seemed to float our way through Europe on some sort of benevolent cloud. The plane left Manchester early and arrived in Milan early. We strolled straight on to the express train to the terminus in the centre of Milan. Alighting the smart express we were bundled on to the neighbouring train by very helpful Italian folk, with no wait at all. Two very well turned out woman in the chilly station concourse guided us down Galileo street to our hotel. Not a hitch all day. The Hotel Valsesia ( valley of the river Sesia ) was in a 1950’s time warp. Dark and a little musty with its wiring of variable quality and certainly all on show. In its favour it was relatively warm with Garibaldi era radiators, clean and quiet we being the only guests. The owner and his wife were enthusiastic in their welcome and we were brought up sharp by our almost total absence of Italian. A few words of French, Spanish and English escape our lips, but Italian would have been more use. We are working on it. We wandered around the attractive well kept city. As is usual in a new country the mind gets going on comparisons. Differences between here and home or Spain. There is definitely a Latin style shared with Spain. We settled on an early evening drink in one of the thousands of cafes. Chocolate shop and cafe, cheese shop and cafe, ice cream shop and cafe, bar and cafe. You are never far from a cafe. This one was a bar. Along with the drinks a large tray of Spanish style tapas also appear. Ellen was enthusiastic about this development, especially as they were gratis. Cafes don’t serve meals so we went to an excellent pizzeria just down the road. Prosecco was served by the carafe, again Ellen approved. All looking good so far. Just a little quiz. In the spirit of radio four the unbelievable truth, which of the following statements is untrue.. There are a lot of cafes. There are even more handbag shops. Not many training shoes to be seen. Everything is very expensive. We spent the night in a Police station. Lorry drivers are very polite to pilgrims. There are no fast food chains at all. All will be revealed in a later post....

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Just when I thought it was all over.
Oct29

Just when I thought it was all over.

We arrived in Santiago yesterday, with the usual long haul to be expected coming in through the outskirts of larger cities. Slightly disoriented we found ourselves the perfect small hotel bolt hole right in the middle of this ancient city. We even managed to sort our certificates out after hunting down the well hidden cathedral office. All that was left to do after good food and sleep was attend pilgrim's mass at midday today.     Off we go to a very well attended mass in a really beautiful cathedral. Every church architectural style is represented here with the emphasis on 1075 Romanesque. Gold dripping from every orifice. The whole set as a cross with one slightly larger knave facing the alter. We were half way down the North aisle. A nun with an angel pure voice led some quiet chanting. Then the assembled male clergy made their way in. Dressed in striking red and white this time. We still cannot make out a word of ecclesiastical Spanish. On this occasion it was an advantage. As well as the hoards of religious tourists there were many recognised faces. I was able to wander and review in my mind. There was a genuine air of goodwill suffusing the cathedral. As I went up to receive the rites, I was quite surprised to feel a warm tear of emotion, I went back to my pew gave Ellen a hug. We had finished, job done all's well with the world. Or so I thought. The camino still tantalisingly had the power to surprise. Suddenly it was as if somebody had charged the air with static. There was an excited murmur. Four purple robed men strode purposefully from the four corners of the cathedral towards the great rope that tethered the giant censor (incense burner) otherwise known as the famous Botafumeira, that hung centrally above the priests head. It weighs 80kg and dangles from a 30m ships rope attached to some sort of 500 year old iron mechanism embedded into the top of the main tower with an accompanying Masonic eye. It is only rarely used and we had no inkling that today we would be lucky enough to see it in action.   The four men in practiced unison, manoeuvred themselves into position and lowered the giant receptacle. Each officiating priest shoveled it full of burning charcoal and incense. They stood back. There was a moment of absolutely ladened heavy silence. Then the organ broke the impasse, moving straight into top gear, each pipe ripping out sound. The nun serenely sung a gentle heavenly moaning chant, totally out of kilter with the...

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Motorway life.
Oct21

Motorway life.

Well here we are. Only managed 20k today. Spent the latter half in a surreally steep wooded narrow gorge, abundantly beautiful. This was despite the random hunting shot gun explosions and the huge motorway that joined us. The motorway was like the background of a computer game. It was real, giant and stupendous but had nothing to do with us. It had no contact with us, we saw no vehicles as it was above our heads and only heard echoes as cars hit bumps above our heads. Finally our paths crossed. A junction and slip road led to the local village and service station. Where we are now. Yes we are staying in a service station! The reason. Ellen's feet are not to be beaten. Despite a valiant bacterial effort to render her ill and lame, they admitted defeat in the face of pharmaceutical attack. Reinforcements were called in and the other foot decided that it was going to finish the job. She now has peroneal tendinitis which has done the trick. Can hardly walk. The service station is a place of refuge. She is bit down about it, but I have to say I am not. We are in Spain and this is clearly where mainstream spaniards congregate. 3 random differences between a Spanish service station and it's UK counterpart. Guard Dog             Fountain of nectar               The knife cabintet. Sorry my photo does not do this male fantasy of space justice. It is big, glitzy and attracts just the sort of admiring looks from just the sort of people you would expect. So here we are with a perfectly adequate room, sitting at our standard service station table drinking beer. Ellen is studying the menu. Only 7.00 so a bit early yet. The menu contents and many other menus LIKE it will be the subject of another post. Needless to say, few surprises. Starters: Galician soup, soup stew, seaman's soup, soup of the day or omelette with eggs. Mmmmmmm. I like leaving in the dark, like we did this morning. In the old narrow streets just as the sky was starting to lighten we passed a battered old white 4×4 with a trailer. Shaded men were present as were camouflage jackets, rifles and dogs penned in a caged trailer. I know this is my soft mentality coming out here, but we were both disturbed. Especially as a few minutes later a small convoy of such vehicles passed us on the main road out of town, dogs fully pepped up howling and braying. Sorry it's just distasteful....

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