Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Hills Are Alive

Almost one year ago, Dad announced "I'm going to walk the Via Francigena in September 2019."

"The Via what?"

"The Via Francigena." (pronounced Vee-a-Fran-CHEEEE-jin-a).

I quickly Googled it and learned it's an old pilgrimage route from Canterbury in England to Rome, Italy.

Wikipedia states: "The Via Franigena was not a single road, like a Roman road, paved with stone blocks and provided at intervals with a change of horses for official travellers. Rather, it comprised several possible routes that changed over the centuries as trade and pilgrimage waxed and waned. Depending on the time of year, the political situation, and the relative popularity of the shrines of the saints situated along the route, travellers may have used any of three or four crossings of the Alps."

Image result for via francigena

I've been wanting to spend some one-on-one time with Dad for a while now and this provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

It took some clever scheduling and managing of logistics to pinpoint a set date and location where I could join him. I knew we would be cruising on our boat when he did his walk, so we needed to set ourselves a deadline to leave the boat somewhere and fly over to Europe. And if you've read our updates and blog entries so far, it's no surprise that Boats + Deadlines = a big NO NO!

However, we made it work and in the end, I met Dad in Lausanne, Switzerland on August 31st to begin the first 150 kms with him until Aosta, Italy.

For the better part of two weeks, we got into a rhythm of waking up, having a quick breakfast, packing and heading off on the trails. When we arrived at our destination for the evening, we would celebrate with a cold Coke, shower, search for some dinner, wash our clothes in the basin and sleep. How satisfying to have a simple itinerary everyday.

Beauty inspires beauty. The scenery was unbelievably gorgeous. The contrast of the snow capped peaks to the grassy valleys was unparallel to anything I had ever seen.

Every day was an overload of sensations.

I had brought along my earphones to listen to music and podcasts but besides the 30 minutes of Joni Mitchell that I listened to, I preferred to be present in my environment. There was a lot to hear and bear witness to. The trickle of the streams and waterfalls, the pounding of our boots on the path, the tapping of our hiking poles.

The smell of the pine forests and the fresh mountain air was so intoxicating. Several times I made the point of taking deeper and slower breaths, to completely fill my lungs with what must be the world's purest air.

This morning in front of the Roman Arch in Aosta, Italy, we parted ways. Dad continued east on his route while I made my way via buses and train and plane back to the UK to rejoin Matt and the kids. He still has a long way to go until he reaches Rome, about another 2 months. Slow and steady, he will surely make it.

Dad asked me to write a summary about my experience walking with him so he could share it with his friends and family who have been following his journey.

I honestly didn't know how to summarize this experience.

I spent the better part of today while traveling to London, trying to come up with something that was worthy of saying. Something that summed up the experience of hiking the Swiss Alps on the Via Francigena with my Dad.

I'm not usually lost for words. I normally just start writing and whatever comes out is from the heart. 

But I could not even start writing today. Writer's block maybe?

Then it dawned on me.

I realized it has nothing to do with not being able to describe or articulate the journey and incredible people we've met along the way. 

Nothing to do about not enjoying the delicious delicacies and breathtaking scenery that stunned us everyday.

It was because I didn't want it to end. 

I didn't want this walk together to end.

In a nutshell, accompanying my father on the first 150 kms of his Camino was beyond rewarding and I feel so grateful and privileged to have been able to do so.

To be honest, we could've been walking in the jungles of Borneo or the rainforests of the Amazon. It wouldn't have mattered. Any walk would have sufficed.

Full disclosure, I was a little apprehensive going into this. Would we resort to our usual dynamic of Father and Daughter roles?  Would we tolerate each other's quirks and habits 24/7? Would I be patient enough with his incessant questions about technology (to my delight, he knew more about SIM cards, navigation and backing up photos than I gave him credit for!) Would his snoring keep me up all night?!

Well, I'm happy to say that we travelled as well as any two friends would. No bickering, arguing or impatience. Coffee, Coke and gelato helped.

I believe that I was able to experience this in such a deep and sensational way because I was ready for it. Walking like this provided a cleansing of the mind and soul. Honestly, it sounds so corny when I reread this on the screen, but it absolutely purified something that I didn't even know needed purifying.

It was like a reset in my adult life. A pause, a deep breath.

What was more special, this Via Francigena walk is dedicated to Mom, for raising funds for the charity that she volunteered for, Let's Talk Science. She used to love going to various schools and communities and imparting her love of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to students across Ottawa.

She also loved long walks and Caminos and so being part of this journey was extra special to me.

I carried her backpack, used her hiking poles and wore her rain poncho.

She would've loved this walk. She would've taken longer going up the monutains, not because of the elevation but because every few minutes she would be snapping a picture of this or that. She would've loved encountering all the people along the way, especially the other pilgrims. She would've taken a few hundred pictures a day and then spend the evening deleting the ones she thought weren't 'good enough' to have space on her phone for the next day. She would've gone to bed early and be raring to go by 7am. She would've thought the food was very rich and sweet and the hot water probably not hot enough. She would've captured every sunrise and sunset because those were her favourite moments of the day.

Of course this could never have happened without multiple support systems (aka: Matt) who carried on with the everyday with the kids. They had their own mini holiday visiting family and friends in Jersey, Devon and London. There will be a lot to catch up on when we meet up!

This may have been my first mini Camino, but certainly not the last.

Now, for the barrage of pictures....

Entering Alps territory from Lausanne.

Vineyards and castles make this all seem like fairyland.

Lunch break at the side of the path.

Incredible vineyards along Lac Leman.

Sweet grapes which we resisted tasting!

Chillon Castle near Montreux.

Gorgeous sculptures line the street of Lac Leman in Montreux.

With Charlie Chaplin in Vevey.


Climbing the Great St. Bernanrd Pass.

Typical breakfast 

A little squeezy condensed milk provides the extra energy boost!

Snack table set out for pilgrims to help themselves to.

Saint Bernard dogs!

Coke cheers!!!

Chinese dinner to celebrate arriving in Aosta!

Parting ways under the Roman Arch in Aosta, Italy.

No comments: