It’s Christmas Day! I woke up with no energy, but as I had organised a time to meet Marco (my Warmshowers host), I had no choice but to push myself through it. I accepted Marco’s offer of picking me up in the morning so that I could join him and his family for Christmas lunch. We had organised to meet up at 11am in Caramagna Piemonte. The only trouble was there was some serious climbing to be dealt with to get there. After one incredibly steep climb I felt like I’d reached the end of my tether, completely exhausted and stressed out about being late. In the end I reckon I was going to get to our meeting spot exactly on time. I was riding hard at 10.50am when a Nevara ute flashed me. It was Marco. He had got to the meeting point and decided to just drive on and find me on the road he knew I’d be on. We got my stuff into the back of his ute and drove to his house in Villafranca about 20km away. There, I met his wife Stefania and his two kids. We were soon joined by both sets of parents/grandparents. I got cleaned up with a shower, then began to relax, relishing my first time in an Italian house. This particular one was heavily decorated with pictures filling every wall space, beautiful furniture and fittings filling the floor space, and flowers and ornaments filling any other gaps. You could spend hours walking around taking in all the details. Despite being so full of details, it still felt very fresh, modern and comfortable.

Lunch was an extravaganza. The meal consisted of round after round of different meals, all delivered separately. It was difficult to gauge how much to eat, because I had no idea that more and more was coming. Of course, I didn’t knock back second helpings so I slowly got fuller and fuller, quite happily. Salmon with pomegranate, chicken coleslaw, prosciutto from Marco’s farm, turkey, lentil curry, baked pears…it went on and on. After lunch I joined Marco for a walk to his friend’s house where his friend’s family had just finished their Christmas lunch. Again, I really got to see just how well Italians look after their appearance. Everyone’s clothes and appearance were very fashionable. The best word to describe it might be ‘refined’.

In the afternoon I was treated to a special adventure. A few diary entries ago I mentioned that my great-grandfather was born in Italy and I was hoping to stay in the village where he lived…and that there just so happened to be a Warmshowers host in the same village. Well Marco is the host and Villafranca is the village! When Marco was driving me back to his house after picking me up, he casually said he had found the house where my great-grandfather used to live. This afternoon he drove me out there with his father Pino. It’s hard to know whether it was indeed my great-grandfather (whose surname is Toia) that lived there, but we could be certain that a family of Toias did indeed used to live there. The current owners of the property pulled out a framed certificate with a war medal that had been awarded to a Toia. I think they had found it when they moved in. They pointed out the dilapidated buildings that would have formed the house back in the time of my great-grandfather (i.e. the mid-1800s). Nowadays there are no Toias in the village and it’s possible my great-grandfather and his brother (who migrated to Australia together in 1899) were the last representatives of the family name in the area. To come and see and feel and breathe in the air from the place where they came from is very special.

In the evening we went hunting for people with the surname Bertolotto in a nearby village. I had a family tree with me and ‘Bertolotto’ had received the greatest interest, as my hosts knew there were people around with that name. We visited the house of one of Pino’s friends and although I didn’t learn more about my heritage, it was still a lovely experience to be welcomed into another home and spend some time enjoying the great company of more friendly Italians.

If I was at home and was served up the lunch I received today, there wouldn’t be any thought given to dinner. Not so here. Dinner was another extravagant feast. Again, all the work was done by Marco’s wife Stefania, and again it was all fit for royals. After dinner I found it hard to keep my eyes open, I was so tired. I collected some of my belongings and jumped into Marco’s parents’ car – it had been arranged that I would stay with them. At their house I was treated to one of the softest beds I have ever slept in. High on life after such as extraordinary day, I sunk into a deep sleep with a smile on my face. I feel very blessed to have met such wonderful people.

Where the Toias lived

Accommodation New friend’s house
Distance ridden today 45.09km
Average cycling speed 17.4kph
Total distance ridden 29,240km