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Exploring the Val d’Orcia with the Italian Minister from the window of a train from the 20s

The Italian Minister of Tourism Massimo Garavaglia participated in the “Via Francigena – Road to Rome 2021” relay during the stage between Siena and Buonconvento, aboard a historical train provided by the railway managers Fondazione FS Italiane.

Sunday 29th of August the European relay, organized by the European Association of Via Francigena ways for its 20th anniversary with the support of ENIT, welcomed pilgrims and tourists aboard a historical train carriage from the 20s, for a unique experience.

During this appointment, the conference hall carriage on the train hosted a meeting focused on the presentation of the “Road to Rome” project and the collaboration with FS Foundation, resulting in an extraordinary Via Francigena stage, in which the Minister of Tourism also took part. Garavaglia remarked the importance of the Via Francigena route as a leverage of territorial tourism development, harmonizing slow mobility with historical villages and local communities. An authentic tourism made of people and local excellences, to promote the economic relaunch of territories. A recent Irpet study revealed a 63% growth of pilgrims along the Tuscan section of the Via in the last 10 years, with a decisive impact even in the post-covid summer, due to an increasing public interest towards walking trips and Green tourism.

“The only way to make your dreams come true is wake up”, declared Garavaglia, underlining the importance of investments of resources in forms of tourism that focus on the trip itself, rather than transportation. At the table with the Minister were sitting Massimo Tedeschi and Luca Bruschi, respectively EAVF’s President and Director, together with Myra Stals, social media manager for Road to Rome, Luigi Cantamessa and Monsignor Liberio Andreatta, respectively General Director and f.f. President of Fondazione FS Italiane.

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Choice of shoes

During a long walk, the feet are subjected to abnormal stress. It is therefore important to choose the right footwear.

Once we have solved the problem of the rucksack, how do we choose the shoes, another essential accessory for the walk?

The choice depends on the season and the route you choose: if you have to walk the entire route and then cross the Alps at the Great St Bernard Pass, a high waterproof boot is almost obligatory.
There are very light and comfortable hiking boots on the market, which, compared to low shoes, have the advantage of supporting the ankle, which is very stressed by the weight of the rucksack, preventing sprains and problems with joints and tendons, especially on the roughest stretches. In addition, waterproof boots allow you to tackle the (rare) fords and protect your feet from rain and mud. If the quality is good, the boot will also be happy to accompany you on light dirt roads and asphalt.
The low trekking shoe, especially if it is very breathable (and therefore not waterproof), is a better solution for warmer periods, avoiding excessive sweating which facilitates the formation of blisters. However, it does not support the ankle and is therefore less suitable for more demanding stretches of the route, has to be taken off to cross fords and does not protect well against rain.
Trekking sandals are very useful for those who usually wear other footwear for walking, and are therefore suitable for moments of relaxation, taking a shower, or crossing fords. Some pilgrims also use them for walking during the day: if the sandals are of good quality and have already been used for long walks, they may be a good choice; otherwise it is better to avoid using them in order not to risk blisters. Furthermore, sandals do not protect the foot from accidental impacts against stones and obstacles, and are therefore not suitable for uneven stretches of path.
Other types of footwear should be avoided, especially so-called ‘trainers’, i.e. shoes designed for other sports and not specifically for walking: they may have soles that are too thin, or too soft, or do not support the ankle properly. This applies even if you find these shoes comfortable in everyday use. Using a shoe for a walk is a minimal strain compared to walking 25 km a day for several days.

Where to buy shoes
When buying shoes, it is best to choose a specialised shop where the shop assistants have the appropriate technical expertise to advise you. Take a pair of walking socks with you or wear the ones the shop provides, and spend a lot of time trying them on, comparing different models, wearing them for a long time, walking in them. Some shops have a platform that simulates a descent, where you can check whether the size is correct or “toe touch”.
Bear in mind that your feet will generally swell, especially if it is very hot, and that trekking socks are padded. So choose a large shoe, at least one size bigger than you usually wear.
Avoid boots that are too stiff for high mountain use. However, bear in mind that a well-structured shoe may feel stiff when you try it on in the shop, but you won’t notice it after prolonged use.
Don’t try to save money: a quality pair of shoes costs at least 100 euros, but it is money well spent. Cheap shoes could turn your walk into a torment.
After buying your shoes, wear them for a long time before you leave. First at home, then for short walks, then for longer and longer walks. Don’t risk using new shoes, even if they look comfortable, without breaking them in properly.

Socks
The choice of socks is almost as important as the choice of shoes.
Use special bladder-resistant socks with reinforced toe and heel. They generally cost a little more than normal socks, but the difference in comfort is worth the expense.
We recommend merino wool socks in particular, and there is a light version for the summer.
It is a good idea to take three pairs of socks with you, so that you always have a dry pair.

Caring for your feet
The main problem created by the wrong shoes and socks is the formation of blisters on the feet, which can be very annoying and painful. Blisters are best avoided or limited as much as possible.
Blisters are usually caused by the skin rubbing against the shoe, and are facilitated by sweat and moisture.
A useful first rule can be to keep the feet as dry as possible: for example, foot baths should be avoided while walking, as they soften the skin and make it more vulnerable. This is true even if it is very hot, and it is not easy to resist the coolness of a fountain or stream.
If possible, avoid getting your feet wet even when wading, and dry your skin carefully before putting your shoes back on.
A good habit is to take off your shoes and socks during each stop, even if it is very short, to allow the skin on your feet to ‘breathe’ and dry out. If you need to walk, for example to enter a bar, you can wear sandals barefoot.
Sometimes blisters also form between the toes, due to rubbing. They can be avoided by spreading a little Vaseline between the toes to prevent friction.
An evening footbath, on the other hand, is very healthy, especially if, after washing your feet thoroughly, you spread a special fatigue cream on your skin. This should be repeated the next morning, as soon as you wake up. The results are surprising.

