Life can be rather unpredictable!

Part II – Aosta

As we left Il Camminetto and Adriana and Roberto, Adriana showed me a photo of her son. If she told us I don’t recall his name but a young man of 27 years who studied music in Bucharest still lives there making a life playing jazz music. Adriana and Robbie as she affectionately calls him, take a one week break every 4 years, they visit Adriana’s son then.

Such a warm couple giving and receiving farewell hugs, she ushers us to the door and she buries her hand into a bowl full of sweets on the front desk and thrusts them into Peter’s hands.

It’s always so difficult to leave a place that opens it’s arms in welcome but we must move on to our next destination, Nus.

As we exit the city we walk through the Porta Praetoria (Praetorian Gate). and over the ancient Roman bridge. I’m excited by these ancient structures. Aosta was originally known as Augusta Praetoria was founded by the Romans in 25BC at the junction of the major roads leading to France and Switzerland. Christianity came to the valley in 5 AD. The bishop of Aosta also later became the Bishop of Canterbury, clearly well clear of Henry the VIII.

The Via Francigena (VF) path is well marked which surprises me. It would appear that since our guide was written some improvements have been made for pilgrims on the route. Fountains are still available at the entrance to a town or near a church.

I mentioned previously meeting a pilgrim on route from Canterbury, today we met 2 French women both from the Champagne region who are spending only 2 weeks on their way to Pavia as the first of a number of visits to Italy to complete this pilgrimage. Celine and Veronique with their respective families are grape growers and winemakers. It’s been interesting to hear their stories via Celine who speaks English well and confidently communicates. Their respective vineyards supply grapes to Bollinger and they have their own label in Champagne. Their grapes and production is obviously at the top end but they tell their stories without pomp and ceremony “just winemakers” Celine says.

We have an invitation to stay at her B&B when we choose to visit France again. Well who could pass that invitation up, right?

We very much enjoyed our brief time together. It is unlikely we will see them on the road again this time, but we will remember them fondly. A round of Beck’s beer, photos and toasts and we farewelled them in Nus as we make our way to the Fermata to catch the Pullman (bus stop to catch the bus) to Chàtillon.

You must remember my groaning from my past blog in Spain. Every town is at the top of the hill! In Italy every church is at the top. Peter says “the churches have got it all wrong, they should be at the bottom to get more people to go to church”.

We’ve discovered also in our travels that most people don’t know the name of the street at the end of the one they are standing in, just like the young man in Aigle if you recall who knew where the swimming pool was but not the camp site right alongside of it.

Via Chanoux was at the end of the street where two men were prepared to send us in opposite directions when all we had to do was walk 100 meters to the street we were looking for. Thankfully as the sweat ran down our backs fearful of having to climb a steep hill to the monastery, we discovered our accommodation was just around the corner.

We met Bill Walker from Atlanta sitting on the bench opposite the front door of the monastery. Bill had been waiting an hour for one of the Franciscan brothers to answer the doorbell. He was rather frazzled, actually very worked up from an experience in Nus which I’ll save for another day. We had booked accommodation in very humble rooms but Bill was just looking for a floor to sleep on and at 220cms there’s no bed that he would be able to fit.

Bill talks without ever taking a breath so it’s impossible to ask questions or make a comment. If you’re our age you will probably remember the show Andy Griffiths. Bill sounds just like Andy’s assistant sheriff. As it happens Bill too is on his way to Rome, a writer of adventure books he plans was to write a book on the VF but has decided that I should do it rather than he. Bill was previously a Futures broker, lived in Chicago which is the Mecca of Futures trading in the US and then in London for a number of years. Futures crashed as has many of his investments and so he has turned his hand to writing with some success. His book or perhaps exposé on Futures Trading is currently being printed and will be released later this year.

Our conversations with Bill has confirmed that this hike is seriously difficult. The same time is takes to hike 6 kms would be the time we could cover 25 to 30 kms in Spain. It gives us a good degree of comfort knowing that we haven’t aged so dramatically in 2 years that we are unable to cover the same distances. And bill just like us will resort to a combination of hiking and transport for most stages. We are led to believe that Tuscany will be easier and we will be able to cover more distance each day but will have to allow enough days to walk the entire 130 kms at the end in order to receive our Testimonium at the Vatican.

