Six Walks and a Million Steps

Piacenza ended up being a perfect Plan B/Plan C ‘base camp’ for us from which we managed six legs of the Via Francigena. Our host in Piacenza was most accommodating and let us stow our bags there when Plan C made more sense for us.

Day 28 – Fornovo di Taro to Fidenza

Crossing the Fiume Taro (Taro River) in Fornovo - the beginning of a very wet day!

Crossing the Fiume Taro (Taro River) in Fornovo - the beginning of a very wet day!

When we looked out the window, the pavement was dry, by the time we left our room a few minutes later, it was pouring. We took a train from Piacenza to Fornovo and started a very wet day. Our VF guide cautioned that when it was raining, the cycle path was the most prudent choice as river fordings (several of them) were dangerous and nearly impossible in inclement weather. Thus, we spent the day drenched, walking on highways getting splashed by passing cars and trucks and stomping through puddles, our feet squishing with every step. We stopped at two bars for coffee and a sandwich during the day, but neither had any food to speak of. We saw three pilgrims today … all drenched.

Fidenza’s Cathedral, Duomo di San Donnino, was a respite and the highlight of the day. Donnino was a Roman soldier who was executed by decapitation for his Christian beliefs. This martyred saint is portrayed as carrying his head in his hands and the theme is pervasive throughout the cathedral, both inside and out.

Duomo di San Donnino

Duomo di San Donnino

Not far from the Cathedral, we passed by these Roman ruins.

Not far from the Cathedral, we passed by these Roman ruins.

Fornovo-Fidenza_Ugolini Pizzeria.JPG

By the time we reached Fiadenza, we were hungry and feeling pretty miserable. We arrived at our Plan C accommodation, Ugolini Pizzeria/Albergo, looking and feeling like drowned rats. Ugolini was not our first choice, but rather the only choice we found. Believe it or not, there was a convention in town! No one was available to check us in and we waited for well over an hour for someone to show up and give us a key to our room. The room was, to put it mildly, spartan. It was clean, but very basic with two twin beds and sadly no internet (though they advertised there was… but only in the restaurant). Since it was located above a busy pizzeria, the clashing of pans, loud voices, shrill laughter and bass-only music was heard (and felt) in the room above till well into the night.

Italian phrase for the day… ratto annegato (drowned rat)

Day28 – Fornovo to Fidenza

17.5 miles walked / 40,665 steps

Leg distance: 17.0 miles / 885 miles to Canterbury


Day 29 – Fidenza to Fiorenzuola d’Arda – A Million Steps

A pleasant pilgrim rest stop en route to Fiorenzuola

A pleasant pilgrim rest stop en route to Fiorenzuola

Rain was forecast for three days straight. Unlike sailing, we don’t choose weather windows to leave. I guess floods, tempests, earthquakes and tornadoes might dissuade us, otherwise we pretty much walk everyday especially since we’re behind schedule. Rain, however, only gets us wet and doesn’t impede forward progress. It’s really not so bad. The worst part is walking single file on the highways. The secondary roads have less traffic and are usually much more amenable to walkers. We find ourselves lost in our thoughts, pondering the universe and life’s big questions or looking for a discrete place to pee.

The promised rain never appeared though we were prepared. Since we were Plan C’ing, we were close to the path when the day began… the only good thing about our Ugolini digs. The sky was a flannel gray and gloomy for most of the morning, then the sun peeked out, the temperature warmed up and the day became humid. This is an agricultural region, very flat terrain with fertile fields of corn, tomatoes and beans. We saw only one other pilgrim on our path today.

Abbey of Santa Maria di Rovegnano

Abbey of Santa Maria di Rovegnano

We stopped at the Abbey of Santa Maria di Rovegnano, a Cistercian abbey and monastery founded in 1135. According to the informational placards, it is one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in Italy. We peeked inside and heard monks praying in unison, almost a chant, in some faraway chapel.

