11 days on: Vagabonding and the Post-Pilgrimage Transition

My days in Rome passed by in a shroud of sickness. Outdoors I was almost constantly cold despite the sunshine and wearing all my layers.

On the Monday morning we returned to the Vatican to obtain our pilgrim certificates.  Once we found the right gate and passed through security we walked into an office, handed over our pilgrim passports and waited for the clerk to return with our certificates.  He spelled my name wrong, with an I instead of Y, something I often let pass by but not after walking 2,000 kilometres.  After he returned with my new certificate, we asked to be taken to the crypt to see St Peter's tomb.  We stood silently for a few moments before leaving the crypt and then handing in our security tag, reclaiming my passport and leaving the inner confines of the Vatican.

We lined up and passed through the security check to enter St Peter's Basilica.  Sadly, it was filled with so many tourists busy taking photos and some chatting despite the signs to observe the church as a sacred place of worship and the service that was being conducted at the time, it felt soul-less.  Peter and I escaped into a prayer chapel for a few moments before meeting Paulius outside. 

After this, none of us were really interested in being tourists but it was Peter's first time to Rome. On Tuesday, I lead the way from our convent in Travestere to our hotel in Trevi meandering past the Statua Equestre di Vittorio Emanuelle II, the Roman Forum, the Palatine and Colosseum. On Wednesday I took Peter to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and we watched the sunset from the garden of Villa Medici. 

Paulius left on Tuesday. Peter left on Wednesday. I walked him to Roma Termini station and waited on the platform with him until the train arrived. Our farewell was quick. He doesn't like long good-byes. As I turned to walk away, tears welled. I was alone again and I felt out of place in my hiking clothes and I felt extremely cold. I walked to the closest department store in search of a warm jacket and normal clothes. Everything I tried on looked wrong and felt wrong. I felt out of place shopping. I walked out of the too hot shop back into the cold midday air motivated to walk to Via del Corso and buy what I needed to at least feel warm and to look normal on the outside. Inside I cannot be cloaked or changed back.

I was woken early on Thursday morning by severe stomach pain. I tried to ignore it and go back to sleep but it was too much. I reluctantly stumbled to the bathroom to fill my water bottle with hot water and take some buscopan. I curled up in bed in the foetal position, the bottle against my stomach, wondering how I was going to pack, walk to the train station and manage the 2.5 hour journey to Fabriano, north east of a Rome near Ancona. I cried. Forty minutes later the pain subsided. I packed. I skipped breakfast. I checked out of my hotel  and walked slowly to Roma Termini. I felt warm and looked almost normal in my new civilian clothes except I still wore The Red Beasts on my feet and carried the Devil on my back, a skinnier Devil after sending 4 kilograms of unneeded gear back home. It was comforting to throw The Devil over my shoulder and walk with him wrapped around my body again. This felt almost normal. 

The train was 35 minutes late to depart for some unannounced reason. The heating turned up high. My stomach pains started stabbing me an hour into the journey. I swallowed more buscopan. The girl sitting next to me received many phone calls ending all with "ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, a dopo, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao." I craved silence, stillness and cool air.

Fabriano was everything I needed. A familiar home. Loved faces. Delicious food when I could eat again. Rest. Lots of sleep; 11 hours the night I arrived after sleeping for 2 hours in the afternoon. Surrounded by beauty, the mountains and houses and gardens blanketed in snow. I completed my external transformation back to civilian. New hair. New boots. Even a new handbag. My cold lingered as it still does now along with a not-quite-right stomach. We visited the beautiful and preserved medieval town of Gubbio. I ate tagliatelle with white truffle for the first time. I shared aperitivo and dinner with a friend and we stopped to talk with everyone she knew (a few I did too) as we strolled from car to bar to restaurant.

I cried as I printed my boarding pass for my flight to London.

Tears welled as I boarded the train at Fabriano to return to Rome.

Tears welled after I dropped The Devil off at British Airways baggage drop.

By the time I boarded the plane I was too tired for more tears. I sat and waited for the plane to taxi out to the runway and whisk me away from Italy, this sweet and beautiful country that I love, and this incredible chapter of my life. Leaving Italy felt like more of an ending to the Via Francigena than arriving at Vatican City.

From Rome to Fabriano to Tenterden to Milngavie. This was not 100% my original plan. After leaving Italy I planned to return to London to rest and write until going to Dublin for Christmas. While I was walking, the universe had different ideas. For a long time it has signalled me to stop planning and live more intuitively, creatively, freely. I did not argue. I went with the flow.

My friend Viv gifted us both with two nights at a spa and country club in Tenterden, a small village in England's garden county, Kent. Two nights sleeping in a plush double bed. Red wine and cheese. Shopping, more for her but a bargain Ted Baker bright red blazer for me. An afternoon in the spa and sauna. A delicious three course dinner. Relaxation starting to seep in.

Now I am in Milngavie, 11 kilometres north-west of Glasgow. It is my first time in Scotland. There's an old part of me that says I should be using this time to see, see, see but the weather has gone from sun to showers to gale force winds and rain to sun to snow, and I am more deeply tired than I realised. Lots of sleep. Nourishing home cooked meals. Writing. Reading. Couch time. Two days worth of this so far. Sometimes you have to stop, to lean into stillness to allow your experiences to sink in and digest.

Yesterday I had my first ever Shiatsu massage. The initial diagnosis was that my small intestine meridian was blocked; information overload. 

"That makes sense to you?" John, the masseuse, asked.

I smiled and nodded. "Yes."

I am just starting to digest it all now. Once again I am using the whole month of December to

Reverb,

to reflect on 2013 and contemplate my vision of 2014 with an open mind and heart. Although I usually share my Reverb insights on my blog (see 2012 and 2011 postings

here

and

here

) I've decided to keep it private this year for no particular reason other than that feels right to me at the moment. However, I want to share what a powerful process this can be. The prompt for Day 5 is Sueno (Dream) and asks what was your dream come true this year and what is your wildest dream for next year? In my journal this morning I wrote that my dream come true in 2013 was to walk the Via Francigena from start to finish, Canterbury to Rome.  Look at what I wrote on 5 December 2012 as my wildest dream for 2013 (read it

here

). I knew I wanted to walk it

one day

but I forgot that I ever named it as a dream for 2013 until I looked back at it today.

Heart dreamed it. Mind forgot about it and got out of the way. Universe took over.

Incredible. My palabra (word) to describe 2013. Incredibly incredible.

View up to Castel Sant Angelo

A less crowded St Peter's Square on Monday morning still packing up from Sunday Mass

Inside St Peter's Basilica filled with tourists

Statues adorning one of the many bridges

Beautiful light and I loved the thick giant clouds hovering above the horizon

Out last dinner at the convent

Me and the beautiful Maria-Luisa

Inside Basilica Saint Cecilia that our room at the convent overlooked

What would Rome be without ruins

Statua Equestre di Vittorio Emanuelle II

Various snaps from around the archaeological site (I'm too lazy to confirm the names)

The Colosseum

Trevi Fountain

The Spanish Steps

Sunset approaching the Gardens of Villa Medici

Sunset over Rome

Fabriano markets on Saturday morning

A little bit of snow

Snow covered front garden

Gubbio

An artist at work in Gubbio

Two doors; one is the main entrance, the other is to exit the house when you die.  Typical of Gubbio.

Left-over icy snow in Gubbio.

Palazzo dei Consoli and Piazza Grande in Gubbio

View from Palazzo dei Consoli over Piazza Grande and Gubbio