Thursday, 4 December 2014

DAY 99: Rome and home.

Wednesday 3 December.


It was just a day of travel from when we left the hotel at 10 am until we arrived home in Port Glasgow at 10 pm. We weren't on the move all the time and had to sit around at Rome airport and then at Gatwick for our connection to Glasgow.


We had another grand breakfast at 8 am then lay on the bed in our room until nearly 10 am when we made our way down to check out. It had been raining all night again and still lashing down when we got up but like yesterday the sky was now clearing and it turned into another sunny day. The Metro took us to Termini where we bought tickets for the train then there was a job finding the platform before we were on the train to the airport. We had to wait until 12:30 pm before we could check in and spent the time sitting at one of the seating areas attached to a cafe. We didn't buy anything like most of the others sitting there, it was the only place available to wait comfortably. Once we checked in and through security there were plenty of seats in the departure area.


The flight to London Gatwick was supposed to leave at 3:30 pm local time but was half an hour late getting off, it didn't matter to us as there was 2 hours to wait at Gatwick anyway for our connection. We were flying BA so they were a bit more generous with freebies than RyanAir, we got sandwiches and coffee then he came round again asking if anyone wanted more sandwiches, he didn't have to ask us twice! My flight wasn't very comfortable, I had a big fat guy in the seat next to me and he was taking up part of my space as well, I found it difficult to move.


At Gatwick after going through passport check at immigration we had a choice, North Terminal where we had come in or South Terminal, to get our connection. The ticket didn't tell us which one and there weren't any flight departure boards. We asked some other passengers who said they thought it was 'South' for Glasgow. We had to take a shuttle there and when we arrived there was still no departure boards or any indication about flights. At last we found an information desk and they said we should be at the North Terminal. I pointed out that there weren't any signs indicating this and she replied 'everybody knows the BA leave from the North Terminal'. 'Well we didn't' Moira responded sharply and the woman wasn't happy with us! Not very good service from a company wanting to expand with the new runway proposal.


It was back on the shuttle again to return to the North Terminal then security checks again. The alarm went off as I went through the electronic gates and the guard had to frisk me. He then asked me to take off my shoes and put them through the x-ray machine. We had about an hour to wait for our connection and Moira spent the time reading while I had a wander round the shops, especially Dixon's to look at the cameras. Everybody was on board the plane with plenty of time to spare according to the pilot and he negotiated an early take-off with the control tower, we arrived in Glasgow about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. It was only an hour's flight to Glasgow time for only a drink and a packet of potato crisps.


Our rucksacks had been sent right through and we now had to collect them. By the time we had completed the long walk from where we disembarked to the baggage collection carousel our bags were already going round, so there wasn't any waiting. We had intended to catch a bus to Paisley and then the train from there to Port Glasgow but with the flight arriving early we now had over an hour to wait for the next bus. The other alternative was to take the shuttle into Glasgow and pick up the train there but in the end we accepted the cost and took a taxi to Paisley Gilmour St. It only cost £6 and we were on a train to Port Glasgow at 9:20 pm then another taxi ( to hell with the expense! ) up the road home.


Suzy had been down today with the car and it was sitting outside the house for us, she also left muesli and yoghurt for our breakfast. The heating was on and the house was lovely and warm in contrast to when we arrived at the airport and had to get our rain jackets out to put on, it was so cold. There was some mince and rice that that Suzy brought for us that just had to be heated up in the microwave. We had that with a glass of wine for a late dinner. I tried to watch some TV but nodded off in the chair, so it was off to bed. It was a late anyway about mid-night Italian time.


So ends our Via Francigena and this blog. If you want to continue following our various adventures go to my other blog, Suzmar Travels,

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

DAY 98: ROME 2.

Tuesday 2 December.

The rain continued through the night and it was still pouring down when we went down for another lovely breakfast. Afterwards we went to a lounge where we sat at a table and wrote out postcards we wanted to send. They were all to people we had had encountered on the Via Francigena mostly at the gites and hostels along the way. Ones like Sister Lucy at Wisques, the two Sisters at the convent next to the prison at Clairwaux, the Mayor in Oriolitta in Italy and Madame Grenier, Mayoress in the French village of Franse-le-Chateau, the gite in Seveux with Roger and Nellie and their two little boys who helped with translations and computers, and the woman at the equestrian centre at Vermanc who had a collection of postcards from quests who had made it to Rome. Once we had finished we got into our rain gear to brave the elements but once we got out the rain had eased and some blue was beginning to show in the sky. It turned out to be the start of another lovely day.

We took the Metro to Termini. This is the main railway station and where we catch a train tomorrow to take us to the airport. We checked our where we go and how to get a ticket. Our book said that tickets can be obtained from the tobacconist's kiosk a few Euros cheaper but it wasn't the case, they were €14 wherever you bought them. We left the station and headed for Via Cavour which led to the Colosseum and saw an Indian restaurant on the way and tried to work out how we could get to it tonight for dinner. On the way down Cavour we passed a large church and tall pointed column in front on the Piazza Esquilino; Santa Maria Maggiore. It was another beautiful building but it was closed and couldn't see inside. Near the end of Cavour we had to turn left to get to the Colosseum and I expected the usual maze of narrow lanes and dead ends before we found a route there but this time as we turned the corner there were the walls of the huge amphitheatre ahead of us. As we walked along a car stopped and asked me for directions !! Funnily enough I managed to help having studied the map of the area sufficiently enough.

