Welcome to luscious Pavia

A lovely covered bridge crosses the Tacino River into the center city.

Day 18: Gropello Cairoli to Pavia — 18.5 km (11.5 miles)

Life back home intervened and I spent a sleepless night wondering about the status of an offer Theresa and I just made on a new home. So this morning at 05:30 I was out of bed and out in the street looking for a reliable cell signal I could use to call home. By 7:00 my call to Theresa was done — no final news yet on the sale, but lots of details to work out.

Charles was sipping coffee as he waited for me in the cafe below the hostel, and after a cappuccino of my own we were on the road. The main road of little Gropello spilled out into the rice fields, but today a refreshing wind blew from the east offering a more pleasant experience than the oppressive heat of the previous days. In the far distance we could once again see the Alps and now also the Apennines on the horizon ahead.

A brief stopover in Villanuova d’Ardenghi allowed a bathroom break. Afterward, a bike path became our track and we found ourselves walking along the Tacino River. In no time we saw the tall dome of the Pavia Duomo ahead and knew we’d be at our goal by noon.

Pavia includes some beautiful and historic churches along with a bonanza of restaurants and cafes. After showers and laundry we spent the afternoon and evening relaxing in the picturesque streets of the largest Italian city we’ve yet encountered.

Hiking Notes: although the bike road may seem a worthy shortcut, we enjoyed our walk along the Tacino River footpath into town.

Gropello’s San Giorgio church in the light of dawn.

Bikers on the bike path.

River pathway.

First glimpse of the Pavia Duomo dome.

Train bridge into Pavia.

Close up of Duomo exterior.

Sunday afternoon during August holiday and the streets are deserted.

Sporting a “goaty” as Charles calls it.

Green and amber waves of grain

Hand-painted mural leading to a courtyard just off the Main Street of Garlasco.

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.

Better than yesterday photo of the Sant’Albino hostel at Mortara.

The signora was prompt for dinner, breakfast, and exit. Just after breakfast she picked up the Germans’ guidebook containing a photo of the priest who inspired the hostel alongside her late husband. Three years later, she maintains the dream on her own as the live-in hostel host.

Morning vista of corn to the right, rice to the left.

Ancient former shade tree still standing near ancient house and barns.

Green and amber fields.

Canal. Path.

Canal. Derelict palazzo.

San Giorgio was no fan of dragonkind.