Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Saturday 13 April 2013 - GEA - Day 6 - La Burraia (Rifugio CAI di Forli) to Passo del Muraglione

The cold Apennine wind huffed and puffed and whistled all night. Extra blankets were needed in our 8C room.

Marco and Christina gave us a good breakfast, then Marco headed downhill to reunite Olaf with his owner, whilst the four of us, me, Sue, Francois and Camille, set off across the snowfield towards Monte Falco, perhaps the highest point of this trip at 1657 metres.

We left the Samsung phone found yesterday with Christina - we couldn't get it to work.

It took the best part of an hour for Sue and me to reach the summit, as we were taking care in the soft snow to avoid painful knee jarring. Approaching the summit, we met a lone skier on his way down, and after enjoying a cuppa on top - and waiting in vain for some views - we headed down. F and C had by-passed the summit, but a couple wearing snow shoes were heading up at a good rate.

It felt as if we were in Gatineau Park, and we felt odd and out of place in walking boots, which were not ideal footwear for the conditions.

Soon some views appeared, the sun came out (top picture), and we really did feel we were back in Gatineau Park near Ottawa.

After a while we came to Passo Piancancelli, where F and C were waiting to say their goodbyes as they were descending from here to catch a bus to nearby Florence.

They missed a treat, as the rest of today's paths were wonderful.

Eventually, after 6 km in soft snow, we dropped to around 1300 metres and lost the white stuff. Soon we were on a fine belvedere path, passing irresistible clumps of Hepatica, Alpine Squill, Snowdrops and Primroses. Views stretched from Monte Falco's snowy summit to beyond San Godenzo far below in the valley (pictured, below).

Lunch was taken in a sunny spot (20C here) on a knife edge, before we continued, reaching Passo del Muraglione at around 2.30pm, after 15 km and 5 hours 20 minutes on the trail.

Whilst it isn't open as a hotel at this time of year, the albergo at the pass was doing a roaring trade, with scores of motor cyclists enjoying the switchback mountain roads on a sunny Saturday.

As the hotel wasn't open, we'd booked a room at Albergo Silvano, 500 metres lower down in the village of San Godenzo. But how to get there? A two and a half hour walk, or a two hour wait for a bus? We chose a third option and ten minutes later we piled into the seatless rear of an old Fiat people carrier, lying low to dodge the eyes of the Carabinieri as we lurched down the hill on the short journey.

San Godenzo, the birthplace of Dante (The Divine Comedy), is a village with a fine Romanesque abbey, where we admired the mosaics before booking in at Albergo Silvano. We needed provisions for a couple of days (tomorrow's Posto Tappa doesn't do meals) so were relieved when the alimentari opened at 4.30. I recall the days when everything shut from noon on Saturday until Monday morning, resulting in logistical issues for backpacking trips that inevitably started with a Saturday morning flight, particularly relating to camping gas.

Our only problem now is the lack of a Sunday bus service - and we have a long enough day tomorrow without spending an extra three hours at the start lugging a load of groceries up a hill!

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Friday, 12 April 2013

Friday 12 April 2013 - GEA - Day 5 - Badia Prataglia to La Burraia (Rifugio CAI di Forli)

Last night we weren't, for a change, the only guests. Despite being an 'upmarket' hotel (with no doubt much higher prices in the main season) Bosco Verde opens its doors to children during term time. So we had the company of 40 or so ten year olds and their wards. All very jolly. They did of course both eat and adjourn to their beds much later than us.

Looking out of the window at breakfast time, whilst the higher hills were cloaked in cloud the sun was trying to break through. So we were hopeful...

After re-stocking our lunch provisions at the Spar shop we set off up to Il Capanno, with views back to Badia Prataglia. Then we headed up towards Passo Fangacci. About 45 minutes into the day's walk we entered the cloud. By the time we reached Passo Fangacci (pictured, top), we were tramping through soft, knee jarring, snow.

We found our way down to the monastic retreat - Eremo di Camaldoli - which luckily was still open for visitors. It shuts between 11.30 and 15.00. The church was beautifully decorated, with a wonderfully ornate ceiling. But the whole place, at 1100 metres, was shrouded in cloud. The coffee shop provided welcome elevenses.

We spent the next 4+ hours on the trail - Sue posed at one of the few distinctive features for the second picture of the day. Much of the walk was over old but soft snow, through which it was clear that two people and a dog had passed shortly before us.

Very occasionally we glimpsed a sunlit valley to our right, but where we were the cloud was sticking to the trees like dew on a spider's web. Full waterproofs were needed.

