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  • Writer's picturekristina jacobsen

Via Francigena: Day 1

June 6th. I am in the Tuscan countryside in the town of Altopascio,on the Via Francigena, and I'm sitting under a jasmine tree. It sounds like a train just went behind and I'm at an ‘Ostello Donativ’ run by the Comune (town) of Altopascio; there are tall skinny cypress trees right outside the door and there's a church from the seventh century AD that's attached to this Ostello so I know that it's very old. 

central piazza, Altopascio: historic pilgrim house against Xenophobia

This evening, I'm going to eat dinner at 7: 30 with seven other pilgrims that are here, and there was already discussion between the two Ospitaleros (volunteers) on what they're going to prepare. It sounds like it's some sort of fresh tomato salad as the side dish and then as the second dish  will be prepared chicken breast of some sort.

 I have my own room. It's clean and comfy and has big beautiful windows with lots of light that open up. And I'm shocked every time I end up in these kinds of places that I'm paying 10 euros a night for and I see and I realize how beautiful and how nice they are. 

logo for Ostello, Sentieri di Felicita’ (paths of happiness)

Also, I'm going to try to use this transcription service so that I'm typing as little as possible on my small phone while I'm walking because I find speaking into a phone allows me to still stay present while typing and looking down at the screen does not. 

So this blog post is an experiment in traveling and documenting my travels in different ways that feel workable and sustainable. There's a silhouette of a pilgrim maybe made in metal or bronze. 

The welcome words at this Albergue-beautiful and deep!
‘Irish Blessing,’ translated into Italian

There are bikers going by on the Camino, and there's a nice evening breeze. There's also discussion of whether we should eat outside tonight and the consensus is that it's a yes. This is a Donativo, meaning it is donation based. And so, they make a point to tell you that they do not take payment or money for their services and instead there's a little box downstairs. And you put in there what you feel is right for the lodging and the food and the meals that you've received and no one has any idea how much you've put in. And it all functions on a cash only basis. So no debit cards whatsoever. 

It's a big tall Yellow House and the man that runs the hostel is Giovanni. He began to give me a little bit of the history of Altopascio. And he immediately launched into the history of a very old building and the primary Piazza of the town that for many, many centuries, has not only welcomed strangers and outsiders, but in Latin was named as a counterpoint to xenophobia. So the guests that arrived was put at the head of the table and treated as a guest of honor because foreigners were perceived as bringing new life and energy and art and culture and open mindedness to a town and therefore were received and treated with great honor.

Modestly marked Via Francigena headstones, found along the way. Like much signage in Italy, the signs are smaller and more subtle.
small stone head markers marking the Via Francigena. Like a lot of signage in Italy, the signs are smaller and more subtle and you have to really look for them.

He then went on to compare that to the current state of Italian politics in which foreigners are treated with so much suspicion. He's an older gentleman probably in his early 70s. In today’s Italy, it was an incredible way to be welcomed onto this camino. He also immediately began trying to find guitars that I could borrow while I'm walking and asked me if I want to play a concert on my last day. Sometimes things fall into place very quickly. And it's beautiful to just say yes and move along with it.

Buona serata a tutti!

The vehicle of a local flower store in Altopascio

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