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Po River Valley

by Tara

With our late finish yesterday evening, a sleepless worrisome night of listening furtively for possible angry farmers, and a 6:00 AM departure from our not-so-hidden free-camp this morning, I was more than a little sluggish as we packed up and and rode off back down the canal. Though we stopped and made crepes by the side of the path even breakfast could not wake me up. When we made it to Pavia and stopped to mail a package to Tyler's little brothers and sisters, Tyler suggested we stop at a coffee shop to relax for an easy morning of journaling. His idea could not have been more welcome.

Leaving Our Free Camp Pavia Coffeeshop

We found an inviting coffee shop right next to the post office and settled in at one of their comfortable booths. I ordered two cappuccinos (damages: €2.80) and we whiled away the morning sipping on delicious Italian coffee, watching people come and go with friendly "ciao"s and working on our journals. A few hours and another round of cappuccinos later, we set off to explore the Po river valley.

Cappuccinos Church in Pavia

Hot, completely flat, and filled with cornfields as far as the eye can see, the Po river valley reminded me a lot of home in Illinois. Winding our way on gravelly paths through farms and small highways, we passed kilometer after kilometer of agricultural land, interspersed with the occasional small, sleepy town. In one such town we stopped for lunch in the shade. It is amazing how quiet everything is from noon to about 3:00; everyone must be taking a nap!

Italian Farmer Italian View

Every day we try a new type of meat. Today for lunch we had pancetta and prosciutto. Though they were both good, neither of them were my favorites—I much preferred the Coppa di Parma, Mortadella, and Speck from our previous lunches. Watching bees lazily buzz by, munching on fresh bread, meats and cheeses, grapes and figs, we spent a relaxing hour doing "as the Romans" do. The following hour was spent picking splinter's out of Tyler's hand, still riddled with painful shards from his hiking fall back in Zermatt. For the first time on our trip, we took our our first aid kit and went at it with a safety pin, tweezers, and a packet of gooey antibiotic ointment. The end result was still painful, but now at least it could heal properly.


Back on the road, Tyler could hardly find a good riding position that wasn't agonizing for his hands. We took it slow and were thankful for a cool breeze that cut the intensity of the sun just enough to make things bearable. When I got a flat tire on a gravel road (the tube looked like it failed, there wasn't a problem with our new Marathon XR tires) we remained calm under scorching skies and Tyler helped me fix the flat as quickly as possible. Afterwards I followed the example of an old Italian man and scoured the nearby tilled fields for perfectly good tomatoes left behind in the machine-powered harvest. With a good sized bag filled to use with pasta later, we continued until we reached some train tracks, blocked without a train in sight.

Gathering Tomatoes Tyler on a Country Lane

We waited in the beating sun for a good five minutes before the train finally came into view and passed ever so slowly. Another five minutes later, the gates were finally lifted. Waiting with us during this whole process was a very friendly Italian jogger who told us about a gelateria in the center of the nearest village where he lived. Waving goodbye with a smile and a "ciao!" he easily ducked under the bars and continued on with his jog, leaving us to wait some more.

When the bars lifted, we cycled on into the town of Sarmato, found the church and then turned into the piazza to find the gelateria. It ended up being a simple bar where local men came after work, that happened to have an ice cream case. Being hot and rather tired, we weren't picky at all. Besides when you make a commitment to have gelato every day in Italy, you have to keep your word :-) Tyler's flavors of the day were: strawberry, lemon and chocolate; mine were: lemon, pistacchio, and peach.

With our tummies full of delicious (but not the best) gelato, we took to the dusty road again to finish our ride. Just outside of Piacenza, we spotted a very secluded wooded and rocky riverbed that had long since had water flowing through it. The highway we had been riding on passed on a bridge over the entire area. We got off at the nearest exit and went in search of a free-camp.

We found the perfect place, completely secluded and hidden so I wouldn't have to worry all night about possible intruders. After a very long bumpy, weed-y, prickley, polleny push through the rocks and plants (during which I almost threw in the towel and cursed free-camping forever) we arrived at our "home" for the night under the very last archway of the bridge. No one could ever see us there and no one would ever care! We had a huge roof over our heads, and a giant "room" all to ourselves. It almost felt like a house!

Tyler got to work making camp while I made yet another Italian meal. Penne pasta with pesto sauce and melted crumbles of Asiago cheese, tossed with chicken sauteed in loads of garlic and olive oil. It was seriously amazing. I had to force Tyler to leave some for leftovers. As we ate our fancy-restaurant quality meal under a bridge, I prepared the side dish! It is usually too complicated to coordinate the cooking of two dishes, but tonight Tyler and I worked together to make a simple dish of green beans sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Tyler said he didn't know green beans could taste that good! We finished them off with sips from a plastic bottle of 79 cent red wine and ended it all with squares of dark chocolate. After Tyler lovingly cleaned our dishes, we hobbled into bed, very, very satisfied.

Asiago Pesto Pasta Sauteed Green Beans