Day 4 (May 9) Mercy Droppeth As Gentle Rain — 23 Miles

The walk started at 8:15 AM and ended at 6:45 PM making it as long as some of the high mountain climbs I did in Japan. The morning started as rain but it was light. I wasn’t soaked and the large rocks on the paths were not slippery — the good news. The bad news was that mud was everywhere making Camino walkers dodge sideways to avoid our shoes getting wet. Nature was merciful today and a makeshift sign on the road out of Tineo expressed a wonderful sentiment — Here There I am by your side. I thought of Kobo Daishi from my 88 Temple walk.

Tineo In The Distance
Kobo Daishi In Spain?

The countryside was beautiful. However, photos can’t directly convey the sounds of birds, the earthy smells of farms, or the sensations of wind against one’s body. The air is fresh; cars and trucks are few. After four hours, I came upon route signs: Tineo to the left and Pola to right. Alas, I was still less than halfway to Pola.

Fields and Windmills
Wind Blowing Through Grass
Going In The Right Direction

Another 2 miles and I was ready for a cerveza. In a small hamlet, a cerveza and a chicken sandwich on a 4 inch baguette with a whole filet and lettuce was 4 euros. Imagine that in the US. Even better, was running into Gabriel from Chile. We were supposed to have walked Day 3 together from Salas but somehow misunderstood how we were to connect. We headed out together for the final half of the walk. At the end, we were glad to be a pair rather than walking solo.

Gabriel and The 4 Euro Lunch

Most of the way was straightforward. The signs were clear and we had stopped for what else, a cerveza, at an inn in Colinas de Arriba. When we left, we headed for Colinas de Abajo. Really.

Inn On The Hilltop
Going Abbajo

Now for the thrilling part. Just down the road, we turned left following the Camino sign. We entered a primeval forest walking on a very muddy track. We met two women walking towards us. Odd because we encountered no one walking the Camino backwards. They were heading back to the highway because they got lost in the forest. No signs they said.

We were undecided what to do. After about a minute, we decided to plow on (literally) because surely signs must be ahead. No signs and for the next hour, we slowly climbed higher and higher. It was getting darker as the sun was heading below the crest of the mountains.

We eventually reached a T and using Google maps decided to go right or southwest. Another 30 minutes of no signs. Shortly, we broke out of the forest onto a wide path the led to the highway. Wouldn’t you know, we could make out a Camino sign in the distance.

In The Forest

We weren’t finished. We had a very steep downhill stretch to go. I took a photo at the beginning of the downhill and another from my hotel window looking back up at the power line structure from where we started our descent. We were glad it wasn’t raining because the downward path was rocky and it would have been very dangerous when wet. The trek down was exciting enough.

The Beginning Of The End
Looking Back Up

All’s well that ends well. I enjoyed another hearty meal; the first course was Asturian lentil soup while Manchester City and Real Madrid were competing in a Champions League semi- final match. Many locals were watching on a big screen behind me. I finished my dinner at halftime. Score: 1-0, Real Madrid. I needed to shower and sleep. I left. I could hear roars and groans from my room. No matter, I was down for the count. The final score that I read in the morning was 1-1.

Asturian Lentil Soup

Day 3 (May 8) Warming Up For The Show — 16 Miles

The walk from Salas to Tineo was the easiest of the three days comparatively. The length was the shortest but the temperature went up into the mid70’s with full sun and no wind. It was still hard but as a veteran of the CP said, “Wait until tomorrow. The next few days will be the most challenging of the CP.”

Rather than dwell on the future, the walk out of Salas reacquainted me with the couple from the Canary Islands whom I met on the first day. We took a selfie before we left town — Cristina, 47, and Jamie, 32. I also photographed them while they were ahead of me. They are strong walkers.

Jamie, Cristina, and Moi
Cristina and Jamie On The Road

Like Day 2 out of Grado, the first quarter of the walk was uphill, a 500 meter climb. Although the elevation map shows the rest of this leg as relatively flat, my fellow hikers can attest that the short 100 meter climbs and descents can take a lot of energy. Off the roads, the paths are very uneven and are tricky because of the long muddy ruts on the unpaved dirt roads. Below is an image of an uphill dirt path.

