Europe 2024 – The Pilgrims Way and the Via Francigena

Thank you to everyone for following this blog. You inspire me to reach further in my exploration of our wonderful world!

After completing the Camino Francès in late 2022, which I blogged about here, I researched more ancient pilgrimage paths in Europe and discovered two that have origins even older than Christendom.

Today, 5 April 2024, I will travel to Winchester, England to set out tomorrow on my most ambitious trek yet: two weeks on The Pilgrims Way to Canterbury, England, then on to Rome, Italy through France, Switzerland, and Italy via the Via Francigena for the following three months.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Vietnam: Mỹ Sơn Trek and Hội An

My final post about this trip to Indochina starts with another guided trek in the jungle mountains around the ancient Hindu ruins at Mỹ Sơn and ends with a phenomenal, large-scale theatrical performance combining elements of Cirque de Soleil, Olympic Game opening ceremonies, and Super Bowl halftime shows in the old town of Hội An. Together, they provide fascinating glimpses of Vietnam‘s long history and the country’s contemporary vibrancy.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Vietnam: Ninh Binh

Coming down from the high mountains on the Hà Giang Loop, I spent a few days in the bustling capital city of Hanoi before continuing south to the quieter city of Ninh Bình. I visited the UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Tràng An and Tam Coc to see more karst limestone mountains and caves that can only be reached by guided rowboats. They are very popular with tourists, so it felt crowded initially, but once the boats spread out on the river and we entered the caves, we on our boat felt quite alone. The quietness of nature around us was much appreciated.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Laos: Luang Prabang Trek

After several days of peaceful relaxation in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, it was time to head out on another trek. I found an experienced local guide to take me as a solo traveler off the beaten track to nearby ethnic villages by visiting Luang Prabang‘s ethnology museum. Staff members at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre referred me to Mr. Khankeo Indavong, nicknamed AK, a spirited young independent tour operator who pulled together an itinerary to meet my request and introduced me to Gone, a Lowland Lao, and the perfect guide.

We visited villages of Lao Loum (Lowland Lao), Khmu, and Hmong tribes by various modes of transport: hiking, riverboat, and 4×4 jeep. The Hmong village, Phouluang Tai, at the summit of the aptly named “Big Mountain,” is particularly fascinating. It is inaccessible by vehicles (even motorbikes!) since part of the road was washed away a few years ago. The authorities insist that its residents move to the “new” village down the mountain, with tempting offers of water, electricity, roads, a school, and a clinic. I learned that it’s not an easy choice for everyone, so even families are now split between the old and new village sites.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Thailand: Chiang Rai Trek

My next multiday trek in Thailand started in Chiang Rai with a long-tail boat ride up the Kok River to the village of Ban Ruammit. While still fairly close to “civilization,” the ominously growing cloud cover reminded me of Charles Marlow‘s voyage up the Congo River in Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. After buying and packing our food for the trip, we hiked mostly along farm roads and paths, which was a nice contrast to all the bushwhacking of my first trek in the Mae Wang Area. The terrain and variety of weather were familiar to me now but only a bit less challenging: many climbs and descents, both heavy rainfall and dry sunshine, and a wide range of temperatures. My guide and I stayed overnight in the villages of two ethnic tribes that I mentioned in my previous post: Lahu and Akha.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Thailand: Mae Wang Area Trek

A full year after my long walk across southern France and northern Spain, I was anxious for another long trekking adventure to close out an active 2023. I had recently read about hill tribes in Southeast Asia, so I decided to focus my efforts on hiking among some of their villages in the northern mountains of Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. In this and upcoming posts, I will share stories, photos, and videos from my trip. As always, this blog is intended to document the experience for posterity and to share with anyone interested in my visit to this beautiful and fascinating corner of the globe. I hope you enjoy it!

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Italy 2023 – Via di Francesco: Days 7-8

We made it!

This is the final post of the series documenting our trekking holiday to Italy in the summer of 2023 and its transformation into a hybrid trip for both pilgrims and tourists.

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Italy 2023 – Via di Francesco: Days 5-6

We’ve adjusted.
We’ve adapted.
We’ve accepted.

This is no longer a through hike…

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Italy 2023 – Via di Francesco: Days 3-4

Via di Francesco – Day 3: Sansepolcro to Citerna

We learned too late about the forecast of afternoon thundershowers…

Today’s stage was always planned to be a short one and relatively flat across the agricultural fields of the Upper Tiber River Valley before a final climb up to the medieval fortress town of Citerna, so we were in no hurry to get up and out.

Then, too late, we read the weather forecast. Sure enough, the weather folk called it right, and we were forced to put the rain covers on our packs for the last 30 minutes of the route. It was still too warm and humid to comfortably don our own rain gear, so two soggy bodies arrived at the doorstep of our apartment in the mid-afternoon hour.

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Italy 2023 – Via di Francesco: Days 1-2

La Via di Francesco (The Way of Saint Francis)

The Via Degli Dei we just traveled is a relatively new recreational trail. In contrast, the Via di Francesco is a pilgrimage route that commemorates the life and inspiration of Saint Francis of Assisi and is built in two main segments. We plan to walk the northern path from the Sanctuary of La Verna to the beautiful hilltop town of Assisi over the next eight days. The southern way lies between Assisi and Rome. Both trails are typically walked from north to south, but there is signage for anyone wishing to do the trip in reverse. Some pilgrims walk just one or the other segment, with a few combining them into a longer trip.

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