Thursday, October 29, 2015

WHAT I MISS.......

4 AM......I have been home a week and  already I am aware of what I miss when I am not out walking and why it calls to me:

...The weight of my pack first thing in the morning, that appendage which becomes a physical part of my being.....if missing I am off balance

...Early morning, laying in bed, stretches....moments convincing the body it does in fact want to rise and walk a new day.... See new sights....take in the smells of the earth

....Bells, tolling in symphony or clanging in simplicity.....I miss the bells...I will always miss the bells

....The  smell of wet earth...turned fields, moss covered rock walls along the path...musty, rich earth

.... A glass of chilled Tuscan wine at the end of a long hard day...soothing ....earned

.... The thrill and deep sense of gratitude for an extra pillow on the bed

.... A violet butterfly circling as I walk, tempting me to ask " Who are you? What do you want me to see?"

.... Plates of steaming pasta....simple, no elegant sauces or presentations.....fresh vine ripened tomato and basil; rich thick cream with chunks of crispy ham; pasta tossed in infused garlic oil......simple, basic...filling

....Monitoring the sun to gage time... testing my abilities against a worn beaten Timex

... Dodging the rain under the protection of an olive grove..... Dining on wild boar sausage bites and tangy wedges of Parmesan as the cloudburst passes

... Boots off, toes airing mid day, in the shadows of a medieval villa or castle fortress

....Quiet......walking in  quiet..... deep in thought...time passing yet totally still....Altered dimensions

I walk to discover....places, people, culture at the very core and essence of a land.  I walk and I discover more of me....each and every time.  I find more of the woman I am and was meant to be.
I walk to share with those who cannot and, hopefully, tempt those who can to do the same.
I walk because I am meant to walk.

~~  Author
Award Winning Bestseller  ' A Camino of the Soul: Learning to Listen When the Universe Whispers'

Sunday, October 18, 2015


 How very odd it seems to feel so calm.
Tomorrow I will walk into St. Peter's Square at the Vatican and receive my testimonium....the certificate authenticating I have walked at least 100 kilometers To Rome. From Lucca to Rome, having missed five days of walking due to a fall, I can claim 300 kilometers.
Last year at this same time I was three days away from walking into Santiago de Compostela after having completed an 800 kilometer walk.  The excitement was palpable.  I felt the overwhelming joy of the completion at odds with the Solemnity of the trek coming to a close.....almost a mourning. Today, a year later, I am aware of the great gift of being able to do what I have learned to love: carry a pack on my back and walk......Take in the sights and sounds of experiencing countryside and cultures unfamiliar to me....and share with friends and family some of this amazing world through photos and words. I feel calm, thankful.....blessed.

This time my walk encompasses fewer kilometers, yet feels to have been much tougher in many ways. Certainly the fall resulting in what I am sure is a mild crack in the rib has not helped......five days of walking were lost to healing time.
 Perhaps the Via Francigena feels tougher as the infrastructure of the Camino Frances, the portion of the Camino de Santiago I walked, is not yet in place.   Villages are spread at greater distances; vendors offering fresh fruit or cold drinks for an inexpensive price, or even donotivo, are non existent.  Locals seem to have a more blasé  attitude.  Walkers are few and far between in most instances.  The first seven days of this trek I saw only five other pelligrini ( pilgrims).  The most I have seen in a day is the twelve I saw day outside of Rome. Many days I saw none.  It is a far more lonely existence.