Unpaved Path

A few times on every walk, I miss a sign or two and end off trail. Outside of El Espin, I ended up walking on the highway with no Camino signs to be seen. I decided to turn into the next village. I found a couple and asked them where the CP was. After trying to explain several times, Luis walked me to the CP. I thanked him and went on my way. After climbing more hills, I had second thoughts about leaving the smooth highway that was closer to Tineo than the winding route of the CP. But then again, one must follow the prescribed route.

Senor Luis

I finally started downhill into Tineo. Wouldn’t you know — there was Cristina and Jamie at a sidewalk cafe enjoying what else, cerveza cana, draft beer). I ran into more people on the CP than I had anticipated — Mick from Cincinnati, Ilya from Miami, Ms Okikawa from Tokyo, two French women from Bordeaux, a pack of five Spanish women who glided along, and two Dutch women (Wendy and Netti) whom I met at the sidewalk cafe. The less traveled route?

Netti and Wendy

About 200 meters downhill was my hotel, the Palacio de Meras. My room was spacious and the towels were some of the fluffiest I had ever experienced. Dinner was superb. The salad was ample and so fresh; the fish was firm and the sauce had the right touch of garlic (note the fish knife); and the waiter poured me a glass of Albariño and the local Asturian white. What more can one ask to end the day.

First Course: Salad
Pescado With Garlic (and Fish Knife)

Day 2 (May 7) An Easy Day? — 18 Miles

I did choose to walk what most publications state to be the most difficult of the Camino routes. So far, from my perspective, the CP has lived up to its reputation. Yesterday was a tough 20 miles with more than half in the rain. Marta said that today would be easy in comparison. Hum.

After saying goodbye to Matteo, Marta dropped me off at the starting point to resume the CP at the end of Grado. “There’s the Camino,” she said, “Follow the sign to the right.” That started a climb of more than 350 meters over 5 km distance with several descents. I was glad to have practiced on the hill behind St. Luke’s. At the top of the climb, my heart rate was 130 bpm. Thank you Delia for sharing the practice climbs. They certainly helped here.


After toping the first climb, the descent was steep. During these two days, the steep descents jammed my toes against the front and sides of the toe box. I did not expect this. I had to use a few pads on my toes to reduce the chances of forming blisters. Otherwise, my usual foot treatment of applying Foot Glide has worked fine. I included an image of a downhill path. That same hill is behind the highway to the far right hand side of the second photo with Grado 5 km beyond it.

Steep Descent Into The Valley
Grado Somewhere Over The Faraway Hill

While resting about halfway through this stage (see Doriga sign), I met Gabriel from Santiago, Chile. He had recently quit his job working for a Japanese company. He said that he was always working and the stress had affected his health. He chose the CP in order to be alone — well, almost alone before he started his new job. He is 64 years old.

The Doriga Hamlet Signpost

By mile 15, we were dragging. Where was Salas? I kept thinking about a cold cerveza at the end of the walk. Our wish was granted after a “long” hour and a half later just as we passed a funky sign pointing the way. We were both surprised that we were in the same hotel that is built into ramparts of the town. The hotel has been a home of the Valdes Salas family whose most famous ancestor was the founder of the University of Oviedo and Inquisitor General of Spain. What a twist of fate to have me as a guest. I was wondering what kind of university experience was had in the 17th Century given the founder’s position. Tenure?

Final Sign Before Salas
Hotel Castillo de Valdes Salas

I ended my day with the pilgrim’s menu at El Campo Bar near the hotel. The hotel dining room was closed; it was Sunday. My first course was chicken soup. I ate all of it. Just what the doctor ordered for my ailing toes.

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Day 1 (6 May) Rain! — 20 Miles

My walks have taught me to accept whatever comes along. Weather is what Mother Natures gives. So, Day 1 began at 9:15 AM with me in full gear just like Day 1 last year on the Camino Portuguese.

Starting At the Oviedo Cathedral

Luckily, I had purchased a guidebook of this Camino that included a map of the pathway through the city until I could find the first signpost near the main entrance of the train station. From there, it was spotting the Camino shells and yellow arrows.

