Sunday, 11 September 2016
Hotel Mary provided an excellent breakfast, after which we took a short train ride to Riomaggiore, from where a steep path took us up to the small village of Groppo, then to Volastra for some expensive drinks and an opportunity for Cary to test the honesty of the locals by leaving his walking poles behind. The regular coastal toll path between Riomaggiore and Corniglia is currently closed due to a landslip, hence our much longer and more undulating route. The morning walk took a few hours but covered just about 8 km. Much of it was on narrow terraces between vineyards positioned on the steep slopes. A bit like Madeira's levada walking but without the water. A scenic route, but the coastal villages we could see below us would be shown in a better light in the early morning or evening.
Corniglia was crowded. We found space to eat in a busy square, before heading off on the toll (€7.50) trail towards Monterosso al Mare. This was slow going, especially when Cary had to return to the start to reclaim his walking poles again.
It was hot and crowded, if pleasantly scenic. After a while, at one of many pauses to admire the view, Cary dropped a walking pole onto a piece of land below us. Luckily he was able to find a way down through some undergrowth to recover it. He returned covered in burrs.
By the time we reached the pretty town of Vernazza it was 4 pm and most of us had had enough - we had walked 12 km in 7 hours with around 1200 metres of ascent. Quite enough for a wind-down day.
After celebratory ice creams, Sue and Cary went for a swim, whilst Graham and I popped up the tower shown in today's top picture, taken from the descent into Vernazza.
It was still hot.
The train service soon got us back to La Spezia and the comfort of our air conditioned rooms.
Tonight's outside table at a pizzeria was in a fine position and last night's salads were replaced by pasta and pizza. Cary, as can be seen from the lower picture, made room for a plate full of cake to round of the trip's culinary adventures.
Saturday, 10 September 2016
Pontremoli is a lovely small town slightly overlooked by a motorway carrying traffic that must have previously overrun the place.
We wandered down ancient streets with ornamental lintels, stopping for a coffee at a Swiss café before ambling up to the Piagnaro Castle past some wonderfully ornate benches. A fine exhibition of Stele statues (mysterious pagan sculptures dating from as long ago as 5000BC) held our attention for some time, aided by the English translation headphones. Then a wander around the castle ramparts, many of which contained what appeared to be private apartments, before adjourning for lunch at San Francesco il Lupo restaurant.
After that, La Spezia beckoned. It's a busy naval and commercial port as well as being a gateway to the famous Cinque Terre area. A tourist trap. Very busy. We dined in a pizzeria that did salads, sitting next to a lady from Florida and with a 'you've been framed' sort of programme on TV in the background.
There will be more in a slide show, but the top two pictures were taken in Pontremoli, the bottom one is near the sea front at La Spezia.
Friday, 9 September 2016
1550 metres ascent
8 hours 45 mins
The €3 breakfast at the Ostello was a help yourself affair, worth about €3. It was an acceptable place to stay though, and by 8.45 we were on the road back up to the pass, about 2.5 km of tarmac - the only significant amount of tarmac on the entire trek.
There was a welcome chocolate shop on the pass, and a church within a church to distract Cary from his continuing uphill struggle. Twelve days trekking without a break was starting to dismantle his recalcitrant knees.
However, lovely forest paths made light going of the saunter up towards Monte Molinatico. But the descent down a rough track with rolling stones was perhaps the least pleasant phase of our entire trek. This warranted a break for lunch under a shady tree shortly before arriving at Passo del Brattello, where the café-restaurant was open and we enjoyed post-lunch ice creams. Cary probably loaded up with more cake for his final afternoon of exertion.
Luckily, the paths traversing unseen Monte Cucco to Passo del Borgaro were through relatively cool, shady woods. Despite meeting a couple of trial bikes - the only people we met today apart from a lone hiker near the start and a company of horsemen near Brattello - the surface for the rest of our walk was pretty good. We enjoyed views towards our evening destination (top picture) and neared a small wind farm that had blighted our view for a while.
Beyond Borgaro the path narrowed as it passed over a rocky crest (middle picture), before reaching a large monument to World War ll partisans overlooking the Taro valley (bottom picture). This truly is Eric Newby country.
