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Friday, 27 June 2014

Leaving on a Jet Plane but left a coin in the Fountain

Well it has finally come to an end. I am sitting in Rome airport waiting for the baggage counter to open. The past few days have been sightseeing and people watching and the heat has been incredible. Wednesday was a Vatican day and we had obtained two free tickets from the Swiss Guards little knowing that this was the last audience with the Pope before the summer break. The atmosphere was electric with over 80K people crowded into St Peters Square and there we were about five rows from from the front and in a prime spot. I was of the opinion that after walking the strenuous St Francis Way and the fact that it was my birthday then prime seats were the least Frank could arrange. The whole thing lasted several hours and he didn't render even one verse of happy birthday.  Our intention was that since we had spent a week in Rome before then this time we would just sit back, find a nice little cafe and people watch, but as always we didn't have the patience and we went walking round the sights. We did however meet some lovely people including two Croatian men we had encountered on the walk and who were celebrating their walking achievement by drinking litres of beer and glasses of whiskey. I'm just a lightweight so after about an hour we left and made our way back to the Michaelangelo Hotel which overlooks the Vatican. By tomorrow morning we will be back in Carrick and in a few days will be able to sit back and assess our experience. The toughness of the walk, the great places we stayed in, the fantastic people we met, the wonderful Italian food and wine and the fact we have done something that is still very rare. At the moment however, I am an impatient traveller, and just want to get home.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

My next holiday is a cruise


Mary here. I have not blogged this trip for two reasons. Firstly, each night I was absolutely exhausted and secondly I was usually too grumpy to be rational. The weather was either in the high 30s or torrential rain. We climbed and climbed then climbed some more. The signs disappeared, the paths disappeared, mobile signal disappeared. I got bruised and cut from brambles and bitten by bugs despite the strongest bug spray.
But we have spent nights in some amazing accommodation that we never would have seen if we had not been walking. We have been in some of the remotest parts of Italy that tours will never reach.  We have met the loveliest people in the Italian countryside that cities can't replicate. We have enjoyed Italian cuisine with not a pizza in sight. So taking all that into consideration this has been a fantastic experience though one that I won't be in a hurry to repeat.
With my old teacher hat on I am remembering that this is the last week of term for hardworking teachers and pupils. Rory finishes P 1, Oonagh finishes Upper 6 th,  Calum finishes play group . My old mucker Cate retires after so many years teaching and guiding the young women of North Belfast. Her calm and intelligent ways have soothed not only her pupils but their anxious parents in many sensitive situations. She has also been a listening ear to fellow teachers in need of reassurance. No one deserves a happy, healthy retirement more. Looking forward to many coffee mornings in the years to come!
So, have an appointment with Pope Francis tomorrow. I wonder will he mention Colin's birthday??




The final stamp

This was the morning we have been looking forward to for the last two weeks and at various times during the walk we had grave concerns on whether we would make it. It was a bright and early start and the hotel staff sent us off with a warm greeting although the lady on reception was at a loss to understand why we wanted to walk to St. Peter's  Square. The sun was shining and in our over enthusiasm we set off at a brisk pace. The road was busy and we had to weave our way at times between people and traffic. The beauty of this walk today, unlike the previous days, was that we could make cafe stops whenever we wanted. Soon we were passing the Muslim Centre and then the various Embassies and then suddenly the famous sights of Rome opened up in front of us. We crossed the Tiber at the Ponte Regina Margherita instead of the Ponte Milvio, since we are still using google instead of relying on the unreliable signs, and there in front of us was the the dome of St Peters. Standing in St. Peter's square with the sun shining and surrounded by tens of thousands of people was a strange experience. Unlike the end of the Camino in Santiago there is no meeting of fellow pilgrims but never the less we enjoyed our finishing experience and soaked up the atmosphere. We then had to join the vast crowd that lines up to get through security and into the Basilica. At the main entrance to St Peters we asked where did we have to go to get our passbooks stamped in order to complete our journey. Well at that point everything changed. We were no longer just part of the visiting masses, no, we were Pellegrinoes, and the red carpet treatment was rolled out. In front of all the crowds the red barrier was removed and we were escorted into the sacristy. As we waited for an official to arrive we marvelled at seeing the behind the scenes in the Vatican. The official then asked for our passbooks that we had stamped each day of the walk at churches, town halls, or hotels, and he then took these away in order that they could be checked and verified. We had a ten minute wait before he returned and presented us with our parchment certificates confirming that we had completed the walk and gave us back our passbooks with the final stamp from the Vatican. We had done it and it was at that point that it became emotional. We were then escorted back into the main church where we were given tickets for tomorrow's audience with the Pope. I knew he wouldn't forget my birthday and I am expecting a slice of Vatican birthday cake. Will let you know tomorrow how the audience goes.

