I’ve been lying in bed for the last three days with tonsillitis, slowly going out of my mind and wishing I was anywhere else. Unusually, I don’t get homesick in these moments (although I do in plenty of others). I’m uncomfortable being made a fuss of and I don’t usually care what’s wrong with me, as whatever it is, sleep and paracetamol are usually the solution anyway. I don’t even own a thermometer, because seriously, what’s the point? In pain = paracetamol, not in pain = no paracetamol. It’s only morbid curiousity and bragging rights that make us care what temperature our body is at (“Yeah? Well I had 39.3 one time, I nearly went to hospital!”).
Anyway, I digress. I don’t miss home in these moments, but I do miss being outdoors. Nothing makes me want to be out in nature, walking on some quiet, lonely trail, as much as not being able to. For someone who loves hiking, I don’t do all that much of it. I just like to know that its there, and I could if I suddenly got the urge to. So I just got on my computer and started looking up hiking trails that I’ve conquered, for the nostalgia.
One viewpoint on one trail in particular got me all teary-eyed. It’s on the Via Francigena, on top of a mountain called Monte Valoria, and is on the Emilia-Romagna/Tuscany border. For me this place was everything that’s amazing about hiking. The day itself was a long one, with no shortcut available, as the Francigena has for many segments. Instead the “shorter” route was simply an easier one, following the road around from Berceto to Pontremoli rather than crossing via mountain trails. I wanted the challenge and the view so, feeling restless, I set off at 6:40am at what was, even by my standards (and I tend to walk quickly, as any of my short-limbed friends will attest) a blistering pace up towards Monte Valoria. What was supposed to be a 1:40h walk downhill took me 1:20h to tackle uphill (and it was *really* uphill).
When the trail opened out towards the mountain-top, the whole of Italy seemed to lay spread out before me. Away to my left I could see large swathes of southern Emilia-Romagna, whilst to my right Tuscany beckoned. In the filing cabinet of my mind, which processes things in a Buzzfeed-esque, utterly subjective and often irritating list-format,
Monte Valoria came second only to the Baretta Pass in Switzerland across the whole trip for sheer breathtaking natural beauty. I spent over half an hour up there drinking in the 360° panorama whilst simultaneously attempting to shield myself from the wind from which there was no respite and wondering why there was a CCTV camera set up at the peak with an accompanying warning. Maybe they were afraid someone would steal the view. I would be if I had a view like that.
It later transpired that I was most likely the only person up there that whole day. Chiara and Francesca, my travelling companions from the previous day, had opted out of the more difficult route and gone via the road, as had everyone else I met at the end of the day in Pontremoli. This being one of the longer days, that’s not surprising. Even on YouTube, there’s only one video of the view from Monte Valoria, shot from a slightly dodgy angle which, like my photos, really doesn’t do it justice. And that is what makes hiking special. No matter what city in the world you visit, you know that tens of thousands of other people see it every day (the residen
ts, for a start). This is a major hiking trail a few short kilometres away from Tuscany, one of the world’s biggest tourist hotspots, yet I doubt more than a few hundred people climb Monte Valoria every year. I’ll almost certainly never meet any of them, which means that there’s a place on the Via Francigena that, when I get wistful and nostalgic, I can always go back to in my mind. A secret that, no matter how much you shout about it and how many people you tell it to, will most likely always remain intact.
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-The Wandering Jew-