Get out of my dreams, get into my car….(Billy Ocean)

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Mum and I " Under the Tuscan Sun".

The last four days have been wonderful wondering around the streets of some of the most gorgeous Tuscan towns with Mum and Michael. We even celebrated the Festa of San Giovanni with the locals by watching the fireworks on a bridge over the river Arno.

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The procession to the Baptisery on San Giovanni Day

We perused the great art in the Uffizi before walking through the discrete Vasari Corridor, which was built in 1565 to allow the ruling Medici family to commute safely, and without the commoners, between the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. Those who have read Dan Brown’s Inferno will be excited now.

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Part of the Vasari Corridor

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View of the commoners from the Corridor

Then we got wheels…..and the Tuscan countryside was our oyster. Michael and I first drove to the villa that we will be staying at next week to become familiar with the road and the car- a bit tricky on both accounts but for another blog. Siena was also on the “get familiar” drive agenda (and find a reasonable car park!) They are preparing the Campo for the Palio next Wednesday (another reconnaissance project).

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The Campo in Siena

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Siena's Duomo in the distance.

Then we strapped Mum in the back seat for yesterdays drive. Arezzo was recommended and didn’t disappoint. Quite, hilltop little old town where scenes from A Beautiful Life were filmed, made us all go ahhh.

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Street art in Arezzo.

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A short drive to Cortona, another beautiful, picture perfect hilltop town, a little more touristy as this is where Francis Mayers resides “Under the Tuscan Sun”.

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Cortona

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Then down to Lake Trasimeno in Umbria to a little town called Castiglione de Lago before the storm clouds sent us home to our little Florence apartment. 

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Today we decided to lessen the driving stress ( the Italians drive like Fangio ) by catching the train to Lucca. Rimmed with four kilometers of 2000yr old walls, this fortified oasis is flat and perfect for cycling and walking. Michael and I enjoyed cycling around on the wall whilst Mum enjoyed the shops at her pace. Tonight the locals have assemble one huge table for 2000 people on the wall, where they hope to get into the Guinness World record for the largest “One table feast”. It’s a shame we won’t see that but the table was impressive! We all went to the Puccini Museum which is also the house where he was born. He was such a great composer of Opera’s such as La Boheme, Madama Butterfly and Turandot ( where the aria Nessun Dorma comes from- think the three tenors).

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Lucca

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One end of a very long table.

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Giacomo Puccini.

Tomorrow we leave Florence and retrive to our Tuscan villa for the week. The
kids all arrive tomorrow and Ashlee and Cameron crawl in tonight. Let the party begin.

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Hey mambo, mambo Italiano….(Dean Martin)

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We have now begun the Italian leg of our journey. Tania and I arrived in Rome on Saturday and immediately hit the streets on a food tour….we were hungry for adventure and pasta.  The boys (with our clothes) eventually arrived on Sunday. After their long flight, Sunday became a bit of a blur for them. We visited a few sights but the heat and crowds eventually took their toll and sleep was eventually  sought.  I was also able to catch up with my Mum who had just completed her 10 day whirlwind bus tour of Italy and was going to spend the next fortnight with us.

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Not a drop of water for a coin at the Trevi Fountain.

This leads me to today, Tania and I part company for a few days as she stays in Rome with Murray to finalize the wedding paperwork and Michael, Mum and I travel by train to Florence, the Renaissance revisited!
We have a wonderful two bedroom apartment near the train station, above a restaurant and between two churches. We are definitely blessed.

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Our 2nd storey apartment.

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My mamma!

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Ponte Vecchio

The first night ended by watching the sunset over the city from Piazzale Michelangelo. Bellissimo…and buona notte 😌

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Someday my Prince will come….(Snow White)

That is true but for me it will be in two days that I see my Prince……and my clothes. Tomorrow we fly to Rome and will be met by the boys on Sunday. Yeah!

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Castelo dos Mouros

Till then we have entertained ourselves in these last two days in Lisbon on a walking tour of the old town and a day trip to the Palaces in Sintra. The walking tour was great as we were told of the many legends and landmarks of the area including the story of the black cockeral that is a symbol of Portugal and is oddly very similar to the story of Santo Domingo in Spain, when the cooked chicken comes alive on the plate. We also saw some awesome street art that is found in the back alleyways.

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Today was filled with fairy castles and their accompanying gift shops! We went to the magnificent Pena Palace that lies in the hills about 30min from Lisbon. It has a similar feel to Mt Tamborine but older (!), and it was a tad cooler up there as well. There are four main Palaces surrounding Sintra that are all magnificent in their own way. We also swung by the western most point in mainland Europe at Cabo da Roca which was swarming with tourists…and yes I know I’m now one of them as I took my photo but hopefully a little classier one!

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Pena Palace

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Monserrat

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The cross at the Cabo da Roc.

So now we are in full tourist mode but still with our backpacks and “crocodile dundee” outfits. I can’t wait to see Michael and his luggage!

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Farewell Lisbon.

Shake, rattle and roll….(Bill Haley and the Comets)

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Tania and I arrived in Lisbon yesterday after travelling on three trains for eight hours at a cost of only fifty euro. First impression from the taxi window when arriving in Lisbon was that it needed a coat of paint. It was also overcast which we were unsure if it was due to smog or fog but after 24hrs we are really impressed with this old and vibrant city.

