Friday 24 October.
Breakfast was also provided, the bill for B&B and our lunch yesterday including the carafe of wine came to only €50. The room was just €30 and they said they were very happy getting pilgrims stopping. Compared to some places where we have paid more than double this was a bargain. Unfortunately the breakfast didn't amount to much, a croissant and a cup of coffee. I am being a bit generous when I call it a cup of coffee, it wasn't much bigger than a thimble and he only half filled it. It was thick and black and tasted more like a dose of medicine.
The other people in the bar were all wrapped up warm and looked at us in amazement when we set off in our shorts. We understood why. It was freezing. It was a beautiful morning, a clear blue sky and the sun was just poking over the horizon but there was frost on the ground. It was lucky there wasn't any wind to add a chill factor. We thought about putting on extra clothing but the sun would soon be up and carried on with icy hands and cold legs.
When we left town the signs took us in a wide loop by a canal then through fields to return and cross the main road only about half a kilometre from town. It was to avoid the busy highway, Cicerone said it was extremely dangerous and there are shrines and flowers placed are numerous spots along it where people have been killed. Once on the other side the gravel track followed the railway line, although the sun was again blinding us we weren't too bothered about waymarks as we couldn't go far wrong with the railway on one side and the road on the other to guide us.
We were making good time and after 2 hours were looking for a place to stop for our morning break. We crossed the main road again and there was a village ahead, I took it to be Cascina di Stra but Moira said that according to her map we didn't actually go into the village. I was hoping she was wrong but about 500m from the houses we turned left to go through the fields. We decided to stop at the edge of an irrigation canal and brew up there. It was all right, the sun was now warming up and with no wind the cooker soon came to the boil.
From where we stopped we could see our destination for the day, Vercelli, in the distance; it is known as the Capitale Europea del Riso, the European rice capital. Our route now twisted and turned following irrigation channels on paths through the rice fields. The plant isn't very tall and initially I thought it still had a lot to grow but we came to one field where the combine harvested was busy at work. We went through a tiny little hamlet Montonero, just a few houses, a church and a water tap, this was the only habitation we passed through all morning.
We arrived at the outskirts of Vercelli at about 11:30am. We had covered the 18 km at a good pace and got there a bit earlier than I expected. But we weren't quite there yet, it was a much bigger place than we thought and the waymarks took us on a pavement beside what was a ring road round the town. We didn't know where we were and had to get the iPad out and consult the map on it. As is the case when you are lost your location doesn't come up on the screen, just a box saying ' unable to determine your position'. Fortunately there was a road joining the ring road and it had an actual name plate and I found it on the map. With this information I was able to navigate towards the railway station where Moira said all the hotels were situated. When we got to the city centre the wide street up to the station was partially a pedestrian precinct for a market, fair and food stalls. At present we kept to the pavement looking for at least one hotel but nothing. Fortunately we did find the tourist information office and the lady there booked us into the Albergo Valsesia which was 5 minutes away and cost €55. She stamped our credentials for us then we were off again.
The hotel was near the Saint-Andrea Basilica a modern fronted church with twin towers. We would never have found the hotel other than by the tourist office woman's assistance. The entrance was up a side street and you had to ring the bell, there wasn't a reception as such. After the usual documentation we went to our room. The pace was a dump, the worst we have been in since leaving Canterbury. The toilet and shower were out in the corridor and didn't look very attractive at all. After the nice place last night for €30 this was a disgrace, luckily we are only here for one night.
There was a notice on the door saying that under no circumstance was a stove to be used in the room for cooking. I ignored it and made a cup of coffee for lunch, to go with a hard boiled egg and cheese rolls. As soon as we finished we headed out to do some sightseeing and try to book accommodation for tomorrow. We were going to be walking about 32 km and want to make sure we have something booked at the end and not scratching around looking for a hotel.
First we visited Saint-Andrea Basilica which was 50 m away. It was quite modern inside with marble columns and high domed ceilings above the altar and each side of the transept.
It took 9 years to build, 1219-1227 but looked very modern. There was a service taking pace in a side chapel and we weren't free to move around easily. We left and went to the tourist information again. We walked down through the market, there were lots of food stalls but where the prices were displayed it showed it wasn't cheap to eat there. Other stalls had various cheeses of all shapes and sizes, similarly with the ones selling pasta and there were some vegetables on display that we didn't recognise, ones with wines and others selling beer. Also there were the usual flea market junk stalls with second hand clothing and old records and CD's.
When we reached the tourist office the woman this time gave us directions to the library where we could get WiFi. She marked it on the map and we set out to find it. It was a bit of a mission trying to follow the narrow streets that twisted and turned through the old town. One good thing was that most had the street names were displayed and this made life a lot easier. Eventually we found the library and Moira was able to pick up the WiFi outside without a password. She went into 'booking.com' but the hotels that came up for Mortara where we are making for tomorrow were either too expensive or miles off the route. The one from our accommodation list that we fancied wasn't on their list and Google couldn't find it either. We returned to the tourist info and the woman who must have been getting fed up with us by this time, but was still very obliging and phoned the hotel. It was no problem and we are booked for tomorrow night, just €50.
Now that weight was lifted from our shoulders we set off to get something to eat for tonight. We had passed a Lidl on the ring road when we arrived and headed back that way. It didn't take long now we were beginning to find out way around. Moira bought tuna, salad and coleslaw for dinner and yoghurt for breakfast. Now we made our way back to the hotel, we were putting in plenty of kilometres extra today. We had 5 minute break in the room then headed out again.
We visited the Cathedral another modern looking interior but was actually started in the year 300 at the desire of St Eusebio but was destroyed in 1570 then rebuilt between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Inside there was little declaration and the windows plain but also with lots of marble. We left the Cathedral and strolled around the Piazza Saint-Eusebio before heading back to the library and the Internet. On the way we looked in at the Archiepiscopal Seminary to view the cloisters but there was a function on and what we could see wasn't very impressive. Further along on the Via Duomo there was another magnificent church front with a tall tower, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, we went in and relaxed in a pew while admiring another huge domed ceiling.
We hadn't become as familiar with the town as we thought and it took a while to find the library again. We both had our iPads and downloaded the newspaper. I also managed to publish my blog. After that we had had enough of walking about and returned to the hotel. While I had a shower Moira made the dinner. It was really nice, tuna salad with coleslaw and a beer. It was again cold and we got into bed to read the newspaper where it was warm. We got to sleep about 9:30pm but were wakened by people taking in the corridor. It sounded like they were just arriving and the landlord showing them their room. It was noisy for about half an hour with doors slamming and toilets flushing but soon we were sleeping again.