Wednesday 29 October.
It was freezing when we left this morning. We knew when we were having breakfast that it going to be cold and we had trousers, beanies and socks for gloves on, Moira even had her rain jacket on top of her fleece. The sun was just rising and there was a lot of ground mist lying over the fields. We had to wait at a level crossing going out of town, next to the station. We went round the barrier to the platform and there was no sign of a train, we crossed the line hurriedly but at the other side couldn't find a way round the barrier and had to duck underneath. There were a lot of school children waiting for the train and must have been amused watching these two oldies struggling to bend and get under the gate.
We were on a grassy track that was white with frost which meant that our feet didn't get too wet. It was very cold and our feet and hands were numb, at least it couldn't get worse and with the sun getting higher in the sky it was slowly warming up. The track went round in an arc and we could see the church tower of Miradolo Terme before us. We stopped at a bench before the town centre and Moira again phoned the people on Calendasco where we hope to stay tonight. This time she got through, he did speak English and we are booked. The only problem is that to get to Calendasco we have to get a ferry across the river Po and you are supposed to phone the ferryman to arrange to be picked up, but there is no record of the phone number anywhere. Moira asked the guy on the phone but he didn't know either but said there were notice boards with the info along the way.
Miradolo Terme was another long strung out town and when we did clear it a minor road took us to Camporinaldo, a village on the busy SP234. The route crossed the road and onto another grassy track, the frost had melted in the sun and now the grass was very wet, then we missed a turning and it became overgrown. It wasn't long before we realised something was wrong, we came to a river with no way across. We backtracked through the wet grass again, our shoes and socks now thoroughly soaking, and found the signpost for our path hidden behind a tree. While off on the wrong direction we heard gun fire and now we met the farmer with his dog and shotgun. He was very friendly and when he confirmed we were on the Via Francigena he directed us along the trail even though the waymarks were now evident. When we came out of the fields it was into another small town, Chignola Po. At the end of the town there was a very large Neo-Medieval Castello Cusani Visconti, it was behind a high fence but I managed to get some photographs between the spars. We had been walking for just over 2 hours and I suggested a 5 minute break but Moira wanted cup of tea, she won and it was a good call as it refreshed us. We were also able to get out of some of the extra clothing, it had warmed up nicely and was turning into another lovely day.
After our stop it was reckoned by Cicerone to be 4 km to the town of Lambrinia. We arrived at the town signs after only 20 minutes. It don't know how they measure these distances, but the town straddled the SP234 highway and was about 3 km of streets and houses. The VF went along the SP234 for a short distance to cross the river Lambro, this was also the boundary between the provinces of Milano and now Lodi. We could see it was a new province as we turned onto a lovely gravel cycleway that had granite posts, with the monk carved on them, at regular intervals to indicate that we were on the VF, also laid into the track were tiles with the emblem of the monk. We could have stayed on this cycle track all the way to the ferry crossing but instead followed the route markers onto the town of Orio Litta. We wanted to get something for lunch and also check on the phone number to arrange for the ferryman to come for us. The nice gravel track now disappeared, it was thick grass again,fortunately dried by the sun, and the lovely route markers were replaced by arrows.
Orio Litta looked fairly quiet and deserted dominated by another church with a big square tower. When we reached a large square with municipal offices on one side and a huge chateau on the other the route went to the right and the town centre arrow pointed the other way. We left our bags on a bench while Moira set off to look for a food shop, I went to the municipality to see of they had any info on the ferry. There was a queue paying Council Tax or whatever they call it here. I was in two minds whether to bother but asked the man in front of me if he spoke English, he did a little. I asked about the ferry and he thought you just went to the jetty and phoned from there, he asked a woman in another office and she got on the phone. He said she was phoning the Mayor. She hung up and began typing, when I looked puzzled she 'uno momento', so I waited. Eventually a man arrived, the Mayor himself, who spoke excellent English. He said the ferry only ran at 9 am each morning and you had to phone the night before to book. I asked if there was any place here to stay, 'yes there was' and he took me to some town buildings close by. On the way we met Moira coming back and she joined us when he pointed out the place where we could stay the night. He was a school teacher and had to hurry back to the school but promised to see us later to make arrangements for the ferry tomorrow. He phoned another man, Enrico, who met us after we collected our bags and he took us back to the town building. The room was upstairs at the top of a tower. It was very nice with two single beds but the toilets were miles away, it's going to be a mission during the night. The showers were even further away and we had to take a lift down to the dungeons, but they were beautiful and spotless. There was even a kitchen. He gave is a stamp to mark our credentials and was off, no mention of what it all cost.
Moira hadn't been very successful in finding a shop but there was a pizzeria opposite. While she went to get a pizza I made some tea and was ready when she got back. The pizza was very nice and this one was only €5. After lunch we showered and felt much better. It was cold up in out attic room but downstairs where the sun was streaming through the windows it was lovely and warm. I made another cup of tea and we sat there feeling much warmer. At 4 pm when the few shops opened again after their extended lunch break we went out. There had been three small markets in the town but two were now out of business, the third was just opening. There was pasta and tomato sauce in the kitchen so Moira got a tin of tuna to go with it and some wine. There wasn't anything else to see here so we went back and sat in the kitchen where it was warmer.
After we had finished dinner and were thinking of going to,the warmth of our beds, the Mayor arrived, his name was Luigi Cappelletti. We told him after seeing a map of the route on a board in the reception area that we would walk beside the River Po into Pia . It was only 21 km and not the 35 km indicated in Cicerone. He asked about where we staying tomorrow and told us about a hostel 3 km after Pia and phoned and arranged it for us. He told us there was no charge for the accommodation here and I said we would put the usual donation to Pancreatic Cancer UK instead. He was happy with that and all he wanted was a comment in the visitor's book and a postcard from Scotland when we get home.
When he left we got into bed and read in our warm sleeping bags. It was early again when we got to sleep but I was wakened about 9:30 pm by people talking, I thought it was other pilgrims arriving. I went down to investigate and found it was a council meeting or something taking place. I quietly returned upstairs and the meeting went on for about an hour then it was peaceful. It wasn't as cold as last night and we had a comfortable night.