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Day 18 afternoon: Siena to Radicofani 48m(75km)

Total so far: 1173miles (1888kms)

This was the very first sign I saw pointing the way to Rome. Could I already hear the notoriously heavy traffic of the capital?

Afternoon route. This was to take me across the southern reaches of Tuscany, and the landscape was changing noticeably: lush vineyards were changing to the dark browns of the recently ploughed trees, and there was the constant drone of agricultural machinery. But it was a great surprise, and pleasure, to meet up with Filipe again, and he invited me to join him on the street terrace of a cafe. He is quietly convincing me of the virtues of a GPS on such journeys. His seems to keep him securely on the right track (most of the time!)

Radicofani. Although Filipe and I (both being independent spirits) didn’t stick together on the road, we made arrangements to meet at the end of the day. Getting to Radicofani required serious commitment. At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, I was faced with an 8km climb that would take me to just under 1000m above sea level. But the ospedale that awaited me, specially converted for pilgrims like myself, was superb. A lady who lived in this mountain top village showed me where everything was, including the food and drink, and simply suggested I might leave a small donation when I left. The interior of this cottage was modern and very clean, in fact, a bit too good for dirty walkers and cyclists like myself.

Supper. Filipe arrived as it was getting dark and, along with a Corsican walker, we prepared the biggest pan of pasta you could imagine, and a large bottle of vino rosso to go with it. Bliss! The ospedale obviously welcomed a lot of pilgrims who were journeying from Rome to Santiago (or vice versa) as evidenced by the many wall-hangings bearing the characteristic scallop-shell.

 

Day 18 Half day rest in Siena

Filipe. First let me tell you about my encounter with Filipe. We were both consigned to sleeping on couches in Lucca YH, which as you can see, was not exactly Spartan. The couches converted into big sofa beds! Anyway, Filipe is from Lisbon, has just completed his Ph.D. in Physics and has a 3 month wait before his viva and the result of his research, so he took off on his bike. First heading to Belém, then Fatima and  Santiago, then he followed the coastal route to France, going via Lourdes and across to Italy. He is picking up the VF in Lucca to Rome, then will take a boat over to Croatia and make his way to Turkey, then Cyprus, and finally over to Jerusalem. What a way to kill time waiting for your research results! Although we intended to cycle together, our own independent spirits separated us, but I am sure we will meet up again before Rome. I unkindly took this photo just after he had woken up, but he still managed a smile! He very politely asked my age, and when I told him, he said his father was the same age as me, but he could never imagine him doing what we are doing. Hmm…….

Siena. Every place I stop at makes me feel I’ve reached a high spot of the journey……until the next place, that is. Siena is an unbelievable city. Yet another walled community, as soon as you enter the walled historical part you are transported into another era. It has one of the most amazing Piazzas I have ever seen. People sit around on the bricked slopes, it is encircled by bar terraces and restaurants, the arena is used for horse-racing (of a peculiar Sienese style) and in the past, had been a public hanging area and bullfighting ring. This is where life happened! The Sienese wander their narrow, medieval streets which are virtually traffic-free; even I felt a bit awkward pushing a bicycle. In the Tuscan league table, Siena will always play second fiddle to Florence, but it is stunning. Put it on your list for future reference.

A few people I met at Caritas.

Paul from Manchester, has been walking the highways and byways for many years, several times to Santiago, and now he’s heading off to Rome. It became evident he was resolving a few personal issues: trying to overcome a chronic state of depression and desperately trying to kick the smoking habit. He has so little money that he depends entirely on charities like Caritas to keep body and soul together.

Maria is from Hungary and, though not walking/cycling the VF, she is following it, doing an Art History project on the way. She speaks Italian, German and a bit of French, so our communication was a curious mixture of Italian and French. And it seemed to work!

Suora Ginetta is the sister in charge of looking after the pilgrims and feeding those who live on the streets. They open their house every lunchtime to the lonely and homeless, and in the evening they take in pilgrims and travellers. I told her she had a very Irish face, and she laughed. As you can see, she has a very smiley presence. A veritable ‘Mother Teresa’ of Siena.

Mario is one of the several volunteers who help out at Caritas. He was born in the US, of a Puerto Rican father and Italian mother, and his working languages include English, Spanish, Italian and German. Typical of such volunteers, he went out his way to find an internet cafe, camera shop and to make me feel at home. Nothing was too much trouble.