Sunday 30 November.
This was our final day, we would enter Rome and all the hard work and effort would be over. We were down at 7 am on the dot for the restaurant opening with our bags all ready to go. It was a good breakfast with muesli and yoghurt included. We wanted an early start as all of the route was on the road and where, reportedly, in places there would be no pavement. The idea was that if we got off just after 7am it would be quiet, especially it also being Sunday. I had written out the description of the route from Cicerone last night so we would know where we were, hopefully.
The first section kept to the Via Cassia and passed the Chapella della Visione where the actual last section in our guide book began. There were waymarks but infrequent though I was following them and missed a turning onto a quieter road suggested by Cicerone. We were on the Via Cassia for another kilometre before the waymarks joined up with the Cicerone version again and from then on they both agreed. The pavement had continued along the roadside and the traffic wasn't particularly heavy but when we left the Via Cassia and joined the Via Trionfale there were about 2 kilometres with just a small hard shoulder. This road now went all the way into the heart of Rome and we would be on it most of the way. After this initial section the rest was through housing and shopping areas with good pavements. A strange thing about this road was the house numbers, at the start they were between 11000 and 12000. That meant 5500 each side and if there was, say, 10 metres between each house we would have 55 km to go. Fortunately when we reached the city precincts the numbers took a sudden dive from many thousands to just over a hundred.
There wasn't any parks on the way in to stop for a coffee but we did find a bench at the side of a street where I got the cooker going. We got some strange looks from passers-by out for a Sunday morning stroll. On the move again there was a long steady climb up one of the 'Seven Hills of Rome' to Mons Gaudi and as we crested the top there was the Eternal City laid out before us with the huge dome of St Peter's dominating the picture.
It was breathtaking and now we realised we had made it. Down the hill on the other side and still on the Via Trionfale we made our way towards the Vatican through now crowds of tourists. As we followed the route described by Cicerone, no waymarks now, there was a queue for the Vatican Museum it stretched down a hill and round corners, fortunately we weren't going that way. We turned a corner, people were still joining the queue, and ahead was an archway. Through this was a colonnade of tall white columns and then the Piazza San Pietro, St Peter's Square and the Basilica. Our long pilgrimage, all the way from Canterbury in England through France, Switzerland and Italy, was over. The first thing was to take some photographs to record the event and I got a friendly tourist to take one of us together. Then a young Australian lad talked to us and when he heard of our mammoth walk wanted our photos. He told us that if we wanted to visit the Basilica we would have to join another queue that snaked all the way round the square. Seemingly on the last Sunday of the month entry is free, at any other time it is something like €15 and quieter. We decided to come back tomorrow and pay the money.
We were staying at La Salle, a religious retreat and hotel where Moira's brother Alex had stayed when he was in Rome a few months ago; he recommended it. Moira had managed to make reservations on 'booking.com' and we were staying for three nights. Moira had also booked our flight back to Glasgow for Wednesday. At the info office just off St Peter's Square we got a city map and directions to the nearest Metro station. It was the Ottaviano and on a street directly up from the Basilica. Earlier Moira had bought tickets for the Metro at a news stand; it is a fixed price, €1:50 per journey, and she got 10 tickets which should do us for our stay in the city. It was just 4 stops to Cornelia station where Alex had directed us to get off. He said to make sure we left by the correct exit but didn't say which one that was, we were lucky and our accommodation was only a short way round the corner on Via Aurelia. It didn't take them long to process our passports and issue the key to the room; we booked dinner for tonight but it's not until 8 pm just like in Spain. The room was smaller than the ones of the last few nights but it was all right and the water lovely and hot in the shower. Moira made some soup from a packet that had some left in it for lunch and there was a hard boiled egg as well.
The WiFi was good and we didn't have to bother with a password. I sent off some emails to the family, Pancreatic Cancer and the Greenock Telegraph telling them we had arrived and made it, with a photograph of us in front of St Peter's Basilica. Later we went out for a walk but we were tired after the slog into the city this morning so just had a stroll round the area near the hotel. It was well out of the city centre and the tourist regions so not a great deal of interesting things to see but it gave us a breath of fresh air. We have two full days to see all the attractions, the only problem will be the weather, rain is forecast.
We relaxed when we got back to our room and listened to the radio until it was time to go down for dinner. We were the only ones having the dinner and I had to go looking for somebody to serve us. It was all right but Moira wasn't impressed. We had a pasta with ham to start, pork fillet in batter with vegetables and salad next then fruit and cake to finish. We will probably eat out somewhere else for the next two nights; what we would like is a big lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese, and enough just in one course to do us. Back in the room it was after 9 pm, bed time and also time to reflect on what we had done.
Looking back over the last 3 months it had been a real challenge. The most demanding and lengthy walk we have ever undertaken. Before starting it was just thought to be one day at a time and one foot in front of the other. That was just the physical side but mentally it was even more taxing. On the very first day it was nearly disaster with my back seizing up and after that it was always a worry that kept nagging at the back of my mind. Going through France I didn't think I was ever going to make it and spent my time thinking about how to bale with dignity. I became a bit happier as we progressed but then considered maybe if I managed to halfway we could stop and come back later to complete it. What knocked that idea on the head was Eileen arranging a coffee morning at the beginning of November to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer. I couldn't stop before that so kept going. By the time that fund raising event was over we were halfway down Italy, so It was a case of 'might as well finish it now'. Well we are here, in St. Peter's Square in Rome having completed the nearly 2000 km from Canterbury and I'm glad I had enough willpower to overcome my doubts. When I used to run in South Africa for Benoni Harriers nobody dropped out from a race because 'Danny's boys don't bale' a saying from an old Marathon Captain, Danny Ousthazen; this was the mantra that helped me when ever I faltered.
On the other hand Moira was strong and never seemed to have any doubts of making it. She suffered from blisters, sore feet, and various other ached and pains but just soldiered on. She was an inspiration and put me to shame at times with all my complaints and moans when things weren't going as planned.
Now it is over and after a few days of wandering around Rome it will be home for Christmas and the New Year before heading of the Canary Islands in January.