Sierre to Prato

Majella and I were up and moving at 6:00. We allowed Emily to lie in a little longer but not much. Fortunately we had packed most things the previous night so we were able to move quickly.

By 7:30 we had said farewell to Serafino for the last time and had joined Marie-Francoise, Roland and Jules at the cure for a breakfast of juice, coffee and croissants. This was the one night for which we had not arranged accommodation before leaving Australia so I took a few minutes to connect to wotif.com and see what might be available in Prato. I secured a triple room at the Art Hotel Milano via wotif.com and then searched again for a site with a map showing the hotel location. With that settled we said our last farewells and headed off west along the valley shortly before 8:30.

I had made sure to use most of my remaining Swiss francs when I paid for dinner on Sunday night but Majella was still holding a good number of them. She also wanted to post a card so we planned to stop somewhere once the supermarkets were open to post the card and pick up some supplies with the francs. I deviated in Sion but, although we managed to navigate through town and saw La Poste we were on the wrong side of the road and going in the wrong direction so we continued down the valley. At Martigny we managed to find La Poste and deposit the card before heading up the mountain towards the Grand St Bernard Pass. We stopped at a roadside stall and picked up some local apricots and strawberries. The road wound up the mountain but was mostly easy driving as far as the mouth of the tunnel. Beyond that point it became narrow and winding. Fortunately there was little or no traffic coming down and we arrived at the top of the pass shortly after 10:00. We spent about an hour there. Emily played in the remnant snow – but not for long because she wasn’t wearing shoes at the time. We saw the dogs and visited the hospice museum before heading off down the Italian side of the pass. Once again nobody on either side of the border seemed the least bit interested in seeing any documentation.

Majella took over the driving from the pass and took us down the Italian side into the Val d’Aoste. We drove on until we thought it was lunch time and then got off the autostrada in the vicinity of Ivrea but did not find anywhere to eat and had difficulty in finding our way back onto the autostrada. We managed that eventually and pulled up at an unserviced truck stop to eat a quick lunch of apricots and strawberries bought on the mountain, some dried ham and cheese we had brought from Sierre, and pan de siecle also bought on the mountain. Then it was back in the car and all haste towards Alessandria, Genova and Prato.

We made one short stop along the way to visit Carrara, home of the quarries which produce the white marble favoured by Michelangelo and other sculptors and architects. My 10 Best of Tuscany guide book had minimal information about Carrara other than that the duomo was built from white marble and that there was a building on the square marked to indicate that Michelangelo had once stayed there. We found the duomo, impressive but in need of cleaning, but not the house.

We had thought of going via Pisa on the way to Prato but, given it was already well past 5:00, decided that we should get to Prato as directly as possible. By the time we arrived there it was 7:00 though still light. We must have missed a sign coming off the autostrada because we found ourselves on a road that seemed to want to put us back on the autostrada for Firenze and other points. It took some time using the bits and pieces of maps I had gleaned from the Internet to navigate through the maze of roads in an industrial area and into the centre of Prato where we managed to find a parking space in front of the Art Hotel Milano. We registered and then walked into the old part of town to locate the venue for Majella’s conference and to find something to eat. The first was not as easy as we thought and the second was almost impossible as most eating places were already closed up. Majella and Emily settled for gelati but I couldn’t face that for dinner. We eventually found a kebab shop where Emily and I ate before we headed back to the hotel.

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