The plus side of having to organise our own breakfast was that we ate sufficient calories to keep us going until lunchtime. Although today was another relatively short walk of about 21 kilometres, we are now into the swing of getting up at 6am and leaving by 7-7.30am. That also gives us plenty of time to explore churches and villages en route, and to get our daily laundry done in good time to dry it out overnight once we get to our billet.

Albergo San Michele/ Ristorante Torino all closed up as we left

Mortara was busy this morning, with local children back to school after half-term and the adults back to work. The school car park was evidently not to be used for dropping off and so parents were stopping anywhere they could on adjacent roads to let their children out of their cars. There was just the same sort of chaos we see at home!

Mortara’s municipal office building

We were quickly out of town onto small roads, but still had to get across and then along the busy ring road. It was a beautiful sunny morning, though there was an autumnal chill in the air, and initially we were walking directly towards the sun as it was rising over the eastern horizon.

Leaving Mortara in early morning sunshine with a distinct autumn chill in the air

Just inside the ring road on the Via Francigena stands the Abbazia di Sant’Albino, an abbey offering pilgrim accommodation and where the Spanish man we met yesterday had been heading. We have decided to avoid sleeping in dormitories, especially at this time of year when ventilation is likely to be less good, so as to reduce our risk of getting ill with Covid. We’ve seen municipal notices in towns and villages warning that infection rates are on the increase again, though little sign of changes in behaviour.

Abbazia di Sant’Albina in need of significant repairs but still offering hospitality to pilgrims

Once clear of the busy ring road the path followed farm tracks around the fields, occasionally crossing irrigation canals, and with more trees than we’ve seen for a while. We also noticed that there was more wheat and maize being grown, in addition to rice, in this area.

Once out into more open country we realised that what looked like frost on the fields of stubble was in fact a blanket of dew covered spiders’ webs twinkling in the early morning sunshine. The amount of work and number of spiders that must have been involved is quite incredible. We also wondered whether what we had thought was frost on the fields yesterday wasn’t frost at all but more spidery handiwork.

The whole field of wheat stubble was covered in a blanket of spiders’ webs glistening in the early morning sun – later, as the air warmed, there were filaments of web flying in the light wind, taking baby spiders out into the wider world
The tall grasses and reeds were also encased in spidery webs

At about 1000 we came to the village of Remondo and, passing a cafe/bar, decided to stop for a coffee. In the 20 minutes we were there at least 20 other people came in for a quick coffee, mostly an espresso knocked back standing at the bar, before continuing with their day. We noticed that the bin men also left clutching a large bottle of beer each! Where they survive these cafe/bars also appear to serve an important function as social meeting places in small isolated villages, and we are pleased to be able to support them.

Outside the village were several properties with notices stating they are owned by the military, although all looked rundown and probably not in current use. The surrounding fences were about half the height of the fences around Army HQ at Andover and without a capping of razor wire, but like in the UK there were lots of notices warning of the consequences of unauthorised entry.

We may be on camera but looking at the state of the property we reckoned the cameras probably no longer work!

Our path continued to follow farm tracks across the almost flat landscape for several more kilometres. As we have found over recent days, there were several types of wildflower still blooming in the exceptionally warm sunshine, brightening up the generally brownish hue of the autumn countryside.

At a farmstead not identified on our maps was a resting place for pilgrims with the usual Via Francigena sign above. It is apparent that we are not following convention as we should: yes, Tom carries stick and rucksack, and yes, Julie walks dutifully behind. But….what about her rucksack?! And a skirt is really not practical for what we’re doing.

Across the way was a very fine traditionally built machinery shed, with whole tree trunks and branches used for the cross beams and rafters.

More flat farm tracks brought us into Tromello, a small town about 5 kilometres from our destination. The countryside today has been quite different from the last 2-3 days. Although flat, there are fewer irrigation channels here, fewer rice paddies, generally smaller fields, and more trees and hedges. All of this makes for a rather more interesting landscape, although the walking is still pretty flat and easy.

Just before going into Tromello we decided to sit on a grassy bank to eat our lunch, but were soon plagued by flies, so quickly packed up and walked on into town. Relaxing instead on a bench in the main square we were approached by an elderly gentleman asking if we would like our pilgrim passports stamped, and we said we would ”per favore”. He took them away to his nearby office, clambering through scaffolding as the building is being renovated, and came back with pilgrim passports stamped, a card with a pilgrim prayer in Latin and a metal badge for each of us, courtesy of the local church community. We were rather touched by his thoughtfulness. Having an ancient pilgrim route passing through is clearly important to the church community here.

Walking into Tromello, the 16-17th century Palazzo Brielli Castiglione on the left and one of the town’s two campanile ahead
A rather fine lamp post outside Palazzo Brielli Castiglione

The remaining walk to our day’s destination was about 5 kilometres, again meandering along farm tracks and then taking tarmac roads into Garlasco. As we were making our way along a narrow street towards the outskirts of Tromello a motorcyclist came along behind us, stopped, asked where we were from and, being told England, said ”welcome to Italy” and wished us well with our walk. We decided that Tromello is a friendly place with inhabitants who seem to like pilgrims. There even seemed to be fewer barking dogs warning us off!

The direct route from Tromello to Garlasco and Pavia – our route is more convoluted
Leaving Tromello by farm tracks
Following a sizeable canal towards the outskirts of Garlasco
Garlasco’s industrial zone coming up

Our accommodation was across the other side of town, so we decided to cut through the centre rather than following the ring road with all its busy traffic. That took us all the way to Siberia and beyond!

We found our night’s lodging place on the bypass. In the vestibule there is a grand piano. While our passport details were being taken she wandered over and began playing. The Hotel Diamante promised to be a good place to stay.

High point of the day? Well, probably Tromello and the kind man who arranged the stamping of our pilgrim testimonia.

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