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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 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

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Day 60: Aulla

Number of kilometres today: 24.7
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 1,531.4
Total steps since Canterbury:  2,122,463

I was in no rush to start walking today.  It's not that I didn't want to walk.  I just didn't want to start walking.

Despite being really tired, it took me a long time to fall asleep last night.  Then at 1.40am I was woken from my beautiful slumber by the crack and rumble and flashes and downpour of another thunderstorm.  Better last night than today.

I procrastinated my way through packing and eventually left the convent at 9am and headed straight to a bar for my cappuccino and marmellata (croissant with apricot jam inside) then started to meander my way out of Pontremoli.

Pontremoli is a beautiful medieval town with its green-roofed duomo, restored castle and stone bridges crossing the Verde River that connect it to its historic centre. Wednesday is one of its market days with  food and clothing stalls set up in the two main squares.  The town was a hive of activity.  It is one of the prettiest towns I have passed through so far and somewhere I could have stayed a bit longer but I have this aching desire to rest near the sea which means moving forward for two more days and that is what I did, right after I purchased my lunch supplies and had second breakfast which was nothing more than a tactic to delay walking.

As I walked across the bridge at Via Antonino Siligato, I could smell the sea.  Warm and salty.  Tears welled. I miss the sea.  It is a sacred place of rest and healing for me and I haven't seen it since I walked to Wissant on day 3 of this journey.  A few minutes later, an ambulance sped past with its lights and sirens blaring and I actually started crying.  I am naturally sensitive but my tiredness has made me hypersenstiive right now.  I need to rest.  Its not just the physical tiredness from the long distance walking.  Contantly moving is not my travel style becaue it makes my spirt weary so usually I move from place to place every few days at most not every day like this and I have always ended up staying in the one spot for at least a few days if not longer.  This pilgrimage doesn't quite allow for that at least the visa restrictions and my desire to walk the whole trail from beginning to end without breaking it up over time means I have little choice but to keep moving everyday.

So I cried and kept moving and eventually found the sweet place in my walking again as I always do when I keep moving, keep breathing, keep feeling. Storms always pass, just like yesterday, after which the sun even came out. 

It helped that I was fuelled by the kindness of strangers.  I had three cars stop and drivers ask "Vuoi passaggio?" The sweetest words I heard today despite the fact that I declined every offer explaining I am a pilgrim walking Via Francigena.  I crossed paths with one of the drivers hours later as I entered Aulla. He felt like an old friend.  In Barbarasco, one of the old-timers patted me on the back in encouragement as I walked past.  And upon arriving at the Abbazia di San Caprasio in Aulla before I could even open my mouth to explain who I was I was ushered inside, seated and given coffee and biscuits. This kindness puts a bounce in my step and lifts my weary spirt every single time.

Tonight, I am sleeping on a bed that folds out of a cupboard.  The doors are open on either side of me so it actually feels like I am sleeping in the cupboard.  But it is a wonderful set up here with new modern bathrooms and a small kitchenette that I couldn't figure out how to work so ended up eating doner kebab for dinner because I couldn't stomach yet another pizza. 

There's even a terrace here where I was told I could hang any clothes I needed to dry.  I thought that was such a great idea at the time that I washed my tshirt and my socks and hung them out to dry.  It may have been 23 degrees today and it may have been warm when I did my washing but the temperature dropped very quickly.  There's clear skies and I expect frost over night. I brought in cold and still very wet clothes off the terrace and I am hoping without much hope they might dry inside overnight.  The t-shirt is not a problem. I have a spare.  However, I sadly now have only 3 merino socks.  I lost one on the walk from Fornovo di Taro to Berceto that I thought I had securely strapped to The Devil so it could dry as I walked. Tomorrow I may be wearing one dry sock and one wet one.  C'est la vie!

Now that the singing and drumming rehearsal downstairs sounds like it is over, I am going to sleep so I can wake up early, walk 16.4 kilometres climbing 535 metres over that one last ridge that separates me from the coastal plain so I can be on a train heading to Cinque Terre and 2.5 rest days as soon as I possibly can.

View of Pontremoli from the Cappuccini Convento

Market in the main piazza

One of the old stone bridges linking the historic centre and newer town

Fog covered mountains

River Magra

Bridge over river Magra in Aulla

Day 59: Pontremoli

Number of kilometres today: 28.7
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 1,506.7
Total steps since Canterbury:  2,128,131

Today I crossed the Cisa Pass, which at 1,000 metres is a minor achievement. However, I did it in the midst of a thunder storm. Twenty minutes before it started, I stopped at a bar for a coffee and one of the old timers told me as I was leaving that it was going to rain at the pass.  I shrugged my shoulders.  "Va bene," I told him. "Ho camminare."   I have to walk.

Five minutes before the rain started, a car pulled over.
"Vuoi passaggio?" the workman inside asked.
"Non, sonno un pelligrini.  Cammino.  Grazie." I replied.
He drove away and as I continued walking, I watched the clouds sweep in and over the road not more than fifty metres in front of me.  I knew I might regret rejecting his offer within minutes.

The wind whipped kermit into a frenzy.  I was sure if I held my arms out beside me parallel to the ground and took a run up that I could launch myself into the sky like a stringless kite even with the weight of The Devil on my back.

The rain started lightly before pelting down. Thunder growled and rumbled to my right. I hoped it would pas around and behind me. 

