Saturday, September 19
“There’s sunshine! I can see blue sky too!” came Steve’s words this morning as he opened the windows onto our little courtyard outside the apartment. Another day of sunshine, how simply splendid! We once again enjoyed the luxury of having breakfast at a table, then packed up our bags and bikes and set off through the cobbled streets and piazza of Vigevano. What a glorious day, with sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect.
We pedalled down some country roads waving at passing cyclists, then along tree lined lanes, passing old houses behind high stone walls.
We did have to spend a bit of time on a busy road, but the drivers gave us a wide berth and we were soon able to turn off and return to the back roads. The route was nice and flat, but kept us on our toes, concentrating hard to dodge the constant cracks and deep holes in the many roads that cried “I need some maintenance please!” We had some unsealed roads too, but they were just a bit bumpy and rocky, and no worries to ride on…until…we turned a corner…and saw…ahead of us…MUD…and PUDDLES…very BIG and very LONG muddy puddles!
Here we go…time to get wet and muddy feet! Mud puddles and I have met before and so far the score card is a tie. Our encounters have ended happily, such as in England when I followed Steve through the mud lake and managed, against all odds, to maintain enough balance to surge through and onto the other side, mud free. They have also ended not so happily, such as in France, when I got stuck in the mud and the bike couldn’t move, so I had to put my feet down in the squelch while the bike toppled over into the bog. So here we were again, that ol’ mud and me, facing off in new territory. I sized up the mud and the lakes of puddles, trying to plan a route through. Steve took off and I watched him to see how deep the water was, then I followed him in. Deep…a bit deeper…wet feet now from the splash of muddy water coming up from below, a bit of a swerve in that wet mud, hidden below the water, then…through! We’d done it! On we go to…the next one! Yep, we’d just successfully forged the first mud lake, only to be presented with a second, bigger one. Nothing to do but just power the pedals and do everything possible to keep the little bike straight and balanced. Off we go…squelch…sloosh…sink…swerve…splash…keep going!!!..don’t stop little bike…keep going!!!!…We pedalled and splashed and surged through that mud and water and…we were out the other side! The score card had fallen in our favour today! Nothing but wet feet. Winner!
We pedalled on, through the countryside and into the small town of Parasacco, where we stopped for elevenses. How lovely, to sit in the sunshine, looking out at the country, with a historic church behind us, it was all such a picture.
We passed quite a few road cyclists, who gave us a nod or a wave and a smile, then we saw another touring cyclist coming towards us. She stopped, so we stopped and got chatting. We swapped stories and she had just come from the town we were heading to, so she gave us the name of a hostel she had stayed in and recommended. She was from Victoria, in Canada and I told her I had an aunt near there, on Vancouver Island and she said she’d had a brief, “in transit” visit to Australia. After a nice chat on the side of the road, we were off.
We soon rolled into Pavia, our pit stop for the day, because it had a campsite. We followed the marked path along the river, that should lead us right to the camp. The path ran through trees, with the river beside us, but all of a sudden, we had to throw on the brakes because the path suddenly stopped…engulfed by the river! Right, short of taking to the water and swimming with a bike over our heads, I think we need to turn around! U-turn, back to the road and off we went on an alternate route.
We found the campsite and the nice, friendly man welcomed us and checked us in. We pitched the tent under some trees and sat in the sunshine for a post-ride cuppa and some lunch, while Steve tuned in to listen to his AFL team win their semi-final. (I tuned out at that stage!).
Our appetiser of a 42km ride, was followed up with the second course of a 10km walk into and around the centre of Pavia. We strolled through the streets of what turned out to be quite a big city, then came upon the Tourist Information Centre. We hadn’t been able to use the SIM we’d bought for the phone, because all the text messages from the phone company, to tell us how to activate it, were in Italian. When we rang the number, of course the messages with the instructions, were also in Italian, so we hadn’t been able to do anything. We went into the Information Centre and asked if they could help. The ladies didn’t speak much English, but the young girl grasped what we were needing and took the phone, read the message, dialled the number needed to activate the SIM and followed the instructions. She was fantastic and so helpful. After following all the prompts, she handed us the phone, with it now fully operational. Fantastic! She was a gem.
We used the now working phone, to locate the nearest supermarket, gathered some supplies and then commenced the walk back to camp. The sun was still there and it was hot! Glorious! It was actually only 26C but it felt like 36C because we’ve been so used to 16C, or rather 12C! So that heat was spectacular!
