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Walking along the Via Romea Germanica from Stade, near Hamburg, in Germany south through Austria and Italy to Rome.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Verona and the opera

In 2014, when walking through Verona I was fortunate enough to attend 3 operas in the Arena along with a concert by Placido Domingo, or rather half a concert as the second half was cancelled due to the weather.  I decided then that if i were ever fortunate enough to be near Verona during the Arena opera season I would again go to the opera.  As it transpired fortune has favoured me and I have been able to attend the opera, but not just one – four!

After catching the fast train from Rome to Verona I arrived at my B & B mid afternoon with plenty of time to go to the tourist office and collect my ticket for the first opera.  I had planned to do a bit more sightseeing while in the city, but after spending nearly four months just taking one day at a time it felt strange planning sightseeing trips, and so I just pottered.  I window shopped, strolled along the street eating gelato, crossed a bridge that I hadn’t seen last time I was there, and generally watched the world go by.  I also spent time watching all the activity around the arena, which for me is absolutely fascinating.  

Security has stepped up since the last time I was here.  It is interesting how they have blocked streets, both in Verona, and in Rome.  The strategic placement of very large planter boxes is a much more attractive option to barriers, and one doesn’t even realise that the street has been barricaded.  Security has been stepped up for each performance at the arena too.  They have it down to a fine art, but every one of the 7,000+ attendees has a bag inspection, and walks through an electronic security device.


The crowds were in Verona too

Attending four operas is exhausting and so each day I had to have a siesta, timed sot that I could watch a small portion of “le Tour”!  Why is attending four operas exhausting you may be thinking.  The answer to that is two fold.  Firstly the mental energy required to sort out the plot lines, climb up and down the arena stairs and keep from fidgeting too much in the cramped position one is in sitting on the hot stone steps.  Secondly it is the hour and length of the performance.  I timed it so that I was able to see four different operas, two of which I had seen last time I was in Verona.  Each performance begins at 9.00pm, though being Italy punctuality is not always adhered to!  The finishing time varies, but the earliest time is around midnight, the latest being 1.00ish. 

Which operas did I see?  The first one was Carmen, then Turandot, Aida, and finally Nabucco.  I had seen Carmen and Aida last time but both productions were new and so it was like seeing a new performance.  Having said that the latest the opera finishes is around 1.00 is true if all runs according to plan, but when I saw Nabucco part way through the second act a few spots of rain fell.  Half way through the aria everything stopped.  The strings walked off, the harps were carried out by the stage hands, and the brass players sat on – their instruments regularly get a bath so a bit of water doesn’t hurt them, not like the strings and woodwind.  After about 20 mins the performance resumed from the start of the aria that had been interrupted.  Part way through the third act the same thing happened.  This time it took a bit longer for the rain to clear, but finally it started again and eventually finished around 1.50am.  Each night I had stopped, as many others did, and bought a gelato to eat on the way home, but even the gelati shops were closed on this night, though bars were still open for patrons to get an after opera drink or meal! 

I was quite surprised by Nabucco.  It is an opera that I didn’t know (other than the famous pilgrim’s chorus) and I found the music particularly melodious, as is the music of Aida – another Verdi opera.  The set of this production was a bit disconcerting though – the “temple” looked to me like the grand house of Tara, from Gone with the Wind, and the costumes looked like 1800’s.  I could have been mistaken for thinking it was about the American Civil War, or even the French Revolution!  There was “gunfire” and cannons too – not in the original I am sure!

To give you an idea of the size of these productions in Nabucco there were at one point 10 horse on the stage along with about 150 people, and a horse and cart.  In Carmen at one stage there were 3 1930’s style trucks, a jeep, and a motor bike and sidecar.  Aida had on stage (not in the orchestra pit) 22 heraldic trumpeters performing in the grand march.  I was so fascinated by the numbers of people involved that I did a head count and estimate  that at times there were around 200 people on stage.  Some of those were extras (perhaps stage hands dressed in costume etc), and included the wonderful 30 strong children’s choir used in Carmen, and the ballet of which there were about 30 performers.  No microphones are used in either the orchestra pit of on the stage, yet everything can be heard clearly.   To cap it off, each of these productions, complete with both lavish sets and costumes, is only performed once.  The crew then bump out that production, bump in the next and are ready for the performance all within around 18 hours.  And so it continues in this vein for around 2 months.  An extraordinary feat.  Sitting on the steps in the arena it costs the grand total of 25 Euro per performance, and though not the most comfortable, you miss nothing, and indeed from my point of view, you see more than on the floor of the arena for which you could pay as much as ten times more for a ticket!
The Arena

Sets for the operas are stored outside the arena and then either carried in or craned over the top
Aida.  The people standing on the set give an indication of the size of the sets


The "warning bell" was this cymbal.  She was always costumed, differently and appropriately for each performance.

