Victoria Clare Cornish nee Johnston’s physical life story deserves to be told, remembered and embraced in a way that feels right for each of you. An inspirational life lesson full of love & passion, that if you allow her too, Vicky’s actions and spirit will shine a light through even the darkest of moments. As Vicky progressed through her journey she created a life that made her smile and this was in the face of a looming shadow of illness. Change can happen but it requires courage, passion & commitment; as they say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Best get started!
On the 27th November 2012 Vicky and I jetted off to Rome! As a Durham University Archaeology graduate, Vicky was particularly excited about the richness of history and culture awaiting us. We had researched the history of Rome and what monuments we wanted to experience, drawing together a priority list of ‘must do’s’. As you know from Vicky’s previous post, her health had taken a knock with a recent spell in hospital due to an acute chest infection, the accumulative symptoms of her cancer, the Cushings and side affects of her numerous medications. Therefore with a weakening body but a passionate and courageous spirit shining, Vicky spent time focusing with me on our shortlist of experiences. A trait Vicky and I shared was one of excitement at experiencing new things, so simply drawing this list together got us feeding off one another’s energy and grinning. The city of Rome is bursting with history & culture therefore it is no surprise that we were so excited about exploring this amazing city. How could we not be excited with jetting of to experience world famous monuments such as the Vatican, Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and the Trevi Fountain to name a few! That’s not even mentioning the culinary delights we had heard so much about!
As each experience had to be absorbed fully the list was ambitious for a 3 day trip:
- Explore the Colosseum - Tick off the bucket list!
- Experience & absorb the Vatican - Tick off the bucket list!
- Marvel at the Sistine Chapel
- Throw coins into the Trevi Fountain
- Taste authentic Italian coffee and pizza!
|Vicky & Fynn's bucket list|
Now, I feel it’s appropriate to start in a fashion that Vicky would approve of. Being at one with history, Vicky added a fascinating dimension to visiting new places because it seemed no matter where we went she would be able to tell me something about it! Here we go my love, for you; Rome's history spans more than two and a half thousand years, some believe it to have been founded in 753 BC with the legend of Romulus and Remus. It was the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, which was the dominant power in Western Europe and the lands bordering the Mediterranean for over seven hundred years.
We had an early morning flight from Stansted Airport on the morning of the 28th November so we booked into the on-site Hilton hotel the afternoon before. I remember us getting into our room, kicking back on the bed & having a cuddle while chatting about the days to come. After an evening meal in the restaurant we retired to our room in preparation for an early hours wake up. I recall feeling somewhat anxious lying in bed that night as I could see the effort & determination from Vicky to make this trip. With all that I am I would protect and support Vicky yet at times the reality of ‘there’s only so much you can do’ would hit home. Where are my superhuman powers when you need them?!
We closed our eyes and it seemed within an instant that the alarm was sounding. It’s time to rock and roll! We staggered out to the waiting taxi and made our way to the departure lounge. Vicky always found the formalities of the airport daunting so I would handle the paperwork & let her go through the scanners first to check all was ok and once we both ‘survived’ she would greet me with a huge relieved smile and a hug! This is the girl that has lived abroad, travelled the world, fighting the biggest challenge we could ever face, so fear not it seems we all have our idiosyncrasies!
We both loved the sensation of the plane taking off, the rush and roar of the engines is simply thrilling. Grinning at each other as we felt the nose lift off the ground we said “We’re off! Rome here we come!”. “Ladies and Gentleman, we’re preparing for landing into Rome Ciampino Airport where the temperature is 10 Celcius with light cloud cover” We weren’t expecting sunshine and to be honest we didn’t care right now because we were about to land in Rome! After everything that had happened over the past few days, weeks, months and years we were here!
Having collected our luggage we hustled through the now heavy rain to a bus heading for the centre of Rome, which is several miles from Ciampino airport. Only a day before we left we managed to get Vicky some glasses as her vision had become blurry due to her high levels of cortisol, and I felt so incredibly peaceful as I watched her looking out the bus window absorbing the new sights of Rome.
Arriving at our hotel we checked in and were given directions to our hotel room. Ah, problem. I was given the directions. My sense of direction is wobbly at best and as a result we ended up taking an old school service elevator up a few floors into a rather derelict looking part of the hotel. Our alarm bells were ringing and despite my attempts to put a positive spin on it Vicky sensibly relied on past experience and concluded we were lost! Vicky wasn’t just beautiful she was smart too! I agreed and went back for a recap on the directions . . . given to both of us this time :) Exhausted from the travelling and the hotel exploring we found the hotel cafe and tucked into a tasty venison burger & macchiato. We sat there for some time chatting, laughing and enjoying the freedom that getting away unlocks. The acoustics of the room carried our voices and I recall hearing our laughter carry through the air. Simply beautiful.
|Fynn & Vicky outside their hotel|
The following day we made our way to our first morning of the hotel’s breakfast selection. A typical continental selection with choices of pastries, cheeses, meats, yoghurts and a cooked selection. However there was an abundance of cake which simply baffled us for a breakfast option, however they did do a rather tasty looking dipping sauce which we took a few sachets of to make at a later date (These are sitting in our kitchen as I type this). As it was breakfast time Vicky had to take a large batch of medications which she found hard, there were no less than 10 tablets to take plus an effervescent potassium supplement drink. A pill may be just a pill but it’s what it symbolises and the effects they hold. No matter how hard she tried it took it’s toll on a time when Vicky just wanted to relax and think of the day ahead. On a lighter note, we of course did the obligatory filling of Vicky’s bag with pastries while no one was looking before we left the breakfast hall. We scuttled out with a grin and a sense of achievement between us!
