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 !