A few minutes later, I made it to the Ostello for pilgrims located just before the pass and took shelter under the meagre structure at their front gate, waiting for the rain to pass.  It poured, then eased off, poured then eased off to a light shower.  I doubted it would stop completely so I decided to put my head down and march.

The rain eased off for a while.  I was even able to take a few photos.  Then it started pouring.  The lightning started flashing around me and the thunder rattled my bones.  I put the Two Rodneys (aka hiking poles) away because I feared they would attract the lightning to me. I saw newspaper headlines here and back home reading 'Pellegrini hit by lightning; dies on side of road.'  I hid the Two Rodneys under Kermit but wondered if that was enough. I am sure lightning has an intelligence of its own and could still find them and zap us anyway. 

I clasped my hands together at my chest in prayer but also to hug my own body warmth. I chanted over and over, "Keep me safe. Keep me safe. Keep me safe," as the rain poured down over me and dripped off my nose. 

The fog came in and I could barely see in front of me. Shame I couldn't see the bar that was twenty metres in front of the building eave I took shelter under after reaching the Pass.

Drenched from the knees down. The wind glued my soggy pant legs to my shins.  They felt like strips of ice. My feet and knees went numb.

Somehow I found all of this hilariously funny. I laughed out loud often and wondered if maybe this was now the day I could officially be deemed crazy.

I am now in Pontremoli and have a room in the Cappuccini Convent. I was greeted by two Brothers who must be in their late 80's.  They were keen to tell me the history of the Convent and the Via Francigena in Italian.  I was happy to listen as I am always happy to listen and interact with these kind people who are helping me on my way but it had been a bad day for toilet stops.  I was busting to go to the bathroom and I was the receiving the long extended version of the welcome. 

Finally one of the brothers showed me to my room.  As we walked, very, very slowly, he explained how to get in and out of the convent.  He even walked me outside to the gate but I understood little of what he said. I hoped that I would figure it out later.  I also think he may have had a few wines.  I swear I could smell the sweet fermented scent of wine on his breath as he turned to ask me again, "Dove vieni?"  From where do I come. I answered him but felt confused. We already had that conversation downstairs when I was being registered.

Tomorrow's choice is to walk the flatter and therefore easier but also shorter path through the valley to Aulla instead of waking the mule paths through the hills. I've already put in some long hard days in the Appenines that have felt more challenging than the Alps but I suspect the rain might make the paths here even more difficult and even a little dangerous. Many of them look like they have been streams in the past.  They could be streams now.

I'm 2 days and around 41 kms away from a rest break. Cinque Terre on Thursday. I'm excited and counting down.  But who knows what adventures lie between now and then.

Early morning Berceto.  Its cobble-stoned streets were covered with moss.  

Pilgrim statue.

Via Roma, Berceto


A steep rocky path.

The clouds before the storm....

The photos before the storm...

What I could see of Cisa pass...

That is a lot of rain. I was sheltering under the eave of a building when I took this....

Descending towards Gravangna San Rocco

Autostrada bridge leading into the mountain tunnel near Gravagna San Rocco...

Cow on the side of the paddock for this one...

Looking back at Gravangna San lunchtime view.  I sat on the side of the road on a safety barrier...


First view of Pontermoli...

Entering the old town of Pontremoli

Monday, 28 October 2013

Day 56: Fidenza

Number of kilometres today: 23.8
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 1,411.9
Total steps since Canterbury:  1,993,799

I delayed walking today.  Stopping in at two different cafes to have a coffee.  The first time sitting down with breakfast.  The second time standing up because I didn't want to go through the whole process of taking The Devil off my back and putting it back on again.

I slept soundly last night but as I left town, the tiredness overcame me.  And I cried.  I trust my tears. If you fall into that river and let its torrents sweep you away you will end up in the sweetest place, that paradise that is your own internal peace that you couldn't see when you were standing dry and miserable on the muddy bank.  I cried and walked and ten minutes later I was all cried out and peacefully accepting of where I was AND surrounded by blue skies...the first blue sky in a week.

I practiced walking Thich Nhat Hanh style; walking in a way that prints peace and serenity on the earth.  I put on my favourite new age tunes most of which use a lot of mantras and walked conscious of how my feet touched the ground and conscious of the tendency to walk faster, to get there, to arrive.  I pulled it pack and slowed it down.  It took me 6.5 hours to walk the 23 .8 kilometres which is slow by my normal standards. And I arrived tired but peaceful.

I stayed at the Convento di San Francesco in my own little room with a single bed.  I was the only person staying there other than the monks who inhabit other parts of the Convento.  I almost wasn't able to stay as the local kids were having a party in the hall downstairs from the sleeping quarters.  But the brother that greeted me knew I was tired and not wanting to walk any further.  I told them I didn't care about the noise.  I didn't. I just wanted to get The Devil off my back, have a shower and get off my feet.  Luckily they let me stay.

Piazza of Chiesa di San Fiorenzo in Fiorenzuola d'Arda.

The first blue sky I have seen in a week.

Golden tree lined street leading into Chiarvalle della Colomba

Statue in Chiarvalle della Colomba


A friendly dog...she dropped at my feet and wanted me to pat her.

Autumn autumn eveywhere!

My favourite kind of ploughed field again

Looking back...

On the way into Fidenza...loved the glow

Duomo di Fidenza

The main piazza in Fidenza.  Such a good vibe here at night.

Chiesa di San Francesco next to the Convento.