Kathy - Mountain Goat: We had an early start leaving our youth hostel at 6.30am after eating our own yoghurt and fruit for breakfast. It was 2.5km on the main road up to the Cisa Pass (Passo De Cheeza) - what a relief, the literature
Once again a hot humid day. The last 6km into Pontremoli were once again on the SS26 - a little like the old main road through Park Rynie on the Natal South Coast. Lush green, hot and humid and undulating. Nature news: saw our first Italian Serpenta today; luckily it was more scared of us. We also "rescued" a small baby field mouse on a hot path, putting it out of harms way, hopefully, in some shade.
Rayna: Who doesn't like down mountain paths. As Kathy says, it was a lot of "bundu bashing" today and the knees took strain - must be getting old or something! As we came into the almost abandoned village of Cavezzana a dog came out to greet us, followed by Senora Paulo who invited us in and made us the welcomest delicious coffee. She was visiting her holiday house from Parma, with her son Marcello, for a couple of months. We continued along the way until we got to the village of Groppo Over the Cisa Pass to Pontremoli. Here there was a local election station and much activity. We had some refreshments and left for Pontremoli.
Marion: Like Kathy I so enjoyed the terrain that we walked through today. I found the Cisa Pass very interesting - at the border between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, the Cisa Pass developed an essential role in the old road networks. On the old Post Office building there are still signs that define the Dukedom in Parma and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. A long stairway leads to the sanctuary of the Madonna deila Guardia, 1921 devoted to the world’s sportsman. We climbed the steps up and then continued on a side path into the forest.
Sil: Our Cryptic Clues guide said: “Interminable stage in atmosphere mounts, Very demanding for length and unevenness, wonderful for the natural atmosphere in which it is carried out and for the beauty of the villages from Tuscany depositor.”
It also said: "Difficulty: Very demanding with 10% on tarred roads, 0% on gravel and 90% on tracks. Uneveness of climbing: 907m - 1229m to 235m.
Now I have come to learn that 90% on ‘tracks’ means rocks and more rocks. I Hate Rocks. I don't mind climbing up rocky paths forever, but I really, really, really DON'T like coming down them. I don’t care how much the others love this kind of terrain, I just don’t! Today was up, but mostly down, gravel ruts, pebble ruts, shale ruts, stoney, rocky, ankle snapping tracks where you have to watch where you put every step and even then you skid and wobble over loose rocks and stones.
At one stage we had to cross a river on a slope that had crumbling mud sides and only a few boulders to stand on. We had to go down on our backsides and hold walking poles out to each other to get across. We also did some forest walking which was great - even though the thick leaf mulch and pine needles were also slippery, it wasn't as demanding or tiring as the rocky tracks.
Coming out of the forest we heard a dog barking and knew we were close to civilisation. Senora Paulo was an angel to invite us all to rest on her patio and have a cup of coffee before continuing on our way. The village of Cavezzana where she lives is quite derelict and now only 5 people still live there. It seems that people in rural Italy are abondoning the village life for the lure of the cities. Some of the little places we pass have names but are merely a collection of three or four houses. No square, no shops, no street lights, no real streets, just a cobbled path appearing at the edge of the forest, passing between the buildings and soon reverting to a track into the forest again.
It was very hot today easily plus 35 degrees in the shade. The heat cannot escape the thick forest so it was more humid walking in the forest than it was walking in the road. We walked quite a long way into Pontremoli which is in the Magra Valley, before we found our B&B just outside the old town. It is on the top floor of a lovely, large converted stone barn that still has the animal stalls down below. Our charming hostess, Adriana, allowed us to use her washing machine – what a treat – and all the clothes dried within an hour. We are now in the very northern corner of Tuscany, sweltering under the Tuscan sun but happy to be here. Adrianna recommended a local restaurant that we will go to tonight for supper.
Val: Tuscany is unbelievably beautiful - words fail me. The beauty and the simple kindness, generosity and hospitality shown to us these past weeks restores faith in human kind and the will to preserve the nature we have in our own beautiful country grows stronger.
Today was a public holiday due to the Referendum and the bar we stopped at, the "official" polling station. Two policemen were on duty drinking beer and all voting had to be completed by 3pm due to Italy playing football. As such we couldn't get any food and walked plus 20km with only fruit and yoghurt at 5am.
We are starving now (5pm) and going to a restaurant at 7pm recommended by our host. Now there is something I really do not understand - it is so difficult to buy coke - bars only sell it out of siphon machines and whenever we find somewhere with a cool drinks fridge they have just 1 or 2 bottles or have sold out. Either it is not in demand or they have distribution problems. Coke advertise their sports sponsorship everywhere so its a mystery to me.
We are finding the Italians friendly and truly wonderful people - they are patient with our attempts at Italian and we help those who like to try out their English. They often think we are American or English. When they discover we are from South Africa they are very happy - "they prefer us" they say "than the English" - as such I no longer speak when we meet anyone!
In Switzerland we found the people far more reserved and impatient with our limited French, they also made no attempt to speak Italian despite being next door - perhaps the reason is their reluctance to join the EEC.
Well some of us took Italian lessons for several months and it definitely paid off - but the star of the show is Sil...she converses with the locals, our drivers, our hosts and her accent is superb. The other day we were taking a break in a street and an elderly man came out of his house speaking loudly and quickly as if he was cross with us...Sil said "Si..Si senor" - we were most impressed. When he had gone we asked "What did he say?" - "He asked if we would all like to go up to his room and I said Yes! Yes!”
Well, I doubt we could ever repeat the eating experience we had last night in Pontremoli. You would have to know about this restaurant as you would probably only find it by accident. It is in a side street well away from the more tourist area and up a flight of stone steps which at first appears to lead to nowhere. But we soon enter the large dining room of Trattoria Da Norina. We are barely acknowledged by the lady of the house who scowls at us and points to the clock - indicating that her establishment doesn't open until 7.30pm. Our host had booked us a table for 7pm. We asked if we could perhaps sit with a drink until 7.30pm? The eyes do not smile –
3 glasses appear on the bar and she pours red wine into one as requested. Then she picks up the remains of a carafe of white wine with "things" floating in it...I say "no! Signora No!" - I get the evil eye and then she produces a fresh carafe of wine from the fridge. This is not a comfortable situation so we hand her the business cards of our host and suddenly her face lights up with a smile - we are welcome - we are no longer "tourists" who found their way to Mama's restaurant by accident. And we are in for a treat of Regional delicasies.