Last night’s meal was unexpectedly good – better than many, and better than we had anticipated for a two star hotel. The restaurant combined interesting home cooking with a huge wood-fired grill and separate pizza oven, and they were all busy all evening. We slept well and woke up an hour late! We have so relaxed into our routine that we completely forgot about the springtime clock change overnight.
After a quick breakfast, Tom set off along the Via Francigena. With nothing much to sight-see in Campagnano di Roma, Julie decided to take the first available bus to Formello, which is on the VF, and await Tom’s arrival to share a late morning coffee. Tom takes up his story.
It was quite misty as I set out this morning. Fairly soon I came across the two ladies from Helsinki who we’d met in Sutri. We chatted for a bit. They were concerned about the notice on the VF website about a change to the itinerary for this stage and couldn’t get the mapping for the alternative to work. I explained that nor could I, but having researched it, I didn’t think the alternative route on a busy road was either very clever or very safe. I explained that so far as I could understand the closure had been because of suspected swine flu, nearly a year ago. While we were chatting two locals who we’d met at breakfast came past on the same route, giving me further confidence that the original VF route was ok.
On and up it became quite misty as low cloud moved in and out.
Despite being quite a narrow road there was a surprising amount of traffic on it. I passed a number of large and flamboyant gateways, with all the usual exhortations about private property and video surveillance. I then began to realise that I was passing some very grand and probably expensive properties. Is this the Surrey Hills of Rome, I wondered? It certainly fitted the ‘agrarian myth’ description.
Signs for the Santuario della Madonna del Sorbo, coupled with wooden crosses spaced along the roadside with numbers (stations of the cross?) suggested that the reason for the traffic may not have been the grand properties.
As I closed in on the Santuario there were large numbers of people getting out of their cars and walking down the hill in the direction of the Via Francigena. The route dropped away through a steep sided valley giving glimpses through the trees of the Santuario above.
Descending into the valley the road levelled out revealing even more parked cars and people out walking. A little further on I found a large crowd of people walking towards me, many with sticks and backpacks. Soon a vehicle marked with Parco Veio insignia arrived and stopped to talk. The two park officials inside seemed thrilled to see me, a real pilgrim, and when I told them where I’d come from they got out of the car and insisted on taking photographs with me. It felt like my presence was really appreciated – rather a distance from the warnings to avoid this leg of the VF on the ‘official’ website!
A little further on I was approached by a couple who’d noticed the banner on my rucksack and spoke very good English. We walked together for a while. They are from Rome and explained the reason for the crowds. Today, the day of the clocks changing, is a special day in Italy when people get out and celebrate the environment, the arts, and various other things.
Climbing back up out of the valley I reached the outskirts of Formello. I stopped for a rest at a small area where there were seats, a water tap, and a small recreational area. There was a youngster playing on a skateboard being supervised by his father. I greeted them and they immediately engaged asking where I’d walked from. The father told me he’d lived in Coventry for a year and was very enthusiastic about his time there, despite difficulties he’d had learning English. In contrast, his young son spoke very good English. When I asked if he learned it at school, he replied no, he watched a lot of You-Tube videos and movies. That explained the rather American accent!
Pressing on into Formello, I was rather surprised to find Julie seated on a bench at the gateway to the old walled town. She’d decided to break her bus ride there anticipating that I might be passing through at about that time. She’d tried phoning and left a message, but it was only relayed to me about three hours later! Not very impressive Mr O2! Whilst waiting, Julie had noticed a group of about 20 people gathered in the main square. A couple of posters on nearby trees later revealed them to be linked to the Partisans who fought a guerrilla war against the occupying German forces and Italian Fascists, and continue to promote peace.
So an unexpected coffee break in a lovely cafe in the old city of Formello ensued. After coffee we wandered through the cobbled streets together, bumping into our friends from Helsinki once again.
Soon we parted company again as I headed back down into the valley and Julie returned to find her bus. In fact, she spent a while sitting on a bench in the sunshine outside the church waiting for a christening ceremony to finish so she could look inside. A friendly Italian woman leaving the church, having established that Julie was neither Italian nor German, then sat down for a long conversation. Sylvia is an interpreter into English and German, currently studying to teach Italian to foreigners, and married to a journalist who has been spending a lot of time in Ukraine – a source of considerable anxiety. When Sylvia got up to leave Julie found that the church was locked so there was nothing for it but to go to the bus stop.
From Formello the VF path dropped back down into a broad fertile valley. It made very pleasant walking in the midday sunshine. After some time I found a suitable spot to stop for lunch and a bit of a sleep. How lovely spring can be!
I was heartened to find a milestone a little further on telling me that there were just 26.9 km left to get to Rome!
The last part of the journey to La Storta was along the Ponte Sodo path variant. This took me past a number of interesting archaeological features including a necropolis dating from the Iron Age containing more than 650 graves and an underground aqueduct tunnelled through the volcanic tuff dating from Etruscan times.
Here again I came upon numbers of people out walking: not just pilgrims, but families with dogs and interestingly quite a number of teenagers simply out for a walk in the sunshine.
Two further river crossings (presumably the potentially ‘dangerous’ ones referred to on the VF website) with sound footbridges brought me to the outskirts of Isola Farnese
From Isola Farnese it was a short urban walk into La Storta to meet the busy Via Cassia again.
Julie was already installed in our hotel for the night. After a luke warm shower we headed out for an aperitif in a rather down-at-heel bar nearby. Here we met a very interesting Kenyan man and his family. John has been in Italy for 14 years and works at the South African Embassy in Rome, commuting on a daily basis. Another example of the interesting people we’ve met along our pilgrimage, adding a major element of enrichment to the whole experience.
So, we retire to bed with just one more day to the Vatican and St Peter’s square.