It was a har row ing exit from town. I remain aston ished at what is con sid ered a legit i mate hik ing route on the Via Fran ci gena. The Alpine club routes are great, but the highways-with-no-shoulder are a night mare. On the other hand, fear for our lives kept us mov ing fast, so we shot 5 km out of town in no time to our turnoff into the hills.
Orig i nally we thought we’d have to cut off a bit from today’s pro posed stage of 33 km, but the first third or so was in a val ley so we made fast progress (and even man aged to read a lit tle more Dante—very close to the low est pit of hell by now). Even after that the ascent and descent was much more gen tle and evenly spaced, no steep climbs or dizzy ing trips down ward, and cor re spond ingly no early after noon exhaus tion. The biggest chal lenge was the enor mous mud pud dles caused by the 4-wheeled crea tures that take the back roads. It was very handy to have our poles to bal ance our creep ing around the edges through the pricker bushes.
The vil lages were espe cially cute today, tiny stone clus ters, smaller on the inside than the out side. You’d walk down the main street and see 2-storey build ings; then down an out door stair case, around the corner, and real ize that the build ings were actu ally 4 or 5 storeys tall, built into the hill. Lizards tiny and large alike ran along the rocks—some up to 6 inches tall and bright green—as did the sin gle most enor mous slug ever seen, 5 inches at a minimum.
We also began to rec og nize what the whiff of vine gar meant. One town had every base ment door open and a sharp reek ema nat ing out of them: it was the new wine. In assorted gar dens we found the grape must, all skins and seeds, dumped on the earth and still fer ment ing. Every one in the coun try seemed busy work ing on the grapes and trans port ing cas kets of wine.
After about 31 km, we were on the out skirts of Aulla, our day’s desina tion. Once again we were thrown on the high way with out side walk or shoul der. We went aways along it and then spot ted our crew’s camper parked in a gro cery store lot. Hav ing had it with tak ing our life into our hands, we hopped a ride the last 3 km into town. This time there was no nearby park ing place, so we have made it up mov ing back and forth between camper and pil grim hostel.
We also met there another pil grim for the very first time on this whole pil grim age! Mario has been work ing his way to Rome since Mt. Geneva in Switzer land. He’s a Catholic but as it turns out he knew of Mar tin Luther and thought he was a great man with much to offer all Chris t ian churches. Are we prov i den tially meet ing the hand ful of Ital ians who are fans of Luther, or is there a grow ing inter est in the reformer in this most unlikely of places?