Via Degli Dei – stage 1
From Piazza Maggiore (Bo) to Brento (Bo).
June 1, 2021. A new adventure was about to begin and, like any solo departure, the excitement flowed through my body and I didn't sleep a wink the night before – it's okay. I've learned to appreciate this side of travel as well.
Six months of lockdown in which the irrepressible desire to leave prevailed but in which, on the contrary, I was confined within the walls of my home.
Finally, the moment arrived: the word "travel" returned to our vocabulary and with it came that pleasant thrill that emerges when you realize you can take and leave, finally.
And so I took the first available opportunity, without giving it much thought. I wanted to regain lost time and treasure it as best I could. Thus was born the idea of a slow journey, where nature and the human being were the protagonists: Via Degli Dei.
The thought of leaving suddenly popped into my head and so I prepared everything in a hurry, at the last moment of course.
I had a clear idea of how I wanted to carry out the journey:
in total freedom and in a carefree manner.
So I hastened to my first conclusions: I would not study the route in the slightest, I would orient myself exclusively with paper maps and I would disconnect completely from any technological means. In addition, I wanted a little adventure and a thrill in my body, so I decided that I would camp wherever I happened to be along the trail; in the middle of forests, in cornfields, in the gardens of villagers, and so on. I was ready for anything, as long as it was under the banner of theunknown andadventure. I especially cared about being out in nature.
I didn't decide to disconnect from technology to shut myself away, but quite the opposite. What makes a trip special are the people, and I knew that by putting my cell phone aside I would be able to take advantage of every possible opportunity to make new friends (and I did). Also, by avoiding the use of my phone, I would be able to fully appreciate the details along the way. Something that probably wouldn't have been possible, since it's often those fractions of a second in which we keep our heads down on the screen that make us miss the moment.
And so, on the morning of June 1 2021, I left with two key concepts firmly imprinted in my mind: to be ready to welcome any situation with open arms and to show gratitude for everything that would be presented before me.
PIazza Maggiore – starting point
Basilica of San Petronio – Piazza Maggiore (Bologna)
07:40 am – I dragged, trudging, the sixteen kilos of weight on my shoulders, immediately realizing that I had made a big mistake: my backpack was sensationally too heavy.
I decided to disdain it and concentrated instead on reflecting on the new adventure I was about to embark on.
I didn't stay to ponder for long: within a matter of minutes I spotted the first two souls, also with a backpack behind their backs, disoriented.
– “Via Degli Dei?” (I asked)
– “Cìertu, ‘mbare!”
("Cìertu, 'mbare" means "of course, mate") – hearing the Sicilian accent immediately made me smile and put me in a good mood!
We waited for two more companions and were instantly offered coffee in Piazza Maggiore.
We let the morning quiet of Bologna wash over us as we sipped caffeine and ridiculed the weight of my backpack.
Then, refreshed and smiling, we snapped a souvenir photo in front of the Basilica of San Petronio and finally hit the road.
Me and my new travel companions – Piazza Maggiore
We marched through the bolognino at sunrise and soon met other fools who, like us, had the same idea of setting out on the Via degli Dei.
It didn't take long to get in tune with the wayfarers: you could easily recognize them by the backpacks bigger than their bodies and the smile on their faces.
Our phlegmatic pace made the Bolognese wake up. We juggled with the crowd under the famous porticoes that lead to San Luca and the guys took advantage of it to make a brief food stop at a local bakery.
I decided to stay out because I had already provided.
I happily got rid of my bag and threw it on the floor, while waiting I just looked at the passers-by.
I smiled and greeted each of them. Some of them anticipated me, claiming to have recognized me by the sign that I posted behind my backpack “I share herbal tea under the stars.”
The night before, in fact, I posted a photo of it on social media and was surprised by how many people were enthusiastic about it.
The picture of my backpack with the sign I posted on social media the night before
I confirmed that it was me and that I really did have herbal teas stuffed in my backpack pocket, ready to share them with anyone who wanted to.
