Friday, June 30, 2006

FRIDAY 30: DAY 15 - SAN MINIATO TO GAMBASSI TERME

Syl: "Under the Tuscan Sky". Today's walk was exactly as I imagined walking in Tuscany would be like - except from the unrelenting sun. San Miniato is on a steep hill - like most fortified towns, castles or monasteries, with far ranging views of approaching friends or foes. We left a quiet San Francesco Convent at 6.30am and wound our way down the district road until we came to the dirt road we would follow for most of the day. It was almost impossible to get lost today with a plethora of VF signs all the way to Gambassi. At first it was overcast, warm and humid and we made good time - 13kms in the first three hours. We meandered over wheat fields, bleached by the sun. Vineyards, olive groves and the occasional green forest. We climbed up and down hills, some with imposing stone villas lording over the vineyards and passed a number of crumbling abandoned villas. By the way, we have yet to see a Tuscan Villa painted terracota or Orchre, and none have Juliet Balconies or pillars and fountains. All those Pseudo-Tuscan developments back home must have been a fantasy dream by a drunk architect. Even the most imposing Tuscan villa here looks more like a Georgian mansion than a Hollywood 'Romeo and Juliet' set. By 1030 the sun burned away the cloud cover and we started to fry. There were no villages for 22kms between San Miniato and Borgforte - about 3kms before Gambassi. The hard baked dirt road became gravel and then deteriorated into a a cracked overgrown path, shoulder high with grasses and brambles. We forged on, pausing in every bit of shade to catch our breath. When we passed by a lone farm house I asked the owner for water and Senor Salvador kindly fetched iced water from his kitchen. When we reached Borgforte we saw umbrellas, a wonderful sight - just like an oasis in a desert. We collapsed into plastic chairs outside the little bar where we had ice cold water, cokes, coffee and ice cream before trudging on the final 2kms to Gambassi. It must be over 40 degrees today and it is madness to be hiking through the hills in these temperatures. Rayna looked white around the gills, Val was dizzy and disorientated and Marion and I agreed that we felt as if we couldn't walk in a straight line we were so exhausted. Kathys clothes were literally dripping with persperation. We were relieved to find our hotel at the same end of the town we walked into.
Marion: We started walking this morning and there was a lot of clouds which was wonderful as it was a lot cooler. We walked on sand roads, with very little traffic and then on paths through fields. I so enjoyed walking up and down the hills of Tuscany. It is everything I imagined. Rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards, cyprus trees lots of wild flowers and grasses. So many different tones of greens and browns. We even saw a field of smiling Sun Flowers! Every now and again a mansion on a hill with wonderful views. Unfortunately the clouds only lasted a few hours and then we had very hot sun beating down on us. I am sure it must have been 40 degrees. When we arrived at Gambassi I looked at my boots - I hope they are going to last the trip as they are wearing down very fast - I have hardly any heels left.

Val: I fear we are going to become immune to this beautiful landscape - I truly hope that we do not. It is picture postcard, it is the movie scenes, it is everything and more than we expected.

What is sad, is the graffiti and the litter problem which seems out of control. Lucca was the worst - this beautifully preserved medieval walled city with graffiti everywhere. On buildings of architectural splendour and a history to be protected. It is everywhere.

There appear to be no repetitive script or symbol which would suggest that it is political. Some of it is in the modern script of graffiti which I have know doubt that someone considers to be art. We are all quite shocked and saddened that they do not seem to be able to control either the graffiti or the litter problem. Another thing we have noticed is the high security - the burlar bars are over 1cm in diameter and fixed directly into the walls, doors have 4 -5 bolts in the centre plus top and bottom and then metal shutters. All the shops have huge shutters which are closed at night. We do not see any pedestrian police, but occasionally police cars. We have, however, felt 100% safe during the day and evening, walking freely through the villages and the towns.

