Day 64 – Pontremoli to Rome


It was a grey windy day in Rome but the 2000 year old Roman Colosseum still manages to look magnificent!

It’s early June but the crowds of tourists are enormous at these key Rome sights. The queues to enter both the Coliseum and the Gate were so large we settled for just looking at these sights from the outside. Perhaps when we return to finish the Via Francigena it may not be tourist season and we can enjoy these special places without such long waits.

There’s an active Vesper Scooter hiring business here in central Rome. After paying their money and getting their helmets on these two young riders set off for a day exploring the city. Oh – to relive our misprint youth,  footloose and fancy free on a motorbike again!!!!

So many beautiful churches – too numerous to note,  like this one are here in Rome.

Rome is quite overcrowded. With so many cars it can be difficult finding a parking space but small car owners take creative advantage of any small parking space!!!

We found a small Eritrean comunity restaurant in a side street near to the Rome Railway station. So many Eritreans have found their way to Italy, their colonial master’s country, over the many years since they initially gained ‘independence’ from Italy. And after that they endured their long war with Ethiopia where they gained their second ‘independence’  in the late 1990’s. Many left as refugees at that troubled time. Uncontrolled migration continues even now driven by the deteriorating economy, absence of an effective government and the ‘rule of law’ in this very poor and troubled country. Young people try to join the Diaspora here in Italy, seeking a better life outside their country of origin. They are a very attractive, tall, lean and fine boned people, standing out from the many other African migrants and refugees that have poured into Europe over these past few years. It’s easy to see why many, with their tall lean build and stunning looks have found their fortune and fame working in the fashion industry in Europe.

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Day 63 – Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli – 20.89kms

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Here we are at the second highest pass on this pilgrimage, the Passo della Cisa. The sign has many souvenir stickers attached to it.

Berceta, a town near the pass,was the home of Ferrari motor cars in the early 20th century.

At the top of the pass is this splendid church.
The pass is at 1041 metres.

More amazing views of the Appenines today as we finish our steep walk downhill to Pontremoli.And great views!

One of Pontremoli ‘s remaining city gates.

A late afternoon streetscape in Pontremoli.

Our primary plat dishes tonight at the restaurant offering the pilgrim menu. Delicious!!!!

A lovely use for an old grinding wheel.

Our last ‘end of the day’ drinks on the Via Francigena for a while. Due to a close family members unexpected demise we’re returning home because that’s where we need to be right now. But we’ll be back!! The VF’s in our blood – so we’ll be returning soon to finish it and earn our Testimonium.

We’re thinking during April 2017 we can squeeze in another break to finish what we’ve started!!

For now we must make our way to Rome by train, tomorrow to start the long journey home.

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Day 62 – Cassio to Passo della Cisa – 15.95kms

Leaving our Ostello this morning at Cassio for more hill climbing up to the 2nd highest mountain pass we’ll traverse on this trip; the Passo della Cisa, in the Appenines. Our destination today is the  Ostello della Cisa, which is 2.5km below the pass.

Picturesque road side markers assure us we’re going the right way.

The mountain vistas are hazy today but still stunningly beautiful as our climb continues.

These blue irises caught our eye along the route today.

We continue to see shrines along the route; not all are grandiose, some like this one are very simple. This one is still maintained by someone nearby – it hasn’t fallen into disrepair as some we’ve seen on our travels.

The Via Francigena joins the SS62 road for a short spell here above a pretty village just after Berceta – the view was pretty spectacular. Berceta is the home of the Ferrari!

We stopped for our first coffee of the day at 2pm. There’s been no bars on the route so far  – and the rain had begun – so it was definitely coffee time!

These Peonie roses brought beauty to the otherwise drab bar in the ‘middle of nowhere ‘ halfway up the Passo della Cisa, Italy. It’s amazing what a few flowers in full bloom can do for the soul!

The rain was starting to set in so we stepped up our pace to reach the Ostello della Cisa; tonight’s shelter. As we turned a corner we saw smoke rising from a fireplace, and then with great joy saw their colourful building. After a hard day’s climb it was heaven to arrive to a warm fire, a hot shower, a comfortable bed, a bar and a 4 course Italian dinner. But no wifi tonight!!!
We’ll have to wait for that luxury till we arrive at Pontremoli tomorrow, 20 odd kms away, starting out with a 2.5km uphill climb to reach the pass.

The Swiss walkers, Patricia and Agatha, and Tom, from Brisbane, shared tonight’s 4 course dinner with us. We enjoyed deep fried battered zucchini flowers, then gnocchi with ricotta and salsa Verde, then Fagioli, followed by a traditional Italian desert cake of coffee soaked biscuits, sandwiched between a butter, sugar and egg mixture, with a thick layer of grated chocolate on top. Delicious – and the best meal we’ve had so far in Italy. Our aperitif was a beer followed by lashings of red wine with this wonderful dinner. A night to remember at the Ostello della Cisa long after this epic adventure is over!

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Day 61 – Fornovo Di Taro to Cassio – 21 kms

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Looking back onto Fornova from just one of the many climbs we made today.