By now Cary was flagging so Sue positioned herself just in front of him to try to get him to match her pace, whilst I stayed behind with a poking stick. This seemed to work until Cary's phone rang and he ground to a halt in order to buy a flat! Abandoned on the trail, he nevertheless managed to reach Passo Due Santi before we had got through to La Catinella, 5 km down the road in the village of Patigno, who we had arranged to pick us up.
We still couldn't get through to tell them we'd arrived at the pass. Cary wasn't impressed by the prospect of a further 5 km saunter to Patigno! Sue disappeared off to the rifugio, from where contact with our overnight accommodation was eventually made. We had a further wait at the rather desolate road head at Passo Due Santi and were somewhat relieved when La Catinella's Skoda Roomster finally appeared.
Mario Theresa and Stefano duly welcomed us with the usual pot of tea, beers, excellent rooms and fine food. The ravioli went down particularly well. They remembered guide book author Gillian and asked us to pass on their best wishes.
Thursday, 8 September 2016
960 metres ascent
7 hours 10 mins
What a superb rifugio. Marcello and his smiling assistant looked after us well. Last night's giant pot of tea was 'on the house'; each group had a dormitory of their own (many guardians would have crammed us all into one room); food was tasty, they clearly enjoyed cooking it, and there was no limit on quantities; total cost for all four of us - half board plus beer, wine and paninis for lunch was €180 (net of Alpine Club discounts).
After chatting to Marcello and passing on Gillian's best wishes ("hello Gillian, enjoy AV1", says Marcello), it was well after 9 by the time we got away from Rifugio Mariotti. There was cloud and a strong, cold wind. The rifugio didn't look at its best as we glanced back at it (top picture).
We followed the regular GEA route to the summit of Monte Marmagna, Cary taking a less exposed path. The top was in and out of cloud, giving us brief glimpses of yesterday's ridge, and a fine view down to the sunlit Magra river valley that runs inland from La Spezia.
It was increasingly blowy as we descended awkwardly to the next col, Sella della Braiola, so we decided to avoid the exposed section of ridge over Monte Braiola and Monte Orsaro, dropping to join path 727a which rejoined the main GEA path at Foce del Fosco. Gloves and woolly hats were needed briefly.
Two others from the rifugio were met as we descended. They were taking a higher route.
Monte Fosco's 1680 metre summit was easily reached - any difficulties with the wind were over, though (see lower picture) some wimpier members of our party still needed gloves and woolly hats.
The rest of our day was spent in and out of trees on good paths with occasional undulations. Good progress was made after we had lunched on Marcello's giant butties at Passo di Cirone, where the Romanesque style chapel was securely shut.
The Alps remained coyly unseen today beyond the Po plain, but a motorway became prominent far below. At this moment it's probably in a tunnel far below us.
The motorway disappeared as we fell off our last map and coasted down to Passo della Cisa past munching horses, autumn crocuses and a plethora of other different wild flowers.
We had originally planned to stay at Locanda degli Aceri, 1.5 km to the south, but it's closed. With Gillian's help we had found an alternative, 2 km down the road to the north. The walkers' hostel (Ostello Cisa), a magnificent large stone building, serves walkers who tackle the Via Francigena pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. It has four German pilgrims, as well as us tonight, so it's busy. We have a spacious room for four.
There's no wifi or phone signal here, so readers will, I'm afraid, just have to be patient.
Later: after an ordinary meal with the German pilgrims we called it a day.
Tuesday, 6 September 2016
13 km (Martin 21.5 km)
860 metres ascent (Martin 1460m)
7 hours 30 mins
Last night's meal was ok, and we enjoyed the company of the Belgians for the final time. Yves apparently has an occasional assignment - as a clown. He would make a good one. We dissipated after our pasta and main courses (which included good salads), after waiting a while for the dolce that never arrived. Never mind.
Today dawned sunny and warm again. The wind has changed. A cool NE breeze helped us today. We aren't as hot and sweaty as on previous days. There was no threat of an electrical storm.
Fuelled by fresh croissants, we started steeply up the ski piste behind the hotel. At the first opportunity for a break I took my sunglasses off and sat chatting to Michel for a while. Then the five of us set off in Graham's long laid footsteps to rejoin the Apennine backbone at Passo del Giovarello. Here we took a few final photos and said goodbye to Yves and Michel - they were having a very short, leisurely day, staying at Rifugio di Lago Scuro.