Wish us well as we go.

PS: We have heard via Bill that there is another couple from Australia on route as well, a retired Pastor and his wife whom we hope to meet along the way.

It’s 30+ degrees in Ivrea today hope you’re warming up too!

Greetings to all who are hiking this journey with us.

Cí vediamo!

Hospitality is not always the case!

We made a decision late yesterday to stay in the Monastic Auberge over the Monastic dormitory though just a short while ago we took a peek at the dorms and they are very classy indeed. Colour coordinated duvets and bunks lined up like strapping soldiers all in a row. The auberge is the overflow of the monastery but it also offers accommodation of private rooms.

Previously I mentioned the monastery is over 1000 years old and for almost that long it has been a ‘bed for the night’ for whom ever darkens the doorstep. Well last night or should I say this morning at 2.00am a late arrival pounded on the door; boom, boom, boom, “ouvert” (open), boom, boom, boom, “ouvert”, I could hear the pounding in my sleep believing it was a dream until the insistent guest woke me and possibly the entire auberge except for Peter who slept right through the pounding. Then a car door slammed and a car drove away. Apparently a guest expected before 8pm arrived well late without notice and was incensed that the auberge was not open ….at 2 in the morning! How rude! The guest phoned the manager at 2 am and abused him but didn’t wait while he descended his rooms to open the door.

We have been fogged in since late yesterday, it’s as if the mountains are playing peek a boo, now you see me, now you don’t. One moment I look up and no mountains, I look down and then up again and the mountains have reappeared.

The manager’s wife Anique calls the Col (as the locals affectionately call it) a desert. No trees, just alps and rocks and the lake fed by the run off from the alps. The auberge closes on the 1 October and re opens the 1 June every year. At that time the Col is only accessible to cross country skiers, the monastery remains open to those game enough to ski to St Bernard and the monks survive on canned food for 8 months but welcome those who will venture here and hope that some fresh greens are in the skiers backpacks.

The monks are actually priests, one nun lives amongst them, she is trained in and owns the responsibility of “avalanche watch” measuring data and reporting each day to the relevant authority. She is also trained in pyrotechnics and will put on a fireworks display tonight over the lake to celebrate the Swiss National Day.

Col Grand Saint Bernard is deemed to be inhospitable with its unpredictable weather and snowed in winters, snow is not unusual in the July and August months but it has been warm here this summer and there is no snow to be seen anywhere. I’m a little disappointed expecting clear skies and the possibility of identifying Mont Blanc in the distance but it was not meant to be although I am pleased to see the majestic mountains when they appear .

The altitude of the Pass is 2473 metres or just over 8000 ft. I’ve been unnaturally tired and only when the ball of my roll-on deodorant popped out of its container I realised that we are all being affected by the altitude. Clearly I will never be a contender for Mt Everest or any location higher than this mountain.

We crossed the border to Italy a couple of hours ago to check the time of the autobus. The wet has made the path and roads exceptionally slippery and too dangerous for us to venture down the hill on foot in the fog and rain, visibility is limited to around 10 metres or less. Good sense tells us we are on the bus to Aosta where we will make camp tonight if not too wet under foot.

We noticed while in the Hotel d’Italia that prices are approximately half of the Swiss prices. Coffee in Switzerland between 3.5 and 4.00€ whereas on the Italian side it’s just 1.10€.

AOSTA ….late evening

So back to the title of this post – Hospitality is not always the case! – a mountain is not human nor are the elements, it behoves us to offer hospitality unlike the mountain or the elements. We are born to serve and be served.

We arrived in Aosta tonight at 5.15 and made our way around to the Parish house. Alas no room at the inn. The Parish house has 3 beds and all occupied but we were directed around to a little hotel, Il Camminetto, and whilst first appearances were not encouraging I voiced out loud that we should not judge a book by its cover.

The hotel manager Adriana, a Romanian woman in her early 50s, reluctantly told us also there were no rooms available, it appears this not so pretty looking accommodation is very popular, however Adriana obliged us by phoning the Seminary to ask if there were any beds available. No answer!. “There are other hotels”, she said, “but pricey”. Another hotel on our list has been closed for 3 years. It was evident that she wanted to help and without another thought offered her own house for the night. We were embarrassed to accept but our Adriana angel would not hear another word, she was offering a bed because she recognised we had no other choice. So….accommodation, no charge, the best pilgrims dinner we’ve ever had, €10 each and breakfast no charge.

