Monday, 24 March
Viterbo, an ancient city built some say by Hercules, definitely civilized by the Etruscans, and since seen centuries of Popes, politics, war and growth. But here i found inspiration and the most delicious pork!
I arrived as usual, wandering in search of a church and hoping to find the actual Via Fracigena trail. Every block along this wander brought something wonderful for the eyes; a piazza, a fruit stand, an ancient fountain, a tower, a quaint church, and then i saw it.. My first actual signage for the Via Franigena right in the middle of this medieval district. I bit of relief to know i was close, and inspiration to keep on walking-no buses tomorrow! I arrived at the Cathedral of Lorenzo, to look for evidence of the ancient temple of Hercules it is said to be built upon, but instead found some lovely and seemingly uncharacteristic interior columns and typical yet beautiful Italian era art and adornments. I also arrived during a prayer session, after which one of the seminary students graciously stamped my pilgrims passport and as i headed off winding my way up the ancient narrow street towards the next church, thinking that the afternoon was slipping away and i need to start looking for someplace to sleep i heard someone shout from their car, ‘hey, you Pelligrino???…” I turned to see an older man, pointing to a sticker in his back window, a Via Francigena sticker of a pilgrim silhouette on a white and red flag. Him really only italian and me really only english, somehow we communicated. He was a pilgrim too from Viterbo and would take me to the “ospitalieri”, pilgrim accommodations. Come to find out, this was no ordinary pilgrim; this was Domenico. A main volunteer with the ospitalier, a man who had not only walked the Via Francigena from Switzerland to Bari Italy (twice!), but also the Camino de Santiago 6 times, and 3 others I cant remember at the moment!, as well as the caretaker for the Cathedral.
He made a quick phone call, squeezed my rucksack in his backseat and off we went to the far side of the walled town. Behind the Augustinian monastery, we arrived at an old 3 story stone tower built into the ancient city wall, the emblem of the Via Francigena (V.F.) welcoming you at the door. We were greeted by three other volunteers who were awaiting my arrival with handshakes and hospitality. I can not explain to you the relief that over came me. FINALLY i had found it the V.F.! They were locals of Viterbo, all well seasoned pilgrims with thousands upon thousands of miles underfoot, who along with a few others maintain and manage this pilgrims hostile. We sat for over an hour them getting me registered in, graciously answering all my questions, sharing our stories, providing a map for the next leg, telling me my bag was way too heavy for this trip and me telling them its all lipstick and whiskey (jokingly of course!) They were a warm wealth of information and the accommodations were more than i ever could have hoped for! They ask for
only a 10€ fee but its the best 10€ ive ever spent! A lovely heated room, hot showers, a snack, laundry area (albeit old school i now could at least clean my skivies and socks!) THEY were an amazing and inspirational group of volunteers, providing a devoted service and accommodation hardly found on this less traveled 1700km pilgrims trail. I am no pilgrim i am simply a traveler, trying just a small taste of a very large pie, one of which i probably will never complete unlike them – the true Pilgrims of the Via Francigena.
How lucky i was that the day of my departure was 25th Festa dell’ Annunziata- A celebration of Mary, the Madonna. Held every year across the medieval walled city, EVERY piazza fills with vendors for the largest market day i have ever seen! You name it, you can find it here. Unfortunately, at the end of my cruise about the markets i realized my camera was on video mode and so i only have a few stills to share. I did splurge a little grabbing some local olives and almonds for the days journey, but my most delicious discovery was the Pork vendor, shaving the most heavenly slices of pork into fresh italian buns. The whole pork cut was stuffed with dill and red chili flakes, perhaps a bit of salt as well and then apparently smoked. It took every ounce of will power to hold off till mid way through my days hike to Montefiascone, not to chomp into it!
Viterbo- A city one must include in their travels if ever near this part of Italy, accessible by a vey scenic two lane highway or by train this ancient city has many layers to be seen. From foundations and columns dating to BC, to an evident evolution and growth over the centuries, Viterbo boasts one of the best preserved medieval walled towns with complete architectural examples spanning the entire period. One must not miss the San Pelligrino district or the cathedral of the popes or any of the other numerous churches, piazzas, and lovely narrow windy streets. And i hear there are some Etruscan tombs near by which i hope to discover tomorow.
Miles walked: 8