Continuing along the splendid ridge (pictured), we pottered along slowly, admiring views to snow clad Alpine ranges in the distance. These were becoming a little clearer to see, having first been discernable from Passo Pietra Tagliata yesterday morning.
Passing over Monte Sillara, with its elaborate summit shrine, we dropped steeply to a massive cairn. It was near here that Sue asked why I wasn't wearing my sunglasses.
"Perhaps because I've left them somewhere!"
Examination of pictures taken revealed no sunglasses at the first pass, so I decided I must have left them at the earlier stop when I was chatting to Michel. They were new, and quite expensive, so as we'd only covered 6.3 km up to this point I decided to go back to look for them. A 9 km round trip involving about 600 metres ascent. But a lovely ridge walk that I didn't mind doing three times.
I passed the Belgians by the shrine and then took a short cut that led me down the wrong ridge, necessitating a yomp through bilberry strewn crags to regain the safety of the correct ridge route. The specs were where I thought I'd left them.
So I was nearly back at Prato Spilla. The ridge walk to the large cairn was as scenic as it had been earlier. I stopped for lunch before traversing Monte Sillaro. The rocky crest wasn't a place to rush. There was nobody around and a fall could have been awkward.
Continuing over mixed ground in spectacular countryside, I met three people struggling over a bouldery section, before ascending to the rocky summit of Monte Matto (1837 metres) from where I could see the others in the distance. We were separated by a long, exposed ridge along which care was needed.
After a final summit, and a sharp descent to a pass, I said goodbye to the wheatears, hawks and ravens, and enjoyed a lovely contouring path leading into woodland and past some sandstone slabs to reach Lago Santo Parmense. Across the water I could see Sue, Cary and Graham lounging outside Rifugio Mariotti, presumably enjoying a pot of tea. A few minutes later I'd joined them on the bench outside the rifugio. But there was no tea, they had only just arrived when I saw them. There soon was tea - a good half litre each thanks to the guardian's generous servings.
This is a superb little rifugio. We have a room to ourselves and there are maybe eight others staying here. Basic but classy, with a lovely meal featuring soup or pasta, then our choice was ham, egg and potatoes, and lots of tomatoes. Then more tomatoes and a selection of cheeses, and a selection of cakes for dolce.
Monday, 5 September 2016
1370 metres ascent
7 hours 30 mins
Another fine, sunny day. Excellent breakfast of croissants and the usual stuff, including a plate of parma ham for each of us. Gillian (thanks for your comment by the way) was right - Hotel Passo del Cerreto was a little pricey compared with other places. But for €80 each we got the apartment, a good meal and breakfast, tea, beer and wine, and paninis for lunch, so we aren't complaining.
Today was again a walk in tandem with Yves and Michel, who we lose tomorrow as they are having a shorter day. A few other people were seen - mainly at the picnic benches we passed from time to time.
We were mostly in woodland just off the main ridge, but we did cross that at Passo Pietra Tagliata ('cut stone pass'), after the first of three abrupt ascents.
After elevenses on the pass, we descended quite some way before rising to the Sarzana rifugio, closed for the season but having a small 'winter room' that was open. On this warm day there was no need for that - we enjoyed lunch with the Belgians and a family with an overactive dog.
On the way we had passed some tightly packed sheep, whose shepherds also had a pack of about eight white Patou dogs in tow. We also followed a trail of horse manure up a hill. The bells on the animals got steadily closer then suddenly 'disappeared' without a sighting.
The third hill was an ascent up a zigzag path through beech woods. Despite setting off with two lunches and almost a gallon of water, Cary was getting weary (maybe he had over eaten?) and needed to be coaxed up the hill. From the final pass it was an easy walk to the modest ski resort at Prato Spilla, which we reached around 4.30 pm. We have a room for four in the Albergo, where we will share a table with the Belgians for our 8 pm evening meal.
Sue and I have washed virtually all our clothes, so we are very fresh and clean.
Today's pictures show a typical place in which we are staying - last night's Hotel Passo del Cerreto, a view towards our first ascent of the day, and Sue and Cary cresting a rise in the path.
Sunday, 4 September 2016
1200 metres ascent
7 hours 45 mins
Blue skies were soon tinged with high cloud today, but conditions were pretty much perfect for walking.
