For a few days, from Piacenza to Vercelli, we were on a functioning pilgrimage route, though we were moving counter to the flow.  The Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome has become more active than when we walked and cycled it in 2012 and 2013.  Years ago we met nine pilgrims on the entire 2000 km route, but there are now perhaps four to six each day.  Based on our four day sample, most were from France, although we also met some from England, Belgium and Canada.

With a steady trickle of pilgrims has come a surprising amount of pilgrim infrastructure.  We have seen lots of route marking and most towns we have passed through in the past few days have an albergue.

We continue to reserve most of our accommodation through Booking but for the first time since Slovenia we have stayed in a couple of donativo albergues.  In Nicorvo we shared a 20 bed albergue with Didier, a bright, young pilgrim from Montreal.  His parents are Camino junkies like ourselves, and with their encouragement he was on his first two-week pilgrimage.  He is also going in the reverse direction, so for the first time since Hungary I had a walking companion for a day.

From Vercelli Didier continued up the main route of the Via Francigena towards the Grand St. Bernard pass, while we turned onto a less used variant.  The route we are now on is marked in both directions: yellow arrows towards Santiago and white arrows for Rome.

Tonight we are in an albergue in the tiny hamlet of Lamporo.  We are the only guests, but despite serving only the most halting trickle of pilgrims, it is staffed by a hospitalero.  When I staggered in from a 35 km walk in the 30 degree heat, he met me with cold drinks and a nice lunch of leftovers.  The three of us have been laughing and conversing in a random mix of Italian, Spanish and French.  While we miss the air con from our usual hotel rooms, it is delightful to have a more traditional Camino experience.  I think we may try to stay in a few more albergues in the next few weeks if they continue to be available.

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