Day 6 – Thursday, 26 April 2007, Vercelli – Flat, flat, flat…rice paddies, rice paddies, rice paddies…SS 143, SS 143, SS 11. That pretty much sums up the day, but a tad more information follows.
Giuseppe Leoni (who goes by Leo) from near Como wrote me an email several weeks ago to say he was free on April 26 and that he wanted to come walk with me wherever I happened to be on that day. That day arrived and so did Leo, fresh and rearing to go while I was dragging my feet and trying to recover from a night spent next to snore-king Giulio.
We immediately have the big climb of the day – the railroad bridge leaving Santhia’ – and from there it’s a straight shot to Vercelli. There are no trail markers and the whole route is in theory along busy state roads though with a pinch of willingness to risk you can follow small parallel dirt paths that separate the state road, the canals and the rice paddies. That’s what we did, managing to do have the walk off the busy road, though twice we had to retrace our steps for 500 meters because the trail ran into an impenetrable conglomeration of vines or a canal too wide to jump.
Again, with a minimal effort and a bit of haggling with the local farmers the towns touched by this piece of the Via Francigena could carve out a decent trail since there is almost always room on the side of the asphalt road and one would only need to know that a particular dirt road doesn’t run into an insuperable obstacle a kilometer on that would require a moral busting retracing of one’s steps.
Leo, who is loquacious and filled with information on the closing days of World War II, leaves us as soon as we enter Vercelli, where we are hosted by Don Alberto at the Billiemme Convent. Don Alberto feeds us and then we’ve hardly had time to rest when it’s time for a whirlwind tour of Vercelli, which by the way has several beautiful churches, particularly Sant’Andrea. Our tour guide is local journalist Fabio Carisio.
Then dinner with “Amici della Via Francigena”, a group that has marked the trail going south from Vercelli that I’ll take tomorrow, and the local chapter of the Italian Alpine Club. Highlights include Panissa Vercelese (a local specialty that’s a risotto with beans, a splash of red wine and some sausage) and a salami conserved in terracotta jars filled with lard. Sounds horrible, but its yummy and the only way to conserve salami in this super humid area.
Sleeping arrangements are a room with three beds in the convent, which is now staffed by Don Alberto and home to 12 boys with no family.
Trip details: Santhia’ to Vercelli, 24.5K, altitude change: forgot to set altimeter, but it was negligible and most of what there was attributable to a high bridge used to cross some train tracks.
State of the route: border-line terrible, but in a flash could be quite nice. No water for a long piece at the beginning.
Weather report: overcast most of the day with a few flashes of sunshine. 18 degrees C on departure at 7:45 am, 25 on arrival at 2 pm.