AND HERE I THOUGHT DOWNHILL WOULD BE EASIER....
Catching up on a few days here. Will try to add pictures at the end. Many are on my phone but I’ve got some on my iPad I can post.
Two days ago I slept in after arriving very late to Bourg St.Pierre, was a good decision. I had originally planned too much walking for that day and it would have killed my plans to walk those cute St.Bernards…Luckily I didn’t do that b/c it would have been 4 tough hours uphill at high altitude only to get there and walk the very route back down for 75 minutes with the dogs and then back up again! I’d have killed myself!
Instead I boarded a bus, which was an experience in itself. Only a 20 minute ride but along precarious roads, with each turn the bus would overhang the escarpment, giving me near heart failure. Don’t know how the guy drives the bus! Crazier still, I looked up at one point and saw a man climbing out of his construction equipment onto an escarpment with 100 foot drop below, completely nonchalant and flicking his cigarette butt as he jumped out. Oy vey. I sure wondered how many buses plummet off cliffs up here!
As I said that walk with the dogs was along the Via Francigena. Only going down the mountain it was a very rocky path, with 175-pound dogs pulling at you, not so easy. Hard to keep your footing. The dogs were adorable: Bunti, Wenda (pronounced Venda), Justin and Ranna. Most adorable. If you can’t tell I have a thing for St. Bernards. My (grown) kids are lucky I haven’t a millimeter of space in my backpack or I’d have brought them back cute but useless St. Bernard stuffed animals. (yes, I know they just purged all those stuffed animals!). Two other families were on the walk, several kids, who made much better timing than did I. Oh well! I was savoring my St. Bernard time…
Was great fun w/ the dogs, they’re sweet as can be and precious, though the one boy (Justin, pronounced in the french way) kept going after the girl I was walking and sometimes he’d start barking a little too aggressively for my tastes — happened w/ one of the kids right there. Of course these dogs are well-trained so I don’t doubt they’d not do anything, but still…I think old Justin had love on the mind…
After that I just walked in the town for a few minutes (“town” is an exaggeration — it’s the hospice, which is a building housing a church and chapels and housing facilities, a hotel across the street with a bar, and a smaller bar down the street that sells tchotchkes. And the kennels. I went to the smaller bar in search of hot chocolate — it’s COLD up here! Especially at the top. When we walked I got warm and could have taken off my long-sleeved top but no chance with dogs on the go. But up top it’s very blustery.
The day was beautiful but chilly at the top but after sunset a shroud of fog descended on the place — was very haunting. Dinner was served promptly at 7:15, just me and about 25 strangers, none of whom spoke much English (or French or Italian for that matter). Met two young men from Czech Republic who are walking across Europe searching for work. Not, perhaps, the most efficient manner in which to search for jobs, but they seemed nice and I felt badly for them that no one will hire them. I dined with a Swiss doctor from Lausanne who was wearing a Jawbone bracelet (it quantifies everything you short of motive) and I pointed out my son has a Fitbit now and quantifies it all. He laughed and said, “Yes, I think it was Shakespeare who said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But now it is I measure, therefore I am.” So true…The guy walks the steps (15 flights) at the hospital at which he works. A modern day esthete I suppose (who voluntarily goes off to Monasteries for holiday!). The food was what you’d expect in a religious hospice. The place was very clean, which was nice. I cannot begin to tell you how cold it was. I’d been avoiding taking my backpack out b/c it is so nicely packed and I knew it would be a struggle to get it back in this tiny sack. Finally I sucked it up and used it, and owe my daughter Kendall much gratitude for her lending it to me. I almost cried to be warm! The simple pleasures do become amplified when things get boiled down to more basics. It was quite the grudge match getting that sleeping bag put away though…
We were awoken by music — the monks’ way of telling us to leave? Had a quick breakfast of stale bread and was off.
So onto today’s walk. The walk. The walk!
Okay, first off. I have a newfound respect for the Family Von Trapp. How they trekked through the mountains of Austria to escape the Nazis with all of those children and no hiking gear is beyond me.
Let me tell you, they don’t call it the Alps for nothing (whatever that means!). I was operating under the delusion that I was on the downhill and thus it would be much easier. I was wrong. The weather was spectacular — could not have been better. Started out crisp and cool but a few minutes hiking took care of the cool. The path was steep and rocky so it took a great deal of concentration. I’m still wondering where all those meadows are that I’d expected. The scenery was stunning. I passed lots of cows with those musical bells — must make them insane, though, clanging away all day long. And deaf! But it is lovely to hear in the distance, before you even see the cattle. I laughed at the passivity of cows around here — the only thing that keeps them from straying to land not theirs is usually a small rope strung across a path. Perhaps they’re just so happy where they are.
Much of the way was steep and rocky with very little between me and certain death if I lost my footing. Humbling. I have bonded with my walking sticks (though lost the tip of one on my first day, darn it). The trail was well-marked at first, but after I stopped for lunch in St. Rhemy and returned to the trail with the intent of walking to Etroubles, I ended up on a nasty trail that got the better of me. Much of the time it was a barely discernible path through dense overgrowth. Loads of crickets leaping about. I saw a sign for St. Oyen, the next town, which claimed to be 50 minutes away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was in dog years. Speaking of dogs–where’s a St. Bernard when you need one? I’d have loved to have one rescue me by about 3 pm, when my trail led me to an enormous construction site where I had to climb over piles of rebar and cement blocks just to get out of the woods. Crazily I wasn’t lost but it sure felt like it. At that point I decided my best plan was to hop a bus to Aosta so that I could still catch a train to Fidenza tomorrow, my plan being to pick up the Via Francigena around there (near Parma) and climb through the Cisa Pass, part of the Italian Appenines, which is supposed to be beautiful. Debating whether to divert first to Florence or afterward. Will see how my legs are holding out in the morning as to whether I hope a series of trains to Fidenza or Firenza ;-).
I met a lovely woman and her mother while waiting for a bus in St. Oyen. As she described her job and had a hard time translating it, I realized she is an urban planner, which is what Kyle’s in graduate school for, so that was a small world. She and her mother were delightful, fluent in english. Her mother was lovely and wanted to bring me home to Torino and feed me her specialty — spaghetti. I was sorely tempted, though Torino is nowhere near my planned itinerary. She also wanted to show me her duck cross-stitch — her daughter said she was terribly obsessed with it (as a quilter of past I can relate!)
I washed a bunch of clothes and hope they’re dried by the time I leave in the morning. Went out to a great meal of tagliatelle al sugo (duck confit and pasta, yummm) and semifreddo di fruitti di foret (I’m no doubt spelling that wrong). Was perfect. Now I’m going to head off to bed, but let me add some pictures!