Up to two million Poles are expected to be in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday.
The pilgrims' families waved their relatives goodbye despite the cold
But with Polish airlines forced to lay on extra flights and rail services completely sold out, many church and community groups have resorted to hiring their own transport to make the long drive to the Italian capital.
The BBC News website has been speaking to a group of Polish pilgrims who set out from Krakow to pay their last respects in Rome. Here are their stories.
At the Coliseum, Rome, Friday 0830 GMT
Like hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims, Ernest Minostow spent last night sleeping out in the open in Rome. He and his group had finally reached their goal: to get to Rome in time for the Pope John Paul's funeral.
And when they arrived, they received a warm welcome:
"Last night we sat down with our fellow parishioners who welcomed us with food," said Ernest.
"A group of 100 of us had a very good meal and then we left for the Coliseum by underground because all traffic is blocked in the centre of the city.
"We spent all night there in our sleeping bags and some of us took a beautiful walk around Rome during the night for three hours.
Some of Ernest's group left the Coliseum to head towards St Peter's Square but he's expecting them to return because the streets are so overcrowded.
"And now we are waiting to watch the Requiem, " says Ernest. "We haven't organised any communal prayers.
"All around us people are reading the Pope's message and praying for him. There's no singing: all around is a mood of reflection. But we are all full of hope.
"We are also praying for the cardinals and the new Pope."
Outside Rome, Italy, Thursday 1700 GMT
As the pilgrims' two buses reach the outer suburbs of Rome, trip organiser Ernest Minostow is confident that they will be able to make it into the city centre.
He says they have decided to drive in from the south-east of the city and take the underground from Laurentina in Eur, where friends of his live.
"We hope to arrive in one hour," he says.
"We are all feeling excited. There have been no traffic jams and on the radio they said all roads would be open until 2am.
"Then we will have a small picnic and decide what to do. If we arrive early evening, we can spend time with our brothers and sisters at the church in Eur.
"I think later in the evening we will go to the city centre, we will have our sleeping bags and then we will wait for the morning."
Ernest says the pilgrims are used to rather rudimentary sleeping arrangements, having followed the Pope around the world for many years.
"We accompanied him on the many pilgrimages he made, for example we went to Toronto," he says.
"We are always accustomed to staying with the Pope, holding vigil and staying all night in sleeping bags on the streets, even for the following morning's Mass.
"We know there are several people in Rome who have spent two or three nights under the sky."
Near Venice, Italy, Thursday 1300 GMT
Ernest Minostow is a travel agent, and he organised the trip and obtained the two coaches the pilgrims are using.
"The trip is going very well, considering," he says.
"The highways are quiet and empty, but the sides of the road are all full of Polish buses. You can see 10 to 12 buses at times all parked on the curb while people sit outside eating lunch."
The two buses have left Venice and are now en route to Florence. Ernesto says he heard on Italian radio that it is still possible to get to Rome, because many of the pilgrims who travelled to see the Pope lying in state have now gone home.
He says they have two plans once they reach the Eternal City, which he hopes will be about 1800 GMT.
"Plan 'A' is to find parking spaces in the Tor Vergata, the same place where the Pope met two million young people in 2000 for Vatican World Youth Day," he says.
"It is close to the underground, so perhaps we can get to St Peter's Square from there.
"Secondly, we have friends at a local church called Santa Giovanna Antiea in an area called Eur in the south of Rome."
"I faxed a request to spend time there if we can't get to the square, and they said 'Yes'," he adds.
To ease the long coach journey, the pilgrims have spent much of their time in prayer.
"Yesterday, we did the holy rosary and after each 10 Hail Marys we sang a song," Ernest says.
"Sometimes we turn the bus microphone on and people take it in turns to tell their experiences of meeting the Pope.
"We are also reading one of the Pope's books chapter by chapter. We even have videotapes of the Pope to play, but we keep them quiet because sometimes people have to sleep!"
Krakow, Poland, Wednesday 2000 GMT
Beata Slazyk, 20, from Nowy Slask, says she is going to Rome "to say goodbye" to the Pope.
"I loved him very deeply. Not only do I consider him my Pope, but as a person from Poland I also think of him as a brother," she says.
"I want to say thank you to him because his was the voice of truth when it couldn't be spoken during the communist years. When we couldn't say the word 'God' because of the government, he said it for us."
Her sentiments are echoed by Sebastian Turcza, who is 22 and from Krakow. He says he wishes to bid farewell to "my Pappa".
"He was the biggest person in my life and, as a young person, he made me feel hopeful when the world was entering such a turbulent time," he says.
Wojtek Kowalczyk, 37, has taken his young daughter Ola to say goodbye to his wife and her mother before they head off to Rome.
Student Michal Kuyz (l) is confident the new pope will be a great man
Because he is a policeman he must remain in Krakow, but he says he wanted to go to Rome.
"He was such a strong and good man," he says of the Pope.
"He guided me in my life. Although I will not be able to go to Rome with my family, I will watch the funeral on television and will be thinking about him in my heart."
Michal Kuyz, 22, is a student studying in Krakow. He says he is confident the new pope will carry on Pope John Paul II's legacy.
"Although this transition time is difficult, I believe God will guide us and the new pope to a peaceful future," he says.
"I have all the faith that the new pope will be a great man."