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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Very Long Walk Under The Tuscan Sun – The Epilogue

I have to be honest. I had no real understanding of what I was getting myself into when I decided to walk a section of the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrims trail that runs from Canterbury to Rome. I knew that I would be walking 119 kilometres through the Tuscan countryside by myself with only a guide book and signs to tell me which which way to go. I would visit some of the well known Tuscan villages including San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Sienna along with some other less visited towns. It sounded fabulous to me. A little bean of excitement jumped up and down in my stomach before flipping around in a whirlpool of doubt. But as I sat with the idea for many days, my excitement grew and my doubt settled down into a small stagnant pool. I booked the trip.

I have long wanted to visit the hilltop villages in Tuscany but at this time in my life I don’t want to visit places as a tourist. Although I am not working in paid employment at the moment, I’m not purely on holiday either. My travelling is about challenging myself and putting myself into situations where I am uncomfortable. My travelling is about seeing the wonders and beauty of the world and learning how to express that in my life. Most importantly, my travelling teaches me about myself, to really see and understand who I am, to understand the purpose of my life and how I can offer my gifts to be of service to the world.

There were two things I intuitively needed at this time. Time alone in nature and to walk. My last six months spent in Melbourne fell across Autumn and Winter. I walked to and from work almost every day. Four kilometres there and four kilometres back. My journey took me through Yarra Park around the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Fitzroy Gardens to the top end of the Central Business District where I meandered down Collins Street and Bourke Street to Kings Way. I walked for the exercise and to spend time in nature, to bracket and balance the time I spent in an office amongst glass and concrete towers.

Walking enabled me to watch Autumn transform the leaves from meadow green to sunny yellow to rustic orange and then brown like a crinkly paper lunch bag. And as Autumn turned to Winter, I watched as the trees, unashamedly, allowed their leaves to fall gracefully to the ground, their bare branches stretched up towards the heavens in exalted prayer. The icy winds scattered the leafy carpet until it disappeared and what remained was transformed into an earthy mush by the winter rains. My daily walk raised my energy levels and exalted my spirit until I glowed on the inside and out. It opened up my creativity channel so that new ideas and inspired words poured through me waiting for expression as soon as I could put pen to paper. And it became addictive. If it was raining (not torrential), I pulled out my umbrella and walked. If I was running late, I walked, a little faster than usual (and was still late to work.)

I thought that walking eight kilometres per day through city parks would be good training for my 119 kilometre Tuscan Walk. After all, I only had to walk an average of 20 kilometres per day and I had been walking almost half of that quite easily. I felt walking fit. I estimated that my at my normal walking pace of six kilometres per hour that I would walk perhaps four hours per day leaving me a good part of the day to enjoy each town. But oh how I got this wrong. In the city I walked on concrete and bitumen paths that were evenly surfaced and the only hill I walked up was the mild slope of Bourke and Collins Streets on my journey home. In Tuscany, I walked on gravel paths, rocky trails, through long grassy fields, on the skimpy grass verge on the side of busy roads with. I walked up hills that looked like they would never end, pausing to try and catch my breath every twenty metres. My body was constantly tired. My legs and feet ached and my right big toe throbbed. Some evenings I could barely leave my hotel room except to eat dinner. Other times I would explore the town slowly, often sitting in a piazza or near a church to rest my body and watch life happen around me.

In Melbourne, I knew the way. I knew which paths to walk through the park and which roads were the right short cuts to take. In Tuscany, I walked a path I did not know. And although I had signs and directions, they didn’t always agree or make sense and so I got lost, a lot. Sometimes I was saved from becoming lost by kind strangers who called me back to the correct path. Other times I retraced my steps to check signs and the guidebook directions to correct my own path. Sometimes I put my faith in my compass, finding south and walking south until I found the path again. Sometimes I was frustrated, with myself and with the guidebook and the signs and the confusion I felt. But I never felt panicked or the desire to give up. Even in the thick of being lost, I always knew I would find my way. And I watched and laughed as my stubborn determination came out time and time again to keep me going, not allowing me to quit just because things got tough.

