Here are some random thoughts about our walk that I wrote down soon after we got back home:
It really is a fantastic walk, at least from where we started at Vercelli. I am very, very happy we did this one. Because we had no time to train, we needed at least the first week to be somewhat easy and the flat lands from Vercelli to Fidenza provided that.
A local phone is VERY useful in those first two weeks. You need to call a day in advance to make sure you have a bed and someone to give you access to it.
Wi-fi is not always findable in many towns north of Lucca.
Tuscany is extremely gorgeous to walk through but do not count on places to stop along the way. Most days, you leave in the morning and you probably won’t see a place to eat / drink / sit on a toilet until your final destination. The “rolling hills” of Tuscany only roll if you are on a bike, Motorcycle or car. Otherwise, they are just big hills, beautiful but up, down, up, down, up, down…
We stayed in a mix of ostellos, affittacamere, hotels and albergos but we stopped staying in ostellos on day 24 when it started to look like the Camino Frances’ bed race.
We walked with only a few pilgrims and some of the days and some of the kms. It was pretty rare to see other pilgrims on the trail until south of Siena. We did meet up with some at night time though, after the first week and we greatly enjoyed sharing the pilgrim spirit.
There were lovely people we met all along the way, both pilgrims and local Italians. As I sit here, all I can remember are the many fantastic people but also one single pair of women who ran the Covento di San Francisco ostello who I did not enjoy meeting at all (really, you should avoid that dump although, to be fair, two friends also stayed there and survived) and the daughter of the woman running the ostello in some little town whose name escapes me now.
Learn some Italian before you go. It will make life much easier and more rewarding. At minimum, make sure you can make reservations for rooms over the telephone. That’s a bare minimum. I used Duolingo for a couple of months and enjoyed having small conversations with people.
Italian breakfast is always a pastry and a coffee. If you want more than that, you’ll need to make it yourself. I think I had more than that at a handful of B&Bs, but not much more. I haven’t seen an egg, strip of bacon or sausage since leaving Singapore.
Some stages are long but there are often work arounds. Get GPS / offline maps on a smartphone. Maps.me worked perfect. The GPS tracks I downloaded from the Via Francigena website were not always the most recent but that’s okay. Every tiny track is in maps.me and its easy to find your own way.
The route is signposted very, very well. It’s not 100% perfect but second only to the Camino Frances that I know of. That said, because some paths are long with no marking other than the first one saying to enter it, it can be reassuring to confirm your route on the GPS.
Plan your walk so that you go from Fiorenzuola d’Arda to Fidenza on a weekend or school holiday. Stop in to say hello to Massimo and Claudia. Don’t shortcut and miss their house. Also, take the ferry across the river after Orio Litta with Danilo. You won’t regret it. Sigeric spoke so highly of Danilo that we had to do it. He is a legend but he needs at least 24 hours notice and he won’t speak on the phone in anything but Italian.
Expect B&Bs to only serve breakfast before 8:00am by bribing them. Expect dinner in a restaurant no earlier than 7:30pm. Carry some food with you all the time. We had too many days where a single croissant needed to last us until 3:00pm. BTW, one day like that is too much for me. After three hours without food, I’m the kind of guy whose body will think I’m on a hunger strike.
Pilgrims meals don’t really exist except in a very few towns. Normal for us was a ham sandwich and lemon soda for lunch and a dinner of pasta then a shared main course and salad. With a second breakfast when we were lucky to nave a town nearby the 1-2 hour mark, meals cost the two of us a total 50-70€ per day.
Either bring euros with you or have a bank card where you can withdraw money from local banks. We happened to have US$ sitting around so we brought that to change to euros. The very few money changers we have seen (and we looked) were in Pisa and Rome. With commissions, they were stealing about 6-9%. ATMs worked flawlessly 10 times so far and they are taking 4% from the interbank rates.
Rome is a big tourist town. Mass with 10,000 people today at St. Peter’s Square was awesome. Seeing the Trevi Fountain on Sunday afternoon with 10,000 tourist sucked.
Other than the other pilgrims that you may run into on the hill overlooking Rome, no one else in the Eternal City cares that you walked 2,000km, 850km, 100km or twenty meters. This isn’t Santiago. Revel in your own accomplishment silently otherwise people with think you really are crazy.
Safety was never a concern on this route. We never were fearful or saw reason to be on a personal or “loss of property” basis. There is some walking on roads but this isn’t the Caminho Portugues with its death-defying walks into traffic. We don’t recall any incidents with shady characters or conmen. We take usual precautions to protect our property but nothing beyond what a normal person would do.
We were blessed with great weather and I say this despite the very cold rain when crossing the mountains and the hailstorm in Radicofani. The last three days were burning hot with an energy-sapping sun and that is what most of our walk was supposed to be. I can’t imagine 36 days of that.
Join the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome and download their accommodation list. It’s rarely up to date on prices but I found it extremely useful, more so than the LightFoot guide. That guide was borderline worth the carrying weight.
Once again, the most useful thing we brought was a parachord clothesline, 20 small paper binder clips and a drybag for washing clothes without getting water and suds everywhere. The least useful things I brought were a small torch, an Italian phrase book and set of hair curlers. I’m kidding about one of those. The curlers were actually quite handy.
One more piece of information that may help people in planning…. I finally got around to figuring out what we spent. That’s probably not a great idea but…
This isn’t exactly a cheap walk but it didn’t have to be an overly expensive one either. We stayed mostly in B&Bs or affitacamere but also in some ostellos and hotels too. On average, our nightly lodging cost us 58 euros for the two of us. If you were staying only at available ostellos, I’m sure you could get that to around 15-20euros per person but for the savings of 18-28euros, we were happy with normally having an en-suite room to ourselves. The good sleep and privacy made it worthwhile.
For meals, together we averaged 56 euros a day and I am not sure that could be reduced much below 20 euros per person, if even that low. Our usual day was coffee or juice and a croissant for breakfast (good luck getting anything else!) and if there was a bar or cafe open along the way, we often stopped in for a lemon soda and maybe another pastry. Lunch was usually a lemon soda and a shared sandwich. Dinner was usually a pasta for each of us, and then we shared a main course and mixed salad. I lost 6 kgs so we weren’t overeating, I reckon.
Finally, incidentals averaged 6.50 euros and that included purchases at grocery stores for nuts, fruit and dried fruit, at pharmacies for sun cream, unused bug spray, etc. as well as a couple of laundry runs, trains to Milan, Vercelli, Pisa, Danillo’s Ferry and other little bits.
I hope this helps someone figuring out whether to walk it or not, or help with budgeting. Despite the higher costs compared to Spain – particularly the French route – I still think it was a great walk.