Thank You, Italy

I wrote this the day before leaving Italy, on my run from Rome to London:

I held the scrunched up napkin in my hands and told my two fellow pilgrims, “This napkin is the pilgrims and my hands are Italy.” Then I wrapped my hands gently around the napkin and held it to my heart.

“This is what it feels like to be a pilgrim here.”

I have spent the last forty days in Italy, traversing its length from Rome right up north to the base of the Alps, where I sit now whilst writing.

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It has been the most incredible forty days. I have run through Tuscany’s rolling hills, I have clamoured alongside Lazio’s motorway, I have plodded through Lombardy’s endlessly flat rice fields and I have limped my way through more hours than I care to count. Through it all, the ever-present warmth and care of Italy for it’s pilgrims has nudged me on when I felt I had no more to give.

Here I have lost my heart and I am not sure I will quite feel complete ever again until I return. The joy of bathing in Italy’s musical language has been a rollercoaster ride of fun, confusion and education. I am now fairly fluent in the essentials of saying no but ‘grazie‘ to the constant lifts I am offered, explaining that ‘si,’ I am travelling ‘a piedi‘ and have done all, ‘tutti,’ by foot from Roma and will ‘finisce a Londra‘. To their shocked faces I explain that I am a pilgrim, ‘sono una pellegrina‘ and as their faces show recognition, ‘ah, la Via Francigena?’ and I nod, they wish me luck, ‘buona fortuna‘ or ‘in bocca al lupo‘ and drive off. It is a conversation I have at least five times a day.

Italy’s stunning landscapes have surprised me time and again. From crossing streams in thick forests to climbing mountain passes, every day brings with it a new terrain and a new challenge for me to encounter. I love just trusting myself to the route waymarkers and seeing what will happen. The route, the Via Francigena, does occasionally spit me out in a field someplace with no indication of what to do next and no clue where I might have gone wrong, but on the whole, I can trust it to get me to my end destination for the day. Every time I pass a marker, I say a little “grazie” to whoever took the time out of their day to put it there.

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The red and white stripe on that tree is waymarker for the route

I also say a “grazie” to all the people in towns on the route who put water or food out for pilgrims to take, for the people who keep a room in their house for passing pilgrims to stay in overnight, for the people who’s religion leads them to show kindness to the pilgrims who come asking for a place to stay. I have stayed with nuns, monks, priests. I have stayed in convents, monasteries, churches and a 1000 year old Cistercian abbey.

To be a pilgrim in Italy is to feel a whole country take you into its arms and guide you gently through.

I am now halfway through my run home from Rome. Tomorrow I will go to Switzerland and leave this wonderful country behind. I have no idea what awaits me in Switzerland or France but I already feel a deep sadness about leaving Italy that will take a while to overcome.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Laura,
    Hope you’re well. I’m contemplating running Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. How did you get on with the rest of the run? From a Google search it seems you may have been the only person to attempt such a feat!
    All the best,
    Mark

    Reply

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