Tyler often reminds me that we always find a place to sleep. No matter what circumstances present themselves during our day, we have and always will find a place to camp. I held that comforting thought in mind this morning as we packed and left the place where we'd cozily, reliably and safely free-camped three nights in a row in favor of the unknown and a new adventure!
Once packed, we bid Cremona farewell and swiftly cycled along deserted country roads and gravel cycle paths through the pancake-flat Po river valley. Once again the scenery reminded me of home in Illinois; save for the large Italian estates we passed along the way, it was fields of corn as far as the eye could see.
Our first destination of the day was Sabonieta, a perfectly preserved Renaissance town. As we arrived we were fairly underwhelmed by the small grid of streets, shops and buildings that looked for the most part exactly the same as any other small Italian town. I think we are starting to take for granted that nearly every structure we see is likely hundreds of years old! After quickly cycling around the city we decided to leave for Reggio Emilia.
On the way out we stopped in the shade of the wall surrounding Sabonieta and opened our food panniers for lunch. While talking about how the city gates were the only thing that seemed remotely like the Renaissance to us, we shared bread, cheese, and Salami di Milano before continuing out of town and heading southeast.
Suddenly on the horizon, a watermelon patch appeared out of a haze of corn and beckoned us like a welcoming desert oasis. Tyler "liberated" one straggling melon and we rode off quickly feeling like hardened criminals, the warm, round fruit bulging under my rear bungee nets. When it slipped out and busted open on the pavement a kilometer later, we gathered up our cracked bounty and devoured it in the shade by the side of the road.
Around three o'clock we stopped for gelato and talked about what we wanted to do. I felt tired which seemed strange, since it was so early and the roads were so flat. We decided to head back a kilometer or so to the river Po (which we wouldn't meet up with again for another 20 kilometers) and find a free-camp. As we took to the cycle path, I again had to remind myself that we always find a place to sleep.
Little did I know what accommodations would lie just around the corner! We saw it from a distance, it's many flags flying high in the air. It looked like a private beach featuring a Lost-type hut made of driftwood. We tentatively approached and asked the (some nude) sunbathing women what the place was. "It's for everybody!" one of the women said. "It's where you can be FREE!" Cool. Sounded good to us!
We wheeled our bikes through the sand and explored the hand-made play land called Re del Po. When we found someone's sandals lying around, a battery-powered lantern gracing the ceiling, a cooler built into the sand, and a small coffeepot on a shelf, we went to talk to the women again. "Does someone live here?" we asked. She assured us no one did and told us we could spend the night.
The woman we talked to turned out to be Anna, the sister of the man who built the place. When her brother Georgio arrived minutes later, he sat us down and told us all about building Re del Po so that his nieces and nephews could be closer to nature. For all the talk of this being a place for kids to hang out, we were the youngest people around by a good thirty years.
For half an hour Georgio talked at us in Italian, expressively using his hands the entire time. We learned a lot about him via bits and pieces gathered from his rapid-fire speech, from his love of the hundreds of women he apparently seduces with his poetry ("I am Don Giovanni!"), to his secret of being a very healthy, virile, tanned and energetic 65-year-old which he proved by doing pull-ups on one of the driftwood beams. The secret to life and to his energy, he said, came from nature, from Re del Po. Assuring us that if we ever felt down we need only remember him and the boundless positive energy he would be sending our way, he suddenly hopped up from the table and left to go talk to his other sister sunbathing further out on the sandbar.
No sooner had we taken a breath (a relieving break from the difficulties of understanding Georgio's unrelenting Italian) than his brother appeared. After quickly changing into a speedo he began talking to/at us as well. Oy vey. He was even more enthusiastic than Georgio, taking us by the arms and leading us around on an hour-long exhaustive tour detailing every nook and cranny of Re del Po.
He showed us each driftwood sculpture, climbed up a tree to show us all "5" stories of Re del Po, and when we were unable to politely turn him down, had Tyler and I play the many games, from throwing tennis balls at an array of colorfully-painted cans and bottles (each one with a different point value), to a tether-ball type game we could never quite figure out.
Eventually we managed to escape the speedoed, nonstop Italian-speaking brother when he decided to go for a paddle in the river. Alone once again, we enjoyed the peace and quiet as we slowly prepared dinner. After setting up our tent we watched the sun fall beneath the horizon over Re del Po and meandered out to the river for a moonlit bath. As we settled in for the night we talked about how we both felt a little dazed, almost in shock by what had just occurred. Nevertheless, once again we have a safe place to sleep and another story to tell!
Gelato flavors of the day:
Tara: Pink Grapefruit, Coconut, Yogurt with Blueberries
Tyler: Strawberry, Lemon, Chocolate