Lunigiana’s beautiful cross-country routes don’t prepare you for the kilometers of tarmac and pavements on the Via Francigena between Sarzana and Altopascio. Taking the coastal route south of Luni also doesn’t help as, unless you want to walk on the beach, hard walking surfaces are all you are going to find. The route between Camaoire and Lucca offers some relief, but not a lot. Seduced by the cross-country routes in Lunigiana, I never thought to train on roads, and my feet are feeling the difference.
Perhaps one advantage of walking through urban areas is the opportunity to admire the spring flowers. The fragrance of sticky jasmine lingers long after you brush past it, roses are tumbling in confusion everywhere, and the stunning peonies would walk off with all the prizes at our village show in England. The scarlet poppies along the roadsides and in the fields remind me of the last year’s ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red ‘ installation at the Tower of London to commemorate Britain’s involvement in World War One.
Marina di Massa
And then there are the remarks of strangers. On my first day an old lady complemented me on my good legs (perhaps she meant sturdy), another told me not to walk so fast. On day two, a very well turned out and charming fellow, who pointed out the house he owns on the sea front at Forte dei Marmi (read very wealthy if you are not familiar with Forte dei Marmi) asked me all about my walk in fluent English. Near Camaiore, a middle-aged man in lycra appeared to listen with great interest to my answers in bad Italian to his questions about the Via Francigenca, while I did my best not to look below his waist line. On the banks of the River Serchio just outside Lucca, a gaggle of pre-school children with their teachers all offered up a cheerful “Ciao”, followed by one little cheeky chap announcing in a loud voice that I was really old! And on the way to Altopascio, a man sporting a 1970-style purple shell suit shouted “forza” to encourage me on my way.
Abandoned pilgrim boots
In the last four days I have walked over 88 kilometers from Sarzana to Luni, Marina di Massa, Pietrasanta, Camaiore, Lucca and Altopascio, with a bit over 400 kilometers to go to Rome. I started in Sarzana because I have already walked the Via Francigena from the Cisa Pass to Sarzana.
Walking into Lucca
Annoyingly, I have acquired a couple of small blisters on my problem toes, but not anything blister plasters can’t sort out. I am still on good terms with my backpack, although my feet are not. And my favorite bit of kit has turned out to be my silver hiking umbrella, which has protected me for at least five hours from the rain without having to bother with any wet weather gear. I have even rigged it up so that I can use my hiking poles at the same time. The unused coconut is in disfavour because of its weight and might yet be jettisoned.
If you are on the Via Francigena and see a blonde “vecchia” walking in a skirt, using hiking poles and an umbrella at the same time, please say hello!
Roads, roads and more roads appeared on Ciao Lunigiana on 24 May 2015.