Sunday, June 19, 2016

amaWalkers Camino Foray into Italy

12 months of planning, thousands of hours pouring over blogs to choose the best possible routes and daily mileages; Google searching for accommodation for 42 people for 24 nights = over 1010 beds bookings. (Plus the usual Camino Frances groups' bookings in Spain in May and September) 
amaWalkers Camino will stay true to its original mandate of friendly, well organised, no-frills but great accommodation, group walks. 

In July 2015 Jenny and I  planned on taking a group of pilgrims to Rome in 2016.  Within a week of putting it out on Facebook and on our website, 56 people asked to go on the walk. So we made it 2 groups (we would each take one) then 3 (Marion would take a group) and finally a 4th group (was to be Kathy's group) to cater for 8 South African women who wanted to all walk in the same group. After the initial excitement of trying the new route, people change their minds due to financial constraints, not enough leave, unexpected family reunions.  Some cancelled, some postponed, others changed groups.  [The group of 8 women decided to go it alone, using our planned stages over the Alps and in Tuscany.  We wish them a happy Via Francigena.]

Hundreds of emails sent to hotels, pensions, agriturismos, apartments and osterias for single, double and twin rooms.  Many places don't have twin rooms and can't guarantee two beds so we have to change our search for alternative places.  Some don't reply - could be that they only open in the summer, like the Hotel Italia at the Gr San Bernard, which is closed for most of the year.  Relief when we finally get an acknowledgement of our reservations for 4 Gruppi on consecutive days.  We realise that it must be a headache for a small hotel to have to change linen and towels in 7 or 8 rooms day after day. 

Many Italian hotels are B and B, but what time is breakfast?  8:30 is too late for eager pellegrini hoping to avoid the worst of the mid-day sun by making an early start.  Will they prepare breakfast earlier for our groups, or provide a take-away picnic breakfast?  We have vegans and vegetarians, some don't eat red meat, others don't eat pork; some have allergies, to honey, nuts or seafood.  All has to be planned for and hotels alerted.

Some hotels want full payment upfront, sent via bank transfers.  We tell them that we need an invoice, SWIFT code, IBAN number, name and address of hotel.  (South Africa is paranoid about money laundering or sending money to overseas accounts).  Information received is often incomplete - wrong SWIFT code and insufficient numbers in the IBAN number.  It takes hours, sometimes days to send the money. is our best friend!  Safe, secure bookings which (for the most part) can be changed or cancelled within days of arrival.  Beware the non-refundable bookings.  They are not only non-fundable but in many instances cant be changed so you could be stuck with rooms you don't need.

We are walking in the Swiss and Italian Alps for four days.  How to get the 4 groups from Aosta to San Gimignano in northern Tuscany - 500km away - without involving them in multiple bus and train changes?  Hiring a private bus and driver for  €1295 for each group (€130 pp) might seem excessive but of you add up the bus and train ticket costs for 12 people there isn't much difference.  And, the journey is about 5 and a half hours instead of 8 - 9 hours on public transport.

What about arriving in Rome and visiting the Vatican?  Groups can be pre-registered here -  - so that they don't have to join the long queues at the Vatican waiting to walk through the Holy Doors. Our Four Groups have all been registered to walk through the doors at specific time slots. 

Group one starts at La Douay on 23rd June:  Group Two on 24th June:  Group Three on 25th June. Group Four on 26 June.  We will arrive in Rome one day after each other and will each have two days in Rome. 

For the past three days I've been fighting a rotten cold - Mrs Potato head type cold and cough.  I leave on Tuesday afternoon and am hoping all the fluids, hot med-lemon, cough syrup and Corenza-C will clear it before then. 

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