Friday, March 23, 2018

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The journey begins

Well I am off yet again.  This pilgrimage route is a different one, the Via Romea Germanica, and one I am really looking forward to.  It follows the journey made by Abbot Albert from Stade, around 40kms north east of Hamburg, to Rome.  Along the way I will be crossing several routes I have taken before, finally joining the Via Francigena for the last few days into Rome.

In round figures I am anticipating walking in the vicinity of 2,300kms.  From my research I think the first week or two will be quite flat, gradually rising as I move through Bavaria and on into Austria.  In Italy the path is flat as I traverse the path around the River Po, before rising steeply to cross the Apennines.  From there, heading south through Tuscany, there are numerous hilltop villages - so there will be much up and down.

With the weather being somewhat colder than we have had in Australia, I will need warmer clothes and have had to pack a few extras for the cold I am anticipating.  This means that my pack is a little heavier than I would like, however once the warmer weather arrives I may be able to post things home and lighten it.

It is going to take me a couple of days to rest and recover from the flight and so I will be doing some sightseeing in Hamburg and Stade before setting off.  Let the journey begin!

New blog is here

Friday, September 9, 2016

Off wandering, again

Here it is – only 15 months since I returned from my year long journey and I am off on another Camino!  Two Caminos in fact!  I have set up a new blog and here is the address. You can register to receive any new posts by email – just submit your email address and follow the directions.  I hope you enjoy following my journey – actually our journey – this time. The address is:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I'm off again.

For those of you who have followed this journey, and my later training one in winter 2013 /14, you may be interested in following my latest journey.  Here is the address:-

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Rome!

As I said last time - we are now in Rome and so now I will tell you about the last few days.  The walk from La Storta to St Peter's Basilica was probably the worst of the whole journey, with one small part excepted. 

The manager of the hotel we stayed in dropped us into La Storta ready to start walking by 6.30a.m.  We had to walk along the main road for some kilometres before turning off that one onto ...... yet another main road.  This we followed, except for when we missed the signs for most of the way into Rome, the 15.8+ kilometres!  It was hot, not dusty for a change, but very loud with traffic noise.  This was compounded by the fact that we had to walk along the edge of the road in between the villages and be prepared to leap into the the ditch or whatever else was on the side of the road when cars, and more particularly trucks and buses, came by.  Even though we were only just under 16kms from Rome centre there were still very definite villages along the way.  The hard thing for us was that there was no-where to stop and have a drink and a rest.  we passed one bar in the first 3 hours, failed to stop at it, and basically missed our oportunity until we were about 3 kms from the city.

Leaving La Storta.

I said there was one exception to the walk being the worst part of the whole journey.  This was the small section of path which turned off into a park where we were able to gaze out over the city and where we saw the dome of St Peter's Basilica for the first time.   Though we couldn't find a seat with views, we found one with lots of shade and had a peaceful rest here before tackling the zig zag climb down the mountian and into the city.  This was a long haul down the mountain in the midday sun, and we walked in the shade on the left hand side of the cobbles on the zig, and then switched to the right on the zags! 

The park entrance ........

....and the view a couple of hundred metres later!

After stopping at the first cafe we found for a leisurely lunch we then headed down a straight road to the Piazza where made sure photos were taken of our arrival at about 1.30pm!.  We tried to get our Testimonium, going to first one lot of swiss guards, then another and finally another - only to find that they were not open on Sunday's and that the office was only open on other days between 8.30 and 12.30. The Swiss guards are a site in their special uniforms, and they oblingly let us take photos of them.  There are a 140 Swiss guards at the Vatican and we learnt today that they have to be between the ages of 23 and 30 to get the job.  All of them speak several languages, and part of the job would have to be good communication skills with tourists that don't have a clue!

Arriving in Saint Peter's Square, Rome.