This is a hospitality of a kind we have never known.

Adriana and her partner Roberto, who cooked the delicious Valdostan specialty were both so very generous in our physical need and our emotional need. They shared so much of their own story with us. In the midst of our tiredness we were lifted up. It seems now wherever we stop we are put under obligation to send a postcard or email to confirm our safe arrival in Rome.

The blessings continue to overflow and overwhelm us.

Heb 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

It’s important to read every word that is written if you want to get to where you’re going?

If I were to tell you we are exhausted it would not be an exaggeration. Our aim today was to hike from Orsiéres to Bourg St Pierre it’s only 13kms. It’s 6 kms to the first town of Dranse then 1 km to Liddes and 6kms to B. St Pierre. Now friends this is not a difficult challenge, we all walk more than 13kms each day!

Now if I tell you it took us 4 hours to walk 6 kms. It is the longest most challenging and discouraging walk of our lives. There is no doubt that we walked the correct route and I must say the guidebook has been absolutely spot on in directions down to the last detail. The only change would be the wooden footbridges which have since publication of the guide been replaced with solid steel ones.

We have walked some of the steepest hills, well actually they are the sides of mountains, we have ever walked. The River Dranse is dangerous and frequent signage confirms that no one can survive the rapids.

We’ve learnt that every word in the guidebook is important. Not a word wasted, nothing embellished, it is just as it says. The Bible is the same, if we are going to get what it says then we need to read every word, because every word counts.

You know, it doesn’t matter how well you know a hill or how well you have read the details of the climb you always think that in the ups there must be some downs. Frankly we were more concerned that if we went down, the climb thereafter would be extreme. The downs weren’t necessary to experience the extremes. Our path seemingly took us to the edge where in the next breath we would have been in the River rapids. Amongst the brambles and wild strawberries, raspberries and red currents the sign upwards was well and truly obscured.

Caught between salivating over the wild berries (fruit of the forest) and jaw dropping shock at what lay ahead it made a comical scene, I can see the headlines now “middle aged female hiker locks jaw and drowns in saliva”.

The reality of the climb ……. there was no path, tree roots and periodical crudely secured timber created steps. The excitement of the wild berries faded into the discouraging track without end.

Everything has an end though as we limped into Dranse a sleepy little settlement where once there was a cafe we perched ourselves on a rock to eat lunch. A friendly lady drove by waving enthusiastically, ah ha the friend collector’s opportunity to pounce and pounce he did. Using French, Italian and English we had a great conversation. The Dranse resident was born in the sleepy hollow in the house behind her current one, she worked at the Great St Bernard tunnel for 24 years and learnt enough italian to get by. We learnt enough from the conversation to know we were headed for the St Bernard Hospice for the night.

Exhausted, in pain, discouraged, enough is enough for one day.

This journey is nothing like the Camino in Spain but we have also learnt that those who do this pilgrimage do not attempt what we have been doing, that is, the original Sigeric Route, the Napoleonic route, they all take the main road. I don’t think we will trade our route for the other easier one but we will modify it so that we can also enjoy what we do.

Note: The young woman at the information office has offered to take us by car to the hospice after she finishes work. How blessed are we?

We’ve been on the road for three days and we feel like it’s been weeks. But onwards and upwards!

Challenge yourself, you’ll be surprised how well you’ll come through it, though you may be reduced to tears at times, it will not break you!

Bonne marché nous amis!

Blue Sky Days!

It’s early morning in Martigny, today we will catch the train to Orsiéres and begin our climb from there most likely stopping at Bourg St Pierre for the night.

So much happens in a day it’s often hard to recall in one hit, each day needs to be revisited over and over. I’m sitting in my bed but we should have set off an hour ago the loft window is open, the church spire is clearly visible from the bed end, bells are peeling and then sound out the time. The trouble though is the bell ringer indicated 9am but our digital devices tell us it’s only 6.54 am.