To me, it was just a walk, a long, solitary walk through a beautiful part of the world. But when I tell people what I did, especially Italians, they look at me like I’m a little bit crazy. Eyebrows rise in surprise as they stumble to fathom that I really did walk 107 kilometres alone, unguided and was not part of a guided group. My eyebrows rise in surprise at their reaction, especially when I am told how dangerous it was for a single female to walk alone in Tuscany. The only time I was scared was when I was walking on the edge of a busy road with cars speeding past. The roads are narrow, there was no footpath and to be honest, Italians drive aggressively and at least 40 kilometres above the stated speed limit. As soon as I heard cars approach I would squeeze myself to the side of the road, sometimes jumping into the thigh high grass amidst prickles which I would pull out of my pants and legs once they had passed. I would often run, not walk, around a bend in the road praying out loud, “Please don’t let me die to day” when I knew the drivers couldn’t see me.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I am glad that I didn’t know. Because if I did know, then maybe, just maybe that part of me that wants to play it safe would have over-ruled the part of me that longs for adventure and I would never have walked the walk. But I did walk and although my injured toe stopped me a day short of making my final destination, I discovered and experienced the beauty and quietness of the Tuscan landscape in solitude and in a way I would never have experienced if I drove through it. I connected with nature, with peace, with contentment and with joy as I walked the path and with courage and determination when I was lost. Finally, I admit to myself that I am courageous and that I am an adventurer, words that others have used to describe me but I would never use to describe myself. And I know now, without doubt, that I am not afraid to walk into the unknown alone.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Very Long Walk Under The Tuscan Sun – Part 3

Now that my tears are shed and dried, I accept the situation as it is. I have walked a long way away from the Via Francigena trail and I have to walk back to where I saw the last sign. This is at least 45 minutes back along a gravel, country road that has already seen the soles of my feet.  I am hot, tired and my swollen right toe is throbbing fiercely, begging me to stop and rest. But I ignore it. I need to become un-lost. Once I have found my way, I will stop for a while and eat the sun-warmed prosciutto and pecorino panini I packed in my bag before leaving Sienna. This is the third time I have been lost today of all days with 29 kilometres to walk. And not only have I been lost, three times, but I have narrowly escaped being bitten by a big white dog protecting its territory, an Agriturismo, that I was passing through on the trail. My pants weren’t so lucky, bearing the puncture marks intended for my calf.

I hear a car approaching from behind me. “Maybe I should flag it down and ask for directions or at least a lift back?” But as soon as I have the thought, I hear the voices of my elders telling little Kymmie, “Never accept a lift from strangers, you don’t know who you can trust.” And then my own voice kicks back in “Do you really want to give in just yet?” Instead, I let the car speed past me, covering me in yet another layer of dust and I continue to trudge along the road as the car disappears into the distance.

As the pain in my toe increases along with my fatigue, I finally accept my physical condition and decide to walk only to the nearest town and then get a taxi the rest of the way to Murlo. After all, this was the agreement with the agency who organised my trek for me when I discovered that Murlo was not officially on the Via Francigena and that my guide book did not provide directions to walk there. After days of walking alone, getting lost and finding my way, I thought that I could just do it and find my way there. I even bought a huge detailed map to show me all the roads in detail only to discover that a map is no use if you don’t know where on the map you are. I can still see a town to my left, the one that I think the Via Francigena passes through. I just need to find the road that leads there and then find a taxi.

I hear the rumble of a car engine approaching in the distance and brace myself for another coating of dust. The car, is actually a van, a white Volkswagen work van. As it approaches, it slows down and then comes to a complete stop next to me. Peering into the open window, I see two familiar faces, the two builders who helped me earlier in the day when I was lost for the second time.

“Ciao” I greet them cheerfully, happy to see their familiar faces in the middle of this country road. The probability of running into them again, yet alone here is so low it should be non-existent but here they are. I send up a grateful prayer for the divine grace that has sent them here.

“I’m lost again” I tell them shrugging with my palms facing upwards. “I am meant to be walking to Merlo.” I act out walking using my index and middle finger of my right hand, “but the Via Francigena doesn’t go there and I lost the signs back that way” I point in the direction that I am walking. “So I am walking back to find the signs again.” I try to speak slowly, hoping they can understand some of the many English words I am speaking.

The short bald headed man sitting in the drivers seat closest to me scratches his head and then gets out of the car. He takes my guidebook from me once again which we look at the together. I run my finger over the red line that marks the Via Francigena.
“Via Francigena?” he asks.
“Yes” I reply. “I think it is back this way.” I point in the direction I was walking. “Maybe 45 minutes walk. I need to turn but can’t find the road.” I point to my left showing the direction I believe I need to turn to stay on the trail. “But I really need to get to Merlo. That’s where my hotel is tonight. It’s not on the Via Francigena. I was going to walk to Quinciano but now I just want to get to any town where I can find a taxi.”
“Taxi, hmmm” the man says then turns and speaks Italian to his curly haired friend in the car. I don’t understand what is spoken but I get the idea that it might be hard to find a taxi. I may have to keep walking.

