|The Church of San Fiorenzo in Fiorenzuola. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
I left Piacenza's Piazza Cavalli the next morning encouraged by a lady on a bicycle who called out: 'Buon Camino!' The departure from Piacenza was long and unpleasant. After Piazza Roma with its Romulus and Remus statue, and the tedious suburbs of San Lazzaro and Montale, I had to risk life and limb for several kilometres on the busy highway of the SS9. There was no proper footpath, and I was actually quite frightened. I cursed the Camino planners for not devising a safer route. Finally, after a bridge over the river Nure, I took a back road and could relax. In Pontenure a street market had been set up, and a fish stall was selling fried fish and chips! It was a long time since I'd eaten this English favourite. I made the most of it and tucked in.
For the rest of the afternoon I followed a piecemeal route largely of my own making, for the way was poorly marked and the guide book unclear. The main problem was how to cross the three rivers between Pontenure and Fiorenzuola: the Riglio, the Chero, and the Chiavenna. The countryside was dead flat, and the roads dead straight, and sometimes I felt I was getting nowhere. However, with a combination of intuition, good luck and sheer persistence, I eventually ended up in Fiorenzuola's delightful main square, the Piazza Molinari, feeling a little frazzled — but very happy to have arrived.
|Piazza Garibaldi in Fidenza. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)|
In the refuge near the church of San Fiorenzo I met Giacomo, a curly-haired Italian student from Modena, and later we sat in the piazza and had a couple of beers. We walked together all the next day. He was polite and charming, and we talked a great deal — his English was very good. We could now see the Apennine mountains in the distance, and this spurred us on as we continued crossing the usual agricultural flatlands. That night we slept in a tiny refuge opposite the cathedral of San Donnino in Fidenza and ate in a Catholic-run canteen providing meals for refugees, the poor and the unemployed. Afterwards, drinking beers in a posh bar, we reflected on how lucky we were.
The highlight of the day had been the Cistercian abbey of Chiaravalle. Founded in 1135, it's one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in Italy. It was simply stunning, and we spent some time looking round and absorbing its peaceful atmosphere. There was plenty of the ubiquitous red brick and terracotta, and the cloister was particularly fine, with its pink marble columns fashioned like twisted rope and its exquisitely carved capitals. There were some wonderful paintings too, including Bernardino Luini's Madonna della Buonanotte. In former times the monks of Chiaravalle had developed a hard, granular cheese called grana — consequently it is them we have to thank for Gran Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano.