Day 1 Arles to Saint-Gilles- -du-Gard: Sunday 22 September

iPhone count 15.1 miles. (Official count is 19-20 km, which would be considerably less.)

The endless digue
Snails on the trail

The way was supposed to take 4-5 hours, but it took us nearly 6, from 8 am until 1:45 pm

This was a harder day than we expected, with seemingly endless along a dike, often with glimpses of Le Petit Rhône, but always with the oppressive heavy humidity that builds before rain, accompanied by swarms of flying insects, and sometimes by overbearing bamboo. We stopped once for a shared apple and two finger-sized sausages. We spread a poncho on a sandy bank, but there was almost nowhere to sit. It sometimes felt like walking through an endless tunnel, and the gravel surface became tiring on the feet.

There were many barricades along the dike. This one had a Chemin sign.

It mostly felt like a long slog. We got into St. Gilles just as the restaurants were closing for the day. In fact, every business in town, other than the church, which we are right next to, is closed up tight. We did manage to get a cold beer, before one restaurant closed, and we were happy for that.

We received a warm welcome from the hospitalier, who has invited us for wine at 6:30. He had offered to call a small restaurant and arrange dinner for us, but that place, too, was closed, so although we ate our bread and cheese, our carrot and remaining apple.

The Canadians and two French pilgrims are here tonight, too, sharing the six-bed dormitory. Some others are in another dormitory in the cellar.

We met two other French women on the path, but have not seen them here.

We will see what tomorrow brings. We have a place reserved with dinner, as most restaurants, as well as most shops, are also closed on Mondays. Tomorrow promises to be a somewhat shorter day, hopefully with more interesting walking.

The St. Gilles church is quite lovely, and here I saw for the first time the Camargue Cross

The Camargue Cross

Rain and Preparations: Arles, Saturday September 21

Tomorrow we walk, 20 or so km from Arles to Saint Gilles. Our pilgrim life will truly begin.

Cloister, St, Trophime

There were many last-minute things to take care of today, foremost among them getting a French SIM card for my phone, so we can follow our location on map apps as we walk, call ahead for reservations, and get keys to gites.

The SFR phone store could not sell me a card. For that I had to go to a tabac. Yes, if we bought their brand of card, the fellow in the SFR shop would put it in for me. To get to a larger store where They could do everything, would be a long walk or a bus trip. Two visits to Tourist Information told us this.

We did find the card after queueing in a tabac, and had it put in at the phone store. We are now good to go, with 5 g of data (that I’ll need only when there is no wifi) for the next month.

Coffee and croissants for breakfast. delicious! Why do American croissants taste nothing like these?

Selfie from atop the Arena

We ran around in the big Saturday outdoor market as rain started to fall—buying bread — 4 slices cut for us— 4 apples, a small sausage, and a round of Camembert. On the way home we picked up a bottle of orange juice and a carrot, and with some ice and a borrowed knife from our AirBNB hostess Ariane, we had a fine lunch. The rainy afternoon was spent visiting some of the many sites of interest in Arles, including St.Trophime Basilica and Cloister, Les Allycamps Cemetery (Roman and Medieval), the arena, the theatre, the baths of Constantine, and other places.

We got our Pilgrim Credentials and first stamps.

At 5:15 we returned to St. Trophime to the Accueil Pèlerin (pilgrim welcome) office that we’d been checking all day. Mass was being said, but 3 people were waiting at the back of the church wearing rain gear and sturdy sandals. «Pilgrims! » I said. And they were: two French Canadian women, Marie and Ginette, and a French man, Jean, who have walked together before. They will also be heading to Saint Gilles tomorrow and finishing in Toulouse as we will. Younger than us, and probably better walkers, we will be with them for at least awhile.

Sign at Les Allycamps

More rain is predicted for tomorrow, although it cleared a bit at sunset. It is cooler, so we will not be walking in blazing sun and heat.

We finished the evening with couscous, chicken, meatballs and vin rouge at a Moroccan restaurant. Arles is a delightful place.

Ultreia! Bon Courage!

Sunset, Arles

San Francisco: First Stop on Our Camino From Arles to Toulouse

Tuesday, September 17th

Our packs seemed too heavy as we sped through the Albuquerque airport yesterday, and again as we exited the Oakland airport and rode the BART and MUNI to our stop at 7th and Irving near Golden Gate Park.

We are still considering what we can leave out—sleeping bags, most likely. We fly to Barcelona this evening.