Casting my mind back over the last three days I recall the encounters and detail. As often as we refer to our guide there will be a wonderful Swiss angel watching and hastening to render assistance. On day one one such angel who could easily have been mistaken for Father Christmas with a dog rather than a reindeer beckoned us across the road to him. It is fair to say that Father Christmas who knows every street in the entire world would know which way we should go, oui?

If there is any uncertainty Peter is ever so keen to seek assistance, the leading question, do you speak English? It’s interesting how many Swiss and French speak even just a little. For the few that don’t they will still insist on giving directions in a fast French, hand signals are wonderful things and not at all difficult to follow. Interestingly, there are some people who do not know at all where to find landmarks like the camping ground, and yet it is immediately adjacent the swimming pool that they tell us is only 500 metres in “that” direction!

Backpacks are a draw card. We have seen a number of hikers, none with packs as big as ours which must mean surely that it’s a day hike. Constantly “bonjouring” people will encourage conversation which reveals a marvelling expression when they hear how far we intend to hike. We are seriously akin to Olympians for the feat we aim to achieve little do they realise how many trains we may need to catch in order to cross the Vatican line.

My French is improving from almost zilch, zero and even less than that to a good recollection of words long forgotten from my three years of French classes 45 years ago. I remember my French teacher quite clearly as though I saw her just yesterday and recall her frustration with the class and rightly so, our pronunciation of words was appalling. But hearing people speak each day is an easier way to learn, the total immersion then repeating words and names of towns over and over as we walk attempting to replicate the sound if at all possible.

Yesterday we walked past many acreages of corn, the cobs looked ready for picking I was so tempted to cross the invisible line to try one, I’m pretty certain that biblical law says we are entitled to take for food from the fields we cross but we satisfied ourselves with some blackberries growing along a fence-line, they were the most delicious and sweetest blackberries we have ever tasted. I haven’t stopped thinking of them.

Massongex as I mentioned in my previous blog is a settlement so pristine, it is evident that the people of the region generally take much pride in their surrounds but nothing like the 500metres of houses and lush lawned gardens that perhaps are an extension of the town. A number of houses had robotic leaf vacuums that lazily crossed backwards and forwards across incredible lawns dotted with fruit trees. A continuous line of unfenced properties created one expanse of uninterrupted green. Such a contradiction to our continuous fence lines connected only by automated garage doors. I suspect the neighbours enjoy friendly wholesome relationships as well.

As I look up from recording these memories of yesterday I see two mountain peaks, a clear blue sky, birds are chirping and a husband that has fallen asleep again. 7.30 am hmmm way too late!

If not before, I’ll see you again in my writing over the mountains, but until then I wish you a wonderful day and look around as you come for a walk with us because even in Adelaide there are some wonderful strangers to greet and some wonderful things to see.

Come let’s go for a walk.

Bonne marché!

What’s a Schedule Anyway!

What’s a Schedule Anyway!

What a day! Again I say what a day! Years of Bible studies has taught me that when a phrase or comment is repeated that it’s important.

An early exit from Aigle in true Camino style. I heard the church bells ring out “5am and all is well”, an alarm sounded in one of the tents neighbouring ours. Yep, he hit the snooze button! Then the 5.30 am bell, the snooze button. I didn’t want to disturb Peter who clearly was sleeping through not only the church bells and phone but the orchestral cacophony of snorers from almost every tent. I lay awake trying to pick the tent, male or female (which by the way is not possible to pick). No, I’m getting up.

I was cold last night, the moment I realised I was cold I decided I’d sleep with my clothes on every night thereafter. I wanted to crawl into Peter’s sleeping bag but I would wake him and that’s not fair, is it?

We were out of the camp by 6.30 am. Great we had a head start on the other days! We retraced our steps to the Place de la Gare, (the street of the train station) looked up the city map and after being directed by a gorgeous fellow who reminded me of a dashing Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp) we set off for a 16 kms walk to St Maurice (not St Moritz).

I think Peter and I play games, I speed up to see how fast Peter is prepared to walk, I weave from one side of the path to the other to check out if it’s easier to walk on a particular side, whilst Peter stops every now and again and says “keep walking”. So, I do.

We walked along the Rhone river today, it flows frighteningly fast, not the river you want to fall in or even wade into, there is no way to save a person. A bicycle path runs the entire way, shared by pedestrians and horses.