That sorted, we headed for our spot of luxury in the hotel, which turns out to be every bit as comfortable as we expected, and a bit more convenient than we were hoping

After a good rest, and a well earned one I think, we headed off yesterday morning to finalise the paperwork.  There were no queues to get the Testimonium like there are to get the Compostela in Santiago, but there is a whole lot more complications.  To get to the office we went through a plice check where they waved a wand over us to check that we weren't carrying anything we shouldn't have been, went past the Swiss guards again who checked our pilgrim Credential, and then through another police check to direct us to an office.  Here we had to pass over our National Passports in exchange for an ID badge and were then re-directed to another office.  At this office we handed over our pilgirm credentials which were whisked away by an official who returned some time later with an envelope for each of us containing our Testimonium, printed with our names and on a beautiful rice paper type parchement.

clear dcold water|

You will note that I said "for each of us" - we were actually four by the time we arrived, because along the way we happened to bump into fellow pilgrims Jo and Netia and so we were able to help them sort out what they were meant to do.  After the formalities were complete it was of course time for a celebratory drink and time to reflect on what each of us had achieved.  It has been a long journey for me, and I have never had one where I have had injuries for such a long time.  I think that has made it a much more exhausting one for me, and I think that both Carol and Elizabeth have been extremely tolerant of my lapses!

We've just received our Testimoniums, and are heading off to do our washing!. 
Jo, Janet, Elizabeth, and Netia having a celbraatory drink!

Our tired feet celebrating after having the boots off for the last time!

The Via Francigena is a hard road - partly because it is a lonely road, which at times is lacking in infrastructure, but also because there is a lot of road walking which in turn is very tiring.  Worse still, some of these roads are very busy, making it at times more dangerous than it should be.  None the less, it is still a beautiful road, with many interesting villages and sights to see along the way. 

Today we have had a "Vatican Day".  We spent the morning underground in the Vatican doing the excavations tour.  This tour explores the excavations that have been carried out underneath the Basilica in the last part of last century.  We saw the tomb of Saint Peter, and the necropolis that had been buried under the modern Basilica - back in Emporer Constantines day!

This afternoon we went on a tour of the Vatican Museums, which indcluded the Sistine Chapel.  Words cannot express what one sees in this Chapel and imagines Michelangelo labouring over the wonderful frescoes.  The colours are extraordinary, and though they have been cleaned they have retained after many hundreds of years their strength and vibrancy.  Michelangelo spent around 10 years craning his neck backwards to do these frescoes, and then he went on to do what was his first love, the fine sculptures we can see elsewhere.  When he was 20 he completed a sculpture that is in the Basilica of Mary with her dead son - I think one of the most beautiful things I saw today.  We also saw many fine frescoes in the museum by Raphael, and some truly beautiful and descriptive tapestries. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

The first post of our last few days walk into Rome.

Yes we are in Rome!  However, due to time constraints I will have to do this blog in two stages so please bear with me!

To go back to where I left off last ime.  We had a lot of trouble leaving Viterbo, which was probably just as well, as we saw it in a different light and found we really quite liked it!  Despite leaving very early it actually took us over an hour to find our way out of the town, because we kept loosing the arrows.  Once we had done so we were on our way along little country roads which went past olive groves and  through rocky embankment  and into the country.  We didn't see any towns or villages for most of the day. 

A narrow road leaving Viterbo.

The path wound around through fields and right through the middle of hazelnut groves (or is it orchards?).  It was hot and dusty, but we managed to find ourselves a couple of nice rest spots in the shade and arrived in Vetralla at a reasonable hour.

The blue waymark on a rock at a path junction ....

..... and the hot dusty path to follow!

We met an Italian woman who sang the praises of the town and recommended the hotel attached to the bar as a good place to stay.  We wandered around the town - as usual on top of a hill - and found no other option and returned to the bar.  We had seen signs for the Albergo (hotel) Beneddittino, but ingnored them because it meant we would retrace our steps!  When we asked for a room in the bar we were ushered out to a car and driven - yes - the Albergo Benedditino!  As it turned out it was quite convenient, and we had a nice room, with a reduced rate because we were leaving before breakfast.  We had dinner in the bar, and met the Italian woman again and her friends.  We were the topic of converstation and they kept looking in our direction, using the word Autralian frequently! One of the guests told us that we were lucky to be able to visit Italy, and then go home - she obviously was not happy with things at present! 

Our hotel in Vetralla.

The crypt at the the Chiesa (Church) of S Francesco

Some of the floor mosaics in the same church .......

........ and one of the 15th Century Fresoces.

