Mantua Day 1 - Italian Reconnaissance -- Lombardy and Lakes - CycleBlaze

July 20, 2021

Mantua Day 1

Town Exploration

We skip breakfast this morning in favor of getting an earlier train to Mantua. It is an hour train ride from Cremona. The notion that Italian trains are not reliable is not true in our 3x experience. They run well, are clean, roughly on time and seem relatively modern. Mostly they are here and available. It means we cycle the parts around towns or on routes without feeling the pressure of getting to the hotel. 

It’s early enough to ride around the city borders taking in the three lakes which are actually wide spots in the River Mincio. More cyclists in Lycra in one hour than we saw in 2 days in Cremona and many Ortlieb panniers. Mantua is on the Eurovelo 7 bike route which brings people through. 

The day is hot, the garmin reads 104 and weather app says high 90s. As long as we are riding there is a slight breeze that is enough to motivate us. We take in the huge Ducal Palace is surrounded by a high brick wall, as is most of the city separating it from the faster traffic, and can see the town as a fortress. It must have been daunting to all who approached by river or over land. 

The lakes are divided physically and economically. The lower lake (closest to the Po) is industrial. The not-to-distant plants are doing their bit for Italian plastics. (Italian plastics are some of the most durable, we have some pieces that are three decades old and still look like new.) The tension between tourism and industry seems to be going in favor of tourism. There are old disused factories on the riverside with smart new homes being built near them. The green swathes of land where the vegetation is thick is surrounded by high wire fences and environmental contamination/remediation signs. Again we are lucky to be here now and not 30 years ago when this would have been a completely impassable industrial wasteland. They are making an effort and it works as many are using the ribbon of parkland that is available. 

Riding out of town we arrive at the Agriturisomo that we booked for two nights. The ride takes us by two more of the lakes — the middle and the upper. At no time are we on roads with cars. It makes the hot riding much easier as the hardest thing we have to pay attention to are oncoming cyclists. 

The Agriturisimo Corte San Girolamo is an orchard complete with bee hives, lavender rows, canals, and a welcoming host. He jumps back and forth between languages, pronouncing Ken’s Italian to be quasi-bene. It is an honest assessment. He speaks a mix of Italian, slowly for us, and English, slowly for him as he doesn’t use it much. We get advice on restaurants, pronounciation, and biking. 

The cats are hot. They have stretched out on paving stones and are nearly invisible. We take a cue from the cats and have a quick nap then head into town on foot. It’s about 4K and we head into the center to check out the old things. 15th century church, mosaics, and another ducal palace.

We go at a slow pace because of the heat. On the way we see a fancy “canoe club” which has tennis, rowing, swimming, and maybe some canoes? Gated and evidence of higher wealth than in Cremona. 

Huge lily pads on walk back into town.
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Mantua or Montova has plenty of people about.  The piazzas are bustling but not packed. We see our first EV7 cyclists.  There are jars of preserving fruit in most windows. They get combined with a light mustard seed as a local specialty.

It’s the town of Dante and Virgil — local boys made good judging by statues and parks. It is good to think about what it means to have writers like that come from this place.

Dinner is what is keeping us in town, promise of risotto, avoiding the aperitivo habit which has wiped out appetite last few nights. The recommended Fragoletta restaurant — antipasti with the preserved fruit, risotto alla pilota (local dish of rice and sausage), pumpkin sage tortellini, all combined are the flavors of Thanksgiving 

We walk along park toward tonight’s home and contemplate the rest of journey, get cab from train station back out to the agriturisimo.  More vacation wonderfulness.

Arrival at lowest lake of the three. Really three connected wide spots in the River Mincio. This one is closest to the Po — plenty of recent industrial history (eg closed shoreline due to contamination). Awfully pretty on a hot day.
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Dante is in the house. Zoom in on his cap.
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Mantua ducal palace nearest to road. Parade ground inside of the walls.
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An actual working moat. Or at least one with water. Carp in the moat, pigeons sitting on every ledge. We saw one fall into the water. Can pigeons swim?
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A milk vending machine in Mantua. Because you never know.
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Besides biking getting to see old landscape architecture is a high point.
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Sharing a veggie panini — the folded napkin divided each half. Unexpected touch.
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Today's ride: 21 km (13 miles)
Total: 130 km (81 miles)

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