Gently finishing a challenging and memorable walk

Day 20: Santa Cristina to Oria Litta — 17.9 km (11.1 miles)

Last night we jumped on the little, diesel two-car train in Santa Cristina, paid our €2.90 each to the conductor, and arrived safely back in Pavia for dinner. The restaurants of Santa Cristina, such as they are, are closed on Mondays and we were surprised to find the first five or six eating places in Pavia closed as well. However, an Argentinian style steakhouse was open, so Charles and Morgan (a Belgian pilgrim) feasted on steaks while I enjoyed gnocchi and scrambled eggs. The return train was late, so we weren’t back to the Santa Cristina until a sleepy 10:00.

We awoke to discover an outdoor market was quietly setting up outside our window, and before we left town we picked from among the fresh fruits and vegetables on display for the local community. Monday’s scarcity was starkly juxtaposed against Tuesday’s abundance.

To know we had just 18-19 km ahead of us allowed the day to feel like a gentle stroll. We stopped at Miradolo Terme for second breakfast, then headed on to lovely Oria Litta, arriving around 1:00. We were toured by the mayor of the town through the enormous hostel, then spent the afternoon showering, washing clothes, and resting. Morgan is with us now, and we’re told four Italian bikers will arrive early this evening.

Tomorrow is my last day of walking the Via Francigena and when I arrive in Piacenza I’ll have largely completed* the Italian portion of this monumental, 1,700 km pilgrimage.

The walk has been challenging, not because of terrain or distances, but due to the exhausting afternoon heat of up to 40c (104f) degrees. The bugs and monotonous scenery of the rice fields were a challenge to the spirit, and many times I caught myself longing for a swimming pool, a fan, a cold drink, and a lounge chair in the shade. These conditions limited the daily distances since walking after 2:00 is unpleasant and, frankly, dangerous.

Usually a long pilgrimage walk brings some kind of camaraderie, and Charles of Canada provided it this time around. He is a kind and jolly friend, with a hearty sense of humor, a tender heart, and a great love of his homeland. We’ve formed a comfortable partnership, and I’ll miss him.

Hiking Notes: Tomorrow I finish in Piacenza, and as is custom on the VF, am taking a ferry across the Po River to reach the city. Reservations are made with the boatman and I’m looking forward to the break of being on the water.

*My walk from Piacenza to Rome last year was interrupted by injury and I skipped the stages between Fidenza and Sarzana while I recovered. I’m saving those for a future year.

Interior of the surprisingly beautiful Santa Cristina church.

Street scene in Miradolo Terme

This combine munched up the corn….

…and spit it out here.

Zees eees Morgan. ‘E ees Frrrenche. Oops. Belgian.

Train bridge.

Oria Litta church peeking out from beyond the cornfields.

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