Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Helping keep the Italian economy afloat!

We have been sweltering over the past few days as we have walked.  The heat, combined with the fact that I didn't add the kilometres properly when planning have meant that we have taken the easier way on several of the past few days! 

On Saturday we left our accomodation very early.  This was a night when we all slept very poorly.  Our  room was hot, and we had a number of mossies for company.  As a result we were on the road soon after 6.00a.m.  We were headed for San Miniato, a hilltop village spread along a ridge line.  We thought we had a tough hour or so walking along the road with no access to a bar - for breakfast - for several hours, but discovered that the path had been re-routed away from the road, and led us to a village where we could eat just after 7.00.  The waitress was impressed that Australians were walking the Via Francigena and her dream, like many we have met, is to one day go to Australia.  Sadly, I think those dreams will remain just that as it would be prohibitive cost wise for them to come to Australia I think. 

We trundled along stopping in another hilltop village - Fucechio - for a delicious salad for lunch and then braving a very hot walk along the levee bank of the River Arno.  By the time we got to the top of the hill we were absolutely exhausted, only to discover that the convent that we had planned to stay in was full.  Fortunately the Tourist office was open and they helped us get a room for the night.  I am so glad that we stayed in San Miniato as we saw a local custom in progress.  During the early part of the evening we heard whistles blowing, and when we got into the street after dinner we discovered that this is an old custom peculiar to this region of Tuscany.  People (mainly children I suspect) blow whistles and everyone carries paper lanterns around the town and gather near the Duomo.  I presume that it is to do with a patron Saint of the village, but no one was able to tell me. 
The tower at San Miniato

Marching with a paper lantern.

While we had dinner we came up with a plan to combat the heat and support the Italian economy!  We decided to catch a taxi part way down the road where that path intersected with the it, and walk from there.  This made our life much easier as we were able to get to the next hilltop village - San Gimignano - by early afternoon.  It was still plenty hot enough, but we still had energy to look around as well.  This town is amazing.  It is a medieval village, very touristy, but also very pleasant.  There are numerous towers from which wool was hung after dyeing to dry.  The story is that they also used to pour boiling oil down on their enemies - but not sure how true that is.  I was treated to an outdoor concert from a very good concert band from Florence while there. 

No it's not Manhattan - its San Gimigiano

Again we decided to help the economy the next day and caught another taxi part way along the route.  We were headed for another hilltop village called Monteriggioni.  This village is effectively a castle.  It has walls completely surrounding it, and 14 towers within the walls, although a couple of them are only as high as the walls these days.  Arriving at lunch time we were able to eat before settling into our accomodation in a former convent - now a specific pilgrim hostel. 
Approaching Monteriggioni

Monterrigioni, perched on the hilltop.

Carol and Elizabeth at the refuge window.

This morning we were up at 5.00 and on the road a half an hour later!  The only trouble is we lost the benefit of an early start!  As usual Carol and Elizabeth were ahead of me, and I was busy taking photos as we were leaving the town.  They disapeared, I thought, along the path marked VERY CLEARLY with red and white markers.  I blytheley continued along that road, thinking mean thoughts that they hadn't stopped for me.  In the meantime, they were thinking all sorts of thoughts about where I had got to because they had followed the EIGHT signs on the left, which I had failed to see!  I went on, they went back - right into town and up the hill again.  My path took me past a large house where a big dog joined me.  At first he wanted to play, but I was on a mission, and so he just went on ahead of me, up the hill, along a track that got narrower and rockier.  I couldn't work out why the other two hadn't stopped, but thought they would be at the top of what was a very steep hill - they weren't.  Part way up the hill my furry friend barked and yelped and came racing back to me tail erect.  Then I heard snorts and snuffles (wild boar type snuffles!)  in the bush.  My friend was glued to my side, only walking a step when I did, which was pretty slow as I had no idea what to do!  He became more relaxed and I continued, getting to the top and decidng to turn around as I must have been on the wrong path.  I retraced my steps about one and half kilomtres, found the markers and continued.  I had no idea if I was ahead or behind the others, and they had no idea where I was.  Apparently they made a decision to continue and if I didn't show up at the hotel by nightfall they would call the police!  It ended happily though as we re-connected at 10kilomtres, and then only had aonther 10 to go to get to Siena.
The last I saw of Carol and Elizabeth for a few hours! 
They turned left at the far edge of the olives grove, and I veered to the right and went up the hill behind!
My furry guard dog. 
He was the camera and sat down and posed!

The path today has been lovely.  much of it through forest or across shady fields.  As usual though the last few kilomtres were uphill into the town, and not at all shady!

I won't talk about Siena in this blog that can wait till next time.  But I will say that it is buzzing - the Palio is in a week's time. 

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