Posting 17: 28/08/2006, Viterbo (96 kms to go)
Yes truly I have only 96 km's to go. It took me an age to finish re-estimating my arrival date. I will be in Rome by 4th September.
The weather continues to cool and I can feel the sun now waning which is great as I can sleep in till 5:30 or 6 or even 7. Its such a relief to be walking without trying to race the sun (it often wins) though it can still be quite hot in the afternoon - into the low 30's. But unlike walking along the Med, there is air here, it is not so humid.
Over a week ago I arrived at Siena where I had originally intended to stay 2 nights but I had a really bad day getting there. For the first time since Montemagno I took the wrong path - twice. The first time was annoying as I lost loads of height which I then had to make up again but the second time was much worse. There is an area where several marked paths cross the Via Francigena. As I have written before, if there is a way of getting lost, I will find it. So that day somehow I started to follow a marked path that was not the Via F. I wandered around the woods for several hours and eventually, after a long hard ascent, came upon a map of the paths and realised my error and resignedly retraced my steps and found a road which led me back to the Via F. Eventually I arrived at St Martino just outside Siena. At this point the guide warns in red that one should take a bus as the road is very dangerous. I have to confess that I was pretty tired by this stage so decided to heed the warning and took a bus for the 5 km's into Siena. But as we were going along I looked at the road and it didn't seem so dangerous - I had been on worse. So I thought I would return the following day by bus and walk back in to Siena. I had already decided by then to spend 3 nights in Siena so felt I had time to walk the route. This I duly did the following day and it was not a problem. I need to point out though that I walked on a Saturday when perhaps there are not so many lorries on the road and it was August when many factories close so again there would much less heavy traffic about.
Anyway having got the walking over and done with I then visited the Cathedral. Well, I have written this already to a few people on postcards but I was speechless in awe at the Cathedral. I have never seen such art. There were the most beautiful pictures in marble on the floors, with such depth as to be 3 dimensional scenes. The ceilings were decorated and there were paintings by famous artists on the walls and where there were no paintings hanging, the walls themselves were painted or covered in sculptures or beautifully patterned polished stone. In a side room on display were magnificent illuminated music manuscripts, huge books with pages 4 ft by 2 ft. There were marble sculptures with amazing detail. And none of it was garish or 'over the top'. Siena the city was beautiful too. I explored only a small part of the old town, walled with lovely clean streets and a huge piazza where a famous horse race 'The Palio' is run twice a year. The interesting thing about the race is that there is a great deal of wheeling and dealing done prior to the race and this is almost as important as the race itself. Teams would rather come last than second! Later that evening I went out for a meal to a restaurant recommended by the receptionist at the hotel and by a fluke of the weather ended up sharing a table with a Canadian lady who had seen me earlier at the Baptistery and overheard me speaking to the guy at the ticket office so knew I spoke English. We had a great chat. She loved Italy and particularly Siena and was very knowledgeable about Italy and Siena and the Palio and was very interesting to talk to. We shared a very pleasant evening.
It was with reluctance I said Goodbye to Siena as this was my final 'push'. I knew I wouldn't have another rest day until I reached Rome.
Since then there have been some interesting days - taking an alternative but not way marked path (and going wrong by 4 km's), meeting a fast flowing river and taking boots and socks off to get across (I don't normally expect to have to do this!) and unexpectedly finding the path which though marked on the map is not way marked as the Via F (and going wrong again!). I have also met more pilgrims including a lovely, generous group of scouts who invited me to breakfast and then later helped me not to go wrong again on a section that wasn't well way marked, a French pilgrim who has gone on ahead, a pair of Jesuit novitiates who were walking because their Spiritual Guide had asked them to do so and a lovely warm outgoing Italian girl with virtually fluent English with whom I walked for a couple of days. They will all arrive in Rome before me as I have planned to take it at a gentle pace now doing no more than 20 km's per day apart from 1 stage. Today was only 18 km's and I had the good fortune to be able to stop and have a thermal bath out in the open air. I thought it would smell sulphurous but it didn't. I certainly got some strange looks as I rolled up, boots, backpack and staff and then proceeded to use my kaftan as a changing tent to put on my swimsuit! The waters were lovely, really hot. It was great to relax and even better to have the time to do so!
As I already said, the way marks improved dramatically but also I have a set of instructions that cover the route from Lucca. They are available in Italian on the Association of the Via Francigena's web site and a member of the Via F Yahoo group downloaded then and put them through a translator pro gramme. The results are hilarious in places. She calls them the ‘Cryptic Clues' which is fairly apt. For example "...pass the Pit of the Mouth of the Dog and salt on the opposite depositor" or how about " ... we turn left and we continue straight, without to consider a trust endured after (than we augur ourselves comes removed) that road in climb indicates one on the left." The first turned out to mean 'go down a slope, across a stream and up the opposite side', the other turned out to mean 'ignore a turning on the left that ascends even though there is a sign for the Via F pointing that way'!
Another thing that is improving my lot is that I have back my 'old comfortable slippers'! After I sent my boots home Ashleigh sent them off to be repaired and they were mended in time for him to post them to Menton where I picked them up. Since then I haven't had to wear the gel pads under the balls of my feet and I realised recently that for the first time in almost 4 months I am walking without pain. In fact a day or so ago I managed to walk non stop for 20 km's - a record!
And another thing just for the record. In the last posting I wrote about walking on a somewhat uncomfortable section of Roman road. Well since then I have learned that although it was part of the original Via F, it was probably a medieval section as opposed to Roman. The reason I discovered this was that yesterday & the day before I walked on a section that was Roman and was quite different. There was an information board showing the construction principles. The main part of the road was made out of slabs of basalt fitted together a bit like dry stone walls so the overall surface was flat and very easy to walk on. These had been so well made that they still were functional even after centuries of neglect.
I'm not sure what the next few days will bring, but since the way marks improved (so I am not getting lost all the time), and the weather has broken, there have been many times on this path that (to slightly misquote a line from a song, a Moore's Melody I seem to remember) "my heart has soared enchanted".