By way of a change, here's Sue's entry for the day, as she's nearly finished writing and I'm about to start, having given finishing Stephen Booth's novel 'Black Dog' priority:
"Earplugs were of benefit in the full, hot dormitory. We breakfasted at 8, with the rifugio's brioche, toast and biscuits supplemented by a bowl of raspberries that Cary had been out to pick. Tepid caffe latte too. There was a slight delay in paying up (€55 each - all in) and getting sandwiches but we were away by 9 am for our longest day yet.
Numerous tents were pitched in the woods near the rifugio. We climbed easily through these woods, back up to the ridge. On the first high point were two men and a boy, in camouflage with guns. They were hunting male chamois. We didn't hear any shots.
Being Sunday there were lots of people out.
The path traversed, mostly on open ground, sometimes on the crest of the ridge. High cloud made conditions hazy. Long stretches over grassland brought us to Passo di Pradarena at about noon, after an elevenses stop on the steep hillside earlier, for Kitkats and the remains of last night's 'torta mista'.
At the pass was the sadly closed Albergo Carpe Diem (a fine looking building - hopefully someone will take it on), but there was a bonus of two stalls selling local produce at this busy spot. We bought Fanta, fruit, some cheese and a packet of pastries filled with Nutella, stopping in the shade for the drinks.
Just as we were leaving, Yves and Michel arrived, having stayed at Rifugio Battista last night, where they too enjoyed a concert that lasted until midnight. Their rifugio was also full. It would be another option that could be appended to Gillian's accommodation suggestions.
From the pass, the track descended in woodland before climbing steeply back onto a broad ridge. Lunch was eaten on a promontory with good views and a welcome breeze. Nice cheese and grilled aubergine / courgette sandwich, and a nectarine. That fuelled us for the undulations towards Monte La Nuda, a rocky peak with a derelict tower on top.
By now, cloud was swirling in although the summit still gave views east, and to a rocky ridge. From here, it was 600 metres downhill to our goal, first steeply down, then through woods strewn with boulders. One had evidently crashed through trees and landed on the path - it was huge.
Way marking was good, and we arrived at Passo Cerreto (1253 metres) at 4.45. Mario provided a pot of tea with lemon before we were shown to our rooms - an apartment across the road, where showers and washing were soon in progress."
The Belgians arrived 45 minutes behind us. Quite tired. Dinner at 8 comprised tagliatelle with mushrooms, pork chop and chips, tiramisu and coffee. There are just the six of us plus two other diners. The motor cyclists we saw when we arrived have all left. The Belgians have been put in the dungeon. We are on the second floor.
Today's picture shows Sue, Cary and Graham on the Apennine ridge shortly after we reached it this morning.
Saturday, 3 September 2016
970 metres ascent
Another day of lovely woodland (just a bit at the start) and lots of sweeping balcony paths, culminating with Monte Prado, at 2054 metres the highest point on the GEA route.
The trees were negotiated as we thought of Wythenshawe's parkrunners about to head off on their weekly trial through the muddy passage in Manchester drizzle. For us, the sun was shining again as the previous two days' weather pattern was repeated.
Sue lagged on occasion today. I hope she came away with some prize winning images of fungi, field gentians and other tasty subjects.
On the ridge, a herd of goats was approached, but not too closely as a Patou sheepdog was definitely in charge.
Lunch was taken before the final pull to Monte Prado. English voices were heard. It turned out to be half a dozen folk who live in Vellano, a couple of hours' drive away. We spent a while with them at the top of the hill, from where today's top picture was taken. It looks down to our destination today, a friendly rifugio that is in a small clearing in the centre of the picture. The other pictures were taken later at the Rifugio, which has wifi.
There were good views in all directions, and not a windfarm in sight.
One of our new friends turned out to be proprietor of a B&B:
Darren Hackett, Casa Verde at Vellano ([email protected]).
After saying goodbye to Darren and his mates and wishing them well with their Via Francigena project, we descended through bilberries and raspberries, of which there is a glut on the GEA, to reach Rifugio Bargetana soon after 3 pm.
It was busy with walkers and mountain bikers and even has a music event tonight. We are in a dormitory with six bikers. It's situated in a lovely woodland glade. Some visitors are camping outside.
9 pm. We've eaten lots of polenta and sausage and cake and potato slices that some choose for dessert. The wine has flowed. In contrast to previous nights we are in this rifugio with over thirty guests and a gig is in full flow. The cyclists and walkers could be excused for being a little bemused?
