Thursday, June 29, 2006

THURSDAY, JUNE 29: - DAY 14 - Altopascio to San Miniato: 25kms

Marion: We were all up bright and early this morning watching bunnies running in and out of the Olive trees. Not long after we started walking, we took a turn onto an ancient medievasl road and then through a forest coming out into the village of Galleno where we all got our credentials stamped at a cartoleria - a little stationary shop. Along the medieval road every now and again, there were boards with the story of the road:
"A road of hope towards the most beloved aim. Once upon a time there was a path that still exists, which runs along the places where we grew up. It is not a fictitious road, living in the shadows of our feelings but a real one. It's disjointed stones tells us of a past that doesn't exist anymore of a past discoloured by the passing of the centuries. This ancient road has its own story as well as an important name. It is the famous Francigena Road also known as Via Romea. On its pavements the dreams of many pilgrims faded away. They entrusted this road with their hopes and wishes in order to reach the sacred places of Christianity where they got forgiveness for their sins and purification of their souls. The history of ancient Europe has been written on this road among its moss grown stones not only by pilgrims but by merchants, knights, kings and armies. It is our duty now to preserve this great scenery as a heritage of our valuable past.." Today ended up being quite a tought day and a few times I thought - how many people are there in the world like us 5? "Tooooo damn few!!!"

Sylvia: As we had already walked about 7kms out of Altopscio to our farm accommodation, and passed the turn to San Miniato, we arranged for a taxi to collect us and drop us off on the road to San Miniato. After a short walk on a Roman road through a shady forest, we took a wrong turn coming out of Galleno and ended up walking in single file on a very busy SS road for about 10kms. Then we had a "Blessing Momet". We stood in a group at a little side road to decide what to do. A truck came down the road and the driver told us that the village on the hill behind us was Ponte Cappiano. The VF passes right through it. So we were back on track. We stopped for coffee and then continued across a Medici Bridge (once painted by Leonardo Da Vinci) alongside a canal and through many very flat fields. All in the scorching sun. We stopped in Vececchio for lunch and then continued on the road and some side paths to San Miniato Basso. A digital roadside temp and date sign told us that at 14.50 it was +40oC. We had already walked our expected 23kms so we got a little shuttle bus to San Miniato Alto up the steep roads - where we were booked into the Convent of St Francis of Assisi. This is an enormous complex. The brother who opened the door for us led us to the refrectory to get us cold water. It is a cavernous room with three rows of tables and chairs leading down the entire length of the room and a main table across the end of the room - dwarfed by a gigantic mural of the Last Supper. It reminded me of the diningrooms in the Harry Potter movies. Sadly, there are only 8 brothers left, and only 8 places were set at the top left side table. San Miniato Alto is made up of a warren of narrow cobbled streets and clusters of medieval type buildings, that literally stradlle a ridge overlooking the Arno River Valley and San Miniato Basso below. The convent is like an imposing castle with views over terraced vineyards and small subsistence farms. Our rooms were spartan but very clean and we each had an en suite bathroom. The words "Little Things Mean a Lot" take on a new meaning when you are a homeless traveller. Finding soap, shamppo sachets and a large towel is cause for rejoicing! In the few places we have been able to us a washing maching, it was like winning the lottery! Even having sufficient space to unpack the backpack is a bonus. People here are amazed when we tell them that we are from South Africa and always the same reaction has been "Bianci??" (White?) Tomorrow’s stage to Gambassi Terme is described as demanding with 34% on Tar, 66% on dirt which could mean more bashing through overgrown fields and paths.
Kathy: After reading Syl's contribution above, I now feel very bad about reporting on 'revolting pilgrims" again. This morning in the taxi on the way to our start Val suddenly had a glint in her eye, and quietly told us of her plan..... we really wanted a day off our feet, so Val suggested we wuickly gag and bind Sylvia (sitting in front passenger seat) and she (Val) would hold driver hostage with her pepper spray, and say "Take us to San Miniato". Well, ... we all had a fitr of the giggles and decided we were revolters!! We didn't try our plan and the taxi driver safely dropped us as planned. I wore long pants today to protect my allergic legs, so you can only imagine how hot I was at 14h30.
We feel frot, cos it's too damn hot!
We've been on the trot, since 7 o'clock
We'll feel fine, when its quarter to nine
Hopefully sun will go down then,
We feel frot We feel Hot
We are ready to drop.รน

VAL: Yes it is sooooo hot and some of our sticks have warped. We have come to the conclusion that the Italians have no conception of distance. We ask "Is there somewhere to get a drink?"
"Oh, Si, Si - 50m around the bend"
We walk more than 50m and stop to ask another : "Oh, Si, si. It is 2kms ahead".
We walk up to a group of people and ask, "How far to San Miniato?"
"Another 10kms" says the first person, "Nonsense " says the next. "It is just 5kms"
"No. No. It is 1km - maybe 2kms"
"San Miniato - the last one asks - you have passed it already."
Today we need to find a ristorante for a drink and get ourt of the sun for an hour. We come across a group of men sitting on plastic chairs on the pavement - we ask if they can recoomend somewhere - they all tak at once, pointing in different directions but none of them agree "the Tratatorria is over there with the blue blinds" says the fiorst man. "Are you mad?" says the second. "The pizza is terrible". "Dobnt listen to them" says another. "The best is here, I will take you" says one man but he is too busty defending his culinary reputation and we walk off and leave them to it. It is very tempting to walk into a crowd and ask a question. Thjey never agree but it is wonderful to watch and listen - Italian is such a beautiful expressive language and the people are passionate. We are warming to this beautiful landscape and its people.
We arrived at the convent at about 3pm. One of the brothers met us and asked if we wanted water - the girls followed him tot he refrectory - Rayna and I did not need water so we stayed behind. A little later they return and the brother offered us wine - so we we follwed him to the refrectory - where we had a some wine. We have a new best friend! That evening two of the gfirls went to mass, Rayna and I hit the town. All the shops were open - gorgeous clothes and kitchen shops, copper saucepans for E35 - even I was tempted to carry one! Rayna and I had a lovely Spinach and Gorgonzola pasta overlooking the Tuscany hills and then crept back to the convent careful not to wake the household.

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