22 Oct Stage 1, D-Day on the Via di San Francesco
We reach our first landmark, the Triumphal Arch on the Piazza di Libertà, still inside Florence. It feels like ages before we get out of the city.
I am walking in Italy!
Progress is slow and laborious due to my unfitness. Niels often has to wait for me to catch up. We get to the small town of Settignano, our first resting point after ascending what seemed to me to be quite a steep little hill. I realise this is not going to be easy at all. We have breakfast.
As the day progresses, temperatures soar into the mid 30ᵒC (over 90ᵒF). We’re still in the tail end of one of the worst heat waves Italy has ever seen. I pour sweat as I have never done in my entire life.
I honestly begin to question the wisdom of my decision of hiking The St Francis Way. The only hope I cling to is the fact that if I carry on, I will get fit.
After Settignano the trail makes a beautiful descent into the small town of Compiobbi on the banks of the Arno River. I decide one very important thing: No pain and suffering shall interfere with my enjoyment of the beautiful landscape. I am walking in Italy!
When we get to the Arno, we have another welcome break. The effect of the landscape is a wonderful soothing sense of beauty and peace. One can easily wish to stay in these surroundings for a very long time.
We continue along the Arno. What I don’t like is a small stretch along the shoulder of a highway. We reach the town of Sieci and have a break in the yard of St Giovanni church. Inside the church, the atmosphere is beautifully peaceful and quiet.
“Not Too Far”
Niels tells me we’re not that far from Pontassieve. That is where I make the first mistake in interpreting the phrase “not too far…” To me, that means hiking another half hour, not another three hours as it turned out. Had we taken the main road, I would have been right.
Geographically Pontassieve is the next town up the Arno River. We could simply walk straight there in no time. However, this is not what the path does. We take a left turn, and head for the hills. This seems wrong to me. I confer with Niels. He shows me in the book that this is definitely the path.
He tells me of his experience walking the Camino Santiago, and how he sometimes missed significant landmarks, and beautiful sights by taking shortcuts. I agree, that I would rather see the sights on the long way, rather than miss them by taking a shortcut.
I was about to learn the true meaning of the Italian word “Poggio.” The direct translation into English gives the word “knoll.” This refers more to the shape of the hill than its size. In terms of hiking, it means only one thing: climb.
As the trail leads up the hill, we start walking on paths and roads that go through vineyards. It’s a climb of just over 150 meters (i.e. an elevation that high). Fortunately, the path is mostly lined by trees.
We get to Pontassieve and find a small coffee shop. All I can do is collapse at a table. Niels gets me some bread and salami. I also have delicious ice cream, and what was to become my staple liquid intake for the rest of the trip: aqua frizzante – sparkling mineral water.
We reach our inn and I am totally exhausted. As he is patching up my badly blistered feet, Niels tries to convince me to get a lift to our next overnight destination. I am adamant that I want to walk, even though I truly feel like death. He warns me that worse is to come, and paints a picture to scare me into not hiking the next day. I agree to postpone the decision to walk until the morning.