Eventually, around 4pm, after 19 km and 7 hours on the trail, we dropped down to the welcome sight of Rifugio Forli (1350 metres), where Marco, the guardian, rushed out to greet us. There were none of the usual Rifugio formalities involving removal of boots and waterproofs - we were hastened straight in for a pot of tea in front of a fire, with two Belgians, Francois and Camille, who had arrived shortly before us with a stray dog in tow.

Marco and his wife Christina have now managed to locate the dog's owner, who has a ten mile journey up here to collect it. Luckily it was chipped and a forest ranger turned up with a chip decoding gadget.

The rooms here are more like hotel rooms than Rifugio rooms; we have a double bed in our en suite accommodation. But the extra blankets may be needed...

Goodbye for now - it's beer o'clock.

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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Thursday 11 April 2013 - GEA - Day 4 - Chiusi La Verna to Badia Prataglia

Thanks for your comments, Conrad Jules and 'ipad Gibson'. Yes, it's a good time to do this trek, though we seem to be in a minority with that view. Last night we were again the only guests staying at our hotel, though an elderly couple did pop in for a meal whilst we were enjoying our feast.

It's an easy undertaking, with no technical difficulties, so don't expect anything dramatic!

Today we rose to a clear blue sky and a bevy of chatty blackbirds, who, like the jays and blackcaps we've been seeing, are busily collecting nesting material.

Swallows and martins have also arrived and are busy harvesting whatever insects they can find, but unlike on some of our summer trips we do not have a 'fly problem'.

Instead of the GEA route, we chose to start along path 51, which rose gently through groves of towering beech trees diffused with light and bird song. It was a lovely path despite the occasional wild boar scrapings that have been with us since the start of the trek.

The La Verna religious sanctuary (pictured from the outside) is a huge place. We strolled inside the walls and visited the Basilica. But we had to reluctantly move on, today being a longer day under a clear sky but with a pleasantly cooling breeze.

Snow capped peaks drew our eyes west, but they gradually slipped further into the distance today.

A lot of waiting around for Sue's flower pictures was encountered - I hope they are prize winners!

Cuckoos, willow tits, and bright yellow butterflies joined us for elevenses on a sunny corner of the path with fine views.

The path then proceeded delightfully for some way, until reaching Poggio Tre Vescovi (The Hill of Three Bishops). Here we paused for lunch and the sky began to cloud over.

Path 00, which follows the main spine of the Apennines, was rejoined here. We headed along the crest of the spine for the rest of the day, generally on a broad path with steep drops to either side. Gillian is not over enthusiastic about the views from this path, but apart from a short section of pine forest the trees - mainly beech - merely presented a 'trunk slashed' version of impressive views in all directions. When there is no foliage, it's easy to ignore the trunks and branches in the foreground of the view, though the camera is not so sure - leaving the best images arboreal ones (lower picture).

After 27 km and 7 hours 30 minutes we reached our destination after 3 km along a quiet road. In her guide book, Gillian describes Badia Prataglia's Hotel Bosco Verde as 'upmarket', but it's actually cheaper than last night's guest house (that inadvertently diddled us out of a few Euros - always check the bill!) and here we seem to be enjoying our usual exclusivity, with personal service of the highest order from Marco. The gap in our quest for accommodation has been resolved, and everything looks set fair for the rest of the trip.

I'll send this before being distracted by the menu and the decision as to what should follow my large beer.

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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Wednesday 10 April 2013 - GEA - Day 3 - Caprese Michelangelo to Chiusi La Verna

Firstly, hearty congratulations to Kate and Simon. I should be a grandad (again) in October.

This was another short but very pleasant day.

We were the only customers last night at Buca di Michelangelo. We got the sole attention from the staff. The highlight of the evening was our antipasti course - almost a meal in itself, featuring three types of bruschetta, a plate of assorted smoked meats, a bowl of mushrooms in a delicious sauce, cheese and mushrooms on fried bread, and a dish of crispy salad with crispier prosciutto.

We met just two people on the trail yesterday and none today, although we passed a few villagers. We are before the main season. The whole trip (apart from sightseeing in Rome) is an experiment. It's an attempt to start our Alpine trekking season a little earlier than usual. We therefore chose an easy route on which we didn't need to rely on mountain huts, most of which don't open until mid June. We can do half of the GEA route in this way, but will have to return in the summer to complete it, as the later stages rely on mountain huts. The plan is working. Whilst not hot, the weather is pleasant - albeit a little damp at times - and there is little evidence of the biting NE wind that was really starting to get us down in the UK.

The scenery is more Welsh than Alpine, but there's not a wind farm in sight. The trees are only just starting to come into leaf, and there isn't the usual plethora of mountain flowers. But the spring flowers are lovely, especially the Alpine Squill, Purple Crocuses and Hepatica, and the sparse foliage means the views through the trees are extensive and the birds, albeit still very shy, are more visible. For periods we are joined by cuckoos, which is about the only likeness between this walk and my next backpacking trip, the TGO Challenge walk across Scotland.