Tomorrow however, into Rome! St. Peter's Square will be crowded, as always.  The sights of the Vatican will take my breath away, as they did two years ago.....and this time I will be arriving as I have planned to do for months.....on foot, with my pack and a prayer of thanks for all I have been given.   Okay, just got a shiver.......the excitement is bubbling!

 ~~~~  Author  Award Winning Bestseller  ' A Camino of the Soul: Learning to Listen When the Universe Whispers"

Monday, October 12, 2015


Hi all!   My path alongside Via Francigena has certainly not been as I had planned!  One week in and I land flat in the mud after a LONG day of rain and muck!  
Ha! Fancy that.....the Universe steps in and plans change.....methods of transport change.....yet, it all falls into a  Beautiful patchwork and the experience remains amazing, unique and transformative.

As " Walking Woman" (  I have been tracking my experience in blog and photos for friends, family and other walkers on many different FB pages.  Once back to the States in late October I Will buckle down and write the manuscript I have been prepping regarding my time, and growth, along the Camino Santiago de Compostela in the fall of 2014. "Soul Trek" will be published in 2016.
But for now, for those who have asked about accommodations on this current trek, I am sharing the following......esp. For you Sheila Niemi :-)

Lucca........   B&B Centro Passi Dalle Mura....reasonable, just outside city gate along the VF

Altopascio... Hotel Astoria......tired, basic.....along the VF as you leave Altopascio

San Miniato (Basso)...... Albergue Elio...... Too tired to care :-).  Probably a tad expensive.....

Gambassi Termi...Ostello Sigiric ( Santa Maria d Chiani). ..... Lovely! Private room and bath, rate was reasonable....tour of church after dinner was brilliant

San Gimignano.....Hostel Aladina.....more a B&B.... Right near exit gates on VF....reasonable.....

Strove......    Relais Castel Bigozzi.... ha!!!!! No, I did not book here but was " gifted" this room by Casalita, in town, which I had booked.  They were closed for the night I needed and made arrangements for me up the hill at this amazing hotel for the same rate!  Impressed!!!!!!

Monteriggioni......B&B in Piazza.   Wonderful experience although too expensive. Frederica was the consummate hostess......a wet and windy day in Monteriggioni was lovely!

Sienna.......two nights......Porta Piscini Hotel ( apt. With a kitchen) great value, easy access to the old town .....this hotel,sits just outside the city gates and by following the main road in front of the hotel I was on the VF easily.

Ponte d Arbia........Affittacamere Martelli.   Hostess Chantel, was wonderful.  Stayed here for two nights as coming into town was the day I fell.   Amazing history in this town!   Reasonable rates, extra service....I was her first American guest!  :-)

Colonnata/Cassette......B&B la Cava di Terzo.....three nights in the Carrara region....taking it easy. Exceptional service!!!!  NOT on the VF direct path, BUT, since I was sidelined for a few days, was a wonderful experience.

Zepponami/Montefiascone....B&B Pepe Rosso.......hostess Anastaya was a Delight. NOT on the VF, but, again, a cost effective room with access to a shared kitchen for a couple of nights. Also, not a true B&B

Montefalcione.......Hotel Lombardi.....on the VF just outside city gates coming into old town.....rates reasonable....location superb

And now......time for lunch and tomorrow, onward and upward to Viterbo!

Thursday, October 8, 2015


I have always believed that there is good to come from most any diversity. It may take a hell of a lot of reflection....searching....stomping of the feet and flailing of the hands, but in time, it usually shows itself when we are receptive.

As my walk on the Via Francigena is on temporary hold as I rest the ribs from Sunday's fall, my travels have brought me to the hamlet of Colonnata in the Italian Apuan Alps.
Colonatta sits at the base of some of the finest of Carrara's marble mounts.
Dated to 60 BC, this hamlet has always been home to quarry workers.   First the slaves of the Romans when they began hauling marble columns from these hills.... Now to the workers who fill orders for Carrara marble around the world.
While most visitors to the area will stay in Carrara, the idea of being high in the hills In a forgotten hamlet of 600 inhabitants intrigued me.  

Greeted at the rail station in Massa by my host, Mario, we drove up steep narrow  winding roads....our horn honking at each curve to warn oncoming drivers of our presence. Hills the vibrant greens of the  Hawaiian Islands surrounded me as we climbed into the grey misty clouds. Once at the B&B Mario and his team served me a luncheon of perfectly grilled steak and chilled white wine before  I was even asked for a passport! Wonderfully civilized!

Colonnata, along with being at the base of the quarries Michelangelo favored, is renowned for its Lardo d Colonnata.  A type of saumi made of rosemary seasoned pig fat, Lardo is ranked as one of the fine delicacies of the world.The fat, once seasoned, is cured in Carraran marble containers. Pigs raised on the acorns and chestnuts prolific  in the area, produce the finest in this silky white gastronomic delight.

Once I have sampled some this evening I will let you know ;-)

Most remarkable, however, is that while wandering the edge of town...getting in  slow easy walk ...I noticed the red and white striped markers of the Via Francigena.  Nowhere on my maps had I seen routes through this area.  Now, after some research, I have learned that my fall on the VIa Francigena  just outside Ponte d Arbia  has brought me to a most remarkable crossing of the Francigena Apuan.   And so, although I will not walk this stretch, I still feel connected to the Via Francigena as I wait out the sore ribs.