First Sign On The Trail

After walking 4 miles in heavy rain, I came upon a group of walkers huddled under the roof of Chapel Carmen. Mucho gustos we’re shared all around. The couple to my right as you look at the photo were from the Canary Islands. I ran into them several times afterwards as we passed one another on the route. The rest were locals out for a day’s walk in the rain! We stamped our credentials as evidence that we were progressing along. Even in the rain, smiles abounded.

At The Chapel Carmen

By 2 PM, the clouds had parted and the sun came out full of heat. Here is an image of a valley with rolling hills in the background. I was assured later that the mountains will be coming. Yet, this leg had 2000 feet of ascent and 2500 feet of descent. Hills? They too can tax your feet and hips.

Into The Valley

Even with water fortified with electrolytes, my body was craving food and some Spanish cerveza after 16 miles. I was teased along the route by signs advertising an inn/restaurant every kilometer or so. The last sign pointed right with 50 meters to go. It was more like 200 meters — each meter felt significant at this point in the day.

At the Villa Palatine, I asked for fabada — remember the Asturian bean stew? No go on Saturday. The substitute was soup of garbanzo beans and langoustines. Think of a slightly thinner lobster bisque with beans. Delicious. Two large beers in frosted mugs helped my mood too.

Langoustine and Garbanzo Soup

A man at the next table, Senor Chama, gave me a thumbs up for loving his beloved Asturian cuisine. He beckoned me over to his table and poured me some sider the Asturian way. Yes, they (most often waiters and waitresses) really pour sider this way for locals and tourists alike. I think that the technique enhances the liquid’s effervescence.

Pouring Sider The Asturian Way

My feet were sore now after reaching the 20 mile mark. I entered Grado and made the call to the Rural Palacio Fernandez where I was staying. It is 8 km outside of town. Marta and her daughter picked me up. I was the only guest for the night; tourist season hasn’t started yet. Here is a view of my room and from my room.

Room At The Rural Palacio
View From My Room

My dinner was simple but completely farm to table except for the tomatoes. Even the beer was local to this valley. I devoured the salad and ate half of the tortilla — the other half will be breakfast tomorrow. I asked about the cheese that topped the salad because its color was rusty red. Marta said that the cheese from her valley was made with paprika. Each valley has its distinctively styled cheese. I was not surprised given the number of hills that I had traversed. I wondered what Alfonso II thought as his entourage progressed along the rocky trails that I had walked. Off to bed with cow bells ringing from a distance.

Farm To Table
Local Brew

Oviedo Prelude (3-4 May)

Oviedo became the capital of Asturias in the 9th Century under King Alfonso II who is said to have made the first pilgrimage to Santiago — hence, the designation of the Oviedo to Santiago route as the Camino Primitivo (CP) — the Original Way. It is not the longest route but it is considered the most challenging because of the number of continuous days ascending and descending the mountains of Asturias and eastern Galacia. A plaque near the Cathedral marks the starting point of the CP. I also provided a map diagramming the generally accepted daily stopping points of the CP. Going east to west (right to left on the map), I will be walking more than 220 miles — mostly mountains until the city of Lugo in Galacia.

The Starting Point of the CP
The Route of the CP

King Alfonso II also found several pre-Romanesque churches around Oviedo. These churches are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. I visited three of them – Naranco, Lillo, and Saint Julian. They are simple in design and much of their frescoes no longer exist. Nevertheless, they still stand and are among the oldest surviving churches in Christendom.

Church of Santa Maria del Naranco
Church of San Miguel de Lillo
Church of Saint Julian de Los Prados

Although Oviedo is a bustling modern city, it is steeped in its religious history. The Cross of the Angles is the central symbol in the city’s coat of arms and is the distinctive feature of its flag. Even the tour guides around the cathedral wear lapel pins of that cross.

The Cathedral’s Main Gate
The Cross of Angels
Modern Oviedo

Not to be neglected, I sampled the local artisanal cerveza. Here is my favorite tasted at Conrad’s Bar. Here’s to you Laird as I follow our tradition of having a beer at the end of a day’s walk.

