Novara and Mortara in the rain

(This post from the afternoon of September 4th)

Last night I stayed it a hotel in Novara, a city not on the Via Francigena, but just to the north of Vercelli, which is.  There was no reliable information on accommodation that I could find in Vercelli and so I decided to stay in Novara in order to regroup a bit and figure out what I wanted to do before going to Milan for the Grand Prix.

Novara is a suburb city of Milan and is probably the biggest place I’ve been so far on the pilgrimage.  I had a chance to see most of the town on the walk from the train station to the hotel and could see that it was a mix of old and new.  There were a few towering spires of very large churches near the center of town, which surrounds a sizeable park, but as you go away from the center, it gets more modern and has the feel of a typical Italian city.  The only thing that may differentiate it from a “typical” city in Italy is that it is not at all touristy and I imagine it would be pretty hard to navigate and deal with if you didn’t know Italian.

One example of the disregard for non-Italians would be the information found in my hotel’s room.  The typical brochures describing the hotel’s offerings was provided in Italian and English versions, but the English translations were some of the worst I’ve ever seen while abroad.  This surprised me from what was  by far the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in.  I’ve been happy that no one has tried to speak English to me of late, as they did at the beginning of my trip.  I was crediting this change solely to the fact that I had gotten back into the swing of speaking Italian again, but it may also have something to do with my not being in the touristy areas of Rome and Florence.  Whatever the reason, I hope the trend continues because it hurts your pride a bit each time someone thinks that you require English, and it also actually makes things more difficult, because I often can’t understand their poorly articulated and accent-prone speech, and they can’t understand my native tongue either.

It started raining late yesterday afternoon and has continued into today.  I was glad that the plan was to take the train, because it certainly didn’t look fun to walk in the downpour.  While I didn’t get to walk much of the Via Francigena today, I did have to walk from the hotel in Novara to the train station.  A walk that was long enough to get me wet with perspiration yesterday was long enough to get me wet with rain today.  I took a different route this time, right through the center of town and was happily surprised by the ease with which I could carry my pack.  The bag hadn’t lost any weight—or so I hope because that would mean I had lost something—but I was able to walk around without any of the previous pain.

My walk through the center of Novara led me through the old part of the city.  Following on from a grand, tree-lined boulevard were the town hall and one of the large churches that I had discovered from its spire the day before.  Soon, I found myself in smaller cobblestone streets.  There were the remains of a market from the morning with lots of vendors packing up their wares.  I continued on and found large arcades bounding more twisting, cobbled streets.  Behind all these columns were shops of different sorts, all closed on Sunday, but there were still a handful of people, umbrellas in hand, strolling through and looking at items in the windows.  I got to the train station and bought my ticket to Mortara.  The rain hadn’t soaked me and I knew where I was staying in the next city.  Everything was going to plan.

On the short train ride, I tried to call the hotel where I was planning to stay.  I had chosen this one because it was close to the train station and came with a ‘PR’ rating from my guidebook—Pilgrim Recommended.  I had submitted a reservation request in the morning online, but wanted to make sure everything was ok, so I didn’t have to walk to a place unwilling to take me.  First, I missed one number and was told that what I had input wasn’t correct.  I fixed the mistake and tried again.  There was nothing on the other end of the line.  I tried once more and waited, but the number was apparently ”fuori servizio.”  I checked in the book to see if I had made another mistake but the number in the phone matched the one on the page.  I called home to see if the place’s website had a different number.  It too, was the same.  It was time to get off the train and I was a bit worried as I sat down inside the station.

I pulled out the guidebook and found another place to call.  I got through to someone and asked if they had a place for the night.  “Are you a pilgrim?” the man on the phone said.  I said I was, thinking that that fact might garner me some pity for calling on the afternoon of the day of my arrival.  “No, I’m sorry, we are closed today.”  That didn’t make sense.  This place was listed as a hotel and hotels are never closed.  “You are a hotel, though, right?” I asked.  “We are closed today,” was the only response I got.  That left me with one more option from the book that I had been hoping I would not have to try.  It is listed as the Abbazia di Sant’Albino, a monastery on the east edge of town.  I was afraid to call there because I didn’t want to disturb the monks, who I thought might be busy on Sunday, and it always seemed rude to call up these religious hostels just before you want to arrive.  It seemed as if I had no choice, however, and the now-closed ticket office of the heavily graffiti-ed train station was beginning to empty of everyone except the sort of people who looked like they did the graffiti.  This did it for me, and I decided to call the number.

The man who picked up spoke very quickly, even after asking if I was French.  Instead of answering my questions with a simple si or no, he went on and on about the Abbazia and I didn’t understand if he was actually from there or somewhere else and was trying to direct me there.  He hung up after some very quick sentences, before I could ask if there was space for me.  I called back and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand.  Do you have space for tonight?”  Seemingly annoyed, he replied, “Yes!  Space to sleep, and eat, and shower.  Abbazia Sant’Albino, pellegrini, Mortara, Abbazia Sant’Albino, chiesa, iglese, ok?”  A bit taken aback, I said, “Si, si.  Capito. Grazie, tante grazie.”  He hung up again.  I guess this was going to be where I stayed after all.

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~ by pminnig on September 12, 2011.

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