Known for her exquisite beauty, Mantova of Lombardy is yet another World Heritage site. Virgil was born nearby, and Shakespeare’s Romeo was banished here after seducing Juliet.
Finding a place to stay every night is challenging. It is midsummer and certainly a dream to cycle through this fairy landscape, but there are floods of tourists gobbling up all the accommodation. Sleeping alfresco would be a nightmare.
“You’re such a softy” Simon says on the phone. And another thing, this painful saddle has not improved and neither have my knees. And my wrists are feeling it too.
I left my comfy hotel room in Mirandola after an egg breakfast this Sunday morning. It’s one of those mustard and blue Van Gogh days with ripe wheat all over the place. There seem to be a variety of grains growing here. People prefer the ancient grains for making their daily dose of pasta. Not only are they more nutritious but also much less damaging to the environment than the hybrid types. Poplar trees rustle with heat along the Secchia river. I’m back on the dyke again today.
On the flats one tends to focus on the things right in front of you. Yesterday Giorgio said he usually goes up onto the dykes to see the sunset. It occurred to me that when you live on level ground, one doesn’t get to see much of the sunset. Going up to dyke height can make all the difference. But is also good to focus on what is right in front of you. Namely stones, holes, sharp objects, glass, snakes and anything that could make you fall down.
You’d think cyclists would prefer downhills to uphill’s. But like life, the ups are way more interesting, and you get a great sense of pleasure when you reach the top. Whereas the downs, as in life, are mostly just a whizzing blur and then you feel a little sad that it’s over so soon.
On my way I quickly visited the small town of San Benedetto Po, centred around a spellbinding monastery founded in 1007, the Abbey of Polirone. I popped my head into the great door of the Basilica. The air was impregnated with incense and candles glowed in the spicy darkness. I couldn’t leave my bike alone, so rested under the enormous cloisters and chatted with a family from France.
I’m very excited to reach the Po river, the longest, biggest river in Italy. This is the second day of cycling in this enormous catchment area, known for the great cities of Turin, Milan and Venice. Over millennia, the Po has been the life blood of a large part of Italy. Water tests have shown shockingly high levels of cocaine. Four kilograms per one thousand people to be exact. Until 2002 all of Milan’s poop flowed directly into the river without treatment.
At last I caught a glimpse of the dark Po. Wide, green and calm. It lapped at the feet of a restaurant where waiters served me a plate of serrated tagliatelle with smoked salmon (no cream), and plenty of roasted vegetables drowning in olive oil. The outdoor dining area is closed to the river with plastic curtains. Views are not a high priority. Understandably the Great Outdoors is full of dangers, this spot in particular must have seen many marauding tribes, maybe a Goth or a Gaul, or even Obelix himself making a crossing. A long green snake crossed over my path, poor thing wiggled as fast as it could beneath the wheels.
I rolled into Mantova this afternoon at around 16:00. People strolled along banks of three lakes, which are actually moats built to protect the town.
732 km from Rome.
48 hours in that …. saddle since the ride began.
Finding a place to stay
Tonight, I am going to Industrial street nr.4. A B&B “Un passo da.” Translation: “A step away from.”
Industrial street 4 is an address with connotations. The place happens to be on the other side of the lake and not in the quaint centre of town. After I cross the bridge, my heart sinks a little when the Google voice directs me into a cement suburb. I only switch to voice guidance on Google maps when a recharge is imminent. Zigzagging along grey streets, my heart sinks again when the road takes me onto a highway. Big trucks threaten to smear me along the barrier rails. Soon I careen into a circle which brings me to a fly-off, and fly off I do, onto a smaller road which leads to the house over the railway and behind some factories.
Two lovely ladies, Lucy Liu and her sister-in-law Stefania, are most surprised to see me on a bicycle. They greet me warmly and help me in with the panniers. Lucy Liu offers to drive me to a local restaurant for pizza, then pick me up again much later. She has another engagement to attend to. I decline and take a shower, spending the evening painting in my diary before collapsing in a hungry heap on the bed, pizza-less.