What a day! The guidebook mentioned that this was a long, strenuous stage and it was right. We got up earlier today than any other day but still only started walking about 6:45am. Judging by the fact that only one other pilgrim passed us the entire day, I assume that all the other pilgrims staying at the ospitale last night either left earlier than we did or maybe they just took the road route and saved a few kilometres.
Melanie and I have finally discovered how to control the weather and we are ready to sell our services to farmers, baseball teams, woman on their weddings days, etc. All day long, it was threatening to rain and as soon as it did start to drizzle harder, we first put on our rain gear. That stopped the rain almost immediately. After walking a while we figured the that it was just a passing cloud so we took off the raincoats. Within minutes, it was raining again. This went on for several hours: gear on and the rain stops, gear off and it starts. We could make a fortune controlling rain.
The rain was actually never really hard rain, at least at not as we walked. But the clouds were getting darker and darker as we reached the mountaintop town of Radicolfani so we spared no time looking for our affittacamera (Locanda Del Ciabattino, 70€ through Booking.com for a one bedroom apartment). The man who runs the local ostello met us in the street and directed us to the owner who then led us to the apartment. Within seconds of going through the front door, the heavens opened up and the deluge began. Twenty minutes later, we looked out the apartment window and saw that the rain had turned to hail. Another forty minutes after that, the hailstones were covering the ground and cars. I sure am glad that we left early this morning. By the way, that apartment was the first one we have been in during this walk in Italy that actually had heat. It was toasty warm all night long which is a great thing when ice is blanketing the ground outside.
Our meals were also a great source of entertainment today. First, we had understood that there was no place to get food or drink on the entire route today, after the first 5km in Bagno Vignoni. I saw that we were supposed to go past a petrol station though, after about the 24km mark and we hoped that they had at least sandwiches for sale. It turned out that they had a whole restaurant so we did better than expected. Interestingly though, the restaurant is run by Bill Murray. We recognised him immediately and while he is now grizzled looking and older, he did the entire lunch service in vintage Caddy Shack voice and actions.
For dinner, we had to wait for the rain / hail to calm down some but when we got the chance, we ran across the street to the butchers and asked if there was a cafe, bar or restaurant in town. He directed us to walk 20m up the road, turn right through the arched alleyway and up the steps to the main piazza. We did as we were told but could only see a grocery store. We went in there to ask for directions again but also decided to get supplies for tomorrow’s long walk. When we went to pay, we met Momma. Momma was our name for the adorably friendly woman who came over to pinch Melanie’s cheeks and ramble on in rapid fire Italian about how wonderful we were to walk the Via Francigena. She double checked that we had enough food for tomorrow and suggested healthier options. When we remembered to ask her about the restaurant, she shrieked with joy that she could help us more. She ran around the counter, grabbed Melanie’s hand and led her to the door. Before going out though, she helped Melanie pull her hood on and then rubbed her cheeks to make sure she was warm. Then she went out in the cold rain to direct us up another set of stairs to the upper piazza where the restaurant was. An hour later, after closing her store, she came up,to see how we enjoyed the food. What a doll!
Other random thoughts for the day include the wind. It positively howled for a good portion of the day and threatened to send Melanie tumbling over. I still haven’t lost enough weight to worry about that just yet for myself. There were lots of sections of the walk that were along ridges at the tops of the large hills and we were often exposed.
About 10km into the walk, just after putting on the rain gear for the first time to stop a downpour before it really got going, we ran into a group of about ten Italian hikers. They were not doing the VF but just out for a good day-hike. When we told them we were headed to Radicolfani, they laughed, turned and pointed. “You see that mountain way over there? Well, Radicolfani is the bigger mountain that you can just make out in the distance behind it.” Hole cow! That is a long way to go and slightly (or very) disheartening.
The views today were stunning and it turned out that you can see Radicolfani almost the entire day. The castle’s hightower sticks out like a sore thumb for many, many kilometres in every direction. The views of and from Alto Bagnoni are also beautiful.
Finally, when we just started dinner, a young girl walked into the restaurant and asked for a table for one. She was told the main dining room was full and she had to go to the second room. That sounded really lonely so Melanie jumped up to offer her a seat with us at our table. Our young guest was a German girl, fresh out of school, taking a last holiday fling before starting a working life. She was driving around Italy stopping at every interesting looking small village but also taking in Florence, Pisa and some other big towns too.
And that was another good day. Peace y’all.