Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day 33 - Marina Romea to Ravenna

We left Marina Romea reluctantly. I am not normally a beach resort person, but I really liked our hotel and what little we saw of the town itself. I truly enjoyed the shade from the pine trees. After a couple of weeks of the blistering sun, walking in the deep, shadowy groves was like a foretaste of heaven. I could have stayed a few more days, probably not returning to the beach, but rather, simply strolling in the woods and drinking prosecco in our hotel's garden.

After a lovely breakfast (one of the best of the entire trip so far), we cinched our sweaty, greasy backpacks over our shoulders and set out again.

When programming my GPS to help guide us on the trip, I noticed that, since we had already departed 1.5 KM from the trail in coming to Marina Romea, we could simply continue south, and follow a main (pine tree-lined) street through the Ravenna suburbs and into town. This would probably require a short walk of around 12 KM.

The proper way, of course, was to retrace our steps, trek backward to the trail, and resume our route at the point from which we had departed.

Our Motto: When in doubt, do it the hard way.

We decided to go backwards, adding more distance to the day’s stage, but ensuring that we continued to maintain the established routing. I think we were beguiled by the guidebook, which stated that the designated path offered a long stroll through a beautiful pine wood. One of the highlights of the trip.

Back we went. We headed north, and then turned west at the first opportunity. We hiked around the northern side of one of Ravenna’s lagoons. We saw more flamingos, eel fishing cabins, and, at one point, an old man sitting in a small park serenading the birds and frogs with his clarinet.

And why not? Did Francis not preach to the birds?

Eventually we were able to get off the main road and turn south for Ravenna. Here is what the guidebook neglected to mention about the delightful piney woods: they are a mosquito and black fly hell. We had not gone far before the malevolent insects began to swarm. Mary and I sprayed each other with repellant, but it did little good. She was viciously savaged by the mosquitos, while I was repeatedly attacked by biting flies.

The pine woods go on for quite a long time (8 KM by my measure). Were there no mosquitoes, it would be enchanting. By the time we emerged on the other end, Mary’s cheek was swollen from a bite, her arms and legs had been repeatedly assaulted, and she actually had a dry trickle of blood down one of her arms from a bite.

We staggered out of the pestilential pine woods, only to practically stumble across our German friend, Timo. He was leaning against a fence, shoes off, and looking exhausted. The mosquitoes had not been kind to him either, but he had been having many adventures since we had last met on the road to Traghetto. While camping out in his tent he had been accosted by a badger, and while walking 50KM in one day, he also had been savaged by the insect world.

Nevertheless, he happily strapped on his boots, and the three of us proceeded into Ravenna.

Mary and I visited Ravenna three years earlier, and I was looking forward to our return. The hike through the suburbs did not seem unbearable, and soon we approached the tomb of Theodoric through a leafy park.

Theodoric was the second king of Italy. His predecessor, Odoacer, had deposed the last of the western Roman emperors, Romulus Augustus, and declared himself the king of Italy. Theodoric supplanted him, and used Ravenna as his capital. While here, he built a church for Arian Christians, and later was entombed in a mausoleum which exists on the outskirts of town.

After taking a few photos, we continued into the center. Timo was not planning to spend the night in the city (we planned to spend two nights), so it seemed unlikely we would catch up with him again. We had a late lunch together, and then it was time for us to take our different paths: Timo to Jerusalem, and we to our B&B.

Church of San Giovanni Battista

Today’s Distance: 19.1

Total Distance: 595.8

Day 32 - Valli di Comacchio to Marina Romea

Our breakfast was served a little later than normal, which meant that we were unable to get the early start that we prefer. Today’s stage was to be longer than what was specified in the guidebook; we were going to continue past Casalborsetti, a beach resort town on the Adriatic Sea, to Marina Romea, another resort about 4.5 KM south. Mary had been unable to find accommodations in Casalborsetti, so we were forced to walk a little further.

Back up on the levee. This was our third day on this levee. I won’t be saddened to see the end of it. According to the guidebook, the first part of today’s stage consisted of 10.5 KM on the levee. Once again, we were back up in the harsh sun, no shade to be found, trudging east. An interesting difference was that the levee now separated the Reno River from a great salt marsh known as the Valli di Camacchio.  Centuries ago the land subsided, and the sea rushed in, forming a rich, biologically diverse land-locked swamp that is home to more than 300 species of birds. Even inexperienced bird watchers like us were able to pick out a few: thousands of Flamingos, ducks, herons, kingfishers, commorants, and the ubiquitous gulls.