After Vetralla we headed off to to stay in Sutri.  Today's path wound through and across hazlenut groves, and we had a warning from fellow pilgrim Netia's blog that there was some tricky navigation involved for this day, so we were particularly alert (but not afraid!), and finished the day quite successfully.  By now my foot was getting quite sore and we had a back up plan that if I was too sore we would catch a bus for the last 6 kms.  As it turned out, both of us felt fine and so we walked, despite the heat, the whole way, stopping for lunch in yet another hilltop town - Capranica!   At the bottom of the hill we came across a fountain where there was a steady stream of people filling water bottles.  This was a sign that the water was good, and so I did the same, having a drink of lovely cold water, which stayed cool for most of the next 6kms!

Just one of the hazlenut groves we passed.

Caprancia - our lunch time stop.

A view from one of our peaceful rest stops.
Resting on a wall before plodding on.

The fountain, flowing with fresh cool water, where I filled my water bottle. 

Sutri was the last place where we stayed in specific pilgrim accomodation.  We stayed in the Carmelite Convent, entering through the front door into a foyer, where a Nun spoke to us through a wooden grille.  We put our pilgrim passports, our real passport, and €24 onto a carousel which the nun swung around, stamping our pilgrim passport, putting the key on it, and our passports and returning it to us. She told us the number of the hostel, which I promptly forgot, and Elizabeth changed to 24!  When we couldn't find 24 we had to go back and ask the number again, and this time 2 doors up at 23 we found our room!  Elizabeth had to give me a bit of assistance through the door as it was so narrow (like a lot of doors have been I might add) and then I had to climb to the top of the stairs to find the light switch before she shut the door otherwise it was pitch black inside! 

Elizabeth leaving through the narrow convent doorway.

Sutri is also a very old place - with lots of associations with the Etruscans and the Romans. when we left the next morning we explored the Roman part of the town as it was at the base of the hill.  The Necropolis was particularly interesting.  Much of the area we have been walking through is volcanic in origin and so there are many "caves" in the rock - partly because it is fairly easy to cut, but some of them are because they were naturally formed.  The necropolis is a series of ancient tombs, and the Romans used the rock to make a fascinating amphitheatre. 

Arriving at Sutri

The public laundry (lavoir, in french) in Sutri.

Sutri's Roman Amphitheatre.

The Necropolis at Sutri

Today was to be the day where we had a little assistance, as my feet were only just going to make it!  We caught the bus to Monterosi, and form there walked to Campagnno di Roma.  For much of this walk we had no idea where we were, as the path seemed to bear no relationship to the map that I had!  Much of the walk today was on roads, with just the last part on a very dusty track and it seemed long and hard!  Added to this the walk today had a continual background hum, and Adelaide people will know what I mean when I say that the hum was due to a race track being near by!  We passed the Monte Gelato falls along the way, and it was temting to stop for longer and bathe our feet, but we pushed on.  This is obviously a favourite picnic spot for the locals. 

Monte Gelato Falls.

Walking into Campagno di Roma

Getting closer to Campagno di Roma.

We passed no places where we could stop and have a drink and buy some food, and so we were very glad to get to Campagno - which of course was at the top of a steep hill!   We were quite surprised by this village - it was REALLY old, the streets narrow, twisted, and steep.  We came in at the old end of the town walking into the more modern part.  After some hunting around I asked a police officer if there was a tourist office in town and she said no, but what did I want.  When I explained that we needed a stamp for our pilgim credentials I was instructed to "follow me"!  She continued her conversation with her friend while Elaizabeth and I trailed behind into the police station, where we were given a stamp.  She was a delightful young woman who had a "dream" to one day go to Australia, and who spoke her self taught English with a beautiful English accent.  She was delighted to practice with us, and we were full of praise for her. 

The more modern end of Campagno di Roma

Lunch was the next thing on the agenda and it was just as well that it was a reasonable one as it turned out!  We left the reasaurant, crossed the road and hopped straight on to a bus to La Storta.  A Nigerian man argued with the driver on our behalf when we had to pay €7 each for the fare, but we didn't mind, as it was much cheaper than a taxi, and by the way people got on the bus we were subsidising everyone else!  There were only about 4 passengers who validated tickets, so one had to assume that the others were on for a free ride!   

