September 11

A big day in NYC but also in Orthodox Christendom. Hit 100km sign. Leave a Roman city  and enter an Etruscan town. Just missed the rain.

Surpringly I was the first up in our dorm around 6am. Tried to make coffee using a Nespresso pod but it was awfully watery stuff. Said goodbye to Laura who was still in bed. Fab joins Vaclav and I for breakfast and we say our goodbyes. I am sure we’ll meet up in Rome very soon.

The walk today is straightforward and fairly short ie 17kms. We follow the Cassia once more for almost an hour. There’s surprisingly little traffic considering it’s a Monday morning.  At one point we pass a vine which obviously had gone feral and is weighed down with grapes. We greedily stuff down a couple of bunches apiece.

Once the path leaves the road it begins to climb on a gravel track deep into a wood, mostly of holm oak, interspersed with small patches of olive. We cross the divide between Bolsena and Montefiascone created, in part, by a small river which apparently has no name! It does, however, have two lovely sets of falls which make quite a din for their modest size.

Having crossed that administrative line, the path continues to climb, as does the humidity, and of course, the number of mozzies.  My head is a mass of bites and so is my right thigh.  My left one remains unscathed.  Why? I am certain that mosquitos, and possibly other biting insects, have no concept of left and right; so why go for that leg and not the other or indeed both!

Today is a symbolically important day not just for NYC but for Americans everywhere. It is also an important day of religious observance in the Orthodox church, as it marks the death of John the Baptist.  It is said that everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. I was guest of honour at my Alma Mater and was still living in Wroxham Gardens. The live images on tv, of the second plane striking the twin towers, shortly after I got home, stays with me. I still have many pictures I took of the twin towers back in 1979. They were so tall that if you lay on the ground, between them, and looked up vertically, they appeared to touch.

The final 4 kms are an interesting set of detours and traffic avoidance routes as we slowly head into Montefiascone. On the outskirts we cross the 100kms to Rome milestone. It’s really only a ton if we stay on the Cassia but the VF is nearer 120, which is still manageable. The last half km through the great arch into the old city is delightful if not a bit steep. We hit the bell of the monastery at 11.05.  Both pleased to have got in on time, and are quickly and efficiently processed by the delightful sister Marie-Clare. A generous and warm hearted nun, originally from Gabon. We pay a tiny bit extra and have single rooms. V&G turn up a couple of hours later. I still can’t work out how they arrived so late when they left before us?

About 2pm, as we’re about to go out, the five Danes arrive and I help with my informal role as translator. I sometimes wonder whether that sort of intervention actually helps in the long-term? Maybe people would try harder to communicate with each other across the linguistic divide? In any case, I help and all parties seem appreciative.

I agree somewhat foolishly to accompany Vaclav on a little sight seeing.  Montefiescone is built around a steep hilltop; once an Etruscan fortress, later captured by the Romans. Like a lot of towns in the region they also held important roles in Medieval Italy.

The cathedral is an odd shape, essentially it’s circular under a giant dome. Architecturally interesting but decor is sadly Baroque, which I find a bit OTT. There is a small 12th/13th C church at the very top, about the size of a small chapel, St Mary of the Snows, which is more me. Modest, plain and somehow, feels more sincere. It has a remnant of a fresco hundreds of years old, where all the faces are clearly visible, quite brilliant. Sadly, the church also hosts a tiny statue of a Black Madonna, which looks like doll dressed by an over-imaginative child! The church gets its name from the time the local bishop visited the church in the 14th C and it was in such a bad state of repair, that snow had settled in the inside!

After a quick sarnie, a little more sightseeing, I want to get back to my room for a nap. Just as we reach the monastery gates it begins to rain. Intermittent showers nothing like yesterday.

At 5pm I attend sung Vespers. It’s wonderful. I’ve attended several of these recently and those sung by nuns definitely have an edge over the others. I have no idea what is being said but the melodic short sentences really appeal to me.

Catch up on some personal admin and it’s time to eat. There are 13 of us. Oddly biblical but when I mention this to the nun looking after us, she failed to see my point or maybe she did get it but thought it irrelevant!   Nice grub, light but plentiful. The veg, fruit and wine are all home produced. Discovered that V&G took the longer route out of Bolsena, so they were behind us, not in front!

Tomorrow is another shortish stage and should arrive in Viterbo by noon. It’s as well as I’ve not booked anywhere to sleep and I doubt Vaclav has either! I plan to take a day off and so spent a couple of nights in one of the most famous Etruscan cities. I’ve not had a day off since arriving in Italy.

As I fall asleep I’ll think about the loved ones of those lost on 9/11 and what they must be going through today.

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