Cold wind dogged us in parts of this trip, that familiar-from-Washington feel of a damp, barely 50° day, and frequent rain squalls (a sideways downpour just as we left San Gimignano). Scarves brought along to cover our heads in mosques became everyday wear in Italy, and I was grateful for my down vest and wool socks.
Looking at photos from our other trip to Italy, I realize how very different this walk was. Several photos show three of us, all in a row, sound asleep on a riverbank, hats over faces – the routine nap after lunch!
Not this time. The first rain day we ate standing up under a tree, sharing a straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti (not a great idea but really fun at the time) while it hailed. Even on sunny days, the grass was wet by the sides of the trail. But those days were perfect for walking – cool, with the afternoon sun at our backs – through forests, stepping on stones at creek crossings, past castles and churches, and fields red with clover.
26/27 May 2013 Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni
All day fair skies, big clouds, claps of thunder, but no downpours or even drops. We got, for us, an early start, felt good to walk in crisp air with sunshine. Farm tracks still have mud but strada bianca perfect. We spent a lot of the day following signs for Via Francigena – for hundreds of years the ancient pilgrim road from Canterbury to Rome – past Roman baths with still intact stones and clear water (must be really appealing to walkers on a hot day).
Oak trees of all sizes, many olive groves and vineyards. Red poppies, tall scabiosa, Queen Anne’s lace. Lost my pen or I might have made some notes yesterday. Beautiful pastoral vistas of fields and forest, much walking through shaded forest, then next to plowed fields. Plenty of water taps along the route. We have a little rhythm now, not so desperate feeling as the rain day.
Sweet little grocery store in Val Colle d’Elsa, bought apples, bread, chocolate, blue cheese, and nectarines. We ate Lara bars (thanks to Mrs. Hughes’s gift before the trip) at first morning breaks. Sandwich of Nutella and bread for me.
Dante (and Mud)
While reading Joan Acocella’s recent review of Dan Brown’s new book “Inferno,” I had a sudden vision of mud on the bottom of my boots so thick that it curled up and over the toes and broke off in big wads.
Because we were heading toward Siena and walking through the landscape of Dante, and because we asked, my good-natured husband told us stories from “The Divine Comedy.” During several straight and level patches of our route, he described Dante’s circles of hell, tales of betrayals and bad choices, actions and consequences – still so entertaining and instructive after 600 years. Clay-larded mud might make a good early hellish circle.
The rain and cold weather reduced the Tuscan farmers we met to lamenting, as tractors sat idle and fields stayed wet from days of rain. Small farm tracks, usually hard-packed and pleasant, became puddle-laced mud holes. We grew obsessed with the mud, trying to peel it off with poles, tired by walking on boots layered with heavy, spongy mud.
Acocella’s review is funny – she, like my husband, knows Dante – and in spite of herself makes the heavily plotted Brown “Inferno” sound a good junker read.
The image of a little pilgrim – with staff and bundle – marks the route along the Via Francigena. Sometimes the image appeared on paper decals or proper signposts, but most often it was stenciled on fence posts or rock walls, black on a white splash of paint with blazes of red to either side. I always smiled at the sight, and we’d call out VF! Or Via Fran-chi-gena! to each other. I walked the pilgrims’ path thinking how it would be fun to carve a stamp with the little pellegrino.