Beautiful Towns in the Apennines

(This post is from the evening of October 16th)

I woke up and had breakfast with the two hospitalieri of the forest ranger lodge.  The kitchen was just as warm as the night before, and the food just as plentiful.  I had hot tea, and several pieces of bread covered in Nutella.  Nutella in Italy—the country from which it originated—is different from what we get back in the United States.  The Italian product is less chocolaty, and it’s easier to taste the hazelnuts.  In fact, Italian Nutella doesn’t contain a high enough cacao content to be labeled a “chocolate spread” in Italy.  I actually prefer the American version to the original recipe, but this was still a delicious way to start the morning.  To supplement the Nutella, there were more of the tarts we had had the night before, and any sort of fruit you could want.

It was getting late, and I needed to get going, but I wasn’t allowed to leave before being loaded down with food to take along the way.  The two hospitalieri gave me the rest of the tart we were eating, as well as an apple, several granola bars, a packet of honey shaped like one of those weird energy gels—“it’s like doping,” said the man—and a big old wedge of cheese.  Although I was extremely grateful for the hospitality of the pair, I knew that having all this food would tempt me to stop often to eat it, greatly lengthening my journey.  I resolved that I would not fall victim to this temptation, and planned to save some of the food for my arrival in Biforco, where I learned that there may not be much waiting for me.

The path today began steeply again, through a beautiful pine forest.  As I made my slow progress up the sharp hills, I heard a rustling and looked up at the crest of the ridge to see a figure darting quickly downhill.  At first, I thought that there must be a road ahead, and that a biker was zooming past on his way down, but then another figure flashed by and I realized that I was watching a fleeing family of deer.  The first, large one was followed by two smaller fawns, which were then followed by another, larger deer with horns.  They had seen me coming from quite a distance, but were not going to wait around to determine if I was friendly or not.

As I reached the top of my first hill of the day, the path flattened out and the trees became shorter.  As I continued, trees became less and less common, and most of the area was covered by tall grasses and ferns.  The path had been overgrown a bit, so it was relatively slow going as I had to crush down the vegetation with each step.  When I rounded a corner into a clearing covered by the tall grasses, I heard a loud snort and jumped as a boar, about 20 feet away, ran off into the woods.  This was a big one, and it made me nervous, because I knew that in this sort of terrain, it would be very easy to be attacked without warning.  In my earlier encounter with these animals, there were bigger trees around and less brush for the animals to hide in.  Here, however, there was so much tall grass that you could be walking along the path and not see a boar until you were right on top of it.  After clapping and shouting a bit, I continued on, but became much more wary of my surroundings.  In my more attentive state, I noticed the crushed down grass which the boars had walked through, and pig-like footprints in the muddy edge of a small pool of water.

Thankfully, I made it out of the woods without stumbling upon any more distasteful company, and entered the town of Baddia Prataglia.  This was a lovely place, situated in between two tall hills.  It was bigger than what I had run into recently, but still quite small by American standards.  The smell of wood-burning fires was in the air, and there were several groups taking their Sunday stroll through the streets.  Baddia Prataglia had an almost alpine feel to it, and it seemed a bit more alive than the other places I’d been.

After crossing through Baddia Prataglia, I began another steep climb into the mountains.  My guide indicated that there was only this one climb, though, before level ground and the end of my journey.  Well, the guide was wrong. The climb lasted much longer than it should have, and there was no level ground to speak of, all the way till Rimbocchi, next town I had to pass through.  By the time I reached Rimbocchi, I was tired, hungry—despite my abundance of food throughout the day—and peeved about having to walk steeper, rougher ground than I expected.  My journey wasn’t over, though, as I had to go two more kilometers uphill to the town of Biforco.

After what felt like an age, I reached Biforco, and climbed yet another hill to get to the bar at the top of town.  Standing around and looking for my destination, an old man saw me, and called me over.  “You have to go to the bar and ask for Signora Fiorella,” he said.  I walked where he directed, but then he pointed to another door with his cane.  Inside the bar were three people—two sitting, one standing—around a small table.  They turned around to look at me, and I paused for a second, expecting that they would know what I was doing there and tell me what to do.  When no one said anything I spoke, asking, “Signora Fiorella?”  “Yes, that’s me,” replied the standing woman.  “I’m a pilgrim,” I began.  “Oh, I didn’t know you were coming.  I thought they were done for the year,” she replied.  “Yes, I believe I’m the last one.”  “Oh well, come with me.”  She grabbed a key from behind the counter, and we exited through the door the old man outside had stopped me from using.  Next to the bar was an apartment, and she took me up two flights of stairs before telling me that my room was on the right and the bathroom next door.  “Push the button on the right of the bathroom so you can take a shower,” she recommended.  “Come back to the bar at 6:30 if you want something to eat,” she called out as she walked down the stairs.  I went to the room and got my things in order.

Even after letting the water heater cook for a while, the water coming out of the shower head was still not very warm.  I got it to where I thought it was warm enough to use, but soon after I began to soap up my hair, the water turned frigid again, and I had to stop.  I dried myself up as best I could, getting rid of the soap, but was still shivering from the experience as I went downstairs to the bar for dinner.

“Ah,” the woman greeted me as I came inside.  “Do you have anything to eat?”  “No,” I answered, thinking her question rather strange.  “Would you like something, then?”  “Yes, please.”  Another pause.  “What?  Tell me.”  I didn’t know what she had or would be willing to make for me, so I fumbled around a bit until I came up with what I thought would be acceptable.  “A sandwich would be good.”  “Ok, I have some very good prosciutto.  Would you like that?”  “Sounds great.”  She was right.  The huge ham sandwich on crispy bread was one of the best I’ve eaten in a while.  I ate at one small table, while townsfolk sat and chatted at the other.  By the time I was finishing the sandwich, and my hunger had abated enough to actually listen to what they were saying, I realized they were complaining about a man who drove around in his car because it was too cold in his house during the winter.  “He should get a better fireplace!” shouted the woman who had made my sandwich.  “I can’t believe he just wastes all that gasoline!”  It seemed like a silly thing to be concerned with, but in such a small town, I guess there isn’t that much to talk about.

After sitting there for a while longer, I thanked the woman and headed out the door.  “When are you leaving tomorrow?” she called after me.  “I’m not sure,” I said.  “Early.  Maybe 7:30?”  “OK, we’ll be closed, so I won’t see you.  Buon Cammino!”  “Grazie,” I replied. I climbed the stairs to my room and got ready for another cold night.

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~ by pminnig on November 7, 2011.

One Response to “Beautiful Towns in the Apennines”

  1. […] been pretty unremarkable.  After the wonderful views and incredible solitude of the paths of the Way of Assisi, I was a little disappointed at my return to the Via Francigena to finish the last 160 or so […]

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