Note - we are here because the planned end of today's walk, Albergo Carpe Diem at Passo di Pradarena, is closed. Tomorrow will be a longer day.
1000 metres ascent
6 hours 30 mins
NB Distance and ascent are as per ViewRanger (ascent figures may be generous if it's anything like Anquet) and times include breaks.
Thanks for your comments. I'm not replying individually because I've a limited data allowance and Android also annoyingly sends two copies of every comment. Conrad spotted a 'lurker', probably somebody doing something no more suspicious than stripping a bush of raspberries.
It was another 'blue sky' start, with bits of cloud developing during the day, but no threat of rain. (Ie same as yesterday). Except that after we arrived around 3.30 pm there were several claps of thunder and bright flashes, reminding us that storms can develop very quickly in the mountains.
Rifugio Giovo was fine, but our most expensive accommodation yet at €64 each for half board, a round of beers, a litre of wine, a pot of tea and some bread and cheese and salami for today's lunch.
After watching a heron float lazily over the lake where lots of fish were jumping last night, we got away soon after 9 am and spent the first few hours leapfrogging the Belgians before eventually leaving them to enjoy an early lunch.
Today's easy paths were an absolute delight. We started with a gentle ascent through woodland then over open ground with fine views to the Alpi Apuane - clearer this morning - to reach Colle Bruciata and a pow wow with Yves and Michel (now correctly spelt).
There was a familiar whiff in the air here, and we soon spotted a large herd of goats on a nearby hillside. We also saw sheep today, hemmed into a small pen in the forest. Graham startled a snake that slithered quickly into the undergrowth, and I startled a rabbit that hopped nonchalantly away.
From Colle Bruciata, Graham went over a minor summit, Cima dell'Omo, whilst the rest of us took a superb balcony path. At a panoramic corner Yves took the phone and Michel substituted for Graham in today's picture.
The route continued in the same vein for the rest of the day, switchbacking beneath a soaring eagle along the roller-coaster crest of the Apennines, dipping occasionally in and out of woodland. T-shirts and shorts were again the preferred attire. The sun tan cream is taking a bashing and Sue and I haven't needed our waterproofs at all.
We left the Belgians to descend to San Pellegrino, and continued on to reach 'Old style Hotel Lunardi' at Passo delle Radici soon after 3.30 pm. The rooms are comfortable, with added en-suite facilities in the corner that could be described as bijou. There's no wifi (again - there was none last night) and a stalwart band of elderly staff are striving to provide a meal for us at 7.30.
We met just a handful of people today, and we may be the only guests at this 29 room hotel.
Later: I think we are the only guests though there was one other diner. Tonight's four course meal was the best yet - thick soup, tagliatelle with mushrooms, sausage and veal with chips, fried polenta and mixed salad, followed by bilberry cake. All very tasty, but we are stuffed.
Friday, 2 September 2016
1320 metres ascent
7 hours 50 mins
A 'blue sky' start, with bits of cloud developing during the day, but no threat of rain. Pleasantly cool in t-shirts and shorts on the tops.
After a good breakfast we set off shortly before 9 am today (8 am for Sue, whose iPhone has steadfastly resisted all attempts at synchronisation - my Android phone having finally achieved Fitbit harmony after I'd set both Fitbit and phone to Rome time. Robert's suggestion is actually our default setting that proved to be no use at all.)
The path rose gently past lots more willow-leaved gentians, through beautiful woodland, eventually steepening to emerge from the forest near Lago Nero, a lovely spot where we are pictured taking one of today's many breaks.
From then on, until the last bit of descent to Lago Santo, we were high on the crest of the Apennine chain. A heat haze corrupted distant views, for example to the marbled summits of the Alpi Apuane, but we could look back to the ground we'd covered since leaving Pracchia with satisfying clarity.
From Lago Nero the path crested the ridge, passing over several summits that the lazy Belgians, who we encountered from time to time all day, missed out. They did however follow us up the steep exposed scramble to our final summit, Monte Rondinaio. This 1964 metre chunk of mountain is apparently the second highest point we will reach on this trek. There was a soggy visitor's book that we ignored. Yves and Michele arrived soon after us. The six of us were the only GEA walkers out today, but there were lots of day walkers in this scenic area. Rondinaio means 'swallow'; today it was martins that were scooping up the insects.
