We are now safely ensconced at home in San Francisco. There is an interesting cadence missing from our lives- wake up, have a cappuccino, hit the road for 6 hours, clean up, eat dinner, sleep, wake up, repeat cycle....
There were so many terrific things that happened during our 50 days and 658 miles of hiking in Europe that it makes it hard to summarize down to a few items. But, here goes:
1. 1220 hours straight with Linda- no question, this is the longest time Linda and I have been continuously together in our more than 32 years of marriage! During most of those 32 years, I worked full time and traveled extensively. We have joked that our marriage was built on being apart! Last year's 42 day walk in Spain was a good warm up for the Via though and gave us confidence that we could do this.
Have you ever seen those contests where 10 people will start out with their hands on a car? The person who can keep touching the car for the longest time wins it. Generally, the contest ends after 4 or 5 days as each of the contestants drop out. Well, I guess I have now kept my hands on Linda for 50 straight days, so I get to keep her!
In addition to all of her other skills, Linda is simply an outstanding travel partner. Linda's language skills, another set of eyes on the trail markings and the hundred daily details that she managed allowed the whole process to work flawlessly. More importantly was her emotional support and "ballast", particularly when we were dealing with difficult situations.
We have heard stories about marriages that went bad from the stress of these types of trips. Ours only got better. Makes me confident about the next 32 years....
2. Italian people- for us, the real stars of this trip were the Italian people. Everywhere we went, we met kind, interesting and helpful Italians. The restaurant and hotel proprietors, the people on the streets, the Italian guys we walked with, the people who constantly stopped us and wished us a good journey, Adrea the yogurt guy who asked us to send him a card from Rome, the guy who ran the Pavia tourist center, the farmers who helped us when we were lost, the people at the Parma visitors center, Massimo in Cinque Terre, the Italian family at the Agriturismo, Guiseppe who came to rescue us on a hot day! Even the obnoxious lady on the bus bench who chugged a liter of water in Linda's face! I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we love the Italians!
3. Other (non-Italians) people we met along the way- Massa the Japanese guy, Christian the German guy, Heinz the Swiss guy, the Irish ladies, Adria from Barcelona, the French guys we met at St Bernard, Germans everywhere. We truly enjoyed spending time and getting to know these people. We have made many lifetime friends on this trip.
4. Italy- wow, what a country! This country has it all- history, culture, outstanding sites, unbelievable geography, amazing food. And most of all, fantastic people. While it was great for us to revisit old favorites like Tuscany, Cinque Terre and Rome, we also discovered many new favorites such as the Appinine mountains, Parma, Valle d'aoste, southern Tuscany, Pietrasanta/Camaiore and the multitude of villages along the way. Although we covered a lot of ground in the 45 days we spent in Italy, we only saw a small portion of the country. Which is why we will be back! More about that later.
5. Alps- the walk over the Alps met my very high expectations. This was a beautiful and challenging four days. Hiking at its very best. We will definitely revisit the Alps in the future.
6. World Cup- we have been in Europe on several occasions during the World Cup, and it never ceases to amaze us how popular soccer is. Based on what I read on the Internet, it sounds like the World Cup is also more popular in the USA this year, but nothing beats the intensity of the Europeans when it comes to soccer.
7. The "walk"- I saved this one for last. It's a big subject. At one level, there is the physical walk, covering the ground that we traveled from Lausaunne to Rome. So many fantastic places- mountains, rivers, lakes, seas, farmland, cities, you name it. And of course, when you are walking, you get to experience nature all around you. Italy and Switzerland are two of the most beautiful physical places in the world. And make no mistake, this was a challenging walk, particularly due to the mountains that we climbed, the sometimes poor trail markings causing us to get lost, and having to dodge cars because the walk was occasionally along highways.
One of the things that we have come to truly enjoy is the sort of "life in slow motion" aspect of long hikes. We get to watch things happen up close, not from a car driving by. And that enables one of the best parts about walks, which is human interaction. This was an excellent walk from the human standpoint, particularly with the local Italians. Did I say we love the Italians? I guess so!
Much of the walk is very individual. Having to get up everyday and walk 15 miles, often in crappy weather, can be physically challenging and mentally taxing. At the same time, the opportunity to have time away from the interruptions and pressures of day to day living (no phone, Internet only at night, etc), gives one a lot of time to think about things that otherwise get lost in the clutter of everyday life. A sort of mind "cleansing" seems to happen. Even though Linda and I walked together everyday, much of the time was us walking separately, lost in our own thoughts. I'm not trying go all Henry David Theroux on you here, but these walks do make one very reflective. In both of our long hikes, I have come back refreshed and recharged to take on new challenges. And we are both in much better physical shape as a result of these long walks. (Although I'm not sure if we lost a lot of weight on this one- we ate a lot of good food, which offset the extensive exercise!).
I hope I haven't sounded too gushy about all this. Our daughter Allison told me that I sounded like a 13 year old girl writing a diary when I talked about seeing Bruce Springsteen in New Orleans in one of my earlier posts!
Someone wrote us to say this was the trip of a lifetime. No question, this was an outstanding trip, one of the best we have taken. But we still have a long life to live, and I would hate to cede the "x of a lifetime" title to anything at this point!
We enjoyed Italy so much, we would like to come back for another long visit. Between prior visits and this long walk, we have covered a lot of Italy. However, there are still several places we would like to see such as Sicily, the Dolomites and Alps near Austria, some other parts of Southern Italy, etc. And, we would like to revisit several of the places we saw this time such as the Appinine mountains, Parma, and the Valle d'Aosta. Additionally there are a couple of multi day walks that look interesting, such as the St Francis walk (only about 100 miles!) and a walk in Sicily.
You may recall that I quoted Bill Veeck, who famously said there are two seasons in America- baseball and winter. My friend Rick Rommel from Minneapolis wrote to say that Linda and I seems to have two seasons in our lives- planning for big trips and taking big trips! So, we now enter the planning season for our next big trip....
We are thinking that we will go to Italy for two months next year. This time, we will likely rent farmhouses or apartments for extended periods of time- say 3 or 4 weeks in each place. From there, we will take day hikes and other outings. We have rented farmhouses in Italy on several occasions, and enjoyed it. We may do one multi day hike, such as the St Francis walk for 7-9 days, but probably not a multi week hike for next year.
Some of you may want to come over and visit us for portions of this holiday! We are thinking that it might be in the May/June timeframe again, which tends to work out well for my work schedule.
Well, that's it for this trip. See you next year!