Blue View - Plan B Logistics

logistics_via sign.JPG

When Sigeric walked the Via Francigena all those centuries ago, the world was a different place. He documented his route in some detail, but it was more of a narrative than a route map. To paraphrase... "Today we left San Gimignano and headed along the road to the river Elsa, which we forded in late morning. We continued along an old Roman road to the north and arrived in Gambassi Terme in time for the evening prayers." It's somewhat nebulous as to what his exact route between stops was, but even if it was documented with copious GPS waypoints, it still wouldn't be possible to follow his route exactly. Sometimes the names have changed; parts of his route now pass through private property, through industrial complexes or along highways; new cities have cropped up and old landmarks have disappeared.

When planning for this trip, I found four different routes, all of which started in Canterbury, ended in Rome and followed the same general path. They all varied greatly in the details, however, and none met our criteria entirely. I used all four as references to work up our own route so that each day's walk, or leg, didn't exceed fifteen miles and avoided highways and large cities whenever possible. As long as we started in Rome, ended in Canterbury, followed approximately the same route, and walked every step of the way, our route should be as good as the others, right? That was "Plan A".

Plan A - lots of legs

Plan A - lots of legs

As Marcie mentioned, now that she's suffering from a rather virulent attack of shingles, she cannot carry her pack any distance. Plan A is no longer an option - at least until her shingles clear up, which usually takes four to six weeks. She did discover, however, that the pain from the neuropathy abates somewhat, at least temporarily, when she walks without a pack. So, was there a way to make a few miles progress each day without her pack? We discussed our options:

  1. Offloading most of the weight from her pack to mine, but even a lightly loaded pack aggravates the pain.

  2. There are services that will transport a pilgrim's baggage each day, but they are meant for groups and are quite expensive for one or two packs... think close to $100/day. (We saw a quote for transporting two packs each leg from Canterbury to Rome for a mere $16,000! Much cheaper to buy a donkey.)

  3. Buy a donkey. Not really practical, but it would, no doubt, make for some interesting blogs.

What is now our "Plan B" is a base camp approach. We set up a base camp hotel in a town, then use public transportation to get to the beginning of the next leg to be walked, walk it, then return to our base camp at the end of the day. Once we've walked all the legs on the Rome side of the base camp and a couple of legs on the Canterbury side, we move to the next strategic town.

Lots of trains and buses in our future

Lots of trains and buses in our future

The plan has worked reasonably well so far, but the logistics are a pain. First, we have to figure out legs that are walkable and have starting and ending points near public transport. Then, we have to determine the train and bus connections, when and where they run and how to buy the tickets. This involves studying timetable books, websites and apps, most of which are in Italian. The apps are particularly challenging. The app for the bus line that operates in the Sienna area, for example, lets me plan the route and buy our tickets electronically... sometimes. Sometimes it can't find a bus route I know exists, won't let me buy our tickets or just crashes. Makes me feel real comfortable punching in our credit card number.

A few references for timetables and routes

A few references for timetables and routes

Uhh, Let’s see… Yup, the 131 does go to Ponggibonsi on Mondays

Uhh, Let’s see… Yup, the 131 does go to Ponggibonsi on Mondays

Yesterday, we took a Tiemme bus from San Gimignano to Poggibonsi, walked from the bus stop to the train station, and took a train to Castelfiorino. Then we trekked 13.5 miles to Ponte a Elsa where we caught a train back to Castelfiorino and the bus back to San Gimignano. It's hard enough just pronouncing all those places, let alone figuring out the connections. It made for a long day, especially when we discovered, after we arrived, that there was no way to buy train tickets at the Ponte a Elsa station. The only place anywhere close that sold tickets was a tobacco shop (tabacchi shops in Italy) that was closed for the afternoon for reposo (nap time).

Buying tickets is easy - when there’s a ticket machine

Buying tickets is easy - when there’s a ticket machine

Ah well... all part of the adventure. It left us with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and a cold beer.