Well that was a doozy of a Day Zero walk if ever there was one. On most of our walks, the first day just has a short, warm-up walk. I’ve haven’t really counted those days as walking days as they are as short as a couple of kilometers. We have done those for a variety of reasons but often it is to make the first real day not overly strenuous.
We had planned to take an early train from Milan to Vercelli, get our first stamp in the church next to the Vercelli train station then walk to our hotel about 2km down the trail. After checking in and leaving most gear in the room, we hoped to walk about 10km before finding taxi back to the hotel. Tomorrow we could taxi to where we stopped today and start the real walk. That was the plan, at least.
Today’s walk broke the bank for a Day Zero walk. It wasn’t intended and it didn’t shatter us but, Wow! The marked route for this trail would have taken us down a busy road that the guide book describes as dangerous. They recommend a longer alternative that goes mostly along farm roads, tracks and fields. To take the longer detour, and get to a bed in a reasonable distance tomorrow, we had to walk some of it today. The problem was that after the first few kilometers there wasn’t a sound to be found that could help us get transport back to our hotel in Vercelli. We had to go all the way to Salasco to find someone and fortunately a group of men and their young translator managed to tell us that a bus to Vercelli would be passing in 20 minutes. Perfect!
We took that bus back but it only stopped at the train station. We had to walk those 2km back to the hotel again. I’m counting those in our total mileage! Also, the time it took us today includes all the stops in the church, the breakfast, waiting for a bus, the bus ride, the stop for a gelato (because it was there), photos etc. we don’t walk fast but we’re not that slow either.
Notes to any other pilgrims following us: I don’t know how bad the main route would have been but consider it. Our trail was nice but very, very, very quiet. Once was passed the Carrefour near the beginning, I think we saw three cars, three Via Francigena pilgrims heading to Vercelli and one other person. Salasco is about a kilometer off the trail and we one saw a dozen people there. Thankfully, they do have that bus stop.
Another thing to consider was that only a small portion of the alternative route was off blacktop roads. There weren’t cars but that’s still a lot of blacktop. Maybe 20% was gravel trails, grass or something else. The “something else” was sometimes an issue too. Just after passing Carrefour, we were directed across the road and into a field. Well the field was a rice padi. From April to August, that would likely be buzzing with billions of mosquitos. Also, in the beginning, we were on a bund so it wasn’t to bad but after crossing a troublesome drain ditch, the only place to walk was in a trough. In Spring, that would have been thigh deep in water. Luckily, it was mostly dried mud for us.
Finally, keep in mind that the alternative route is not signposted at all. It would be difficult to follow written directions or a simple map. We used a smartphone GPS and only missed one turn. And stay in central Vercelli. We are in the boonies and it was a bad choice. Good luck.
That’s it for today. I have to hurry up and organize tomorrow.