Wednesday 31 May 2023

Rome - Just walk, no grand plans needed

With only one day in Rome (but having spent many weeks here over the years) today's plan was to re-visit Isola Tiberina with fresh eyes. We had been there before but recently I read a novel* based around the saving of many Jewish people from the Nazis during WWII. A fake disease called 'Syndrome K' which the doctor claimed was deadly, disfiguring and contagious kept the Nazis from entering the Fatebenefratelli Hospital just across from the Jewish Ghetto. In Rome the rounding up and killing of Jewish people began in 1943.

But along the way I saw several sets of stairs that I could have used a few weeks ago, but I resisted the urge.

Vespas are always worth photographing, these decorated ones especially.

There are surprises everywhere in Rome, even after all the years we have been visiting we still find lots of new things to see and do. A fresco never fails to attract, this one on the Capitoline Hill.
The second photo below shows how the building from the second century A.D. is now nine metres below the street level. You can just see the fresco in the upper left.

This was the first glimpse of Isola Tiberina, Ponte Fabricio and the hospital.

The Fatebenefratelli Hospital was founded in 1585 and continues to be a major hospital in Rome. In fact an ambulance rushed in while we were on the island.

Our first gelato stop was oh, so good. THE best caffe gelato I have ever had ... or so it seemed!

The Basilica of San Bartolomeo all' Isola was constructed in the year 1000 but in recent years has taken up a modern image as the Sanctuary of the New Martyrs of the 20th and 21st Century.

In the side chapels are mementoes of the martyrs from the Nazi regime, in Europe, in Africa, during the Communist era, in America and in Asia and Oceania. As often happens, this is quite moving when you are seeing names and dates that you can relate to, rather than 'historic' events and people.

Outside again we could only look at the exterior of the former monastery and hospital complex.

In the novel I read that the Portico d' Ottavia was the location for a Nazi attack and the rescue of a small Jewish child. Across the Ponte Cestio we soon came upon the ruin of the portico, the remains of an ancient walkway built in the 2nd century link two Roman temples.

Close by was a  museum with photos and much detail on three concentration camps, Belzec, Sobibor  and Treblinka, where thousands of Jews were held captive and huge numbers exterminated. A moving and sad experience.

As we were walking towards the Tiber river we passed this coloseum-like ancient building, previously not seen.

Later we discovered that the Portico d' Ottavia was part of the same complex of ancient ruins and that it was the Teatro di Marcello. It was an open-air theatre built at the close of the Roman Empire. Visitors can wander freely amongst the ruins where the colours, shapes and textures are a delight. 

This area of ruins was the Jewish Ghetto and today still remains Jewish. The synagogue is there, as well as kosher food outlets and other distinctive features.

On we wandered past interesting shops, picturesque small streets with bougainvillia and jasmine in bloom and people enjoying their lunch in the delightful 27 degree sunny day.

Then we found Mercato Rionale Monti in via Baccina, a small food market. 
As we entered the building a man asked if we wanted a sandwich. We agreed and he produced the sandwiches with fresh ricotta cheese, mortadella and purple lettuce. With a Peroni, it went down really well. I also bought a slab of croccante, a crispy, salty, thin pastry.

We arrived home, having avoided the rain showers, and relaxed whilst working on journals and this blog. At 8 pm we walked to Piccolo Spazzio, a restaurant close to our hotel where we are always made welcome. Despite the coolish evening an Aperol spritz was enjoyed; always an essential when in Italy.

* What was the novel?  It was The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Well, That Was a Surprise! - Melbourne to Rome

Our 2023 Italian adventure sure started with a bang, but not the sort we expected. After all, Italy has earthquakes, not Melbourne! As we had a very early check-in on Monday we went to Melbourne on Sunday and stayed at a hotel at the airport. At 11.41 pm when we were asleep there was a huge bang and shaking of the building. Having experienced several earthquakes,  by now I knew what was happening. It registered at 4 and was only 3 kms deep and the epicentre not very far from where we were. That guaranteed that I didn't go back to sleep.

With four plane changes between Melbourne and Rome, I was sure our cases would get lost and all my necessary walking gear would fail to arrive in time for our Via Francigena pilgrimage. All the other obstacles I had placed in my way failed to eventuate, some with excellent alternatives and we  were feeling cautiously confident. 
The luggage was booked through to London but we had to collect it and check in for the Rome leg. 

We stood at the carousel for an hour and a quarter and there was no sign of our cases, or a number of others. Eventually I went to Customer Service and asked if they could follow the trace for the cases. The thread ran out in Sydney!!  As I began filling in the lost property form, the woman rang and made enquiries and also watched the names of luggage still arriving. Just as we both thought they were lost, one case appeared ... and some seconds after the next one.

Lovely customer service and a happy outcome. I had asked if I could get boarding passes from that desk as time was running out to get to our next plane, with or without luggage. As it turned out we did have a fairly stress free  transfer to Departures, were assisted as the Luggage Self Check-in with the new fangled labels for the cases and passed easily through the many barriers along the way.

How Heathrow has changed and how the travel process has changed. I cannot count how many times we scanned our passports and looked into the camera with a straight face in the last 40 hours. The funniest part was at Fiumicino Airport Rome where they have all the many checks and balances, and at the end they stamp your passport. Sadly nobody stamps passports any more so another plus for the day.

A fortuitous luggage trolley outside the hotel when we left at 5.30 am

A fortuitous quiet and comfortable lounge area at Hong Kong airport when we had five hours to fill in.

