I arrived in Ivrea in good time today, got booked into the hostel which is on the shore of the Dora Balthea river, and then headed into town. After doing my best to trouble-shoot my cellular connection issues here in Italy, I'd decided it was time to buy a local SIM and store my "global roaming" SIM until I reach Albania.
Although my family back home in Canada may beg to differ, not having a phone number wasn't a great inconvenience. The main reason I decided to get an Italian number is so that I can phone ahead and arrange for accommodations. I've had too many days of finding hotels closed or fully booked, and unlike the situation on the Camino, pilgrim's (i.e. cheap) lodgings aren't available on a drop-in basis.
There are a good number of local parishes which are willing to host pilgrims walking the Via Francigena, but they need at least a day's advance notice. I discovered this in Aosta, at which point I started trying to make those phone calls. Each time, it failed to connect, and I got an auto-text telling me there was no rate available, even when I had solid connectivity.
After listening to my fumbling attempts to explain what I wanted in Italian, the salesman graciously switched to English, asked a few more questions, and then came up with a recommendation for me. The Vodafone Holiday pack is a SIM, packaged with 300 minutes, 300 texts, and 2 GBs of data per month for €30. No contract, I just need to top up my account each month in order to keep using it.
Wow, that's great! It's a little more than i'm paying in Canada, but at home I only have a 600 MB data allowance, and that plan is no longer available. The salesman told me my account would be activated in the morning, but I popped the SIM card in almost immediately and rebooted. To my surprise, I connected to the Vodafone network and even got 4G data. As in Etroubles a few days ago, the free municipal WiFi required an Italian phone number to register, and now I had that!
And then I got an SMS from Vodafone. "Vodafone Holiday cannot be activated on your SIM because your credit is under 30 euros. Please visit one of our stores or click here voda.it/holiday to top it up."
I'd assumed that if my account wasn't activated, I wouldn't be able to connect. Turns out, my very limited usage was charged against the €30 on my balance, meaning I no longer had enough to activate the plan.
Back to the shop, with only 10 minutes to closing time, and two customers ahead of me. I explained the situation, and took care to state that it was my mistake. The salesman said he would call Vodafone and see about getting the charges reversed. By this time, I was the last customer there and they'd already locked the door. To make life easier for everyone, especially this poor guy who had to deal with a stoopid foreigner, I offered to just pay for my usage to top it back up. Done, no problem there. But he strongly urged me to come back in the morning so he could verify things were working properly. That's great, except they don't open until two hours after I was hoping to be on the road. Still, I thought he delivered excellent customer service, especially in a foreign language. (He's the only staff member working this evening who had a functional grasp of English.)
I'm still planning to roll out the door early in the morning. I'd like to visit the church of Saint Maurice, the cathedral, and also the duomo (palace). I figure that if I am packed and moving by 7:00, that'll give me time to get to those three places and still be at the shop by 9:00. The Roman amphitheatre is on the road out of town, so I'll be stopping by there, too. Not quite the way I'd planned to spend my time in Ivrea, but having the mobile plan should make a big difference as I move further south. It may even come in handy tomorrow, since my original plan of walking 35 km to Santhià, the next major town, is now in doubt, due to the timing mostly but also because I've got another (minor, thankfully!) set of blisters.
Everything in this part of town shuts down by 7:30 pm. The pedestrians were gone, the rush hour traffic had subsided - it amazes me how quiet these northern towns get in the evening, and Ivrea has a population of about 24,000. I decided to walk around the historical centre to get my bearings for the morning, and as I was ambling along I saw a small grocery store still open. On a whim, I went in and bought a few items. As he was ringing up the sale, the clerk tossed two clementine oranges in the bag. I thanked him, and explained what I was doing. He shook my hand, and then bagged up some candied ginger as well, to help prevent colds and also for power. I thanked him again, and as I left asked him to "Preghiete per me."
The really good news from a walker's perspective, is that the signposts in the region of Piemonte are much, much better than they were in the Aosta Valley. There I eventually learned which of the three sets of markings was reliable, but only after many detours and much frustration. In contrast, in the past day and a half of walking in Piemonte I have spotted six different trail marking signs and blazes, and they agree not only with one another, but also with common sense!
Well, today there was one exception to the common sense rule. There seems to be no practical reason for the loop around Lake Pistono, although walking through the regional nature reserve was very beautiful and the castle (built and improved upon between the 11th and 14th centuries) was a striking sight. It had been abandoned and had fallen into a bad state, but it was purchased in 1963 by a wealthy family. Between 1965 and 1985, the state assisted in restoration efforts. It's not open to the public at the moment, so there was no real temptation to delay my arrival in Ivrea even further.
Also along this scenic detour (probably about an extra 2 km) was La Mollena Ristrotrattoria. A monella, according to my English/Italian dictionary, is a "gamin, urchin" and the restaurant's logo is a cartoon girl aiming a slingshot with a bird perched on her head. I'd seen signs advertising it along the trail for a few km, but what convinced me to stop in was the delightful, tranquil piano music they had playing over the patio. (That, and I did need to use the bathroom.)
At 12:53, I was the first customer of the day. Ten minutes later, the waiter was setting up more tables and the air had filled with a pleasant low buzz of conversation. Clearly it's a popular place with the locals. I began to regret only ordering a panini - this was the best sandwich I've had yet in Italy, with Parma ham and some cheese on a good big hunk of fresh crusty bread covered with sesame seeds. Oh, so good!
Ever since walking into Italy across the Great St Bernard Pass, I have had nothing but wonderful weather. It did get a little warm a few days ago, but Wednesday was bright and cool and clear with a very strong wind pushing me along the mainly flat trail.
And now I ought to post this and retire for the night, or my plans for some early morning site-seeing will come to naught.