Day 21

The day after my not-so-lucky episode in Milano I wake up and forge a better plan. There seems to be a suitable bike path to Pavia, a city in my direction, more or less. The ride is easy enough along a canal. Arrived in Pavia at 3pm, the reception of the only hostel seems unoccupied. Nobody answers the door or phone. Should I go further to the countryside and camp in the wild? There don't seem any other options. Just when I have decided to set off, a woman arrives and opens the gate.

I get an air-conditioned (hooray!) room, which I share with 2 young Italian students. They come from Monza and travel together to Rome on the Viafrancigena route. They suggest me to use the Italian app, which contains some route suggestions specifically for cyclists and overnight options. I shall try that!

Day 22

The GPX tracks I download from the mobile website turn out to be quite okay, and together with the official blue-white signage for cyclists following the route has now gotten much easier. It probably also helps, that I'm not cycling in the city anymore...

I arrive at Orio Litta in the afternoon. The path has led me straight to a hostel, at least I think it is one, where shortly after my arrival, an friendly grandma appears and starts talking to me in Italian (it's really a thing here in Italy...!). She walks me through the place and I figure out I'm welcome here. Only the costs part I cannof figure out.

"How much is it per night?"
"Offerta!"
Hmmmh, they will make me an offer? When...? I'm confused.... "No capisco"
Then she hints at a box.
"Aaaah, it's donation based!".

As I learn later it is quite typical for the so-called "pilgrim hostels" (the travelers hiking or cycling along the Viafrancigena route) to accept payment in form of a donation or sometimes even manual labor.

In the hostel, I meet mostly pilgrims "on foot": 2 Canadians (from Quebec), one Hungarian woman and an Italian cyclist. As the Canadian man doesn't speak any English, we communicate mainly in French. Not the last time, that my French has come to use. Who would've thought?

I don't sleep very well that night though: There is just no air. Without the blanket and the fans going, I'm still sweating. The one-way plastic sheets on the bed probably aren't helping either.

Day 23

I'm heading off towards Piacenza. With about 100.000 inhabitants it's one of the bigger cities I'm going to pass, and I'm hoping to find a bike shop that can have a look at my chain, which has stretched out quite a bit, and which I'd like to tighten for the hilly terrain to come.

The first bike shop I find sends me away. "No, no, no", they say, after I tried to explain my desires to the owner's wife (in French, of course).

Their cryptic directions lead me to another bike shop, which looks more encouraging. The two guys in the small shop are intrigued by the technology and spend a few minutes discussing, yet they don't have the proper Torx size ready to open the screws. So one of them quickly pedals off and returns shortly after with the right tool. A few minutes later my chain sits tight and nice as ever.

When asked about payment, Jeanluca (supposedly the owner) declines: "You think of me, when you are in China", and his compagnon Jean Franco smiles. Okay guys, I can do that! A big thank you to the Cyclestore Piacenza!

I move on to reach my goal for the day: Fidenza, where I quickly find the local "tourist info" which, after acquiring the official "pilgrim pass" hand me the keys to the local hostel, where I'm sharing the room with the Italian cyclist from last night. Turns out he's a computer science teacher in high school and has also travelled extensively, as he is allowed one sabbattical year for every 7 (or 10?) years of work.

A bit later, I also meet Gioele and Francesco in the hostel, the cyclists from Pavia 2 days ago. They kindly give me their phone numbers, in case I need help en route.

That night I'm so hungry, I don't know if I ever ate that much food. Altogether it is probably more than 1kg of pasta (inkl. sauce), a big tomato+mozzarella salad and half a Cantaloupe. As a result, I'm feeling sick for more than 2 hours. But at least, I'll have some energy for the demanding hills tomorrow (hopefully)!

Day 24 (part 1)

As usual, I'm the last one to leave the hostel (probably also because I'm carrying much more stuff, as Alec suggested, so it's not that easy and quick to pack it all up.

The weather is perfect once I reach the hills: no more than 20C and foggy! While I can't see anything of the surrounding landscape (visibilty sometimes 30m... or less?) it really helps me to "keep my cool" and I'm making good progress. The terrain is really demanding but still doable with my setup.

Suddenly, I see some cyclists in the mist. They are cycling full-on Italian style: their bikes are neither equipped with lights, nor are they wearing any high-visibility gear. It's Gioele and Francesco, again! We ride a good stretch together, often taking walking or snack breaks. While their bikes are much lighter and they don't carry half of the gear I have, their gearbox doesn't provide the same spectrum that my Rohloff does, which makes the steeper inclines seemingly easier for me.

In a small village we pass, the two decide to have lunch and I pedal on. I want to reach Berceto asap, to get some rest.

The route suddenly leaves the main street, and follow a short-cut through the forest. A bit suspicious, I hesitate for a moment: Maybe to steep? Whatever, I'll give it a go! A big mistake, as I should find out only 2 minutes later...