Setting off from Aosta

(This post was written on the morning of Thursday, September 1 and is only being posted now because this is the first internet I have found)

I am very sore this morning and find the prospect of getting out of bed none too appealing, but I know that I have to get a move on to stay relatively on schedule.  Yesterday I had planned to walk from Aosta to Chatillon, a distance of 30.3 kilometers in what my guide book described as “a long section” over “strenuous off-road climbs and descents.”  It was probably not the best stage of the route to start on, but after having read different blog posts and a book about middle-aged couples doing large portions of the Via Francigena without difficulty, I figured that I would be fine.

The circumstances of my departure did not help me in the start of my journey from Aosta yesterday.  I got up early and was all ready to leave so that I could get to the supermarket on the way out of town at 8 when it opened.  I went downstairs to pay for my room and the woman said my card was not working and that I would have to pay in cash.  I explained that I did not have enough with me and I would have to go find a bank machine.  She directed me to the nearest one and I set off to withdraw the money I needed.  I thought the whole thing was a nuisance, but did not realize the seriousness of the problem until the ATM told me that my card had been unauthorized for International withdrawals.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was far away from home, by myself, trying to walk most of the way to Rome, and I only had 25 euros in my possession.  I called the bank number on the back of my card trying to get them to fix the problem, but only got a message—after having gone through all the different menus to get me to the right department—saying that the offices were closed and would be until 7AM Eastern Standard Time.  That would be in five hours.  I went back to the hotel and explained what had happened.  I thought I was going to have to stay another night until the whole thing was resolved, completely messing up the itinerary I had made.  The woman there was nice enough to let me go, giving me the information I needed so that I could send the money via a wire transfer.  I called home to describe what had happened and my father was able to find a number on the bank’s website that I could call to reactivate the card.  I called it and a computer read out the last three things the card was charged with and asked me if they were all valid.  I noted that they were and it told me that in ten minutes my card would work again.  I walked back to the ATM to get money so I could pay my hotel fee rather than trying to send it through the bank later, giving them another opportunity to mess things up.  It worked and I withdrew enough money to feel safe in case this would ever happen again.

All this delayed me by a good two hours and I was walking out of Aosta around 10:30 in the morning.  As I was approaching the edge of town where these is a Roman arch built in 35 BC, a woman walking towards me on the sidewalk stopped and held out a booklet with a picture of the face of Jesus on the cover.  She told me that the book contained “beautiful words” answering the question “who is Jesus?”  I answered that I was actually on a pilgrimage to Rome myself, and she seemed a bit taken aback.  “Ah, Buongiorno,” she said and walked away.  I was a bit surprised by her reaction to what I had said and looked down at the booklet to see exactly what it was that she had given me.  I then understood.  The title read “La Torre Guardia—Chi è Gesu?”  I didn’t know that there were Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy, but after seeing the Church of Scientology of Aosta on a map, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about any religious group existing here.

The Via Francigena route takes you out of Aosta on the hills to the North side of the main highway.  It’s not easy walking as there are some fairly grueling climbs along the route.  To my surprise, a large part of it was undertaken on regular roads and although passing cars were not frequent, it was a little disconcerting walking with them when there wasn’t much room on the side to move to if a vehicle passed too close.  I took a few alternate routes suggested by the guidebook to shorten the route a little bit and avoid what it described as “unnecessary” climbs and descents.  This is where I ran into trouble, though.

Although the guidebook is, in general, excellent and contains very detailed instruction, it is not quite clear when describing how to connect back up with the official path after you’ve taken one of the route alternatives.  In addition, there are actually quite a few signs that claim to be pointing out the Via Francigena that disagree completely with what the book says.  It was at one of these places that I got horribly lost and ended up in a mountainside pasture with no path or road in sight.  From my position, I could see much of the Valle d’Aosta and all the way back to the snow-capped mountains surrounding the St. Bernard Pass from Switzerland.  It was truly beautiful.  I could also, thankfully, see the main highway in the valley floor and knew which way was the general right direction to Chatillon.  So I continued East and followed a track for farm equipment down the mountain a bit until miraculously there was a sign for the Via Francigena.  I couldn’t believe my eyes as I had stumbled upon it completely by accident.  I had no idea where I was in the guide book, so I just continued to follow the signs until I reached the outskirts of the town of Nus.  I checked with the guide book and realized that I was only half-way to Chatillon.  It was getting on 4 o’clock and I was worried about not finding a place to stay before it started to get dark.  My detour and delay in leaving Aosta had set me back quite a bit and I wasn’t willing to try to make it to Chatillon before nightfall.  Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided that it would be best to find a spot in Nus for the night.  I called the church listed in my guide as one that usually gives a bed to pilgrims, but they said they didn’t have a place because they had not been expecting me.  So I wandered through the town until I found a small hotel that had a room.

I slept for hours last night and can feel yesterday’s hike all through my body today.  I can see that I will have to change my plan a bit, breaking up or bypassing some of these longer legs.  The plan for today is to get to Chatillon.  I have called ahead and a Cappuuccin monastery has a place for me this evening.  Hopefully, I won’t get there too late and will plan out the rest of my journey a bit better, based on what has happened and what I now know this kind of hiking is like.

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~ by pminnig on September 3, 2011.

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