|Towers in Pavia. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
The main road out of Pavia was busy and dangerous, and after three or four kilometres I turned onto a quieter road with great relief. This was a hard day's walking (Day 13) and the heat was brutal. I made my way along an unstable sandy track round the edge of a quarry, but when I reached the river bridge I'd been heading for beyond the quarry found that it was closed for repair (later I learnt that some pilgrims had actually climbed or circumnavigated the locked gates and managed to get across).
I felt I had no choice but to return the way I'd come. The heat was sweltering, my water supply was running low, and I was exhausted. Arriving at a minor road, I stuck out my thumb — but to no avail. What little traffic there was shot by at great speed. I gathered what little energy I still had and followed the road to its junction with the SS234, where I branched right in the direction of Corteolana and Santa Cristina. I was hungry and thirsty, and trucks roared past, leaving me with mouthfuls of dust. This was certainly a challenging part of the route. However, just when I thought I could go no further, a roadside restaurant appeared out of nowhere, and I stumbled inside for a late lunch. I eased off my boots under the table and gulped down a beer. What a relief! I stayed there till closing time — 3 pm I think it was — then reemerged into the sunlight, feeling much better. It seemed only a short distance to Santa Cristina, where I was warmly greeted by a young girl serving at a bar in the church community hall. I spent the night there in a dormitory on the first floor.
What a difference a day makes — Day 14 was far easier and much more enjoyable. There were fewer kilometres to cover and I took my time. The countryside was lush and more varied, with more trees and even a few small hills. I passed the castle of Chignolo Po . . .
|The castle of Chignolo Po. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
. . . and rested a while in Lambrinia, where once again a couple of locals bought me a glass of wine. Crossing the river Lambro (a tributary of the Po), I then walked along its raised bank towards Orio Litta, which I could see in the distance over the rice fields.
Soon the multilingual mayor of Orio Litta was welcoming me and showing me to my quarters in the medieval grange which formed one side of the piazza Benedettina, the square of the Benedictines. This impressive 10th-century building had been modernised and fitted out to accommodate present-day pilgrims on the Via Francigena. The lift (!) was out of order, so a visit to the power showers entailed an underground journey through a basement stinking of fish — for it was festival time, and the basement had become the market traders' temporary storeroom. After a shower I ran the gamut of fish once more and was happy to eat on my bunk the slice of delicious home-made cake the mayor's wife had presented me with earlier.
Who should turn up later but Davide, my pilgrim friend from Rome, whom I'd last seen in Pont-Saint-Martin a week ago. At 7 pm we had a meal together at a small, cheap, pilgrim-friendly trattoria in the main street. As part of the festival celebrations a singing duo performed on the makeshift stage in the square just outside our window until 3 am — so, what with the music (which became more excruciating by the hour), the biting insects and the giggling of a group of schoolgirls who had all but taken over the dormitory, we found it difficult to sleep that night . . .
|Villa Litta in Orio Litta. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|