Po River Valley, Italy; Oct 26 – Nov. 3, 2014

Posted: November 14, 2014 in Italy trips

On a  clear day in downtown Milan you can see the Alps rising in the distance.     Thirty miles north of Milan at Malpensa Airport majestic mountains are even closer, they rise as a backdrop.   Flying in and out of Malpensa, you can see glaciers in these craggy peaks. Yet much of the area south of these mountains towards Milan is almost as flat as The Netherlands or Louisiana.  The Po River is the largest of several rivers flowing south from the mountains to the Adriatic.   While many of the levees along the Po may have been recently built, this area has a more than a thousand year history of damming, channeling, and canalizing these rivers.

My buddy Lyman and I had chosen Milan because it was a a place we could fly to for free on airline miles and take a  week long bike ride.

We landed at seven on a Sunday morning.   We both had folding bicycles that fit in a suitcase.   We put our bicycles together, checked the suitcases at a place in the airport, and headed off into Italy.   All over the world there are rarely well labelled instructions on how to leave an airport by bicycle; Milan Malpensa was no exception.   We at first found ourselves on some kind of freeway.   We found a way off that busy road.  We followed Google Maps, looking for a supposed bike path along a canal.  We passed through a small village on a road that transitioned from Paved Road to Unpaved Road to Grown Over Path Though the Woods.  We had to trust Google, and the path eventually put us on a delightful paved bike path that parallels the Ticino River.  This heads south for about twenty miles.  If you turn left slightly at a canal intersection, you can follow another razor straight canal bikepath that deposits you right into the trendy Naviglio neighborhood of downtown Milan.   That is only a mile or so from the historic center with the enormous cathedral Duomo.

 

We stayed one night in Milan, and headed out the next day along a canal, south towards Pavia.   We had to cross the Po River on a dangerous narrow bridge filled with traffic.   For the next six days we slept each night in a series of small cities that line the Po River.    We then turned north and rode to Sirmione on the large Alpine lake Lago di Garda, before biking back towards Milan and taking the train the rest of the way back to the airport.

Pavia.   Piacenza.  Cremona.  Sabbioneta.  Mantua.   Sirmione.   Except for Mantua, I had not heard of any of these cities previously.  Yet any one would by itself fill a week’s worth of exploration into art, history, and architecture.   Architecturally, each offers a more thorough urban experience than much larger cities in America, like say, Atlanta.   Each has its own unique history, culture, and cuisine that goes back thousands of years.    Although these small cities are less than fifty miles apart, Pavia, Piacenza, Cremona, and Mantua each has a unique cathedral, built somewhere between the year 1000 and the year 1400, filled with Renaissance art.

 Duomo di Cremona, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta

In central Cremona:  Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta

 

Cremona, with the Torrazzo tower in background, 343 feet tall, completed in the year 1309

Cremona, with the Torrazzo tower in background, 343 feet tall, completed in the year 1309

 

Building on the right is the Palazzo Ducale in Mantova, 500 rooms, home of Gonzaga family from 1328 to 1707

Building on the right is the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, 500 rooms, home of the Gonzaga family from 1328 to 1707, when Mantua was sacked by the Hapsburgs.

 

Sirmione, on Lago di Garda, a resort since ancient Roman times

Sirmione, where we spent our last night, on Lago di Garda, a resort since ancient Roman times

 

 

We had not really planned this trip much in advance.  I did not even realize that this area south of Milan would be so pleasantly flat, or contain so many bike paths.   But especially from Cremona to Sabbioneta to Mantua to Sirmione, one can travel all day on lovely bike paths that top the levees containing the Po River.   Finding your way is not always easy; bicycling in Italy is not like Holland; bike paths stop and start, and sometimes dump you on a busy highway or narrow bridge.  One has to constantly look at the map.   This was the first European trip that I had been able to get my smartphone to work correctly,  it helped tremendously.

 

Lyman packing up outside our hotel in Milan

Lyman packing up outside our hotel in Milan

 

 

Northern Italy Oct 2014 037

Northern Italy Oct 2014 078

Northern Italy Oct 2014 098

Northern Italy Oct 2014 101

Northern Italy Oct 2014 219

 

Bar catering mostly to bicyclists on a sunnday

Bar catering mostly to bicyclists on a sunny Saturday north of Mantua

 

 

 

As expected, food was wonderful.   In America (and much of northern Europe)  there are a fair sprinkling of pretty good places to eat, but you cannot depend on circumstance.   In America, you have to ask, and look,  for places with good food.   In Italy, as in Spain, France, and Portugal, there is a tradition of excellence, and one can just stumble onto wonderful food.    For lunch we normally just rode up to these places, in tiny towns, with barely a sign.   Some seemed filled completely with just men;  truck drivers and farm workers eating like kings.

Northern Italy Oct 2014 097

We had great penne with pesto, at the place labelled "BAR"

We had lunch at the place labelled “BAR”

 

First course, penne with pesto, in the place labelled "Bar"

First course, penne with pesto, in the place labelled “Bar”

 

We had great linguine with clams at this truck stop along the bike path.

We had great linguine with clams at this truck stop along the bike path.

 

There were alway lots of interesting people to look at.

Northern Italy Oct 2014 012

Northern Italy Oct 2014 024

Northern Italy Oct 2014 041

Northern Italy Oct 2014 083

Northern Italy Oct 2014 088

Northern Italy Oct 2014 096

Northern Italy Oct 2014 108

Northern Italy Oct 2014 143

Northern Italy Oct 2014 166

Northern Italy Oct 2014 189

Northern Italy Oct 2014 198

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s