Day 69 – The Po Ferryman

Danilo Parisi is a legend on the Via Francigena. He is the ferryman who takes pilgrims across the mighty Po river, another obstacle on our way to Rome. Today was our day to cross this river so I called him last night to request the ferry. Danilo tells you when the ferry operates and he tries to fill the boat with pilgrims to reduce the cost. He told me to be ready at 8.30.

We departed Miradolo Terme at 5.15 and, with some urgency to our step, we arrived at 8.15. Four more pilgrims joined us for the crossing: two cyclists and a father and daughter (P and L) who are walking from the GSB Pass to Rome. L told me she met Ruedi a few days ago and he suggested she read my blog so she promised to do so when she returns home.

The boat arrived and, as is the custom with ferries, the vehicles were loaded first. Once the bikes were safely stowed the rest of us boarded and off we went to the opposite landing stage, slightly downstream.

Pilgrims have been taking a ferry across the Po for over 1000 years and Danilo has run the ferry for 20 years. He lives in a rustic house just by the landing stage and he led us into the garden for a little ceremony. Ever since he became the ferryman, every pilgrim crossing the Po in his ferry has written their details in his giant ledger. This ledger is most probably the best record of long distance pilgrims on the Via Francigena.

Brian Mooney, chairman of the UK Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome, asked me to say hello to Danilo. I gave him the message and he went into that emotional state so characteristic of Latins. “Brian Mooney!” he repeated several times and crushed me to his chest in a highly emotional manner while telling the Italian pilgrims all about Brian. “Say hello to Brian from me” he said in Italian. So, Brian, if you’re reading this, Danilo says hello.

By comparison the rest of the day was uneventful. We walked through the heat and humidity to Piacenza where we ate a late lunch in a US style steakhouse called Roadhouse. Not quite as good as the Buffalo Grill in Pontarlia but close.

Someone has built a nice path for this stretch of Via Francigena in the approach to the ferry and then set engraved slabs more or less down the middle. Shoddy work.

Paul hurries for the boat in Orio Litta

Vehicles loading first

A column made from Roman remains marks the ferry landing stage.

Various pilgrim paraphernalia on Danilo’s house

I sign the register while Danilo looks on

Piacenza Cathedral

Piacenza Cathedral

3 comments on “Day 69 – The Po Ferryman

  1. Brian Mooney

    Great photos of you with Danilo. The Via Francigena would not be the same without him, and the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome hugely values his work.

    Enjoy the rest of your journey.

    Best wishes


  2. I met an Italian (Venecian) today, who started at the 14 of June in Canterbury. He is completely against the passage with the ferry. But I agree with you that a ferry – and certainly also that particular one across the Po – is a very old form to transport people and goods. I will meet the ferryman the day after tomorrow. Then in Piacenza I will probably stay for another „cultural-day“.

    • Hi Ruedi, I’m glad you will take the ferry. It is the single most significant pilgrim experience on the Via Francigena. Sadly some pilgrims have not done their homework and elect for the modern bridge under the mistaken belief that they are travelling under their own power all the way to Rome. The Po River is the last great barrier to Rome and the pilgrim must cross it by boat. Everyone has their own Camino but this is so symbolic that I would maintain that a pilgrim using the bridge has not completed the pilgrimage. Please mention me to Danilo and perhaps you’ll also get a massive Latin bear hug. Enjoy your rest day. Piacenza looked nice. Much to see.

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