Distant Flamingos

There are also many bugs. As we reached end of the levee, a nasty swarm of tiny white insects attacked me. There were thousands, if not a hundred thousand, raging all around me. The collective action of their wings made an shrill screech in my ears. Fortunately they weren’t biting or stinging, but they followed me for at least a half kilometer before they dispersed. Mary said that it looked like I was being followed by a dark cloud.

Most unpleasant.

The river turned south. People have built small elevated fishing cabins on pilings along the shoreline. Each of these cabins had a pole and pulley rig that supported a large fishing net. From the comfort of the balcony overlooking the water, the cabin’s owner could flip a switch, and an electric winch would lower the net into the water, until it rested on the bottom of the river. A few minutes later, reverse the switch, pull the net up by its four corners, and see if anything had wandered in at the right moment.

We met a group of men who were fishing in this manner, as well as having a barbecue and drinking beer. They were convinced that we were walking in the wrong direction. They did not relent until I pulled out the guidebook and showed them our course. One of them offered us each two large apricots, which, after our hours spent in the sun, were delicious.

Fish Party

“Ask them what they are fishing for,” said Mary.

I translated her question into italian. It turned out that the nets were designed to catch eel. “But we haven’t caught any today,” said one of the men. “These” -- and he indicated the eels on the barbecue -- “are from the grocery store.”

They must have some success with this type of fishing, or it would be unlikely that they would build so many fishing cabins. Maybe there is a time of year when the eels migrate up the rivers.

We continued on to Casalborsetti, walking in past grey blocks of ugly condominiums. These units were set more than a kilometer back from the water --- I can’t imagine wanting to own property in this town. We didn’t tarry long --- a cool drink in a bar, a quick trip to the bathroom, and then we were on our way again. Heading south, we passed an RV park that was stuffed with the mobile units. The Italians love the beach, and will suffer great indignity and discomfort to be near the water.

Beach RVs

The last part of our stage, the extension to Marina Romea, was shaded by lovely pine trees. We strolled along the asphalt bike path, which turned into the main street of the town. I thought this was an interesting town. It sits about 300 meters back from the beach in a dense pine forest. The hotels and shops that line the street were in the shade and much cooler than the region that was exposed to the sun.

We checked into our hotel, showered, and then it was time to take advantage of our complimentary beach passes. Another interesting aspect of Italian beaches is that many of them are privately owned. If you want to go to the beach, you need to rent a recliner and a sun parasol. Fortunately, a day’s rental was included in our hotel price. The hotel even had a “shuttle” to the beach (a golf cart), that we took advantage of.

The beach was incredible, not as the word is often used to describe something wonderful, but rather as something that filled one with disbelief. Thousands of beach umbrellas, in long orderly rows, were staked into the sand as far as the eye could see. People of all ages, sizes, and shapes roasted in the sun.

On the Beach

We roasted, about twelve rows back from the water for a couple of hours. Then, hot, tired, and ready for a change, we went back to our hotel, where they were running a Sunday special: free appertivi for hotel guests. Sweet. We had a lovely range of tiny dishes and free prosecco. You can’t kick about that.

Dinner at the earliest time possible (7:30) and then home to bed and to sleep.

Today’s Distance: 23.3 KM

Total Distance: 576.7 KM

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Day 31 - San Biagio to Valli di Comacchio

A very difficult stage.

As I noted earlier, we had extended yesterday’s stage to San Biagio, hoping to reduce the length of today’s stage to Valli di Camacchio. We departed San Biagio a little later than normal, hiked through the town, and headed for the odd little path that runs back up to the levee. To reach the levee, you must hike through what appears to be someone’s yard, pass through a dense grove of trees, be attacked by a vicious swarm of mosquitos, and then scramble up an ill-cut trail to the top of the levee.

We completed the required protocols, and after I had swatted about six mosquitos that were tucking into Mary, we were ready to proceed.

The levee runs in a near-perfect straight line, for almost 25 kilometers. I began to take a series of photos at half hour intervals, just to convey a sense of the mind-numbing monotony that characterized this day.

Interesting Scenery

Scenery, Thirty Minutes Later

And Thirty Minutes Later...