At the end of the street there was an overhead walkway where people were busy taking photographs from this vantage point, we joined them and the view was outstanding except for more renovations taking place on a large section of the walls which were covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins. Down to the right was a large square dominated by a stone arch, the Arch of Constantine. We went down to the square and made our way through people selling extendable rods to attach your camera for taking 'selfies', the latest quirk. It cost €24 to get into the Colosseum, there wasn't a concession for OAP's like us, even though the book said there was. Anyway it was worth it and we spent over an hour wandering round the perimeter of this Roman stadium for gladiator sports. First it was at ground level then we climb half way up to a route that made its way round again. It was crowded with tourists and we had to thread our way round them as they stopped to pose and take each other's photographs with the old structure as a backdrop. It was a marvellous spectacle and the underground tunnels and walkways in the central arena were exposed; these would have been covered in wooden flooring for the games, though sometimes they were removed and the bottom filled with water for mock naval battles. There were information boards telling the history of the building through the centuries and displays of relics and artefacts found during archeological work.

From the Colosseum we walked passed the Arch of Constantine up the Palatine Hill to the Roman Forum but his was another expensive place to enter. Instead we continued up the hill and got a view of the place from there, a large park with paths and pillars. Coming down again we saw the Colosseum now from a different angle through pillars in the Forum and stopped for a photograph. When we reached the bottom it was time for lunch and we decided to head back to the Indian restaurant at Termini for a curry.

It didn't take long to get back now we knew the way and were soon sitting down for lunch. It was just a small cafe cum restaurant but very popular and busy. Our order was a mutton curry, a chicken curry, one portion of rice and two naan breads. It was one of the best Indian meals we have had in a restaurant outside India. The taste and level of curry was just right and there was plenty of meat. The naan was piping got, straight from the oven and just right for mopping up the rich curry sauce. We were well satisfied and it cost a reasonable €17.

It was now 2 pm and we planned to start heading back via Piazza Venezia to the river. We thought it would be early when we got back to the hotel and could relax but it turned out to be a long way and starting to get dark when we did arrived there at nearly 5 pm. It was back down Via Cavour again then we cut across by Via Panisperna to the Piazza Venezia which was at the top end of the Roman Forum. Before arriving there was a smaller piazza with domed churches and the tall engraved Tore Imperiale.The engravings or frieze went all the round and round right to the top. In Pizza Venezia, designed by Michelangelo, were the wide steps going up to the Vittoriano with statues of charioteers and winged warriors and the National flags flying, here was the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Leaving the piazza we found our way successfully to the river though the street names didn't correspond with the map at times. It was a long walk but a beautiful one on the tree lined pavement above the Tiber. As we tramped along through the thick bed of leaves covering the pavement the views of the river and many bridges were outstanding giving sharp photographs in the late afternoon light as the sun began setting. When we reached the bridge over to the Castel San Angelo where we started our walk yesterday we were only halfway along the river to our destination, the Metro at the Piazza Popolo where we finished last night. It was a very pleasant stroll but now we were getting tired when we reached the bridge where the Metro line crossed the river to the station near the archway leading to the piazza. For some reason the Metro station was closed, we tried another entrance but it was also shut. Now we had to make our way back to the river and cross the bridge to the other side then make our way to the next station on the line at Lepanto. At first we were worried that the Metro might be stopped for some reason and would have to get a bus back but as we crossed the river a train passed on the line next to the road. Everything was all right at the next station and it wasn't long before we were back at our hotel room.

After such a wonderful lunch we weren't hungry and just had our what we normally have mid-day for our dinner; a sandwich and an apple. It had been another hard day on the city streets, we had been on our feet for over 6 hours, it is equivalent to what we were walking each day on the VF. We stretched out on the bed, listened to the radio and relaxed until bedtime. Tomorrow is the final stage of our adventure as we head back to Scotland. It has been a wonderful 3 months and the final few days sightseeing in Rome have been very enjoyable, a truly lovely city.









Monday, 1 December 2014


Monday 1 December.


There was no rush this morning and it didn't seem natural after 3 months of continually preparing for another day on the road. We went down for breakfast at 8 am and it was the best we have have since leaving home. It was a buffet with cereal, fruit salad, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, cold meats, cheeses and all types of bread and croissants. The coffee was also help-yourself, I could have as much as I wanted.


We set out for our sightseeing expedition after breakfast. I carried one of the rucksacks with the pot and cooker for making coffee and our rain jackets. It felt funny with most of the weight gone. The first plan for the day was to head for St Peter's to obtain our Testimonium, the certificate that is presented to pilgrims with properly stamped credentials proving they have walked the required distance. You are only required to walk about 130 km from Acquapendente to qualify but we went the whole hog and did it all ! The office didn't open until 9:30 am and being early decided to visit the Basilica first. There was a walkway through the piazza with barriers leading up to the domed church lined with security people, the kind in dark suits and mirrored sunglasses not the quaint Swiss guards. Our bags had to go through a x-ray machine like the airport while we went through an electronic detector gate. After all that I wasn't allowed to take the rucksack into the Basilica and had to leave it at bag depositing point where I was issued with a numbered tag. After all that I was then expecting to come to the desk where we paid to get in but was pleasantly surprised when there was no charge.


