Day 47: Sabbioneta to Parma - Grampies Ride Again! - CycleBlaze

September 6, 2015

Day 47: Sabbioneta to Parma

Our Albergo in Sabbioneta was really charming. Located in a 16th century building, it had the requisite marble stairs, only this marble was rough hewn rather than super smooth. The lady who owns the place had done lovely frescoes on many walls, a super job that she told us was easy.

Marble steps and decorated walls at Giulia Gonzaga
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Look Sabrina - one of the decorated walls
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The breakfast at this place, the Giulia Gonzaga, worked to revise our view of what an Italian breakfast (in a hotel) is. In this case, there was an assortment of really good sweet cakes, plus a strong assortment of local cheese, ham, good croissants, and a whole table of fresh fruits.

Half of the really nice breakfast presentation. Look at the cheese selection - we are near parma now!
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Starting about 7 a.m. people had begun setting up flea market tables in the street below us. It turned out to be a fairly major event, with tables extending to fill the main square. Unfortunately it was just flea market, so no cheese or sausages, or fresh produce.

As we walked our bikes into the square, one of the vendors approached us. It turned out to be Hilde, a lady that lives about 10 km away. The flea market is a once monthly affair, which she probably attends each time. We didn't get to see what it was that she sells. However, she was interested in Canada because she not only travels a lot but also has a best friend from Montreal. Hilde's English was excellent, and we had a wide ranging discussion about economic and immigration crises in Europe and Italy, and difficulties being experienced in the Chinese economy.

Hilde also gave us a good rundown about Sabbioneta, how it was founded in 1556 by Vespasiano Gonzaga, a member of the family that ran Mantova, and how it was planned from the start as an ideal city. The plan began with a complete wall, 90 percent of which is still there, and with streets that were basically on a 90 degree grid. Inside, there are 15 important buildings, ranging from the Ducal Palace to two churches and an Oratorio, to one of the first dedicated Theatres. There is also a synagogue, reflecting the liberal policies of the Duke.

We parted from Hilde with a hug, because she was such a sweet lady, and because she happened to have Dodie's mother's name. We continued to wheel our bikes through the town, really enjoying the lack of most cars and the sun and shadow in the still coolish morning. As we stood by a building, Hilde rushed up to us. She had bought us a traditional pie, the Torta di Tagliatelle, which is short pastry filled with an almond preparation and covered with fine strips of pasta dough and icing sugar. How really nice of her!

Theflea market
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Dodie and Hilde
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Here are a few shots of some Sabbioneta buildings, and the wall. We found that none of the buildings were open today, so we were able to make our escape fairly quickly.

The theatre
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The church of Santa maria Assunta, with pink marble
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Hilde's pie gift gets strapped on, to keep us going later.
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The synagogue. renovated in 1824. The Jewish community is still active here, and a song recital was scheduled for a nearby date. (Dodie's edit-the recital was scheduled for 1730 this evening, too late to stick around.)
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In the streets of Sabbioneta
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The Sabbioneta outer wall. We cycled a goodly way around the whole thing from the outside.
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Escape is not really the right word, because what we then launched in to was an odyssey of increasing difficulty. The Bikeline Po route does not quite go to Sabbioneta, but more importantly it leaves the Po to take you to Parma. That is fine, except that the route wiggles this way and that to achieve this. Plus, while it might be true that there is a bike path (more or less) along the Po, there is no reliable bike path to Parma. Consequently, we wiggled this way and that, through a bewildering array of little towns, and landed eventually in deep doodoo trying to get to the centre of Parma.

The map I had was very weak (fortunately Dodie had a good map and the GPS) making it hard to keep track of all the villages and all the changed of direction that we did. But I will mention three places: Fossacaprara, Roncadello, and Viadana.

A violet coloured house in Vigoretto.
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If you don't like violet, here is a standard house across the street
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Fossacaprara just caught our attention because it seemed such a neat self contained place, with a church and small huddle of buildings. Beyond were green fields and yellow, and some stands of poplar. It looked like it would be so pleasant for villagers to go for a walk in these surroundings. And then, about a km away, was the next village, identifiable by its own church steeple. If you lived in Fossacaprara, you could easily go for a walk or cycle there for a coffee.

Paste tomatoes are grown without staking. Somehow in the machine harvest, unripe ones are left behind.
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The town of Fossacaprara looks snugly self contained
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You could walk through this to a neighbouring village
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Roncadello was a village that we dropped into just to see what was there. The first thing we found was a lady sweeping the street in front of her house - both sides. No doubt some errant leaves had strayed into her territory. Can't have that. Some of the other things were a nicely painted pink house, and a funky Bar. A Bar here is not totally like one back home. While drinks are commonly served, so is food, such as breakfast. A Bar is more like a Snack Bar to us. Finally, there was indeed a church tower and quaint streets. One thing I particularly liked was a painting on the side of a bakery, depicting a baking scene.