A peek inside the Abbey

A peek inside the Abbey

We had difficulty finding the Hotel D’Arda. It ended up being about a kilometer outside town in a very industrial area. The room was adequate and the restaurant food was good, but loud … loud people, loud TV and bad acoustics. Finding rooms on-line, sight unseen, is always a crap shoot. We went to bed tired with rain pelting the windows. We’ve walked a million steps on the Via Francigena as of today. Yowza!

fidenza_fiorenzuola_hotel d'arda.JPG

Italian phrase for the day: un milione di passi (a million steps)

Day 29 – Fidenza to Fiorenzuola

14.82 miles walked/ 34,460 steps – (cumulative steps: 1,020,888) Our Million Step Day

Leg distance: 13.8 miles / 872 miles to Canterbury


Day 30 – Fiorenzuola to Piacenza

fiorenz-piacenza_caution flooding.JPG

Rain, rain and more rain. All the rivers were swollen, brown and roiling. We took the cycle route again. The route took us under a highway and even the underpass was flooded. We reluctantly retraced our steps and found a detour. We saw four pilgrims in a group today … all under umbrellas and looking quite miserable.

Shall we swim or detour?

Shall we swim or detour?

It was a long, long day it seemed, and when we finally arrived back in Piacenza, we were tuckered out. Fiammetta had thoughtfully brought our stowed gear back to our room.

Italian word for the day: il diluvio (flood, downpour)

Day 30 – Fiorenzuola to Piacenza

18.94 miles walked / 44,041 steps

Leg distance: 18.7 miles / 853 miles to Canterbury


Day 31 – Piacenza to Orio Litta

The Via Francigena path was also the cycle route leaving Piacenza.

The Via Francigena path was also the cycle route leaving Piacenza.

Hot, flat, asphalt … that about sums it up. The route took us along a designated cycle path. We crossed the Po River via bridge leaving town and were so engaged in meaningful conversation (??) that we missed the turn that would have taken us to a traditional ferryman who would have transported us across the Po further up river, making for a more memorable day and a shorter walk. Oh, well …

The path was lined with an array of wildflowers … wild geranium, thistle, chicory, bindweed, buttercups, Queen Anne’s lace and, of course, poppies. Shoulder height feathery grasses tickled our arms as we passed and thistles tugged and snagged our clothes. The heat and humidity rose from the river and was nearly stifling at times. Five pilgrims crossed our path today and none stopped to chat.

Danilo’s ferry dock, but we missed the ferry. Darn!

Danilo’s ferry dock, but we missed the ferry. Darn!

At the end of our walk in Orio Litta, we found a grocery and bought wine and snacks for the room, then made our way to the train station. The station was very, very small. The platform was short. There was no one around, no ticket machine, no nothing. Yet, David was able to buy tickets on line. We scratched our heads and waited a few minutes and checked our tickets once again.

Orio Litta train station … not much

Orio Litta train station … not much

What was that other little icon on the ticket that we’d not noticed before? It was a bus symbol. Yikes! We needed to take a bus to get to the connecting train station at Casalpusterlengo. But where’s the bus stop? And where the heck is ‘Casalpusterlengo’? We couldn’t even pronounce it.

We met someone on the street that pointed us in the right direction, but there were two bus stops … one for each direction. Which way were we headed? I popped into a little bar and the pleasant barkeep stepped outside and gave us further instruction. The bus came within minutes and we boarded. Traffic snarls had us late for our connection and we weren’t sure exactly where to get off the bus. Upon asking, the bus driver informed us he didn’t go to the station, but to get off ASAP and walk … it was only 2-3 blocks away. Luckily, the train was 5 minutes late. We hoofed it to the station, hurried through the station’s underground tunnel to the correct platform and boarded the train just as it was ready to depart. Whew! We were hot and sweaty, but delighted to be heading back to the barn.

Italian phrase of the day: Noi abbiamo perso il traghetto. (We missed the ferry.)

Day 31 – Piacenza to Orio Litta

17.4 miles walked / 40,474 steps

Leg distance: 13.8 miles / 839 miles to Canterbury


Day 32 – Orio Litta to Santa Cristina

Yup, I can say it and really mean it! Casalpusterlengo!

