Q: What prompted this last adventure?
Michelle – After watching the movie “Much Ado About Nothing” we decided to go to Tuscany for our honeymoon but due to the timings our honeymoon was during the Christmas holidays which is not the right time to be in cold and dreary Tuscany. Fast forward to 2022, we both turned 50 this year, we wanted to do something epic and at the same time celebrate our 15th anniversary, so Italy immediately came to mind.
brian – We had heard of the Via Francigena (VF) during other pilgrimages and the idea of discovering Italy on foot appealed to both of us. We might be a bit old for a “gap summer” backpacking through Italy, but why not?
Q: Why was it important for you to take this trip?
brian – Many people go on pilgrimage for spiritual purposes, but it is not necessary to be Catholic or religious to walk the Camino or the VF.
Michelle – A long walk is good for the soul and the health of our relationship. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of life puts a spark back in our soul like nothing else can. I find that we’re both more in touch with each other, more creative in our work, and come home refreshed in a way that can’t happen on a typical vacation. Not to mention, who doesn’t love pasta?
Q: What kind of reactions do you get when people find out about your background?
Michele- People who know us aren’t surprised, but they already think we’re a little crazy. Some people think we’re trying to “top off” one adventure after another, but that’s not the case. We strive to vary our lives and push the boundaries of what we are comfortable doing. Many often wonder how we have the time. We are grateful to have similar work schedules and empty nests so that we can afford this time together.
brian – Here in Italy, we had more than a few “Mamma Mias!” inhabitants who hear that we are marching towards Rome. A surprising number of people here have no idea this trail runs through their town. Many Europeans will walk a week or two at a time and complete the VF over many years, not a long hike like we do.
Q: How does this compare to your first pilgrimage? What lessons have you learned?
Brian- Climbing to the top of the Grand Saint Bernard pass in the Alps was probably the greatest hike we’ve ever done. Then coming back down over two days was also very hard on the body. Looking ahead, traveling through Tuscany we have huge elevation gains and losses every day, even through the rolling hills that aren’t that high. We have several days where we will be climbing over 3,000 feet. Great challenges still await us.
Michelle – Mentally, it’s easier because you know what to expect. The more we travel abroad, the less overwhelming it seems. Physically, this is the hardest walk we have done so far. Another challenge is the distance between the villages where we have accommodation. We have several days that require walking more than 15 miles, which is where the buses and trains come in. We plan to walk most of each step and use public transportation as needed. This is one of the things we have learned from our past travels. Yes, it’s a pilgrimage, but it’s also a vacation. We want to enjoy walking while being realistic about what our bodies can handle day in and day out.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of this experience?
brian – While eating! I love exploring local foods from every region and even the city. Tonight I had a local specialty for dinner: frogs. Pizza, pasta, risotto, polenta, the list goes on and on. I also like to explore local culture and history. Seeing these amazing churches and works of art is amazing.
Michelle – Besides getting a great workout every day? Immersion in Italian culture. We are not just tourists; we meander through small villages that most tourists would overlook. We eat in restaurants and sleep in accommodations that have been owned by the same family for four or more generations. We engage and interact with the locals in a unique way that normal tourists never experience.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect?
Michelle – It’s more than a long walk. We carry everything we need for 10 weeks on our backs, minus the tent and cooking equipment. This means that I have two outfits to wear for the whole summer. Our daily routine is to walk, eat, walk, wash our clothes by hand – often in a small sink – eat, sleep, repeat. It can get monotonous, but the views make up for it. My backpack weighs about 18 pounds and Brian’s weighs about 20 without water. This is another attractive part of pilgrimages in Europe – every night we have a shower, local homemade food and a bed to sleep on. Our gear weighs a lot less than a typical backpacker and we appreciate that luxury.
brian – Language can be a real barrier. We started in Switzerland where people mostly spoke French and after a week we were in Italy trying to use Italian. I’m learning the language quite quickly, but it can still be difficult. Showing the locals you’re trying goes a long way and they usually help or even kindly correct our mispronunciation. Charades can also be useful. It’s humbling that most people in Europe speak two or three languages while some days I struggle with one.
Q: How important is it to you to let people know about your experience via social media platforms?
Brian- We started our YouTube channel so friends and family can follow our travels and follow us, but it’s grown into a bigger network of even more friends who want to “go on adventures” with us. We’re honored that anyone cares about the crazy things we do, let alone take the time to watch and read about our experiences.
Michelle – As educators, we know that many of our students watch our travels and we are challenged to inspire them to travel the world. We want travel to be accessible to everyone. We hope that after watching our YouTube videos, our granddaughter, and everyone watching, will say, “I want to do this too!”
Go to www.cruisinwiththecolemans.com to follow the adventure.