This was once again a brutal day on the Via. We hiked the levee as the sun intensified. There was a light wind blowing, but it came out of the west, striking our backs and doing little to cool us. I gulped my water like a Boeing 747 sucking jet fuel during takeoff. I felt like a sieve. I poured water down my throat, and minutes later it re-emerged from every pore, sweat soaking my entire body.

We passed a few ruined and (presumably) unoccupied buildings that had been stranded in the countryside, surrounded by long fields of wheat and corn.

Abandoned Building

The day deteriorated. It was hot, the sun was kicking the stuffing out of us, and every step was painful. I was again led to question the routing of the Via. I cannot work out the logic of the route. It has been swinging east and west, zig-zagging through the Veneto and now Emilia-Romagna, almost as if the goal was to lengthen the route and try to take in as much farmland as possible. In my opinion, it would have been far more interesting to either take a coastal route (Padova-Venice-Ravenna) or stick to an interior route (Padova- Ferrara-Bologna-La Verna). At the moment, the logic of the route completely eludes me.

One of Many Interesting Photos of Hay Bales

The other great drawback is the lack of services. Today we walked at least 24KM without anywhere to stop and have a drink, buy some lunch, or even take a rest under a shady tree. There was no shade. The route runs through empty countryside, kilometer after kilometer of farmland, with nothing to break up the day. Even the Meseta, the greatly feared no man’s land of the Camino Frances, has towns every five kilometers or so.

Today, nothing. No relief anywhere. We were in the sun all day long. By the end, Mary was feeling it, and the last kilometer was brutally difficult for her. Heat exhaustion is a real possibility on this stage; I pity those who might attempt in in July or August.

Ultimately, the stage came to an end, as all of them do. But this one really savaged us, and I am feeling far less optimistic about the viability of the Via, after the past few days.

Today’s Distance: 26.9 KM

Total Distance: 553.4 KM

Day 30 - Traghetto to San Biagio

We rose early for another longer stage. The guidebook recommends a stage to Argento, about 16.5 KM in length. When booking accommodations, Mary decided to lengthen today’s stage (by continuing past Argento to San Biagio) and thus shortening tomorrow’s long stage to Valli di Comacchio.

Breakfast was shared with two other guests, older women who run B&Bs in Rimini. They claimed that they had only come to Traghetto to relax, but I suspect they were also checking out the procedures and practices at the Happy Cherry B&B. They certainly were interested in securing the secret recipe for our host’s marmalade pie.

They were rather effusive about my Italian skills, and immediately brushed aside my apologies for my garbled syntax. “It is harder for a man,” said one of the ladies. “If you were a woman, you would learn much quicker, because women talk so much more.”

I hadn’t heard that tip before.

We also discussed the pellegrini who stayed in Traghetto. Since the Happy Cherry is the only game in town, our hostess sees most of the people who come this way. “They tend to be older, rich people who have a lot of free time. The young cannot make the pilgrimage because they don’t have enough vacation time, and they can’t afford it. If you have to pay fifty or more euros every night for lodging, it becomes very expensive.”

This was a good point, and another big difference from the Spanish Camino. On the Camino, although you certainly can stay in private accommodation, it is also possible to spend your nights in albergi that might cost no more than ten euros (if that). Fuel your walk with the fixed, but cheap, pilgrim’s meals, and it can be a fairly inexpensive trip.

But we needed to press on. We left the Happy Cherry at 8:00 and set off down the road. The pavement quickly gave way to forest paths, and before long, we were walking on an elevated levee. This offered quite a bit of shade at times, which was desperately welcome. The sun was again scorching the earth into submission, so we were grateful for the moments we could hike under a forest umbrella.

Like many recent days, there really wasn’t much to see today. We passed the ruins of an old villa. In the foreground was a rusted, decrepit gate. A driveway was flanked by a double line of broken statues, and in the background, the crumbling walls of the villa that is being slowly pulled to earth by the forces of nature.

Badly Photographed Villa

We reached Argento a little after noon, and left the levee to descend into town. We had a difficult time finding a place to eat, but ultimately staggered into a Chinese restaurant. This proved to be a horrible mistake. I have eaten many brilliant Chinese meals in my life. This was not one of them. Even the ever-kind Mary was appalled.

Normally we would have stopped here, but it was back up to the levee and onward. The road seemed much hotter after Argento than it had before it. We saw a fascinating church that turned out to be the Santuario della Madonna della Celletta. We could only view the church from a distance, far across the fields, as there was no path from our levee down to the octagonal building.