A tasty supper was prepared, with each of us doing our own DIY fare and it was nice to be sitting outside again, beside the tent, in our own space. We sat and listened to some stories on a podcast and I sat and scratched. One thing Italy has in abundance, along with the beautiful scenes and piazzas, is mozzies! I am once again covered in itchy red spots, where the mosquitos have again chosen me, as their main course. I was bitten last night and the night before and am still being bitten! When we looked at hotels to book a few days ago, some actually listed mosquito nets as a room feature! When the lady was showing us around the little apartment yesterday, she pointed out the plug-in mosquito deterrent! So they are here and they love me! I am scratching with abandon! They are all over our pitch here, flying in and around the tent, so no doubt I will be their smorgasbord again tonight.
Not long after finishing our supper, we heard the first ominous sounds of what may be in store for us tonight…the thunder rolled! We gathered our things, zipped everything up and now we sit, with the thunder roaring, the lightning flashing through the thin walls of the tent and the rain falling down on our nylon roof. Just when we manage to get back to camping, we get a thunder storm! Should we be surprised!?
We had another terrific day. The forecast was spot on. We have been learning the meteorological terms from the different countries we’ve been. In England, the word often used by weather presenters was “brighter”. “It will become brighter later today,” “things should be brightening as the week goes on” and so on. I guess they couldn’t really say “sunny” because it so rarely was, so instead they used the word “bright” to describe any improvement to the dull grey. We loved that word! Here, the weather forecast for today was “beautiful”. What a wonderful meteorological term that is…today will be “beautiful”. The forecast for tomorrow is “pleasant.” Love it!
The sunshine and warmth made such a difference to the ride today. The route was enjoyable, the scenery was nice, the towns were charming and we experienced it all under clear skies and the beaming sun. As long as we are still here tomorrow and haven’t been washed away or struck by lightning, we’ll continue our ride along the Po River, heading for the coast. May the sky remain clear, the sun remain warm and the adventure continue for the two smiling Tasmanian two-wheelers. On we go, into a “pleasant” and “bright” day!
Sunday, September 20
By morning the storm had decided to go off and party somewhere else, so the day dawned fine and clear. T’riffic! With the mornings still dark until after 7:00, we breakfasted and began packing up in the dark, but gradually brightening dawn light, with everything of course, feeling very damp. That’s the only real downside of camping in rain, it’s unavoidable that everything we wear or sleep on or under is going to feel damp, even if it’s been packed in a bag all night. Oh well, can’t be helped, so we packed our damp belongings, packed up the wet tent and cycled off into the…SUNSHINE!!! Can you believe it, the third day in a row of clear skies and sun. We are pinching ourselves! We are beginning to feel our decision to leapfrog south in search of some warmer riding weather, was an OK decision.
It was a cooler morning, only 15C as we rode our of Pavia, but we were still in short arms and legs and that sun was going to warm things up beautifully as the day went on. After the day starting so nicely, it soon took a turn for the not so enjoyable. We were on a busy road, a highway, with no shoulder to get out of the traffic, which is never much fun. The condition of the road too, was absolutely no fun. It was ridiculous. The craters and holes and cracks and lumps of token patching were so big, it was a pretty hazardous ride. All the while I was pedalling, I just kept thinking, ‘I hope we get through this without a puncture’ because the poor bikes and those wheels were banging and bouncing into and through some pretty major holes. Sometimes they could be avoided, but mostly avoiding them would have meant swerving into traffic and that was a less desirable option than banging through craters. The first 20km was like that. We made good time though and clocked up those first 20km by 10:30, so despite the obstacle course on that busy road, we were clicking along pretty well.
We pulled into a little town on the main road and found a small park to stop for elevenses. Steve asked if I’d seen the snow covered mountains in the distance to our side. I hadn’t seen anything. In fact I hadn’t looked either side of me at all, so there could have been a herd of purple elephants singing a Tom Jones medley while spinning hula hoops off their trunks and I wouldn’t have noticed. I had my eyes on Steve’s back wheel, so I didn’t run up the back of him and my eyes on the road, dodging all those holes and cracks, so I was permanently “eyes front and eyes down” for 20km, just concentrating on navigating the hazards. As we sat on the bench, two men with backpacks walked past and stopped to speak to us.
“Sorry, non parlo Italiano,” we replied.
“Where are you from,” one of the men asked in English.
“Oh, we are from Holland,” he replied, “walking.”
I said we had just ridden through parts of Holland.
“Have a good trip,” were his parting words with a wave. Those delightful Dutch and their friendliness. I love it. I miss them!