Monday, 23 June 2014

All this walking and you end up with a big Mac

When we woke up this morning we knew that it was special because later that afternoon we would reach the outskirts of Rome and our journey would be almost over. After breakfast we put on our haversacks and with the help of google maps headed out of Monterotondo for the Marcigliana National Park. Even the intense morning heat couldn't put a negative slant on our spirits as we walked through the slightly undulating park towards the iconic site of one of civilisations most ancient towns, Crustumerium. Not only is the sight impressive it also has a very humbling effect as it brings into perspective the length of time civilisation has been developed here. The walk continued through the park and then exploded on to the outer suburbs of Rome. When I say exploded that is what it felt like. For almost two weeks we have been walking through reasonably deserted countryside hearing only the sounds  of nature and now we were confronted with the sounds of urban living. The noise from the traffic and from people was almost deafening. The amount of traffic and people took some getting used to as we first passed the Acqua Sacra where even today people fill containers of pure spring water. As we walked into the Sacra Monto district we started to look for accommodation and were lucky to quickly find a nice hotel called Pergola. Don't be put off by the name it really is quite nice even though the counter staff had never heard of anyone who had walked from Assisi to Rome. We really had rejoined modern society when we went out last night for our evening meal in a Mc Donald's. Don't know how I feel about tomorrow. The end of a journey is always special but unlike the Camino we will not be sharing this experience with other people. Anyway let's wait and see what happens.

Long Sunday walk

Well folks on a glorious Sunday morning we had to tear ourselves away from Sylvia, her family, and their farmhouse accommodation. Describing this as a farmhouse B and B would do it a great disservice. This is a complex organisation that has a beautiful swimming pool open to paying members, a log cabin at the pool for snack food, horse riding, vast acres of olive trees and their own label olive oil, cherry orchards, goat herd and their own goats cheese and of course a fabulous rural restaurant. Last night we had a stunning meal which even included their own produced honey. Everything was local produce and Italian food at its best. This morning their son, David, drove us back to the village and we started another stage of our walk. Today's walk was special as this was the first time we had no hills to climb. We walked along country roads towards Nerola where the Orsini Castle overlooks the countryside perched high on a rocky outcrop. No I didn't go up to see it but admired it from a distance that was on flat ground. It was a warm but enjoyable walk through the olive tree filled countryside until we reached Montelibretti with its famous 10th Century Palazzo Barberini and impressive defence walls with their lookout towers. On leaving Montelibretti, where we had a quick lunch, the olive trees disappeared and we then walked through vast orchards. Even though, on paper this was our longest distance, because it was flat, it was our best days walking. The scenery had really changed because it was all so organised and cultivated but never the less it was marvellous to finally see Monterotondo in the distance. Even though we arrived late in the afternoon our spirits were high when we finally booked into our small hotel that our previous nights hosts had recommended and had then phoned through a booking. Tomorrow we reach the outskirts of of Rome and will unbelievably have nearly finished. By the way these blogs were all written each night using the old fashion pen and paper,since there was very limited network , and now since we are near Rome  and I am getting a signal at long last I am typing them out and sending.