A bright hosue in Roncadello
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Funky bar
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A street of Roncadello
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Painting on the side of a bakery
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Viadana featured a picturesque church, the San Martino. In 1589 or 1595 (or both) it had been damaged in flooding of the Po, but it was looking pretty good now. Viadana also, of course, had picturesque streets.

The church of San Martino in Viadana
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A street of Viadana
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Part of wiggling to and fro to get ot Parma had to do with avoiding big and dangerous bridges, such as the one at Casalmaggiore. We were directed by Bikeline to cross the Po at Viadana, but it had the exact way to do that wrongly mapped. The long and tall bridge required a certain trick to get onto it, and we used a lot of time looking for it. One advantage of wandering around under the bridge was that we got to see what seems to be a European hobby - dressing up as Romans, living in tents, and having stalls selling Roman related goods.

Romans encamped beneath the bridge
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More Romans! (But how do we get on the bridge?)
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Our solution for not finding the safe bike way onto the bridge was to ride back to the beginning of the bridge approach, and to take the unsafe, car way. Ultimately we did find the bike/pedestrian portion of the main bridge, and crossed in relative comfort that way.

There was a way onto the bridge, but it was not obvious!
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Dead speed control device.
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For many kms before Parma I was remarking that there was no longer anything to photograph. It was just fairly open - sort of nothing. If pressed, I would say occasional warehouses and transport company parking lots.

This changed as we drew a little closer to Parma. Now the Bikeline track was leading us onto busy shoulderless roads. Where they did show some kind of bikeway, it would be on the other side of uncrossable roadway. We ended by doing stunts like crossing high speed off ramps and cycling down on ramps, in and around major highways. In two cases, we only succeeded in crossing whatever all we were attempting because drivers came to a stop and blocked the traffic behind them for us.

Things are getting decidedly more "on road"
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Tough streets to deal with
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Deadly off ramp
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Down an on ramp!
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Not a pleasant cycling scene
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Yeah sure. Parma and cycling? Actually this did signify our finally finding a cycle way in to town.
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We were pretty shell shocked by this, but actually Dodie did finally find several safe bikeways, that got us pretty much into town. When we were almost there, we encountered a German couple coming out. They too were already shell shocked. The fellow tried to tell me that in Germany there is nothing dangerous like this. I heartily agreed, and for a time we mentally held on to each other, with memories of happier places.

From this point, though, things rapidly improved and soon we were in the pedestrian zone. Hooray! Elegant buildings, relaxed people!

Hooray, pedestrian street!
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Now we're talking
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We made our way to the Tourist Information, for we had satisfied ourselves that there was no camping within Parma. We specialize in arriving at Tourist Information ten minutes after closing, no matter when closing is, and we were successful this time as well. We do our best Booking.com work standing outside closed Tourist Informations!

This time though we made an initial mistake by booking a place that seemed close enough, but that had a glitch in that you had to check in a pick up a key elsewhere. With the traffic situation, we just could not zoom around the town picking up keys. So we cancelled and queried Booking.com for one of the closest properties. It identified the Button Hotel, which is claimed we were probably standing in. In fact it was just around the corner. 70 euros with breakfast, and a really nice place!

Our hotel
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We dumped our stuff rather quickly and headed back to the square that had the tourist information, Piazza Garibaldi. The reason was that while there we saw a major set up of local food and wine display, testing, and sales. There was a huge expanse of tables and staff with all kinds of wine bottles lined up, and there were dozens of bicycle based display carts from which producers were showing their cheese, pasta, vinegar, and olive oil products.

One major installation featured the work of three chefs, with pasta, salad, and sweet cakes. 5 euros would buy a moderately sized demo of one of these items - so 15 euros for a complete meal. It was costly on a per pound basis, but this was amazing gourmet food. I once read a book about someone trying to visit every three star Michelin restaurant in France, and found it pretty laughable. But real gourmet food really is a unique thing, and these items were great and worth it.

Of course a big claim to fame here is Parmigiana cheese - and we sampled both young and old varieties. The other big thing is the smoked ham. We had already done the gourmet food, so we passed on the 3 euro taster of that, but we have had some in past days, and it is truly very good.

A pause for a quick gellato, and it was all over for another day. From quaint to confused to near death to gourmet heaven, the day had certainly delivered some good bike touring!

Getting ready to serve up hundreds of bottles of local wine
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Prosciutto - is quite good!
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Standardized bicycle display carts are provided by the region.
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A display of pasta
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Getting a taste of Parmisan cheese!
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Our gourmet ravioli is ready.
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The display of gourmet sweet cakes
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It was possible to buy the sweet cakes in whole packages. The Pannetone was so tremendously better than what we get at home, though imported from Italy. It was moist and chewy. The cake on the left was called a dolce Via Francigena!
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The streets near our hotel have filled with people.
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Today's ride: 65 km (40 miles)
Total: 2,283 km (1,418 miles)

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