An easy descent by one of a choice of paths led us down to the fleshpots of Lago Santo Modenese. There are three rifugios here. Vittoria was open and looked idyllic in the afternoon sunshine. Marchetti was closed. Giovo had been hard to book and Sue's phone call had effectively secured a room for three men. After initial confusion we were soon sorted out with a double for me and Sue, and a family room for Cary and Graham. We left them to fight over the double bed and headed down for a pot of tea.
Lots more willow-leaved gentians were seen today, and great big woolly thistles, as well as a fair cross section of other flora. No sheep, cattle, horses or any other form of livestock are apparent high up - not even wild goats, just a few disturbances caused by wild boar rooting for grubs and truffles, and the occasional whistle of a shy marmot
Rifugio Giovo has fed us on tagliatelle with ragout, trout with chips and salad, and mille-feuille with bilberries. Excellent. And red wine. Served by Eleanor, a recent psychology graduate with very good English (hello Eleanor - feel free to contact us, and to visit us in Manchester), who looks like parkrunner Jenn's long lost sister.
The lazy shy reticent Belgians, Yves and Michele, are also here and have assisted with the above 'report'. Very jolly! Yves stresses that they are not lazy at all - they followed the route description in Gillian's first edition whereas we are using her second edition!
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
925 metres ascent
6 hours 45 mins
Started in a cloud, which slowly cleared to yield blue sky. Gradually clouded over again, with distant thunder and light rain shortly after we finished.
We were the only guests at the Rifugio last night. At some point Cary and Graham admitted that their late arrival was partly due to them walking past the Rifugio in the fog and ending up at the old Refuge at the other end of the lake. It was securely locked. That's the one marked on the Kompass map, so they had no idea where we were and there was no phone signal. Eventually they found us, but anyone visiting Scaffaiolo should bear in mind that the Rifugio is at the north east end of the lake.
We set off at 9 am (8 am for those with Fitbit watches), and after passing the old refuge we followed a path that was signposted to Passo Calanca but took us over the wrong ridge. That was swiftly corrected, thanks to ViewRanger.
It was a fine roller-coaster ridge walk for much of today. Soon after passing a cloud riven WW2 memorial and relics, the vapour began to dissipate. We enjoyed elevenses at Colle dell'Acqua Maria, where marmots whistled and a group of about eight Italian day walkers passed in the other direction. They were the only people we saw all day.
There were a few exposed sections as we passed over Cima Tauffi and along the ridge to Libra Aperto, at 1936 metres our high point of the day. Today's picture was taken in the vicinity of Cima Tauffi, looking ahead to Libra Aperto in the distance. Our views also extended back along the ridge and on to mountains peripheral to our route, as well as to several valleys sprinkled with the white houses of small communities in the approximate area in which Eric Newby's classic book 'Love and War in the Apennines' is set.
Lunch was on the summit of Libro Aperto, but I'd had mine at the foot of the 300 metre ascent. It was the most disappointing packed lunch ever - a slab of cheese between two stale pieces of bread. It did the job though, and I don't think we were charged for it...
A pleasant descent into woodland with huge ants' nests concluded the day's walk. By 4 pm we were enjoying a pot of tea outside Hotel Primula, where half board is a very reasonable €40 per person.
Many small kestrel like hawks have been seen, as well as grouse, meadow pipits, jays, wheatears and others. They are mostly very quiet - the singing season is long gone.
Flower of the day: Willow-leaved gentian. A list of the flowers we've identified will appear in due course. The most ubiquitous today were carline thistles and ling (heather).
Hotel Primula is great. They have fed us well and even provided extra cake - the same dessert as last night, but this one was freshly baked and absolutely delicious. It's a sort of lemon sponge with lemon flavoured crême patisserie inside.
The two friendly Belgians, Yves and Michele, are also here. They are using Gillian's first edition guidebook, so they were pleased to compare notes, as we are using the new edition. They could actually purchase a copy here. Clarissa is proud to have them on sale. The family here have English connections and speak good English as well as being friendly and accommodating (like virtually everyone we encounter over here).
