It was with great reluctance that I left my lodgings in Palestro this morning. Not only are Paolo and Ambra the perfect hosts, the hostel they run is absolutely wonderful. Every possible detail has been looked after - there's even a hair dryer in the room! (Not that I have all that much hair to dry.) When I checked out Ambra's website, I was not surprised to learn she's a wedding planner and interior designer. The hostel bears witness to her skill.
Nevertheless, I need to reach Rome with enough time left on my 90 day stay in the Schengen area to walk the 400 km across northern Greece. The world is full of beauty, and while I may one day settle down, that is not going to happen while I have my face set to Jerusalem.
After a few hours of walking, I noticed a bit of pain on the ball of my right foot where I'd had a blister a month ago. I decided to stop for lunch (i.e. lighten the load in my backpack), and while sitting on a bench in the sun in front of a cemetery, I pulled off my socks and gave my feet a quick once-over. Everything looked good, although there was a bit of tenderness, and that should have alerted me. It was only two hours after that before I finally applied one of those magic hydrocolloidal bandages. By then, of course, the blister had already formed, and I had another 14 km to go.
I made good time in spite of the minor change to my stride, and when I was 7 km from my destination, I stopped for a coffee and asked the barista if she would look up the number for the parish accommodations in the next town over. She was happy to oblige, and even refused to let me pay for my coffee. Once outside again, I called the first of the three numbers she'd provided for me. It rang, and then switched over to a fax machine. I spoke to someone at the second number who said she couldn't help me, but that she would get the number of the person who could. She called back a few minutes later, I thanked her, and then called the new number. (All of this in a sort of Italian.)
Finally I was speaking to the right person (well actually, to his wife), and when I told her what time I expected to arrive, she told me to go to a café near the hostel and someone would meet me there. My ETA was off by 15 minutes -- I hadn't accounted for the combination of walking with a blister on farm tracks lit only by my headlamp. Still, I was pleased with the margin of error. I walked into the right café on my first try, and was greeted with a rousing cry of "Pellegrino!" (Pilgrim!)
On the way over to the hostel, John Carlo told me there was one other pilgrim staying there. Imagine my surprise when I recognised him as the man I'd met on Sunday in Vercelli with Salvatore. Michael and Salvatore parted company this morning, Salvatore bound for Milan some 45 km distant, while Michael came to rest after walking 15 km this morning. It seems I'm not the only one to be afflicted with blisters.
After a hot shower and change of clothes, I came into Michael's room and asked if I could cook on the stove there. He told me that it wasn't working, at which I smiled and displayed the alcohol burning penny stove I've been using to heat up my evening meals. It turns out that he'd had dinner earlier (cold) and still had some lentil soup left over. I offered to heat it up for him when my food was warm. We sat down and and together, and then went for coffee and started talking.
Turns out, Michael is fluent in Russian and Arabic, proficient in English and Romanian, and of course speaks Italian as his first language. (Tomorrow I'll have to share some of my music with him. I've got Orthodox liturgical music in all those languages except Italian, but then have some Greek chant too.)
After speaking for several hours, I decided to take a day for my blister to heal and continue on with Michael to Pavia on Friday. He has a list of church-run hostels which is more up-to-date than my guidebook, neither of us are compulsive talkers, and of course to my benefit, he's Italian. This decision does mean adding yet another non-walking day to the tally, but I think it's best to take tomorrow as a rest day rather than push on the 28 km to Pavia as I was intending. The last thing I want is for another blister to get infected! I've covered 66 km in the past two days without being utterly exhausted by the end of the day. It's odd that it's my right foot which has been blistering repeatedly - my left foot is just fine.
So, tomorrow I'll find a laundromat and sterilise my clothing, buy some more food, and find somewhere to sit in the sun. Still no word from my friends in Santhià about the arrival of the package that was mailed to me on November 1. If it happens to arrive in the morning, I'll see about hopping a train up north to collect it. Otherwise, I may have to go window shopping to see what I can find around here, although I'll probably have better and less expensive options once I reach Pavia.
The past two mornings I've woken up before my alarm went off. Tomorrow morning I'll be able to sleep in, so I've disabled my alarm. It's almost 1:00 AM as I nod off while typing this, so that will have to do for today.