It was a harrowing exit from town. I remain astonished at what is considered a legitimate hiking route on the Via Francigena. The Alpine club routes are great, but the highways-with-no-shoulder are a nightmare. On the other hand, fear for our lives kept us moving fast, so we shot 5 km out of town in no time to our turnoff into the hills.
Originally we thought we’d have to cut off a bit from today’s proposed stage of 33 km, but the first third or so was in a valley so we made fast progress (and even managed to read a little more Dante—very close to the lowest pit of hell by now). Even after that the ascent and descent was much more gentle and evenly spaced, no steep climbs or dizzying trips downward, and correspondingly no early afternoon exhaustion. The biggest challenge was the enormous mud puddles caused by the 4-wheeled creatures that take the back roads. It was very handy to have our poles to balance our creeping around the edges through the pricker bushes.
The villages were especially cute today, tiny stone clusters, smaller on the inside than the outside. You’d walk down the main street and see 2-storey buildings; then down an outdoor staircase, around the corner, and realize that the buildings were actually 4 or 5 storeys tall, built into the hill. Lizards tiny and large alike ran along the rocks—some up to 6 inches tall and bright green—as did the single most enormous slug ever seen, 5 inches at a minimum.
We also began to recognize what the whiff of vinegar meant. One town had every basement door open and a sharp reek emanating out of them: it was the new wine. In assorted gardens we found the grape must, all skins and seeds, dumped on the earth and still fermenting. Everyone in the country seemed busy working on the grapes and transporting caskets of wine.
After about 31 km, we were on the outskirts of Aulla, our day’s desination. Once again we were thrown on the highway without sidewalk or shoulder. We went aways along it and then spotted our crew’s camper parked in a grocery store lot. Having had it with taking our life into our hands, we hopped a ride the last 3 km into town. This time there was no nearby parking place, so we have made it up moving back and forth between camper and pilgrim hostel.
We also met there another pilgrim for the very first time on this whole pilgrimage! Mario has been working his way to Rome since Mt. Geneva in Switzerland. He’s a Catholic but as it turns out he knew of Martin Luther and thought he was a great man with much to offer all Christian churches. Are we providentially meeting the handful of Italians who are fans of Luther, or is there a growing interest in the reformer in this most unlikely of places?