Well folks, I made it. There were times back a few months ago when I was beset with injuries that I have never had before, that I did wonder. As time progressed though my feet got better, and by the last week or two, I felt as if I could have gone on for another month or more, despite the heat. I have had a few issues with photos, now sorted, which is why this post has taken so long to put up.
In la Storta I stayed in a convent, on the via Cassia. I was remiss earlier in not telling you about the Via Cassia, the ancient road to Rome. Leaving Montefiascone I walked on the Via Cassia for the first time. The first part of it was uneven, and in disrepair, but then I later walked on a section, maybe as much as a kilometre, which was still in good nick. So good in fact that there are even cars that drive on it as there are houses built along the Via and it is this ancient road that they use to access their houses. However, by the time I got to la Storta the Via Cassia had changed considerably. No longer a quiet back street, but now a major road carrying a lot of traffic. The big rocks that the Romans had used to build the road several thousand years ago had disappeared from this stretch, and the road was now asphalt, with heavy traffic rushing past. Indeed my notes said words to the effect to “pay attention to the traffic, at times diabolical”! And how true those words were.
The first time I walked on the Via Cassia (left) in poorer condition, and (right) a part of the Via Cassia that is still used as a roadway today.
The Via Cassia at la Storta, with & without traffic.
I left la Storta early, in the hope that I would miss some of that diabolical traffic, but it was still pretty bad, and unrelenting, because I followed the arrows, rather than the map (which is what I should have done to avoid some of the traffic). Basically the arrows followed first the Via Cassia, and then the Via Trionfale. This was the big mistake, the same one that Elizabeth and I made when walking into Rome. Although it was a one way street and I was walking towards the traffic it was fast, and sometimes there was no footpath. Fortunately I had directions to pick up a bike path, and at Monte Mario train station, I turned off the busy road and at last found some peace on the bike path. By this time though it was midday, and the sun was belting down on a track with no shade whatsoever. Five kilometres, or thereabouts, later I emerged at the top of a hill, unaware that I had been climbing, to see the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica and the walls of the Vatican. I was really surprised, as I remembered last time that from the top of the hill to the Basilica it took quite some time to get there, down many steps, and along a long road. This time, still many steps, but a few short streets and there I was, able to rest at the foot of the magnificent columns bordering the Piazza.
The bike path,
which led t this view of St Peter's dome, the Vatican, and Rome (below) ....
.... then down steps and finally -
- the Piazza San Pietro!
And of course the beautiful Bellini Collonades
After a good half an hour of resting, people watching, and reflecting I then set off to find the pilgrim office. This is a departure from previous times when I have been to Rome. Then I went through the gates at the Vatican, and after all sorts of security checks made my way to an office to have the Testimonium issued. Now the pilgrim office does this. Even though I had seen the footprints of my fellow pilgrims as I walked that day, I never saw them and I was the first pilgrim that the people in the office had seen. Next to the pilgrim office is the Scout office. There were quite a lot of scouts out and about, moving furniture and generally behaving as scouts do everywhere! Nothing changes.
After a rest and a few drinks of water at the office I set off to find the convent where I was staying. Somehow I took a wrong turn and ended up going the long way there, but in the meantime seeing the ancient monuments from a side that I hadn’t seen before. I walked past the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, affectionately referred as “the Wedding Cake”, and built in the early 1900’s to honour the first king of a unified Italy. Here I was stopped by a young man wanting to know if I was a pilgrim. He had returned the day before from walking the Camino from Roncesvalles to Finisterre and was obviously very thrilled at his achievements. He directed me up a set of steps, and from there I should have turned left – not right which is what I did, and ended up walking an extra few kilometres to the convent.
After the "wedding cake" - Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II....
..... it was up the steps.....
..... and accidently past the ancient monuments.
I was made welcome there, had a pleasant room, no Wi-Fi for a few days, but then got it sorted, and set about organising my gear. The first thing I did was to head to the laundromat to give my clothes a good wash. It is quite a strange feeling at the end of the journey to know that you won’t be wearing these clothes again, that it the last time for the routine of:- find a bed, wash self, wash clothes, find food, then sleep. So that I wouldn’t have a rush to get things done I set about scrubbing boots, poles and pack. I checked my pack and boots to make sure there were no seeds hidden in them and decided that I would put my pack in the shower and give it a good wash. I was quite surprised at the number of grass seeds that emerged with this exercise. Just goes to show how careful we have to be with gear so that we aren’t responsible for introducing potential weeds into the country. The next morning I headed to Termini to get train tickets, first to Verona, then to Munich before heading home. Then I became a tourist. But more of that next time.
The street outside my abode in Rome
More than any other pilgrimage route I have undertaken I have found this route to be one of friendliest and the people extraordinarily helpful. People have gone out of their way to offer assistance and were very keen to learn what I was doing. At times the signage was on the light side, but with common sense it is easy to figure out, though hopefully more signs will go up. In Italy one had to negotiate some overgrown paths at times, and so having an alternative (detour out to the road etc) might be helpful. I found google maps very helpful to work this out. A big difference between Germany and the Tyrol (which includes Austria and Northern Italy) is comfort! Here there were often seats placed at strategic points, often for a view perhaps of the mountains or the forests, whereas apart from the well travelled bike routes which we shared, in Italy there is nothing like this, or only rarely. Thus a guard rail, a wall, or even a stone became the place to rest, but it was never as comfortable as a bench, and so one was not tempted to linger.
I mentioned earlier that paths in Italy are sometimes overgrown, but in the north of Germany there was another issue. The storm that hit at the beginning of the year felled many hundreds of trees (I have talked about this in earlier posts), and so rather than long grass or blackberries to negotiate there were fallen trees to clamber over or divert around. Many of these were being cleaned up as I went past, and so it won’t be long before there will be few tripping hazards.
All in all a wonderful way, and highly recommended for those confident in finding their way, and managing unusual situations.
The journey from Stade to Rome has finished, but the journey home has yet to begin as I play a tourist and an opera goer for a week, but more of that next time.