Our first stop was in Massongex. I think it won the tidy town award! A Templar style church greeted us at the settlement’s entrance. The municipal office is right along side where we met a man who took us into the office, arranged to stamp our credentials and gifted us a book on the Via Francigena. Wow how kind was that, I wonder if he wouldn’t mind posting it to Rome for us?

We had a coffee before continuing on at a nearby bar that I think is the Swiss version of Pokies. Some older guys were in situ drinking beer and wine (at 9 am in the morning). We used the facilities. Now I’m not in the habit of talking toilettes but this worth mentioning. Most facilities are at the bottom of building. The ladies was well marked, enter and…….a lovely Perspex sea green seat with frogs on it, great if you like frogs, but that’s ok. I’m observing the ceramic toilet roll holder in the far corner, the toilet roll holder, the toilet brush and oh yes, the ashtray next to the toilet roll holder complete with indentations in case I need to put it down whilst I ……..flush! Hmmm. Where’s the hand basin i remember seeing it as I entered the toilette, that’s the one right along side the men’s urinal. Did I tell you how friendly the people are here.

Well we are in Matigny tonight. We have Parish accommodation. We have been treated like king and queen, possibly because so few people take on this walk. We have accommodation in a building nearby, I think the church may own the building. We are in the loft at the top of the stairs, just gives us more opportunity to train for the mountain climb. Seriously, we have a fantastic room 40 € not cheap but we have a kitchen and real beds, real towels, real sheets. We have a view of a chateau from our window, woohoo! We have a clothesline on the terrace and a bath that I’ll never climb out of if I sit in it. A wonderful experience truly, we have watched Escape to the Country and been so envious of those chocolate box homes with lofts where you knock your head on the low doorways and beams. We have a bathroom and a kitchen and a staircase just like that.

We dined inhouse tonight, Penne a la Celestina washed down with our 3.50€ bottle of red. This is the life.

As an aside, I’m lying on the bed watching Peter stand up as though his feet are bolted to the floor and he’s trying to balance himself. Hahaha!

It’s been another great day and one day closer to the big mountain.

Greetings to all.

Well Plait Your Hair and Call Yourself Heidi!

I’m practicing my yodelling I see the mountains in the distance and I realise we are just a couple of days away from climbing up to the Great St Bernard Pass. It’s breathtakingly beautiful here!

Swiss architecture is unique to Switzerland, just as French is to France and it’s the same every time you cross the border of another country. We have just enjoyed two stunning days walking along Lac Leman or as most of us know it Lake Geneva. We’ve met some of the friendliest people we will ever meet, and have been blessed by people’s genuine interest and helpfulness, giving us directions whether we needed it or not and I think we’ve blessed a person or two as well.

Well after so many years of disliking camping, I’m rather enjoying it. We left Lausanne on Tuesday and headed for Cully, the Swiss like the French pronounce it coo-yee. We arrived there later than planned and alas there was no room at the camping inn, but like the story in the Bible we got the stable or in this case a useless triangle of hard ground that was perfect for our meagre needs.

As usual whilst I was showering and setting up home Peter was out making a few new friends which are growing fast in number. I had to go out to hunt him down and he introduced me to Vicki his newest friend from Wales. Vicki and her husband joined her family who have been holidaying in Cully for 20 years it’s like our Pt Elliot but I have to say Pt Elliot has nothing on the Lake and surrounds here. Well Vicki and I struck up a conversation a while later, I told her I was headed to find a beer and bless her socks she presented us with 4 Krönenbourg beers.

You all know my pattern of beer drinking and after downing 2 beers in record time a siesta and sweet dreams came oh so easily. Well Vicki is my new best friend now, she has the key to our house, we are Facebook friends, the lot. Hahaha! It’s true! Well Facebook and an open invite to stay anyway.

It’s Wednesday today and we have walked through acres and acres of vines, right smack through the middle of them. The area has 830 acres of vines, they are grown everywhere and I do mean everywhere, from high up on the slopes of the mountains, on top of car ports, along the sides of roads against ancient stone walls, into any vacant spot alongside lakeside homes, right down to almost the water’s edge. It’s truly magnificent. It’s been an absolute privilege to have experienced this path.

