Last night’s lodgings were not one of the best. Apart from the restaurant being closed, the wifi didn’t work, the beds were small and hard, the room wasn’t very clean, and the sound-proofing between rooms was poor. The man in the adjacent room held a long and loud telephone conversation all evening until well after we were trying to sleep. Breakfast was a perfunctory coffee and croissant, served without a smile. We were pleased to leave, and got away by 0745.

The restaurant definitely wasn’t ‘aperto’!

Today was another overcast and foggy autumn day, with a slight northerly wind which was quite cold when we stopped to rest. We started by walking back through the village, waving to the helpful man in the grocery shop who’d helped us find something for supper the previous evening.

The church was closed today, and the adjacent former monastery looked as though it had closed some time ago. Our path out of the village took us down an avenue of trees separated from the traffic, first to the cemetery and then onto the next village of Senna Lodigiana.

From there we headed across farmland to rejoin the official Via Francigena footpath which runs jointly with the cycle VF on a tarmac path atop a high flood defence bank.

Leaving Senna Lodigiana – autumn in full its full glory
Walking along the main VF cycle route – note the different field levels each side

A little less than two hours after starting out we got our first glimpse of the river Po, merging into the mist. It wasn’t quite as impressive as we had been anticipating, in part because the water level is low after an exceptionally dry summer, but it is certainly a big river with a huge flood plain which clearly requires sophisticated water management systems to protect crops and people.

First glimpse of the Po merging into the mist
Approaching Valloria along one of several raised flood defence tracks – the sun never really broke through today

By late morning we were heading away from the river and into the village of Valloria, dreaming of a cafe to have a second breakfast, but it was not to be. The church was open, but otherwise the village was asleep. Still hoping to find a cafe we walked past a couple of seats in the main street and then, finding ourselves heading out of the village, made do with an old tree trunk for our early lunch spot. We were ravenous after such an early and meagre breakfast!

Inside the quite modern church at Valloria
One of several allotments with huge cabbages!

We were then back on the cycle route to Piacenza and walking on tarmac, which is tough on the hips, knees and feet. It is surprising how much ‘give’ there is in an unmade track compared with the rigidity of tarmac, and we really notice the difference after several hours of walking.

There are layers of flood defences, with farms and villages tucked down behind the higher levees, such as this one

The last 3-4 kilometres into Piacenza followed the cycle track alongside a busy main road. It was not pleasant walking, and seemed endless, with little of interest to see, but it did at least keep us safe from speeding motorists – and there were plenty of those!

The long and tedious roadside trudge into Piacenza

After negotiating an underpass taking us back on ourselves we ended up the other side of the busy main road, following it on a long elevated section across the river flood plain. Although crossing the Po is a significant landmark on our journey it had none of the thrill or scenic advantages of crossing the Grand St Bernard pass. It did, however, get us from Lombardia into Emilia Romagna, so we’re making progress.

A brief gap in the speeding traffic, supposedly limited to 50kmh but actually going much faster, revealed that we were leaving Lombardia for Emilia Romagna
The railway line crosses the part dry riverbed parallel to the main road bridge that we were on
Finally we get to cross the Po river!

The Via Francigena entry into Piacenza is nothing like as impressive or pleasant as coming into Parvia through the riverside nature reserve and crossing the river Ticino via the Porto Coperto, but it does bring you immediately into the old centre of Piacenza with its wonderful historic buildings and cobbled streets.

We soon found our accommodation tucked away off the busy shopping streets but still close to restaurants. What a contrast with last night! A host who offered a map of the centre and volunteered advice on things to see and places to eat, and a very comfortable room with interesting artistic decor: mostly not to our taste, but stylish nonetheless.

View of the Duomo across the rooftops taken from our balcony

Having arrived earlier than anticipated, we got showered and changed before venturing out to buy lunch for tomorrow and see the cathedral. In fact, as we entered the cathedral we realised there was a eucharist service just starting so we joined the congregation. Our very minimal Italian, was just about enough to follow the liturgy with the help of a service sheet. It’s so sad that they have so little music to accompany worship, especially given the huge history of Italian church music. We found we could understand bits of the sermon, or at least recognised what bits were about but no more. More a lesson in Italian than RE, perhaps!

The main nave looking east

This year, Piacenza cathedral is celebrating 900 years since its foundation in 1122, and so its architectural style is romanesque and relatively plain. Unfortunately, as it was due to close not long after the service ended, we were not able to do it justice by our fleeting visit today. It is certainly worth another visit when we have more time.

The end of the eucharist service in the south transept
The Last Supper by Ulisse Sartini, presented to the cathedral in 2016

Just across the piazza from the cathedral we found a nice little trattoria for supper, and then stumbled back to our accommodation exhausted. We have an even longer day ahead of us tomorrow but hope to sleep much better in a comfortable bed tonight.

Overall, today’s walk was not very interesting, and the river Po was scenically disappointing, but it was an important landmark in our long journey. Moreover it was also the 100th day of our pilgrimage!

Piacenza is definitely on our list of places to come back to explore further.

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