With a big pizza, a beer, a chat to family back home and a good sleep under my belt I awoke Friday morning much happier and, although a possibility, I didn’t even really consider heading out east to tour Italy. Heading back to Les Granges was what I wanted to do, but I first I had a couple of hours before having to check out of my hotel in which I could wander around Ivrea without a bike.
Most famous last century as the headquarters of Olivetti, the thing about the city that intrigued me the most from my brief research was the Battle of the Oranges – the largest food fight in Italy. Throwing oranges (the only figure I could find was a quarter of a million kilograms) sounds rather vicious – and a little nuts, as oranges don’t grow around here and have to be imported from Sicily. Still, for some reason, on the last three days before Lent thousands of people form into various teams and throw oranges at each other.
I missed that, being quite some months after Shrove Tuesday – so took a slightly more dignified walk around town.
The ride back to the Aosta Valley was fairly uneventful. This time I had the wind at my back and I did an even better job of avoiding the highway and taking small paths and roads. For the first part of the day this was on the Via Francigena again – although it could be a bit of fun trying to spot the trailmarkers. This was for two reasons – every so often they’d completely change, and the trail is really for going to Rome, not the other way as I was headed. I met a nice elderly couple fairly well loaded up going towards Rome; from Trieste and Trento (both places I’d hoped to get to, sigh), they are doing the Via Francigena in sections and had come over Great St Bernard Pass the previous week in snowfall. Such encounters are one of the things I’ll miss of touring – but trying to choose off-road routes rather limits them and they are fleeting.
The pictogram of a pilgrim that often was the trailmarker daubed on posts.
Still managing to keep off the highway, with the odd dead-end sending me backtracking, I wanted to get closer to Forte di Bard than I did passing it in the other direction. Little did I know that that would send me up the steepest pitch of road I’ve dragged my bike up on the whole trip. With the sun beating down, those few minutes to struggle forward only a hundred and fifty metres, but at over twenty percent gradient, were some of the hardest earned for quite sometime – possibly since having to push my rig up muddy slopes in the Ardennes. Bard is the smallest commune in all of Aosta Valley, so it didn’t take long to roll down its narrow streets, avoiding those struggling to walk up, back to the river. I thought I deserved lunch and found a bar, a beer and a delicious panini (more of a big toasted bun) filled with salami, cheese and artichoke hearts.
The remaining distance was fairly uneventful – there was the big climb up to Saint Vincent on the highway, more gelato at Saint Vincent and then very familiar mountains coming back into view before the last climb off the valley floor to Les Granges. Generally, I’m probably a bit too predictable – but I must say, it is quite fun completely surprising people. Rather hot and sweaty, I stowed my bike in the garage and wandered back into the house to see who was around. The mixture of surprise, excitement, and moderate amounts of disbelief were more than I was expecting (I’d only been gone about thirty hours) and enough to let me know that I’d definitely made a good choice.
With the fun of surprising people over, it was time to get back to work – making red wine. Apparently I’d missed two big days of harvesting (that was well timed) and everyone was pretty tired. The first stage of red wine production is much quicker and simpler than that of white wine. Of what is harvested, the only thing that doesn’t go in the vat is the stalks. The grapes, skins and pips included, are removed from the stalks by a rotating shaft with paddles attached and then pumped into the vat. There’s a lot less waiting around and the cleaning is easier. Saturday was also another big harvest day with many friends and family turning up again – I got reasonably good at explaining in Italian that I left and then it was no good touring alone, so I returned. People I can hardly hold a conversation with seemed a lot more pleased by this turn of events than I expected – everyone is so friendly here. The lunch crowd was much bigger this time, so a couple of big trestle table were set up and the salamis, cheeses, large rice salads, kilograms of potatoes and large jugs of red wine straight from somewhere in the winery flowed.