Fab day. Great weather, easy walk, beautiful San Gimignano. Grilled by nun/monk. Italian gospel concert.
I was cconcerned that the storm last night might create difficult walking conditions but not at all. Up and about by 6.30, five people had already gone by the time I went down to breakfast. Ate on my own and enjoyed what was on offer. Carefully crafted by the delightful Chiara and her sweet aunt, Antonella.
Said goodbye to the beautiful church of Pieve da Santa Maria a Chianni and was on the road by 7.15, no hurry today its only 14kms and the only time restraint is getting there before noon; otherwise it means hanging about for a 3.30 entry.
Yesterday Marco mentioned that the VF sign posts walkers into Gambassi intentionally; it takes you in a loop through the old town. To avoid this I should take the first road out on the left. Good advice and soon I’m looking across valley with Gambassi behind me.
I know the Americans use the term God’s own country for the US but looking across at these terracotta coloured rolling hills covered in vines and olives groves it is hard not to see this extraordinary landscape as something, if not created by, then inspired by a supreme being. Maybe it’s a version of the one we consider as exemplifying kindness, beauty, and tolerance. We’ll let the Americans have the slightly scarier version of a creator in the Old Testament!
The weather is a little cool but the sky is a perfect azzuro with small puffy cottonwool cumulus clouds. The ground has almost dried and mostly poses no problems.
I walk through a valley called Chianti and many of the vineyards have a mix of medieval and modern buildings to house and sell their wares. I see wine and olive oil in every direction.
I meet a woman on a shady path sprinkling breadcrumbs from a brown bag. I assumed she feeding something particular but she explains that she can’t bear to throw away even a handful of crumbs, so, was leaving it for the birds. There is something positively primal about bread in the Med. Every culture there has their version of it and each holds it dear. Obviously I’m biased but bread from the arc consisting of Spain to Italy via France must be where the best bread comes from and where it still holds an important role in people’s lives. The Romans gave Europe so much but one thing above the rest must be a love, appreciation, and created the centrality of bread within society.
Stopped briefly at Pancole where the old sanctuary dominates the small village. In fact, the modern road now passes under it. Popped in to see the crypt and it was awful, simply full of plastic figures in varying sizes, just tat!
In marked contrast, I am rewarded by my detour up to the monastery of Bose. It looks like its had a make over recently and is lovely. Sited on a small hilltop looking across a valley towards San Gimignano.
I see the four Milanese pilgrims up ahead, who were at the hostel yesterday, and am about to reach them when I’m purloined by a man who wanted me to appreciate a pilgrim tile on his gate post. We get talking, well more like he talks at me, about Chaucer, Canterbury, and Sigeric. Stupidly I refer to Boccacio as Italy’s Chaucer. He went into lecture mode and to great lengths to tell me that Chaucer was actually England’s Boccacio. I didn’t care at that point but made a note to check dates etc, after all he could be right! Catch up with the four, who walk at a gentle pace and a little later I find Vaclav sprawled between vines drinking juice. I am motoring along today!
Met an older Norwegian couple cycling towards the coast and we chatted a bit. They live near Trondheim, on the coast facing Scotland. I mention I’ve been twice to Norway and they’re surprised. Can’t think why, it’s a great country and I really liked Oslo. It houses two of my all time favourite sculptures, in the national gallery. It also has the slightly disturbing Munch museum and collection. Not sure whether he was actually insane, but if he produced those pictures today, he’d either be very rich or sectioned or both!
Am greeted by a large nun who refers to herself as a monk. I should have asked why. She shows me to my room and stays for about 40 minutes chatting. Well more like a grilling! Why I got divorced; why I don’t practice Christianity in any recognisable way; what is my sense of God; and importantly am I a Catholic! I answered truthfully and confidentially, which I hope she appreciated.
Have a proper lunch nearby and bearly make it back to the monastery and fall asleep for a couple of hours. I always wake confused; not even sure whether I want to carry on sleeping. Hear a sound check taking place across the road in a chapel belonging to the monastery of San Girolamo, where I’m staying. It only has 4 female monks. Why they’re not called nuns I don’t know but they leader is called mother. Sounds like something of out of a le Carre novel.
Head over at 4.30 for the concert. It was brilliant. Totally surprised to hear Italians sing gospel and apart from some iffy pronunciation they were great.
Head into the tourist throng that defines San Gimignano most of the year. It’s a beautiful medieval town. Architecturally unique, sadly, I now associate it with Maggie Smith’s character in Tea with Mussolini!
Pop into an art gallery where the exhibition, is entitled, broadly, where art meets nature. It puts the annual RSPB event, in the Mall Gallery, in its place! The sculptures by Andrea Roggi blew me away. One piece, who’s name I sadly forget, gave me the sense of a primal creation of womanhood from a stem or plant; all cast in a soft coloured metal. Extraordinary!
After a meander I sit in one of the numerous bars and have a Moretti blond. Just watch the world go by. I had forgotten how awful the Tuscan dialect is. They convert the letter C into H as in, things go better with a hoha hola!
I am not hungry and it’s 8pm. Maybe it’s because it was a short day or that I ate a decent lunch but must ensure I eat before bed. It’s long trek to Monteriggioni tomorrow and I need to bulk up. Decide to eat at the bar and it’s a disappointing plate of Pici – large spaghetti to you – with a Tuscan ragu. The sauce is fine but the pasta has stuck to itself! The wine was good but I’m now almost €20 poorer and have little to show for it.
Get back to my dorm and I’m the only one in my room. Just great. Don’t have to worry about waking people in the night if I need to pee. Check route for tomorrow and there’s only one food stop at Elsa. Must remember that. I’ll be staying in another medieval splendour tomorrow at Monteriggioi but before that its almost 25kms of walking but if its anything like today, it will be heavenly. Let you know tomorrow!