The place was absolutely magnificent. We have never seem anything like it before. The enormous dome, the marble pillars, the huge statutory, the paintings and St Peter's tomb were truly exceptional. We spent about an hour just wandering round in amazement. The odd thing about it was that it didn't appear to be a church more of a museum and didn't have a place where people normally lit candles. We had decided that even though we aren't Catholic or particularly religious we would light a candle at St Peter's for George Campbell who, having died of Pancreatic Cancer earlier this year, had inspired our pilgrimage and also one for our next door neighbour Betty Brady who passed away recently from a heart attack. I asked at the information desk and was told they didn't do that in the Basilica. We would have to find another church.


The next job was our Testimonium and we had instructions that came with our stamped credentials booklet and included a map of how to get there. It was round the side of the Basilica and here there were two of the Swiss guards at the gate who directed us to more modern security people and checks before getting into a more private section of the Vatican. When we arrived at the offices it was a bit of a let-down, I thought that there would be more of a fuss made over our achievement but our credentials were taken and while we stood in reception the man went off and prepared our Testimonium. Before we left I asked about lighting candles and he directed us to a church on the other side of the Piazza. It was a job finding this small church and we had to ask twice at the Tourist Info for directions. There were more Swiss guards there but no more security checks to get in. It was a small church and a bit disappointing that the candles were of an electronic variety where you pressed a button to light them. But we had to be satisfied with that and spent a few minutes remembering both George and Betty. Before leaving the Vatican we got some of their postage stamps and sent off a few post cards.


With all the essential business done we set off for a tour round the other attractions in the city. The weather had turned out nice, the rain of last night had cleared and it was sunny and very warm. From the Vatican we made our way towards the River Tiber and the Castel d'Angelo, a circular castle on a hill overlooking the river. From one of the bridges crossing the river we had a splendid view looking back to the down of St Peter's. We made our way down the now familiar narrow Italian streets, hunting for the names that as usual didn't correspond with our map, eventually got to the Piazza Navona. This was a huge square with fountains and more enormous statues. There were seats to sit and listen to the musicians that were playing or watch the many street artists selling their pictures or offering to paint your portrait.


From the piazza with many wrong turnings we got to the Pantheon. It was in another large piazza and outside it wasn't very impressive but inside was the basilica, another extraordinary place. It was circular with yet again a huge dome and more statues and paintings. It was now getting difficult to take it all in, there was so much to see. Outside again, people were sitting at restaurants for lunch or on benches eating take-away slices of pizza while more street musicians entertained. We found a pizzeria and got two slices of a nice thick pizza with plenty of cheese, salami and tomato. Earlier we had bought a couple of beers and that was our lunch.


The next stop was the Trevi Fountain, made more famous by the film 'Three Coins in a Fountain' but it was a disappointment. It was undergoing some repair and renovation work, covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins. There was still a walkway through the middle where we could see the some very large statues and even though they were half covered in poles and tarps it didn't stop people snapping away with their cameras The fountain had been drained and we could see all the coins on the bottom thrown in as people made their wishes.


By this time we were beginning to feel tired. We may have walked nearly 2000 km but trekking around city streets can be more exhuasting. We decided to make our way up to the Piazza di Spagna then head for a Metro station. There was a church above the piazza but it was also shrouded in tarpaulins, Rome must have got some EU handout for all there renovations. On the way between we popped into two churches as we passed, Chiesa di S. Ignazio di Loyola and Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo. What a surprise they were, the walls and ceilings were completely covered in murals and columns of marbles shining in the well lit church. There were yet again outstanding statues and paintings making just these comparatively small church's breathtaking. The first one had real candles and we made up for the earlier electronic ones but lighting two more here.


Continuing our walk from the Piazza di Spagna we made our way up the wide Via del Corso to the Piazza del Popolo. There more work was being done cleaning the statues as we headed across the square and through the archway to the Metro station. It didn't take long getting back but when we came out of the station at the other end it was beginning to rain. We made it to the hotel before it really started to pour down and didn't get wet.


We were going to eat out tonight and about 6 pm the rain had gone off and we headed for a small restaurant on the road near the Metro station. It was a sort of buffet, the different meals were laid out on the counter and you selected what you wanted and then they heated it up. Moira picked the lasagne while I had a large portion of spaghetti and tomato sauce with chicken and vegetables added as an extra. It was very nice, one large dish is what we are used to and is enough to keep us going. We got back to our room before the rain came on again and it was heavy with thunder and lightening all night.


We listened to the radio and tried to get in touch with Suzy on FaceTime but for some reason it wouldn't connect. Yesterday we spoke to Margaret all right but there must be a fault with Suzy's Internet provider. Tomorrow will be more sightseeing, there is still the Colosseum to visit !