Day 15 of our pilgrimage took us from Robbio to Mortara, and the Abbey of St. Albino. Distance traveled: 12 miles. Weather: clear, humid, high 80s.
It was my turn to be sick today. I had been feeling “off” since the early morning hours. By the time the heavy church bells struck, I was feverish and feeling utterly gross. My case was less serious than Mom’s and Dan’s. I vomited 15 minutes before we left and immediately felt better.
Today’s walk of only 10.4 miles is rated on the Via Francigena app as “easy”. Therefore, I assured my parents I’d be fine walking the flat roads to Mortara.
Nasty Mosquitos at Every Turn
I didn’t recall there being as many insects on the walk yesterday. Perhaps they were having a rest break. In any case, they were out in force today! We saw all kinds of wildlife: bugs, crickets, grasshoppers, langustine, frogs, and even wild hares. As we approached small neighborhoods, I laughed myself silly after seeing chickens cross the road.
But most of all, there were those horrible mosquitos! It soon hit 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Because there were few trees, and many, many, many mosquitoes, there were scant opportunities to sit down, take the backpack off, and rest a bit.
My brother Dan walked directly behind me. I’ve been super impressed at how well he’s holding up. Nary a word of complaint. Moreover, whenever I ask him what his favorite part of the trip has been, the answer is always the same: “Walking.”
Thank goodness he likes it! Goodness knows we are doing plenty of it.
Whenever I turned around, he was there smiling. He’s grown so much in three short days of hiking. He’s much more confident, and is working those walking sticks like a pro.
The route to Mortara was very well marked, and the surface was flat, but today was definitely not my favorite walk.
A Striking Country Church
Since we are on a Via Francigena pilgrimage, whenever possible, we’ve been stopping at churches along the route.
I wish I had thought to record the name of a small but beautiful church we passed along the way. I was stunned by the enormous battle scene above the altar. Usually, Catholic churches have art that highlights Jesus, Mary, saints, and angels. This was the first time I think I’ve seen a battle between humans take center stage.
I could find no sign in English or Italian explaining what was taking place. However, given this region’s history, I think it depicts the 773 A.D. battle in which Charlemagne defeated the king of the Longobards.
(The word “morta” means “dead”, and so many Longoboards were killed during the 773 battle, that thereafter the area became known as Mortara.)
An Ancient Abbey in Mortara
Thanks to a contact Dad had made the night before in Robbio, he was able to reserve four spots at the Abbey of St. Albino, located a little more than a mile past Mortara. This incredible church-monastery was founded in the 5th century. Charlemagne founded part of the complex to bury the soldiers of his army who died in battle after the Longobards defeat.
I can only imagine all the pilgrims who have slept here over the centuries on their way to Rome.
An older woman ran the lodging with extraordinary pride and efficiency. She allowed us inside and took us to an enormous space with eight accordion fold-down mattresses; four on each wall. In the center of the room was a large wooden dining table.
In the foyer of the space hung a large work of art depicting the deaths of Charlemagne’s two knights.
I still can’t believe we get to sleep here tonight.
A Lovely Welcome at the Historic Abbey
After showing pilgrims their bed, the bathroom facilities, and the backyard, the signora asks the same question of all:
“Sei vegetariano o mangi tutto?”
Are you a vegetarian, or do you eat everything?
You’re either one, or the other.
I think it would be very difficult for someone with dietary restrictions to make this trip. There are not many grocery stores along the route, and things get even more complicated when it comes to planning for Sunday. There are times you have a few options. And there are times you get what you get, and you try to be grateful for it.
I remain awestruck over the gracious hospitality we’ve been extended as pilgrims. What an utterly decadent feeling it is to shower with hot water after a long walk! What a joy to put on clean clothes and take a nap.
An International Group in Mortara
All eight cots will be in use tonight. Our four fellow pilgrims include a German woman, a Canadian, an Irishman, and an Italian.
They’re a very likeable, well-traveled group. The Irishman gifted my parents a bottle of Moretti beer. All of us wound up in the well-maintained backyard outside the Abbey, either reading, watching our clothes dry, drinking a beer, or talking.
Dinner and breakfast are included with the €20 lodging donation. The signora firmly refused all offers to help set the table or prepare the meal. I get the sense she truly loved being the one to care for pilgrims. What a remarkable woman.
All of us sat down at a table laden with bottles of red wine and generous plates of pasta with fresh vegetables. Thinking that the pasta WAS the dinner – and feeling hungry again after the morning’s illness – I ate it quickly.
She kept coming out with more plates heaped high with generous portions of food. Bowls of cucumber. Bowls of tomatoes. A plate full of thinly sliced breaded veal. She shook her head adamantly when we started passing food around to share. As it turns out, she’d only brought out half the portions…there was MORE. For dessert, there was a selection of fresh local fruits.
I enjoy pilgrim-shared meals. It’s always fun to hear their stories, and to realize you are sharing the same experiences. As it turns out, while we all have loved this Via Francigena journey, no one was a fan of today’s walk.
Tomorrow, it’s on to Garlasco!
Pilgrim encounters: 1 German, 2 French, 1 Irish, 1 Canadian, 1 Italian
Breakfast: €3 ($3.20)
Lunch: 0 (Skipped because of mosquitos)
Dinner: Included in €20 Abbey of St. Albino lodging donation
1 cot in dormitory: €20 ($21.35)