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A well maintained roadside shrine.

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We’re in spectacular but hilly countryside.

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A beautiful colourful garden path caught our eye.

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This plaque tells the story of the small simple church we took shelter in this morning.

This community oven was used weekly by the village women to bake their bread. Each put a different marker on the top to differentiate theirs from others.

In the course of finding this shady lunch spot we missed taking a turn and ended up taking the hilliest mountain goat track we’ve done so far. Ughhhhh. The days lesson is ‘follow the guide and stay on route’!!!!!

This good Samaritan helped us find our way back to the easier road route.

Flowering cactus – an unusual growth.

We’ve climbed up from the valley below several times today – we’d prefer to have only done it once!!!!
At last we’ve reached Cassio, our nights destination. We’re rather exhausted and in need of some liquid sustenance!

There was a lovely soft light at dusk in Cassio.

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Day 60 – Firenza to Fornovo Di Taro – 27kms

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Leaving the wonderful Hotel Astoria this morning. How lovely it was last night to enjoy our bottle of Proscecco while watching the men’s singles finals at the French Open on BBC. So sorry Andy Murray lost.

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The Municipal buildings.

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Our pilgrim accommodation here tonight would best be described as indoor camping!!! We have beds, a bathroom door which disengages from its architrave, no toilet paper, a kitchen with a working fridge and freezer, a sink with hot water, no microwave and the gas to the stove has been turned off so no cooking is possible. Oh dear – seems like it’s just another night at a trattoria with pasta or pizza!!! And lots of wine of course!!!..

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Meet Brisbane Tom. He’s on a 12 month exchange at Glasgow University from. QUT, Brisbane, QLD. Tom is sharing our pilgrim accommodation with us tonight.

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Dinner a la pilgrim at our Refugio tonight here in Italy.

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Such wonderful streetscapes abound!!!!

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Waiting patiently for someone to tell us if we have a bed here at the parish accommodation tonight. We’ve gone from being in control of almost everything in our lives to being in control of almost nothing!!! Very humbling indeed!!!

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Day 59 – Fiorenzuola to Firenza – 17kms

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Signage from Fiorenzuola was very poor – it would be easy to get lost without an online or offline map.

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As we walk through Italy we are struck by their national obsession with security. Seems everyone’s property is fenced, have intercom systems linked to the house and most windows have iron bars attached. This style of gates is de rigour for a rural holding.

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We nearly missed this turn today on the Via Francigena from the road onto a farmers track.

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An elderly person still lives in this large and elegantly styled old farmhouse building. Many such buildings along the Via Francigena have fallen into disrepair; they deteriorate rapidly especially after the roof is lost.

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After being barked at by most of the dogs along the route it was such a pleasure to meet this wonderfully friendly dog. We wanted to take him with us – he was so lovely.

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We had difficulty translating this plaque to understand what this building was built for.

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This orange lily was the most beautiful flower we saw today but we’re not sure of its name though.

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This elegant old building on vast farmlands growing tomatoes can be seen for kilometers around. Australian squattocracy – eat your heart out!!!!

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More old farm buildings along the route today as we approach Firenza.

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Day 58 – Montale to Fiorenzuola D’ Arda – 17.78kms

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Breakfast in the well set up kitchen in last night’s Refugio. We were almost the last to leave this morning.

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The parts of Italy we’re in don’t look like they’re flush with money. There appears to be a lot of underemployment – in big towns many young people sit around and in small villages the old men sit around as all the young ones have left. Here discount clothing shops try to sell last year’s fashions. Pity there’s no room in our backpacks!

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We thought this might be an interesting restaurant to experience – Pizza and Karaoke.
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Obviously the commune held this priest in high regard – though we didn’t know why he had such a beautiful memorial here.

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We continue to see roadside chapels that are tended well, even on busy roads such as we walked along today from Montale to Fiorenzuola. We were glad to get to Fiorenzuola as walking along the busy road was at times scary!

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Relaxing at last in one of the many piazzas here at Fiorenzuola with a glass of Proscecco in the early evening made todays walk worthwhile. We’d found a hotel room at the Hotel Manthis, had a shower and changed clothes and felt magically renewed! So little can do so much for one’s spirit!

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We’ll probably not see our French and German walkers again as they are set to increase their distances in line with these stages, which are often more than we can do. We’re finding it comfortable to walk around 18-25kms a day.

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Day 57 – Orio Lotta to Piacenza – Montale – 20kms

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Leaving Orio Litta we found this beautiful mansion – not yet fallen into disrepair!

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Approaching the area where we are to wait for the ‘ferryman’ to take us across the River Po, as in the footsteps of Sigeric the Serious in 997AD.

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A cross with a crown of thorns.

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The last hamlet before the river crossing.

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Such colourful pelargoniums!!

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Waiting for the ferryman to come across the river for us at 9.30am.

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Loading 8 of us into the ‘ferry’.

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Our group’s travelled along and stayed at pilgrim accommodation together for a few days now. These 2 look like they’re really enjoying the boat ride.

