Posting 15: 31/07/2006, Bogliasco (613 kms to go)
Broken the 2000 km mark!
Well. I have been walking in Italy for 11 days now and the initial worries I had about the terrain, the roads and Italian drivers have proved groundless! That's not to say it has been plain sailing though. The heat continues to be a challenge and I have had one or two pretty miserable days including one where the day after I unfortunately fell asleep on the beach while waiting for the campsite office to open, (there was a cool refreshing breeze) I suffered from a painful sun burnt back! But the strange thing is that when I have had a bad day, something happens the next to counteract it.
Anyway back to Italy and the Camino. The coast so far has been one long seaside resort broken up by the very occasional bit of un-urban road. I have been walking along seafronts with lovely views of the sea and the Ligurian Mountains sweeping down to meet it. I have learnt though that often parallel to the seafront is a main street offering shade and a tantalising glimpse of what can be bought in the shops if only one had time, money and some way of carrying the goods! Many of the streets are of 'the old town' and often have arches above perhaps providing strength to the buildings on each side which are usually several stories high. When I do hit road between towns, there is frequently a proper footpath. If not, there is a small verge. Fortunately it has been rare to have to walk along a road with just the white line at the side. Road visibility has been good with very few bad blind bends and in the main it has been flat with just the occasional climb when for example the road rounds a headland. Traffic has not been too bad either. There is a main motorway a km or so further inland, running parallel to the Via Aurelia and it carries all the heavy traffic. So on my route I just have local commuters and holiday makers and no big, heavy lorries. All in all the walking has not been as stressful as I had feared.
What has been impressive is the Churches. As in France they are generally open though I would say they are more often open than those in France. The interiors are breathtakingly beautiful. Italian Churches I have been in are very light inside due to the architecture, and the walls and ceilings are covered in frescos. I have taken many photos of Church interiors in my travels, including pictures of murals, but as a rule they do not come out very well on the camera 'preview window' because of lighting conditions. I took a photo in one of these Churches expecting the same disappointing results but no! The murals show up very clearly. One unexpected and spectacular Church was the Basilica of St John the Baptist in Finale Marina. The building of it started in 1619 and finished in 1780. It is full of light and covered in frescos. In sharp contrast to France though is the availability of Mass. I had assumed that the Italian Riviera would be a commercialised tourist zone with not much of a serious or spiritual side. In fact in most of the places I have passed through, Mass is celebrated on a daily basis, sometimes more frequently. Because of this I was able to properly celebrate the Feast day of St James on the 25th July in a beautiful Church in Alassio (I think it was Alassio, I have sent the map back!).
Yesterday I reached Genoa and I must say that the walk in was the most unpleasant I have experienced so far. Occasionally in the Confraternity Camino Guides one is recommended to take public transport to avoid long boring walks through sprawling urbanisation of very large towns such as Montpelier, Toulouse etc. (´I of course always walk´ she said sanctimoniously.) Genoa is 34 km's from one end to the other. Walking in from the west was dirty, smelly and ugly with rundown urban areas and horrible industrial buildings. It was such a shock after all the interesting, picturesque towns I had just walked through. If ever I felt like taking public transport to avoid ugliness, then that was it! I did not spend a huge amount of time sight-seeing in Genoa itself but what I did see - apart from the Churches - only reinforced my dislike of the place. No doubt I am being very unfair and if I had spent more time exploring palaces and museums I would have a different opinion. I had originally planned to spend a rest day in Genoa but because I'd already had a couple of short days due to the heat, I had changed my mind. I am glad I did!
As I mentioned before, I am not on a specific, well-trodden pilgrim route so imagine my surprise and delight to meet another pilgrim! It was yesterday on my way in to Genoa and I had just got to the point of needing to stop for a cold drink and rest. I had been looking for about 15 minutes and luckily had not found somewhere otherwise I would have missed him. I looked up and there coming towards me was a chap with rucksack and staff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. I checked his rucksack and there was the shell! It turned out he was from Northern Italy and had set off from his home to walk to Santiago. He had walked along part of the Via Francigena to get to Genoa, then was taking the same route as I had just trodden! We were delighted to see each other and sat down and chatted. He was worried about walking in France and needed a map. Unfortunately I had already sent mine home but was able to tell him about the French Amis' web site that shows the route between Menton and Arles and lists accommodation. He gave me details of a Priest to ask for help and a pilgrim stamp in Genoa, and also the number of a very cheap and welcoming B&B in Genoa in case the Priest was unable to help. He even phoned the B&B for me to check if it was OK for me to go there. We exchanged contact details and then parted reluctantly.
Now I embark on the next part of my journey but with a change of plan. Originally I had intended to head inland after Genoa and meet the Via Francigena at Pontremoli. However the coastal route has proved so easy to follow, and with my amazing talent for getting lost even on well marked routes, I have decided to keep to the coast and meet the Via F just after Sarzana where it comes very close to the sea. As a result I still do not know exactly when I will get to Rome as I have not yet worked out the stages for the coastal route because I need to get another map. Distances will not be very different so I am still assuming a total journey of 2700 km's. Watch this space for developments!
In the meantime, would anyone like to run a sweepstake on how many times I get lost on the Via Francigena?! - proceeds to be split between the winner and the two Charities I am supporting!
Take care all