If an Italian ever tells you something is flat, check he doesn't come from the Po valley. If he does then he will certainly know a thing or two about flat. I half expect to walk past the headquarters of the flat earth society. The highest we have been is our second floor hotel room. We have two more flat days to go.
We spend our days lazily meandering around huge paddy fields. Dotted about are industrially sized farms, islands of dry land not protected by height but by defensive ditches. The towns are the same, no high ground at all just bigger ditches. This is unspectacular but prosperous land. Given there are only the first stirrings of spring, no obvious buds on the trees, the whole region has its own charm. I always think that it is very hard to make flat lands attractive. You can't hide your dirty architectural linen in a convenient fold in the landscape. However the sheer intensity of work that has gone into the making of the landscape lends it a certain charm. Literally every square inch has had several machines working on it. The irrigation system defies imagination in its complexity. It must look amazing in a couple of months time when the Alpine snow melt fills these fields. There are several thousand square miles of paddy fields. Beware of the mosquitoes!
We are struggling to name one of the larger field birds. It is some sort of large spoonbill / egret / heron / ibis. It is white with black legs and bill, with a natty black rim around its otherwise white wings. Ellen reckons it is an Ibis, I err on the side of a spoonbill. Either way it's a startling bird.
The flat lands were not able to hide an afternoon surprise today. In between towns the path took us across the railway and main road that we had been following all day. At a distance I could make out a plastic white chair with someone sitting on it just before the very level crossing. Strange I thought. As I drew closer it became clearer that a black woman was sitting on the chair together with plastic bag at her feet and chatting away on her mobile phone. Buon Giorno I said. She smiled. Then I noticed on the other side of the crossing and over the road another black lady on a similar cheap white plastic chair. We were in the middle of nowhere, just a dusty track, a few trees and cars streaking nearby. At the same moment that I saw a battered scruffy red umbrella on a tall pole, my rather slow mind caught up. Well this is Italy. Couldn't help being slightly disturbed as I saluted the second altogether more scary girl on the other side. It was easy to be overcome by the desperation of the girls and even the punters to say nothing of the organisers, whoever they are. All I could offer was a sincere Buon Giorno. We passed embarrassingly close to vehicular evidence of the trade a little further on. Red faces all round.
A little further over the fields I am sitting in the bar of the Sanctuario della Madonna della Bozolla a major religious site, the business in the fields have not been acknowledged here. Pilgrim accommodation hasn't opened for the season yet, so we are staying in a comfortable small albergo hotel over the square. Ellen is reading a book on Italian history and nursing sore bits. I think she packed a little too much and was suffering. The index of pains (number not severity) was increasing, so I took some of her weight. Immediate result, Ellen is happy. 24km today. No height gained or lost. No pilgrims seen at all. We are still happily chatting.