We have managed to cross the Northern appennines in the last few days. We left you in the city of Piacenza, well and truly situated on the Po valley flats. We arrived rather tired after seven straight days of walking. The tourist information was luckily both easy to find and very helpful. Given the dire weather warnings for last Wednesday and Thursday we decided to sit it out and stay in a couple of slightly expensive B&B's run by efficient middle aged ladies. Wednesday delivered the weather we had been led to expect, unrelenting heavy rain. Thursday did not rain at all but was merely grey and chilly. We were committed to staying put so we mooched around all day.
Meanwhile Ellen's feet, whose condition are a constant news feed, had become to much for her. More about this in a later fascinating post, but she finally succumbed to a pair of very un-Ellen like pair of livid blue Nike trainers. Since then barely a whisper has passed through her lips regarding the feet. The old heavy rigid coffin shoes were committed to the great shoe pile in the sky, never to bother the feet again. She does look an interesting sight, bright blue shoes purple trousers and a bright blue jacket.
Which brings us to a pilgrim's dilemma. We had two more days of flat to go, around 45km. This is in itself not a problem however we were running up against routes. The route spent a considerable amount of time on narrow, quiet roads. There are no quiet Italian roads. To counter this the modern route planners would contrive a most inefficient route that involves multiple unnecessary detours around huge fields thus increasing the distance walked considerably. Paul Haines who did the trip last year said he took the quicker road option most of the time. I now see why he did this. He said that quite a few people didn't like or feel safe road walking. We definite do not feel safe. The result of all this is that we took the 20 minute train journey to Fidenza. Walked out of the station, turned South and started climbing the foothills of the Appennines.
What a good decision this was. The roads were quieter, wildlife appeared and the landscape became more balanced. Swallows suddenly arrived during lunch the next day. A large owl silently weaved through the surrounding trees. A large number of silk bound nest like parcels were attached to the tips of fir tree branches. Would love to know what they are. We had cheap pilgrim's accommodation for the next few nights.
The third mountain day saw us having to do the main climb. Because we were worried that cooked food may be hard to come by, we broke the weight rule and carried foodstuffs with us. So after all those hours reducing the weight of our rucksacks I found myself carrying fresh pasta and a bottle of Prosecco. Still we managed it to the major col of the day 850M. The map suggested we had not much further to go and the route seemed to follow the road quite closely. We were deceived. In the route planners efforts to reduce road walking we were gratuitously led down 1000 feet, on a very poor path that was overgrown and doubled up as a stream, so most of the path was washed away. I did get a little fed up with this, especially as we rejoined the road panting and sweating only a couple of Kilometers further on.
The next day we crossed the Cisa Pass 1100 and finally said goodbye to the white topped Alps that had been hanging over the Northern horizon since our arrival. We walked amongst old melting snow patches and kept rigidly to the road. Unfortunately, being a Monday and out of season there was nowhere to stay in our chosen village. We ended up with a 42KM walk to Pontremoli the nearest town.
What is it about Italian mayors? We were met by another one, but there were differences. Whereas the last one was a skinny, fit and Lycra clad cyclist. This one was sleek, smart and dressed in an immaculate black suit and greeted us in the square in a shiny black Range Rover. We were bundled into the back separated by a huge black patent leather Prada handbag. She whisked us all of 200 meters to the monastery, all the while talking to us, her phone and people on the street. She was a formidable lady and saw it as her mayorly duty to help pilgrims. The monk's concerns that the monastery was closed were quickly brushed aside, he didn't stand a chance. An hour later, showered and huddled over a beer in a very smart bar, who should walk in but our mayor. A gaggle of youngsters were presenting a video of the town to her.
We were glad of the bread and wine. Everything shuts on a Monday, so we ate bread cheese and nuts in our room with a swill of Prosecco.