Thursday, 19 May 2022

Stage 18: Fiorenzuola to Fidenza. And back again and again...(Part 2)

And so into Fidenza, hot and weary, to find the extraordinary western facade of the Duomo.  
Lunch and then to the tourist office just opposite the Duomo for a stamp, accompanied by an interrogation and a gift of cheese; we are in parmesan country after all. Then a photo in front of the Duomo for their records, and much interest expressed in the sponsoring aspect of the journey, and the URL for justgiving provided.  

At Fidenza station, I happened to notice a message scrolling across the departure board warning of another strike tomorrow, that being the day when I had planned to do my most complicated transfer to Medesano, where trains are infrequent and few buses run.

On my way back from Piacenza station I called in at the bus station to see if a total bus itinerary might be possible, only to discover that the strike also covers buses.

So, plan D results in my having swiftly packed and travelled to Parma for a night so that travel to Medesano is more easily accomplished tomorrow.

One of the lovely hotel staff took me to the station, and I got on the train. Then she rang me to say I still had the keys. I dashed off the train, ran out to the forecourt to meet her, and then ran back onto the train, only then realising that I'd left my bigger bag on the train. Luckily all was fine. Surprisingly, given the disruption tomorrow, the train was pretty empty. 

 Fiorenzuola is a nice enough wee town, but: three times in one day?

Stage 18: Fiorenzuola to Fidenza. And back again, and again…(Part 1)

An early bus to Fiorenzuola, where I roused a rather harassed-looking parrochial functionary for my pilgrim stamp. A quick breakfast by the Duomo and enormous clock tower, 
Then off onto flat country again, for the last time, I believe, and into the delightful village of Chiaravalle, 
where more caffeine was taken.

More tarmac and narrow roads, with a brief interlude on a shady gravel path, new hay and mountains beyond, 
And a reminder of how far I've walked on this path already, and how much further to Rome, but also that I am definitely now more than halfway on this 450km trip to Lucca.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Stage 17: Piacenza to Fiorenzuola. I spy the mountains. (Part 2)

Turns out the cereals are spelt, as this board showing the renovation of the house to the right demonstrates.
After miles of dodging speeding cars on flat, narrow roads, suddenly a path down to a ford, where the water was white with acacia blossom. These are the moments that give relish to the day.
Then along gravel, into a cooling but quite strong headwind, and so into Fiorenzuola, where the parrocchia was closed to pilgrims, so I went for lunch with some Danish cyclists who have just braved the 1.5m deep snow at St Bernard, and aim to be in Rome next Thursday.  

Today was the first time I met any other pilgrims going south since Vercelli, but these were all cyclists, and I look forward to seeing another walker heading in the same direction. So far all walking pilgrims have been heading the other there something I should know?

Stage 17: Piacenza to Fiorenzuola. I spy the mountains. (Part 1)

Another early start, this time by bus to the outskirts of the city, and an early breakfast in Pontenure. As I reached the countryside, I caught a first glimpse of the mountains I'm heading towards, which have been present on my right for some time, but hidden by mist.  
This stage is mostly tarmac on narrow country roads, through flat lands, bordered by huge tomato fields (today's WG moment: there are three men hidden by those six cylinders), peas and cereals.
I passed the ducal seat of the dukes of Parma (hidden by trees) and its icing sugar church.
This church standing among new mown hay, and yet another bashful castle followed. 
As I walked, I pondered on how much I might miss walking these vast plains once I'm in the mountains, and resolved to view all the flat paths as a training exercise.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Stage 16: Orio Litta to Piacenza. Paying the ferryman. (Part 3).

But the rest of the day went well. I took very few photos, apart from this magnificent archway into Sant'Andrea, which most pilgrims miss if using the ferry, 
and this interesting piece of WG; an automatic tomato planter, yippee! See the man in the middle?
And so back along a 5km stretch of horribly busy road, to the medieval heart of the city, looking pretty close to how earlier pilgrims will have seen it.
A nice lunch and gelato and back to the hostel to catch up on lost sleep.

Stage 16: Orio Litta to Piacenza. Paying the ferryman. (Part 2).

So I set off at 5.30, taking two trains, and arrived at the rather rickety landing stage at 08.15. No sign of a ferry.  
I waited 30 minutes, allowing for Italian time, having texted him that I was there, with no response. Eventually, I rang him. "Oh, where are you, Signora?". 
"At Sant'Andrea" 
"Oh, sorry, I didn't realise you were coming from there." 20 minutes later, the ferry arrived.

I was delighted to meet this famous person, and greeted him "Signore Danilo? Buon giorno!" "Do you see anyone else here? Who else would it be?"
(Hmm, thinks I, OK, perhaps I've misunderstood. Let's have another go.)
"What a beautiful river it is!" as we spend off, and it really was a glorious journey for 15 minutes.
"Humph! Yes. Where are you from?"
"Oh, I took the Welsh bishop, Barry Morgan, across 10 years ago". (He was formerly Archbishop of Wales).
"Oh, how interesting"
Silence until we chugged slowly in to some precarious steps on the other bank.

"You'll pay me 10 euros."
"Of course!" And then I made my big mistake. "I'm, sorry, do you have change for 20?"
"No, I suppose we'll have to go to my house".

So we did, him mumbling and grumbling along (bear in mind I'm looking forward to signing the famous book), until we get there, and he stomps away, comes back and petulantly plonks a 10 down, and goes back inside slamming the door.  

Clearly, I should have given him the 20 had I been feeling sharper (or he could simply have asked for 20!). And after Sunday's act of kindness, I felt rather a heel.

Stage 16: Orio Litta to Piacenza. Paying the ferryman. (Part 1)

In the tradition of the Via, Danilo Parisi is one of its most celebrated characters; he has taken more than 10,000 pilgrims 4km down the River Po. Reputedly he invites everyone he carries to sign a book which he keeps at his house.

In the winter floods of 2020, and during the first terrible wave of the pandemic, his boat was stolen and later found smashed up. A successful appeal was launched by the UK Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome to raise the shortfall between what his insurance would pay, and the cost of a new boat. He was also featured on the BBC'S 2018 documentary about the Via which sparked my enthusiasm to walk it. Meeting and travelling with him was something I was eagerly anticipating.

Pilgrims contact him the day before, and he will collect them from the embarkation point at Sant'Andrea, 
on the stage normally walked from Orio Litta to Piacenza. But finding out whether he was still offering the service proved difficult yesterday (all web references are pre-2022) and so I asked my outstandingly cheerful and helpful hosts at Mulino degli Orti in Piacenza to help. Initial suggestions to contact the tourist information office today (opening several hours after I planned to set off) were replaced by an offer to ring him. As far as I could work out from my end, the conversation went something like:

MdO: good evening, Signore, I'm calling from MdO in Piacenza. We have a lady pilgrim here who would like to travel on your ferry tomorrow morning.
DP: but why, if she's already in Piacenza?
MdO: signore, she will be walking from Orio Litta tomorrow, can you take her across the Po?
DP: but how will she get from Piacenza?
MdO: Signore, the details are not important, she has it all organised, and will use public transport to Orio Litta. Can you meet her at about 8.00?
DP: OK, I can make it at 08.30.
MdO: Great, thank you, I'll tell her.

Stage 18: Fiorenzuola to Fidenza. And back again and again...(Part 2)

And so into Fidenza, hot and weary, to find the extraordinary western facade of the Duomo.   Lunch and t...