“Where does this road go?” I ask the man pointing in the direction I was originally walking.
“That way, Radi” he tells me and then points to it on the map.
“Wow, I really am a long way off the Via Francigena” I tell him. Radi is half the length of my index finger from the red Via Francigena trail.
He talks to his friend and then starts talking to me in Italian. I don’t understand what they are saying but I think he is saying that they can give me a ride.

“Wait, wait,” I tell him. “I call someone who speaks Italian.” I call Amore and explain the situation and hand my phone over to the bald-headed man. I don’t understand most of what he says to Amore. His Italian words spoken quickly, roll into each other but there is one exception. “Merlo?” he asks Amore as he tries to understand where I’m going. And then the penny drops. “Murlo!” he exclaims. The word purs out of his mouth, sounding like a cow’s ‘moo’ with a trilling ‘rrrr’ rolled together. I had been pronouncing the name of the town the Australian way. ‘Url’ as in curl or hurl. They talk some more and then he hands the phone back to me
“They can drive you to the next town” Amore tells me. “It’s up to you. Then maybe you can get a taxi.”

I hesitate. I really want to complete all of the walk, on foot but my toe throbs a little harder to convince me to accept the ride. I have no doubt that I could ignore the pain and continue walking but what is the point if I am in too much pain to enjoy the destination. I sigh in resignation.
“Ok,” I tell Amore. “I’ll accept the ride.” I hang up.

The bald-headed man looks at me. “Merlo,” he says and starts laughing. His friend joins in. “Murlo is that way” he points in the direction I was originally walking. Then he shows me on my map.
“So this road goes to Moo-rrrrr-lo?” I ask attempting to roll my ‘moo’ and ‘rrr’ together to pronounce the name correctly but it comes out sounding really awkward.
“Si,” he nods. He gestures to the van to confirm if I wanted a ride.
“Si, si, grazie” I nod and walk towards the passenger door of the car. They have already booted the young man who appears to be their apprentice, out of the main cabin and into the back of the van with the tools.

I climb into the cabin, seated between the two men, a little unsure of exactly where we are going but confident that it will be closer to where I want to be.
The bald-headed man starts chuckling again. “Merlo.” And they both start laughing.
“Moo-rrrrr-lo” I try and say it correctly again. It still sounds awkward. I laugh.

They ask me my name. “Kym,” I tell them. “Kym” they respond slowly as if to practice pronouncing my name. “Si, Kym,” I confirm.
“Ti chiamo?” I ask the bald headed man, wondering why I can never remember my basic Italian lessons when I need to.
“Luigi” he tells me.
“E te?” I ask the curly haired man.
“Angelo,” he responds.
“Where from?” they ask me.
“Australia.”
“Ahhh, Bella Australiana,” I hear them say amongst other words I don’t understand. They laugh. I laugh.

The van bounces up and down along the gravel road to Murlo.
“You from Murlo?” I ask. Luigi tells me no and where they are from in Italian, gesturing to the distant left with a wave of his left hand. I don’t understand but I nod and smile.

We pass a road sign showing the names of towns. In the middle, it shows “Murlo 9.” I was close.
“Merlo,” Luigi points and laughs. We all laugh.

Luigi points at the small compass I have tied to my dive computer watch with a hair band. I bought it from a sailing shop in Greenwich, London when I realised my walk was more complicated than I expected. It wobbles around after he flicks it. Him and Angelo start laughing. I join in. “Lo so, lo so,” I tell them nodding my understanding of the joke. I know, it didn’t help me much today. “Ma ieri, si!” I tell them it helped me yesterday. They keep laughing.

We turn onto a bitumen road and stop bouncing around in the cabin. Within a few minutes, Luigi pulls the van over to the side of the road just before it splits in two different directions. Angelo opens the door and gets out to let me out.
“Bosca Della Spina, 50 metres” he points to our right. Within fifteen minutes of them finding me lost in the middle of an Italian country road, I am a very happy 50 metres from my hotel and it is still early in the day, just after 1.30pm.

“Grazie, grazie, grazie, grazie. Molto, molto grazie.” I place my hands together near my heart as I use the only Italian I can think of to convey how grateful I am that they have saved me from a further three hours or more of walking. They laugh and drive off calling out “Ciao, ciao, Bella Australiana.” Smiling, I wave at them and then put my backpack on one last time and start walking towards my hotel. Raising my eyes to the heavens, I pray. “Please, please let my room have a bath tub.”