Back onto that busy, bumping, bouncing and banging road we went for a few more kilometres, before finally turning off and onto a cycle path. The path was part of the San Francigena route, the “pilgrim route” that many people walk from Canterbury in England, through France, Switzerland and Italy, finishing at the Vatican in Rome. We’ve been on parts of this in other countries and seen lots of shrines along its route and it takes people to the main cathedrals in both large and small towns. So now, we were on this route, which was also the Ciclovia Francigena path.
The good thing was, we were out of the traffic and the craters, the bad thing was, this path was gravel and rocky and full of holes too. So for another 10km we bounced along, navigating our way through rocks and gravel and potholes. At least I could look around me now though, without the traffic to worry about, so I did spot the snow covered mountains in the distance.
The rocky path finally turned into a sealed and smooth one. Yay! Now, for the next 30km we were on a nice path, without bumps and we zipped along in that glorious sunshine. Fantabulous!
We rode into Piacenza where we had booked another budget room. Unfortunately there are zip, zero, no campsites in this area, so our longed for stay in the tent was short lived. We pedalled into the centre of town and stopped to look at a building in the small piazza. Two men on fold up bikes stopped beside us and asked where we were from.
“Australia!!” came his shocked response. “With those?” he asked, pointing to the bikes.
“Yes,” we replied and told him we were cycling Europe for a year.
He was quite surprised to hear that and told us about the cycling he does in Italy and the riding he has done on the little fold up bike, touring around Sicily.
“But Australia!” he exclaimed, as if that was so far away and inconceivable to travel that far to ride around.
We said we had only been in Italy for a few days but were loving it and loving the weather and he said it’s supposed to crack up a bit in the next few days, but we have some more nice weather to enjoy in the meantime. We’ll take it! He wished us an enjoyable trip and gave us a smile and a wave. A lovely, friendly man.
We found our accommodation, with its very friendly man on reception and we have a ground floor room where we can keep the bikes with us. It’s a funny sort of place. It’s advertised as a one room studio with a kitchen, which it has, with a gas stove, fridge and sink, but there is nothing there to wash up with, nothing to light the gas stove with, no garbage bin or garbage bags, no soap in the bathroom, nothing really! It just has the four walls, the roof, a bed, a shower, a toilet and a basic kitchen, but nothing to clean with or dispose of garbage. It’s basic! None of this matters to us of course, because we have everything we need with us, so anything that isn’t supplied, we have on hand, but it’s the first place we’ve stayed that doesn’t even supply a garbage bin in the room to encourage people to leave the place tidy!
We had some lunch and then it was a case of getting out and getting the housekeeping done, so off we went to the lavandaria, to do our washing. Then, we began our new Sunday tradition. We’ve had to abandon our Sunday pub lunch tradition, so today we started a new one…Pizzeria Sunday. When in Italy…! We walked down the street to a pizzeria and had a sit down pizza supper. I had the grilled vegetables without the mozzarella on a kamut base. Steve had mushrooms and garlic on a normal base. It was very tasty and that base was the best darn pizza base I’ve ever had! I don’t eat pizza at home, mainly because what’s on offer in our area are just the horrible chain pizza places’ offerings, which are awful. This one was really good!
The route we’ve been on, follows the Po River east towards the coast. We planned to ride this all the way, the only trouble is, there are no campsites at all, the whole way. We sat and talked about the best way to go and what the deciding factors should be. Do we find campsites and base our routes around them, or do we find a route that’s good to ride and follow it, even if it means we can’t camp? We chose option two, because it was no fun at all today, being on that busy road and if chasing a campsite means more riding like that, we decided it’s not worth it. So we’ll keep going along the Po path, which, if it’s like today, will at least give us some sections out of traffic and if it means we have to stay in basic and budget hotels again, rather than our preferred Nylon Palace, then I guess that’s the price we pay for a more cycle friendly route.
We decided to ditch Go-Slow-Sunday today, since we’ve had a pretty slow week, so we rode a reasonably respectable 64km. We could have ridden further and, if we hadn’t booked a room, we would have done, because we did those 64km by 1:00pm so that was a very early finish to the day. It was another super day in the sunshine though. It had its challenges with the dodgy roads and traffic and rocky paths, but that spectacular weather makes it all so much easier to bare. We’ll keep pedalling on tomorrow and see where we end up. We’ll power on as best we can to cover some distance in case the weather decides to rain on our parade later in the week. For now though, we are in sunshine and we are warm! It’s a treat, it’s a joy, it’s splendid, it’s grand…it’s Italy!