Sacavera Cerveza
Conrad’s Bar

Asturianos are quite proud of their cuisine. I have included images of three dishes that I enjoyed. Sharon will have no difficulty choosing the Fobada (Asturian Stewed Beans) as my number one choice. I love beans! But the Parrochas (Small Fried Sardines) and the Chipirones (Grilled Squid) were delicious as served at the Gato Negro. For fun, find the black cat in the bar scene.

Fobada (Asturian Stewed Beans)
Parrochas (Fried Small Sardines)
Chipirones (Grilled Squid)
Entrance Gato Negro
Find the Cat

My relaxed time in Oviedo ends tomorrow. The mountains await.

Mountains To the West

Day 19 (31 October) The Final Walk — 14 Miles

What final surprises lay ahead today? We knew that we would reach St Peter’s but what will happen in between and after?

After crossing a bridge that spanned the highway encircling Rome, we fast descended into another valley of fields. This area had no homes because it was probably wetlands. We threaded our way along a narrow path for about a mile that then opened up. We had some surprise company on the trail. The shepard with his dogs moved his flock for us to pass.

As was the pattern each day, we climbed a steep hill to reach our first encounter with a Roman neighborhood.

The street seems quiet but it wasn’t. Just a few moments before, a string of vehicles went by, one of them a wide body bus that seem to glide down the street coming within inches of the cars on either side of it. After many twists and turns across streets and a few roundabouts (our eyes were peeled on every sign pole, wall, and fence for VF symbols), we entered the park where we would come upon the lookout where we will have our first glimpse of St Peter’s from afar.

From afar, it was afar. As we gazed across Rome, St Peter’s was the largest structure. But I had imagined that it would fill the panorama. We would see it up close and personal. Many of you have visited Vatican City before and St Peter’s interior. From these perspectives, the church is imposing. But from this hill, it was another feature on the landscape. I was bummed out until Monique reminded me that reaching St Peter’s was not the goal; it was the journey with all of its richness that I had experienced alone and with Rich and her.

We made our way down the hill — 12 hairpin turns to Viale Angelique for the final mile to the piazza that Bernini’s colonnade forms. The area was mobbed. We found the office to secure our final stamp, took in the scene of crowds of tourist roaming the square, and admired again Bernini’s columns. We went off to the subway to find our hotel.

I love subways. Although I had been to Rome several times before, this was my first ride. Our hotel is named Domus Sessoriana, former housing for the clergy at the Basilica of Santa Croce. The front door to the hotel is just to the right of the church. The hotel renovated the inside but kept the original details of the structure. The rooms are basic but 2x or even 3x the size of a typical Roman hotel room.

The concierge recommended a restaurant, Bottega Trattoria De Santis, a few blocks from Santa Croce. We were there by 7:15, the second table, but by 8:30, the restaurant was filled inside and out. Deservedly so. Our dishes were noteworthy: caponata, polpo with a light tomato sauce and homemade maionese (Italian spelling), beef involtini with chicory (olives and raisins as part of the sauce), and pasta of mussels and smoked pecorino. Our wine opened to reveal a richness that our bottle of the same area and style from the night before didn’t have. I also had to include a photo of the bread in the bag and the two brioche piccolo that came with the meal.

Partway through our dinner, a couple sat next to us. Somehow we started to talk. The conversation turned to who we were and was this our first time in Rome. It turned out that the woman was leaving alone in a few days for Burgos to walk the Camino for three weeks. She wanted to know if we had done so and what were our experiences on the Camino and VF. Ask a question, and get a speech. I restrained myself; yes, I did. (Monique chuckled after reading this sentence.) She did most of the talking in Italian. The upshot was that our dining acquaintance was more thrilled to go after our conversation although her husband was hesitant about her impending trip. I hope that we had done our good deed for the day.

Tomorrow will be a transition day. We decided to visit the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the morning. Monique will be off to another hotel before her train trip to Switzerland. I will make the short train ride to Fiumincino where I stay overnight for Wednesday’s trip home.

