Day One: Piacenza to Fiorenzuola d’Arda — 32 km (20 miles)
As I studied the guidebooks prior to today’s walk I noted a discrepancy in the distance for today. Alison Raju said to expect 23 km while the SloWays site said 32 and the Lightfoot Guide warned of 34. Somehow in my head I prepared for the shorter distance, anticipating an arrival time of 1:00 or 2:00 at the latest. Instead, I rolled into Fiorenzuola d’Arda at 4:30 with two blisters after nine long hours of walking.
Nothing happened today, except for being stopped by the Caribinieri, fording a raging torrent, finding Black Stallion on the menu, and beginning what I hope will be a long and happy relationship with fizzy red wine.
The Caribinieri — these are Italy’s national police force. As I walked along another endless flat stretch, two Caribinieri in a white squad car stopped me to ask what I was up to. They’d heard of the Via Francigena and guessed I was Austrian. Must’ve been the lederhosen-like hiking shorts. I marveled at their gorgeous uniforms, deep blue with red piping. Which reminds me of one of the many Caribinieri jokes. “Why do Caribinieri have a red stripe on their pants from heel to hip?” “To help them find their pockets.” Other than a wrong guess, though, these Caribinieri seemed plenty nice, smart and competent.
Fizzy red wine — Yes, it’s a thing here. A nice thing. As friends would attest, I’m a little bit of a red wine snob. Little did I realize how much I’d like red wine — with bubbles!
Horse meat on the menu — Never have I been so proud to be a non-red meat eater. I’m hoping I have the translation of cavallo wrong because it’s on menus everywhere here. “Cavallo Crudo”? After all that horses have done for us?
Crossing a raging torrent — The rivers and streams around here are all optimistically called torrente. I had read in the guidebooks about the need to ford various streams and how important it would be to wade across only in the dead of summer, when the streams are quiet. Finally a torrente appeared ahead of me and I carefully noted that the calendar identifies today as early spring. So, although the stream appears calm, I assure you that, according to the guidebooks and the calendars, it actually is a raging torrente.
After an uneventful 32 km (20 miles) I stumbled into the church offices at San Fiorenzo parish and claimed my place in its empty, four-bed hostel. Then it was off to dinner for fizzy red wine and anything but horse.