Yup, I can say it and really mean it! Casalpusterlengo!

We caught an early train to Orio Litta, this time no bus required, but there was a train connection in Casalpusterlengo… the pronunciation of which I mastered. It was another hot, flat day, but with some variation in the path. We walked a bit on the highway, but mostly on field paths, gravel roads and cycle routes. It’s flat as Nebraska here with just as much corn and wheat.

Where no grains grew, there were wildflowers galore… whole fields of them… poppies, chamomile, thistle, yarrow and many others that I photographed, but couldn’t identify. Cottonwood fluff floated in the air. By the way, anyone got some spare time to identify wildflowers for me? I’m happy to send all the photos.

A field of chamomile … tea, anyone?

A field of chamomile … tea, anyone?

The VF path markers changed in this area. Some were engraved marble tiles embedded into the gravel road and others were stone markers with similarly engraved marble tiles affixed to them.

We crossed the scenic multi-arched bridge over Fiume Lambro.

We crossed the scenic multi-arched bridge over Fiume Lambro.

We stopped at a small cemetery for a break. Cemeteries always seem to have benches available. We watched as people came and went with flowers. One older woman arrived by bicycle with a bunch of fresh lilies in her hand.

Someone loved and not forgotten

Someone loved and not forgotten

We saw a helicopter circling above us at one point, then noticed it landed in a field ahead of us. Someone was being air-evac’ed from a little village and the entire town was out to witness the event.

Orio-Santa Cristina_helio in field.JPG

When we reached the town of Santa Cristina, we thought we’d just poke our heads into the church for a quick look. We were completely surprised by the size and grandeur of this small town church. It was pretty impressive.

Another leg of the VF finished, we caught the train back to Piacenza. We’ll return to Santa Cristina in the morning to continue on the path.

Italian word of the day: il cimitero (cemetery)

Day 32 – Orio Litta to Santa Cristina

12.81 miles walked / 29,800 steps

Leg distance: 10 miles / 829 miles to Canterbury


Day 33 – Santa Cristina to Pavia

IMG_3472.JPG

An early morning walk to the train station, train to Santa Cristina and we were on the path again. It was another flat terrain day and we’re getting kind of spoiled. Though it was dry and overcast in the morning, it had rained hard during the night and we zigzagged around big puddles in the gravel farm roads as if we were walking an obstacle course. The weather forecast was calling for 70-80% chance of rain and it did drizzle for a short time, but that was it. We were in t-shirts by late morning with temps in the 60-70s and a bright, sunny sky.

Much of the path meandered along irrigation canals. We could hear a loud chorus of croaking frogs as we passed by, but as soon as we stopped, there was complete silence. And if we neared the edge of the canal to take a peek, all we could hear was plunk, plunk, plunk as the frogs dove for cover in the water.

The Duomo di Pavia (cathedral) is very impressive. We visited briefly, but as usual, wanted to be on our way.

The Duomo di Pavia (cathedral) is very impressive. We visited briefly, but as usual, wanted to be on our way.

The statue in front of the Duomo is called  Regisole, the Sun King . He has a distinctly green face though the rest of the statue does not and we’re not sure why.

The statue in front of the Duomo is called Regisole, the Sun King. He has a distinctly green face though the rest of the statue does not and we’re not sure why.

Another important statue in Pavia is that of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom. She does not have a green face, but she does have a permanent bird on her head.

This leg of the VF complete, we caught a train back to Piacenza via Milan.

Italian phrase of the day: la faccia verde (green face)

Day 33 – Santa Cristina to Pavia

14.88 miles walked / 34,604 steps

Leg distance: 14.5 miles / 815 miles to Canterbury


Hope you’re not overwhelmed by the length of this blog. I’m trying to get caught up. I know I promised a quick tour of Piacenza, but we had walking to do. Next time, a quick tour and then we’re off to Vercelli and more walks. You’ve come this far, there’s no backing out now!