Italian citizen Paola Giacomini went horseback riding from Mongolia to Poland through Russia in the summer of 2018. Her target is Kraków, and the entire journey covers 7.5 thousand kilometers. The path of the 39-year-old traveler passed through the Voronezh Region. A RIA “Voronezh” correspondent met Paola and learned what old legend had inspired her to travel, what difficulties she had run into, why she does not visit the cities and why she made an exception for the capital of the Black Soil Region.
The horseback riding spirit
One day Paola Giocamini heard a legend of a murdered watchman. In 1241, the Mongol army approached Kraków during its march to the West. A watchman noticed them from the tall tower of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and started playing the trumpet warning the town residents of the menace. His playing stopped as an enemy arrow pierced his throat. In memory of this event, the melody played by the watchman is performed there every hour – and always stops at the same point as seven centuries ago.
– When I learned the story of the arrow, I decided to repeat the campaign, – said Paola, – but with a different purpose. I wanted to go the same way as the Mongolian army carrying an arrow which would become a symbol of peace. A symbol that will unite East and West, because now they are separated by a “wall”. I want to overcome this "wall".
The preparation took ten years. All this time, the Italian was looking for sponsors. She found three of them - a small travel agency and companies producing tourist equipment. They provided Paola with money and everything she needed to travel.
Paola Giacomini hit the road on June 10, 2018. She left the city of Karakorum (in Mongol - Kharkhorin), which had been the capital of the Mongol Empire in 1220s-1260s. It was the authorities of this city who gave her the symbol of peace.
The Italian woman travels on two horses - Chegere (which is Mongolian for "straight") and Custode (which is Italian for "guardian").
Along the way, Paola decided to go to the Veshenskaya Stanitsa to meet the Cossacks. The Italian believes that it is the place where “the spirit of horseback riding” has been preserved.
– When the Mongols went to war, they destroyed everything. I wondered what these people had left behind. The answer turned out to be simple: riding skills. And the Cossacks are the embodiment of this riding. Cossacks have become the continuation of the history of horseback riding and its embodiment, – Paola told.
From the village, the Italian headed for the Voronezh Region. To her, the capital of the Black Soil Region is a point on the way to Pskov near which Paola is planning to cross the border with Estonia.
According to the traveler, the villages in the Voronezh Region were the first in her journey where she saw new churches.
– Before, I rode through places where there were old or closed churches. The Voronezh Region has a lot of new beautiful churches. Another thing that catches the eye is the fact that young people are moving from cities to villages, make their own farms. In other places things are different - young people leave villages trying to move to cities, – the Italian shared.
“I take minimum stuff, cook on a fire”
Paola faced a variety of difficulties along the way. She had to solve the problems of washing clothes and bathing, charging the phone, buying food. This is in view of the fact that the Italian prefers to ride through villages: according to Paola, a city is not a place for horses. There were only three exceptions: the traveler visited Voronezh, Barnaul, and Saratov. The Italian noted that there were different people on the way: there are more good and responsive people, but there are also aggressive ones. And some get scared at the sight of a horseback rider and immediately call the police.
- When the police arrive, I explain to them that I am traveling. I show them my documents? And it solves the problems. And speaking of villagers: if I see a negative attitude, I always try to go away. You can always find friendly people in a village too. Although, I reject invitations to spend the night in the house. Yes, I try to always sleep closer to the houses of the residents of which have accepted me, but outside - next to the horses. I pitch a tent, lay out a sleeping bag and sleep. A rider and a horse are a team. When I sleep, my horses sleep. When I eat, they eat. When I go, they go. We are a team. And sleeping next to the horses calms them down and brings us closer, – Paola says confidently. – The issue with food is simple. I do not collect a lot of food for myself, I try to travel light-handed. After all, in every village, there is a store. I take minimum stuff, I cook on a fire. But as for the horses, they eat about 20 kg of oats in three days. I carry animal feed with me. I was pleased with the soulfulness of people - they often offer oats for horses in villages. In my entire journey, I‘ve only bought animal feed three times. It will be easier in the summer - instead of oats, the horses will eat grass.
Paola told that the people “of concern” in the villages were most often drunken ones. Should critical situations arise, they are always resolved peacefully - in the form of a dialogue.
- There was an occurrence once. I had set up camp. There was heavy snow, and at three in the morning, the owner of the house came to me. The man was drunk. He tore down the tent and insisted that I went to sleep in the house. He said there was a blizzard outside, – the woman remembered. – I had to explain to him for a long time that I always slept outside. In the end, he left. The tent had to be re-pitched, but everything was already covered in snow. However, I am not mad at him because he came with good intentions.
“The only frightening thing is loneliness”
According to Paola, the hardest part of the journey was traveling through taiga.
– It was scary. It is not the wild animals that are frightening – it is the loneliness. On your first day in the taiga it is beautiful – the untouched nature that you admire along the way. On the second day, it became clear that it was impossible to navigate using maps. And there is no one to ask the way. The wanderings in the taiga lasted for 11 days - fortunately, there were horses with me. They were the ones who helped me out, encouraged me. In general, there are always solutions to any problems along the way. It’s like with the language barrier: both in Russia and Mongolia, people who want to understand me understand me. And it does not matter what language I speak. And those who do not want to will not understand, even if I am perfectly proficient with words.
Paola fills her medical supplies in village drugstores. The traveler confesses that she does not have problems with her health, but it is more complicated with the animals. According to the Italian, there are no animal drugstores in villages, so she has to visit cities. This is how she visited Voronezh: one of the horses was slightly injured.
Paola is planning to leave Russia in the summer. She will get to Estonia and from there to Poland taking the shortest route possible. After visiting Kraków, the Italian wants to return home the same way, on horseback.
This is not her first long journey on horseback. The first one happened when she was under 30: she went from Italy to Spain and back. The total distance was 4.5 thousand kilometers. According to Paola, at that time her family was worried, but now her close ones are more tolerable to her adventures.
By the way, the woman’s job is also related to horses: she leads horseback tours in summer. And during winter, she helps develop routes for alpine skiing.