Day 17: Mortara to Gropello Cairoli — 27.2 km (16.9 miles)
The efficient signora at the hostel last night made it very clear. Breakfast at 06:30, then “svfft” (accompanied by the hand motion of shooing a fly) out by 07:00. Sure enough, by 06:59 Charles, two German pilgrims and I were back out into the rice fields, heading ever closer to Pavia, Piacenza, and the blessed end of these seemingly endless fields of amber and green.
Before we knew it, Charles and I had reached our first village, Tromello, where a pilgrim helper, Carlo, brought us to the “pilgrim bar” near the church. There a stamp, water and cold tea awaited us. We lamented together about flies and mosquitoes, then praised Carlo for being so robust and athletic at 79 years old. He explained he had played soccer for 40 years, which had kept him in good shape.
By noon we were sharing a pizza on the outskirts of Garlasco, a cheery town with one, busy Main Street. We obediently followed the way mark signs out of Garlasco, ignoring the GPS, and soon found ourselves on a busy highway with no sidewalk and cars zooming past in both directions. A couple of km later the diversion ended and we were back amongst the rice fields and canals, quietly looking to the horizon for Gropello, our goal for the night.
As we made our way into town we stopped to admire the impressive façade of the San Georgio church, with its dragonslayer namesake depicted in a prominent statue. As it turned out, our hostel is right across the little piazza from the towering likeness. I showered while Charles tinkered with the ancient fan so we could move the air around in our stuffy attic quarters.
Tomorrow, the ancient city of Pavia is our reward for a week in the rice fields. My mind is filled with dreams of swimming pools, tall glasses of iced beverages, salty peanuts, crisp salads, and frescoed sanctuaries.
Hiking Notes: resist the temptation to take the “Suggested Route” straight out of Garlasco. It works fine for about 800m, then it becomes a dangerous competition for position on a road of speeding vehicles.