Day 33 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Siena to Ponte D’Arbia. Walking distance: 13.1 miles. Weather: sunny, temperature: mid-80s.
I was surprised by how loud it got in Siena the night before. Although it was a weekday, dance music pulsed throughout the night. We heard a hearty group on the street belting out songs well past midnight. (To their credit, the Italians had excellent singing voices.) 🥳
A Bus Ride to Start the Day
A few days before, our friends from Milan had cautioned us that the first segment out of Siena was very dangerous. They pulled out their Via Francigena guide book and pointed to a passage about walking on the road for six miles of heavy traffic.
We had been alarmed by the fast-moving traffic near San Gimignano, and decided to heed their advice and take the bus. We located the Siena bus stop and waited.
As it turns out, we weren’t the only person who had heard bad things about the road. The German woman we’d met on the segment to Gambassi was also there. I had liked her immediately. She hadn’t batted an eye when she saw me drink that glass of Chianti at the winery at 8:40 a.m.
We had ample time to catch up, because the bus was 27 minutes late. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. When it did show up, I clung tightly to the railing as the bus accelerated, decelerated, and swerved with flair. Italian driving is something else.
Once off the bus, we quickly picked up the trail. The hills had recently been harvested, and looked soft and velvety in shades of beige and brown. One of my favorite surprises was coming up a hill and running smack into nonchalant goats and sheep. They were unattended and not the least bit self conscious.
The charming livestock casually sauntered up, posed for pictures, and licked hands. They were so cute!
Hoofing it into Ponte D’Arbia
Since Christine and I got on well, after clearing the goats we decided to walk to Ponte D’Arbia together. After about five minutes, I had serious concerns. The German wind farm specialist could MOVE. I had to frantically work my poles to keep up with her. I was also astounded that she could apply sunblock and roll cigarettes, all without breaking stride.
I’m in no way advocating for smoking, just making an observation. Somehow, the fastest people I’ve met on the Via Francigena have all smoked like chimneys.
As fast as her gait is, her wit is even quicker. She had me busting up laughing.
I think part of the fun of walking with someone new is that the bad parts of a walk become hilarious. You can laugh over the misery of choking down road dust. And although the hills and the crops of purple Alfalfa were pretty, that didn’t change the fact that it was almost 90 degrees with almost no shade.
How can you help but laugh?
By the time we reached Ponte D’Arbia, we were ravenous. We were also sorely out of place. I had to chuckle – in a room of 20 men, we were the only women. And we were filthy and covered with road dust.
We got salads, two types of pasta, bread, and a half-liter of white wine. We had finished lunch when we saw our Dutch mechanical engineer friend arrive. Unlike us, he had walked the full segment.
Once he arrived, we asked for dessert: Biscotti to dip in sweet wine. The server gave the three of us a once-over, grinned and left the entire bottle for us to pour our own servings.
After lunch, I met back up with Mom, Dad, and Dan to coordinate tomorrow’s travel logistics.
Ponte D’Arbia is a town so small that I had only been able to book one room. Therefore, Mom and Dad had to take the bus 5 kilometers further to Buonconvento. The plan is to meet up with them tomorrow in San Quirico.
Dan and I had just opened the door to the apartment when we got an exceptionally friendly greeting from a 20-something Dutch cyclist who was having coffee in the kitchen. (It was a 3-bedroom apartment. We got one bedroom, she had the second, and a young couple with a dog had the third.)
The cyclist was full of energy and positivity. I also got the decided impression that, after many days of do-it-yourself camping, she was over the moon about grabbing a hot shower and sleeping in a contemporary bed.
I wanted to shower, wash my clothes, and nap, so we agreed to meet up later for dinner.
This time, the restaurant was packed. It was chock full of Via Francigena pilgrims and cyclists, including our Ukrainian and French friends.
I wavered between the rabbit cooked in white wine and the truffled chicken. I finally chose the chicken, which may be one of the best dishes I’ve had here.
Of course, all meals taste better when you’ve got good company. The young Dutch woman was a brilliant conversationalist who had recently scored a job in bio-physics. Her work consisted of designing drones to prevent moths from destroying crops.
Honestly, you meet some amazing people on the road.
Tomorrow, Dan and I will find a way to get to San Quirico.
Breakfast: Supermarket snack
Lodging (per person): €32