Mario recommended a nearby hotel for dinner so we went there, the hotel Vittorie. They offered a pilgrim menu, the first I’ve seen on the Via Francigena. The owner explained all the dishes to us and we ordered a local risotto followed by veal and chips and a litre of house red wine. The risotto is local because we are now entering the main rice growing region of Italy.
We’d barely taken a table in the fancy restaurant when in walked Fr D whom we’d met on the climb up the Alps. He was just back from Mass. He joined us and we caught up on each other’s adventures. We were so happy to see him again.
Dessert was presented on one of those trolleys which used to be very popular in the 1970s Italian dining scene. I’m sure somebody ended up on one in The Godfather II. Among the usual options was a giant dish of home made Tiramisu. I ate a generous portion and would have eaten another had I been dining alone.
This morning Paul and I set off well before 6.00 and saw the sun rise over the rice paddies. An early start is essential to avoid the heat of the day. The day’s stage was 27Km to Vercelli. If you were driving it would take about 10 minutes because the road is straight, flat and empty. However, the Via Francigena zigzags alongside the road through the rice paddies and the hopeful mosquitoes can see a pilgrim from some distance away.
Our race strategy was to stick to the road until the Fiats awoke. Soon we were in San Germano Vercellese, a miserable insect infested settlement surrounded by the paddies. But in this purgatory stood a cafe and it was open. We screeched into it like a Lewis Hamilton pit stop and ordered coffees and croissants. The Asian owner (no Italian would be up this early) refilled my water bottle, I paid the 5 Euro and we were back on the track without dropping a place.
The sun rose higher. We marched on at a furious pace, the road disappearing over the distant horizon. In the paddies the mosquitoes were looking the wrong way, along the pilgrim track.
The kilometres passed rapidly but so did a few Fiats. What a noise those little Italian cars make when driven at maximum speed. It was about two kilometres from the end of the road that the narrow hard should gave up and so did my nerve. We left the road on a track and navigated our way through the rice paddies. Immediately the siren sounded and the mosquitoes were scrambled. They attacked from behind the sun, whole squadrons of kamikaze pilots intent on drawing blood. Paul told me about West Nile Fever but we won the first encounter. I had sprayed us both before we set off with insect repellent. The furious mosquitoes retreated in confusion but I expect reinforcements with sustained fire power along the way tomorrow.
In Vercelli the waiter in the central bar came running to greet us with freshly squeezed orange juice and bottles of fizzy water and ice. And beer of course. After awhile we scanned the map for hotels and found the perfect place right on the Via Francigena at the far side of town. The Hotel Matteotti, perfect for a quick getaway.
The road to Vercelli
Our early breakfast pit stop in San Germano Vercellese
Welcome to the land of rice
Paul buys a gelato (a rare occurrence)
Tonight’s hotel Matteotti