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.

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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. 

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