When we got to La Storta we booked a room over the internet in a hotel which was in a "park like setting only 2.5 kms from the town"!  We walked on the busy road to it, arriving over an hour later, and deciding that an Italian description of park, and and Australian one were very different.  Fortunately we had the foresight to buy some pizza before leaving town because there was nothing at the hotel, other than a self serve machine with a few chocolates etc!  I was quite cranky when we arrived because it was a hot and dangerous walk along the road and I was dreading having to walk it the next morning.  The manager of the hotel offered to drive us into town the next morning and it took him 4 minutes to drive us what took us about an hour and a quarter to walk!.  The poor man had absolutely no idea what we were doing.  When I asked him if there was an internet he informed me there was one in town (the road we had just walked!), and then the next morning he asked us if we wanted the train station and nearly laughed when we said we were going to walk into Rome!   

I'm stopping here and will tell you next time about our arrival in Rome.  I have also updated the last post with photos. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Up hill and down dale, and more mineral pools.

Today we left the beautiful Lake Bolsena behind.  Yesterday we climbed up a hill to stay in the village of Montefiascone, and today we descended the hill, crossed the plains and are staying in a town called Viterbo.
Leaving Lake Bolsena behind

We had all road walking yesterday, partly because for the first 10 kms it was more direct than the path, which has a tendency to go the long way round if there is a choice.  The path followed the Lake shore until the last 5 or 6 kms when we started heading up to the hilltop town that we had been seeing from Bolsena.  I got a real surprise yesterday and feel like I have come full circle.

Nearly 3 months ago - wow, I have been on the road that long!- about 6 days out from London, I came across my first Commonwealth War Graves cemetery.  Yesterday, 6 days out from Rome, as we followed the road I came across the last Commonwealth War Graves cemetery, on the peaceful shores overlooking Lake Bolsena.  We took the winding stone path down to the cemetery, to discover that this was a 2nd world war one, to do with the Battle of Casino.  There was one Australian Grave there, and 17 New Zealanders.  I couldn't find the headstone for the Australian though and suspect it was the (only) one that had been removed for maintenance.  We found the New Zealand ones though.  A very beautiful and peaceful place.

Part of the peaceful cemetery on the shores of Lake Bolsena ........

...... and two of the New Zealand Graves.

Though we went inland from the Lake and up the hill we didn't really leave it as we had a view of it all the way up the hill, and then from Montifiascone itself.  Indeed we sat in a restaurant overlooking the lake, watching the sun sink, while we had dinner.

Montefiascone is a medieval hilltop town and lays claim to the having the Cathedral Santa Margherita which has a massive dome, apparently the 2nd largest in size to St Peter's dome in Rome.  It is a cavernous place, and when I sang in it there was a very long acoustic.  It has a castle too, along with the usual steep, staired, and narrow streets.

The dome of Cathedral Santa Margherita

Looking up into the dome

Looking across the rooftops of Montefiascone towards the Cathedral Santa Margherita

Our accomodation last night was in the Cappucini Convento, though I think there are no longer monks in residence.  The Cappucin's, I believe, are Franciscan's as there is always a Tau cross in evidence at them.  The monks might not have been there, but there was plenty of activity as there were a lot of children running riot at what must have been a residential camp.  Tonight we are in a 3 star hotel!

Elizabeth checking the key works so we could get back in after dinner!

Today we made another very early start, knowing that we would be delayed part way along the track.  Our delay, about 12 kms down the road, was because we stopped for a swim at the mineral pools just outside of Viterbo.  These pools are filled by a spring which bubbles up with crystal clear water, though it has a high mineral content and is quite warm - this whole area has seen volcanic activity over the centuries.  They are rough pools, concreted, and obviously a major attraction for the locals.  We were there about 9.00a.m., along with half a dozen others, and by the time we left there were probably in excess of 30 people there.  Some obviously go for health reasons, and others go for the social event.  The women sit and stand around in the pools nattering ninety to the dozen!   There were some men, but the vast majority were woman - of all ages.  The pools are warm, but not hot.  Other than concreting them and adding some stone and wooden seats, there is no attempt to commercialise the place - people just turn up to get the benifit -including weary pilgrims, no doubt as they have for centuries.

