Easy riding, my kind of cycling. The hills are finally behind us and now we are well and truly into the plains and rice fields. Once again we are steering a course between two primary, well documented routes and trying to pick the best from both. Last year we spent sweltering and frustrating hours in search of VF signs. This year we find a great deal has been done to improve the marking of the route, nevertheless there are still a couple of blank areas where only Paul’s navigating nose can get us out. The good news is that every centimetre of our progress, sometimes circular, has been logged by the GPS and will be sorted out to become a clear road to Rome for pilgrims following in our footsteps (and of course using our guide).
In Nicorvo, our progress is delayed by a disappointing, but increasingly evident, display of anti-VF sentiments on the part of some landowners. At a cross-road we are offered two options: the original route (as documented by AIVF) and the alternative documented by Pisoni. Wanting to be as authentic as possible, we choose the original route and find that (in spite of some fairly clear signs) we are lost in a maze of impassable and no doubt carefully dug drainage ditches. Now all we can do is turn round and try the other route, which thankfully does deliver us safely into Montara without any further problems.
In Montara, we resolve to try out the St Albino hostel we had missed the year before because we only found out about it when, quite by chance, we walked past the hospitalier (Tino) on our way out the following day. On this occasion he could only tell us what we had missed, but today, in spite of omitting to phone the obligatory 24 hours beforehand, we are welcomed, given a bed and remembered when we tell him about our horses. After this, more encounters and more good memories. Last year we stayed in a hotel next to a railway crossing and Lubie was subjected to trains and mosquitoes in much the same number. She bore it well, though Paul and I were reduced to dancing dervishes, much to the amusement of the mosquito-immune owners and their other guests. This year we go back to the same hotel for a nostalgic pizza, are immediately recognised and asked the inevitable question - where’s the horse?
The trip from Santhià, was a great improvement from our efforts last year avoiding all but the shortest sections of the main road to Vercelli. We must find more time to visit Vercelli. The centre has pleasant leafy avenues, with history on every corner. Tino’s welcome and that we receive from our old friends at the hotel/pizzeria make up for the short-comings of Mortara (another Crewe). We donated 15 euro per head at the Sanctuary of St Albino. This is perhaps just over the going rate, but you just can’t ask for change in those situations. And would you believe you can still get a served good quality pizza for 3.50 euros!