Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 22 - Pavia to Piacenza (Monday 17th September)

Distance from Canterbury 1383 kms  Distance to Rome 691
(84 kms)

Garmin Record: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/233174972

So I've had uphill days and downhill days and flat days, this one will have to be called the Pilgrim Day. Overall the landscape followed the pattern of the previous two days. Flat, cycling through rice paddies, slowly making way for corn fields. I was hardly out of Pavia when I came upon Frank, a very genial Belgian man, about my age, walking the Way from Bruges, where he lives, to Rome. We chatted for 25 minutes as we exchanged experiences and compared his 54 days walking to Pavia to my 22 days cycling. About an hour later I met a French couple walking from their home in Paris to Rome, we had a quick chat and wished each other "Bon Camino" and off I went. In Santa-Christina I met another Belgian gent, we didn't say much, he said he was tired and went off to find some lunch. So on I went.

My intention, when I planned this trip, was to catch the ferry across the Po River. It's a unique experience offered specifically for pilgrims. I had the manager of the hostel in Pavia call and agree a time that the ferry would be in Oria-Litta. It was agreed that 14:00 was the time as another pilgrim had booked it for then. I made good time and was at the ferry wharf at 13:10. There I met Renata, a Swiss lady also about my age, walking from Aosta to Rome. We waited in the shade, dozing off quietly until the buzz of an approaching motorboat alerted us that the ferry was about to arrive. Danilo is the ferryman, a jovial gent and very friendly, who runs a very interesting hostel for pilgrims on the other side. He has been taking pilgrims across the river (here I should say not just across but upstream for about 1.5 kms) for eight years. If you catch his ferry you're obliged to go fill in his register and chat for a while but it's a pleasureable interlude for the day. In Sigeric The Serious' day a ferry was the only way to get across this very wide river so it's a must-do pilgrim experience.

After the nice boat ride, a chat and a top up of the water bottles with ice-cold water it was time to say goodbye to Danilo and Renata and crack the last 20 kms to Piacenza. In Piacenza the kind lady at the tourist office put in a huge effort to find me a place to stay. She phoned more than 20 establishments but they were all full. Eventually she suggests I ride to the pilgrim hostel and see if they have space. She can't phone them, you have to go there. So where is this hostel? Well it's in Piacenza just like Bellville is in Cape Town. So off I go with a map and an information pamphlet for the hostel at hand. Some 10 kms later I find I'm heading for Parma and still no hostel. A lady at a petrol station explains that the road network has changed and I need to go back 3 kms and turn into Montale (Piacenza's Bellville). Now it's getting late, I still have no place to stay and the only other option is a commercial hostel about the same distance across the opposite side of town so I'm becoming anxious...... no not anxious, decidedly grumpy is closer to the truth.

Eventually I find the hostel, only because the pamphlet has a picture of it. A nondescript building with a grey door. The street number is well hidden from view and the little carving of a pilgrim on the outside wall is almost invisible. Grrr grumpier! I politely ring the doorbell, no response, I ring a little longer and look up, there is an open window so somone must be about. No response. Buzz buzz buzz No response.
BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! A head pops out the upper window and says something in German. I say "I'm a tired and hungry pilgrim looking for a place to sleep" The head says "Do you speak English?" I think "WTF do you think I just spoke? Greek?" But I say (nicely) "Why, as it happens, yes I do" Head says he's coming down. Head and the manager of the place arrive at the door simultaneously. Manager explains that in order to gain access to this fine establishment whose sole existence is to assist and give comfort to weary pilgrims, the said weary pilgrim must go back 3 kms to the church where the padre ensures that you are indeed a pilgrim as you claim and relieves you of 10 Euros in exchange for a key so ringing the bell is of no use. In my finest, politest, softest, well-spoken gentle manner, I ask him where on this lovely little glossy pamphlet does it express, in any of the earth's thousand variants of written communication, that you have to pick up a !#%!&*!$*#?! damn key 3 kms ago? There is a pause in conversation as he studies the pamphlet, turning it over several times before admitting that that little tidbit of information has not been included in the lovely glossy little useless piece of communication (except for the picture .... that was useful).

 So in fine managerial style he flips open his phone, calls the padre and gets permission for me to stay. After that we're all good friends. He even tells me I can use the washing machine and recommends a restaurant across the road for supper. Nice guy, tough job!

In the meantime, Head introduces himself as Jochen Sturm and his wife Anke who are pilgrims staying in the hostel as well. A lovely couple, after supper, at the restaurant I joined them at their table and we had wine and coffee and a couple of hours conversation. I really enjoyed meeting them. They spend a couple of weeks every year walking a section of the Way through Italy. So as you see it was a pilgrim day.

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