Water entering one of the pools

One of the springs that feeds the pools.

A scene on the way to the mineral pools.

For a long way today we also walked on a Roman road.  This is the Via Cassia, and has massive stones in it.  Parts of the road are just used as a footpath, but there are parts of it where cars use it to gain access to properties - and it is still just as good as it was several thousand years ago!

The ancient Via Cassia, with the large stones on the side channeling water
off the main part of the road. 
The kerbing is stones too, though there was some repair concrete in parts. 

Viterbo seems to us a tired town, there are a lot of shops closed, things need repair, and the gardens need water.  It is surrounded by a wall, and apparently it suffered considerable damage in the second world war.

The Viterbo Cathedral

Large stones at the bases of a building thought to be originally part of the city wall when viterbo was an Etruscan town.

Rome is getting closer!

There are only 4 days left of walking for us.  in some ways it seems like yesterday when I began in London, and in others it seems like a lifetime.  I am not sure when I will be able to post again - surprisingly the places we are going to are really small, even though we are really so close to Rome.  The plan is to walk into Rome on Sunday morning!  We have a FOUR STAR hotel booked - I think I have earnt it, and so has Elizabeth!

Monday, July 2, 2012

A rest day at last, and most enjoyable too!

After our special time in Bagni San Filippo and the mineral pool we decided that we would take the implied advice from the priest and get up the very steep 8 km climb to Radocofani by some other means than our feet!  We wanted to get to the top as early as we could, but stll stop and have breakfast and a swim and so the only option for us was to catch a taxi!  On the way up the hill we passed a big dog on the roadside and this caused our taxi driver to give a long spiel about how dangerous the dogs were guarding the sheep and to avoid them at all costs!

At the top of the hill there is a castle and a delightful village called Radicofani.  We set off from here after a second breakfast, even though our only excertion thus far had been to gentle swim in the mineral pool, and began the equally long descent to Ponte a Rigo where we intended to stay the night.  Much of this descent was in the full sun, and it was not till we reached the valley floor that we got the benefit of some shade.  At the bottom of the hill (some 10kms later) we lolled around under the shade of a big ficus, admiring the view of the paddocks opposite which had large bales / rolls of hay on them.  As we walked past a big shed we could smell sheep, and looking back over the hills and the path we had walked while we rested, we could see them all hearded together on the side of the hill.  We couldn't distinguish the dogs, but as they are usually white that is no surprise!

  Leaving Radicofani, with it's castle atop the hill.

And the path continues  .........

Arriving at Ponte a Rigo our plans changed pretty quickly.  It transpired that our accomodation that night was going to be in a shipping container at the back of the church and neither of us fancied being cooped up in that after such a hot day.  It looked as if there was no place to buy food at first, though we found a bar around the corner, and decided that we would hitch on to the next place and stay in a hotel.  As it turned out we caught a bus and when I tried to pay, the driver just waved us on, and so our free ride at the end of the day helped balance the taxi ride at the beginning!

Elizabeth trying the door of the container refuge.

Aquapendente is a lovely town - very old, and as usual full of twisty, steep, narrow streets.  For once we were actually able to wander around the town and enjoy it instead of being too exhausted from the heat.  Because it was a Saturday the place was buzzing with activity, especially the main square where Elizabeth and I found a bar and sat down to do some people watching.

 Time to explore the streets of Aquapendente!

We had found a really nice 3 star hotel  and made good use of the huge variety of toiletries that they had on offer!  Our window looked out onto a delightful square with a number of fountains.  When we left for a walk it was a quiet peaceful place, but on our way back an hour or so later it was in the process of changing into a party venue, and when we returned after dinner the noise and activity was in full swing!  Suffice it to say that the night was not quite as quiet and peaceful as we had hoped, though I didn't mind it - the music was varied, though loud, and I was so tired I slept through most of it anyway.

 A party time line - late afternoon, after we arrived -
the view from our bedroom window.
....... about 1-2 hours later
 .....3 hours later, in full swing
 ...about 7 hours later, at dawn - our window is the bottom balcony at the back! 

