Day 18 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Pavia to Parma (detour) for a short break. Weather: partly cloudy, humid, high 80s.

We’re jumping off track for the second time. Last night, as Dad called ahead to places on the trail – both commercial and church-operated – we quickly arrived at the conclusion that lodging is hard to come by in this region. Looking ahead, it’s going to get even more tricky. Following yesterday’s 17+ mile zinger, we decided to take a quick break and head for Parma, both to recover and to work out what comes next.

After packing and saying goodbye to our fellow pilgrims, we departed the hostel at Santa Maria di Betlem for a little early-morning exploration of Pavia. Once again, we crossed the Ticino River.

The streets near city center are covered with river rocks so destructive to tires that a special smooth track was created specifically with cares, motorcycles, and bikes in mind.

As it is a university town, the energy is markedly different from what we’ve previously seen. For starters, the shops are OPEN. Bookstores and newspaper and magazine stands appear to be doing robust business.

And of course, there are lots of cafes, restaurants, and bubble tea shops. College students come with healthy appetites.

Pavia’s Beautiful Churches

Pavia’s 15th century Duomo is the third largest in Italy, after Rome and Florence. Their Duomo is an absolute masterpiece in scale and composition. It’s no surprise it should be impressive – Leonardo da Vinci contributed to the design. While we were there, a priest noticed our walking sticks and gave us a special blessing and stamps for our Pilgrim Passports. 

At a nearby church whose name I didn’t write down, we came across a painting of a man holding a wheel of cheese. I love when churches incorporate the local products, environment, or history into their art. It makes the experience feel much more personal and unique. I’m interpreting that wheel of cheese as a sign from God. We are MEANT to go to Parma today!

We departed for the train station mid-morning. On the way to the train station we passed by an enormous statue of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and justice.

I’m always interested anytime a city with a strong tradition in one faith (here, Catholicism) has no problem accepting symbols that are pagan. Hey, I’m a fan of Minerva myself.

Salve, Parma!

Although there are only 112 kilometers (70 miles) between Pavia and Parma, train delays and re-routing meant we didn’t reach Parma until 1:45 p.m (over three hours after we left).

If we had been surprised at the lack of hotels in Pavia, we were floored by how large Parma was. Based on travel and cooking shows, Mom and I had imagined a quaint, rustic town in which every window was full of cheese wheels and hefty pig legs.

Instead, we quickly discovered Parma is a robust city of around 190,000 with a wealth of architectural gems, churches, and museums.

Our first business of the day was to sample the city’s most famous products: ham and cheese.

Because we arrived just before 2 p.m., we had an entire restaurant to ourselves. We ate orecchiette with Parmigiano Reggiano cream sauce and Prosciutto di Parma ham. As tasty and filling as that dish was, I preferred the appetizer: Parmigiano Reggiano cheese with a bowl of aged balsamic vinegar. The vinegar was so thick the consistency was more like syrup as you drizzle it over the Parmigiano Reggiano. I loved the taste of the delicate crystals in the aged cheese. The whole experience was INCREDIBLE.

Of course, such gastronomic delights come at a cost. After checking in to the AirBnB apartment, we found we didn’t want to move much. Long naps for everyone!

We’ll explore the city properly tomorrow.

Costs

Breakfast

Lunch: €21

Dinner: Supermarket meal inside apartment

Lodging: AirBnB (per person) $41

Ticket: €12

By Katie Cerezo

Thank you so much for visiting. 😊 I have always loved traveling, and my legs are my primary means of transportation. It's a beautiful world, and I'm eager to explore it…one step at a time.

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