This pilgrimage is so very different to the Camino in Spain. Way markers are few and far between though we have an excellent guidebook which we are compelled to refer to more than just frequently in order to find our way. We are constantly walking on concrete roads and paths which is extremely hard on our legs and feet and our walking distance record so far has been limited to 10kms a day. But we are hoping the further from our office we are, together with the improved climate we will increase our daily distance despite the hard surfaces.

You know I’ve already lost 3 kgs since leaving Hong Kong……… we made the fatal mistake of carrying too much in our packs, so today we sent 3 kgs ahead to our hotel in Rome. I cannot believe after leaving Adelaide with 71/2kgs. I managed to add on 3 more. Peter is carrying our two man tent which takes him to 11 kgs, ooh that’s a bad bad thing. So maybe tomorrow we’ll split the tent between us.

You cannot imagine the amazing camp ground we stayed in Aigle last night. As we lay in our tent we looked up to the mountains where there are little Swiss settlements dotting the mountain face and vineyards in between. On the other side is Lac Leman, heaven or what?
It rained most of the way from Cully, if you don’t don the clothes you buy for this purpose you can only expect to get saturated. It was too late for my hair by the time I got my Goretex jacket out as my back was getting very wet. I knew it was going to be THE day I washed my hair and was ecstatic to find a hair dryer in the ladies very large and very clean bathroom at the camp.

Peter has lost (if you’re female) or misplaced (if you’re male) his rain cover for his backpack so we have been grateful for the thin but very durable rain coat my brother Bruno insisted I take. We’ve been able to fashion a cover which served the purpose very well.

Well I’m sure we’ve left Aigle with at least a few more friends I’m starting to feel like the Pied Pipers assistant.

Cheers and best wishes to all

Come on put on your shoes and go for a walk!

Short Streets & Long Memories

I’d almost forgotten the smell of Hong Kong, an assault on the senses as I stepped out of the luxurious Harbour City Building having descended from the 7 star apartment (as Peter affectionately refers to it) on the 33rd floor overlooking Hong Kong Harbour. It’s warm outside and it’s been raining and my just washed hair that I carefully ensured was dry is going to totally frizz. I screw my nose up at the forgotten odour that belongs to this city and then I smile to myself as a calm washes over me. I love this place!

The traffic is still here though it’s not peak hour at 11.15am on a Saturday morning. Few pedestrians wait to cross the road at the intersection, one would not dare contemplate crossing anywhere other than the designated spot – take your life into your own hands if you will, but today I’ll abide by the safety regulations, as I always have.

The women who for a meagre wage offer passersby propaganda leaflets are already out doing their job. They must have particular people groups to target as I rarely find a hand flying in front of me fisting a coloured sheet flapping like a flag in the wind.

I visually mark the streets, mentally recording street signs, neon lights that are never switched off, shop names I recognise from previous visits. Silvercord Shopping Mall larger than life and home to the Michelin star dumpling restaurant a must every visit, Sasa for cosmetics, Chow Tai Fook with its windows dressed in garish gold medieval looking amulets.

How did I cross the street? My foot kisses the pavement on the other side, oh well, the lights must have been green!

I’m aware of the finely built woman wearing a white t-shirt who blends well with the white polystyrene loaded on the cart she pushes and I’m reminded that I’m now in Haiphong Road. Haiphong Road is just 300 metres long sandwiched between Canton and Nathan roads and is well over 100 years old. It’s so memorable for so many contrasting experiences. The left side of the street, the side I usually walk on, resembles a refuse transfer collection centre.

Every few meters someone has reserved a patch of pavement. I see broken glass a few meters ahead and I realise somebody will own that job today just as the woman in the white t-shirt and the styrene. Empty 10 litre water bottles, recycled paper in bundles tied crudely with a piece of recycled cord, I notice someone has the job of gathering up the hard plastic strips the type used to secure boxes of photocopy paper, plastic wrapping, timber, ceiling squares and fluorescent light, someone must be refurbishing a building somewhere close by and so it goes.

The rustic shelter that is the newspaper kiosk is still there, with an obscure but small range of toys covered in plastic to protect each item, I always wonder who will buy them?

