Walking through Italy, visiting cities and towns, I could not help but be impressed by the solid, sturdy construction of Italian roads and buildings. Like ancient Roman constructions, modern Italian constructions look like they are built to last....and last....and last. With thousands of years of practice, I guess they have had time to perfect the art of road building, and monument construction. :-)
I then got to thinking about other cultures. If Italians contribution to the global community is construction, (and who builds rock walls in Australia better than an Italian stonemason? )
Then what do other cultures contribute to the global community?
The obvious one that came to mind was the Germans. German engineering must lead the world. Look at German cars and German tools - none better. So Germans contribute engineering skills to the global village.
What then do the French contribute to the global community? Hmmm.. their food is good, but so is Italian and Spanish. In fact, I would say in my opinion, Italian and Spanish are equally good if not better - French cuisine, while delighful, is a little rich for my liking. French cheeses are wonderful, but so are Italian cheeses. French fashion is great, but so is Italian. Okay trying to define what the French uniquely contribute to the global community is a little too hard for tonights musings.
What then about the British? My ancestry is British, my parents were Brits, but trying to think through what the Brits contribute to the global community is even harder than trying to think through the French contribution. Sorry mum and dad. Well, I guess there is manners. The Brits do seem to be more polite than a lot of races. Italians barging onto ferries comes to mind. that would never happen in Britain. Spaniards, Indians and Italians queue jumping - that would never happen in Britain. Ok, I guess the Brits could teach the world some manners. Happy mum?
An area where us anglo-philes do fall down badly is in the sense of community. Italians, and indeed many other cultures, including South East Asian cultures, have a strong cohesive sense of community that is amazing to this Australian outsider.
I lived in Indonesia for several months. There, the whole community feels a sense of responsibility for each other. If a child misbehaves in the street, any member of the community that is nearby will chastise the child, and send it home with a few harsh words, or a clip over the ear. The parents will hear about the mischief often before the child even makes it home, and the parents will chastise the child again for being chastised. The result is that kids actually generally behave themselves. Why play up when there is no way they can get away with it?
The sense of community responsibility is so strong in Central Java, that I was unable to take my normal evening walking exercise. Why? Because women are not supposed to walk unaccompanied in the strongly Muslim country. I felt that as an obvious foreigner, I could get away with taking my exercise. Wrong! Each evening for the first few weeks I would set off at a brisk pace. Within 100 metres of home, one of the local gents, would pull up alongside me on his scooter, and invite me to get on the back of the scooter, saying "I will accompany you home sister Linda".
No amount of explanation on my part about customs in my country, or the need for exercise, would sway his gentle encouragement to get on his scooter so he could take me home. His intentions were to protect my honour. I tried for several weeks to win the argument to take some regular exercise. But I never made it more than 150 metres from home before he turned up saying "I will accompany you home sister Linda". I had to get on the scooter and he would take me to my door and bid my goodnight.
In the end I bought a bicycle. I got my exercise that way. So Indonesia, other South East Asian countries and some European countries, such as Italy, could constribute a sense of community to the global village.
What can other countries contribute to the global village I wonder?
The track from Monterosso to Vernazza is not a long distance but it is up and over a couple of mountains . So it is not for the unfit as it is arduous - but the coastal scenery is magnificent. Originally the track was for villagers harvesting their mountain crops. Grapes, lemons, tomatoes, olives and capsicum (bell peppers) are grown on terraces on the steep mountain sides. This picture is of Vernazza.
Being mid September and mid week we thought that there would be no problem finding accommodation in Cinque Terre as the tourist season is over and the Europeans have gone back to work. Wrong. Cinque Terre was busy. So glad it is not tourist season, it would be wall to wall people in season I reckon.
Cinque Terre is five villages perched on mountainside along the west coast of Italy all within walking distance – that was the attraction – an easy walk.
It is breathtaking scenery, as you can see from the picture, but it is busy. We could not get accommodation at Riomaggiore, the start of the five villages, and we could not get parking. In fact, every place we rang along the coast was fully booked. A young chap overheard us discussing that we should try the far village next, Monterosso. At that he piped up and said that his mother had a room in Monterosso. We were dubious, but desperate, so we took it.
The drive to Monterosso is a zig zagging cliff perching rally lovers dream and the room is brilliant, one of the best I have stayed at in Italy this trip, large, comfortable and well equipped. We were very grateful to the young chap for putting us on to it.
Today was an explore Monterosso day, tomorrow will be explore the coast.