I have enjoyed writing these blogs. I love to share the experiences. Each blog will remind me of the details when they fade away or become melded into a snapshot of this journey. Thanks for reading and commenting about them.

Thanks to Rich and Monique for deepening our friendships and creating lasting memories. Thanks to the many puppies who gave their love along the way. However, I could do without the barking from dogs behind the fences. They certainly woke up the neighbors where we walked.

The VF adventure all began in summer 2019 when Barbara and Steve Diamond suggested that I join them from Orvieto to Rome. I added on San Miniato to Orvieto. We were set to go in April 2020 and then. . . You know the rest.

Thank you Sharon for supporting my three walks, for helping me prepare, and for being an enthusiastic listener about each day on What’s App.

I could not have done the 88, the Camino, and the VF without you all. Thanks again.


PS — a new day dawns. Who knows what lies ahead. This photo was taken this morning, 1 November, from the rooftop of the hotel. The belltower of Santa Croce.

Day 18 (30 October) The Unexpected — 17 Miles

We were in no rush as we started off around 8:30 for our destination of Isola Farnese which according to guide was to be a easy day through the rolling hills near Rome. Out of our hotel, we turned left and then another left and we’re going up a hill when we realized that we had not seen any VF signs. We turned around after a half a mile. We should have gone right—right. Add one mile. It was morning and we were fresh. No big deal.

The first hill was remarkably long and steep. At the top, we discovered a cross that turned out to be the start of the stations of the cross leading to a Santuario Del Sorbo. As we followed the stations, we were first on a ridge and then on a severe downhill towards the fourth station followed by a long stretch of flatlands until we approached the Santuario Del Sorbo. On multi-day hikes, you understand that descents are as hard on your body as ascents. This one was the first of several.

We did not stop at the Santuario because we wanted to reach our destination by early afternoon. After another hill, we entered the first of a series of connected regional parks. It is remarkable how much open space there is this close to Rome. I took a photo of the landscape at the top of a hill — still pretty green even after three weeks of no rain. Looks relatively flat, no? Don’t be fooled. Those little bumps in the photo used up plenty of our energy especially in 80 plus degrees. Where was fall in Europe? But we were still smiling after seeing the km marker showing the distance to Rome. Was it the distance to the city limits or to the Vatican? As you know, I have questioned the published distances on the Camino and VF based on the mileage we (Laird, Rich, and I) have recorded on our GPS devices.

We soon hiked across the middle of a huge plowed field and descended into a deep gorge where a series of waterfalls were the main attractions for tourists. We had a serious climb ahead to reach Isola Farnese.

When we reached the road at the top, we had a choice to either go to Isola Farnese or to our hotel that was further down the road towards Rome. It was 4 PM, the sun was fading, and Google Maps showed that we were still another hour and eight minutes away from the hotel.

What we did not expect was the long final uphill that awaited us. When we got to the top, Monique called time for a break at a bar across the street. We were both bushed. My friend, Eddie Rodriguez, who does long distance bike rides, once said that your body will know what it needs. I needed two bottles of regular Coke. I could feel the jolt after I drank them.

I still could not figure out why at 4:45 we were confronting ending our walk in the dark. The sun had set the night before around 6:45. Ah so, said Monique. Europe went back to standard time this morning. Sharon confirmed later that the US is still on daylight time. Dah. So there we were with an hour to go and the sun setting.

The task ahead was not easy. We were now on the Via Cassia, a main artery into Rome. Remember the stone road, Antica Cassia Romana, back a few days as we walked to Viterbo. Here was its modern version on steroids. We walked along the narrow sidewalk that often disappeared and reappeared from time to time.

We also stopped once to admire and take photos of another row of the Pines of Rome. Admiring beauty has its moments even under time pressures.

At last, we reached our hotel in darkness – 5:30 – 17 miles for what we thought was a 13 mile or so walk. To top it off, we were told that the “Resort” La Rochetta does not serve dinner. The clerk said that the closest restaurant was about a half mile down the road. What choice did we have? We decided to meet at 7 to walk the road to dinner.

