We walked out of the Beverly Hills VFS offices a few days ago, frustrated and befuddled (yes, befuddled!). If you missed that blog, check it out, you’ll appreciate our angst. The ride home was painfully slow. In fact, five hours of stop-and-go traffic later, we were only half way home. We stopped for the night in Victorville, CA to lick our wounds, watch CNN, eat junk food and drink wine. That combination always makes things better.
We determined that though we were no further ahead on a Schengen visa extension, we actually did have an important new piece of information. Always look at the bright side, right? We learned that France allows US citizens to stay legally for an additional 90 days beyond the Schengen 90-day allowance. We can’t leave France and re-enter the Schengen area, but we could stay in France. At home the next afternoon (remember, we’re slow travelers) we researched further for information on other countries that would allow the extra 90 days. There are a few...Poland and Denmark, for sure. Italy? Who knows? Not even the Italians seem to know. They do know, however, that there are significant fines for overstaying Schengen visas if they care to enforce them.
What are Via Francigena pilgrims to do? We don’t want to rush the walk. We don’t want to be illegal aliens (God forbid!) or scofflaws. After striking out on our internet search, we noodled our dilemma overnight. David had an epiphany at about 4am. Let’s walk the path in reverse...from Rome to Canterbury instead of vice versa. That way our Schengen stay expires while we’re in France which is not a problem and since England is not Schengen and allows us an extra 90 days, we can take our time.
We talked about this option throughout the day and most of the night. What are the downsides? None, that we could ascertain, other than we don’t get a stamp and certificate of completion at the Vatican for finishing the walk to Rome. We tried to remember where our Circumnavigation certificate was or even the location of our recent Thames Path certificate of completion. We couldn’t remember.
David discovered another couple that had walked in the opposite direction and documented their travels on line. They didn’t seem to suffer a bit by walking a reverse route. No spasms, ticks or serious repercussions from walking in the reverse direction. Additionally, we figured there’d be less people traveling in our direction. The length of stay would not be a problem visa-wise. Certainly, when we walked the Thames Path from sea to source, some thought we were walking the wrong way, but from our point of view, it was the best way to walk...from the industrial city to the lovely countryside at the Kemble source. Walking the path is walking the path, no matter which direction you walk it. We’re good with it.
And besides, Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, traveled from Rome back to Canterbury in the 10th century for his meeting with the Pope. He documented his path which is now called the Via Francigena. You’ll hear more about Sigeric in an upcoming blog, but for our purposes, we figured if he walked both to and from Rome (and there really weren’t a lot of options back then), then walking in either direction would constitute ‘walking the Via Francigena’. Problem solved. Just in case you’re wondering … no, donkeys are not an option for us.
Decision made, now we need to go about finding air tickets. Another story for another day.