Or: How to justify a vacation in Italy in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic
Disclosure here; there really wasn’t an outbreak when we left to Italy in February, despite what our travel insurance says (we have another trip booked in mid-April and apparently we had to have booked before January 31st—we of course booked on January 31st—to get our money back). It’s possible we should have been more alert…but let’s face it not too many people knew (or know now) exactly what COVID-19 was or would do, and certainly not at the beginning of last month. So as I sit here a week after leaving Italy and reading everything is grinding to a standstill, I’m considering myself lucky (though another week before I can say I didn’t get COVID-19 there and after that well I guess its going to be circulating here in Aus anyway).
But it really was a fun trip and so here’s some reflections on why you should spend your vacation walking. We are long distance walkers so a mere 11 days and 238km was a warm up really, or actually a warm down, because we did Cluny (France) to Aulla (Tuscany) last year (around 1000km), two previous Caminos from Cluny to Santiago (Spain) in 2011 via the Norte/Primitevo (2038km) and 2016 via Frances (1900km). We’ve got Aulla to Rome (not sure how far but it’ll take three weeks) in September this year…well, maybe! The walk we just completed was following the Tau-dove signs on the Chemin D’Assise (ornage sticker pictured above which are dotted around on lampposts, walls and trees to follow) which started in Cluny, and we were finishing the section off to Assisi. Because we are setting a novel on the walk, and we found out having got to Aulla you can pick up the Via Francigena and get to Rome faster, we thought our characters would do this – but we wanted to finish the dove walk. Before walking this time, we spent a few days going to the towns on the Francigena so we could write the book draft. Seems like this might have been a really smart move Italy/travel is off the agenda for a while. This of course is an extra reason for us to walk – research!
This walk took us from San Gimignano to Assisi.
Why walk this walk?
- One gorgeous historic hilltop town after another. Good for historians, archaeologists, artists (renaissance primarily but in Pietrasanta, technically a little earlier than where we started this time, Fernando Botero’s frescos were very entertaining and the sculptures round the town, wonderful), gourmets, practising/learning Italian.
- It wasn’t specially hard walking.
- Really nice places to stay and eat!
- Really nice people who given the circumstances, might need tourism help (okay, when deemed safe, and yes there’s some Aussie places to stay that need support too…)
- Religious—St Frances as far as I can gather was one of the good guys, and he’s buried in the Cathedral in Assisi.
- If you are a achievement orientated person, you get a certificate…
- Less likely to catch the Coronavirus (or any contagious disease) – you just don’t see many people—the towns are small and most of the day its just you and whoever you are walking with. Walking in February with climate change, meant we had less tourists in the towns too, and great walking weather. Okay, and the pending doom of COVID-19 was having its influence at the end–there were a lot of empty restaurants.
Why walk at all?
- Cheaper than any other form or transport.
- Environmentally friendly (stick to the paths…no board walks like on the Overland that are there to stop walkers from damaging the flora).
- Evolution mandated! We were built to walk…
- Healthy physically and not hard on aging parts of you…
- Brilliant mindfulness training…to live in the moment, appreciate your surroundings and offload stress.
- Justifies the croissant at breakfast (marmolata in Italy, full of jam…).
- Way less risky than a cruise ship!