We often have days where we do not see a village for the whole day which can be 7+ hours so we have to try to get water and something to eat the night before. This is perhaps the reason why we have become such expert scavengers. If we arrive late in the day at the fruit market they seem to feel sorry for us and give us fruit "gratis". We have learnt to waste nothing, and take every opportunity to"collect things". One apple in the supermarket warrants 5 plastic bags. Sugar sachets, honey sachets, salt and even oil and vinegar we pour into our little Alp Juice bottles (which previously held Old Brown Sherry and got us over the Alps). We eat wild cherries, mulberries, apples which are hanging over the public footpaths. Even a lovely red onion which we found on the side of the road which must have fallen off a truck. We weigh up if we can carry or eat it and then we take it. We pinch the soaps and shampoos and the plastic cups in the B & B bathrooms for our wine. Sometimes we arrive too late and the shops are closed, and we look at the fruit in the windows, wanting it so much - we imagine this is what it feels like for someone who is less fortunate and hungry every day. We struggle but have perhaps slightly a better idea than before our trip.

Kathy: (Ci puo consigliare un buon percorso?)
Tuscany at its best I imagine. Followed quite a historic route as Sigeric had mentioned two of the churches we passed today. (Sigeric 990) the first was the Parish of Coiano (nothing much else in Coiano not even a bar for coffee) and the Parish of Chianni just outside Gambassi. Pity that it was so hot, so we didn't linger at the churches and we have found most churches locked, a sign of the times I think. Marion and I attended mass at the convent last night 7pm service. It was held in a small chapel of the main church (church of Saint Francisco). Apart from the two of us, there were three people in the congregation. Five of the Monks conducted the service, each doing a small part. All in Italian so we could not understand much (anything!), 30 minutes long with some singing and we were able to share in communion.

Rayna: L'aria condizionate non funziona 'e fuori
It was very hot again today over 40 degrees. I think that the outside airconditioner is broken. I really hope it gets fixed soon, because walking in the midday sun is not fun for me. The scenery is beautiful with rolling hills. Yes this means walking up and down them. We are all developing serious t shirt, shorts and socks tans. I have a problem with all the dogs that we see on a daily basis. The dogs are kept in cages, often no longer than 3ft x 4ft. Today we stopped for a break at a deserted property. We heard a dog crying, Sylvia investigated and there was this poor dog tied up with water but with no food. Perhaps his owner was coming later to feed him but why tie this poor animal up in isolation?

Val : Food Report:
Well our accommodation turned out to be above a bar and ristorante and the owner Internationally trained. He also spoke 5 languages and ran a very good establishment with his wife and two daughters. We decided we would eat at his table this evening.

Today Italy were playing Argentina, starting at 9pm. The owner told us that his big TV was ready and tables laid for the locals. Our rooms opened onto the street immediately above the outside area so we didn't expect to get much sleep.

The ristorante served fish and specialised in seafood. The first we have seen. As such we had a lovely spread of salads, seafood kebabs and delicious grilled vegetables. We felt on need of chips - he bought us a huge platter of fresh crisp chips - he offered us tomato sauce, he looked relieved that we were not of the tomato sauce variety. He then came to the table with a bottle of liquor. This he tells us is made by his wife - he gives us the recipe, it is made from oranges that have no chemicals - you cannot buy it in the shops and you cannot buy it from him - you must be invited by the owner to sample it! We are honoured, it tasts like cointreau but better.

We attempt to sleep but the noise is unbearable...Italy is winning. I finally plug in my iPod and go to sleep with some Pavarotti - well "when in Rome!"

4 comments:

D&J said...

Hi Ladies,

It just goes to show how people from all over the world feel about thier dogs, Rayna. Some see them as part of the family, and others, well........

Look forward to the next batch of photo's and next entry.

Our hearts are with you!

Delano & jacques

Ina said...

Hi Marion ,thks for your pcard i received on Monday 26.Have read till 29th and think you are all fantastic.Reading the diary is very interesting.Good luck for rest of week,luv Wilna

Mark said...

Good grief; my Mom's a squatter! :)

You guys are amazing. Sounds like a totally incredible journey.

Thinking of you all.

Love
-Mark

oasiskydds said...

Your writting has been like my "book at bedtime" for the last week. It is ven hot in England, but now that we are out of the world cup no cheeriging to keep us awake. Imagine how passionate the locals will be for the next game and perhaps the finals....you might even get to watch, over a bowl of pasta.
Love to Buns from Thomas, Jessica and Megan on hopefully some cooler days, or just walking at different times from us ll.
MCTJM xxxx