Looking for a sign

Relaxing in Murlo, no bath tub but a beautiful view

My big toe, 2.5 weeks later

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Very Long Walk Under the Tuscan Sun - Part 2


I wish I could sit here all day eating juicy red cherries and watching the traffic pass me by, to rest my aching feet and weary body. But I need to get to Murlo where my accommodation is for the night. Again, I’m praying and crossing my fingers that maybe this time my room has a bath. I long to soak my tired body in hot, foamy water and let the the lingering tiredness dissolve away. Everyday, I have prayed for my room to have a bath tub but so far my prayers have gone unanswered.

I left Sienna 4 hours ago and after being lost twice already, I estimate that I have, at least, 4.5 hours of walking to go. So I pick up my sweat-dampened back-pack and put it back on my shoulders and resume walking. One foot after the other, I fall back into my natural rhythm, not fast, not slow. Once again, I am surrounded by orderly rows of green grape vines, barren of fruit. And as I breathe in the euphoric scent of sweet Jasmine, I realise, once again, that I am barely breathing. That in the tense, frustrated moments of feeling lost, my body has clamped down and my intake of life sustaining air is shallow. I breathe in one long, deep breath after another. My body softens as it relaxes. I wonder how much of each day I live like this, breathing so shallow as if I barely want to be in my body. Because I do want to be here, in this body, living every moment fully, now and always. Despite my tiredness and frustration at sporadically becoming lost, I don’t want to be anywhere else in the world. I want to walk each step, one at a time, savouring each full breath of this jasmine-scented Tuscan country-side arriving at my destination whenever I arrive.

Continuing to breathe deeply, I check my next instruction in the guide book.

Veer left down the path past the farmhouse

I continue down the white gravel path, grape vines to my left and the farmhouse to my right until I hit a T-junction.

At the T-junction, turn right. Note the greenhouses on your left.

Before me are some metal frames set up in a half-cylinder structure. They are not enclosed and I see a whole lot of weeds but no plants. I look to my left and to my right but see no other greenhouses. So I turn right on a sandy coloured dirt path and continue down the flat path until I reach another T-junction.

At the T-junction, turn right. Note, go over the bridge.

I look around, puzzled. The bridge in question is to my left. To go over the bridge, I need to turn left but the guide book says to turn right. I look to my right. The path meanders around a corner, past some tall conifer trees. I cannot see a bridge to my right. I pause. Now what do I do? I decide to place my bets on the bridge. Walking up to the bridge I spot not one but two Via Francigena signs. The horizontal red and white stripes are painted on a tree to the right of the bridge and just in front of it is a small rectangular metal sign on a wooden post depicting a yellow pilgrim and the words Via Francigena within a yellow border. I am walking the right way and so I continue along the path. But I am confused and perplexed by the guide book. Although I’ve seen the signs, a little seed of doubt bounces up and down in my stomach, questioning if I really am going the right way. As I walk, I read the guide book for my next direction

After the equestrian centre, turn right. Distance 900 metres.

I continue walking. Two little boys ride their bikes past me chatting happily away in Italian I don’t understand. “Ciao piccolo” I call out to them quietly. Up ahead, they are greeted by a man riding a grey mare, with no saddle and no stirrups. He speaks to them in Italian. From what I can comprehend from his body language, he tells them to keep their distance from the horse and to turn around and go back. Obediently they do. And I am left alone on the path. At least I know the property I passed is probably the equestrian centre.

I walk past Via Francigena signs frequently. They are mainly small stickers with arrows stuck on sign posts but there are also the red and white stripes painted on trees. So I know I am walking in the right direction. After 20 minutes, I appear to have walked a long way past the equestrian centre but I haven’t seen any signs telling me to turn right. Trusting the signs, I keep walking. As long as I see the signs, I must be on the right path.

From time to time, cars speed past me, throwing up a cloud of dust behind them and over me as they pass. I can feel the dirt settle in a greasy layer of grime over my face. As I wash the grit from my mouth and lips with my drinking water, I send out another silent prayer that the I may be blessed with a bath tub in my room this evening. Although annoying, the cars reassure me that I am not completely alone on this remote country road. Scattered amongst the rolling hills are few farmhouses. Looking back, I can see rusty coloured Sienna in the distance and a few kilometres to my right is a small village. I look at my map. I’m not really sure which village it is. Is it Sant’Agostino? Is it Isola D’Arbia? I hope not for then I’m really lost. I have a sense that I’m meant to be walking towards the village but still there are no signs.