The hills are steep but the people are tops

Saturday 21st was a day when the Italian people showed their compassion and kindness to two mad strangers from Ireland who are doing a walk most Italians wouldn't consider doing unless it was by car. The day started with a warm 8am trek from the farmhouse accommodation to the small hamlet of Poggio San Lorenzo along breathtaking scenery. When we can get a signal we are using Google Maps to mark out our route since the official markings are so rare and unreliable. It was a pleasant walk into San Lorenzo but even at this early part of the morning the temperature was rising. From San Lorenzo we headed in the direction of Poggio Molano and after about an hour of easy walking we came upon a small roadside cafe run by two elderly sisters who were very pleasant and I enjoyed a wonderful cup of strong Italian coffee that would put hairs on your chest. (Mind you the skin head hair cut I got before leaving would need some strong coffee to help it). At the next roundabout this walk did its usual and went vertical. The climb for about 2 hours, in the heat, on a asphalt road, was something I could not describe in this blog, for fear that google censorship would close down the site. Feet burning, lungs bursting, and legs aching, we made the small but busy town of Poggio Molano where again the Italian people showed their spirit of kindness. People actually came over to us and asked where we had walked from and where we were going to? The local priest took me into his house, stamped our passbooks and with a smile and a blessing greeted us as pilgrims. Unfortunately our normal 20 minute midday stop turned into almost an hour and if there had been accommodation we might have stayed but we had to lift up our belongings and in true pilgrim fashion start walking on our journey. We have all seen television programmes about the worlds great journeys (train, boat, car,etc), well I want to do one on the Worlds Vertical or Rising Roads and I bet most of them are in Italy. Top of the list would be the bugger from Poggio Molano to Scandriglia. Our first distant view of Scandriglia was of buildings perched high above us on top of a very steep cliff and I thought, " no it can't be", (clean sanitised version) but it was. At 4.30 we finally made it and collapsed at the traditional fountain in the small square. We had no accommodation since we couldn't get a signal so I went into a small grocery shop to see if anything could be found for the night. Even though the lady in the shop spoke no English she took us under her wing. She went looking for accommodation and recruited another lady from the shop opposite in the quest. After 30 mins, a lot of phone calls and hand waving, they informed us everything was OK. They said that Sylvia had a farmhouse restaurant and would put us up. Within another 10 minutes Sylvia arrived in her car and transported us to an idyllic place with a restaurant and hospitality that was second to none.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

After a break of a few days I have finally got a signal for the iPhone. This part of Italy suffers from signal failure and even the locals complain about it. On Friday morning we left the historic town of Reite and started what on paper was to be an  easy 22K to our next stop in Poggio San Lorenzo. The journey out off Reiti was reasonably flat and we reached the famous drinking fountain with ease. That is  if we hadn't had to constantly look for the official signs that are a total shambles. Then things started to change, we were still on a busy main road and it was climbing up into the mountains and not following the valley. By the time we reached Sabina we felt that there couldn't be any more hills to climb but after near two hours walking we turned on to a side road and it started to climb to Rocca Sinibalda. Five hours of non stop climbing and we were about to throw in the towel when we reached a garage and stopped for drinks and a rest. I will never forget that glass of ice cold coke. Revived spiritually and mentally we joined yet another side road that 12k later would take us to today's finish but it started to do what all roads seem to do around here it went vertical and for another three hours we made slow progress. We were a sorry sight when we finally arrived at our Farm House accommodation, Santa Guista, and the first thing the owner did was offer us a stiff drink. Even finding the Farm House had proved problematic and if it hadn't been for a lovely expat English woman we might not have reached it. What is it about Italy and communications? The signs for this walk are a total joke and no internet. I was in really foul mood yesterday at the finish and at that stage would have advised anyone to think again about doing this walk. Haven't changed my mind since. It's not all negative. The people, the food, and the accommodation have been fantastic.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Downhill all the way