By then, the Via Cassia was even busier with cars streaming along on both sides of the street. When we were opposite the restaurant, we had to cross VC. We were at a crosswalk but without any overhead or stop lights. We waited for a break in the action but no luck. We couldn’t just stand there; we were famished. I took off my red jacket and waved it at oncoming traffic. After four cars went by, the fifth stopped and luckily at that moment, no traffic on the other lane. Monique commented that the driver who stopped was animatedly talking to his passenger with his hands. I wondered whether he was saying, “Uppa US.” The drivers behind him must have been saying, “What’s happening,” or something to that effect.

The Antica Osteria da Pietro was excellent — venue, offerings, and hospitality. The chef/owner is the namesake’s son. His wife and daughter worked this evening. Monique ordered the cacio e pepe and I, the lasagne of porcini mushrooms. The chef gave us a small complimentary portion of mezze maniche, a shorten version of rigatoni with sauce that included small bits of pork cheeks. All rated five yums.

For our seconds, we both ordered carciofi Jewish style (fried whole) and shared the carciofi Romana (steamed and topped with a garlic and oil sauce). Comparing these two with the carciofi tempura from the previous night, we voted the carciofi Jewish style the best because one fully tasted the artichoke flavor and felt the differing textures of the heart and leaves. Bravo!

We ended with tartufo. The usual version in the US is a hard shell of dark chocolate covering vanilla ice cream. Pietro’s version was chocolate ice cream with a smidgen of vanilla covered with fine chocolate powder. In this version, the chocolate covering stays on the ice cream. Complementing this dinner was a local Lazio red wine.

The walk back to the hotel was not as exciting as before, no jacket waving necessary because the traffic had died down. Thank goodness.

Breakfast a bit later tomorrow, 8:30. We had already walked 2.5 miles of what is to be the walk to St Peter’s.

Day 17 (29 October). Carciofi — 15 Miles

The land in this part of Lazio is pretty flat. Hazelnut groves were almost all we saw for most of the day. However, given the proximity to Rome with its wealth and population, we passed three golf facilities that were adjacent to one another. One caught my eye, the National Golf School of Italy. We could not see into the facility. The best I could do was to included a photo of one of private courses.

We continued through the small town of Monterosi and walked along a narrow path next to SR2. The traffic was fierce and thankfully we soon turned onto a gravel road. Regardless of where we had been on this journey, gravel roads were a hazard because of the dust that was sent airborne as a car passed us by. I decided to present a picture of how hazy the road may be after a car passed or approached us.

The most pleasant part of the stage was our brief walk through the Parco Regional Valle del Treja. We saw families, and adults walking in groups. Many stopped at the only restaurant in the park. We did too. I also add that Halloween is big here too. The restaurant is hosting a special dinner that night.

We were soon joined by the young French couple, Angelique and Herve, whom we had met five times before. They are psychologists who left their jobs in eastern France two months ago. They will relocate to Brittany to be close to their parents. Before they do, they decided to walk the VF starting in Besancon, France. They said that the most trying part of their walk was through the Po Valley seeing rice fields for days on end. I’ll stop talking about the hazelnut groves.

We had 6 km to go and it was easy to cover the distance quickly because the terrain was flat until we reach Campagnano. The final climb was straight up about 300 meters. We entered another hill town similar to Capranica. We walked through — about a half mile — to an archway to the newer part of the town. Our hotel was within two blocks and we hurried to find it for a most welcomed shower and nap.

Without a cicerone, we walked back into the centro storico before dinner. We saw what we think is the HQ of the local police— an imposing building in the Venetian style. The city gate was lit as we headed back out to our restaurant.

Our antipasti for dinner inspired the title for this blog. Osteria Pizzeria dal Micione had no written menu. Our young server spoke to us about each item for the night. His first item was carciofi. We stopped him there. We both ordered it. Superb. They were brought to the table hot as they would in a first class tempura bar in Japan. The coating was crispy and light in appearance and texture. On a previous visit to Rome, Sharon and I tasted carciofi four times but never had it served this way.

Our primi piatti was pasta fagioli— my second of this trip and made differently from the one in Orvieto. We loved this version too. The pasta was al dente and the beans were slightly firm not mushy. I would order this dish once a week if I lived in this town. We ended with sautéed chicory. The veggie was firm and the garlic and oil sauce was piquant. Simple and delicious. A vegetarian meal from beginning to end.