We reached San Biagio a little after 2:00, hot, foot-sore, and ready for a shower. If the guidebook is correct and our stamina holds up, we should transition into the maritime (cooler, perhaps?) climate of the Adriatic Sea tomorrow.

Today’s Distance: 23.5 KM

Total Distance: 526.5 KM

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Day 29 - Ferrara to Traghetto

I took a well-deserved day off from writing up our adventures while we were in Ferrara. We managed to balance some sightseeing with quite a bit of time sitting in piazzas, enjoying appertivos and watching the world walk by. I will say that Ferrara is an easy city to like, and I look forward to a future return.

Dawn broke and we were off on one of the longest stages of the journey, roughly 30 KM or 18 miles. The weather threatened to be hot, so we wanted to get away early.

This is a problematic stage. Not only is it long, but it ends in a town so small that there isn’t even a restaurant. Mary and I had realized this the night before and secured a couple of bags of snacks for our backpacks, but it really made no sense.    Why would the guidebook recommend stopping here, in a place where you can’t even buy dinner?

Leaving Ferrara

The first 7.5 KM followed busy roads out of Ferrara. Here is another reason that this stage is winning early votes from me for worst stage of the entire Via: we were endangering our lives by sharing our route with fast-moving cars. This was especially problematic after passing the Ferrara suburb of Chiesuol del Fosso.

The Road Goes Ever-onward

We walked along a very narrow, shoulder-less road, with cars flying at us at high velocity. Italian drivers are generally quite good (although they do not like to slow down unless absolutely necessary), but it only takes one person texting while driving to clip a hiker who has no place to walk. Sooner or later there is going to be a tragic accident.

As I trudged beside the road, a car dashed past, braked, turned around, and drove back to park in front of me. A man climbed out.

“Are you following St Anthony’s Cammino?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “Via Romea Germanica.”

“Where are you going today?”

“Traghetto,” I answered.

“Would you like a ride?”

Would we? The sun was melting our shoes off our feet, the asphalt was grinding our bones into sand, sweat soaked my shirt, and I was tired of playing the torrero with the passing cars.

“No,” I replied, “but thank you. We need to walk.”

He smiled, climbed back into his car, and sped away.

I kicked myself for the next thirty minutes, until I grew too tired to kick any more.

Knowing that there were no dining facilities in Traghetto, we had planned to stop at a pizzeria in San Nicolo, a tiny town that was approximately two-thirds of the way to our destination. If we could get one solid meal into our bellies, it would be easier to weather the evening with some snacks.

San Nicolo

Imagine our dismay when, already salivating at the thought of lovely italian pizza, we reached the pizzeria and found that it was closed. Closed for a week-long holiday. There went our last chance for real food.

There were two bars in San Nicolo. The first we tried did not have panini (sandwiches) or other luncheon food. The owner did have a couple of old croissants rotting in his display case, but we rejected that alternative.

The second bar did offer a limited range of panini -- cheese, salami, prosciutto, cheese and prosciutto. It wasn’t glorious but it was something.

We left San Nicolo, crossed a bridge over a canal, and had just settled back into our walking when a voice called out, “Hello.”

A tall young man, wearing a straw hat, backpack, and hiking boots had unexpectedly overtaken Mary. He carried a long wooden hiking stick.

It was our first encounter with another pellegrino, Timo, from Germany. He had started in Germany and was on his way to Rome. However, Rome was only an intermediate stop, for he planned to continue to Jerusalem. A very long walk.

We spent the last two hours of our day walking with Timo.  Fresh conversation helped pass the time, as did the fact that a portion of the trail followed a path through woods and vineyards. We had mixed emotions when we reached Traghetto: happiness that a long, hard stage was done, but a little sadness that our new friend would be going on without us (Timo was aiming for Argento, the endpoint for tomorrow’s stage).

Richard and Timo

It was, however, nice to discover that we weren’t the only pellegrinos walking the Via right now. We may be few and far between, but there are others with us, just over the horizon.

Today’s distance: 30.1 KM

Total distance: 503.1 KM

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Day 27 - Polesella to Ferrara

Po River

Our departure from Polesella led us south over a large bridge that spanned the Po River. The river cruise ship we saw last night was still tied to the dock in Polesella.