We ordered a taxi to the Vatican, unsure of distances and directions we though it best to conserve energy, which in hindsight proved to be a wise move. Twisting and turning through the streets of Rome with the faces of the drivers oscillating from dead pan to extreme emotion in a blink of an eye. Gripping each other’s hands we absorbed the experience! Driving past the Vatican Museum to St. Peter’s Basilica, we were wowed by the stunning architecture all around us. Rome truly is beautiful. Paying the taxi driver once he landed his craft, Vicky nudged me and said “Fynn, we have friends” pointing out the window towards three street sellers waiting to give us an umbrella for the opportunity to pounce into our wallets! The guys came around us and were forceful in their gestures and pretty physically close so after a couple of polite attempts both Vicky and I in unison shouted ‘NO” at them which seemed to have the desired effect.
|St. Peter's Basilica|
Now free from the umbrella folk we took a moment to look up at St. Peter’s Basilica which no matter how many times you see a picture is a remarkable building with such fine & exquisite detail. On one side of the entrance stands a statue of St. Paul holding a sword and on the other a statue of St. Paul holding the keys to heaven. The planning and architectural skills to build and craft this fine building is breathtaking and I recall Vicky being completely absorbed by the stories of our guide. The inside of St. Peter’s Basilica is stunning, with a myriad of colours and marble highlighting the fine detail in each of the countless statues. Each one holding their own unique story. The guide itself took approximately 90 minutes & unfortunately at this stage Vicky was feeling fatigued and her legs were becoming weak. Despite my best efforts to find a chair for her, there were none, Vicky determinedly found strength and the will to follow the tour around a space which can house over two full sized football pitches! Vicky was nothing short of remarkable & she still found the energy to remark on how the Vatican State managed to acquire more of the rare Egyptian red marble than Egypt itself, which is worth more gram for gram than gold. Cue a wry smile. Our time here was full of peace, we held each other close, absorbed the history and connected in our thoughts. I’m not an advocate of organised religion yet being in a place that has taken so much passion, commitment and lives to create there was something beautiful in the air. Go & see what you find.
|Taking a moment in St. Peter's Basilica|
Tick off our bucket list!
We made our way from St. Peter’s Basilica out into the now heavy rain to go and find a local restaurant. The rain demanded that we swallow our pride and purchase a poncho for Vicky from one of the street sellers; honestly it was a good thing they were there as the rain was insistent! After a short walk through the rain, the efforts of the tour were taking their toll and Vicky felt particularly fatigued. Despite being arm in arm with me, while walking up a step Vicky fell, which was upsetting for her and because of her high cortisol meant she bruised easily. I helped Vicky up and we made our way into a cafe and over a hot chocolate we shared some tears together at the upset, frustration, the embarrassment Vicky felt and unfairness of this horrible illness. I remember thinking, begging, pleading in my mind, making any deal I could fathom so I could free Vicky from this; Vicky did not deserve this yet I could not stop it. All I could do was make the best of what we had and hold her close.
We went onto a restaurant close by and shared a gigantic calzone before tucking into some delicious stracciatella & pistachio flavoured gelato, finished with a cappuccino of course. Sharing this time with Vicky was fun, we people watched, we guessed at the menu, teased one another, smiled together and shared our bond of closeness. You know when there are times when it’s apparent that no matter what happens you will always be there for each other? This is one of those times. Heading back to the hotel we retired to the bar for another coffee, we were in Italy after all, before heading up to our room for some much needed rest. I’m unsure how much to share on here but I will take Vicky’s lead of honesty and admit to lying next to her as she rested that night and just held her for hours.
|Calzone & laughter|
The morning of day two, the last of our full days in Rome, we enjoyed a selection from breakfast and fueled ourselves to explore the Colosseum. Vicky was very excited about the day ahead and had a zest in her step. So much so she was sure that she didn’t want to get a taxi and wanted to use the metro system. Now I’m a fairly well travelled guy and like to roll with the punches but I’m sure you can understand the concerns in my mind considering the day before. However who am I to say no to such passion and determination? If Vicky wants to do it then let’s go for it because I will be right by her side and if it gets too difficult then we just call a cab.
Off we went, we bought our tickets and found our way through the metro system with ease! 30 minutes from leaving our hotel, walking to the metro station, taking the correct train and we arrived right at the base of the Colosseum. Walking out of the metro station and looking up at this giant building that has been standing there for years upon years was incredible. We took a moment and just took it all in; we were standing next to the Colosseum, in Rome, together. Wow!!
