These initials are to be found almost everywhere one looks in Rome. Apparently the acronym stands for "Sono Pazzi Questi Romani." (No, that's not my joke.) *
I slept in until 7:30 this morning and took my time getting ready. I knew it was only 20 kms from the hotel in La Storta to the Society of St Vincent de Paul guesthouse where the friend of a friend had made arrangements for me to stay in Rome. I had an adequate breakfast at the hotel, and was on my way by 10:00. Shortly after that, my sleeves were rolled up and my sunglasses were on as I strode briskly down the sunny side of the street towards Rome.
My first encounter with the Via Cassia was a few hours after leaving Siena a week ago, and at that point it was a note in my guidebook, nothing more. When I stopped for coffee in Ponte d'Arbia just before sunset, the locals figured it was a better option for reaching Buonconvento in the dark than following the off-road trails of the Via Francigena. I remember watching for the distance markers every hundred metres, but can't recall how far from Rome I was at the time. (In Italy at least, all roads lead to Rome, and they are marked to show how far one is from the Eternal City.) According to my guidebook, it was a little over 200 kms.
It was the next two days that established my sense of familiarity with the Via Cassia. As it began climbing towards Gallina, it was a smooth, curving two lane road with very little traffic -- at least, very little on a Friday night in the Tuscan countryside. That day was my first 40 km day, which ended when I came across the "mediaeval" inn alongside the road. (I labelled that stopping point as Bagni San Fillipo on my Daily Stages page on the blog because that was the nearest village, but really this hotel/restaurant/gas bar was in the middle of nowhere!)
Leaving the inn the next morning, I'd noticed a very large and fluorescent sign diverting traffic off the Via Cassia due to a road closure further down the way. That suited me just fine. I'd already diverged from the "official" Via Francigena trail, so rather than trying to figure out how to rejoin, I could simply follow the direct route to Acquapendente and let the VF find me. At this point, I was walking along a simple two lane mountain road on a Saturday morning, with a road closure some distance ahead. I may have seen a vehicle every hour, if that. Even after I crossed over the closure and saw the diverted traffic return, it was a quiet road with nice broad shoulders.
I stayed on the Via Cassia for the rest of the day, only leaving it briefly to hike up a very steep gravel road (which was probably the original route) in order to cut off a few kilometres worth of switchbacks. (I'd noted the turn-off earlier in the day when consulting my GPS app, but I'd have walked right on by if not for the two farmers selling fresh produce at the intersection. They hollered across the road at me, and probably saved me an hour.)
It was back on the Via Cassia for much of the next day, as well. With the 90 day Schengen area deadline drawing ever closer, I'm eager to log as much distance as I can. (My earlier post about 110 Kms in Three Days was written while I was exhausted and feeling frustrated. Everything I wrote was true, but it wasn't the whole truth, which is always more complicated than simply blaming someone or something else.)
I had been following the modern road for so long because it remains true to the road laid out by the Romans in the 1st century BC, and even today this is usually the best course across the terrain. This means, of course, that pedestrians are left with finding other options when the road becomes too heavily travelled. Montefiascone is 100 kms from Rome by road, but the Via Francigena adds an extra 15% to that distance in order to keep pilgrims away from the traffic. (In the case of the route from Capranica to Sutri, that led me along a very steep and slippery path instead of the route described in the guidebook, but I was still most appreciative of the sounds of running water, and the smell of the verdant undergrowth after 12 hours of rain was a wonderful tonic.)
Once I arrived at the last stop before Rome, I was ridiculously pleased to find that my path had once again rejoined the Via Cassia. The day before, it had been a major limited-access highway with concrete crash barriers on both edges and down the middle. I'm not sure where this highway traffic was diverted towards Rome, but when I left La Storta, the Via Cassia was a busy city street, with sidewalks and bus stops and traffic signals. I stayed with this route all the way to the Tiber and crossed over on the vast bridge where I took the photo. I could have made a slight detour and crossed into the city by way of the Milvian Bridge, but decided instead to come back and look at it once I was in sightseeing mode rather than as a pilgrim bound for a destination.
And now here I am, a guest of the Order of St Vincent de Paul. Friday after breakfast, I'll head to the Vatican to get my pilgrim's credential stamped and to see what I can see. I expect it to be a full day. The following day, I have a list of recommendations provided to me by Fr. David Hester, who had lived and studied in Rome for some time. (Thank you!) Sunday I hope to attend Liturgy in the morning before spending another day touring Rome, and Monday I'll be on my way again.