The Po is fairly wide at this point, and it takes several minutes to cross on foot. The river is Italy’s longest, running 652 kilometers across the country to flow into the Adriatic Sea.

The Po also marks the southern boundary of the Veneto, Once we crossed the bridge, we were in Emilia-Romagna.

I have been a little surprised by the lack of recreational boating on these rivers. I’ve seen no boats moving on either the Po or the Adige. I am not certain why they don’t have more users.

Half of the route followed the Po west. We walked on another levee that granted occasional river glimpses.

On the Levee

About two hours into the route, the sun burned through the clouds and it grew hot. Once again we were out in the open and exposed to the sun’s rays. That has been a recurrent condition for the past several days. The open farm country offers little shade, and we have been frying.

Abandoned Farmhouse

The other commonality is the amount of time spent walking on asphalt. This entire stage was on asphalt, and it is beginning to take a toll on my feet. The lack of any give in the surface means that my feet take the full impact of each step. Last night they ached and throbbed for hours after we stopped walking.

We reached the town of Francolino just before noon. We stopped in a bar for a cold iced tea, then spent a few minutes cooling our feet in a nearby park. Leaving town, the sidewalk was painted red for more than a kilometer. I don’t know if this is supposed to be decorative or symbolic.


A line of plane trees flanked the bike path as we headed for Ferrara. The tall, leafy trees offered occasional intervals of shade, which made for a nice variation. We walked through a park, around a golf course, and ultimately, past the walls of Ferrrara. As with most cities, it took a lot more walking from the edge to our hotel, but we managed to finish the stage just before 2:00.

Ferrara City Walls

Today’s Distance: 24.5 KM

Total Distance:473 KM

Monday, June 10, 2019

Day 26 - Rovigo to Polesella

Something new today. We departed, on the bike path from Rovigo, under cloudy skies. I could see a brush of rain coming down from the clouds to the north. After several days of heat, the cloudy skies were a distinct pleasure.

About thirty minutes into the morning it began to rain. Fortunately it was only a light shower that passed quickly.

We walked beside a series of canals heading toward the first town of the day, Sant’ Apollinare. The Via had taken us away from the main roads, but, unfortunately, we were on asphalt all day. This is very hard on the feet.

Church, Sant'Apollinare

There was some kind of school party happening outside the church when we hiked through Sant’ Apollinare, but not much else. What a dead little town. The streets were deserted and the shops closed up.


We continued on through farmland, crossed the Bianco Canale (White Canal), and then entered the town of Pontecchio Polesine. I don’t know if the clouds were dampening the spirits of the locals, but, once again, there really were no signs of life around.

Pontecchio Polesine

The road connecting Pontecchio Polesine and Guarda Veneto runs in a perfectly straight line. We strolled along the bike path beside it, past a couple of small chapels and not much else.

The Path to Guarda Veneza

For a portion of this segment, the path had been marked at 100 meter intervals. I diverted myself by counting the number of steps I took every 100 meters (116). I then performed some additional calculations: 116 steps per 100 meters translates into 1160 steps per kilometer. We are walking 1,000 kilometers (although I suspect we will actually be going farther than this), which means, by the time the trip is over, I will have taken more than 1,160,000 steps.

No wonder my feet are sore.

Chapel, Near Guarda Veneza

We reached Guarda Veneta, turned right, and hiked down a road that paralleled the River Po. You couldn’t really see the river, as a cottonwood forest blocked the view. The last segment also brought the return of automobile traffic, although most motorists were considerate enough to swerve to the opposite side of the tarmac when they saw us walking along the shoulder.

We reached Polesella at 1:00. It didn't seem much livelier than the other towns we passed today. After showers and a rest we went out to tour the city. Again, not much there, although a carnival filled in the empty spaces between the buildings in the main square.

We continue to find Mondays a terrible day, as most of the restaurants are closed. It makes it difficult to find food. Credit Polesella with a pizzeria that was open, down on the dock that lined the River Po. We sauntered down there. A French river cruise boat was tied up to the dock. I am still trying to work out why this town would be a stop on any sort of cruise. Nevertheless, there it was. The passengers all seemed to be hunkered below deck, drinking cocktails in the lounge. We were happy to find a pizzeria doing business, although I suspect it had something to do with the river cruise boat.

In any case, well-fed, we headed home to rest our fet for the next day’s asphalt.

Today's Distance: 20.5

Total Distance: 448.5