After walking for 45 minutes, I reach a small side track on the right hand side of the crest of a hill. There are no obvious Via Francigena signs. I walk up to the electricity pole on the corner of my current path and the side road. The red and white stripes painted on it. If I was meant to walk down this path, there would normally be an arrow pointing in a straight up direction. But there isn’t. Nor is there one telling me to continue on my current direction. Do I turn right? Or do I continue straight ahead? I re-read the instruction in my guide book.

After the equestrian centre, turn right. Distance 900 metres.

It leaves me none the wiser although I am sure I have walked way more than 900 metres, more like 3 kilometres. I look around. There is nobody to ask for help. I have to make a decision. Unconvinced that this is the correct side road, I continue walking down my dusty country road.

I scan the trees and poles along the side of the road for Via Francigena signs. 10 minutes pass. There are none. Why are there none? And why hasn’t there been an obvious sign for me to turn down a side road? The lack of signs should be an obvious sign for me to turn back but I don’t. I keep walking and walking and praying there will be another sign. “Sometimes there hasn’t been a sign for more than a kilometre” I tell myself “so maybe there will be one around the next corner.” I reach the next corner and there is still no sign. I reach another side road with a sign depicting its name “Strada di Radi (Roma)”. I search my map but the road is not marked and it’s not mentioned in the instructions either. I can see a small town, Radi, on the map, but the Via Francigena doesn’t pass through there.

I keep walking and the throb in my swollen toe crescendos. I am so very tired but there is nowhere to sit and rest. The road is surrounded by a ditch full of long grass so I keep walking. Again, I survey the landscape around me. Rolling hills and more rolling hills, not even a farmhouse close-by. I am in the middle of nowhere, on a country road that I don’t know the name of with only a vague idea of where I am and my only way out is to keep walking. My eyes fill with tears and roll down my cheek leaving a muddy tell-tale sign behind them.  After 80 minutes of walking down this path, I decide to do what I don’t want to do, to back-track. I let my tears flow for a few minutes longer, allowing some of my frustration out and to subside.  Then drying my eyes and smearing dirt over my face in the process, I refocus on the task at hand. With long, deep breaths, I re-muster my resolve and I start walking back, from where I came.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A Very Long Walk Under the Tuscan Sun - Part 1

It’s mid-day and the Tuscan sun is reaching it’s peak. The temperature has caught me by surprise. It’s technically still spring but the temperature has been peaking in the low 30’s. I’m wearing long black sweat pants and a white long sleeve top to protect my skin from burning. Both are covered in dirt and dust. I’m hot and sweating. And I’m lost. Again.

My guide book tells me if I follow this path I should come out at the SR2 (a main road) which I should then cross over and continue on down a gravel path. Instead, after walking through long, dry grass that reached the middle of my thighs, praying that there were no hidden snakes, I hit a confused dead-end. Directly in front of me is a new road under construction and to my right is a field full of more thigh-high dry grass with no path in sight. I am puzzled. I just walked past a Via Francigena (VF) sign 100 metres back and prior to that a local Italian man called me back to walk down this very grassy path instead of continuing on the road that veered right. I followed his direction because the guidebook had stopped making sense at least one kilometre ago.

Today I don’t feel like retracing my steps to check the signs and the guide book’s instructions. Instead, I climb over the orange plastic barrier between me and the road construction site and carefully walk over lumps of dirt and rocks, looking around to see if I can find any VF signs or any other path. There is nothing. I grunt aloud in frustration. I can’t afford the time or kilometres to be lost today. I have a total of 29 kilometres to walk. This is day 5 of my walk and I’ve already walked 3.5 hours up hill and down hill. I’ve been lost for at least 30 minutes retracing my steps numerous times trying to find Via Bianchi di Sotto and subsequently my way out of Sienna’s confusing streets and I’ve escaped the snarling jaws of an angry white dog which left a hole in my pants and thankfully not my leg. And I still have at least another 4.5 hours of walking to reach Murlo, my destination for today. My feet are constantly throbbing and I can barely put my pressure on my swollen big right toe. I have no time or physical capacity for backtracking or getting lost, again, today.

My instincts tell me that the path was in the field of overgrown grass but I don’t want to walk through it in case of snakes. About 100 metres ahead of me, I can see a metal gate, the formal entrance to the construction site and then a couple of hundred metres farther is what I think is the SR2. So I walk through the construction site, walking under the rusty yellow arm of an earth mover before squeezing my bag and then myself through a gap in the gate. I pause to drink some water and take some weight off my throbbing toe for a few moments before heading towards the main road.