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Arco da Rua Augusta

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Praca do Comercio

The weather HAS been overcast in the morning and by lunch bright and sunny. Not too hot but certainly as we are further south, is warmer than we have experienced but it is summer.

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Lisbon

We have seen a few of the sites walking around but the highlight was this mornings Segway tour through the old town of Alfama. Lisbon was all but destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 except for a small section in Alfama which has retained the original old town feel. So most of downtown is post 1755- yes that is termed new!

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Segwaying through Alfama

We are staying in an eclectic and very funky hostel in the downtown region of Baixa. This area is the heart of the modern city, with a grid of 18th century streets, full of shops of every kind,  running down to the River Tejo.

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View from the hostel balcony

We also caught a tram to Belem, a popular riverside suburb, where most of Portugal’s maritime explorers set sail to discover distant lands. There is a magnificent Monument to the Discoveries that was erected in 1960 and that you can get great photos from the top including the world map at the base. Belem is also famous for its hot  pastel de nata, essentially a custard cream tart, which we were told they make around 20,000 a day (50,000 on festival days!) Not too bad to eat but I’m a chocoholic (Hi. My name is Michelle)

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The line up out the door for the Pasteis de Nata

We will do a free walking tour tomorrow organised by the hostel and then a day trip to places with Palaces and beyond on Friday. So Lisbon has so far lived up to its hype and I’m pleased we are discovering the magic within.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…..(R.E.M)

We have seen the end of the earth….Finisterre.

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Well that is what previous pilgrims of years ago thought as they made their way to the sea from Santiago. It is usually a four day walk from Santiago to Finisterre but we elected to take the modern option and go by bus! After 33 days at a walking pace, I was gripping the seat as we made our way to the coast at breakneck speed.

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Glimpsing Finisterre on the bus.

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After 2hr 15min we arrived in the sleepy fishing village of Fisterre. We were again blessed with beautiful weather as we walked the last few kilometres to the lighthouse that signaled the end of the world. Way marker 0.00 was a sight to behold perched next to a cliff over the North Atlantic Ocean.

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The last pilgrim statue with the lighthouse in the background.

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Marker 0.00

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A lot of pilgrims burn their shoes or underwear here and there was certainly a lot of evidence of spot fires around the rocks. We decided to not sacrifice anything to the Gods as all was still needed till we get to Rome- I may have lost a little weight on the walk but Europe isn’t ready for a naked Chelle yet.

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Some offerings!

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We returned to Santiago by 8pm and as it is Elizabeth’s birthday, need to celebrate the occasion with cake. This is our last day in Spain as we head by train to Lisbon tomorrow. Another country awaits us.

At the end of the line….well its all right….(The Travelling Wilburys)

I made it!

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My Compostella and certificate of distance.

I have walked 775km (as per my certificate) from St Jean Pied de Port in France to the Cathedral of St James where I have seen the casket that holds the great man. It is an emotional day.

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The final four shadows.

We started to walk at 6.30am as we only had just under 17km to go. We were met by Bodil our Danish friend who had stayed the night in O Pedrouzo. Our plan was to walk into Santiago together. Tania, Elizabeth (from Sydney), Bodil and myself had spent the better part of three weeks walking together and we wanted to finish together as well.
Everyone we met on the way was excited and the feeling of camaraderie was strong but we still had one climb to go and luckily it wasn’t too strenuous. The monument overlooking the distant town of Santiago was filled with groups hugging and congratulating friends they had met on the way.

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By the time we walked through the old town and into the Plaza at the Cathedral we were all hugging and a few tears were shed. Photo’s were taken and memories captured. We managed to find accommodation and were back at the church for the 12 noon Pilgrim Mass.

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Yes there is scaffolding at the front of the church.

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We were told by our American school friends that they had sponsored the flight of the botafumeiro, the huge incense burner that swings over the mass (originally to fumigate the sweaty pilgrims). It was a truly marvellous experience and one I will never forget.

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Where St James lies.

The emotions continued to flow as I got my Compostella. The man with the velvet voice asked, “And what reason did you do the Camino Michelle? ” I truthfully said that I was originally drawn to it and felt I had a strong calling to it but it became very spiritual as I went along. And then I cried….again.

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I can’t explain why I am so moved about my Camino. It was at times very hard and extremely taxing on the body and mind but in the end, it is an enriching life experience that I hope you have experienced as well through this blog.
Buen Camino!

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You’ll never walk alone…(Gerry and the Pacemakers)

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The setting moon.

The penultimate day saw us walk from Arzua to Amenal, a distance of 22.5km. We are set to pounce on Santiago tomorrow with less than 17km to go.

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The sunshine peaking through the trees but not the path ae yet.

We left early and were walking towards the setting moon through farmland and on natural pathways. The final few kilometres through a eucalyptus forest was very reminiscent of Australia.

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Today was the first time I lost the way. The yellow arrow was to the left of a cafe and as I was perusing the crowd for familiar faces, I missed the sign and continued on the road to the right. However you are never alone on this journey. A kind lady saw me walking the wrong way and ran after me to put me on the correct path. I have done this to many a pilgrim in the past and although the arrows or shells are everywhere, it is still possible to miss them if deep in thought or conversation.

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Ultreia....onwards!

The community of the camino provides assurances that someone is never far away to provide help and guidance. We are all in the same boat; all putting one foot in front of the other heading to Santiago. We may not speak the same language but conversations are held and understood. I can’t wait to see my community celebrate tomorrow when we reach our goal……together.

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