1680 metres ascent
6 hours 10 mins (Martin and Sue)
7 hours 20 mins (Cary and Graham)
A cloudy day with sunny periods in between threats of rain. After an adequate breakfast at friendly Hotel Melini, we sorted out lunch at a nearby shoplet and Cary got some cash and posted a few unwanted items home. He, Sue and I have very little luggage - small 5 to 6 kilo day sacks, whereas Graham's bag feels nearly twice as heavy. No doubt he will appear in a different outfit every night, a picture of sartorial elegance.
We set off on Stage 14 of the GEA around 9 am, though Sue and I have Fitbit watches that steadfastly refuse to accept European time so we were stuck in a GB time warp at 8 am. They also refuse to 'sync', leaving me feeling I'd be better off with my trusty Altimax.
Starting steeply and sweatily up a path through trees to reach a wooded ridge, we continued upwards to emerge from firs into lovely beech woods (pictured) that led eventually to a picnic bench in a clearing. The pause was welcome, especially as Sue produced some shortbread.
The next picnic bench was occupied by the first people we saw today. Two Belgians who were also starting the GEA route from Pracchia today. They made room for us on the bench and explained that they had chosen a shorter day than us and were heading for Rifugio Porta Franca. We may see them again. Despite still being August it seems to be out of season here.
We enjoyed a lavish lunch a bit further on, on the picnic benched terrace outside Rifugio al Montanaro. There was no water available and I'm not sure whether the emergency room was open.
By now the air was heavy, the rumble of distant thunder was getting closer, and rain looked inevitable. Soon after a four way junction* where the sparkling new signs were pointing in the wrong direction, a painted waymark a few metres away gave the game away and we followed route 20 to a spring that was just a slow dribble. Cary and Graham took advantage of this. Sue and I ambled on along the excellent contouring path that arrives eventually at Passo del Cancellino.
It was cool here. There was no sign of the others so in view of the ominous weather we pressed on up a 200 metre ascent to another col. Drops of rain. Still no sign of the others. So we made a quick dash over a rocky crest then enjoyed a roller coaster belvedere route to pop out unexpectedly at the Rifugio next to Lago Scaffaiolo.
Meanwhile, C and G had decided to go over the summit of Mount Gennaio and by the time they reached Passo dello Strofinatoio the threatening weather forced them onto a roundabout route. Hence their late and rather wet arrival, by which time Sue and I had got through a huge pot of tea and were becoming a little concerned!
We are the only people staying here tonight. Dinner was vegetable soup, polenta with sausage meat, lots of red wine, and cake.
Views from the rifugio were intermittent, with rain continuing into the night.
* Passo del Malandrini - meaning 'pass of evildoers' (such as those who incorrectly position signs).
Monday, 29 August 2016
Through security by 6.20. No banana guard to hold us up today.
Breakfast in the usual place - Starbucks by the prize car in Terminal 1.
Graham turns up - the hold bag containing our walking poles has been safely deposited.
LS883 - Jet2 to Pisa - 8.35 (departed on time).
Land early. Easily through customs and onto the shuttle bus to Pisa. A very short journey.
Al fresco lunch in a square dominated by a statue of Vittorio Emanuel II. A nice salad.
Wander over to ancient artefact of Pisa (pictured) and associated buildings. Hot. Lots of people. To be expected at this iconic site. I first visited it on my first trip abroad, circa 1972, when we travelled in John Clark's Ford Cortina for a holiday in Forte dei Marmi. I still need to develop the photos from that trip! Could be fun!
Easy journey to Pracchia - 2 hours or so; two trains and a bus. Cary had been there for two hours.
We were expecting a room for four at Hotel Melini. We got a twin and a double. That's fine. As was the meal.
It has been a long day. No wifi up in the room, so after a long sleep this should transmit tomorrow.
Sunday, 28 August 2016
In April 2013 Sue and I enjoyed the southern twelve sections of the GEA. Reference to the sections is by way of Gillian Price’s .
We return tomorrow to attempt to complete sections 14 to 23. I must have deemed section 13 to be unlucky – I don’t know what my reasoning, if any, for omitting it was…
An advance party is already out there (hopefully he will complete section 13 tomorrow!), and luckily we shouldn’t be affected by the recent earthquake. Cary seems safe and sound in a bothy tonight and should join us in a hotel tomorrow. We’ll also be joined by Graham B on this trip.
The picture is a more gloomy April view in the Apennines, selected at random from my 2013 snapshots.
Our 2013 trip is recorded .
I believe it’s a bit warmer there just now.