The SR2 is busy with cars in both directions and there is only 50 metres of footpath before it ends and the two single lanes of the road takes over, winding its way over a hill locked in by metal barriers. Too much traffic for walking on the narrow, shoulder-less road this time so I climb over the metal barrier and walk along the sloping grassy hill next to the road. Cars and motorbikes speed by. The occupants turn their heads and unashamedly stare at me as they pass. Others honk their horns. I ignore the attention and continue on.

After walking down the hill I reach a gravel road coming from the direction of the grassy field that meets the SR2 but it doesn’t continue on the other side and there’s no VF sign. Maybe my intuition was wrong. Maybe I’ve headed in the wrong direction. I study my map in the guide book again but it’s not much help. It is not detailed enough, only showing more significant roads. I scan the other side of the road and can see a long winding white gravel road in the distance but I can’t see where it starts from and I’m not even sure that is the road I am looking for. I take a deep breath and reassure myself that I will figure it out and find my way.

I stare back down the gravel path I’m standing on. It appears to be coming from the direction of the grassy field but it winds behind a house and I can’t tell if it reaches all the way to the field or not. I try to decide if I should do what I really don’t want to do, to walk down it and see if I can pick up the original trail, to back-track. Then I see two middle-aged men building a stone wall around a house that is on the left of the path. I walk over to them.

“Mi scusa. Buon giorno. I am lost.” After four days of being lost at various times, I still haven’t figured out how to say I am lost in Italian. They stop what they are doing and look at me curiously. This lone grubby, foreign female, wearing sweaty clothes, a black cap, a very full backpack and over sized sunglasses.

“You know Via Francigena? I am walking Via Francigena but came off the path up the road. I need to get to Murlo. Is this the esse-erre-due (SRD)?” I point towards and along the main road just near us. The shorter of the two men, stocky and very tanned with short shaved black hair takes my map from me and looks at it. I point at the red line indicating the Via Francigena, the path I was walking and then at the main road marked on the map as the SR2.

“Is this the esse-erre-due?” I ask again gesturing at the road behind us.

“It’s the esse-esse-due (SS2)” he answers.

“Really, but my map says it’s the esse-erre-due (SR2)” I respond, confused. “I think maybe I should walk down this road here to find the path?” I ask him showing walking movement with my index and middle fingers on my right hand and pointing down the gravel path.

“No, no” he responds shaking his head. He points at different towns on my map and talks to his friend, a taller stockier man with dark chin length curls, in Italian I don’t understand. Then he starts walking towards the main road. “Come” he says gesturing for me to follow him. I do as told. “Look. Isola D’Arbia, here.” He points at the map. Then points diagonally to our left. “Here, Sienna.” He points at different spot at the map. “Sienna, over there” he says pointing in the opposite direction behind us. Then he rotates the map, to put the towns in their correct orientation relative to where we were standing.

“Ahhhhh, si, si, ok” I say, confirming my understanding of my position.

“Sant’Agostino” he says pointing at a small dot on the map and then points directly in front of us.

“Si, si” I nod. “So Via Francigena that way” I trace my finger along the red line on the map and then point to my right.

“Si, Via Francigena” he responded pointing in the same direction.

My intuition had not let me down. I was heading in the right direction after all but just needed some confirmation.

“Grazie, grazie, grazie” I tell the man as he hands me back my guide book. “I was going the right way after all.” I smile relieved and grateful for the reassurance. “Arrividerci” I call out as I start to walk once again. “Ciao, ciao” both men call after me with a wave and recommence digging their hole in the ground.

I continue walking along the main road still confused if it is SR2 or SS2 but more sure I am walking in the right direction. In only a few minutes this is confirmed as I reach a gravel road with a VF sign pointing to the other side of the road where the gravel path continues down a hill in between fields of orderly lined grape vines. After a break in the traffic, I cross the road and take off my heavy, sweaty back pack which I plonk on the ground before taking out some warm but juicy red cherries. I sit on the top of a low brick wall separating the gravel road from private property, taking my weight of my throbbing, aching feet. One by one, I drop a plump cherry in my mouth and savour its sweet juiciness whilst watching the cars and motorbikes speed past me. I smile, relieved, tired, content. Not lost…for now.

Early morning Sienna

Sienna many kilometres in the background


10 kilometres down, 19 to go!

A VF sign in the long grass 

 Me, the path and the vineyard!