And to complete the happy experiences of the last two days, when we checked into our favourite little family run hotel in Rome the man on the desk handed us the keycard, and with a big smile on his face, said 'Room 503.'  Smiles all around then as that is our favourite room!

Now the church bells are ringing and we are enjoying real Italian pizza on our terrazzo. Heaven!

Monday 22 May 2023

In Training for the Via Francigena

 For most of the past thirty years I have been a regular six kilometre a day walker, that was until COVID sent us into isolation. Prior to COVID we had booked to do a 120 km sector of the Camino de Santiago in Spain but of course that didn't come about, and I pretty much gave up walking more that a couple of kilometres, some days.

Italy is our passion and we had been aware of the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route  from Canterbury to Rome, for some years. Having travel credits, including one with RAW Travel, started my mind thinking long distance walking again.

And so we booked to do a similar distance short sector of the Via Francigena where, all importantly for us 75 year olds, RAW Travel organises the accommodation and the transfer of our luggage each day. All we need is a small day pack with essentials, food and water, trail notes and a GPS app on our phones.

Well, not quite all! We need to get hiking fit. RAW provided a four month training plan and we have been doing our best to build up our skills.

One of us is a gym junkie, the other definately not! In February I worked up to the old habit of 6 kms, then together we extended to nine. This was a good testing time for footwear and clothing, however we live in north east Victoria where the terrain is flat and somewhat boring if you are walking the same route every day. We needed to travel further afield to start our walks, and rail trails are a good option.

In March we travelled to Oxley and walked to Milawa and back, an easy walk on a sealed pathway but hot and lots of noisy traffic on the Snow Road beside the track. We walked 12.25 kms with a coffee break in the middle. We were happy and so were the feet.

The following week we joined the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail at Everton Station and walked to the third Diffey's Road crossing, then returned. This was a really pleasant walk with 166 m elevation gain, at last some rise in the route. Fifteen kilometres handled well and boosted by home-made energy balls as snacks.

We continued to do 10 km walks around town, around the lake, in the State Park and on varied terrain between longer walks.

The Warby Ranges provide challenges for the less strong and the Ridge Track to Mount Glenrowan was one such challenge for me. A great view from the top, a snack lunch in the shade but oh, the pain in the legs and toes coming down! It had to be doing me good. 

Our next task was to complete the Everton - Beechworth walk. We drove to the Diffey's Road point where we turned around last time, parked the car and set off up the hill. This was basically a steady climb all the way to Beechworth. This walk was a joy! Beautiful scenery, trees and rocks, vineyards, native vegetation regeneration, even a picnic table, and then a lovely walk into town which was being used by locals for their daily stroll, often with dogs. There were lots of people on bikes going down hill, not sure how they were coming back up the hill.
Beechworth is the home of the famous Beechworth Bakery so of course that provided a well earned lunch and rest spot.

The day's walk was 19.47 kms and we are beginning to think we can actually do this walk in Italy. Of course, we are not ending the day with a killer climb up to a hilltop village!

After the first few walks I felt fine in the leg muscles on day one, a little sore on day two and sorer on day three. By now I wasn't feeling any soreness . Very pleasing.

So that was two months of training gone by already. Next we drove to Mansfield and joined the Great Victorian Rail Trail. This trail is also beautiful, iconic Australian scenery with lots of intesting things to look at. A recently installed art work captured our imagination. It hasn't been officially opened yet so we don't know its title but 'Communication Meltdown' came to mind, our son suggested 'Generation Separator'.

We walked almost to the Maindample turn-off on the Midland Highway, and returned,  a distance of 18.2 kms.

These trips are very enjoyable but they require a 45 minute drive before we start, and we needed more challenges. Hamilton Park, a housing estate near Glenrowan offered plenty of ups and downs so we trudged from Glenrowan to H.P., around the roads a couple of times then back to town. Fourteen kilometres, averaging 13.27 minutes per km.

Reef Hills State Park is near home, it has a variety of tracks to follow, some elevation gain, is rough underfoot but a great place of natural bushland and wildlife. We took the outer loop, always keeping right at junctions and managed to cover almost thirteen kilometres.
This day taught us that we do need to stop and rest, we do need to heed hot spots and we do need to eat along the way. I think I anticipated a shorter walk and didn't pack snacks :(

Now it is May and the weeks are running away from us. I have returned to the old idea of walking up and down the steps of the cricket pavilion ... boring but effective.

The weather has become much colder and wet, and not at all conducive to 3-4 hours of walking, but with only weeks to go before we leave we cannot slack off now.

It was a sunny day today (but only 10 degrees c.) so off we went ... a 40 minute drive to Maindample and then back on the Great Victorian Rail Trail for a delightful walk to Bonnie Doon and back. After 17.6 kms I knew I had traversed a few hills and gullies, but we barely noticed at the time as the scenery was gorgeous. We walked by Lake Eildon and across the bridge to Bonnie Doon where the serenity was totally ruined by screeching cockatoos. 

Lovely as these rail trails are, they do not provide many hills. Often we walk through railway cuttings and think of the steam trains that would have appreciated the easier route. But we need hills!

Back to the Warby Ranges State Park for some more challenging terrain.

Back to the Great Victorian Rail Trail ... 18 kms from Maindample walking uphill towards Mansfield. We average 5 kms per hour.

More hill walking in the Warby Ovens State Park.

Our great work has ground to a halt, wet, cold and windy weather but worse than that, we have both got colds that won't clear up. So I will finish off this lengthy post with mention of our footwear.

Good footwear is the most important element and we are confident with our choices. He has a pair of Keens and I have Merrells, and some New Balance Trail Runners for emergencies.

It's a long read but I hope you enjoy the photos.