After negotiating a rather busy road we made our way into the Colosseum and managed to avoid a long queue. A tip from us if you wish to go, when purchasing a ticket buy the audio guide ticket which is only a few euros more than a standard ticket but it means you skip the queue which when we were there held a 45 minute wait. I looked upon this as a blessing to be grateful for because a 45 minute standing wait would not have been ideal. Instead we ventured through the arches of the Colosseum, collected our audio guides and began exploring this amazing ruin. Again the history within this building is immense and had both of us absorbed. Vicky had a big grin on her face and was fascinated to learn the history of each section of the Colosseum. It’s a stunning ruin, but sadly it is a ruin, in it’s prime the Colosseum shined with white marble which was later taken to help build the Vatican. A real shame yet the manner in which we were fascinated goes to show just how breathtaking it must have been in its prime. This experience was unforgettable and as we made our way around we chattered on about watching Gladiator in the evening!
After a good two hours of exploring we decided the roars we could hear were not from lions waiting to pounce upon a gladiator, rather they were from our rumbling stomachs so we made our way to a local pizza restaurant. We both ordered a pizza and having under estimated the portion sizes we needed two tables for them to fit! This fired great laughs and meant we shared plenty of time relaxing over our food and chatting about our day so far. Oh and we also did a spot of people watching where we watched another tourist couple argue over their Italian skills and ended up ordering nothing other than coca-cola! We felt a little greedy considering our multiple tables but hey when in Rome!
After our feast we made our way back to our hotel via the metro and while walking from the station we were blessed with a stunning sun set. Vicky and I share a love for sunshine as we believe it holds a sense of healing and peace. What more can we ask for? The evening was spent enjoying the film Gladiator with a few tasty nibbles. The days were tiring but oh so worth it as despite all the physical and emotional knocks Vicky had each and every day, there were times when these were pushed to the back and the moment was truly at the forefront. Victoria Cornish you are nothing short of a superstar.
Our last day in Rome arrived! We again had a restful breakfast in the restaraunt and then shared a coffee on a sofa with the sunshine beaming down. The little moments really do count and I thank Vicky for that lesson because she taught me that it’s ok to stop for 10 minutes and as I put it ‘just be’. You know what? I wouldn’t exchange those 10 minutes for all the riches in the world.
After checking out of our hotel we made our way by taxi into the centre of Rome, in particular the Vatican Museum, as we wanted to experience the Sistine Chapel. This Chapel is often talked about but I didn’t know much about it, yet Vicky quite clearly said to me “We can’t go to Rome and not see the Sistine Chapel”. Wasn’t she right! The Museum itself required a fair amount of walking which was hard going for Vicky, so we rested where we could and I held her close as much as possible. Yet reflecting back on the time now, it was that determination and passion of Vicky’s that got her around. The history held in the museum is overwhelming and we spent quite some time learning and chatting through the vast range of displays. I captured a picture here which I hold so close to my heart and encapsulates our ‘live in the moment’ ethos. Vicky has stopped and is absorbing the moment while the world spins around her.
|It's all about the moments|
We made our way through the museum to the Sistine Chapel which was beautiful. The detail and love that has gone into creating those images is incomparable and when you stop and lose yourself in them, your thoughts can roam free and that is something special. This was magnified by the fact we were holding one another, I could feel Vicky’s hands around my back and her head resting on my shoulder. Despite the hundreds of people in the chapel itself it goes to show that if you’re focused on something you truly can create your own world.
Our final venture into Rome was to the Trevi Fountain to throw in some coins which legend says will ensure your return. Vicky was understandably skeptical about this theory yet in the moment why not embrace it and go with it. Sadly Vicky will not be physically returning to the Trevi Fountain but she will be carried in my heart on my return and I’m sure the thousands of you that follow this blog will think of Vicky if you visit the Trevi Fountain.
|Vicky & Fynn at The Trevi Fountain|
The fountain itself is huge and again the intricacy of the sculptures set a scene that is full of power. We dodged in and out of the hundreds of other tourists and made our way to a restaraunt to enjoy a final meal before catching our flight back to the UK. We sat outside despite the chill in the air, ensuring we were next to the patio heater, unlike the rather drunken but jolly Russian tourists that were fully embracing their time outside! Toasting farewell to Rome and saying thank you for our time here we then made our way in a taxi to the airport. The time in Rome was akin to Vicky’s life at the time, oscillating anywhere between peacefully happy to determined courage. I am eternally grateful I shared this with you Vicky.
Writing this I am sitting in the oversized, sunshine yellow beanbag that I bought Vicky for her meditation/reflection space, sipping a coffee from our much loved machine which was bought for us as an anniversary gift by Vicky’s parents, Toast lying by my side as the melodies from the playlist from Vicky’s life celebration (wake) are carrying through the air. Writing this has been a whirlwind full of smiles, some chuckles, tears running down my face and feeling disorientated. What else can be expected when you lose the centre of your world? Yet what amazing memories that can only inspire you to go out there and live life passionately.
Next up December & Christmas 2012. Thank you.