A Little Tongue and Lots of Lasagna (Ivrea)
Day 4, Tuesday 24 April 2007 – When you are the guest of honor at a dinner with ten “Friends of the Via Francigena” you can’t say no to their beef tongue drenched in the parsley-garlic-olive oil sauce even though as a kid you put tongue on the level of brain, intestines and all those other odd parts of the cow you knew they ate in the old country, but you swore never touch.
Then again, they can’t say no when you ask for the fourth portion of lasagna.
The dinner went late, there was also bagna cauda and other Piedmontese specialities, wine, two cakes, lots of photos, more wine and a few speeches.
Writing after all that became a bit problematic and so it is that I’m late posting. More is on the way..
Day 4 (part II): A Spanish Reunion Under a Roman Bridge
Day 4, Tuesday, 24 April 2007 – The late-May Spanish sun is baking everything in its way, me included. I’m in the depths of what Italians call una giornata no, a no day (though grammatically dubious in Italian, this sounds slightly better than in English) when a small dynamo carrying a backpack that looks to be half his weight passes me in a flash. I’m thirsty, tired and dragging my feet along the trail with one thought: somebody help me finish these five kilometers and get me to the next town.
I force myself to keep up with the dynamo, a certain Giulio from Ivrea, and follow his lead step by step much as a tired bicycle racer does when he has a faster team-mate or adversary. The conversations about life and everything else are enough to take my mind off my feet and we soon arrive together at the next town.
That was last May, today Giulio and I meet again for the first time since we exchanged congratulations in Santiago de Compostela. Lots of hugs, back-patting and congratulations before we set off from the Roman bridge in Pont Saint Martin where Giulio has come to meet me. Despite the difference in years, our births were separated by 25 summers, a solid friendship quickly formed in Spain and Giulio has decided to accompany me for the next three days.
The Valdostana steak might have had some healing effect because my calves are better (it could also have something to do with the various creams I have begun to rub assiduously on my legs). Giulio knows some back trails and we succeed in avoiding the SS 26 through Carema, a gem of a village tucked against the mountainside with terraced vineyards. After a short stretch on the busy road we are again in calmer waters though asphalt abounds.
Giulio lives in Palazzo Canavese, 31K from Pont Saint Martin if we don’t stray too far from the SS 26, but we’ve motored through 45K by the time we reach his house. Giulio’s friend Leonardo (another veteran of the Camino de Santiago) meets us in Montalto Dora and plays guide as we head up into the nearby hills, which are peppered with five lakes.
The route is ever-changing and at various times we are walking through vineyards, forests and along side lakes. Above Montalto we come across many school groups that have come for the fresh air and to learn about local geology. One of the teachers, Marisa, gives me a quick lesson in botany and explains that a certain plant is called Sigillo di Salomone (Salomon’s stamp) because the root is divided into many sections and each one is of equal length.
Among the many detours from the main road is to visit the lakefront classroom of an association called Serra Morena (www.serramorena.it) that works to promote the study of the local geology by children. The group, of which Giulio is a member, also is involved in finding and establishing trails that can be used as part of the Via Francigena so as to avoid asphalted roads.
The dinner at Giulio’s house (see previous post) with the Via Francigena enthuasiasts raises my spirits even more than the day’s long walk. Effective, coordinated efforts to improve the Via Francigena seem to be lacking, but here at least was one small, self-funded group looking to do what it could.
Trip details: Pont Saint Martin to Palazzo Canavese, 46K (15 of which due to various deviations), altitude change: 610 meters up, 663 meters down.
State of the route: in some places (particularly near Settimo Vittone and Montalto) there are wonderful trails that are well marked, but there are no indications that you are on the Via Francigena and if you are not guided you would not know to look for them. Long pieces on asphalted roads though only about 1K on the infamous SS 26. This stage has great potential, if it were well sign posted it would be cheered for its variety. Water generally abundant though not in hills above Montalto.
Weather report: sunny and very clear the entire day, 18 degrees C on departure at 7:15 am, 27 on arrival at 7:15 pm and 29 max during the day.
Medical report: calves much better. Blisters were under control until late in the day when a new one formed on left pinky toe. Right knee hurts on downhill stretches.