Day 47, Montefiascone to Viterbo, 18 km
Day 48, Viterbo to Vetralla, 18 km
Day 49, Vetralla to Sutri, 21 km
Day 50, Sutri to Formello, 30 km
Day 51, Formello to St Peter's Square, Rome, 35 km
Just over a week ago we staggered our way into the Vatican to cheers from the crowd, where we were toasted like royalty and treated to a private audience with the Pope (or 'Papa Francesco' as they call him in Italy) while the crowds outside chanted our names.
In fact that's not quite true, though the staggering bit is. Instead we sank down in the shade of the obelisk in St Peter's square next to a sleeping Dutch dog, sculled a litre of water, and considered what we had just done.
The last days of the walk saw us leaving the hills of Tuscsany far behind, walking into the flatter areas of Lazio province near Rome. We continued our strolling through sunflower fields and on ancient Roman roads: the most well preserved sections so far which included intact curbside pathing and distance marker posts.
Having Suzie with us meant we finally had someone else to talk to and tell our stories from the previous weeks. That's the hard thing about spending all your time with one other person- there is nothing you can tell them that they didn't also experience.
(How many hundreds of thousands have walked this road? Amazing.)
We were also typically hampered by fickle weather. On Day 47 we figured on arriving in Rome on August 1st. So we organised onward travel, booked accomodation etc. The next day it started pelting down at lunch time, so we had to stop walking early- putting us a day behind schedule. This meant Suzie would have to leave us a day early and take a train in order to get her flight.
We tried playing catch up the following day, but sometime after lunch took an alternate route and ended up walking up and down rainforest paths for the next few hours. This was a welcome and beautiful surprise- rainforests near Rome (WTF!?)- but meant we took longer and couldn't make it to the further town as expected. But, as this trip has shown us, unplanned accidents can lead to good fortune and we ended up staying in Sutri, a cool old town with Etruscan (ie pre-Roman) ruins including a ampitheatre, catacombs and church.
The following day was our longest to date at approximately 30 km, thanks to a wrong turn that added some extra distance! Lucky! Somewhere along the way Suzie grew a blister on the ball of her foot, and burst it on a descent before she knew it was there. We arrived in Formello, expecting a general bland modern suburban city, but instead ended up staying in their magnificent old town in a restored Castello.
The Castello had a clear spiral staircase leading to the hostel on the top floor, then further into the bell tower. On each step was the name of a key town on the Via Francigena, starting in Switzerland all the way to Rome. As we walked up the stairs we could trace our journey through each stage, one step at a time.
Below us in the courtyard a baroque quartet was warming up for the evening's free community concert and from the window you could see in the distance the sprawling suburbs of Rome. In amongst this our conversation turned and we suddenly decided to just 'hang it', and do the full remaining distance, what would normally be 1.5-2 days walk, the following day.
So we did.
(Suzie and I walking on the last day)
The final day we covered about 35 km, walking the first section on country paths and quiet roads before we hit the outer suburb/satellite town of La Storta 17 km out from St Peters Square- our final destination.
(So close! A signpost about 19 km out from the Vatican.)
As we expected, the last 12 kms were the most tedious, and probably dangerous, of the whole trip. We entered on the Via Trionfale, a key arterial through the north western suburbs (think Bell St) which was noisy, dirty, and stressful. Some sections had no footpath, so we walked facing the traffic close to the shoulder. At times trees had overgrown the road, meaning we had to cross into the middle of the lane before scooting back to the side. It wasn't great.
We later found out that most people don't walk this section, but instead take the train from La Storta. I'm glad we chose to walk- it rounded out our journey, finishing in the manner we began. It also meant we took the slow approach to St Peters, via Monte Mario. As we walked up the path we got our first view of the inner city, and the dome of the Cathedral we had been walking towards for the past seven and a bit weeks.
From there it was just a (relatively) short stroll down the hill to meet the swarms of tourists in the Vatican City. We approached with the mixture of excitement and exhaustion that only someone who's been walking for 51 days can feel. St Peter's Square was busy, bustling and hot. We sank down in the only shade we could find feeling sore, tired, happy and just a bit relieved it was finally over.
We chatted to a Dutch family (and their dog) who congratulated us on the journey, and relaxed for a bit before dragging our weary bones to our hostel for the night. There we met up with other pilgrims who had finished the trip at the same time, including Ezio and Gabrielle, a wonderful Italian couple who we had shared parts of the journey with for the last two or so weeks.
(Ezio, Suzie, Gabriella, me, Nick and Rita. San Jacopo pilgrims hostel in Rome.)
The next morning we went back into St Peter's to show our pilgrim passports (a credential that was stamped at every place we stayed), be registered officially as completing the walk and receive our 'testamonium.' Then we did what any self-respecting pilgrims would do. We bought new non-walking clothes, got haircuts, did the final laundry of our filthy clothes and SLEPT.
And then we started the next part of the journey- figuring out what on earth we had just done, and why?
(Completed pilgrim passport from Grand St Bernard to Rome)