Green and amber waves of grain

Hand-painted mural leading to a courtyard just off the Main Street of Garlasco.

Day 17: Mortara to Gropello Cairoli — 27.2 km (16.9 miles)

The efficient signora at the hostel last night made it very clear. Breakfast at 06:30, then “svfft” (accompanied by the hand motion of shooing a fly) out by 07:00. Sure enough, by 06:59 Charles, two German pilgrims and I were back out into the rice fields, heading ever closer to Pavia, Piacenza, and the blessed end of these seemingly endless fields of amber and green.

Before we knew it, Charles and I had reached our first village, Tromello, where a pilgrim helper, Carlo, brought us to the “pilgrim bar” near the church. There a stamp, water and cold tea awaited us. We lamented together about flies and mosquitoes, then praised Carlo for being so robust and athletic at 79 years old. He explained he had played soccer for 40 years, which had kept him in good shape.

By noon we were sharing a pizza on the outskirts of Garlasco, a cheery town with one, busy Main Street. We obediently followed the way mark signs out of Garlasco, ignoring the GPS, and soon found ourselves on a busy highway with no sidewalk and cars zooming past in both directions. A couple of km later the diversion ended and we were back amongst the rice fields and canals, quietly looking to the horizon for Gropello, our goal for the night.

As we made our way into town we stopped to admire the impressive façade of the San Georgio church, with its dragonslayer namesake depicted in a prominent statue. As it turned out, our hostel is right across the little piazza from the towering likeness. I showered while Charles tinkered with the ancient fan so we could move the air around in our stuffy attic quarters.

Tomorrow, the ancient city of Pavia is our reward for a week in the rice fields. My mind is filled with dreams of swimming pools, tall glasses of iced beverages, salty peanuts, crisp salads, and frescoed sanctuaries.

Hiking Notes: resist the temptation to take the “Suggested Route” straight out of Garlasco. It works fine for about 800m, then it becomes a dangerous competition for position on a road of speeding vehicles.

Better than yesterday photo of the Sant’Albino hostel at Mortara.

The signora was prompt for dinner, breakfast, and exit. Just after breakfast she picked up the Germans’ guidebook containing a photo of the priest who inspired the hostel alongside her late husband. Three years later, she maintains the dream on her own as the live-in hostel host.

Morning vista of corn to the right, rice to the left.

Ancient former shade tree still standing near ancient house and barns.

Green and amber fields.

Canal. Path.

Canal. Derelict palazzo.

San Giorgio was no fan of dragonkind.

Eating risotto — in the rice capital of Europe

Vista at dawn from the hostel door.

Day 16: Robbio to Mortara — 14.6 km (9.1 miles)

The biggest treat today was a homemade lunch. The biggest drama was watching a train zoom past us. The biggest marvel was the beautiful dawn. The biggest obstacle was the path itself.

Let me start with lunch. Yesterday our host at the hostel was Corrado Morelli, a local civic leader and volunteer. I tried to talk Corrado into finding us a swimming pool to help us take the heat off, but instead we all decided to have dinner together. It was a lovely evening spent over calamari and, later, gelato. In our wide-ranging conversation I mentioned to Corrado that I was unable to find rice on restaurant menus in “the rice capital of Europe” at which point he invited me to his family’s home for lunch the next day.

Soon after we walked the short (and buggy) distance to Mortara, Corrado appeared and took us back by car to Robbio. His mother had prepared a delicious luncheon of caprese salad, Russian salad, chicken, and real risotto. It was fabulous. Charles turned on his Canadian charm, which worked well on the three family dogs, and I did my best to hold up my end of the conversation in Italian with the humans.

Afterward Corrado’s brother, Cristiano, drove us back to Mortara, where Charles and I are the lone pilgrims in the spacious refectory of a restored Abbey. Charles will head out soon with some Italian friends while I will enjoy the hospitality of the pilgrim hosts here, who have promised dinner at 7:00. Pasta and chicken. No rice.

Hiking Notes: two words to remember — bug repellent. Cloud cover today kept the temps cooler, so the mosquitoes and flies were more energetic and pesky. Counting the days left of rice-a-roamy here in the flatlands.

Panorama.

We waited for this train to pass.

Little town along the way.

Abbazia Sant’Albino, home for the night.

Lunch with the Morelli clan.

Best risotto ever.

We lost 33 pounds between us, Charles and me.