Last night was the first time we have met people doing roughly the same walk as us. An Italian lady, a lady from Belgium who spoke four languages fluently, and a man from Holland, and all three had at some time walked the Camino Santiago. We all joined together and enjoyed a lovely meal in a local cafe and the happy memories of Camino friendship came flooding back. Mary and I have missed the companionship of fellow travellers and especially the company of old friends Austin and Pauline who shared our walk and my grumpy moods this time last year. There were times this year when Austins navigational skills would have come to the fore up on the mountains. This morning we took our time leaving Poggio Bustone and enjoyed a breakfast in the same cafe as the previous night. There was a heavy fog lying over the mountain and it wasn't until about 9.00 before the sun started to burn through it and we started to walk. The walk started very steeply down hill and this can be as bad as going steeply uphill because it puts a lot of pressure on your knees and hips and we were glad after we had passed through Bezzecca that we soon left the road surface and joined a trail down through the forrest. After about 2K we came out of the trees at the water fountain in the small hamlet of San Liberato where we took a short rest before proceeding onto what was described as a mule track. We made our way to Goisue Carducci  where we went up the 300 steps to Cantalice and the church of  San Felice. From the front of the church the Panasonic view of the landscape sweeping below you is amazing with Terminillo to the east and to the west the Reite plain with its lakes glistening in the sun. The next stone path guided us, after about 3K, to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria where we had a short rest at the convent. The final 4K were on minor roads that weaved their way through rows of vines and olive trees. It was a pleasant walk until you hit the edge of the city of Reite and like all cities it becomes boring walking through industrial estates and then acres of apartments. By 1.30 we had reached the old town with its magnificent walled fortification and soon found Plazza Oberadon and tonight's accommodation in the Hotel Miramonti.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Our friend the cat

Well this morning we left our accommodation in Pudiluco and stopped for breakfast in a small cafe overlooking the beautiful lake and watched the Italian rowing squad training. The first part of today's walk took us through the National Rowing Centre and we were looking forward to a pleasant day in bright sunshine. The guide said to go along the flat and then uphill to Labro. What it didn't say was that Labro was on top of a mountain and the path was very steep, overgrown with vegetation and badly marked. It took us over one and a half hours of hard effort and a strange thing happened on the way. We had come to a fork in the path with no markings to indicate the way. Out of nowhere a golden coloured cat appeared and took the left fork, the cat came back and rubbed against us, so we followed it. The cat went in front of us for about 3K, at times turning around to walk between our feet, until we finally reached a bend in the path and the fountain of Wrasse appeared in front of us. We were on the right road and the cat turned around and went back down the path. At one point today, somewhere in the mountains we crossed from the region of Umbria to that of Lazio. We kept climbing through the quiet villages of Glues and Ruccilo that seemed completely deserted. We saw the cross of St. Francis and then the famous Beech of St Francis but quite honestly by that time I had lost the will to live. After all the hours of climbing the descent into the Holy Valley of Reite is equally as hard. Today's walk was said to be about 20K so you can imagine our surprise when at 2.30 we reached a crossroads that informed us that our nights destination in the Santuary ot Poggio Bustone was still 11K away. The last 2K into Poggio Bustone is sharp uphill and I don't think we would have made it if it hadn't been for the help and support of three young Italian chefs. When they heard what we had walked they thought we had covered about 34K and I must say it felt long. They would need to get distances and signs sorted out for this walk because it really isn't funny when you are doing it. Tomorrow is short and from our cliff top position we can see the lights of tomorrow's destination.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Vertical climbs, brambles and good food