I’m distracted by the activity across the road where the Haiphong Temporary Market is located. The “Temporary Market” is thought to be the oldest of its kind in Hong Kong, then tell me how can it be “temporary”? The market is a food market, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, it’s not large but it provides well for the needs of the local population. It is the flower market that provide the greatest contrast though, between the beauty of the voluptuous, colourful blooms, fresh, ready to go into people’s homes and businesses, against the refuse coming out of the same that will begin to stink as it grows throughout the day waiting for the fetid garbage trucks that will collect it periodically throughout the day.

The people are a so different to what I’m used to seeing even in the cosmopolitan city of Norwood. As I walk against the flow, a woman in 3/4 length pants and knock kneed walks past me followed by a mother protectively holding a young child’s hand, a man desperately takes the last drag from a cigarette as he is bent well over the mouth of the filthy bin that waits to be fed by the promising smoking butt. Old men, old women, young people, couples, singles, children. Not much different from Adelaide.

As I walk past the entrance to Kowloon Park I look up the path not certain what I’m expecting to see. Thirty three acres of the most beautiful, lush and fastidiously manicured gardens in the middle of a smelly, bustling city. For all the noise around it the park is a peaceful location where one can lose themself amongst the fountains and water features, hedges and flocks of flamingoes. It’s a bird sanctuary, a stage for sparring martial artists, of the flowing movements of the practices of Tai Chi enthusiasts, a haven for readers of books, magazines and newspapers. It’s a place where you can continue to zone out on your digital devices, but if you do you will miss out on the splendour of the surrounds, and a loss it will be indeed. So very disappointing though is the McDonalds kiosk in the garden. I make a mental note to visit the gardens tomorrow.

As a I continue on I’ve almost walked the length of Haiphong Road to Nathan Road. I spy one of my favourite shops, Giordano across the intersection and it’s hard to miss the signage telling me I need to visit the store tomorrow, there’s a big sale on, but then again there’s a sale on everywhere in Hong Kong at present, it’s the end of the season.

But right now I’m going to skirt around the construction work that’s going on at the entrance to the Tsim Sha Tsui train station, I’m off to Tung Chung my favourite shopping mall where I’m sure to pick up a few bargains for the family.

I love this place!

2 weeks to take off!

There is no doubt some of you will think I’m crazy; another pilgrimage to a different place, a different landscape and a different language.  I’m happy to be called crazy but with husband Peter in tow we are off to explore the ancient pilgrim route, the “Via Francigena”.

Francigena is pronounced (Fran-ch-ee-gen-a).

The full pilgrimage begins in Canterbury, UK and ends in Rome, but time will not permit us to hike the 2000+ kms so I’ve chosen for us to start in Lausanne, Switzerland just short of the half way point. The true halfway mark is the Great St Bernard Pass, but I will personally need the 5 day run up to ensure I have enough momentum to make it over the top. Peter is a machine on the mountains and I’m a great chaser and the reverse can be said for the downhill, so I’d say that makes us a good team, don’t you?

Why this pilgrimage? I’m crazy? I need a challenge? I’m trying to prove something? All that and more! I can say only this …. I am alive and whilst I have breath and am able, I will continue to challenge myself, my body, my mind, my ability to start and finish something, anything, everything (if possible).

Not as popular as the Camino to Santiago de Compostela with its pilgrim numbers at around 150,000 per year, the Via Francigena challenges approximately 2500 pilgrims per year, but pilgrimages to Rome have been happening since the 4th Century.  It should really be said that Rome is one of the major stopping points on the pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem,  however the charismatic and historical lure of Rome and the home of the Pope and “eternal city” means most if not all, end their journey there.

I’m neither Catholic nor charmed by the Pope, Vatican or trappings of the wealth of the Catholic church, I do love history and Italy is the home of my ancestors, so it is natural for me to want to make this my journey’s end.

I have expectations though, just as on my journey through Spain; I expect to meet with Jesus, to have some encounter with Him, to soak up His presence and prepare for some life changing experience, even the tiniest change.  I’m not ashamed to share this with you for this can only make me a better person, a better friend, a better mother, wife, sister etc. If I aspire to be anything other than what and who I am, I aspire to be more like Jesus.

So, stay with me if you will and follow us on this 1000 kilometre journey over mountains, valleys and rivers, through villages with few inhabitants and cities of great wealth and numbers.  We expect to experience some interesting nights in our two man tent and hopefully some luxurious ones with hot showers and linen sheets.

Come, lets go for a walk!