After three days and about 50 KM, I have 1 blister. Not bad but not pleasant either. My pack is heavier than I had planned. I do enjoy hiking but decide to take a break. While Kees happily continues along the Via Francigena, I take a bus to the next town. Gambassi Terme just happens to have a spa. Not sure if they are natural hot springs, but who cares – hot water and a sauna sound good right now. They even have a pellegrino rate.
Early in the morning I find the bus I was told to take but it is crammed with 500 highschool students, none of whom speak any English. The bus driver speaks even less. But I explain my destination. He nods, a student interprets, I climb aboard and wedge onto the by-rider seat because the entire bus is full.
Then the roller coaster ride starts. Like a true Italian, he rushes down the mountainside, screeches around curves, scattering dogs and cats and old men on scooters. We cross a valley if vinyards in less time than it takes to say ‘Via Francigena’. When we reach the next city, all students stream out of the bus but the driver gestures me to sit and stay. Then he drives the otherwise empty bus across the city to find the stop for my next bus. I don’t think I was on a city bus, I suspect it was a school bus. He hails down the next driver, hands me over like a baton in a relay race and looks relieved when I climb onto the next bus. I get off where my notes tell me, with all my luggage, but then discover, all alone along an empty country road, that I have to climb uphill for at least 2 more kilometers until I reach the house where we’ll be staying. It’s an old fashioned Tuscan house – dark, with a fence and a big dog, chickens in the yard and shutters on the windows.
While Kees walks, meets a snake and copes with gravel paths, I drop off my luggage and lug another 1.5 kilometers uphill to my spa. I am the only customer. I figure out where to change, slide into the lovely hot water and soak all day. Ah… being a pilgrim isn’t bad.