The forecast for Etroubles, where I camped out Friday night, calls for snow by Wednesday. Here in Aosta, the only snow they'll be seeing in the next little while is on the mountain peaks which surround the town of 36,000 on all sides.
Aosta is justly famous for its Roman and medieval history. Founded in 25 BC as a major regional town on the intersection of routes leading both to France and Switzerland, its major architectural monuments include the Arch of Augustus, the Roman theatre and forum (the latter complete with an underground shopping mall), and a cathedral dating to the 11th century, built on the site of a 4th century church. From the local tourist info sheet, about the arch: "The monument that symbolises Aosta was erected at the time of the foundation of the town in 25 BC to commemorate the victory of the Roman troops over the local Salassi tribes and to honour the Emperor Augustus." (Pictures to follow.)
Another of Aosta's claims to fame is being the birthplace of Anselm, who would go on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He would also pen the theological treatise "Cur Deus Homo," or Why God became Man. The understanding of the atonement he presents, that of a God offended by humanity's sins and in need of satisfaction to appease His wrath, was a change in direction for Western theology, leading eventually to such monstrosities as Jonathan Edwards' sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. A brilliant man and fascinating figure, according to Wikipedia he is also credited as the founder of scholasticism. Read more about Anselm of Canterbury here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anselm_of_Canterbury
When I woke up in Etroubles on Saturday morning at 5:30, I was amazed at the number of stars. One thing about camping out, you are more connected to the natural world. My previous night outside was in Villeneuve, which had more city lights, as well as a full moon blotting out the stars. Last night was probably the most spectacular starscape I've seen since I was in Montana many years ago. The skies over Ballinskellig are also magnificent, but there was over a kilometre of atmosphere less to diffuse the starlight last night.
There was a bit of a chill in the air, so I threw on an extra layer and set about making a good hot cup of tea. (Realised I didn't have any sugar, but decided against tossing a Werther's Original Butterscotch candy in to sweeten it.) Because there had been such a dramatic temperature change overnight, my rain poncho tarp was very heavily soaked with dew, and my ground sheet was also slightly damp. Once it started to get lighter, I broke down my camp and draped the two items over a fence in the hopes that they'd dry at least a little before I packed up and headed out. Since I'd decided to wait a bit before starting the day's walk, I paid for another hour of WiFi access from the campground and began uploading photos again. I still had15 minutes left when I decided the groundsheet was dry enough to pack away, and the tarp poncho could remain outside the pack to dry as I walked.
I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that, although I was a bit stiff, it was no worse than might be expected after sleeping on the ground. The first few sections of the walk proceded very smoothly for me, although in the sun it was a little warmer than I generally prefer. It was in the mid-20s, but whenever the path shifted to a forested stretch I needed to pull on an extra layer. Still, the path was broad and well-marked, and most importantly, almost completely level. When I compared my pace with the posted times, I was pleased to see I was keeping up with the average.
All that changed after lunch. I'd been making such good time, with so little discomfort, I decided to have a break at Gignod. The church was locked, but when I mentioned that to the woman at the café, she offered to phone the priest and see if he would open it for me. Since I had already walked past it ten minutes before and it was slightly uphill from the café, I thanked her but declined.
Almost immediately after leaving Gignod, the path began to descend sharply. And that's when my poor overworked quads started to complain. My pace dropped dramatically, as I began taking more frequent breaks. Sitting in the warm sunshine and resting felt oh so much better than walking downhill for hours on end. I continued, and after one last long climb uphill (Why?!?) and an even longer descent, I was in Aosta.
From here, I think my path steers clear of the mountains for quite some time, sticking to the major river valleys. This is very welcome news indeed, although since I'm not reading ahead in my guidebook much more than a day's worth of walking, I may wind up sorely surprised.
I didn't see any chamois in the mountains, although I did step around their droppings on some of the high altitude trails. By far the most common wildlife I've observed during my time in the Alps is grasshoppers. (Who knew?) Also present: little lizards scurrying out of my way, tiny butterflies, slugs, caterpillars, snails, and eagles. Cows have been the most common domesticated critters, although I've seen a few flocks of sheep, and dogs. On the Swiss side of the border, these would bark once or twice as I passed, but in Italy the dogs continue barking untill well after I was out of sight. Oh, and I never did see any St Bernards!