There is no finer way to end a pilgrimage than to receive a Papal blessing. I hurried along to St Peter’s Square yesterday at the ungodly hour of 7.30am to join the masses for the Pope’s weekly audience. The early start secured me a seat in row 7 which gave me a good view and a decent opportunity for my little Sony camera to snap the action.
I thought I was going to hate Rome. Our walk into the city last Friday showed us all the worst elements such as the huge litter problem, the aggressive traffic and the crumbling pavements and general infrastructure. But I soon acclimatised and grew to love the place. The more churches I saw, the more I loved it.
Rome has hardly changed since my other visit in 1975. But now all the big churches have armed guards. Instead of just wandering into St Peter’s it’s now like entering an airport. The Sistine chapel is crazy; they wouldn’t even let me take my large bottle of Frizzante inside. How ridiculous is that?
The hostel only allows pilgrims to stay for two nights. On Saturday I joined a group for a walking tour of some local churches. Do you remember back in Canterbury I mentioned a pilgrim who is carrying a Celtic harp to Rome? She was two weeks ahead of us at that point but arrived a couple of days earlier. She met us in the final church and played some music. Having fulfilled her media obligations she claimed her two nights in the hostel. After an impromptu lunch in the hostel’s kitchen the two of us visited the Roman Forum. It was a great chance to hear more about her incredible journey and to exchange reminiscences as well as to see the ancient world.
On Sunday I moved into an economical B&B right on the outside of the Vatican walls. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred metres from St Peter himself as the crow flies. I don’t know why but the owner asked me how I got there. It took some explaining and he gave me an extra croissant for breakfast.
Meanwhile Paul was in the midst of arranging a flight back to the USA and he took a lavish apartment with luxuries including a washing machine and a colour TV on which we watched the Italian Grand Prix. We enjoyed a couple more last suppers together before he departed. We shared the journey but more than that we shared the same suffering, the same doubts and the same toilet. How he groaned every time I ordered risotto.
Somehow we made it. We walked every step of the way. We drank the water from the bathroom taps. We slept in all sorts of accommodation from nasty hotels to castles, convents, abbeys, monasteries and that wonderful life saving psychiatric hospital. All in all it was a fairly satisfying accomplishment. Thank you to those who suggested I walk back: not this time. My boots are worn out. Over 2000 kilometres is their and my limit.
I appreciate everyone who has followed my blog and the encouraging comments which did much to keep my spirits up. Now I have to board my flight which will retrace my steps in a couple of hours or so. Goodbye until the next time.
Deep under Basilica San Clemente, in the 1st century.
St Peter’s chains
St Paul’s final resting place
if you wind back to the start you’ll see the 1975 version of this photo. Not a lot has changed