Postcard 8 – Rome to Florence

Vatican City, St Peter’s and The Dome
The intention is to get up early and join a minor queue to tour St Peter’s Basilica so we rise at about seven thirty and make our way leisurely to St Peter’s Square just inside this tiny yet discreet country and find a queue of biblical proportions and it’s not yet nine. We decide on joining it and timing the progress for what we estimate to be a quarter of the distance to make a final decision as to the actual waiting time. This works well and we’re pleasantly surprised that it’s going to be less than an hour – and it is. Our bags are efficiently scanned and we make our way to the entrance taking in a Pope’s eye view of the square and the queue snaking around it in a huge arc.

As we enter the Basilica I’m rendered speechless at the size and beauty and go through a series of emotions as I think of my Mam, Mary and Linda all of whom would have loved to do what I’m doing now. With all of this emotive activity going on in my head and chest I’m slightly bewildered and very emotional as I suggest we wander around this exquisite building alone and in our own time.

After an hour or so I drift towards the main entrance again and realise that there is no queue for the Dome and send a message to Cecilia who is in a quiet area dedicated to prayer and contemplation. I’d spent twenty minutes in it a little earlier and thought about all of the people that had left this life and influenced me with their love and care. It’s a beautiful experience and has left me with a feeling of internal love and fulfilment with the knowledge that I’ve been both unlucky that I’ve lost them but hugely privileged that they were part of my life in the first place.

She responds and I get the appropriate tickets and we meet ready for the climb. The lift takes us about half way and deposits us on the roof of the main Basilica where there is a very fine cafe and a gift shop both of which sell their wares at remarkably reasonable prices. I get a couple of coffees and they’re three euros for the two!

Now, if you intend to do this you need to know that the next bit includes a long ramp, a zig zag staircase, a spiral staircase, another zig zag, then another spiral all going up and all get narrower as they approach the top. There’s also an obvious but disconcerting feeling of movement so if you are claustrophobic, agoraphobic, suffer from vertigo or have any issues with heart or lungs you might want to give it a miss but if you do decide to go to the top, the views are spectacular. There are quite a few people on the circular ledge but all in good spirit and respectful and some are offering to take pictures for people that are struggling with selfies. It’s wonderful.

In life there is Ying and Yang as negative is balanced with a positive and this trip has illustrated this fact multiple times.

Italian people are a joy, they’re fun, family oriented and loud, very loud; however, Italian officials are a different breed. The donning of a uniform changes them and gives them assumed and only latent authority but it would seem it was gifted by Mussolini himself. Here is an example that I’m sad to say is the norm for unformed people in these cities rather then the exception…

We’re back in Rome station and trying to book the mandatory seats on the Intercity high speed train to Florence.

We’re queued up as normal and kept outside of the office by an official wearing a side arm that he caresses as he struts about with inflated chest trying to look important. He’s not a policeman but he’s more than a security man and combines the roles with an air of arrogance that makes him easy to dislike. After ten minutes of waiting and a change of personnel in the office someone steps out to inform us that we should be taking tickets from a machine so that we can be called for services when our number is selected. It’s a great idea except,

A: there are no signs either inside or out to give guidance so even the Italians are mystified
B: No-one has mentioned this until now
C: the machine that produces the tickets is broken

…so the man with the gun does his ‘High Noon’ moseying walk to deal with it and, much to the amusement of those watching, fails (I can hear Tex Ritter singing “Do not forsake me oh my darling.” in the background…

A lady official then intervenes and replaces the paper roll and off it goes again. However, in the intervening time the machine has generated multiple ‘rogue’ numbers that when called will not be responded to as no ticket was printed. There are a number of people who’re in danger of missing trains that would like immediate service and they are ignored. We, in the meantime are frustrated but have no time demands as the trains to Florence run every twenty to thirty minutes and we can go on any (provided we have a booked seat!). There’s a heart-breaking moment when a very old Frenchman hardly able to walk and is currently sitting on his case is ordered out of the office by the man with the gun to sit outside. The Pilgrim asks for a chair for him and is completely ignored and he sits back on his suitcase but looks anything but steady.

We’re eventually called after numerous ticket numbers are either ignored or were part of the ‘hole’ in the number sequence created by the lack of paper roll and we’re served by a young official who defies the generalisation by being kind and helpful and even smiles as he issues us with our reservations and we make a dash for the platform where our train is waiting

The HST to Florence is double decked so we take the top floor which affords us some outstanding views of the Italian countryside as we shoot through the fields at 200 mph.

Once we’re deposited and the central station we find a comfortable wall in the sun to search for accommodation and we’re rewarded with a lovely little hotel in the heart of the city at a reasonable rate and only 20 minutes walking through the heart of the city to reach it.

Florence is off the wall beautiful with a huge Cathedral that defies logic as it is very much more beautiful on the outside than it is in. However, in or out it is big. What I mean is the top end of immense and not much smaller than enormous.

There’s also a wonderful bridge that must have looked like London Bridge many centuries ago when it had multi-story houses, shops and the odd jeweller as part of its structure.

We have a very enjoyable stay that includes meeting a delightful American couple who told us about some of the walks they’d done in the Cinque Terra region which is our target for later in the week.

Enjoy the snaps. G x

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