Being able to interact with people again, after so long, was a really nice feeling.
Basilica of San Luca
My newly acquired traveling companions completed the food stop and we resumed our journey. This time with a rapid and motivated pace.
We tore down every step of the San Luca porticoes and arrived, very slowly and tiredly, at the top, rewarded by a sensational view.
We collected our credentials as pilgrims on the Via degli Dei inside the Sanctuary and took a well-deserved break in the adjoining garden.
Here we met several travelers and took the opportunity to enlarge our circle.
Pilgrim's Credentials – Via Degli Dei
Piera, a woman with an extremely young and energetic soul, joined us.
Chiara joined us, having left with Nala, her dog.
And then there were two sisters whose names I don't remember, but who are now experts in walking, and others, and others, and others.
We left for just over an hour and already we found ourselves walking with almost fifteen souls. All strangers, met by chance but united by the same irrepressible desire to get involved and share a wonderful experience.
From left: Enrico, Gregorio, Manuel, Piera, Francesco
After refilling our water bottles we resumed our walk in sweet company.
Once past San Luca, the landscapes began to be really interesting; soon we left the asphalt roads to enter the middle of dirt roads and wild nature.
At that point the atmosphere took on a new form.
In the blink of an eye the hustle and bustle of Bologna faded away and we were immersed in a bubble of peace and quiet, where the chirping of the birds and the rustling of the foliage were the protagonists.
We spent several hours between winding passages and puddles of mud, then emerged again on the hot asphalt roads.
Short break along the way
In the meantime it was lunchtime. We didn't feel the need to stop but the trail always has surprises in store and in fact, as we continued, we spotted this wonderful shady garden enriched by a huge table and cleaning facilities.
Well, we didn't think twice about it: we took the opportunity and sat down to eat.
Wonderful rest stop – one of the many nice surprises encountered along the way!
I was happy to finally begin to eliminate a few grams from my heavy backpack by feeding myself with as many carrots, olives and apples as possible.
It was liberating, in its own small way, to remove weight from the bag and integrate it into my body.
We relaxed far too much but we convinced ourselves that we deserved it.
We finished lunch by preparing a few cups of good coffee with a stove and moka, while we studied the map trying to figure out which direction we should go.
Me making coffee with mocha and stove – extremely joyful
Clare studying the route map
Before we left, we also left an affectionate dedication
Excited to find out what other surprises could happen to us, we resumed the straight and narrow path.
Surprises along the way
The scorching asphalt immediately put us to the test but we were not discouraged: our enthusiasm beat our fatigue.
We spent the next few kilometers under the evil sun and with the shoulder straps of my backpack that continued, undaunted, to devour my shoulder blades.
Then another surprise occurred.
Disoriented – we asked for information about the road to take
During the lunch break Piera spotted an interesting little detour on the map: it was an ancient bridge built in Roman times by a certain “Antonietta Golinelli”, a schoolteacher from Pontecchio.
The history of this viaduct is very interesting: in school age, from 1916 to 1930, the children of Vizzano had to ferry twice a day the river that separated the two banks, but in winter this was not possible because of continuous floods. So Mrs. Golinelli gave orders to build the bridge and allow the boys to attend school in Pontecchio.
Via Degli Dei signage
To these days it is a curious place to visit and therefore Piera proposed to divert it towards the viaduct.
At first I thought about the additional meters I would have to cover with the boulder on my shoulders but hey, while traveling it is forbidden to “back out” and before leaving I promised myself to welcome with open arms any opportunity.
The story of the bridge intrigued me so much that I forgot the weight of my backpack and made me impatient to explore it, so we diverted.
It was a pleasant opportunity to learn something new and take a walk on a centuries-old bridge but it was time to leave again to reach the first stop.
Happy and smiling on the bridge of Vizzano
At that time, we had no idea what would await us next. Or rather, we knew we had to climb Mount Adone but we had no idea how physically and psychologically draining it would be.
