Day 39 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Montefiascone to Viterbo. Distance: 13 miles. Weather: overcast; temperature: 70s.
Dan and I were out the door by 6:30 a.m. We love our parents. But I could read in Dan’s eyes and posture the same determination I felt. We wanted desperately to beat our parents into Viterbo. Since they had a one mile head start, we woke up extra early.
It was still dark as we snuck down the cobbled streets.
Ode to Dan
A quick word on my amazing brother and travel buddy. Now that we’ve been on the road almost 40 days, I’m convinced he may be the only person with Down Syndrome to have hiked this number of miles on the Via Francigena. By my count, he’s on track to finish in Rome with close to 300 miles.
Everyone we’ve met has treated him with great hospitality and kindness, which speaks to their excellent character. But, more than that – there’s a genuine look of curiosity, wonder, and RESPECT when they watch Dan in action.
Dan is TOUGH. He never complains. He never forgets anything behind. And he needs very little information to get ready. For example: all I had to say was that there was limited water during our segment today. He immediately came out and filled four water bottles.
I enjoy my brother’s company for so many reasons. Firstly, we have similar walking styles. Neither of us talks much. Secondly, it takes so little to see his face light up – a glass of Coke with ice…an oversized laundered towel…a cup with two flavors of gelato. His straightforward appreciation for what he has reminds me to practice that level of gratitude.
He also adapts to new environments quickly. In the span of three weeks he’s gone from not knowing how to use hiking sticks and me carrying his backpack, to carrying his own pack and hiking distances that would challenge conditioned athletes.
Finally, he’s just FUN.
The Road to Viterbo
The first half-mile out of Montefiascone involved a bit of car dodging. Since the route passed by Rocca Dei Papi, I had hoped to say one final farewell to Lake Bolsena. Alas, it was not to be. The sky was both dark and heavily overcast. It remained overcast the entire day – perfect walking weather.
One of the really special things about today’s walk is that it takes place on some of the original Roman road. I got goosebumps thinking of how many feet have tread on these ancient rocks.
Once we caught the country road, the next nine miles consisted of easy walking. It’s amazing how fit my brother has gotten. I didn’t modify my pace at all, and he stayed right by me. We CHEWED through that segment.
We were overtaken at some point by our friend from Holland, who informed us that he was getting into Rome a day ahead of us. Since he’s an absolute beast of a hiker, rather than spend two days walking around a hill, he’s going to go up and over it. Thus, this is our last day seeing him. I’m genuinely sad to see him go. We’ve spent perhaps a total of an hour together over a period of several days. And yet, it always made me happy to recognize a familiar face in an unfamiliar city.
First Impression Of Viterbo
I won’t sugarcoat things. My first impression of Viterbo was unpleasant. There was heavy vehicular traffic, and crossing the street was a nightmare. Also, after several miles of walking, Dan and I craved food and a drink. We had a surprisingly hard time finding a bar/cafe.
I was so alarmed by the lack of places that I checked my phone to make certain it was not Sunday.
Viterbo Round Two
My thoughts on Viterbo slowly changed once we put our bags down and settled in. I had found a 1-bedroom apartment that could accommodate four in the Piazza del Gesu (Piazza of Jesus). The Piazza was a delightful little area, with a church, ancient tower, fountain, and outdoor restaurant space. The building we were staying was tucked away behind a garden.
An absolute angel of a hostess welcomed us and led us to the apartment, which was below the building. Mom, Dad, and Dan got the 3-bed bedroom; I got the bed in the enormous kitchen. I loved the low stone archway, stone walls, and the 12th century wooden doors. It was a wonderful place!
As lovely as the original touches are, I was a massive fan of the modern touches, too. I loved that the electricity and Wi-Fi worked! And there’s nothing like a nice hot shower with soap and shampoo to make you feel refreshed.
(However, the waterfall shower was so modern that I couldn’t figure out what levers to turn. Thus, Dan showered first. Afterwards, he showed me pictures of the shower gear off his phone and walked me through what to do.)
Like I said – my brother is awesome.
A Relaxing Afternoon Around Town
We had indeed arrived earlier than our parents. Mom and Dad had conversed with several folks on the road and stopped to admire the Italian military’s helicopters at Viterbo air field.
Usually, by the time we arrive at a new place we’re exhausted and don’t care much about going out. However, we had enough energy to want to explore. I’m so glad we did.
We visited the 12th century Cathedral of San Lorenzo, which was built atop the pagan ruins of a temple dedicated to Hercules. The architecture of that piazza is absolutely gorgeous. There were surprisingly few people there in the evening. The only ones in the piazza were vendors setting up for a Tuscan chocolate festival. Unfortunately, we’ll miss it.
Happily, we procured two coveted stamps for our Pilgrim Passports. On our way back we heard the sound of parade music and ran toward it, arriving just in time to see hundreds of young Italian men and women marching smartly into formation at Piazza del Plebiscito. I’m not certain if this is a regular occurrence, or whether it was a special occasion.
In any case, they looked FANTASTIC.
After a cup of ice cream and one of Mom’s fabulously hearty dinners, my thoughts on Viterbo have definitely changed. Today was a LOVELY day on the Via Francigena.
Tomorrow, it’s off to Vetrella!
Dinner: €4 + Supermarket