Anyway, after some overnight rain, today dawned bright and sunny. It looked like a typical 'April showers' day, but they never arrived.

After dragging Sue away from the hotel cat, a short walk down the road saw us reach the hamlet of Lama at 516 metres. It was a pull from there up to Fragaiolo and its welcoming alimentari. Coffees, and panini and fruit for lunch, were happily supplied for a modest outlay.

The tarmac continued for a while as we headed up a quiet lane past sweet chestnut trees, encountering a friendly dog called Lack. After dragging Sue away from Lack's affections we continued along a rough but motorable track (the inevitable Fiat Panda was the only car we saw) inexorably up to Eremo La Casella, at 1263 metres.

We lunched here (pictured) in warm sunshine, just as St Francis did on his return to Assisi many years ago in the 13th Century.

After inspecting the chapel and the rather smart bothy (apart from the lack of beds, no water, and blocked toilets) we continued along the Apennine sub-crest, on a delightful path with fine views across to tonight's destination, Chiusi La Verna, in an increasingly downhill direction, until we reached the bottom of a canyon.

A slow, hot, but blissfully short ascent led to the fountain used in a 1931 Campari advertising campaign (pictured), from where we headed to the 'Centro Storico' to enjoy the remainder of our tea beside Adam's rock, supposedly used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

From there, a short stroll took us to our guest house/restaurant for the night, Da Giovanna, where we booked in around 3pm after 17 km and 6 hours on the trail. It's a lovely spot - we have a large sunlit room with fine views. Afternoon tea is currently being served.

There is no sign of any other guests, though we were greeted by the question "Are you the ones who wanted your bags carrying?" We aren't, and moreover Sue has graduated from bum bag to small rucksack, so she is able to carry her own personal items on this trip!

PS Sorry Alan, I just thought I'd make it easy for you to confirm the obvious! Alfa - no doubt about it, they all rust like that...ha! Hope your own trip went well btw.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tuesday 9 April 2013 - GEA - Day 2 - Passo di Viamaggio to Caprese Michelangelo

It was to be a fairly short day, so we fancied a lie in. Unfortunately that plan was foiled last night when Maura announced (after plying us with beer, wine, and a delicious meal of pasta with ragù, followed by mixed ribs and wild boar sausage with chips, etc) that today was her day off and breakfast would be at 7am.

We could hardly complain though, when at 8am this morning we got our bill for half board, beer, wine, coffees and a flask of tea and packed lunch - €55, for the two of us.

We'd woken to find the hotel enveloped in cloud, so we set off in rain, clad in full waterproofs and feeling pleased that we had brought gaiters and boots. We had considered using trail shoes but were right to choose boots.

After yesterday's largely excellent paths it was disappointing this morning to have to share our 10km route to Pieve Santo Stefano with the tracks of trial bikes. But the scenery, insofar as we could see it, was lovely. Today we encountered more oak woods; yesterday was predominantly beech.

We diverted to Eremo di Cerbaiolo, a sanctuary founded in 722 by Benedictines, on Gillian's recommendation. Sadly, the 'custodian and her boisterous herd of acrobatic goats' were not there. The current custodian, Francesco, explained that the old lady died three years ago at the age of 85, and that her sister had then looked after the goats until she was hospitalised, when they had to go...

Coffee and cake was enjoyed with the locals in a café at Pieve. There was a double page spread in the paper about yesterday's train derailment - 'Many injured - operator accused of poor track maintenance.'

After that the rain stopped and the sun emerged. The trial bikes had not churned the paths to Caprese Michelangelo, so we enjoyed a very pleasant three hour stroll to that hilltop village.

Today's pictures are from that part of the day - lazing in the sun near the end, and one for Alan R to identify, but judging by the condition of the bodywork I would guess it's an Alfa Romeo.

We checked into Hotel Buco Michelangelo, kindly booked for us by Maura last night, soon after 3pm, our 20 km walk having taken a leisurely 7 hours 15 minutes.

That gave us plenty of time to look around the Michelangelo museum. The great man was born here in 1475.

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Monday, 8 April 2013

Monday 8 April 2013 - The Grande Escursione Appenninica (GEA) - Day 1 - Bocca Traboria to Passo di Viamaggio

Happy Birthday Dot - 88 today.

Weren't we lucky! I omitted to mention yesterday the help we got from Gillian Price regarding the train line to Sansepolcro and other transport issues. Thanks Gillian. And as I start to compose this entry a comment has arrived from Gillian to indicate that this morning's train derailed.

Weren't we lucky!

[Reception is intermittent, so I'm unable to respond to comments except from within this text, which may get delayed in transit - most people know the score by now.]

