Our first night in Switzerland, nestled in the alps at 2473 metres was a challenge. The dormitory room was hot with no air flow, we felt jet lagged and we all had headaches. But not letting that slow us out of the starting blocks, we were up at dawn, rustling and preparing our backpacks for the day. And WHAT A FIRST DAY! At breakfast we learnt that Winter snowfall obscures the first floor of the hospice and it can’t be reached by vehicles.
Bill and Olivia first set off for Echevennoz and Sylvie and I prepared to hitchhike to Bourg St Pierre with daypacks so we could start our walk on one of the most beautiful and history-laden sections. But despite a sign made for us by Tony the bar man, the few cars that passed didn’t give us a second look. We ditched the idea and decided to walk there and bus back so we could at least experience the route. An absolutely stunning walk of slightly snowy and soaring mountain peaks, wildflowers, passing cows, rivulets of water and wild raspberries to snack on. We were quite euphoric as we took on the steep, stony paths, jutting over sheer ledges and reminisced over last year’s Camino, and now this…The walk was a challenge – 12km took 4 hours to walk! We finally rested our shaky legs over lunch at Bourg St Pierre. Once on the bus and down the road, we realised we hadn’t got our pilgrim credentials stamped. (This sets you up to qualify for a testimonium in Rome.) The obliging busdriver turned back for us. Sylvie has an undoubted gift and incredible skill for getting our requests met. Not to mention how effortlessly she engages people. She has definitely come to teach me a few things! So there we were on this spectacular first day running into a surprising amount of pilgrims considering this is a lesser known pilgrimage or route. The Via Francigena has exceeded my expectations so far.
Bill and Olivia in the meantime loved their walk despite a wrong turn that cost them an hour, but also found the descent from the pass to Aosta Valley very challenging. Sylvie and I got to re-experience this in the afternoon when we walked their route. Our legs and feet are sore. We have literally walked up and down mountains on our first day. And Rome seems like a distant vision.