Sundays in Italy are still fairly sacred, just like Britain 40 years ago. Sunday is the family day. Church bells ring in every town and village and after Mass there is the family lunch followed by siesta. The shops are closed and the roads are relatively empty. It’s a bonus day for the Via Francigena pilgrim.
Paul and I considered our options. Two days meandering through the paddies (54km) or one day straight down the old Roman road from Piacenza to Fidenza (40km). Suicidal from Monday through Saturday, it’s as quiet as a paddy on a Sunday and no mosquitoes.
It was Hobson’s choice. We opted for the Roman Road. Once again we were dressed and in the hotel lobby by 5.30 ready to leave. However the hotel manager was ready with our breakfast, which was included, so we postponed our start for 30 minutes while we grazed on the buffet.
Even leaving at 6am, Piacenza looked like Westworld during a systems failure. The place was deserted. Powered by fresh croissants and cappuccino from a Nescafé machine, soon the kilometres were flying by.
Paul and I have a standard approach to road walking which has served us well. I lead the way always wearing my bright orange fluorescent runners vest because it is a legal requirement and makes sense. Drivers can see us from a long way off and put down their iPhones to safely navigate around us. Paul follows, sneering at my attire and dressed from head to toe in tarmac grey. This unique combination of personalities is the underlying reason for our success to date.
This morning I decided to take a photograph and when I had stopped fiddling with the camera settings (generally “Landscape”, “Portrait”, “Pet” or “Gourmet”), I noticed Paul was already way ahead and he stayed there for the rest of the day probably just to prove the point.
It gave me a chance to wander behind thinking about Italy as we walked along the old Roman road and as the temperature rose to 34 degrees. Apart from a few days in Rome and the south in the mid 1970s and a more recent trip to Monza, I only know Italy from the golden age of Italian cinema in the post war years including de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Fellini’s great films of the 1950s and 1960s culminating in Roma 1972 and, best of all, Antonioni’s classics. After these first few days on the Italian VF it’s good to see so little has changed. Girls still buzz around town on Vespa type scooters, boys still manage to screech around corners in small Fiat and Lancia cars despite modern tyre technology and everyone else pops into a bar for an espresso in a tiny cup with a glass of water.
Motorsport is in the blood. Look at their sports cars. And look at the way they drive. It’s quite acceptable for a tiny Fiat with stripes to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre on a line of Lancias, Maseratis and Fiats, straining down the wrong side of the highway with a truck bearing down on the aspiring racing driver. Just as I’m reaching for my telephone to call an ambulance, the Fiat dives into a gap in the cars about the size of a parking space and the truck roars past. Out pops the Fiat again to complete the manoeuvre. The only car in Italy which is driven with grace and dignity is the Ferrari. I saw all that, this morning.
The Italians were in Camino mood. Several drivers expressed solidarity by slowing down, lowering a window and shouting “Buen Camino”. Many tooted their horns. A fire engine with blue lights and sirens sped past us and as we waved so they cheered us and blew their horns. It really makes a difference to us.
We arrived safely in the pleasant town of Fidenza. After a shower I went straight out in search of a gelato. Every gelato you eat in Italy is the best in the world. Just like in those old films. But whatever happened to Italian cinema?
Paul leading the way today
Stand well back from these guys
A field of plum tomatoes
The daily temperature
Every gelato shop is the best