We weren't so lucky with breakfast. It was to be at the café across the road (presumably part of the Guidi empire) at 8 o'clock. Every assurance was given and they knew we were catching a bus at 8.25. But there was no sign of life by 8.05, so we gave up and breakfasted at the bus station café before boarding the Baschetti minibus that services the Arezzo to Pesaro route.

[Before complaining any more about the failure of our B&B to provide breakfast, we have to hope that the person who failed in their 'breakfast duty' wasn't caught up in the derailment.]

A half hour bus ride took us to the rather desolate looking Bocca Trabaria - the start of the GEA. A sign indicated that today's walk would last 7 hours, though we later discovered the GEA adds 30 minutes to that estimate as it doesn't follow the crest of the ridge all the way.

There was a chill in the air as we set off along the wooded crest of the Apennines that we were to follow for most of the day. After a while, showers of hoar frost confirmed that last night the higher parts of the ridge had been shrouded in cloud.

We saw nobody until we reached Pian della Capanne, which was fenced off as a building site where the refuge was being refurbished. A workman with a wheelbarrow lurked outside.

By now it was mid afternoon. It had been clouding over all day and light sleet was followed by a gentle shower of rain. We met two poncho clad walkers coming the other way, the only people seen on the trail today.

The final ascent of the day took us in rather gloomy conditions to the 1147 metre summit of Monte Verde, a nice little hill with fine views, its one drawback being its apparent construction from clay.

Consequently, our boots are just inside the door of Hotel Imperatore, our lodgings for the night. Nobody will want to steal them!

Inside the hotel, whilst enjoying a pot of tea, we chatted to a group of German speaking Italians from Bolzano. [Sue: "Do you speak Italian?" Group: "We are Italian!"]. They are walking a pilgrim's route, The Path of St Francis of Assisi (Sentiero Francescano), which coincides with the GEA for short stretch. "You'll be quicker than us then" one of them remarked "- you won't need to stop so often to say your prayers!"

It's good to have them here, they've made the sun come out again.

This trail is perhaps a mini European counterpart to the Appalachian Trail. It has its quota of woodland, as demonstrated by today's picture near the start of the trail. [It was chilly - we are used to that - 'good walking weather'.]

The Garmin gadget says we've gone 21.5 km today, in 7 hours 10 minutes. I'm sure we've climbed more than Gillian's estimate of 600 metres in her guide book, but that statistic will follow when we get home and download the data that's hidden somewhere inside the Garmin gadget.

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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sansepolcro

We slept in this morning due to the room being silent and blacked out, but we still managed a leisurely breakfast and a trip to the station's Spar shop, which is open from 7.30 to 21.30 every day, so no need to bring provisions from the UK.

The timing of our start of this trip was a bit of a faux pas, as Italian transport on Sundays is sparse and erratic. The 9.30 train to Foligno left closer to ten o'clock, leaving us there at 11.30 with an hour and a half to while away in the pleasant town (coffees outside in a sunny square - bliss!) before continuing on to Perugia Ponte San Giovanni. That was just a 25 minute journey.

The Trenitalia staff in Rome had denied all knowledge of a railway station in Sansepolcro, to which town the normal route would be the Florence train to Arezzo then a bus to Sansepolcro, and onwards to the start of our walk. But the buses don't run on Sundays so we tried this alternative route via Perugia PSG.

Our downloaded timetable showed lots of trains, and we had booked a hotel, Locanda Guidi, in Sansepolcro. What could possibly go wrong?

Not a lot! On arrival at Perugia PSG the man in the Trenitalia ticket office shook his head gravely and directed us to the bar. Tickets for the hour and a quarter journey to Sansepolcro were duly produced from behind the counter in exchange for the princely sum of €4 each, bringing the cost of today's travel to around €26 each.

A bench in the sun in a wild flower meadow provided a good luncheon venue until we had to withdraw to some shade as the sun tan cream needed to cope with our sudden exposure to 24C was too deeply packed.

The hour and a half break until our train on the Umbria Mobilita line to Sansepolcro soon passed, aided by Ken Follett's 'Fall of Giants' and Graham Ratcliffe's rather contrasting 'A Day to Die For'.

The Umbria train then chugged up a picturesque valley to reach our day's destination soon after 4pm. The Locanda is in the centre of this ancient walled town, the most important (historically) in the Tuscany Upper Tiber River Valley. We wandered at length, locating tomorrow morning's bus stop and encountering a treat in the Campanile. This tower is not usually open to tourists, but on bell-ringing Sundays the ringers allow folk to sample their rickety ladders and indulge themselves in panoramic views across the rooftops. Today's image is the view towards Bocca Trabaria, from where we hope to start our GEA walk tomorrow (albeit it's a bit off our map!).

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