Still no signal for the iPad and my wee fat fingers have problems with the phone keypad so excuse spelling mistakes. Last nights stay in the fortress apartment was different but at least I had enough dry clothes this morning to start the walk. The walk today was strange. The start was beautiful as we left Arrone and looked for somewhere to have breakfast but nowhere opens early in Italy so it was slices of pizza and glasses of water sitting at the side of the road. The first couple of hours were delightful walking along the old Roman road as it wound its way along the valley following the river. We passed through the beautiful village of Casteldilago and everything was perfect. After passing Santa Maria our journey totally changed.We had to climb out off one valley and cross into the next. It was the steepest, hardest hour and a half of vertical scrambling I have ever done. It was over loose stones and seemed to climb for ever. Finally we reached the summit at Cascata Delto Marmore where we stopped for several minutes to get some air into our lungs. What then followed was another delightful walk beside a river until we came near our destination, Piediluco, where the path narrowed and was covered in brambles before closing completely. Scratched and bleeding we had to make a detour and ended up crossing a corn field to join a road. When we eventually arrived in Piediluco at about 2,30 we stopped at the Trattoriada Mariln where the owner arranged our accommodation for the night. We have a fantastic room with a large balcony and Panasonic views of the lake. I have to say that the food on this journey has been unbelievable. Tonight's starter was truffles followed by baked trout. The food just gets better and better. It makes the walking worthwhile.
Today's blog is short and sweet because I have no signal for the iPad and have to use the iPhone. Last night in Scheggino was the best and friendliest I have ever experienced on any walk. After a fabulous breakfast and photographs with our host we set off on our way to Ceselli. The path today follows the river Nera and the old Roman road winds it's way through the valley of the Nera River Park. This has been the best signposted part of the journey. Because we were walking on the valley floor there was little air and the conditions were warm and humid, that said it was pleasant walking and the miles went in quickly. At a small hamlet we stopped for a break and watched an old woman wash clothes in an outdoor trough, this wouldnt be seen at home. In the small village of Ferentillo we took refuge from a thunderstorm in the local bar where we met three English couples who were just finishing a week of walking. It was nice to spend an hour with fellow travellers as this doesn't happen very often on the Via Roma. When the storm passed we said our goodbyes before walking the last few miles to Arrone. Our accommodation tonight is in Casteldilago, a fortified battlement above the town of Arrone and without the kind help of the local, Big Tom, who took us there in the back of his builders van we would still be looking. It was nice to finally get a shower but when I came out of it I discovered that Mary had been motivated by the old lady and had washed everything, yes everything. I couldn't leave the apartment and was dresses in a towel for the rest of the day.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

What a difference a day makes or Mary whips off her wet teeshirt

Well folks this was the hardest day yet and on paper it was to be the easiest. This journey is certainly not as organised as the Camino and can be quite confusing. The day started with us leaving Spoleto in bucketing rain ,it was coming down in stair rods, but our spirits were good and we made the hard uphill climb to the famous viaduct. Now some people will know that Mary doesn't appreciate heights and her coping strategy is to put the head down and get across as quickly as possible and I am glad to say that the German group coming across from the opposite direction moved aside before there was an International incident. The path climbed across the mountain as described by the expert in the tourist information in Spoleto, take Umbrian Park path number 3, make turnoff to path 5 and then follow path 8 to Scheggnio, it will be tough but it is only 14K. After several hours of uphill climbing over white stones and dust that had turned to mud we were confronted by a wide river dissecting the path. This was becoming like one of those stupid management courses, how do you get two people and two haver sacks across a raging torrent without getting bloody drowned? You take off your socks and shoes, roll up your trouser legs and walk. After five minutes we were across, wet and tired. As I stood there soaked through from the rain with wet cold feet the expert from the tourist office was lucky that he wasn't near me. I'm not a happy person with wet cold whips clinging to me and murder was on my mind. Believe it or believe it not but things got even worse. We made it on to trail 8 which informed us we were only 1hour from our destination when like magic the trail disappeared. Yes disappeared. Trees, shrubs, wild countryside and no path, so we had no choice but to turn back. It seems that the Umbrian Authorities mean for the paths to be there at some stage but haven't completed them all. Some joke that is and I wasn't laughing. A detour of over 7 miles finally got us to  Scheggnio and the best accommodation ever. I have written tonight after copious amounts of local red wine which has considerably mellowed my mood or you would have been subject to a blog containing very foul and abusive language. Mary god love her just kept her head down, ignored my grumbling but could have been arrested when she stripped out off her wet shirt at the side of the road. But that would be a story for a winter night with large mugs of Irish Coffee.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Cream buns for lunch

