Flat lands.
Mar23

Flat lands.

Just finished our 6th day of walking. Flat would describe the underfoot conditions pretty well, although some minor hillocks have been introduced to the mix of paddy, farms, towns and enormous factories. I’ve just been informed that Ellen’s feet are improving. Despite Ellen’s murmurings that a restaurant was nearby, I insisted that turning left out of our abode tonight would lead to food. The mighty extra three mile evening food forage proved unsuccessful. We then found a lovely pilgrims restaurant 50 meters to the right! This didn’t even lead to an argument and Ellen’s feet held up. We haven’t quite fully understood food yet. It seems that if you order a coffee they give you food as well. If you order a beer you also get food. The more beer you order the fancier the food becomes. If you order food you get extra unasked for food. Last night we declined a pudding after a lovely filling dinner, only to be presented with a large custard doughnut, on the house!! These flat days have merged somewhat. Had one chilly, windy and drizzly day yesterday. We stopped early as just too chilly. Today an otter swam with us lazily along a dyke. Ellen swore to a beaver ( mmmmm) and a rather regal Italian hare finally decided to saunter off when we got too close. The birds and butterflies continue to delight despite being unnamed. We have seen no pilgrims but we have found that a venturesome Scott who set out from St Andrews passed through only 2 days ago. We have been forced into commercial accommodation more that we would have liked. Church beds seem to be non existent. Our two non commercial nights have been organised by rather civic minded parochial local government bodies. We are in a small town called Orio Litta, a short hare’s lope from the mighty Po, which we must cross tomorrow. The guide book made it clear that rooms were thin on the ground. Ellen courageously rang ahead last night, and was left unsure what she had achieved, our Italian being what it is. As we walked over the fields to a slightly elevated town, after 27km on the road a man suddenly hailed us from immediately behind. He gave us a bit of a shock. He was on a mountain bike dressed head to foot in cyclist’s Lycra, helmet and sunglasses. He introduced himself and said he was fore warned and had come to guide us in. He was very chatty and friendly. The ancient beautifully renovated civic centre was to be our home for the night. The tower (later to have...

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Flat Earth
Mar20

Flat Earth

If an Italian ever tells you something is flat, check he doesn't come from the Po valley. If he does then he will certainly know a thing or two about flat. I half expect to walk past the headquarters of the flat earth society. The highest we have been is our second floor hotel room. We have two more flat days to go. We spend our days lazily meandering around huge paddy fields. Dotted about are industrially sized farms, islands of dry land not protected by height but by defensive ditches. The towns are the same, no high ground at all just bigger ditches. This is unspectacular but prosperous land. Given there are only the first stirrings of spring, no obvious buds on the trees, the whole region has its own charm. I always think that it is very hard to make flat lands attractive. You can't hide your dirty architectural linen in a convenient fold in the landscape. However the sheer intensity of work that has gone into the making of the landscape lends it a certain charm. Literally every square inch has had several machines working on it. The irrigation system defies imagination in its complexity. It must look amazing in a couple of months time when the Alpine snow melt fills these fields. There are several thousand square miles of paddy fields. Beware of the mosquitoes! We are struggling to name one of the larger field birds. It is some sort of large spoonbill / egret / heron / ibis. It is white with black legs and bill, with a natty black rim around its otherwise white wings. Ellen reckons it is an Ibis, I err on the side of a spoonbill. Either way it's a startling bird. The flat lands were not able to hide an afternoon surprise today. In between towns the path took us across the railway and main road that we had been following all day. At a distance I could make out a plastic white chair with someone sitting on it just before the very level crossing. Strange I thought. As I drew closer it became clearer that a black woman was sitting on the chair together with plastic bag at her feet and chatting away on her mobile phone. Buon Giorno I said. She smiled. Then I noticed on the other side of the crossing and over the road another black lady on a similar cheap white plastic chair. We were in the middle of nowhere, just a dusty track, a few trees and cars streaking nearby. At the same moment that I saw a battered scruffy red umbrella on...

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Vercelli
Mar19

Vercelli

We got here with no problems at all. We seemed to float our way through Europe on some sort of benevolent cloud. The plane left Manchester early and arrived in Milan early. We strolled straight on to the express train to the terminus in the centre of Milan. Alighting the smart express we were bundled on to the neighbouring train by very helpful Italian folk, with no wait at all. Two very well turned out woman in the chilly station concourse guided us down Galileo street to our hotel. Not a hitch all day. The Hotel Valsesia ( valley of the river Sesia ) was in a 1950’s time warp. Dark and a little musty with its wiring of variable quality and certainly all on show. In its favour it was relatively warm with Garibaldi era radiators, clean and quiet we being the only guests. The owner and his wife were enthusiastic in their welcome and we were brought up sharp by our almost total absence of Italian. A few words of French, Spanish and English escape our lips, but Italian would have been more use. We are working on it. We wandered around the attractive well kept city. As is usual in a new country the mind gets going on comparisons. Differences between here and home or Spain. There is definitely a Latin style shared with Spain. We settled on an early evening drink in one of the thousands of cafes. Chocolate shop and cafe, cheese shop and cafe, ice cream shop and cafe, bar and cafe. You are never far from a cafe. This one was a bar. Along with the drinks a large tray of Spanish style tapas also appear. Ellen was enthusiastic about this development, especially as they were gratis. Cafes don’t serve meals so we went to an excellent pizzeria just down the road. Prosecco was served by the carafe, again Ellen approved. All looking good so far. Just a little quiz. In the spirit of radio four the unbelievable truth, which of the following statements is untrue.. There are a lot of cafes. There are even more handbag shops. Not many training shoes to be seen. Everything is very expensive. We spent the night in a Police station. Lorry drivers are very polite to pilgrims. There are no fast food chains at all. All will be revealed in a later post....

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Cultural differences?
Mar19

Cultural differences?

Sitting here in my usual early evening lakeside position. Slightly early for a beer. Chatting to a totally charming and disarming old lady who sells beads. She is a 1959 Tibetan refugee, and as is the way with all Tibetans she is sweetness and happiness personified. Therefore she does a roaring trade, disarming any tourist that comes in her path. As she says if you have to do business, do happy business. Having dinner on a balcony last night, stumbled on one of those rare places that rises above merey very good up towards the sublime. As it got dark a motorbike procession passed down the street. Honking horns,Tibetan banners general raising of tension. Some sort of political unrest? A riot on the way? Police loitering menacingly. The waiters arrive leaning over the balcony shouting excitedly as well. WE WON. WE WON. We beat the Bangladeshis. Cricket…….  ...

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Hippy Dippy Pokhara
Mar16

Hippy Dippy Pokhara

Feel like I'm on a Thai beach. Himalaya in background and Sun going down fast over the lake. Today was Sunaday, a day off and 'Holi', day a religious but mostly fun day marking Spring's beginning. Consisted of everybody buying bags of coloured dye and throwing or smearing at anyone they passed. Naturally the Nepalese youths and oddly all ages of Westerners were most enthusiastic. It's a colorful place today. My hippy dippy cafe by the lake has been overrun by the cool, young, hippy festival crowd. Dreds are a must. Sitting bewitched by an American girl tranced out to the music with a hoop. She is the real deal. She has transcended the hoolahoop and gone way beyond. Quite a dance sight. Us oldies are easy to please. Meanwhile I'm reading about Schopenhauer. I think he would have approved. More about Lumbini to follow. Just caught in the youthful moment of the present!  ...

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