Things don’t always go as planned. I was staying at a hotel near Ciampino Airport. The train into the city stopped after two stations whereupon the driver, who had emerged from his cabin to have an animated conversation with two other passengers, announced public transport was on strike for 24 hours. Adversity quickly became good fortune when I teamed up with 5 other people to get a taxi into Roma Termini. From there it was another taxi to the Basilica. As we drove past the official residence of Prime Minister Berlusconi the driver commented upon the shame Italians felt about his behaviour.

It was now after midday. I shied away from starting from the steps of the Basilica on account of the 300m queue and got a Japanese tourist to take my photo with the Basilica in the background. Before setting out at 12.30pm I was interviewed by Dorothy, a Polish journalist who was gauging people’s responses to the May 1 beautification ceremony for Pope John Paul II.

I chose the via Aurelia to leave the city. In fact this street gets it’s name from one of the original pilgrim routes coming from Western Europe, down the west coast of Italy to Rome. The other more travelled route to Rome was the Via Francigena from Canterbury in the UK, south-east through France, and passing through Siena to Rome. The reverse of this route was documented in 990 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigercic the Serious, when he recorded his 80 overnight stops on the way home from Rome where he had been to visit the Pope.

Leaving Rome is probably not that much different than leaving any other city. At some stage you get to the rural-urban fringe and then into the countryside. There were numbers of small housing estates with no more than a dozen or so houses. A lot of them were gated.

On my walks in Spain rarely did I have to walk on a bitumen road close to passing traffic. Not so in Italy. This was something I was going to have to get used to. Since reaching the urban-rural fringe I crisscrossed the road to find that side which had at least half a metre of verge on which to walk. in some places the verge did not exit and so I was forced to walk on the road with a heightened regard for my safety as the oncoming traffic bore in my direction. Little did I appreciate that walking on the road was to become the norm.

Generally, drivers have been o’kay. I got the thumbs up a couple of times. A few other messages I found hard to interpret, but I took them as positive, probably naively.

This being a pilgrim can be a hazardous business.

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