Now THIS is Tuscany!!! It was a stunning walk today. The first 6km were on roads but the balance was almost all on dirt or gravel paths through the rolling hills of Tuscany. We went through fields, farms and forest. The wind sometimes whipped so hard, that Melanie was almost airborne. It drizzled a little but almost always with sunny skies at the same time. We only had one quick real shower and it was over by the time we got all our gear on. It didn’t matter though, the scenery was stunning!
Before going on though, I do need to clear up a few things. First “the rolling hills of Tuscany” are only “rolling” if you have a minimum of two wheels under you and, preferably a motor too. Some of the hills are darn steep and dang high. When I think of “rolling hills”, I have in mind speed bumps. Second, you have heard that “All roads lead to Rome”. No they don’t. We found two yesterday that definitely do not. The first was at the bottom of the hill up to San Miniato’s hilltop village. For those following us, if you follow the signs, guidebook or the GPS, at one point in the village 2km before San Miniato, everything says to go straight along a dirt track. That’s great but if there is a dirt track below the 1.5m tall grass, it would be impossible to navigate. We looked all around for signs but it took a kind local man to direct us to the front side of a nearby hospital where the trail begins again. The second spot was just before you get to the Convento di San Francesco. The new signs direct you on a detour through the whole upper town of San Miniato. Ignore them and follow the old GPS route straight up to the obvious Convento.
I’ll let the photographs tell you of the beautiful scenery but I would like to comment on the drivers in Italy. Until today, we have walked past only the nicest and most considerate drivers. Yes, some have their hands holding phones to their ears and we saw one with a map spread across the steering wheel but, in general, they have been considerate to us when we are walking on the side of the road. They always give us space or slow down or even stop if they need to. They often return our waves. They always stop at crosswalks even before you start across the street. Today we had two smart asses. The roads today, although mainly the first quarter of the way, were fairly narrow, just wide enough for two cars to pass if they go very slowly and there wasn’t much of any road shoulder. The good news was that there were very few cars that early in the morning. One speeding driver though, was very close to the edge of the road we on the side that we were walking on. It didn’t appear that he was going towards the centre of the road to give us space. I wondered if another car was also coming up from behind us but I didn’t want to take my eyes off the car coming towards us. We leaned into the bushes just as it passed and I would say he missed us by only inches. If only I had a stone to throw. Being a little leery now, I kept my walking sticks handy until we got to the dirt tracks. Sure enough, it looked like another driver was pulling the same stunt. I lifted my stick to be ready to hit the car as he passed and he quickly moved to the middle of the road. Just as he passed though, he jerked the wheel towards us but to quickly to either scare us or give me time to react. If only I had a shotgun. Prats.
A note to anyone following us: although today’s walk is stunningly gorgeous, there are only two bars / cafes between San Miniato and Gambassi. The first is less than an hour out of San Miniato and run by a very nice supporter of the Via Francigena. The second place is only 2km before Gambassi. There are also a few signs about bars 15 to 45 minutes off the trail but what pilgrim would do that? Don’t pass by anyplace and stock up on fruit, dried fruit and water before you leave. That said, there are several places specifically for pilgrims set up along the route today that have benches, sometimes tables and water fountains and, in one case, a first aid kit!
The walk today included a 250m climb to Gambassi Terme. I am starting to get the feeling that we are in for a lot of hilltop towns in Tuscany. We passed by the ostello about a kilometre before town. We were aiming for one of the several small hotels, B&Bs or albergos in the town centre. We stumbled upon Casa Elena, above a restaurant at the end of the central piazza (across from Bar Central, the tiny bar with a big marketing department. They have small adverts up all along today’s trail.). The room price is on a sliding scale depending on how well you understand the English version of the room and shared bathroom details. It started out at €50 which seemed high but was soon corrected to 15€ which seemed low. We were then told it was 15€ per person which sounded about right. As we agreed, we were asked if we had our own sleeping bags. We have sacks but prefer not to use them in a room like this so we were told the price was now 18€ with sheets and blankets. Okay…. “Do you need towels?” Yes, please. Now it is 20€ per person. We quickly paid the 20€ before the landlady thought to charge for pillows, shower water or the use of the clothesline.
All is good. We just had a gelato while watching the town come to meet in the piazza at sunset and we are heading to dinner soon at the restaurant below our rooms. They serve a nice pilgrim meal for 12€. At least they told us it was nice. Another cool thing is that tomorrow’s destination is only 13km away and we can see it from the front door of our room.
Anders just walked in. He was not feeling well this morning and only started at 10:30am. He suffered more through the heat of the day. He’ll join us for dinner though.