Since late April I have been following 2 Australian pilgrims - Netia and Jo.  I know this from 2 ways - one being a post on my blog some time ago, and the other because I have seen their names in books that they have signed as they have stayed in the same places as us.   Up until now I have not met them as they have been about 4 days ahead, but Aquapedente was the place where our paths crossed, and as it turned out we were actually staying in the same hotel.  You can imagine the chatter as four Autralian women and one poor Swiss pilgrim - Xaviour - sat down over dinner! Our paths have continued to cross, though they have now moved on and are a day ahead at this stage.

Four Autralian pilgrims and one Swiss.
 Netia, Jo, Xaviour, Elizabeth and Janet

An early start the next day saw us arriving in the wonderful town of Bolsena, on the shores of a volcanic lake, by lunch time.  This has been our rest day today and so we shouted ourselves two nights of luxury in a FOUR star hotel!  Strangely though this has been the cheapest of all the hotels we have had over the past four nights.  The treat with this place is that it is on the shores of the lake, has it's own swimming pool, and for the first time in weeks we have actually heard some world news (on BBC TV) - in English!  

Now, I am not sure where to begin when talking about Bolsena.  It is an "antique" city as one man called it tonight, complete with a castle and the usual steep, narrow streets, crooked buildings, churches and bells and well cared for gardens.  This medieval part of the city is on the slopes of a hill and the streets are very steep - only steps in some parts.  As we arrived in this part of the city we had a drink at a wine bar (only aqua!) and sat on bench seats outside which clung to the side of the building.  I put my pack down very carefully in case it went rolling down the steps to the next level!  We were very glad to arrive in this part of the city as we had been walking through fields and past olive groves for a number of hours (including the half hour when we got lost!) and every corner we came around we expected to see the village, but iut never seemed to get any closer!

Lake Bolsena from our table at lunch!
 The medieval part of the village,
As we walked down through the medieval village we came to the newer part of the town and got closer to the lake.  This part of the village is the part that cars can drive in, and it is also a pciteresque par too.  I will always think of this part of our walk and this town in particular as the hydrangea town.  Hydrangeas seem to be the trade mark / symbol of the village.  They are growing everywhere - blue hydrangeas next to pink ones, dark ones next to pale ones and in between a fair sprinkling of white ones, lace ones and oak leaved ones.  With the heat some are wilting a little, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence of them being watered and so I can only assume that they must have some access to the  water table.  They grow along the shores of the lake, along with big pots of geraniums and petunias.  When the breeze has sprung up in the afternoon the lake gets quite choppy and sitting by the shore eating dinner, followed by a walk to buy a  gelati, I could imagine the sound of the waves being the sea, only there is no sea smell, and no seagulls!

 Hydrangeas from our bedroom window.

As you might gather, I think this place is delightful.  Though there are some tourists it doesn't seem to be a big tourist town or a holiday resort.  The marina seems to have mostly little boats that are like the sort of boat a family would own, and it is not very big at that.

Today Elizabeht and I caught a little Council bus up into the hills to visit a little village I had read about.  Civita di Bagnoregio is a medieval village built on top of a hill.  The difference between this hilltop village and others we have been to is that it is a village that is slowly disappearing. It is built on the type of soil that, over time, erodes leaving the soil exposed, and buildings perched precariously.  Some of the streets end abruptly, with a precitpitous fall to the valley below.  The only access to the village is via a wide footbridge, once a suspension bridge, now something a bit more sturdy, but still 25 metres above the ground.  The only vehicles in the town are scooters and motor bikes though we saw one of the little 3 wheeled machines hidden away too.  As we were leaving a scooter came across the bridge laden with cartons of water bottles - all we could see was the drivers head above the packages.  The colours of the eroded soil, the hot strong wind blowing, combined with the heat and dust reminded me of the painted desert in Northern South Australia.

 Civita di Bagnoregio
 An abrupt drop on the other side of the rail!

We have had a good rest here.  Eating dinner by the lake, watching the world go by, and fitting in a number of swims in the pool.  I now have to go and have a good night's sleep as tomorrow morning we are heading to another hilltop village called Montefiascone.  The day promises to be hot, and so it will mean an early start again.