|Poppies were in full blloom in June|
Walking is an excellent way to see beauty - both nature and manmade structures - at their best.
|We did a guided tour of this impressive castle after our day's walk|
|The coat of arms on this building was impressive|
|Having a break on a sunny day in a hamlet|
Well, my italian isn't perfect, and so I ignored the couple of sentences in the pre-trip email that I couldn't quite understand. Only after the trip did I realise the sentence read along the lines of 'Don't forget to bring along a costume for the annual performance, whose theme this year will be '1920s - Belle Epoque'.
One of the restaurants was decorated in belle epoque style, and so the annual post-dinner performance was scheduled here. Apart from a brief tango danced with Melanie, I was luckily exempted from the main act - a can- can dance. But Melanie? During rehearsal she started as a bit player, the next minute she was choreographing, and by the time of the performance she had been promoted to the diva out front!
|I'm still not sure quite what to make of this performance.....|
|The three starlets of the performance|
|The polenta maker has won many awards for his polenta|
One day, instead of our usual sandwich lunch, lunch at a small family-run agriturismo was arranged. So the bus drove us up a steep hill, where an antipasto platter of local cheeses and smallgoods was a delicious and welcome change. Pasta was also good, but it was the main course that really delivered. The proprietor made polenta in a massive copper pot, stirring constantly with an equally massive wooden paddle. Enough to serve 60 people, the polenta was fluffy and tasty, and went down a treat with just a basic ragu sauce.
|A large impressive church in the middle of nowhere|
Well, it's a religious pilgrimage, and so inevitably we saw more churches in 12 days than we've seen in the last year.
Many beautiful churches, often with impressive belltowers, were found in the smallest of hamlets, and Renzo had cannily arranged for a local to open up many of these renowned churches for us. Unfortunately, virtually all churches in out of the way places have to be locked when not in use, for reasons of theft or vandalism.
|The baroque interior of this church was quite unexpected, and reminded us of Sicilian churches|
Lucca - 75km to go
We're in the final stretch, we know we'll all finish, just 3 more days to go.
Interestingly, one of the signs points to the Santiago de Compostela, just 1970km away....
|Us in front of Church of St Frediano|
On our final day, we walked just 9km before arriving in one of our favourite Lucca piazzas, Piazza San Frediano, so named after the famous church next to it. This church also houses the mummy of Santa Zita.
Here, we were joined by the group's spiritual adviser Luigi, and then we all finished our pilgrimage by a slow walk through the Lucca streets, chanting the Hail Mary rosary, which by now, we knew in Italian. There were many shoppers, particularly in Lucca's busiest shopping street, Via Fillungo, that stared open mouthed at our strange procession as we passed.
We arrived in San Giovannis church, where a formal ceremony was held, with the Archbishop of Lucca, Italo Castellani, the mayor of Lucca, Alessandro Tambellini and each of three mayors of nearby towns we'd walked through each making a speech. Our group also handed over a handpainted staff to the Archbishop to thank him, both for meeting us and holding a private mass for us. After the ceremony, we all walked to nearby Lucca cathedral where the mass was held. Afterwards, the Archbishop was kind enough to shake the hands of each of us individually, and then posed for photos with us.
|The mayor of Lucca, Alessandro Tambellini, speaking, flanked by 3 mayors of nearby towns and the Archbishop|
|The Archbishop of Lucca, just after the private mass|
We'd been looking forward to the pilgrimage for almost a year, and it didn't disappoint - far from it. While the views were great, the walking fun, the food delicious and the whole trip excellently organised, what really stands out is our fellow pilgrims. They were friendly, interested in us, took the time to speak Italian slowly, and to point things out we might like. It's this genuine friendliness that we'll remember as much as anything else. Many thanks, fellow pilgrims!