Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nearly Normal.

At last I have good news!  I think my knee is nearly normal, and how good that feels!

As I told you previously, I caught the bus to Vercelli, where I was booked into a hostel.  I nearly cried when I found I had to walk close to 2kms out of the town to get to it, but resignedly made my way there.  I am so thankful I did, ignoring the temptation to stop off at a hotel and pay the bank breaking prices required!  In the last post I said that I had a feeling that it was odd accomodation, and how right I was!

The sign on the outside of the Vercelli Pilgrim's hostel.

When I got there I was greeted by Angela, a real character.  A chain smoker, glasses so thick that I couldn't see her eyes, though she could read my passport number with them, and wearing a pink T shirt, not only inside out but also back to front.  This was a hostel (true pilgrim accomodation) like no other!  In the foyer of the building, next door and attached to the church, Angela and a man were sorting "things" - I was whisked upstairs so quickly that I didn't quite figure what it was they were sorting - food or clothes, or both.

The building was a convent or monastery in a former life, and it was perhaps still because there were obviously some people still living there.  It was HUGE.  I followed Angela down a long black and white tiled corridor to the pilgrim accomodation which consisted of 2 rooms with a double bunk in one and 2 in the other.  She called for translation assistance from a fellow pilgrim who spoke English and then painstakingly wrote down all my details.  Then pilgrim Frederico, a young man from Milan, took me on a tour to show me the bathrooms etc.  The clothes washing facilities were a short walk away, just around  the corner in the next corridor, but the body washing ones were a water bottle hike at the other end of this long corridor.  This corridor was filled with furniture, so much so that one would think it was a second hand shop - "Vinnies" eat your heart out!.  Some of the pieces of furniture were quite lovely, while others were very kitch.  Every nook and cranny was crammed with "stuff", and I have no idea for what purpose it was there, though Frederico made use of one of the sofas during the night when he could stand the roar of the snoring of one of the cycling pilgrims no longer!

I went next door to the Church and had a lovely sing, only to find that I had a large audience when I turned around.  Frederico tells me he recorded me and he was off to Colombia for a deal!  Because of my singing one of the nuns (at least I think that is what she was) took us aside and opened the chapel for us.  There were frescoes inside dating back to the 1400's.

Some of the frescoes in the little chapel dating back to the 1400's.

Frederico and I compared injuries and he produced some mircale gel that he used for tendonitis a few days ago.  He shared it with me and after 3 applications of it I could walk with relative comfort, though I now had to find some for myself as we parted ways after brekky.  Brekky was provided by Angela, and consisted of dry bread rolls and biscuits, olive oil, but no butter - it wasn't good for us - and either melon jam or Kiwi jam with cafe!  I skipped the olive oil!

Vercelli is really quite a beautiful city.  I really liked the Cathedral, which is more modern - only a few centuries old, and is very grey and white, making it quite light and airy, despite all the marble.  It looks a bit odd from the outside because it still has the original square tower and then the more modern bits added.  It was obviously undergoing some form of restoration as there were 6 lots of scaffolding with 8 different people that I could see, scraping, patching and painting among other things.  It has a very beautiful silver leaf Cross, made around the year 1000, hanging in the centre nave.  It had to be restored after some vandals tried to steal it some twenty odd years ago, which is why they can date it with some accuracy.

The tower is the oldest part of the Cathedral in Vercelli, the more modern part is the domes behind the tower - a real mix of styles!

The inside of the Cathedral

By contrast the St Andrew's Basilica was much older, not undergoing restoration, and built from red terracotta bricks.  This church too is large and airy and appealingly plain.  The cloisters were particularly attractive.

St Andrew's Basilica - from a distance, the cloisters, and the interior.  

After my wander around Vercelli I then caught the train to Pavia.  The train was a little one carriage one, stopping at all the little stations along the way - collecting and offloading school students along the way.  For me it was reminiscent of the little red hens winding their way through the hills, the difference being that this one wound its way through the rice fields, populated by herons and other water birds.

I had to follow my direction finding instincts (which were pretty accurate) to find the tourist office.  They were helpful in finding the hostel for me.  This is a wonderful new hostel for which I paid  20€ a night.  Last night I had the three bed room to myself but tonight there is another young girl from Rome sharing it with me.  She is here for a big conference being run over the next 4 days called "The Crossroads of Europe", which has all sorts of interesting things happening, much of it about pilgrimage and the Via Francigena.  

Sadly, a number of buildings, such as the Cathedral,  are having work done on them and so I won't be able to go in.  This is a city with many interesting differences to the others that I have visited.  The piazzas a not very large, the streets are quite long, though the one thing that is the same is that they are narrow and windy, and unlike towns like Aosta there does not appear to be many seats for people to sit on - other than the restaurant chairs!  I have walked across the reproduction Covered bridge a number of times as it is on the way to the hostel.  Reproduction, because the orginal was destroyed several hundred years ago by fire.

The Ponte Vecchio - the covered bridge in Pavia

As I was walking to the hostel yesterday a man stopped me and chatted about the Via Francigena.  I was told to follow him, and when I hestitated (I wasn't quite if that is what he had said) I was told firmly "come, come!".  I dutifully followed him, crossing the street at his command, looked up to see a little angel on the side of the building.  He then took me to show me the name of the street and told me that many walking the Via Francigena don't look up and therefore miss this little delight.

Taday I had lunch in one of the larger paizzas.  I had "the menu" - a set menu for €10 with about 3 choices.  I had ordered what I thought was pasta salad - which was warm pasta, not what I would call a salad, and then pizza - or so I thought!  What I got was a beef schnitzel with a tomato topping and fried cheese!  All very nice, and all part of the fun, and I might get it right by the time I get home.

I have now bought cream, which has an ingredient called "Devil's Claw" in it, and is the thing that is really working at getting my knee cleared up!  I have walked into town today almost pain free, and have had several rests.  All of this augers well for when I meet Carol and Elizabeth tomorrow and for when we all set off on Saturday.  The only snag is that I now feel very unfit.

1 comment:

  1. I remember Italy being quite unlike any other country, especially after France and Switzerland which are fairly well organised. Good Luck with the rest of your time. Loving your whole Blog. Glenis and Michael xx