Enough about the opera.  After a very “short” night with the late finish and an early train to catch I headed to Munich.  Here I was able to catch up with one new friend Mara, who I walked with for half a day about 6 weeks ago, and an old friend, Dominic, who lived with us fro a few months many years ago.    I am now headed home after a wonderful 4 months adventure.  The Via Romea Germanica is a very beautiful way, peopled with delightful characters only too willing to help and encourage.  I have seen and experienced many things that I would not have seen if I were on a bus tour.  Taking the time to see, smell and hear all that is happening around me, taking one day at a time, and  taking each of those days one step at a time has meant that I have had the great good fortune to travel the 2,200 km path in a way that has allowed be many privileges. 

Who knows when and where the next adventure will be.  Until then, I am signing off.  Thank you for your words of encouragement along the way.  I have greatly appreciated them.  Till next time, arrivederci.


Rome, what do I say about this place?.  Everywhere you look it is old –  ancient buildings and monuments.  Churches everywhere, so many that it is hard to remember which ones I visited.  Statues – on buildings, in buildings, on fountains, and on bridges. 

 I have a tendency to say hello to people I meet, at home, and while away.  On the path everyone says hello, but that doesn’t happen in the cities – especially big cities like Rome.  The other night as I was walking back to my room I said “Buonasera” to an older woman walking towards me.  She stopped and spoke in Italian, and at my bewildered look she reverted to English.  Her question was: “Do I know you?”  When I responded that probably not we fell into a good long chat about Rome in her childhood – then, and now.  It might not be the custom in Rome to greet people (as she informed me), but from my greeting an interesting half hour followed, with both of us standing in the middle of the street chatting. 

The big thing that struck me about Rome, apart from the crowds of people, was security.  The first thing I noticed were the army chaps standing, each with a machine gun, at prominent spots at the entrance to Piazza di San Pietro.  Later, as I moved around the city I saw many more police just wandering and watching, and at prominent buildings there were guard boxes with police on sentry there.  Added to that, the army was represented on many street corners, usually with a tent for shelter and a jeep parked next to it, standing sentry. 

Looking down onbthe Spanish Steps (above), and the further view out over Rome (below)

Sculptures, anncient buildings!
Pantheon (above)

The Colosseum

I was told that accommodation was fairly cheap in Rome at present because it is empty.  I would hate to see it when full!  Everywhere I went, particularly at the famous tourist sites such as the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps and of course the Piazza San Pietro, there were crowds of people.  People of all nationalities and all ages, and with varying abilities for walking!.   
The Trevi Fountain - with and without the crowds

The heat made it quite arduous getting around.  I would tend to go out in the morning, come back and have a siesta and then go out later in the early evening.  On my last evening there was a massive thunderstorm.  Heavy rain, brilliant flashes of lightning accompanied with massive thunder claps accompanied by a bit of a drop in temperature.  Fortunately I was close to the convent, and managed to get back without getting too wet, as the worst was to come.  The next morning, my day of departure from Rome, dawned wonderfully fresh and clear.  

I caught the train from Rome to Verona, the start of the journey home.  It was nice to reach Rome, have a bit of a look, but I was quite glad to leave the crowds behind for a while and relax on the train ride to Verona.  The train ride was on the fast train, but I still saw a fleeting glimpse of some of the villages I walked through.  More on Verona shortly.
just one of the many churches, this one at the end of my street (left), and the convent where I stayed (right).

Friday 20 July 2018

Rome – the final day on the Via Romea Germanica.

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

The Via Romea (as they call it in Germany) and the Via Romea Germanica (in Italy) is a wonderful path.  For the length of Germany it is not arduous until the last few days, and even then the climbs are gentle.  In Italy there are some more arduous parts – steep hills, long hot stretches too.  There are parts where it is quite reasonable cost wise – northern Germany and the Southern part in Italy, but there are some very expensive parts too – the tourist regions in central and  southern Germany and in the Tyrol.  In these parts one should be organised and book well ahead to get better priced accommodation.  Doing this though means that the element of spontaneous decisions on where to go and where to stay is removed.  So too planning needs to occur at weekends or festivals as some places are closed or harder to access.  On the whole there are few pilgrim abodes, compared to other pilgrimage routes.  The villages were interesting, full of history, winding streets, beautiful frescoes in the churches, and, to an Australian, ancient. 

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.