Friday, May 9, 2014

Via Francigena Overview

On May 14, Linda and I leave for a 50 day trip to hike approximately 650 miles on the Via Francigena, from Lausanne, Switzerland to Rome.  Because of snow, the pass over the Alps doesn't open until mid-June.  As a result we have divided the walk into two pieces:

     1.  "Southern segment" from Milan to Rome.  We will take 35 days (May 15 to June 18) to walk 460 miles for this portion.  This is slightly shorter than our 500 mile hike on the Camino de Santiago last year.

     2.  "Northern segment" from Lausanne to Milan.  On Jun 19, we will fly from Rome to Switzerland to begin the northern portion.  We will take 13 days to hike approximately 180 miles over the Alps and on to Milan.  

On July 2, we will finally return to the USA, just in time to celebrate the 4th of July!

Here's an interesting statistic about our hike:  our total climb on this hike will be approximately 80,000 feet!    The combination of the Alps and the various mountains of Italy will make this a particularly challenging hike.

The map above depicts a broad overview of our journey.  Similar to the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via Francigena (I'll just shorten this to VF going forward) is an ancient Catholic religious pilgrimage.  The total route of approximately 1000 miles begins in Cantebury, England, then cross the English Channel (perhaps the true believers walked on water across the channel...?), on through France, into Switzerland, before entering Italy and ending in St Peter's square in the Vatican.  The VF (translated from Italian means the road from France) dates back to the 9th century.

Similar to the Camino, we maintain a "passport" where we collect stamps of churches, hotels, restaurants, to document our journey along the way. At the conclusion of the hike, we present our passport to officials at the Vatican and are issued a certificate of completion called the  "Testimonimum".

The VF differs from the Camino de Santiago in many significant ways.  The first is that the Camino is a far more popular and developed walk.  In 2012, approximately 200,000 people from around the world walked the Camino; only 1200 hiked the VF.   The Camino is a very well marked trail, with excellent infrastructure for food and lodging, whereas the VF is often poorly marked, with infrastructure lacking.  While the Camino certainly includes many hilly and mountainess areas, the total climb on the VF is far more than the Camino, primarily due to the climb over the Alps.  

The VF is growing in popularity and improving every year.  I get the impression that the Italians have woken up to the fact that this is a great tourist business opportunity.  No question, the Spaniards figured this out, and turned the Camino into a real profit center.  Some of you may recall my comments from the Camino about the various ways the churches figured out how to monetize the hikers.

Over the past few months, I have developed a day by day itinerary for our hike, and even made hotel reservations for every night!  I have scoured through numerous books, web sites, maps, etc to figure out a  daily route and find lodging close to the trail.  There is nothing worse than hiking 15 or 20 miles over a long day, only to discover that your hotel is 3 miles off the trail!

If history is any guide, I have made several mistakes in my planning assumptions, hotel booking, etc.  My friends, that is part of the fun of traveling!  We still tell stories about my booking errors from trips 20 years ago!  We have always lived to tell the stories, and learned to adapt to circumstances along the way!

As the family linguist, Linda has been vigorously studying Italian the past 5 months.  Linda studies several hours every day, using Rosetta Stone and a great iPad app called duo lingo.  Linda has successfully written several letters in Italian to hotels in Italy (at least we think they were successful- we received a reply back!).  As you all know (and this blog proves), I struggle even in English, so it is reassuring to have Linda's outstanding language skills as we travel!

There are several very popular tourist areas we will be traveling through, including Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Rome, etc and amazingly, many of these hotels were sold out in Feb for the May/June timeframe.  While we will largely remain on the VF trail, we will be taking several off-trail side trips during the hike, such as spending a few days in the Cinque Terre, a day in Parma (home of cheese and ham!), extra days in Sienna, Rome, etc.  Italy has always been one of our favorite places in the world and we are looking forward to seeing it from ground level!

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