Day 10: Crema to Cremona
The morning was uninspiring for cycling. The night before there had been rumblings of staying another day, just to miss the rain. But the weather, though grey, was still good enough to bike in.
We passed through Crema centro fairly quickly. The hotelier had said that it was about 1 kilometre, gate to gate. He had also said that the Duomo was worth a visit. Perhaps, but when we passed it was wearing its winter coat of steel and mesh. The city's two entrance porto we passed through were staid and functional. We ate breakfast at the far end, where a lovely old man and I had a conversation of Engtalian regarding the trip so far.
Of course, there was the moment of lostness, this time at a 6 way traffic circle. The diameter of the roundabout was equal to that of Convocation Hall at University of Toronto. There was a fountain in the middle of it, for crissake! Trucks barely need to slow down off the highway to circle it. Cars speed up. It would have been madness to take a bike on it, so we high-tailed it back to our "last known position" and recalculated.
Along some dirt roads. Through towns bearing Italian flags. Beside an enclosed 11th century cloister. By blooming white and pink magnolia trees. Holding still, waiting for a train to go by. Past solar farms and abandoned homes. At some point, it rained. We learnt then that a sprayed waxed cotton jacket may not be as waterproof as advertised. A North Face Summit Series jacket is. There may be a garbage bag poncho in the future.
We slowly arrived into Cremona from the western suburbs. Navigating by signs works best. Sometimes, there are miscommunications, and the signs wish us to follow roads we can't. Sometimes, we turn ourselves into pedestrians to reach centro. In Cremona, it was drizzling on and off. We sat at a covered sidewalk cafe to figure out our cunning plan. The local campsite (campeggio) was closed - which left wild camping or hotel as our options. Ibis hotel it was.
Cremona is intertwined with musical history. Folks in the 16th centuries lived here and produced string instruments. The name known best to the world is that of Antonius Stradivari. There is a piazza and a statue dedicated to him, right beside the main Duomo piazza. He, and the Amati and Guarneri workshops, made Cremona the destination for apprentices. Today, the number of lutherie workshops is astronomical. People have moved here from all over the world to live and work in a place of history and learning. Most of them are labelled as violin makers (on the brown "tourist attraction" signs), but walking by shops shows the large variety actually made (viola to cello, and beyond). Some shops were perfect examples of a workshop - hunched backs over a half-completed bow in the setting sunlight. Other shops were clearly attuned to a different crowd, with artistically laid instruments and an ornate desk.
Our walk (biking is hard sometimes, yo.) took us by the Duomo in the fading light, and a creepy closed down hospital. There would be time in the morning to look a the church. At look at it we did, over an espresso. There was a funeral going on, and unlike the school group, we decided not to invade. Instead, we looked at the campanile (bell tower) made of brick (either the tallest or second tallest of its kind in Europe) and the Romanesque facade of the Duomo. Unlike the Duomo of Milan, that of Cremona solidly despises excess decoration. The majority of detail is that of a series of square columns and perfect arches - known as loggia. There are a few statues, but of fairly relevant types (saints, muses, gods and bishops). One could comment about the human heads adorning the columns that hold up the facade, but I'll leave it alone. The facade was built starting in the 1100s in a Romanesque style, and renovated over the following centuries in a Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque style, depending on contemporary fashion.
Day 11: Cremona to Viadana
After the funereal espresso, we moved on. We escaped Cremona easily. Because of the current heat and rain the day before, the fields were steaming. Cycling involved a few dirt tracks with a whole bunch of puppies who greeted us. Our path finally crossed that of the Cycling Italy (Lonely Planet) and we decided to try the route given by the book. This dependence led us firstly along a wonderful quiet road, and secondly along an extensive wrong turning. Cycling Italy is now stuffed in the bottom of a bag somewhere - ignored and lonely.
The countryside in the northern valley fields of Italy is scattered with abandoned buildings. They're everywhere. Nearby are usually well-cared for family homes with flowering trees and manicured gardens. It's almost as if the buildings are let be because there are fewer farmers and families to fill them. People are also venturing out beyond just farming. "Agritourismo" hosts guests in exchange for work or monies and there are direct sales of the local produce.
Tootling along, we found the Po river. Biked along it and the embankments until the town of Caselmaggiore. The town annoyed us, and we needed to find water and food. That done, we moved on, with the intention of finding a place to camp for the evening within the hour. This area along the Po was built up - industry, farming, residential and recreational. The only places that were out of sight of people were man sown forests. As we reached the confluence of the Po and two other rivers, in the city of Viadana, we hit major industrial sections. The bike path began to disintegrate beneath us. It was partially slipping into the river, with cracks large enough to swallow bikes whole. Black holes of doom. I equated it to the baby-heads of skiing or mountain biking. The cracks were that large and that potentially dangerous. Bike eaters!
Finally, we decided we had gone too far. The options were to stop and search for a tent spot, or keep going with risk of darkness and lostness. Staying still seemed a good option, as the upcoming route was to take us through even more built up areas. We spent a few minutes in the sunshine, sitting on a park bench. Then, we looked around for a place to pitch the tent. Option 1 was a nearby plowed field, just off the paved pathway and beside a dog-training area. Option 2 was a slightly further away plowed field (yes, in the midst of a city), off the closed gravel pathway and closer to the road. We picked #2, as it was more secluded.
Our selection sucked. Really, both options were bad, and we made the best of the situation. The long grass was damp and cold. The mud was hard and deeply furrowed, and so difficult to move the bikes through. We cooked inside the tent vestibule (which added to the dampness) and slept fitfully from fear, noise and the cold...