Had heard that La Spezia was a major tourist and holiday attraction in Italy. People commute to work in Milan on the high speed express train to be able to live here, so was expecting something very special. It is situated in a gulf so I guess it must be pretty well protected from weather extremes. However, we didn’t bother stopping when we reached La Spezia as it looked more like a Navy and general dock yard than a tourist attraction. In short we were disappointed. It may have been a dreamy place once, but all of the dock and industrial installations in the area, we felt, spoilt it. We kept on going. This photo is taken from the top of the mountain leaving La Spezia.
Venice - Sunday
A few days rest, then a few days work, now it's Venice. A ferry ride to Zatere in the rain and it was not boding well for a fine day in the land of water, but the rain and grey clouds passed and the sun came shone on a totally incredible city. Walking through Venice is like walking back through time, the architecture is stunning. Cobbled streets, quaint shops with fabulous merchandise, of course the canals and the intricate gondolas with handsome Italian men 'paddling', is that the word?
I love Venice, it is compact, architecturally beautiful with unbelievable ancient bridges and an history that goes back further than I, as an Aussie, could comprehend.
It is September, but we did our Christmas shopping, the merchandise was of such superb quality and was so unique, that we could not pass up the opportunity. There is gorgeous, and I mean gorgeous in the true sense of the word, Murani Glass ware in every conceivable design, exquisite leather goods, intricate silver ware, theatre masks with the elegant feathers, hand woven scarves, wonderful linen, I could keep on raving. And the clothes - wow! What style the Venetians have.
Now I want to come back next year to go shopping again. J
After Venice, we had another day of work in a small village at the foot of the Alps, and there was snow on the Alps that made them look like post cards.
Got on the bus this morning in Luni and asked the driver the cost. He shook his head and waved me in to the bus.
Was it because I am a pilgrim, i wondered, or should I have bought a ticket somewhere else? Confused, but grateful, I perched myself with my pack still on my back onto a seat and enhoyed the ride to Sarzana.
Back in Sarzana I asked the bus driver what direction the railway stations was. He pointed me the right and off I trotted. At the railway station, I discovered my wallet was missing. Shock! Horror!
I ran back to the bus terminal. I knew I had the wallet on the bus. I must ghave dropped in on the seat in all my confusion. The bus had gone. Mio Dio! What was I gong to do now?
At the ticket office I explained as best <i could to the man behind the window what had happened. He shrugged his shoulders and said something that sounded like there was nothing he could do and maybe it had been stoken.
I asked him if the bus driver had a phone. I felt sure that if the bus driver found the wallet he would hand it in. There had been four middle aged housewives on the bus, I felt that if any of them had found it they would hand it in too. But if anyone else got ont he bus after me – well – goodbye wallet.
'Non?, he said, the driver did not have aphone. Come back at 4pm when the bus returns, I thought he way satying, but I was flustered and not really certain. I looked around at the queue behind me 'anyone speak Englihs?' I asked. A lot shaking of heads followed. Then a woman came up and said in Italian something about the police and I gathered she was offering to take to the police station.
We set off at a run. At the police station she ran back to catch her bus and I tried to convicne a disintrested police man that I should file a report. Phone the bus company he seemed to be saying. I tried to give him my name and details but he didn't want to know.
My credit cards were in my wallet. I had some Auistralian dollars in my money, but unless I found accommodation in convents I was not going to have enough money to last until John arrives on Friday. I needed abank now to change my Australian dollars into euro.
The bank teller spoke English. It was such a relief to be able to converse. I told him story. He was very sympathetic but told me my wallet was probably stolen at the train station. That happens in Italy he said. I din't really need to hear that. I had heard all the stories about pick pockets in italy. But I was trying to stay positive and hopeful until I had to accept otherwise, and that was a 4pm when the bus returned.
Now I needed a toilet and I was hungry. I knew there was a free toilet at the railway station and a bar – the food there was probably cheap. If I didn't get my wallet back I now had to budget my money very carefully.
I walked intot he bar to check out the price of the paninis. As I looked at the rolls, someone tapped me on the shoulder. In my tense state, I was startled to say the least.
'Did you find the Via Francigen?' a man asked. I recognised him as being someone I had asked directions yesterday. I told him what had happened. The bar tender over heard – and he spoke English.
It was now 2 hours since I lost my wallet. He offered to phone the bus company and handle it for me in Italian. A few minutes later, he hung up the phone smiling. 'You are lucky, the wallet has been found.
I ran back to the bus terminal. Thew man at the ticket office smiled at my excited query and wrote a phone number on a piece of paper and told me to phone the number. I thought he was saying that the wallet is at Aulla.
I rang the number and gathered I thought that yes the wallet was at Aulla but I could not understand where in Aulla. Una momento I asked the man and ran back to the railway station to the bar. I asked the bar tender to call and find out where in Aulla I had to go to collect the wallet. He was happy to help. At the railway station in the bar at 5.30pm a man would arrive with my wallet I was to wait for him there until then.
