Farm yards and fish heads: Pavia to Venice

I’d left poor Nev tramping in Pavia on his own for a few days while I went back home to be a bridesmaid at my best bud’s wedding.  After the truly horrendous, massively sleep deprived 16 hour train journey home from Milan (did I mention my insane fear of flying?), I got to enjoy a bit of guilty luxury.  It was a brilliant and heart warmingly romantic wedding totally worth making the trip home for, but the posh hotel and white flurry bath robe felt totally alien after 6 weeks of camping and within a day of being reunited with my lovely Nev tramp, I had 6 new mosquito bites, my French manicure was half chipped off and dirt was showing through my grubby fingernails.  I truly am a tramp at heart.

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It was a mere 180 miles to Venice from Pavia but, after a quick online search for campsites , we realised there weren’t many along the route so we ended up splitting the journey into 3 days.

The first was a 49 mile day to the town of Cremona.  We woke to the sound of rain pelting off the tent so the day started with us hiding in the security of our little canvas house.  Eventually it calmed down so we had to leave our stinky home sweet home and pack it up into its little bag, all wet and covered in dirt and grubs.  Enjoyable.

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One of Nev’s trainers had got completely soaked in the rain and it squelched with every turn of the pedal.  Trench foot: also enjoyable!

As soon as we set off, the rain started again along with some strong headwinds that slowed our speed down to about 8mph.  The rain didn’t stop the hard workers of Italy though; we’d made ‘hooker spotting’ into an actual activity by this point and they continued undeterred under umbrellas at the side of the road.

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We decided to stop for lunch (today’s delicacy was beans and hot dog sausages on toast) in the shelter of an abandoned nightclub.  We had a quick look inside after lunch.  It was pretty cool; all gold mirrors and retro looking curved bars.  Completely trashed though!

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The next day was a long one: 82 miles to Legnago, but the weather was back to its usual sunny self and the roads were flat, so it was a nice easy breezy day, stopping for calzones and a giant donut for lunch and a juicy, juicy peach which we ate and slurrped on the steps of a church.

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It’s illegal to cycle on the dual carriage way in Italy and we had to change the route a few times, heading to nearby cycle lanes to avoid them.  At this point I should mention that, for a country famous for its roads, Italy has had by far the worst roads we’ve cycled on.  It’s not just the fact that the drivers are in such a hurry and zoom past far too close for comfort, but also the giant pot holes and uneven surfaces to constantly dodge as you’re cycling along.  It’s pretty tiring always having to look out for the next lump of tarmac or hole in the ground that could knock you off balance into the crazy Italian traffic.  The cycle lanes were no better either and most of them had pointless barriers down the centre – another thing to dodge and, with large pannier bags on either side of you, that’s not as easy as it sounds!

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The landscape was mostly (only) agricultural but, interspersing the cornfields, we did pass through a few quaint little towns.  We stopped for water at a gorgeous town called Mantova and cycled past an inexplicable red phone box and a tiny airfield in the middle of nowhere.  Apart from that it really was just cornfield after cornfield.

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The campsite we arrived at was one of my favourites so far – a farm with absolutely no signage whatsoever to indicate that it was a campsite.  We could see a handful of other people camped on the grass, so we just went ahead and pitched our tent under a tree and next to a massive hammock, which I obviously immediately dived in.

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After a couple of hours, the campsite owners (a lovely, friendly couple) came over to see if we wanted any ham for tea.  We could tell from their over-eagerness, excitedly running about the campsite bringing guests pizzas and bottles of champagne on ice, as well as the lack of signage and immaculate state of the toilets that the campsite must have only recently opened.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was their first day.  It was also a working farm in a stunning location, so we sat in our hammock admiring the sunset and watching the bats circle us before going to bed.

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We left early the next morning after ringing the doorbell of the farm house and paying them the grand total of 10EUROS.  Absolute bargain.

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The final day to Venice was another flat 49-miler.  We had our (now usual) morning stop for coffee and a pastry before noticing a sign for a cycle route along the canal.

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The canal path turned out to be more entertaining than we’d thought as the Italians, seemingly always looking for an opportunity to pose, were out in force on the canal tow path as if it were Miami beach, jogging in underpants and bikinis, the girls all in full make up and sun oiled skin.

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Although arriving in Venice by canal would have been highly appropriate, the canal path eventually got too bumpy and slow so we headed back onto the road for the last part of the journey where we saw my favourite Italian road sign yet: sad kooky face.

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With our tent pitched by 3pm, we ditched our bikes and got the bus into Venice for the evening.

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Venice was amazing! Every street corner we turned was another photo op; all higgledy piggeldy streets, tiny bridges and crumbling buildings.

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We had dinner in the evening so we could see how the little streets looked at night (also amazing, obviously!).

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You know you’re near the sea when you order fish in a restaurant and it comes with eyeballs still in sockets.

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After awing at the magic of Venice, in contrast the bus ride home was a nightmare.  The bus was so completely rammed that we couldn’t see out of the windows to figure out where our stop was.  Using sat nav on a packed bus isn’t one of my proudest moments but it totally worked.  Back at the tent, we went to bed with a honey and lemon drink to soothe the cold I’d brought back from England to share with Nev.

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