Day 22 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Filetto to Aulla. Distance: 10.9 miles. Weather: partly cloudy, rain, low 80s.
Dad had been clever to split the segment from Pontremoli to Aulla in half with the stop in Filetto. We all agree that had we completed the full segment (20+ miles) in one day, there’s an excellent chance no one would be talking to each other. I’m seriously questioning how the distances between points are calculated. Mom’s pedometer is recording distances 10-20% longer than what’s posted in the guidebooks and Via Francigena App.
It was very easy to pick the trail up as we departed Filetto. We simply made a right hand turn and started climbing.
We are running a tad low on food supplies. Since yesterday was Sunday, many shops and stores were closed. No one felt like walking a mile off course to Villafranca and carrying groceries a mile back. Furthermore, we know that we will be extraordinarily lucky to find anything on today’s route until we hit Aulla. Until then, we are down to four cans of tuna, some crackers, two miniature balls of cheese, and two energy bars.
The Walk to Aulla
The walk started in a truly beautiful way. The contrails created by two aircraft created what looked like a cross in the sky. Generally, I try not to read too much into these things, but hey! We are on a pilgrimage.
Once again, the country was rich with animal life. We surprised two wild deer, who bounded off farmland back into the woods. And I got a heavy scolding from three geese guarding a vineyard. They waddled over as soon as I approached, stared me directly in the eye, extended their necks, and hissed with great menace.
I’ll be honest: these geese put on a more impressive performance than the dogs have. During World War II, French farmers found geese to be highly effective against would-be intruders. By thunder, these birds generate a whole heap of noise!
The geese are intimidating, but there’s a far stealthier form of native wildlife here that I detest. We just cannot shake the mosquitoes! It is super annoying to gasp your way up a steep, rocky, muddy incline only to find you cannot rest because there’s at least 20 mosquitoes waiting for you. Thus, I definitely assess today’s walk to Aulla as challenging on three major counts: 1) the constant ups and downs on rock/dirt; 2) the very limited number of open resupply points; and 3) nasty mosquitoes.
Arrival in Aulla
Although a sign outside the Abbey of San Caprasio stated the office would not re-open until 3 p.m., when the team showed up shortly after 2 p.m., they graciously checked us in early. (It was raining, and I think they felt sorry for the eight of us. The Abbey is a very important one. It was founded in 884, and was one of the stops Sigeric the Serious made on his journey to Rome.
Inside the area was a nice, small museum featuring pilgrim artifacts from centuries past. There was an array of coins, medallions, and crucifixes. One of the most interesting displays showed examples of pilgrim attire. Looking at the materials, I can’t help but be grateful for waterproof backpacks and high-tech footwear.
Our lodging for the night was located just around the corner from the church.
The two rooms each had five sets of bunk beds, with a set of linens atop each mattress. We made our own beds, showered in one of the two communal showers, and washed our clothes. Alas. Because of the rain outside, it’s doubtful they’ll dry.
Having missed yesterday’s evening Mass in Pontremoli, I made certain to attend the 6 p.m. Mass in Aulla. Unlike in Switzerland, I’m proud I can recognize about 65% of what is being said.
The Bells of Aulla
By this point in our journey, no one is any stranger to church bells. Indeed, they are the focal point of almost every town. It’s very comforting when you’re hiking and can hear church bells sound somewhere in the distance. I think perhaps it is less religious ecstasy than a pulsating hope that if there’s a maintained church, there must be a comune, and if there’s a comune THERE’S A CHANCE there might have be one open bar!
We’ve heard bells strike multiple times a day. However, HANDS DOWN, Aulla has the most aggressive church bell system of any comune, town, or city we’ve passed through! During an especially lavish round of bell flourishes, I caught the eye of the French ladies, and we all started laughing.
We had a delightful surprise at the lodging. Our Romanian friend waved at us from the hallway. The last time we had seen him was during the segment from Chatillon to Verres. Given that we -and several other pilgrims in that region had come down with gastritis – I was relieved to see him healthy and well.
Mom and Dad also located a CONAD (Italian supermarket), and so we have a renewed supply of food again. Yay!
Tomorrow, it’s onward to Salzana!
Pilgrims: Estonia, Italy, Romania, French
Breakfast: Supermarket snack
Dinner: €16.5 ($17.6)
Lodging: €15 ($16)