We met our Dutch friends at breakfast this morning and they were in jubilant spirits after last nights World Cup victory. After breakfast we followed the winding streets through Trevi as they wound their way around the mountain until they reached the valley. The walk was the best yet as we walked through the acres of olive trees in the early morning sunshine. This region of Italy is world famous for olive oil. The markings on this walk can be rather confusing with signs for the Via Roma and Via Francigena being in conflict. We have been following the blue and yellow of the Via Roma but after about three hours walking a yellow arrow directed us to follow a path to the left. After going through several small villages the signs stopped and all we could do was to keep on going. Unfortunately we ended up walking along a main road for about four kilometres and it wasn't until we reached the Fonti Del Clitunno we were able to get back on track and follow the road to  San Giacomo. We stopped for a break in the square in San Giacomo and unexpectedly came across an absolutely fabulous pastry shop. I must say that my fresh fruit bun and cup of coffee was a very tasty lunch. An hour and a half later we were walking into the city of Spoleto but unfortunately the thunderstorms that have been threatening got us before we could reach our hotel. The thunder roared, the forked lightening flashed across the skyline and the rain was torrential. At around 3 o clock two wet Irish walkers finally arrived at the hotel  Dei Duchi in the centre of the old city of Spoleto. Tomorrow is a mountain walk through the Umbrian National Park but for tonight I am looking forward to the football match between Italy and England.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Truffles and mushrooms

Last night in Spello was the best meal I have ever had, that was until tonight in Trevi. Last night Mary had truffles and tonight I had truffles with wild mushrooms and Trevi olive oil. The walking is worth it, if only for the food. This morning we had a really lovely walk through the old historic town of Spello and then down the hill towards Foligno. This was pleasant walking in the early morning sunshine. Foligno was a very impressive town and we stopped for a break in the main square and watched the world go by. After our rest we continued out through Foligno towards our destination , Trevi, and walked along pleasant tree lined avenues. At this point I was really enjoying the walk without a hill in sight. As we turned off the path and headed for the village of Mattige on the Via Flaminia the incline started to increase and there in front of us was the hill town of Trevi. It looked impressive perched on top of the hill until the realisation hit us, we had to climb that hill. It was a hard hour of walking but eventually we made the lower plaza and stopped for a well earned drink. During today's walk there was the constant rumble of thunder echoing over the hills and at one point a flash of forked lightening. This is a sign of the change of weather with tomorrow being forecast as thunder showers. Tonight we met for the second time a lovely Dutch couple who are also doing the Via Roma. Trevi is yet another of those historical Roman towns that oozes history and atmosphere and we had a leasurely walk around its ancient walls and visited several museums before having dinner in an outdoor restaurant. Tomorrow's walk is about 25K so we will have to make an early start to finish before the afternoon heat and threatening thunderstorms.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The wild boar

