26 Jul Monterotondo on the Outskirts of Rome – Stage 26, Part 2
Montelibretti, 20 September 2017, 07:00. Niels and I are up and at it getting ready to walk to within touching distance of our pilgrimage destination – The Vatican. I am filled with anticipation and feeling just a little nervous about tackling the trek on foot again with a full backpack. What worries me is that I may have become physically unfit during the past three days off. The illness may still be lurking, which could also slow me down.
We raid the fridge for breakfast but don’t have much. We’re getting ready to leave. Unasked for, the woman responsible for the keys brings us a great looking home cooked breakfast. We decide to have the bacon, toast, mushrooms, and scrambled eggs provided. I also satisfy my sweet tooth with a tart or three. Again, I am struck by the respect afforded us because we are pilgrims.
Montelibretti is 13.2km* into Stage 26 according to Sandy Brown’s book. That means we still have 16.6km to go to Monterotondo. Looking at the route profile, it would be an easy walk. Most of the ascents and descents are in the first part of the hike.
Walking in Italy, Again!
The town is still in the process of waking up as we start on our way. We pass between the bar and the bakery, quite full of people still having breakfast. Halfway out of town, we check our directions. Surprisingly we haven’t lost our way yet. We descend into the valley after walking through the suburbs of the town. Almost complete silence surrounds us in the valley. After passing through woods, we cross open fields – some lying fallow, others cultivated.
We come across two men dressed in military camo clothes. It’s clear to us that they’ve been on the hunt for something. That explains the silence. No bird dares to breathe let alone take to the skies. Every animal lies low.
Still, I’m walking in Italy! It feels surprisingly easy now. The pack feels great on my back. We’re keeping up a good pace and it feels as if I’m taking no strain. Only on the hill climbs I lag behind a bit.
Walking in the company of Other Pilgrims
After crossing a highway, we enter the Macchia di Gattaceca Nature Reserve. Within sight of the 13th century watchtower – Torre della Fiora – we meet up with the John and Bridget. We’re happy to walk as a group. I help them by taking a photo of them as a couple on the road. Closer to the tower we stop and take a few more pics.
Not far from Torre della Fiora there is a curious modern sculpture. My first impression is of two people walking in opposite directions. As with modern art, it is also open to other interpretations. It could be two people dancing, or the duality of man. Perhaps it indicates the two ways on the pilgrimage: the Via di Roma, AKA the Via Francigena, and the Via Frangenica going north. Only an inscription on the side of the sculpture bears any indication of what it could possibly be: SOL . V/L. (featured image)
Niels and John are up ahead in conversation. Bridget and I chat as we go along. We share info about where we live and our families. She and John are interested in visiting South Africa. I tell her of some interesting sights they can see.
Being in the company of two other pilgrims makes me realise how solitary this walk has been. Apart from the towns we’ve come across very few people. I’m not really the conversational type when I’m walking. This has always been the case, whether I’m simply walking at home in town, or out on a hike in the mountains. That is why I find it quite strange to be talking to someone else, although quite pleasant.
The four of us get to the A1 autostrada. We can see Monterotondo ahead of us. Somehow, we miss our crossing and walk up along a path between the highway and an old quarry. This soon leads to where the path simply divides into many poorly defined footpaths leading nowhere. We retrace our steps.
As we pass the quarry we hear a noise. Looking into the quarry on the other side there are two wild boars. They disappear into the undergrowth. I suppose it’s safer here close to town than out in the fields and forests where hunters pose much more of a threat.
It doesn’t take long before we get to the point where we can cross under the Autostrada. We pass the hospital. There are jokes about me popping in for treatments. I can laugh easily now because I’m almost completely recovered. I certainly feel better than during the early stages of the pilgrimage.
Soon Sandy Brown’s instructions lead us to where we enter Monterotondo’s Passeggiata pedestrian mall. We find a place to have some frizzante. As in Rieti at this time of day, there are a lot of young people about.
The four of us make our way past Basilica di Santa Maria Maddalena on Piazza Giovanni Paolo II. At the other end of the piazza is our pitstop – Albergo Dei Leoni. It turns out that John and Bridget are in the room next to ours.
While Niels is in the shower I give thanks to the Lord for the healing I’ve experienced and making the path easy for me. I feel good about walking today. My anticipation in getting to the end of my pilgrimage grows ever stronger. Yet I still so much to process.
*Conversions from Metric to Imperial
13.2km = ~8.2 miles.
16.6km = ~10.3 miles.