So we continued, tired but carefree, along winding asphalt roads, alternating with puddles of green forests inhabited by a large number of birds, whose chirping gave a pleasant feeling of relaxation.
Piera's enthusiasm helped quite a bit!
The summit of Mount
We wore out the soles of our shoes for miles, upon miles... upon miles.
And the trail slowly began to steepen: gently at first, then faster and faster and more wickedly.
We began to glimpse, in the daunting distance, the fateful Mount Adone.
At that point I learned a great lesson about Via degli Dei: never believe you are close to the finish line, most of the time you will be wrong and it will be a blow to the teeth, I assure you.
It happened to us just like that: step by step we were convinced that we were now approaching the goal but nothing, the dreaded Mount stood still where it was.
But we were not discouraged.
Vehicles diverted along the path
The steep climb was putting us to the test.
We sweated out gallons of water and our joints were on fire. My reserve of dried fruit proved to be more useful than ever: I made good use of it at the right moment to help Lorenzo, who was visibly exhausted from this diabolical climb under the scorching sun.
When there were only a few kilometers to go, we met several young men who were traveling the Via in reverse, from Florence to Bologna and therefore had just passed the Mount. They told us:
“it's worth it boys, up there the view is priceless. When you get there, take at least twenty minutes to fully enjoy it.”
They convinced us: together we gritted our teeth, encouraged each other and went to devour that ruthless climb.
It was interminable, but at last we were only a few steps from the top, and we conquered it.
The reward was radiant, we fully deserved it.
The view was truly awe-inspiring, and not only that.
The marvelous view from Mount Adone
When we arrived, there were already at least a dozen travelers, exhausted but each with a satisfying smile on their face.
It was wonderful to be able to share the joy with as many travelers who were traveling the same route.
We got to know each other appreciating the sweet surrounding landscape and left an affectionate dedication on the notebook at the foot of the cross that lies on Mount Adone.
Some of the viandants presents on the summit
Then, only after promising herbal tea under the stars to the new travelers we met, we set off again for the very last kilometers downhill to reach the campsite.
Yes, the campsite. My idea was to camp wherever I happened to be, but I didn't hesitate to convince myself that spending the night with newly acquired fellow travelers was a thousand times more exciting.
Brento – destination first stage
So off we went, undaunted, for the last gravel descents that led to the village of Brento, our first destination.
At that point, our lower limbs continued on their own in an autonomous and snappy manner as never before: the finish line was closer than ever.
There was no more time for pauses or complaints at that point, the desire to arrive was immense.
So we made our way through the serpentine descents and in about forty minutes we were finally able to read the “Brento” sign.
We could hardly believe that it was all true: given our lack of lucidity, it might have been a hallucination. Instead, we had confirmation that we had indeed reached our destination when we met up with all the travelers we had met on Mount Adone and shared refreshing beers together.
I was exhausted.
I glued myself to the chair on which I was resting and which by now had taken the shape of my butt.
I relaxed as much as I had to and then we headed off to tackle the last task of the day: setting up the tent.
It was apocalyptic to admire our moving silhouettes: we looked more like zombies than humans. We were worn out.
With the last drops of energy that resided in our bodies, however, we completed this last operation as well, and now we could finally relax.
A few heroes managed to find the strength to take a refreshing shower, but I refrained.
Just as I finished setting up my camp, I slumped to the ground and the meadow took the shape of my body.
We had many good intentions for that evening: to salute the moon, play board games and so on, but we limited ourselves to prepare some delicious herbal tea and sipping it in sweet company, exhausted but happy, stremati ma felici.
Preparing herbal teas in sweet company
Andrea, Elena and I updated our travel notebook asking ourselves how many kilometers we had covered and transcribing our personal reflections on the day.
Only later did we decide to close our eyes and leave room for dreams.
So the first leg was over. My body was shattered but my soul was in heaven.
I turned off the flashlight and let myself break into a pleasant smile of gratitude.
It was only the first day and I was already falling in love with the concept of “slow travel”.
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