A villa along the way
As I mentioned previously, Radicofani is a town on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, which begins in Canterbury, England, and technically ends in Jerusalem, though these days most pilgrims stop in Rome as it’s too dangerous to proceed to the Middle East.
Feeling immensely grateful for all my blessings, I felt I’d ended up in Radicofani for a reason: to express gratitude as a pilgrim. I was familiar with El Camino de Santiago, which actually joins the Via Francigena, and I thought walking alone would be a tremendous spiritual experience. I did some research and found out that it wasn’t bad luck after all to walk “backwards” towards Siena instead of south towards Rome, where I’d just been for a wedding. There was little information on the route but I learned that it was well-marked in both directions. There was no physical map to be found in Radicofani and region, though, so I took screenshots of a hand-drawn map with my smartphone and wrote down southbound directions I’d found online – I’d just need to follow them backwards.
North or South? One of a few types of marking
Forty minutes into my walk I stood still facing a chicken wire fence. I’d walked 20 minutes down a steep dirt road covered in gravel and loose rocks, and was hoping that I was not in fact lost, but that a mean person had blocked the Via Francigena with the fence. Realizing that my maps and instructions were totally useless, I eventually admitted that yup, I was lost and would indeed have to walk back up the hill. I was completely alone amidst fields, was drenched in sweat and my back was killing me. This wasn’t just a “WTF was I thinking?!” moment again, it was a WTF crisis and I wanted to cry.
But crying wasn’t going to get me any farther along the remaining 30+ kilometers of journey and it was already 10:30, so I half climbed up the hill using my hands to steady myself till I was back on the right path. I’d get lost a few more times along the way, as the northbound signs aren’t as precise as those southbound (or present at all at times) but onwards and upwards – often literally. At one point I felt like that person in movies whose point of view we rarely get to see: I came out of nowhere and asked the men at a Via Cassia gas station if I could use their bathroom. Afterwards I walked away and disappeared behind some bushes as I started off on the side of the highway, whose next exit was many kilometers to come. The men stared at me curiously and watched me go with a “WTF?” look on their faces (I looked back).
In fact, along the way a group of four brightly dressed and chirpy Italian woman pilgrims were so surprised at my lone pilgrim “courage,” as they put it, that they asked to take pictures with me. I passed and chatted with a few other pilgrims but for the most part I was alone through rolling hills and by the side of roads. Except for a couple of assholes, drivers were very respectful and kept a very good distance from me, which was heartwarming.
Castiglione d’Orcia, where I’d have passed through if my map had been correct, or if I knew how to read said map.
Some 6 hours into the pilgrimage I got totally lost and found no signs anywhere. My feet were threatening to detach from my ankles if I didn’t sit the fuck down already but, with the sun getting lower in the sky, I had to get back on track. I found my way to a paved road and saw a sign for Agriturismo Sant’Ansano along with a phone number, which I called. After explaining that I was looking for information, I heard the line go silent. Dropped call, I thought. Roaming charges or not, I called again. The deluge of insults that came through the phone before the cunt on the line hung up again made me think of the horrible Italians my grandmother used to tell me about (“They’re coarse,” grandma would say when I’d ask about our ancestors). I did not wish the cunt well.
Then I heard voices – not in my head but real voices coming from some heads bobbing beyond some tall grass. They were a Romanian immigrant couple, and I told them I was a pilgrim looking for the Via Francigena walking route towards San Quirico d’Orcia.
Husband: You want to WALK there?! It’s only 15 minutes by bus!
Me (suppressing a “don’t you think I’d have thought of that?” expression): Thank you, but as a pilgrim I want to walk there.
H: Why walk if you can take the bus? It’s far.
Me: Um… Do you not know what a pilgrimage is?
H: Of course I do, but San Quirico d’Orcia is only 15 minutes by bus. Why do you want to walk?
Me: Well, the point of a pilgrimage is to walk.
H: But it’s far to walk, there’s a bus stop in the next town.
I smiled and thanked him, and we all walked towards the next town, Gallina, where I planned to ask for directions. The husband would not let go of his bus suggestion, even after I’d said I’d look for the bus stop. I just kept my zen.
Once in town I thanked the couple for their help and went into a cafe for a bottle of water and directions. I rested my blister-covered feet and immensely painful back, completely unaware that I still had 3 hours of walking ahead of me.
Northward markings are often more discreet (read: hidden) than southbound ones