Pushbike Diaries

On Italian Roads: from Pavia to Tortona to Genova (4/5 June – Days 11 &  12)

4 June – Pavia to Tortona

I didn’t pedal away until 11:00 – so much for an early start. It was easily 40* on the road today making the 51 kilometres, well, hot. I left Pavia by riding over the covered bridge – which was cool – then I was back into the outer suburbs with their light industry and big box discount stores. The road was busy but traffic accommodating – giving me room and no agro.

The ride was not lovely. Basically I was crossing river flats full of outer suburbs and agriculture. I managed to get stuck at a roundabout not far from Pavia – it took me about 10 minutes to figure out which road I needed to be on.

I crossed the River Po on a narrow footpath next to the highway … like the Great Western in some ways. But – yo the Po, very cool. It was wide, high and an earthy green someplace between olive and a greeny tourquoise.

Me and the Po, yo. Crossing the River Po south of Pavia.

The heat was bright and dusty – not shimmering. I stopped in the worst of it in Lungavilla for lunch at Bar Sport. I rode on through Voghera into my destination for the night, Tortona. Another lovely old town area of paved narrow roads, lively with everyday businesses and people getting on with it as they have here for, what, a couple of thousand years?

The problem with simply making it up as you go is it’s expensive. I went to the tourist information centre and they helpfully found me a place (in English) – a hotel for EUR 55 (with breakfast). Il Cavallino is in a very old building, on the edge of the old town, with renovated rooms and a fantastic shower – though a wafting odor of sewage.

I went walking through the city – having a looking into the Duomo and another church where a service was on going. Fifteen women with an average age in their 70s and two blokes make the congregation. Their voices – so strong, so certain. Beautiful round sound filling the space of this 10th to 14th century church. The priest doing as all have done, pretty much the same, day in and day out for 1000 years.

Tortona: Chiesa Santa Maria Canale

I apertivo and watch the fashionable – in a sort of Gold Coast-y way – Tortonians enjoy their evening strolls. By 7pm the heat is finally going out of the day though a clock at a chemist’s says it’s still in the mid 30s.

There are hills between me and Genova; I wish I could find an elevation chart for tomorrow’s ride. It’s going to be some 75 or 80 kms mostly following a river so it might not be too bad.

5 June: Tortona to Genova

In Milan, when I spoke of riding to Genova to Luca and Daniella they both spoke of the hills. Luca had never done the ride – “there are mountains” – and Daniella said the climb wasn’t too bad with just the last bit to the pass being tough then it was all downhill to Genova.

When I pedalled away from Il Cavallino around 9am – an early start by my standards – it was already hot enough to have me sweating while packing up the bicycle. I had a long day in the saddle ahead I would need to take care with my pacing.

Pedalling away from Tortona on Via Emilla

An hour in I pull into a little town following the road toward a church – expecting that near the church will be a piazza and in the piazza a cafe. But the old part of town is dead quiet at mid-morning.

I did find this cool portrait of Fausto Coppi – one of Italy’s greatest ever cycling/sporting heroes, he was from around these parts and died in Tortona. I had seen a thing on a wall about him the previous night as well. He was the leading cyclist on either side of World War II – winning the Giro d’Italia five times and the Tour de France twice, among many other victories.

It turns out that just like elsewhere all the business in town is now on the highway so it was there that I found my morning coffee and a bit of bread for lunch later.

I’ve been thinking about the ideas of HERE and THERE. We travel from HERE to THERE for those things which make THERE different but of course when you arrive now you are HERE and many things aren’t that different and for the people who live HERE, the THERE you’ve just come from seems the place that is different.

Of course some THEREs are more different that others; Italy and Australia aren’t that different. Somethings, certainly, are very very different – elements of the culture, the history, the language, the architecture – but somethings less so: nearly everywhere I’ve stayed I’ve spotted at least some IKEA products, there are the some of the same cars on the roads, some of the same stuff in the shops.

Setting aside these commercial aspects, the very stuff of everyday life is the same HERE as it is THERE. I write this sitting on a park bench outside a doctors’ surgery where a child wails in the waiting room and its mother tries to soothe. People are going about the business of life – of working and shopping, of socialising and taking care of their families. The world is lovely in its sameness as much as for its differences.

Meanwhile … with some 30km done and 50km to come there has still been no climbing to speak of.

And there really wouldn’t be much to speak of at all. The road rose, almost imperceptibly, parallel to the river and the train tracks nearly to Busalla, where I met my first other bicycle tourists – three men in their 60s or 70s outside a bar. We chatted a bit in broken Italian and English – which was lovely. I understood their questions even if I couldn’t answer in complete sentences.

As I rode out of town, at last, a definite incline. Not that much of one but enough with some 50km already ridden in 35*+ heat. I finally dropped down to a small gear and just pedalled and wondered how long it would last. I looked for shade at the side of the road and took refuge there, two or three times. And then, maybe 30 minutes after I began climbing – I was passed by a road cyclist who said something about being nearly finished. What? And then I saw “200m” painted on the pavement, then “150m” and sure enough I was over the pass and cruising down the other side toward Genova.

Most of the switchbacks I had seen on my map were on the far side of the pass. I didn’t pedal for many kilometres and then, just like that, I was on a chaotic narrow street in the outer reaches of Genova and looking for that magic word “gelato”.

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