Meanwhile we managed a nap and enjoyed some family time as Kent practiced carrying a load of a different kind on his back.

Riding on Grampy’s Back

I am nervous about this Chemin, as there will be several days in isolated, rugged mountains with few services, but all that is yet many days away.

Meanwhile, I will live in this day, and start with this meditation from Paula:

Morning Meditation

I give thanks for the journey.

I give thanks for the arriving and leaving.

I wake to freshness and do reverence.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

A Pilgrimage to the Moab Music Festival: September 6-8, 2019

Moab Music Festival: Music in concert with the landscape

Imagine the lush sounds of a Brahms string sextet filling a red rock grotto, as a rapt audience sits around the perimeter, on rocks, on logs, and on the sand beside a small pool. This was a hike-in concert at the Moab Music Festival in Moab, Utah, now in its 27th year.  

To arrive at this spot involved a twenty-minute ride on a school bus, followed by a hike through an overgrown, brushy, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky trail that led under and over some fallen branches through a narrow slot between red cliffs.  Finally, after about half-a-mile, the canyon widened into a glorious natural amphitheater aptly named “Middle Earth.”  

Playing Brahms in Middle Earth

People of all ages had come from from places near and far, including Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Chicago, and New Zealand.  Kent and I drove scenic roads from Albuquerque.  A PBS feature on the festival last fall introduced us to the festival and inspired us to make the trip.  We were not disappointed.

https://www.pbs.org/video/moab-music-festival-draws-fans-to-utah-s-ethereal-desert-1540146431/

We attended “A Paris Revue” in historic Star Hall on Friday night, an eclectic program introduced with panache by Festival Music Director Michael Barrett, very much in the style of his mentor Leonard Bernstein. 

Mill Creek Overlook

Then early on Saturday morning, we took a bus through the red rocks east of town, to a one-mile hike down a mostly sandy wash to Mill Creek Overlook, where we heard classical and modern pieces performed by wind instruments, singly and together.  Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” for unaccompanied flute was followed by a “Duo for Oboe and Bassoon” by Heitor Villa-Lobos.  Modern pieces by Toru Takemitsu, Adam Raph (for unaccompanied trombone!), and Bohuslav Martinü, were followed by several Italian baroque ensemble pieces that concluded the concert.

Wind players at Mill Creek Overlook

On Saturday evening, we traveled again by school bus, upstream along the Colorado River to the Sorrel River Ranch and Spa for a concert under a tent, in celebration of the Jazz-age genius of Bix Beiderbecke.  Food and drinks were available for purchase, and intermission came just in time to allow us to walk about the grounds along the river and view the red rock buttes in the distance turn even redder in the setting sun.

For Kent and me, whose musical tastes are eclectic, who enjoy nature and a bit of adventure, and who are willing to risk a bit of uncertainty, the Moab Music Festival was pure delight.  The uncertainty? The dreamy performance of Brahms in Middle Earth was abruptly interrupted by a flash rainstorm, resulting in an unplanned, hasty exodus along that narrow brushy trail, followed by a return to Star Hall for the concert’s conclusion, with performers and audience alike still dressed in their hiking gear.

Tickets for the more expensive concerts, which involve travel by raft are already on sale for the 2020 season.

http://www.moabmusicfest.org/calendar/september-2020

Following Pilgrim Trails in Rome

On Wednesday morning, May 1, our small group of Pilgrims, guided by Giuseppe and Herta, traveled by the #62 bus from the convent of Caterina di Volpicelli to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican where we were greeted by Alberto and his wife and Giancarlo and his wife Norma, and other members of the Gruppo Dei Dodici. There we presented our credentials at the Pilgrim Office and received certificates for completing the walk.

Pilgrims with certificates

Afterwards we attended the audience with Pope Frances, along with a few thousand others, and then dispersed, our pilgrimage over.

Today, Kent and I followed pilgrim trails through Rome. We’d tried to visit San Giovanni Lateran yesterday, but found the entire plaza blocked by a huge, super-loud May Day rock concert and swarms of young people.

We had more success today visiting this oldest church in Rome dating from 312. I recalled the story that Pope Innocent had a dream that the Lateran was crumbling, but saved from collapse by one man. When St. Francis came before him shortly after to plead approval for his order, Innocent saw in him salvation (and reform) for the church as a whole, and gave approval to the founding of the Franciscan Order.

Marks on the pilgrim trail.