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We’re happy to have reached the River Po crossing. Just 30 days to go now till Rome, even less if we don’t go via Cinque Terre.

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This was Sigeric’s marker for the route crossing.

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The ‘ferryman’ took us to his beautiful home where we paid him and he stamped our credentials.
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Our lunch stop was in the shade of these old trees in the church yard.

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Approaching Piacenza we walked nearby this long and imposing bridge over the River Po.

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After a very long walk into Piacenza we at last reached the old city. It’s really quite spectacular.

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The old centre of government for Piacenza.

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Inside the Piacenza Duorma.

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Further inside the church of San Francisco is this wonderfully cool and green retreat. The cloisters are beautiful.

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Looking in from the street this private home and garden looks so inviting.

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And so does this one. Piacenza is just a magic place to visit with interesting, mystical vistas seen every which way you turn.

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Italian churches seem to be becoming more ornate as we draw closer to Rome.

After being tourists in Piacenza for a few hours we set off for Montale, 5kms south east where there was Pilgrims accommodation for the night. Surprise, surprise – 4 of our pilgrim friends were also there so we have a further night together here.

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Day 56 – Santa Cristina E Bossine to Orio Lotta – 18.5kms

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Before leaving Santa Cristina E Bossine this morning we took a look inside their church – it’s very ornate and beautiful. Such an ornate interior in a poor rural town yesteryear would have been symbolic of the power of the church over the lives of all in the community and country.Nimage

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The local railway station has so much graffiti on it – something we expect to see in a city but not here in rural Italy!! Its meaning escapes us!!

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This small town had 3 churches and an Irish Pub. On leaving town the elderly priest spotted us walking by, invited us into the Presbytery (in Italian), stamped our credentials and wishes us well on what remained of our long journey.

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Locals tell us that this Irish Pub really kick’s on here of an evening. We’re not sure much else does!!

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The Barratt name Italianised!!!

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A grotto just outside of the church seems to be well maintained.

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Enjoying our opportunity to forage for food – in this case it was for cherries!!!

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We’ve passed some lovely old buildings but so far this one has ‘taken the cake’.

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Seen at someone’s front door in a small village. What is the story of these 2 tiles?

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The reason for a pilgrimage.

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Orio Lotta had a Batista and a bar to remember. No wifi but wine!!!!

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This was our lovely, clean and new pilgrim accommodation in Orio Litta provided for us by its energetic bike riding mayor.

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Day 55 – Pavia to Santa Cristina E Bossine – 25.5kms

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We ate well at this tiny Asian place, run by a Chinese family last night – enjoying generous serves of Japanese sashimi, sushi and dumplings.

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Our Refugio was on the other side of the river so this morning we had to cross the covered bridge again. Here it is in the flat early morning light with the Pavia Duorma in the distance.

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Leaving the city is a long walk – and we passed many old, but still used, suburban churches such as this one on the way.

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Marilyn Monroe is found advertising almost everything, but we thought this take on ‘sexy hair’ was quite clever!!!!

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Fields of poppies remind one of the very moving WW1 poem written by the Canadian Major John McCrae for one of his soldiers funerals. He wrote:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
the larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep,
Though poppies grow in Flanders fields.

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The faded external glory of these rural churches belies the beauty and tranquility often found within.This one was in San Leonardo, a village on today’s route, the interior still stunningly beautiful.

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Outside we found Psalm 121- which is as fitting a comment on life today as it was 2000 years ago

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We took a short cut across farmers fields, compliments of MapsMe offline maps. We found not only obsolete housing and farming infrastructure but several roadside chapels. Most were in a poor state of repair such as this one.

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Every day we see the remains of man’s ongoing love affair with plastic. Here it lies in the irrigation channels, like this, as well as alongside the roads- it’s an eyesore now and will be for generations to come.

Italy is not a 3rd world country but when we see this we feel it is no better than one of the world’s poorest. We’ve seen an enormous amount of plastic collected for recycling – or landfill – especially water bottles!! Why in a 1st world country where the water is safe to drink do people buy water? How environmentally aware is this?

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At last, after 25kms we arrived at our refuge for the night in Santa Cristina E Bossine. It is next door to the church, has 4 rooms with about 20 beds, 1 bathroom, with a washing machine (so we took advantage and washed all we could) and a small kitchen. There were 5 of us here, so we each got a room to ourselves, which is such a nice luxury!!

The middle aged parish priest seems to run much of the town; he manages this refugio, as well as a community hall behind the refuge. This is where the town’s residents gather for cards, coffee etc and social gatherings for all ages. Most of the town seemed to be there yesterday!!!! It was a great experience to stay here and share in the life of the town for 1 night.

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The 5 of us decided to eat in so we went shopping. Marco was the cook and he did pasta and salad with Gorgonzola cheese and bread for our afters, all to be washed down with Lambrusca and Proscecco.

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Here is the almost finished meal.

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And now meet our dinner companions; they’re from Spain, France and Italy!!

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It was lovely evening sharing food and wine together, sitting on the dormitory beds as there were insufficient chairs for us all!!

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