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.

One step at a time


Day 15: Vercelli to Robbio — 19.4 km (12.1 miles)

Every so often you meet a person who truly understands and represents the spirit of Camino walking. One of those people is last night’s volunteer hostel host, Davide Toad. From Monza, Italy, Davide has walked many pilgrim trails, but this year, because he only has a short break from work, Davide volunteered at the hostel in Vercelli as his vacation. When we arrived yesterday, Davide oriented us to the sparkling hostel, washed and hung out our dirty clothes, told us where to find the best dinner deal, then cooked breakfast for us in the morning. His spirit of hospitality and service is a joy to receive, and we felt blessed staying in Vercelli with this wonderful young man as our host.

After Charles and I said goodbye to Davide we headed out of town for the short 19 km trek to Robbio. Charles is walking from Canterbury to Rome and, as you will recall, we met a week or so ago just a few miles into Italy on the downhill walk into Aosta. He’s from New Brunswick, Canada, and brightens up whenever he hears the sound of French, his native language. Today there were five French speaking women in the breakfast room of the hostel and Charles was in French heaven. Our walking pace matches each other’s well, and over the last few days we’ve become good friends and walking partners.

Not far out of Vercelli we saw a young woman, Carla Morelli, gardening in front of her rice farm and we learned she is a pilgrim too, with many miles on her walking resumé. We talked for 15 minutes together in Italian before she insisted on sharing some tomatoes from her garden. After we said goodbye and continued on our way my thoughts turned to Theresa and how warm and cozy it is to wrap her in my arms. Charles and I talked about how pilgrimage is turning your back to your loved ones for awhile. Meeting a kind woman like Carla reminds me of the biggest cost of this adventure.

From there it was one step at a time to Vercelli. Literally. The dyke and canal trails on which we walked had just the wrong combination of gravel and river rock to force a walker to carefully consider every step. Step on a large, round rock? You may twist an ankle.

Walking a step at a time reminds me of the pilgrim discipline of not looking too far ahead on the schedule. As I look at the next six days, all to be spent in this hot, flat land, I can’t help but wish I was whisking along on an air-conditioned train to someplace more picturesque, more interesting. But, the walk happens one step at a time until its end. Each day has its blessings, and they seem to appear only when the pace is slow and the heart is open. Blessings like Davide, Carla, and many others along this way.

Hiking Notes: The challenge is this section is deciding how to divide up four relatively short days leading toward Pavia. My original itinerary had planned 35km with an overnight tonight in Morlata. That’s not realistic in this heat (39c, 100f), but several stages at 18-20 km seem just a wee bit too slow.

Davide, center. Charles, right.

The day looked just like this.

Carla shares tomatoes with Charles.

Crossroads.

Rice to the left. Rice to the right

On this map the blue arrow is me. The red tracks are where I’m walking today. Note how far right we had to go to get left. That’s just the way it goes.

City Hall Robbio, home of city offices and a seven bed hostel.