Leaving Piacenza turned out to be much more difficult than entering the city. I followed the Sloways App’s new, well-signed and safe trail until it left me in a large parking lot with no place to continue. I asked some locals walking their dogs, but none of them knew where it led. After much checking of options, the answer was nowhere.
Finally, a woman I’d asked first came back from her walk and practically dragged me to the Catholic University a ways across the main road. “They’ll know,” she said. They didn’t. So we went to the parish, further down. I was told to follow the Via Emilia Parmense all the way to Fiorenzuola. The problem was, the man said, they’d built a highway on the old VF and were now trying to create a new one.
Walking on the Highway? Maybe Not So Bad…
It wasn’t so bad at first. There were sidewalks and even a path separate from the highway itself. Then there was the town of Pontenure where I could sit in an actual coffee shop and leisurely drink a cup of coffee. There were very few days (if any) on the Via Francigena where this had been possible.
And the landscape was quite appealing. A strange haze covered the fields of corn, beans or already ploughed dirt, and added a touch of mystery to the odd trees left scattered around.
The road was very busy, with lots of big trucks, and despite the narrowness of it, they drove fast. Occasionally, I had to move over to allow the trucks to blow by and hung on to my hat so the wind they dispensed didn’t whip it off.
The Highway Narrows
The traffic, the noise and the hanging on to my hat didn’t become a real problem till the road narrowed even more, and there was no shoulder for me to walk on. I found myself teetering on the edge every time I had to step off to prevent getting run over.
Obviously, the man in Piacenza who told me I could walk to Fiorenzuola on Via Emilia Parmense had never strolled 24 km on this highway. I should have thought of that when I decided to follow his advice. But what choice had I? There was no way I’d wanted to take the train again.
My arrival in Fiorenzuola made it the first time I’d left a city, and then entered another on the same day while on the VF. It was also the first time I saw so many pilgrims. The only ones so far had been the Italian couple in Châtillon. Here, they strolled around the main square in front of the church above, in couples or small groups, as we waited for the parochial accommodation to open.
I managed to get a place with a woman from Belgium, an Italian couple, a French couple, and a few others. There was also an American man who’d started in Canterbury. He slept in the common room on a mattress. Others were turned away due to lack of available space.
The dorms and bathrooms were basic but clean. The bathroom with the washer even had hot water.
A Social Evening
I enjoyed walking alone during the day, but I also liked to banter, listen to other people’s stories, and learn from various cultures and viewpoints in the evenings. The mingling had been an important part of the Camino de Santiago, and I’d really missed it.
When I went to bed with lots of noise around me, woke to someone snoring, and found the bathrooms full the next morning, I remembered the frustrations that went with tons of pilgrims on the trail. After a shared morning coffee, I was perfectly happy to leave them all behind.
Next post: Fiorenzuola to Fidenza