Tonight Lardo d Colonnata.......tomorrow?  We shall see!

B&B Cava di Terzo in Colonnata

Monday, October 5, 2015

Under the Tuscan mud.......

As I review yesterday it occurs to me that perhaps, just perhaps, that grimey  2 km. I slogged through wet, gooey field mud is what zapped my energy. Face it...2 kilo of wet clay mud, per boot, had to have been the final culprit of a long tough day!  And, at the final 4 km before arriving in Ponte d' Arbia, I manage to catch my boot and down I go......slow motion.....saw the ground coming up....all the while praying I don't land on my face. End result: bruised ribs far too tender for backpacking for a few days.  Egads, what a day!

Torrential downpours  outside of Siena, complete with thunder and lightening...
".Oh great " I am thinking as I march along with metal poles in hand, a lightening rod at the ready....
Left the upcoming field path a mucky yucky mess!  It was a day that waterproof pants ( although donned too late) and ponchos were made for! And then......sun.

Momentary bursts of warm sunlight  kept the chill away and shone the Tuscan hills verdant shades of green and blue .  Glorious, beautiful colors in a vast open countryside. I am in the middle of a land inhabited by few.  Aliens could land, swoop me up and be gone in a one the wiser.
And then  grey rolls in again......raindrops threaten..... and the deluge begins. Rains reminiscent of my days on the Adriatic in the town of Rovinj Croatia........water falling from the skies as if poured by bucketloads dowsing a fire..... This was yesterday's trek.

And, as with all adventures, plans change.  As the fall has me moving ever so gently today, I will be bussing for the next couple of days......resting, seeing the countryside from a different perspective......making sure that I can continue this marvelous trek, on foot, into Rome in two weeks time!

Stay tuned......I know something wonderful awaits!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. ” – Anatole France

In the wandering, the most magical moments occur when strangers connect, if even for the briefest of exchanges. Yesterday while I was sitting along side a dirt road ...used primarily by local hunters it seemed....resting my worn feet, a beat up blue- toned Land Rover Defender jeep rolled to a stop. An elderly gentleman, worn face and hands, one tooth hanging from his upper gum line, rolled down a dusty window to chat.  With extremely limited Italian on my part,and no English on his,we had a grand conversation on who I was, and why I was in Italy.

As he obviously lived close to the Via Francigena road he knew a pelligrini when he saw one, but seemed much more intent to believe that, really,  I had to be in Italy for the food. Obviously, as he motioned hand to mouth with many statements of  " Buon mangiere ", he was  quite  proud of Italian cooking.  Everyone must be here for the cooking!  

We then managed to determine where I would be sleeping that night..... How far I would walk.  Somewhere in the exchange I understood his wife was from, and children now live in, the same town I was planning to call home for the night....just outside a tiny hamlet called Stove. His snag gle grin was glorious in recognition that I would be in a town which was near and dear to his heart.

15 minutes during a three week walk...a brief moment in time. 15 minutes to share, warm human connections.  How I wish I had his photo.  He is, however, an emblem on my heart for that day!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Odd how time flies when I am on the trail. Last year this same occurrence...this year a promise to myself to recognize the fleeting passage of time and ensure that I take moments to document what I see I feel.....and yet again, time flies away without words on the page.

I am in ancient walled city south of San Gimignano.....the heart of Tuscany.   Compact is a good adjective for Monteriggioni....two main gates into town...see it all in 30 minutes tops!   For me, today, it is a Perfect resting place on a grey and rainy day.

What have I noticed on this trek so far?  Signage is extremely well done. The Italians have grasped the importance of this route for tourism...that has become clear.  So much to be done, but it is evident that there is a strong Via Francigena society paying attention to what this route has to offer the economy. Although a "new" industry ( which actually dates back some 1500 years), progress is showing. I had dinner the other night with a Pellegrini ( pilgrim) from Rome...a banker.... Who said Italy has only wrapped her arms around this Via Francigena route as a business some ten years is in its infancy!   Certain areas I have walked are definitely more attuned to the pilgrim mentality. Here in Monteriggioni, where I am currently parked on my bed with a bottle of local vernaccia wine, the pilgrim "business" is recognized and supported.  

Sites are amazing ...Really? You ask.   YES! I am in the heart of is astounding in beauty.  Every book you have read, every coffee table picture catelog you might have flipped through in some moment of is here...and real.  Spectacular Mother Nature! There is a reason " Under the Tuscan Sun" gets rented time and again..... And it is not just the love story :-)

The trail itself? Lonely.   Until today I have met five other Pellagrini.....5 in 7 days!  This is NOT the Camino de Santiago.  Since arriving in Monteriggioni I have watched at least 6 more  come into town.  We are is a quiet presence.

And now, at 4:30 pm, it is siesta time for me.  I promise to try and gather the fleeting moments.....take time and write more faithfully......because, in the end, these moments.......seconds in time.....will be my rocking chair memories with grand babes on my knee.  And I will want them to know there is an amazing world out there.....history they will only ever see when they "walk".

Ciao' for now.