The osteria’s name includes pizzeria. We did not try it because we were satisfied. Pasta fagioli is filling. We asked the chef and our young server to pose for a photograph. Here they are with a well deserved thanks from us.

For the first time on trip, I was in bed by 9:15 PM. Yes!

Day 16 (28 October) An Extraordinary Day — 17 Miles

We were on our way by 8:30 for our anticipated longest day. The morning air was fresh and cool as we left Vetrella on what turned out to be the cycling route. We thought that eventually the walking and cycling routes would merge as they had many times before. But, they didn’t. After two miles, we consulted Google Maps. Think of the apex of a triangle. We went down one side while the VF walking route went the other. We were going in the right direction — south— but needed to figure out how to connect.

We made a left turn at the next T. We followed the road for a mile, crossed a railroad track, and walked on a heavily trafficked road in La Botte. We found the walking route but not before an unpleasant encounter with a driver. In La Botte, a driver sharply turned right in front of Monique to park his car in front of a store. As she passed the car, she told the driver that the maneuver was dangerous and not friendly. He gave her the upward five finger gesture. So goes Italian hospitality. We wanted out of La Botte as quickly as we could.

After negotiating a very busy roundabout, we followed a road that led us to a T. Which way to go. We asked a passerby and he explained how the road to right would put us on the VF. From that point onward, the day turned extraordinary.

We walked through fields of hazelnut trees. If you ever wondered where the main ingredient of Nutella comes from, here you are — miles upon miles of groves. The noci also adds crunch and flavor to chocolate bars.

Around noon and after ten miles of walking, we decided to rest at the Torre dei Orlando (The Towers of Roland). Ahem. We unpacked our lunches that the locanda had made. Monique got into her usual relaxed lunch position. A few minutes later, a pair of what looked like older Italian hippies passed us by joyously waving and wishing us Buon Camino. We would see them later at a bar in Capranica and then in Sutri where we will pick up their story.

After lunch, we continued towards Capranico. Lamborghini anyone? I don’t think you’ll make 60 mph in 3 seconds with this model. Pines of Rome? Respighi would be pleased with this stately row.

Eventually, we entered Capranica. Refreshments were in order. One of our servers greeted us in Japanese. After trying to decipher Italian during this trip, it took me several seconds to realize that we were conversing in Japanese. Back to Italian, he revealed that he had worked in the Shinjuku section of Tokyo for six months. Smiles abounded. Besides the drinks, I was welcomed to use their outlet to recharge my iPhone. Google Maps had consumed a considerable amount of power. Over at another table were the Italian hippies.

Capranica turned out to be a wonderful find. After entering the centro storico, we found a charming town that had the flavor of a miniature Siena but without its hoards of tourists. The town seemed untouched over the centuries except for the occasional art displays. I even photographed my first policeman in a foreign land, up close and personal. He was putting up special No Parking signs for the 31 October, Halloween Parade. Really.

According to the map, we still had a deep gorge to traverse. As the Italian hippies passed us outside of Capranica, they asked Monique how old she was. Sixty-eight and a granny of five. They responded with a stronger version of madai meaning come on.

We descended at least 100 meters into a dark rain forest. The light was above us and we felt the coolness and humidity as we walked along a stream. We were in a primeval forest. The guide warns not to enter the gorge during rains. We understood because even after two weeks of no rain, the trail was damp and in some places muddy.

We re-entered the real world at Sutri, the endpoint of this stage. Again, what a surprise! After entering one of city gates, we encountered two charming boys who could have been tour guides, cicerone, so named after Cicero. The way it was pronounced, I thought we were talking about those crispy Caribbean delights, chicerrones. They told Monique in Italian, of course, how to get to this and that piazza and what to see and do. We went to the Piazza Communale where it seemed like all of the people of the town passes through.

