So the hiking team changed. For the next week and a half I’m hiking together with Jelle, a friend from college. We’re continuing along the Via Francigena heading North, starting in San Gimignano making our way -eventually- to Aulla.
We started with a rest day in San Gimignano. I earned it, Jelle still has to walk for it, but alas. Beautiful town with, again, too many tourists. We enjoyed the world’s best gelato in two of the best gelato shops of the world. Though our opinions on which of the two was the best differed, we could agree that both were really, really good. Other things we enjoyed were climbing up the fat(?) tower (Torre Grossa) for the view and just wondering around the streets.
After pizza and a good night’s rest it was time to continue this Via Francigena thing. We started with a short day of less than 15kms. It started which much of the road being on asphalt, luckily without much cars. In the middle we came across a church (and got a stamp in our credential) and a hotel bar (with way too expensive coffee). We then slowly made our way to Gambassi Terme. There was some mud on the way and, 3kms before the end, a winery! They offered free tastings, something we couldn’t ignore. The wine tasted amazing and better even: their logo was a pilgrim! We bought a bottle and would later drink it at the pilgrim’s hostel with people from all over the world.
The hostel in Gambassi Terme was fantastic. It is called Ostello Sigerico. Sigerico is the Italian name for Sigeric, the Archbishop of Cantebury, who walked from Cantebury to Rome in 990AD. On his way back he meticulously wrote than all the places he slept during the 79 stages it took him to get to Canterbury. The Via Francigena (which I am walking partly from Rome (Italy) to Lausanne (Switzerland)) is based on this route. The hostel is built adjacent to a church (according to local legen the Duomo of Florence was based on this church) and after dinner we got a tour through the church, with beautiful stories.
The next day we hiked to San Miniato. A long stretch and it was very hot. It started with a bit of asphalt, but soon we followed little trails that followed hilltops. It gave us beautiful views of the surrounding green hills. We met little other people and village, which meant we had to be frugal with our water supply. Halfway we could fill our water at a little pilgrim’s resting place behind a church. It got hotter and hotter. My legs were burning. Then we met a shepherd along the way with 5(!) dogs. Beautiful to see how they control a herd of sheep.
Hours and hours later we made it to San Miniato. I was almost dead. Exhausted, thirsty and with red burning legs (I wrote before about this reaction I get to walking in the heat, it happened again). We stayed at the monastery of San Francesco, where we got a nice private room with our own bathroom. I collapsed on the bed and Jelle went outside to juggle. That night we ate with the whole monastery and got a tour through the building.
We had already heard that from this day on the path would be more on asphalt and through industrial areas. We started our way to Altopascio. But after several kms my legs really couldn’t go on. We decided to skip the less beautiful part. It still took quite some time. In Altopascio we got a hotel (we heard about bed bugs in the pilgrim’s hostel?) and enjoyed a wine on our little balcony. We also made a rap for a friend of ours. At night we had dinner with a fellow pilgrim, Jean Marie, we met several days before and was heading in the same direction (all the others go South).
And then we made it to Lucca. Beautiful Lucca. The weather was not so beautiful though, but that actually helped. It meant it wasn’t too hot. We passed some murals with the route of the Via Francigena. I’m not very far yet as you can see.
For the rest it was a lot of asphalt and suburbia until we got to Lucca. And holy shit, how beautiful is Lucca! Gorgeous, gorgeous town. I prefer it to Siena or Florence. The vibe is relaxed. Not too many tourists. And terraces everywhere to get drinks. We’re spending two nights here, because tomorrow we’re visiting Florence by train. Then afterwards we go further North, into the Apennines.