Conclusions
The feet are the most stressed part of the body, the main source of discomfort and pain, and it is no coincidence that they are the main topic of pilgrims’ discussions.
The quality of your shoes and socks is essential to prevent most of the problems you may have along the way: spare no expense, therefore, and devote time and attention to choosing the most suitable articles for you.

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The choice and preparation of the backpack

What to bring in your backpack? This is a problem that we face every time we prepare an excursion, but in the case of a long journey on foot it assumes a fundamental importance, and can make the difference between a wonderful experience and hell.

Those who face a long walking trip for the first time tend to put too much weight on their shoulders, without realizing that a heavy backpack greatly increases fatigue, and especially the stress on the back, joints and feet. Usually he realizes the problem after a few days of walking, sometimes when it’s too late to avoid the typical problems of excessive weight: back pain, inflammation of the joints, blisters on the feet.
A classic scene that we witness in the first stages of the Way of St. James is the shipment home of unnecessary items, or donation to other pilgrims who may need them. For this purpose, in each hostel there is a special space where pilgrims leave their shoes, sticks, sweaters, books and other heavy objects.
It is therefore necessary to devote maniacal care to the containment of the weight of the backpack, with the aim of staying well under 10 kg. The ideal solution is that the backpack does not exceed 10% of the pilgrim’s body weight, it seems incredible, but it is technically possible.

Reducing weight to a minimum
The goal can be achieved if:

  • you choose a backpack of excellent quality, lightweight, with a volume of 35-45 liters;
  • you avoid the use of cotton and natural fibers, and use technical synthetic clothing (even at low prices now you can find very light garments);
  • you choose a very light and compact sleeping bag;
  • you use a microfiber trekking towel;
  • carry only what is strictly necessary.

Moreover, it is necessary to keep in mind that along the Via Francigena one encounters inhabited centers at every stage, and therefore it is easy to shop during the trip.
It is necessary to evaluate the lightest solution for every single object that you want to bring with you, from the toothbrush to the guide on the route; for this purpose it is good to weigh every single object with a small digital kitchen scale, for example to compare two pairs of pants and choose the lightest one, or two underwear shirts, keeping in mind that the sum of small differences will make a big difference.
A lot of attention should be paid to accessories such as cameras or cell phones, which require chargers. Many cell phones allow you to take good photos so you should consider carrying only one multifunctional item. There are also super light chargers for cell phones on the market that can save you a lot of weight.
Shampoo, shower gel, detergents and cosmetics should be kept to a minimum: a small piece of Marseille soap can be used to wash yourself and your clothes, and the shampoo should be poured into a small container. What is left over will be used by pilgrims who arrive after us.
All this may seem like a sacrifice, but one of the most interesting aspects of the journey is the awareness of being able to live and travel with the few things you carry on your shoulders. A feeling of freedom without equal in the era of unbridled consumerism.

Wearing the backpack
Once you have lightened your backpack, you need to wear it correctly.
A backpack should not put too much weight on the shoulders, but especially on the pelvis. For this reason the “belt” should be as tight as possible, just above the hips. The shoulder straps should serve mainly to keep the backpack attached to the back and prevent it from moving: any unnecessary movement of the backpack consumes energy, and should therefore be avoided. For this purpose it is important to connect the two shoulder straps with the front elastic webbing.
The most sophisticated backpacks are equipped with adjustments to adapt to the height of the person, and to bring the upper part of the bag closer to the back, both very useful.
It is also important to fill the backpack correctly, in order to lower the center of gravity as much as possible: the heaviest objects must therefore be lower.
The backpack must be perfectly symmetrical: the shoulder straps must be adjusted in the same way, and above all it is necessary to avoid the typical mistake of loading a water bottle in one of the side pockets. The writer tried this on his last trip to Santiago, with the result of dislocating a shoulder blade during the first leg, and suffering severe pain the rest of the way.
The best solution for water is the use of a bag with a straw to insert inside the backpack, in a special pocket. The bag with a straw allows you to drink easily even while walking, improving hydration and decreasing the risk of tendonitis and heat stroke.
It is necessary to avoid hanging external loads that move, such as plastic bags, flasks, etc., again to avoid dissipating energy unnecessarily.

Be prepared for the possibility of encountering bad weather along the way, so protect your backpack with the appropriate waterproof cover and put all the contents in plastic bags, in case the rains are intense and continuous.
In addition to the upper opening, an opening in the middle of the backpack is very useful, allowing the division of the bag into two compartments.

Conclusions
The choice of the backpack is very important for the success of a walking trip. It is therefore good to devote time and attention, and an adequate budget. Today the market offers excellent t-shirts, pants or fleece at great prices, while a good backpack is usually quite expensive (usually around 100 Euro), but believe me: it’s money well spent!

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Support the project

The initiative “Via Francigena. Road to Rome 2021” is organised by EAVF together with a wide range of stakeholders and partners. The project enhances sustainable tourism along the walking routes in Europe and valorises cultural and historic heritage along the Via Francigena

Support Road to Rome by making a (small) donation to our crowdfunding campaign!

Donations to our crowdfunding campaign will be used entirely in service of the maintenance and promotion of the Via Francigena:

  • €1 of every €10 donated will be used for general maintenance along the Via Francigena, such as the improvement of road signage as well as trash picking and bush trimming to keep the path passable for walkers and cyclists.
  • Thanks to your (small) donation we will be able to further promote this important cultural route.
  • Proceeds will be used for the creation of a short docufilm after the event, that will help us promote the regions crossed by the Via Francigena.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE EVENT AND THE STAGES: