Day 23 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Aulla to Sarzana, and our first ocean views! Distance: 12.3 miles. Weather: partly cloudy, low 80s.
Dad’s Italian book described today’s route as “facile” (easy). My Via Francigena app listed it as “challenging”. Having hiked this route, we think the app came the closest to getting it right. Today was tough!
Once again, we’re noting discrepancies in distance. According to the book and App, it was 17 kilometers (10.2 miles). However, Mom’s calibrated pedometer showed 12.3 miles. The distance itself was not what made the trek challenging.
Rather, the ascent was the sharpest I’ve seen during our time on the road. Some parts were as steep, if not steeper, than the Grand St. Bernard Pass. Because of the deep climbs, we were all pouring sweat after a mere 20 minutes.
The descents were equally as hairy. I can only imagine how many rolled ankles there have been over the years. I’m curious about Italian foliage. There isn’t much in the way of seasonal fall colors. The leaves on the deciduous trees simply turn the color of paper bags and fall off. One of the challenges with navigating the fallen leaves is that they camouflage uneven earth and rocks and make it harder to assess the terrain.
The first half of the route was truly a hike in nature. Stunning, but painful. I found a perfectly preserved shedded snakeskin…our sixth snake relic in Italy. And of course, there’s the mosquitoes. All of us have upwards of 30 insect bites.
First Glimpse of the Ocean!
Happily, things improved considerably the second half of the walk. For starters, we were treated to our first views of the Ligurian Sea! There was also an unseen pilgrim angel outside of Ponzano Superiore who generously left some sage, tomatoes, and grapes for pilgrims to try, with a note that all products were pesticide-free. What a sweetheart! We took a sample of each, and left a thank you note.
We also encountered increased number of pilgrims who stopped to chat. There was a group of four sociable Germans, and several Swiss who explained that they were celebrating someone’s 60th birthday. They moved with considerable speed and confidence over a 1-mile rocky segment. Their luggage was being transported from one location to the next.
Oftentimes, the best views come early in the walk. Today, my favorite views were along a lovely canal during the final miles to Sarzana. The water in the canal was so clear you could see the hundreds of fish swimming within perfectly. Interestingly, the canals were perfectly framed by bamboo. Bamboo is not the first plant you think of when imagining Tuscany. And yet the bamboo seemed somehow perfectly at home in Italy.
Arrival in Sarzana
The church-sponsored lodging in Sarzana is the most Spartan we’ve seen thus far. The signora led us past a worn calcetto field to a single large room with several beds. Interestingly, the toilet and showers are in the middle of the room. There are no doors to the showers – the only thing keeping everyone from watching you shower are the two curtains!
Since I recognized every single person in that room, I think all pretense at modesty is all but gone. Thus it doesn’t really matter that the showers put out cold water and that people can hear every sound. Sometimes, you just want to be clean.
The Sarzana church provided some powerful bars of soap. After washing out my clothes, I hung them to dry outside on a clothesline. The French women were very attentive about ensuring their clothes got dry. Every time I looked up, the clothesline had moved. (The ladies repositioned the line regularly to align with the sun’s position.)
That evening I booked the €15 Pilgrim menu for Dan and myself at the neighborhood bar. The Italians definitely don’t skimp on quantity or quality when it comes to feeding pilgrims! The meal came with a glass of wine for me and Coke for Dan; bread; choice of pasta ragu or pasta with pesto; garden green salad; and thin pork cutlet. We also had the option of coffee and small dessert afterward, but by that point we were both stuffed.
Once again, it’s a good thing we’re torching all kinds of calories on this walk!
Pilgrim encounters: Italy, Romania, French, Switzerland, German
Breakfast: Supermarket snack
Dinner: €15 ($16)
Lodging: €15 ($16)