This time it was a fog-free morning. In fact it was a perfectly clear, very cold morning, the kind that sharpens your senses as you walk along. The whole tan and brown landscape lay before us, just turning orange and golden as the sun rose over the hills. (The fun thing about early morning walking in the hills is that you get to see the sun rise and set several times in rapid succession). It was quite a lot of up and down but never too far one way or the other, and plenty of flat stretches in between. We said our usual morning prayers and finished up the Purgatorio.
Later in the morning we passed a short stretch on the highway—a highway with a generous shoulder and mercifully wide lanes, I might add—when, randomly it seemed, a driver coming toward us pulled over, parked, and hopped out hailing us. It turns out that Massimiliano is the president of the confraternity of Via Francigena pilgrims in Lazio, the province of Italy that Rome is in and that we’ll enter tomorrow. He recognized us by all the telltale signs of pilgrimhood: walking poles, backpacks, and silly hats, and told us time and again how “fortunati” we were to be spotted by him because he had in his hands, hot off the presses, the latest edition of two trail guides for the northern half of Lazio. He gave us copies of each while plying us with advice in exuberant Italian generously peppered with French and English; we responded in a pidgin of our own, and all was fairly mutually intelligible. He himself has marked and painted a number of the wayposts and he assured us we’d have no trouble finding the path all the way to St. Peter’s.
Shortly after that we started the uphill segment of our day’s track, giving a wide berth en route to some very dedicated sheepdogs, and stopped briefly to have lunch with a good view of the vistas behind us. Then we made our way up the last 5 km, steadily but not too steeply ascending the whole way, to Radicófani, which is—you guessed it—a Tuscan hilltop town, and happily a relatively untouristed one again. We went all the way to the top where we found the church of San Pietro, as well as Ginny and Zeke exploring the neighborhood, so we checked into our hostel, which is a particularly big and beautiful one, if stone-cold. Of course, it’s made of stone, so why shouldn’t it be?
We’d arrived mid-afternoon so we were headed back down the camper to work on dinner when who should find us again but the very same Massimiliano. This time he had a new gift—a radiantly reflective yellow vest. He warned us of crazy drivers and that, it seems, it is technically illegal for pedestrians to walk along the highways. (Which makes us wonder yet again why they route the Via Francigena along them.) And the police will arrest us if they catch us without the reflective vests on. (Though we have had plenty of police cars drive past us and they have never expressed the slightest interest in us.) Nevertheless, anything to warn the drivers seems like a good idea to us, so we gratefully accepted the gift. He also gave us a little metal square stamped with a symbol of the Via Francigena, to put by our front door when we get back home. And some more advice on safety, tracking, and what to do when we arrive in the holy city.
The evening’s project, since we had a little more time, was to try a recipe out of the little book of Tuscan cooking that Ginny picked up for me: the homey vegetable-and-bread stew called ribollita. We’d tried it twice before in restaurants, and we found it both wondrously healthy and very heartening for cold autumn evenings. A pilgrimage is definitely not primarily a gustatory adventure, but this particular attempt was a rousing success. It’ll be a keeper for when we all go back home.
Speaking of which, exactly one week from today we arrive in Rome! Many thanks to all of you who have kept up with us so faithfully in the last 63 days—we’re down to the home stretch now.