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Traditional Toast Sees Italian Hikers off on Silk Road

forty-eight Italian hikers were yesterday toasted by the Italian consul to Shanghai, before they set out along the Silk Road.


The hikers were honored in the traditional "Cup of Stirrup" ceremony before departing for 10-days of hiking along parts of the ancient trading route, which once linked China to Italy. They plan to cover a total of 1,004 kilometers.


Aged between 18 and 74 the hikers are acting as ambassadors of peace, friendship and solidarity between China and Italy, and also hope to encourage people to donate their blood and organs after death.


All of them are members of the International "Life for Life" Solidarity March, established in 1975.


It is the first time the organization's annual march has been held in China.


"We have been to many cities in Europe, Russia and North America, including Berlin, Rome and Moscow, all of which have hosted the Olympics. Beijing will host the Games in 2008, and that is why we want to be here," said team leader Lovo Lino.


"The march through China is the longest we have ever made."


The hikers, half of whom are women, will trace the footsteps of historic Italian explorers Marco Polo, Odorico of Pordenone, Padre Matteo Ricci of Macerata and Pompeo Mazzocchi, stopping at Hangzhou, Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Xi'an, Taiyuan, Beijing, Jinan, Xuzhou and Suzhou. They plan to return to Shanghai on August 20.


A hike will be held near each city, with the distance depending on the weather.


Lino said he was not sure what awaits them in the journey ahead, but he was certain the march will be an intense and fascinating experience.


They will ask translators along the way to help them publicize the need for blood and organ donors in China.


Battistel Lueciano has taken part in the international march since 1983. This is the first time the 70-year-old has visited China and he gave the country the thumbs up, saying it was "beautiful."


He added that the summer heat would not be a problem, as Italy is also rather hot at the moment.


"I am very proud to have the hikers in Shanghai," said Silvia Costantini, consul of the Cultural Office of the Consulate General of Italy in Shanghai.


"2006 is the year of Italy in China, and we have organized many events," she said. "However this is the first international march we have had."


The "Cup of Stirrup" ceremony originated in Italy in the 19th century, when people setting out on a long ride would be toasted with a small cup of cordial the moment they put their foot into their horse's stirrup.


(China Daily August 10, 2006)


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