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Don't Be Afraid to Get Lost

I’ve always been a bit of an explorer. For example, I’m the kind of person who spends more time clambering over rocks and digging through the sand at the beach than, well, doing actual beach things. I’m also a bit of a medieval history nerd, and so when I learned of the Via Francigena I knew I wanted to walk it. Well, at least part of it, the ancient pilgrimage route stretches from northern France to Rome, and I doubt I could walk that even if you gave me the whole semester (I’m a pretty quick walker too). So, I decided I would take a day or two and walk it for however long I could in either direction from Siena - within reasonable time and distance of course.

The first day I started on the direction heading towards Rome. It was a fairly nice day, the signage was pretty clear, and I was able to follow it for around 7.5 km before deciding to head back after encountering the unpleasant omen of an animal carcass in a watery ditch. Before that, however, I’d seen some really beautiful rural scenery, and as I walked back the sun began to set over the hills, so it ended up being a pretty idyllic experience.

The other direction, I would discover, would not be as relaxing. A few weeks later I had another free weekend, and after eating some gelato in the Campo I decided on a whim to undertake the second leg of my journey. Following the route backwards was a bit harder as the signs were meant for the other direction, and as I went I passed actual Via Francigena hikers who gave me looks as if they were thinking: “What a moron, doesn’t he know that’s the wrong way.” Regardless, I forged onwards, and eventually arrived at a sharp turn in the route that led past a cemetery. Disregarding this omen, I followed what I thought was the path and soon lost any sign that I was going in the right direction. After walking down a rural stone path and passing a horse ranch, I eventually arrived at the entrance to a forest path. Again, with no available signage and the lingering thought of: “Well these hikers had to come from somewhere,” I entered into the forest and followed what I believed to be the path.

As you are probably expecting reading this story, I got lost. After following what I believed to be the main path, I eventually exited the forest into a large field with a dirt road that led to a three-way fork at the center. After picking up a cool looking rock and admiring this rural locale’s beauty, I figured, “Well, I’m in a field,” and fearing either mugging, attack from a wild animal, or arrest in what seemed like private property I decided to head back to Siena. I attempted to retrace my steps, went down a side path, passed a metal power line tower with a skull sign, and heard some rustling in the woods around me. I’m also a bit of a scaredy cat, and so long story short, my walk on the Via Francigena concluded with me eventually running full clip out of the forest, leaving behind a string of profanity and being confronted by the mammoth, vicious looking dog at the horse ranch.

When I safely got back home a Google Maps satellite view showed me that the woods really weren’t that large, and my sense of direction really is that bad. Oh well. Regardless, to conclude, when you’re studying abroad, don’t be afraid to get lost. Whether it is in some field outside Siena or in the city streets, a wrong turn can make as many good memories as a right one.

Nathan Anderson

Siena School for Liberal Arts student