|The Romanesque Church of St Peter, Robbio. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
For the next four days I would walk a further 80 km over the now familiar terrain of rice fields and irrigation ditches — with only herons and egrets for company. Not forgetting the frogs, of course — which appeared (and disappeared) as slippery streaks out of the corner of the eye. You could rarely get a proper view of them as they were so well camouflaged, and jumped so quickly into the water.
This was risotto country. To make the perfect, classic risotto, for which the Po Basin is famous, you must add Arborio (or Carnaroli or Vialone Nano) rice to onions which have been softened in butter or olive oil, then gradually stir in small quantities of white wine and stock. When the rice is cooked, top with a little butter and grated Parmesan, and then cover for two minutes.
Day 9 started cloudy, but by midday it had turned blazingly hot. In fact the heat became quite overpowering and exhausting over the coming days. Fortunately the paths and tracks were in better condition and more interesting than those of yesterday. By 2 pm I had reached Robbio, where I relaxed outside a bar and watched a street market being packed up and driven away. Many small towns and large villages have these mobile markets. A group of friendly locals bought me a beer. And later I slept in a refuge overlooking a courtyard behind the town hall.
|Town hall, Mortara. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
Early on Day 10 I somehow managed to take the wrong road out of Robbio, and ended up walking back towards Vercelli for half an hour before realising my mistake!
Later that day, Mortara, too, proved a friendly place. Two men on bicycles stopped to greet me and have a chat, and in the centre of town someone bought me another drink and pointed the way to the former monastery of Sant'Albino, where I spent the night.
This foundation has a long tradition of putting up pilgrims, which stretches back to medieval times. The woman on duty, whose job was to welcome and tend to the pilgrims, served me food and wine. Payment was by donation, as was often the case. Before she left — I was to sleep on a camp bed in the huge, barn-like dining hall — I saw her eyes fix on the wall opposite and narrow into slits. Her brow furrowed. She spluttered and cursed, rushed over to the cockroach she had spotted, flicked it to the floor, then stamped on it with a mixture of glee and embarrassment. Although the cockroach had been vanquished, there were, however, plenty of mosquitoes to plague me through the night.
|A bend in the river Ticino near Pavia. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
I can't remember much about Day 11, except for the heat and the flat landscape and the pain in my feet. I do just about recall stopping in Tromello and Garlasco for beer and free bar snacks. My bed for the night was in Gropello, but the parish refuge was dismal and dirty, and I was glad to leave for Pavia in the morning.
Day 12 was the best of the four, and there was some very pleasant hiking through woods along the western bank of the river Ticino. I arrived in Pavia by early afternoon, crossing into this ancient university town by the covered bridge shown below.
|The Ponte Caperto, or Covered Bridge, which spans the Ticino in Pavia. The dome of the cathedral is on the right. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
I liked Pavia a lot, and stayed at a relatively new, very smart and clean hostel located in the parish house of the church of Santa Maria in Betlem.