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Walking along the Via Romea Germanica from Stade, near Hamburg, in Germany south through Austria and Italy to Rome.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Chuisa la Verna – Day 88 on a high point of the Via Romea Germanica.

What a day – one of the most challenging I have had on any of my journeys, and certainly the most difficult on this way.  It began well enough with a few kilometres of gentle climb before hitting the first of two big climbs taking us from around 400 metres up to over 1,200 metres.  After the rain of the previous day the day dawned fresh and clear.  Indeed it was one of the clearest days I have had thus far, with little haze.

Once we had left the outskirts of Bagno di Romagna we crossed the road and headed up into the mountains, often walking on the remnants of an old Roman Road probably used to walk pack mules across the mountains.  Both Jill and I were pleased with how we went up the mountain.  We arrived at the first high point and had a rest and something to eat – we had bought a pizza each the night before to eat during the course of the day.  After a brief rest we continued on up, and up, and up.  We were very pleased with ourselves when we reached the top of the pass, but the difficult part was about to start. 
A king sized "bike" ornament (you can see my poles as a measure)
The start of the climb, and the Roman road (referred to as ancient engineering in our guide), and below a Roman Bridge corssing a stream part way up.

We rested here (right), beofre the path increased in steepness.
The top of the first part of the climb at Nasseto (below) had wonderful views (above)

The higher we went the bigger the views.

We descended a little off the pass and then the heart stopping work began.  There are lots of eroded mountains / hills here in this region of Italy.  On our guide it calls them the “badlands”, and we had to cross a section of them.  This part of the path went across the this section of loose shale, with ravines on both sides of us.  It was only about 500 metres across, but there were a couple of patches that were very difficult.  I got down on my backside for one part, and had to climb out of another section on my knees.  We were quite elated when we finally got across, and absolutely stunned a few minutes later when a mountain biker came along, warning us that there were 20 more mountain bikers heading down the hill shortly.  Neither of us could comprehend riding a bike across and were so glad we didn’t meet them while we were on this stretch – there was no way we could have got out of the way!  We had more to climb, and after this group had passed us we watched from a distance as they crossed this ridge one by one.  

The path crossing  the "heart stopping" section of the track (below) - I'll let the photos tell the tale.

Jill is heading up the path, and the last of the cyclists are setting off down the path and about to tackle that section of the path above!  Rather them than me!

Our goal for the evening was La Verna, the Santuario so loved by St Frances.  I had been looking forward to staying here, but it wasn’t to be.  Despite the fact that we knew we had a bed, the distance, and our walking pace were such that there was no way we would reach there in time to get a bed.  After crossing Mount Calvano we tried to ring somewhere to stay, but had no reception.  Light was fading and so we decided we would just take the road down to the village.  We arrived in the midst of a very busy Saturday night dinner, but got a room in the same Albergo that Julie and I had stayed in when we walked the Cammino di Assisi.

Earlier in the afternoon we had tried to get to la Verna by asking a couple we met if they could help us by driving us a few kilometres.  Not sure what we said, but they didn’t drive us, instead they escorted us – at a great pace – to the turn off up the mountain.  It was about 3 kilometres along the road, but these people were intent on frog marching us to the turn off.  Jill and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, as it was obvious we wouldn’t make it in time (we had to be there by 6.30).  Adding an extra 3kms of zig zag road down to the village meant that we didn’t arrive till dusk.  We were 13 hours on the road that day – and very tired, but satisfied at our achievements. 
Looking towards La Verna, in the distance.
Crossing Mount Calvano had some fairly high undergrowth, along with sweeping views.

We put on hold till the next day our visit to the Santuario – but that is for the next post.  

Monday, 25 June 2018

Cusercoli, Santa Sofia & Bagno di Romagna – Day 85, 86 & 87 along the road.

The days to Cusercoli and Santa Sofia were easy walking, apart from the heat, though the third day, to Bagno di Romagna, was hard work.  Walking to Cuscercoli we had our first climb, a nice gentle one fortunately as this was the first uphill since before Ferrara.  Leaving Forli we meandered past fields of wheat.  It was beautifully shady, though humid.  At one point a solitary walker strode towards us saying “bella passegiata” as he strode past.  For the second time we passed a golf course.  This one came with a lake on its perimeter, and a flash club house overlooking it. 

After  climbing  the hill, and taking numerous  photos of the  view we dropped  down  into  the little town of Meldola. We stopped  at a bar  here for a cold drink and it was here that we had our first bit of excitement for the day! Jill went off to use the bathroom  facilities and seemed to be taking an abnormally long time.  Fortunately I had just taken out my tablet and got a message from her.  She was locked in the toilet!  I mimed to the bar lady that she was stuck, and the man (her son I think) at the bar went to her assistance.  The woman was giving advice, he was on the outside yelling “back, back” and apparently Jill was on the other side pinned to the wall – half expecting the door to be broken down. He then said to pass the key under the door, but the only problem was that it was tied securely to the door and there was no way she could get it off.  After watching the pantomime for a few minutes I intervened with my directions and told her to pull the key half out of the lock and she was able to make a successful exit!
Leaving Forli we followed a levee bank .......,,,,,,,,then aroun fields,
,,,,,,,before heading up and over a hill into Meldola
Sharing the road with cylists

