Day 14 of our pilgrimage took us from Vercelli to Robbio, and from Piedmont into Lombardy. Distance traveled: 14 miles. Weather: clear, low 90s.
Thankfully, Mom and Dan’s health was much improved from yesterday. Whatever it was, it lasted less than 24 hours. They’re plenty tough. Still, given how sick they were, I didn’t think they were strong enough to walk 14 miles today in full Italian sunshine. According to Italian reporters, September temperatures in this region have been record-setting.
However, both insisted they were healthy and ready to walk to Robbio today. Despite the heat, they did great.
We took a train from Torino to Vercelli, quickly intercepted the trail, and were soon strolling alongside the rice fields. On some invisible line, we also crossed from Piedmont into Lombardy.
Rice isn’t the first product that springs to mind when you think of Italy. And yet, Northern Italy has been growing rice since the end of the 15th century. Today, Italy is the largest producer of rice in the European Union, producing around 1 million tons per year.
Naturally, the rice is much different from the types that are popular in Asian countries. The types used for risotto are: Arborio and Carnaroli.
I had been excited about seeing these fields. After all, who doesn’t love a good risotto? Or a hot and crispy arrancini (rice ball stuffed with cheese, meat, mushroom, etc.)?
Farewell, Piedmont…hello, Lombardy!
I’ve spent the last two years living in Japan. Because Japan is a very mountainous country, the fields are often in small segments, or terraced up a hill.
Thus, the biggest surprise for me was mile after mile of rice growing on a relatively flat plain. Often, there was rice on one side of the path, and corn on the other.
How are these fields irrigated? By nature. This region of Italy gets the bulk of rain in the spring and fall. A network of ancient canals delivers water from the five rivers. When the river water levels drop, it poses a real problem to the crops.
Last year, Italy had to decrease its production due to drought.
Bring Lots of Water For Yourself
I had gotten complacent. There have been so many Alpine streams and water fountains thus far, I took it for granted we’d hit easy-to-access water sources all the way into Rome. What a fool!
By the time we reached Palestro I was damn near hallucinating from the heat. In Italy, most shops and restaurants (outside of tourist areas) are closed on Sunday. Thus, it wasn’t a surprise to find that nothing in the small town of Palestro was open.
Thankfully, we located an outdoor water fountain and re-filled every water bottle.
Definitely hydrate well before you walk, and carry extra bottles just in case!
Arrival in Robbio
I was amazed by the diversity we saw upon reaching Robbio. There were Africans and several women wearing hijab. After looking at a map, I realized that although we’re deep in agriculture, Robbio is only 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Milan, one of Italy’s largest cities.
Tonight we’re staying in lovely, church-hosted lodging. (Donations of €20 per person.)
A woman met us on bicycle and led us through a locked door, past a courtyard, and upstairs to a second floor apartment. She then made Dad’s day by stamping our Pilgrim Passports. They’re the first stamps he and Dan have gotten since they started walking the Via Francigena, and they are BEAMING.
The kindly woman also thrilled Mom by showing her the kitchen, and several packs of risotto. This lovely lady also left us a package of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life, grown from her garden. Mom quickly made a very tasty risotto.
After showering, we washed our clothes in the kitchen sink and hung them out to dry on the communal balcony.
The bells sound every hour and half-hour. Since we’re super close to the church, I’ll attest to the fact that the bells appear in perfect working order, and that the sound is especially rich and resonant. 🤩
For dinner, Dad, Dan, and I had pizzas at a terrific local place less than a five minute walk from the church.
Tomorrow, it’s on to Mortara!
Pilgrim encounters: 2 French (new young couple)
Breakfast: Supermarket leftovers
Lunch: Supermarket leftovers
Dinner: €16 ($17.04)
Church lodging donation (per person): €20 ($21.30)