Posting 14: 21/07/2006, Campososso Mare (792 kms to go)
Yippee Yippee Yippee!
I'm in Italy at long last. I crossed the border this morning at 9:40. The other very good news is that James and Tom who were walking to Jerusalem for Peace have arrived safe and well. You can read about their journey at www.walkingtojerusalem.org
So, to continue the story of my journey, after Le Muy the route took me down to the Mediteranean at Frejus where I was able to visit the Cathedral. Like the one at Aix, it has a very old baptistry, dating from the 5th century. This is probably the oldest Christian structure I have come across. The original city of Frejus was founded by Julius Caesar in 49 BC and the Cathedral, Coister and Baptistry were built on this ancient site.
And a bit more history/culture: I forgot to mention in the last Posting that the Church in St-Maximin has a sarcophagus allegedly containing the remains of Mary Magdeline. According to legend she and other followers of Christ fled persecution and ended up in settling in Provence, in the south of France.
In Frejus I met some of the local Amis de St Jacques and it turned out a couple of them had also walked to Rome by the same route as I intended. They were able to give me some very useful tips about the route including details of Convents and Monasteries where they had stayed. The following day on their advice I took the coastal route rather than my intended inland one. It was hot and the road busier than I expected with more blind bends than I would have liked! Not to worry I got there in the end and certainly the views were lovely. A blue sea stretching out to the horizon with the odd boat to be seen. After this it was a return to inland walking and a stay with the most unusual Community of Beatitudes, who look after the Sanctuary of Notre Dame de Valcluse. This community is modelled on the early primitive Christian communes and comprises Priests, Religious and families. Like other Monasteries and Convents they pray the daily Office.
The following day saw me accept a lift for the first time on the Camino (I don't count the time I was taken to the house of a pilgrim friend as this was between the Camino and my stop for the night). What happened was I arrived in a town not quite sure of the location of the campsite, despite attempts by the owner to explain in English. Found the Tourist Office and asked them. The lady there shook her head and pronounced "It is a very dangerous road". Now as it happened the campsite owner had said exactly the same thing and I was in the 'foothills' of the Alps so I could well imagine what the road might be like and I have to say I was getting worried! So I proposed I would get a taxi. "It will be very expensive" was the response. Then I asked about the possibility of a hotel. Yes there was one but it also was very expensive. I was about to say that surely taking a taxi to the campsite would be cheaper than staying in the hotel when the other person working in the Office announced he would take me there. Initially I refused but he looked so hurt that I quickly changed my 'No thank you' to a 'Yes please' at which it was smiles all round. So me and the rucksack and pilgrim staff were loaded into his car. Right enough the road was pretty bad, lots of blind bends and no verges and very heavy traffic. I could have walked it - I have done similar in the past - but it would have been dangerous, very stressful and very very slow walking. During the 5 km journey I explained to the chap what I was doing - its not that I wanted him to think I was special, but my journey is. When we reached the campsite he was obviously moved and shook my hand and hugged me goodbye. I was very glad I had accepted his lift.
Next came another rest day, this time in Vence when I decided I would not walk on my birthday! Vence is a very old walled town perched on top of a hill/mountain. Here I stayed again with Dominican sisters and met a young Danish lad who had done the Camino in 2004 and it had effected him so deeply he was now studying to become a Dominican Brother. The sisters are the custodians of the Rosary Chapel which was designed and painted by Matisse. It has clean modern lines, Matisse paintings on the tiled walls and beautiful stained glass windows casting radiant patterns of blue, green and yellow light across the floor and walls.
By Vence I was well into the Alps where the roads have an annoying tendency to run north/south whereas I wanted to go west/east! So for once I took GR51 which I think was the route recommended by the Amis. It was hard going with ascents and descents but no worse than the Camino del Norte! The beauty of the countryside, the day that was in it and the fact that I had opportunity to experiance it all moved me deeply. The path was quite difficult in places, very steep and stoney. It took me 3 hours to do 6 kms but it was nice not to be on the road for a change.
After that it was a walk along a high but flat alpine road above the coastline past Monaco. Traffic was not too bad and there were verges for most of the way but there were some (for me) dicey bits where the bend was so bad I had to cross to the other (seaward) side where there was only a low wall and a sheer drop beyond. I kept telling myself not to look down!
And so after descending from the hills, I arrived in Menton at the coast and just a km away from Italy. Here I stayed for a few days and finally bit the bullet and started to re-estimate when I might arrive in Rome. Due to a combination of things I was now nearly 3 weeks behind my original schedule and arrival in Rome did not look likely til the end of August or even early September. Reluctantly I phoned Ash to discuss what to do about the Folk Festival in Cornwall over the August Bank Holiday that we both attend. There is no way I will have reached Rome on foot in time to get back for it. Although I have no problems with taking several days off walking, somehow to return to England would seem to break the pilgrimage. Taking a train for part of the journey to make up time I feel is out of the question. I pledged to walk all the way. We talked about it and he is now considering staying home to keep the web site up to date.
In the meantime after yet another rest (I'm not really getting lazy, honest) I girded my loins and set off for Italy this morning, full of trepidation as to what the roads might be like. Much to my relief I have been given a very gentle introduction as there was a footpath alongside the road all the way here. After pitching the tent I slept for an hour or so and at long last I have made use of the swimming costume I have been carrying all along! I went for a swim in the Med. The beach was disappointingly pebbly but shelves away quite sharply so in no time at all I was at swimming depth. But the water was lovely - so refreshing after the hours of walking where I had ended up drenched to the skin in perspiration! I will be alongside the Med for some time so I hope to have many more dips in the sea!