Sunday, 23 March
From the start of this trip a stillness comes over my mind as I try and reason with myself on this odyssey ( I’m guessing this is a coping mechanism and really im just in shock). Though I’m struggling a bit due to my lack of italian, gaining my bearings with cultural overload, lugging this very over weight rucksack around and realizing my preparation is no where near what it should be; three days into this and so far i’m still blessed at the end of the day.
My final day in Rome i met with Sister Eleanor in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican. From Missouri originally and a biological sister of a friend’s friend, she was truly an angel. Visiting as we walked around a very crowded Vatican, she then invited me back to her residence, a “visiting convent” three blocks ( large Roman blocks) from the Vatican accommodating Sisters who are in Rome studying, meeting or on sabbatical such as Sister Eleanor. The other sisters in the house were so warm and hospitable, nine in total from all parts of the world, they shared conversation and while writing down Sr. Vilemna’s recipe for Chicken Bysani, a neighboring
SirLankan family brought by a feast of a dinner for the nuns; the same dish along with a delicious rice and leeks, curry with what seemed to be potatoes, sweet chili chicken and homemade papadum…. After a long evening of wonderful conversation and a comfortable bed and shower, i awoke warmly departing from Sr. Eleanor and headed to St. Peters Basilica for my Pilgrims Passport stamp. One last look on a peaceful Sunday morning with only a few tourists yet inside, it was a very awe inspiring space one must view for themselves to fully understand.
And then my journey really began. I must clarify that this “pilgrimage” is not like others. I am traveling more than “searching” and the challenge of this entire trail is to severe for my out of shape, over-fed physic. I will be surprised to even make it to Siena!
I had decided to travel by train the very first leg of this journey (Yes, i know already “cheating”, right out of the blocks) but under advisement of most of the travel guides that the journey from Rome to LaSorta is a bit treacherous almost completely on main highways through through the suburbs. However while on the train I began chatting with the conductor who recommend skipping that stop and traveling on to the next where a bus could take me over to the next leg of the journey, Campangona Di Roma, a lovely medieval town. Of course as the train pulled into station i discovered NO bus service on sunday! After a brief “conversation” with a local pointing out the direction and shaking his head with a chuckle, i began my “hike”. All on country roads, on a slow incline, in the rain, and at about the 8 mile point i realized i was going to have to walk on the motorway for about a mile and a half. I did not know if I should be laughing or crying. I sucked it up and did it, arriving at a small shop just off the hwy for directions, the girl at the counter was kind but we weren’t communicating, then a customer spoke up. Mariella, with her
adorable 4 yr old daughter spoke in english that Campagnano was still a good 3 miles away and if i would wait a few she would come back and drive me into the church. While waiting the nice shop gal and i “communicated” a bit more and she ended up sharing her recipe for a local favorite of spicy pasta. Mariella and wide-eyed Anastasia arrived back and loaded me up. She was once a backpacker and understood my trials today, she attended the church and knew they accommodated “pilgrims” such as myself. She spoke of Campagnano di Roma being famous for their carciofo (artichokes) and how evey May a big festival is held celebrating this vegetable with a massive grilling of this sumptuous veg that one must arrive early in the morning if you want a taste. Here you can get beautiful purple hued artichokes 10 for 5€, just heavenly along with all the fresh citrus, strawberrys are in season and you can get fresh local apples year round.
Parting with the wonderful Mariella at the church where another neighbor, who asked ANOTHER neighbor where Fr. Lorenzo migh be, loading me up and taking me to the parish hall where some of the parishioners had gathered for his birthday. I was invited in and then began the procession of jovial parish ladies in colorful aprons parading out a fabulous Italian lunch of pastas, the famous Campagnano artichokes (which are in season from Nov. to May here), zucchini blossoms, and lamb chops all lightly battered and fried and a heavenly strawberry & custard cake. The meal was full of laughter and the spirit of community was rich.
The Bishop of the district even made a surprise visit had shared in lunch and celebration, what a special moment and a stark contrast to not even 2 hours earlier when i was rain soaked, hiking the side of the highway and wondering what the hell I was doing.
I was handed a huge plate of leftovers and shown across the road to the old catholic school building (now community center) where they accommodate pilgrims. A little nap and then i headed out for a walk around the medieval city center before evening mass. Perhaps not the Ritz, but comfortable enough especially as i awoke to thunder and rain slapping the windows in the wee hours and nodding back off thinking how lucky i was to not
have to be in my tent this night. The next morning i was off for Sutri, with no idea where the trail actually was and the only directions found was all motorway. After a 2 mile hike out of Campagnona Di Roma, on the bus i shamelessly hopped, to Sutri.
Two bus rides (free, thanks to very kind drivers!!) along all main roads and 30 minutes later; I arrived in Sutri a lovely medieval town atop cliffs reminiscent of the Etruscans (8th-7th century BC) style which is prevalent in this region. The town center featured a pedestrian piazza with ancient fountain, typical narrow winding streets
leading to thick walls looking down on beautiful rolling countryside, and a stately church where upon my arrival to its step a little old lady carrying groceries asked me a question pointing to the church. Neither of us understanding but confirming i was going inside, she laid down her basket against the wall, took me by the hand and led me inside to the front altar, showing me the way to the tombs beneath dating from the 11th century. I was gleeful and thanked her, she parting with a typical italian double cheeked kiss goodbye. Rather large, very well preserved and not much down there but definitely a little gem, one of many i found in Sutri. From the old Italian man wanting to practice his english with me and sharing his love of the beautiful area, to the nice shop lady who came out to chat (in Italian mind you) as i sat on a bench sharing my leftover lamb with a cat, to finding a bit of wifi while soaking up some Roman sun. A lovely spot to stop if wandering the roads this way, with many ancient sites nearby including a roman amphitheater build into some natural cliffs.
Still no definite on the where abouts of the trail, and my feet not complaining, i caught the bus to Viterbo, skipping the next leg of Vetralla recommended by the shop lady. The 30 minute bus ride brought a completely new landscape to the window, coming out of winding curves laced with cliffside caves to fields of freshly turned rich black soil and so many orchards, many of which i think were almond and olive trees. I arrived in Viterbo unsure but at least ive now mastered how to ask where the catholic church is in Italian, but Viterbo is a city and blessings that deserves its own post ! Ciao for now….
Walked Miles: 16