From San Giovanni Lateran, we headed to San Clemente, which was closed for lunch. We had lunch, too, nearby, then visited the Basilica created from the Baths of Diocletian, before returning to San Clemente, with its multi-layered history of two churches built over a temple to Mithras. Our entire day was devoted to the many layers of Roman church history, from early days of persecution to the creation of a powerful church and continuing reforms.

Tomorrow we fly to San Francisco—the influence of the church and its saints has spread far from Rome.

San Giovanni Lateran

Roma tonight!

Our pilgrimage will officially end tomorrow in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, but today will take us into Rome, on what will be our longest walk yet: 26 km.

It has been an amazing and sometimes exhausting two weeks. Every day has held surprises, new experiences, and new challenges. One of the biggest challenges for me has been letting go of expectations and control. Explanations of what each day was to hold were seldom forthcoming, and translation of Italian conversations were not always available. I am unaccustomed to following a pace other than my own. Nevertheless we have been a congenial and joyful group, and our leaders, Giuseppe and GianCarlo, have been enthusiastic and hard-working to make everything happen, making often-complicated arrangements for food, lodging, transportation, and visits to important sites.

A few photos from these last days:

Strawberry Shortcake in Sezze
Goat en route
Evening at Valvisciolo Abbey
valvisciolo Cloister 23th c
Cori
Procession in Giulianello

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube

Mountain Trails: Days 8 and 9 (April 25-26, 2019)

Yesterday morning just four of us, set off from Victoria Domus B&B high on a hill on the outskirts of Priverno. The remaining two German walkers were returning home, and Torill and Herta were suffering injuries. Ned, Kent, Sylva and I, under Giuseppe’s careful leadership, descended to the edge of Priverno, getting a good look at the hill-top city as we walked. Giuseppe pointed to hills in the distance. “That’s where we’re going. There will be a 4 km climb.” One of the hills was topped by tall antennas.

The day was hot, and we stopped in the shade of trees and walls now and then. Giuseppe pointed out his home high on an olive covered slope. We followed small roads along canals lined with yellow and purple flowers.

Blue and yellow flowers along a canal on the way to Sezze
Tough climb to Sezze

Eventually, after quite a climb on roads we embarked on a path that grew increasingly steep and rough. Then we came to another road, a descent and then another path up, this one not so long, but steeper and tougher, with views out over flat agricultural land that had been reclaimed from marshland. a stumble here could have sent one rolling over limestone rocks and scrubby brush with little to stop one for a very long way.

A cool breeze on the high slopes mitigated the heat, but the air remained too misty to see the sea and distant islands. It was not long after our picnic lunch that we scrambled up one more rough track to find ourselves at the edge of Sezze and just a few houses along the road at the most delightful B &B of the trip.

Kent and I retreated to our room and after showering pulled a comforter over us and fell asleep for at least 3 hours. There was no wifi, so I had no distractions.

That evening our hostess Alma prepared a wonderful dinner of lentil soup, veal cutlet, mounds of artichokes braised in olive oil, a delicious green salad and delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert.

I had no trouble sleeping another 8 hours that night.

Well rested, we set out from Sezze this morning, with several new Italians accompanying us, under the leadership of Giancarlo. After a brief stop to buy sandwiches for lunch, and a tour of the local archaeological museum where we were offered cakes and sodas, we exited the charming medieval town and climbed ever upward.

Eventually we reached tracks through meadows with grazing cows, more mountain road, and then a lovely track that led through trees — some of the most untouched vegetation we have seen on this route. We also encountered a few other pilgrims today, all heading south from Rome.

As we neared the top of one long ascent, “Salida!” Giancarlo encouraged me, as I was, as usual the slowest one on the ascents. Then one more climb and we heard shouts of “Restaurante!” And there amidst a flock of goats we found picnic tables where we had our lunch.

Down again, we could see another hill town — Sermonetta— with a castle and swarms of tourists. We also encountered a group of 5 walkers, heading south, but apparently not taking our mountain paths. A welcome stop for beer, but I was dismayed to learn we still had a long 4-5 km and 2-21/2 hours yet to go to this abbey outside of town in lower Norma.

We could see it in the distance from the second of two wildly overgrown, steep, rocky descents we made this afternoon.

It seemed we’d never get here, but after many ups and downs we were here sometime after 4 pm. Made our beds, showered, and will rest until supper at 7:45 pm.