Grazxie, Grazie. Back to the bus terminal I aksed the man behind the window of the ticket office, where I should catch the bus to Aulla. He sold me a ticket and pointed at a waiting bus gesticulating urgently. I raced over and jumped ont he bus.
Some time later, as there were nos signs on the towns that we passed as we headed back up into the mountians, I noticed road signs appearing for Aulla. Good. then as we turned away from where the signs were pointing I wondered now, are we taking a detour to pick up villagers or do I have a problem here.
I asked the bus driver to tell me when we were in the vicinity of the Aulla railway station. A look of horror on his face told me that yes, we do have a problem. He stopped the bus in the middle of the road. Definitely do have a problem here. He prattled away about something about a bridge, and 5 or 6 kilometres back. I gathered that is where I should have got off.
Another 5 or 6 kilometreds back to the bridge somewhere in Tuscany and around the corner I found a bus stop with a timetable on it that had a listing for Aulla. I had just missed a bus by 15 minutes and had 45 minutes to wait for the next - I thought.
Once in Aulla, the railway station was another 5 or 6 kilometres away from the bus terminal - silly town! I got the railway station at around 4.30pm and waited. At 5.30pm a man walked in as though he was looking for someone.
'Linda Stanley?' I asked him. He looked relieved. He piled me into his car and took me back to his office. Retrieved my wallet from his safe and offered me a coffee to celebrate. It was a strong desterspoon of coffee and a desertspoon of sugar stirred into it.
Grazie, I said as we downed the celebratory drink.
It was close to midnight before I reached Milan and began walking to find a hotel for the night. Phew!
This is the beginning of the section of the trek that I have been looking forward to – (1) Tuscany and (2) no more mountains.
Trying to find the way of Sdarzana though was very difficult. Around 80% of the people I asked had never heard of the Via Francigena and of the other 20%, nobody seemed to know, or agree, on where it probably was.
The maps I had didn't help. I had three different maps of the Via Francigena and each showed an entirely different route.
I found this problem all along the way, but now it was ridiculous as being in a city, the number of road otpionss to choose from, made finding a correct route a huge challenge.
The authors of the Lightfoot Guidebook, created their own route, which mostly did not follow the Via Francigena markers when they did exits, and thus only added to the total confusion of the trek.
I knew the Via Francigena went through Luni, and there was an ancient monument in Luni that was worth seeing. So I decided finally that the only logical option was to do as the Lightfoot Guide had recommended and take the main road.
Big mistake! I found Luni, but the road was a busy one, narrow and winding with crash barriers on the sides. It was dangerous as cars hooned round the bends and there was again nowhere for me to escape. I could see myself getting plstered against a crash barrier by an Italian practicing for the Grand Prix.
Walking on the hard bitumen was sending sharp shooting burning knives of pain through my feet. To make it worse, I had been expecting scenic countryside and quaint villages, but the road wound through an urban area – so boring.
I am feeling fed up with the bad signage, a trail that is difficult to find, putting my life at risk walking on dangerous roads. And now it is ugly boring suburbia. To top it all off, it is very lonely. It is certainly not a trail to walk alone. On the Via Francigena the lack of pilgrim refuges means you have to expensive hotels and that in turn means at the end of the day you are alone yet again.
Very few people have even heard of the Via Francigena so trying to find it, or stay on it, is a daily challenge.
Tonight I stripped off to have a shower feeling pretty jaded with the whole walking on roads thriough suburbia thing and discovered I had rubbed my hip raw during the day. Must have been from my backpack. And, massive angry raised red welts have appeared on my legs. Concerned about he welts spreading and the wound becoming infected, I dediced – that's enough. Time to pack it in.
I enjoyed the mountainous sections of the Via Francigena as hard as they were, but I do not enjoy this flat land section at all. It is the part of the Via Francigena that I had been most looking forward to reaching, and now I am here I hate it.
I thought Luni was going to be a village. Instead it is suburbia. I went in search of the ancient monument and found there is an archaeological research site based on Roman ruins. It made Luni worthwhile. There is an amazing Roman amphitheatre as well. But it was closed until 5pm and I am too tired to return. So I contented myself with peeping through the fence.
Tomorrow I will head back to Milan. I have three days left and I will now spend them resting up in Milan. Goodbye Via Francigena.
By the time I reached Sarzana I was in the foothills of the mountains and with a manual scan on the Blackberry got a new provider that enabled email access.
Sarzana is an ancient city with a cathedral. Father pedro at the cathedral, stamped my pilgrim passport for me and asked me to put in a good word for him with God when I get to rome – I think – my Italian is improving but it is still very basic tourist level.