As I speak Italian reasonably well and I didn’t expect to meet many other pilgrims walking along the relatively new Via Romea Germanica (VRG), I decided to stop and chat with people along the way as often as I could. For me, this is one of the joys of ‘slow travel’.
I actually started on my second day with this blacksmith in Mattei am Brenner, whilst I was still in Austria. I had to try and remember some German from school 50 years ago!
He had a lot of work as iron window grills, doors and even grave markers such as the ones in the photo are popular.
This farmer near Klausen was enjoying the warm April weather.
These guys were maintaining the track I was walking along and helped me with directions using a mixture of German and English.Silvana is a fellow member of the VRG Association. As it was a public holiday, she was able to come and walk with me and also very kindly cooked me dinner.Getting down near to Trento, I’d passed the linguistic frontier and this Italian speaking shepherd told me how much he enjoyed being with his sheep. You can see some guard donkeys amongst the flock.Gabriella and Gigi are also members of the VRG Association. Gigi came to meet me in the piazza in Trento, stamped my credenziale or Pilgrim’s passport and bought me a beer.
Gabriella who has walked to Santiago extremely kindly put me up for the night and cooked dinner. Coincidentally her son had just passed through my home town of Brisbane a day or two before.
I also got a stamp from this man in the sacristy of the cathedral.
Walking down the beautiful Valsugana along the still small Brenta River I met this fisherman who was quite proud of his catch.
Not long after I’d crossed the Cimirlo Pass into the Valsugana, another VRG member Silvana and her grandkids were waiting to say hello and offer me a drink.
Paula runs the hotel I stayed at in Cismon del Grappa and is also the cook.
At Monselice I had a very nice dinner indeed. I didn’t get the names of the couple who ran the traditional family style restaurant and I didn’t have anything from Australia to give them when they asked. They became very serious for the instant when I took the photo!
In Rovigo I stayed in a B&B run by this man. As with most people I chatted with, he was interested to hear about my walk. He had an interesting collection of 1960 shoe lasts as his father had a shoe factory in Strà in the 1970s.
Just outside Rovigo, I met this lady with her Italian Lagotto Romagnolo. They are used as hunting dogs but also for truffle hunting. This one dug a large hole while we were talking. She had walked to Santiago and was very interested in hearing about my walk.
This tabaccaio in Francolino invited me into his shop for a coffee and was keen to put his stamp in my credenziale.
In Ferrara I had the usual frugal Italian breakfast in this bar. The young guy working there thought that he’d like to do a walk like mine in 50 years time!
I had nice chat with this 86 year old who was pottering around by a stream with his fishing net. He told me that he hardly ever catches a fish. He never quite understood that whilst I’d started my walk in Austria, I was Australian.
Werter called out to me in Italian in a street of the tiny village of Traghetto ‘Are you Paul?’. He was another member of the VRG Association who’d been following my walk on Facebook. He took me in his car to my accommodation which was a bit hard to find.
This is the pizza cook at the little seaside town of Casalborsetti where the VRG touches the Adriatic.
This couple were from Bologna and were visiting the nature reserve near Ravenna. In the background is one of the hundreds of fishing nets I saw in that area.
Near Forlì I asked this man for some water as the two litres I was carrying just wasn’t enough. He was working in his veggie patch. He got me some cold sparkling water from the fridge.
In Cusercoli I stayed in the lovely little new hostel in the castle.
There was a festival on in town and the local proloco team who also run the hostel wouldn’t let me pay for my dinner. This is the renowned Romagna region hospitality.
In Santa Sofia, I was treated to dinner by Flavio. He and his family are all deeply involved with the VRG.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Ida and Gilberto, more members of the VRG Association who knew from Flavio that I’d be walking near their homes on that day. They were walking in the opposite direction to find me and then we walked together for some hours. I was very touched by the friendliness of members of the VRG Association along the way.
After crossing the Serra Pass into Tuscany I met my first other pilgrims at the refuge I stayed at. They were two Dutch women heading towards La Verna. This is by the way the biggest size of the famous Bialetti coffee maker you can get.
This man asked me if I was ‘looking or walking’. He was looking for prugnolo mushrooms. I told him about my walk and he was keen to take a photo with me so I took one too.
This cyclist stopped to ask me where I was walking to and we had a chat about Australia.
I met a farmer who grows saffron. He invited me in for a coffee.
These people had moved to Tuscany from Calabria. They were out collecting wild chicory.
In Arezzo, I had dinner in a restaurant where I’d eaten about 20 years ago. I got to talking with the owner, Mario, who was very taken with the idea of my pilgrimage. You can see which of us has been out in the sun for 8 hours a day for the last month!
Time for a fig flavoured ice cream in Cortona.
Franco likes to assist pilgrims walking near his home near Cortona much like a modern day Knight Templar. He bought me lunch and found accommodation for me in Ficulle which was not an easy task.
Franco’s friend Barbara was visiting the area on holiday and she accompanied me along the VRG one day.
This French couple were the only other long distance pilgrims I met in 6 weeks. They were heading in the opposite direction to me towards Assisi. I think I got them interested in the VRG.
This was the second shepherd I’d met. He also used guard donkeys and was riding one but his progress was somewhat erratic.
This man was collecting boletus mushrooms, porcini in Italian.
Just outside of Viterbo I saw people loading rocks into their cars. I had to ask this women what they were for. The answer was that people use volcanic rocks in their gardens. She couldn’t believe that I’d walked 1,000kms over the last 5 weeks.
This woman and her mother run a little family restaurant in Sutri. I was the only person eating there so we ended up having a long chat. Her mother disappeared back into the kitchen when I suggested taking a photo.
My morning ritual included getting a bread roll made up for lunch along the way. This invariably led to a discussion about my walk. Italians love to chat.
This lady and her husband run a bed and breakfast place in an ancient house in Formello.
I finally met some other pilgrims on my last night at the hostel in Rome. Some are in this photo. The woman in her 70s next to me had ridden her bicycle around 600km down from Brescia. The young couple had walked from northern France over the preceding 8 months.
My walk was greatly enriched by all my encounters of which these are just a sample.