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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, April 24, we have reached our halfway-point.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Our Air BnB on Via Monte di Dio is small, but nicely appointed, has a fabulous view from its one window, and is perched on the edge of a cliff in a fascinating old neighborhood of narrow alleys between five-story buildings hung with laundry and layered with tiny shops and restaurants. The entry to our flat is through an over-grown garden, populated by friendly cats, and tonight as we entered at twilight, a singing bird. Could it have been a nightingale singing at twilight?
Last night we explored in the rain and got terribly lost, but discovered just below us a posh pedestrian shopping street and the magnificent Piazza Plebescito with a semicircular colonnade centering on the Pantheon-inspired circular church of San Francesco di Paola. Across from the church is the Palazzo Reale, which adjoins the Teatro San Carlo where we will see Madama Butterfly on Tuesday evening.
Finally back in our own neighborhood, we bought bread, cheese, butter, olives, and wine at a small grocery, and after taking them home returned to a small trattoria where we had a simple, satisfying dinner of pasta.
After a late start this morning, fortified by toast, jam, and cheese, we set out for the Archeological Museum, joining strolling families, many carrying palm fronds from Palm Sunday services. The museum, with a special exhibit on Canova and his inspiration by classical art and sculpture, as well mosaics and many other items unearthed from Pompeii and Herculaneum, occupied us for the rest of the afternoon. We finished with a look at the waterfront and a dinner of pizza at a small restaurant in our neighborhood.
Tomorrow we hope to get to both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
We are soon on our way to Naples. I have not yet figured out s way to edit the blog or add photos. Any Word Press users out there, perhaps you can offer some hints on how to edit on an iPhone. I hope we will have more reliable wifi in our next place, an AirBNB until Wednesday.
Meanwhile I’ll keep working on this and go ahead and send links to what I have not yet shared with anyone.