We met again the young French couple, the walker from Munich, and allora, the Italian hippies. The pair invited us to join them for drinks. They had already started and were smoking, one with a cigar. It turns out that they are brothers and had made other walks like the Camino di Santiago. Joe, the white haired fellow is 64 and Bob is 60. Both are retired private bankers from Vicenza. They were on their way to Rome to attend Sunday services led by the pope. Since it was Friday, they were catching a bus tomorrow — no way could they walk from Sutri to Rome and be on time. What a hoot.

Sundown was fast approaching. We made the call to our Agriturismo for a lift. We got there at 6:30, almost dark. We left Sutri behind wishing that our accommodations could have been in the centro storico. Joe and Bob were staying at a nunnery.

Day 15 (27 October) The Invisible Hand — 13 Miles

Our breakfast this morning was more typical of what Italians eat — pastry and coffee. Add in Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, yogurt, and fruit and there you have it. Although I did not eat a cookie, one can appreciate the variety of offerings and how meticulously they were displayed. If you look hard enough, you will see an empty space in the covered try. That was where my chocolate croissant once was.

As we left, I took a photo of our hotel. You will see a wooden door in the lower middle background. That’s the entrance. The hotel was next to a covered fountain where back in the day neighborhood women washed clothes.

We were excited about taking the Monumentale route. The route was well marked as Mauro said. We went through the Porta Romana, up a very steep hill on a paved road until we reached a forest. Monique was in the lead; you can see her on the right side of the photo and the VF trail marker on the left. In the middle of this part of the walk, we came up workers thinning out the forest. No clear cutting but selective harvesting of wood. It seemed brutal to see and hear the machines working. The sounds were like whining animals out for kill.

We exited the forest and reached the town of San Martino Al Cimino that contains an abbey complex that a pope built for his lover, Doria Pamphilj. Mauro had pointed this place out for us on the map we were carrying. We were studying the tourist map of the town next to the archway leading to the church when Mauro appeared on his bicycle. To say the least, we were more than surprised. Was is merely coincidence that put him there at this time? Or, was it the invisible hand giving us a sign that we were being guided and protected along the route? Maybe Kobo Daishi from the ohenro. Mauro looked the part of an Italian cyclist. I told Monique that my sunglass frames though made in Italy were not as cool as Mauro’s. Perhaps I need to look into finding another frame to take on the Italian persona. Ya sure.

The church was the prominent feature of the town. Its interior was as large as many of the Gothic churches of the 12-15th Centuries. But this one was austere befitting an abbey.

The VF yields new treasures everyday. This stage had its share. We passed the entrance to a villa with several small signs. We liked two of them. The one above loosely translated says, Don’t miss joy even for an hour. You will never experienced it again. How true. The other was shalom. We ignored the cani signs.

We went by Miss Italy 1960 — she seemed well preserved for her age. We were amused by a most welcoming warning on the entrance to a property. That warning was hollow to me. I could not test the hypothesis because I could never get over the gate!

At this point, we peaked after 10 miles of uphill climbing. We took time for a brief lunch and then plunged into another forest. We literally raced down this hill because the mosquitos and flies swirled around us buzzing and biting. We reached the village of Tre Croci before walking the final two miles to our hotel. We were bedraggled. Although not long in the grand scheme of the multi-day walks, we were very tired because of the lengthy climb and quick descent. We also agreed that we had not slept well the night before. Getting good rest is critical on these walks.

Dinner lifted our spirits. Our risotto of asparagus and porcini mushrooms was superb — the rice was firm and the sauce blended perfectly with the rice. The other outstanding dish was the pork chops in an olive sauce. The chops were sliced into smaller pieces and had been seared to make a nice crust. The backbone of the sauce were anchovies. I could not see them but they were clearly there. We asked to see the chef to thank him and to take his photo. Onesto, a Filipino had migrated to Italy years ago. The woman was the hostess/owner of the locanda, Nonna. This pair reminded me of Cino’s, our go to neighborhood when Sharon and I lived in Brooklyn. The place was packed every night. The owner was Italian and the chef, Puerto Rican.

We retired early because tomorrow will be the longest walk of our/my VF. The Diamonds warned me about this stage, the guide as well. We decided to start early. So, early to bed, early to rise. Onward to Sutri.