Nov 7, 2014

Up in the air

This morning while walking to the public library, I noticed strands of cobwebs ‎suspended from tree branches and the library fence, blowing in the gentle breeze. It struck me as odd that I hadn't noticed these leftover Hallowe'en decorations earlier, since I've walked to the library nearly every day since arriving in Santhià, but I thought nothing more of it. 

On walking back to the hostel at noon, I noticed even more strands festooning bushes, street lights, and even spread across narrow lanes. When I reached the square bounded by the church, town hall, and hostel, I happened to glance up and saw dozens of small silken strands wafting down out of the clear blue sky from an indiscernible height. It was a beautiful sight to see, and they continued to make their landings for several hours after I'd first noticed them.

The only explanation I could come up with is that these arachnoid invaders had launched themselves from the foothills of the Alps, a two or three day walk from here, and were carried along by upper altitude winds. Had ‎their journey begun two days earlier, they'd have been washed from the skies by the constant rainfall. Or perhaps what I witnessed today was the remnants of a much larger airborne cohort.

At any rate, today I had my latest check up at the hospital, and when I returned to the hostel, I was finally able to ease my bandaged foot into my trail shoes. This is the first time I've worn anything other than Crocs in almost a fortnight, so it was a noteworthy occasion. To celebrate, I plan to do a day trip to Turin tomorrow. The trains run frequently, and the fares are low. (The Shroud will not be on public display again until 2015, but perhaps a footsore Canadian pilgrim might be allowed an escorted visit.)

Oh, yes!  The doctor thinks I should be okay to begin my pilgrimage again in another seven days. Of course this is great news, but it means that I won't be able to enter Greece legally without a special visa. Here's why.

The Schengen area is a group of 26 European countries (not all the EU) who have gotten rid of passport checks at the border. As a Canadian, I'm allowed to stay without a visa in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days in any six month period‎. Because I was moving so slowly in the Alps and now I've had to sit and wait for my foot to heal, I'll need my remaining few weeks just to walk all the way to Bari. My 90 day sojourn comes to an official close on January 1, 2015.

While I was still in Toronto, I had thought about getting a long-stay visa for the Schengen area, but there were a few problems with that, the main one being they need the address I'll be staying at. Of course, my goal is to have a different address each night, but bureaucrats don't like uncertainty or exceptions so I decided to save my nonrefundable application fee and just go for it.

There are two (well, four) options that I can see.

1. Santhià, the town I'm in now, is far enough north in Italy that I could change plans and head directly east to the Adriatic, walk through Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and then into Turkey and on through Istanbul to the Mediterranean coast‎. This won't require any extra visas as I've already acquired one for Turkey, although it will mean walking through the Balkan mountains in the middle of winter. (But I'm Canadian and used to being outdoors in nasty weather thanks to my previous few jobs.) It also means I won't get to Rome, Bari, Ohrid, or Thessaloniki. That would be very disappointing, but my main goal is to arrive in Jerusalem for Holy Week.

2. I could ask someone to speak with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada on my behalf, explain the situation, and see if he can arrange a visa for me with the Greek consulate in Toronto.‎ I know several people who have a close enough connection to His Eminence that they could intercede on my behalf.

3. This isn't a good option at all, but it is a theoretical possibility. Ignore everything I know about the requirements and just show up at the Greek border from FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and hope for the best. I might be able to buy a visa at the crossing. They may ignore the Schengen area rules (but if everything's computerised, that might not be possible) and just let me in anyway. Or they may refuse me entry, in which case I'll have to make a huge detour up and around.

4. If I'm looking at all theoretical options, I could also fly home from Rome. Sometimes reality is bigger and harsher than dreams.

So, those are the options I can see.  I have another week before I have to make a decision and start walking, either south to Rome or east to the Adriatic and then the Balkan route.‎ On my own with the situation as it is, I think option #1 looks like the most sensible course of action. As my Arabic friends say (with a shrug), "Min shouf." We'll see. 

By this time next week, I hope to be on my way again. Until then, things remain up in the air. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar. "


  1. Would you be able to take a ferry from Bari to Thessaloniki or Izmir and skip most / all of Greece ?
    Just sayin...
    Avoid those illegal emigrant boats, they don't seem to have a good safety record.

    1. I think Bari only services ports on the Adriatic, but that's also something to check up on. Taking a ferry to Thessaloniki won't address the time constraint, though. Once I leave Italy, the countdown pauses until I reenter Greece. Since my original plan calls for walking through northern Greece, a ferry to Salonica would only save two or three days. As my follow-up comment to the original post shows, there are better options available to me.

  2. Option #5 was suggested to me ‎by an old friend with a single word.


    I've been so fixated on completing this pilgrimage under my own power, save where a ferry is necessary, that the notion of simply hopping on a train to Rome had not entered my mind. That would cut at least four weeks off my walking time, and save me crossing the Appenines on foot.‎ A variation of this option is to walk to Rome as planned but then take a train to Bari, which should leave me with enough time to traverse northern Greece from FYROM to Turkey. Call that Option 5(a).

    Earlier this week, I'd taken my stinking rags to a lavanderia. Normally this sign indicates a laundromat with coin operated machines, but in this case it was set up like a dry cleaner. (Perhaps that's what it actually was, I don't know.) When I'd dropped my clothes off on Monday, the woman minding the shop told me that her husband had just finished biking to Rome. On Tuesday, I met him, looked at some photos, chatted a bit, and received a significant and unasked for discount on their services. Option #6 is for me to buy a bike in Santhià or Vercelli and ride to Rome. I don't know if I'd be able to do the trek in a week the way my benefactor did, but I am about 20 years younger than he is. Certainly the expenditure on the bike would be less than I'd spend on food and accommodation during the three weeks it would save me.‎ (I must admit I'm not all that enthusiastic about this option. A bike means roads, which means traffic. Italian drivers have not yet been told that the use of cell phones while driving is less than optimal.)

    Option #7 entails catching a flight from Rome to Thessaloniki, which would leave me with three weeks to traverse Grecian Thrace (minus my time spent in Rome). That would mean missing out on Ohrid, though. ( It would mean I could ditch the guide book to the first half of the Via Egnatia which I've been carrying. Even with the cover and all extraneous pages cut off and left at home, it still weighs 200 g. I'd much rather carry that weight in cheese or chocolate!

    Option #2 is still my preference, but failing that, Option #5(a) is looking like a winner! Once my care package from home arrives at the hostel and I get final medical clearance, I'll be heading for Rome once again!