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube

Walking with the Gruppo dei Dodici—-April 20-24

Ancient Roman Port near Scauri

We have walked through beautiful scenery from hills to the seaside, and had some wonderful cultural experiences, but almost no time for sleeping or writing.

So what follows is a too short summary of recent days on the Via Francigena of the South.

Donna and Ned presented a Kei and Molly textile from Albuquerque to a helpful nun

It is hard to sort out the days. As so much has been crammed into them. Following the moving procession on Good Friday evening in Sessa, we had a jolly, simple meal of pizza together, then a long walk in the dark, past barking dogs and under a full moon to our lovely lodgings at the Convent of Santa Caterina di Volpicelli.

We have been treated as celebrities, greeted by mayors, treated to an extravagant lunch at a daycare center, and accompanied into Terracina by musicians playing ancient pilgrim music on réplicas of antique instruments. We’ve also been given talks on an important early suspension bridge, the largest and best-preserved Roman cistern dating from the time of Julius Caesar, and an ancient fort in Terracina.

We’ve had fabulous meals and walked through sites important in both ancient and modern history. There is too much to see, and too little time as we make our way through southern Italy on our pilgrimage to Rome.

Three bridges
Cistern in Formis
Our leader Giuseppe Pucci with musicians in Terracina
Walking toward the Fossanova Abbey on April 24
Antipasto tonight

Today, April 24, we have reached our halfway-point.

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube

Walking through Flowers

We have completed our first two days of walking our pilgrimage to Rome with the Gruppo di Dei Dodici. The Gruppo is an all-volunteer group devoted to maintaining, developing and promoting the southern branch of the Via Francigena, of which the better-known part stretches from Canterbury to Rome. This section goes both ways from Rome to Brindisi, from where pilgrims could cross the Mediterranean to reach Jerusalem, or travel from the south of Italy to Rome, as we are doing now.

Our first day from Teano involved a very long climb during the first half of the day, then at least one very steep descent and ascent at the end of the day. I was overjoyed when we reached the lovely town of Sessa, only to grow weary as we passed through the town, climbing higher still and then winding down for another kilometer to the Convent of Caterina Volpicelli on the outskirts. That was truly the longest mile.

During the day we stopped briefly to rest and eat sandwiches on park benches in lovely old villages.

Last night we returned to Sessa where we witnessed a moving Good Friday procession.

The Pilgrimage Begins: April 17, Teano

After spending Monday exploring Pompeii along with thousands of other visitors, including energetic busloads of students, Tuesday exploring numerous churches and nooks and crannies of the Centro Storico and attending a fabulous opening night performance of Madama Butterfly at the Teatro San Carlo, and Wednesday morning walking along the rather unremarkable waterfront to Mergellina, we were met at the train station Formia-Gaeta on Wednesday afternoon.

There we were greeted by Giuseppe, Maurzio, Paolo, and several other members of our group, including Ned and Donna from Albuquerque, Silva and Terje from Norway, and Herta from Germany.

View of Teano from our window this morning

After a bit of a drive to Teano, a stop at an ATM machine and a phone store, we ended up in the country at Agritorismo Farm Mattera di Valle., with a view to Teano on its hill in the distance.

Kent and I were given a very chilly large room with a large bed. Later we all gathered for a huge Italian dinner, beginning with antipasto, then pasta, then meat and potato, followed by cake and grappa. We begin walking on the Morning of April 18. “On the 18th of April in ‘75/ hardly a man is now alive/ who remembers that fateful day and year/ of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”

Oldest amphitheater in Italy in Teano
Kent in Teano
Flowers along the way
Waymarks
Overgrown bridge

April 18, Sessa

It looks like nights 2 and 3 with no wifi, unless we make a long trek uphill into town. So I will just keep writing, hoping that one of these days we will have wifi, and I can publish.

We have finished our first day of walking, through some beautiful countryside and lovely old towns. However, we were promised this would be a short, easy day. It was not. Fourteen easy kilometers—should not be hard. Right? Wrong. We made some steep, long climbs up in the first two hours before lunch, and several more ups and downs and then a Long walk through this lovely hill town, without much chance to see anything.

We are now returned from a lovely dinner in the town, and it is too late to keep writing. We will be back here again tomorrow. Good news is finally having a wifi connection. Bad news is it works only in a chilly front lobby. Good news is we’ve had the best shower here we’ve had since leaving home.

I’ll try to write more tomorrow, after our Good Friday walk.

On the way to Sessa
Dog at water fountain