This was the first morning of our walk and even though we would have preferred to have left earlier we decided to have breakfast that started at 7.30am. At eight we left the hotel after being waved off by the manager and set off for the long climb through Assisi . We stopped at the doors of the Basilica San Francesco so that our walk would be from St. Frances to St. Peter and then struggled up through Plaza Commune and eventually to Porto Cappuccini where we would leave Assisi and take to the National Trails that criss-cross through the Umbrian countryside. If this was to be a gentle walk through Italy then it had got off to a bad start with vertical walking and warm humid conditions. The walk along trail 50 was challenging both in its incline and also the under foot conditions. By the time we reached Santa dele Carceri we were near exhaustion. This was the hardest mornings climb I have ever done and was in its intensity brutal, just sheer climbing for three hours with nowhere to stop for a break. At the sanctuary Emilo we stopped for a break and enjoyed not only a life saving cup of strong coffee but also the company of a Dutch couple. It was difficult leaving the sanctuary, the thought of what lay ahead, the stiffness that had settled in, I could have stayed there but the journey had to continue. We had decided to make the mountain path climb to Monto Carceri and quite honestly the difficulty of the walk took away the beauty of the scenery. You were concentrating so much on your footing and your breathing that scenery was not important. At 1284 mts the ridge was reached and it was pleasant walking to M.Civitello at 1261 and here the scenery was spectacular. A lunch of energy bars, fruit and water sitting on top of the world is worth the agonies you go through to get there. The downhill paths that looked OK on the ordinance survey maps were anything but easy and as we stopped for a few seconds break we heard rustling in the bushes to our left. I tell you the sight of a wild boar just feet away soon made fatigue disappear and the sight of two Irish walkers running like f!!! down a path would have looked amusing if there had been anyone around to see it. The run didn't last long, fear or no fear. At path 54 we had to made a decision. The path was so rocky, narrow and with a vertical drop to your right we decided to turn back and take a longer path with a lesser descent. It really is a bit of roundabouts and swings. The longer path took longer and with the heat reaching 34 degrees we were glad to finally see the rooftops of Spello.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Last day in Assisi

Our stay in Assisi has been nothing short of  amazing.  The unspoilt small city is a history of  mankind. Buildings from the Romans BC to Basilicas in honour of St. Francis, St Clare , San Rufino and the numerous churches. The beautifully decorated Piazzas of Piazza del Comune and Piazza del Vescovado to name just two with their ornate buildings and small intimate caf├ęs and restaurants and not a bit of graffitti in sight. It is all so perfect it actually seems unreal. We had a lovely walk yesterday through the in Umbrian countryside between the rows of olives to the Sanctury of San Damino where we spent time exploring  the restoration that was actually done by St. Francis. The walk back up the hill to Assisi in 34 degree heat was a little more uncomfortable. One of the highlights was seeing the original cross of St Francis that now hangs in Assisi's second great church Santa Chiara. It was nice seeing the original since we have a copy in our church back home. We registered for our walk at the Basilica di San Francesco and were given a lovely accreditation document that we now get stamped on our way to Rome. The road to Rome starts early tomorrow morning and follows mountain paths and trails all the way to Spello where we have prebooked accommodation. The path is very hilly but after four days in Assisi hills are the norm. Will let you know how we get on later

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Arrived Assisi

Well folks we have finally made it to the St. Francis City of Assisi. We left Belfast yesterday at 3.15pm on a cold, wet Saturday and arrived in Pisa, Italy, three and a half hours later, to be greeted by bright sunshine and heat. The hotel was easy to find and was really luxurious. Yesterday evening as we were walking past the Basilica we were drawn by the sound of singing. We ended up at the Pentecostal Vigil Ceremony with the Cardinal, about 30 priests, and a magnificent choir. It really was a wonderful experience and a fitting welcome to Italy. Today we travelled by train to Florence and then changed to the train that brought us about 31/2 hours later to Assisi. The first train journey was horrendous and we ended up standing for over an hour on a packed stiffling hot carriage. Has the age of chivalry really died? All these young men sitting and not one would offer Mary or the other women who were standing a seat. Anyway aside from that everything travel wise was without a hitch and the scenery was stunning. Our hotel in Assisi is two minutes from the St. Francis Basilica and with fabulous views is a real gem. We went for a quick tour of the Basilica and then walked the Via St. Francesco, eventually arriving at Plaza Comuno where we sat outside and had a really tasty Italian pasta meal washed down with a large glass of beer. Life doesn't get any better. First impression of Assisi is wow. I already have a sore neck looking up at the most elaborate and beautiful buildings. It is so beautiful and perfect it looks staged. Can't wait until tomorrow to explore. The only down side is the weather. It was 32 degrees today and that worries me for the walk. It looks like it will be very early starting times but we will think of that on Thursday and enjoy Assisi.