We plodded on towards our abode on top of the hill at Cusercoli.  A lady generously escorted us to the office of Alberto where a couple of members of the Via Romea team led us to our room for the night – in a castle!  We were perched right on top of the mountain overlooking the town which sits on the banks of the river.  It was a very comfortable room with two beds – not bunks – a great bathroom, and kitchen facilities (which we didn’t use).  After the usual routine of washing – ourselves and our clothes, we headed out to eat.  We first had to find a money machine so we could pay for food, and then the only eating place open where we could get food.  Standing on a corner dithering about where we should be going a car pulled up, with the driver asking if we were looking for the Piadina cafe.  It turned out it was Alberto who we had rung earlier to confirm our arrival time.  He kindly drove us the few hundred metres to the place, pointing out where the path was to go the next day as we went.  
Our castle accomdation at Cuserxoli

The view of Cisercoli from our accomodation (left), & Alberto

The next day, heading to Santa Sofia we had regular (very) ups and (very) downs.  Most of the way was along shady forest paths, but the steep inclines were a taste of what was to follow in a few days. Stopping at a bar at Civitella di Romagna we had a second breakfast and decided to ask the girls in the bar if there was a more direct way to Galeata the next village and fairly close by road, but a long way on the path – in the heat of the midday sun!  We got a long involved hand written note from them, using google translate, on how to get to Santa Sofia!  They would have taken us miles out of our way.  We had to tell a furphy and say we were just going to look at the river (we were actually going to ignore their directions and follow the path).  The next few hours were hard work, up and over a steep hill, through fields and down to the village of Galeata where we decided it was gelati time.  Another toilet for Jill to lock herself firstly out of, then in!  She is now being very careful with doors!  It was here that we were impressed with the barman’s English and no wonder – he was from Manchester!
The views along the was to Civitella di Romagna


Civitella di Romagna 
Looking back towards Civitella di Romagna


Jill decided to catch the bus to Santa Sofia as she was feeling the heat and I continued on.  It was a lovely path winding uphill through beautiful forest.  Near the end of the day though It was hard work, with the path being hard to distinguish amongst the weeds and I had to be particularly careful descending into the town of Santa Sofia that I didn’t twist an ankle  on rocks hidden amongst the vegetation.  
The church tower rising from the village of Pianetto - not far from Santa Sofia
The overgrown path heading into Santa Sofia
Santa Sofia (above and below)

We had a room in a beautiful B & B which was really an apartment well on the way for the next day at the top end of the town.  We were ready nice and early for a departure to beat the heat, but that attempt was foiled as, just as she closed the door, Jill realised that her walking poles were still inside!  After some procrastination we decided to ring the owner to let us back in.  Eventually Luca came along and let us in and, poles retrieved, we set off – uphill!
Our accomodation in Santa Sofia and Jill trying to wake our hostess to retrieve her poles.

This was a hard day, though it began easily enough, despite the climb.  The path took us through some fields which was fine, but then we went “scrub bashing”, wading through waist high grass or clambering across the top of it.  It was so thick that we could not see where our feet were landing and we had to lift them high to avoid tripping on the tangle beneath.  We could barely see the signs peeking above the grass and by the time we got to the top we were pretty weary.  It was not over though because the path took us downhill around a field of clover, then up the side.  Here we had the rough edges of the paddock to contend with along with the crop which went right to the edge of the field.  
This part of the path was pretty cleaar and easy.
Looking down on Santa Sofia
Our bush bashing stretch.
A clover patch with poppies sprinkled throughout.

We were very high with lot of signs showing snow flakes and just as we were longing for a place to sit and rest (in the rain that had arrived) a restaurant appeared.  A lovely hot lunch of Tagliatelle followed – in the company of a Welshman whose accent was so broad that we found him almost as hard to understand as our Italian speaking hosts.  We stopped and waited for the rain to stop and headed off, though the rain returned soon after.  The path went along the crest of the hills, initially following the road, first turning into a dirt track, then into a sticky clay path.  We grew a few inches and picked up an a companion – a dog!  This dog, a lovely black one, would not leave us.  We kept trying to send him home, but he did not understand English!  In the end, about five kilometres later we rang the owner, quickly gave the phone to some poor unsuspecting farmer, who sorted it for us by tying the dog up and telling the owner where it was and cheerfully waving us off.  

We stopped to try and call tthe dogs owner several times, without success.

The whole fiasco of the scrub bashing, the rain, the mud, and the dog made us very late, and so when we arrived in San Piero in Bagno we hopped on a bus for the last few kilometres.  We had reserved a room with the Poor Clare nuns in Bagno di Romagna, a spar town, and despite the fact that we had tried to catch up time we still missed them as they had gone to Mass.  That solved it for us.  We were debating about when to eat, and so we sat down and had dinner while we waited for the nuns to return.  Thinking back, this was the day we asked others to use the phone and negotiate for us.  While we had lunch the very friendly owner of the Albergo rang the nuns and booked a room for us, the man sorted out the dog issue, and lastly we got the girl in the bar to ring Alberto for us.  Alberto is a reporter with the local paper and while on the muddy path he had sent a message asking to meet us.  We got the girl in the bar to ring him and organise when and  where to meet. 

The nuns were wonderful – smiley, chatty (in Italian) and very helpful.  Jill is travelling on a NZ passport, and the nun entering the required data into the computer wasn’t able to enter her details.  Thus Jill had to become a secretary over breakfast and enter her own data, selecting the Italian word for New Zealand. 

San Piero in Bagno
Our accomodation with the Poor Clare nuns (above) and the Church opposite (below)

The last day had been very challenging, but there was an even more challenging day to follow – but more of that next time!