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Chapter Fifteen

Day 38

Parma

After staying the night back at the Aires in Milan we wake up early (again thanks to our new Cockeral friend), have our showers and prepare to leave. Our first place of call today is Parma, some 75 miles away. We head off out of Milan and avoiding motorways head down the country roads. The first thing we notice is how flat the scenery is, especially as we have been quite accustomed to the mountain backdrops of the Alps. Tractors work hard ploughing the fields and small flower sellers sit on the road side hoping to stop the passing traffic. One curious sight we see, are the ladies sitting on chairs along side the road, waiting for “Custom”, Out on these country roads they seem a bit out of place, but who are we to say where they belong? Large farm buildings with great arched entrances appear in the fields, they give a real old Rustic feel to the surroundings that one would expect to see in the Movies.

Along the side of the road we notice the brown signs indicating that we are on the Pilgrim Route of the Via Francigena, we decide to stop and have a look at a couple of the churches and head towards Castell’Arquato, unfortunately all the ones we stopped at were closed, which we thought strange.

We reach a small town called “Chiaravalle della Golomba” when we notice a street market. We decide to park up and have a look. Freshly cooked chicken is on the menu in the first van and further down, local herbs, mushrooms and vegetables are all available. We decide to buy our dinner here as we don’t think we will get it any fresher than this. Once full on the delicious dinner kindly provided by our resident chef, we head off back down the road towards Parma. We find a parking spot in a narrow street at the top of which is the old prison building which seems to be getting rebuilt inside for the University. Adjoining the prison building is the church of San Francesco del Prato which is totally deralict now but is considered to be one of the finest examples of Franciscan Gothic architecture in Emilia, it was converted into the city jail in 1810 which has only recently been moved elsewhere. Nearby is situated the Palazzo Cusani, Casa della Musica which is one of the city’s most important historic buildings and dates back to the 15th century. There is a small, quiet park containing the statue of Padre Pio, surrounded by flowers and pictures. Walking on towards the cathedral through the narrow streets, you can see that the city is well maintained and clean. The buildings are painted and balconies are adorned with flowers. The impressive cathedral is dedicated to Maria Assunta and is one of the most renowned examples of Romanesque art of the Po Valley. The existing cathedral has been built on the ruins of a Paleo-Christian church from the 5th and 6th centuries, although construction of the building which is here now began in 1130 following a violent earthquake which destroyed most of the former buildings. Stepping inside the cathedral we were surprised as to how bright it was with light streaming in from the windows. The paintings on the walls and ceilings are stunningly beautiful and shine out with the gold that is reflected from them. The central nave dwarfs the two side aisles and is lit by the light flooding in from the women’s gallery. The dome is frescoed with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and in the four corners are paintings of the four patron saints of the city. The high altar is magnificent and the best view is from the central nave. Also outstanding is the ornate and large pulpit. Steps lead down into the crypt at the side of the high altar and we were surprised to find it warm and bright and very calming, it is the perfect place for contemplation and prayer. The many chapels along the side aisles are all charming and filled with paintings and statues. Leaving the cathedral and back in the Piazza Duommo we stand and admire the view of the Baptistry, built of red Verona marble, the construction began in 1196. There are two huge arched doorways, one north facing and one west facing, depicting scenes of Our Lady and Christ in the arches above the doors. The beautiful dome inside is decorated in a Byzantine style of the 13th century and is divided into sixteen sides. The octagonal building has four storeys of pillars which are topped with an storey of arches and is an impressive building to see. Moving along to San Giovanni Evangelista, a Benedictine convent complex dating back to between 1490 and 1519, the facade of which was only constructed in 1604. The wonderful work of art within the dome of the church is the first work to be completed by Antonio Allegri.

Looking for the tourist information office we pass the Teatro Regio (Theatre) designed by Nicola Bettoli and built in 1821-1829. After leaving the information office armed with books we head off to see as much as we can before we have to leave and meet up with the others in our party. We pass a large park full of people enjoying the sunshine, lots of students from the nearby colleges and the university were sitting about chatting. As we hurry back we pass many other palaces, churches and statues and all agree that the city has a lovely feel and is a definate must of places to visit. Tomorrow we are heading to Maranello and the Ferrari Museum so we need to put some mileage behind us and find somewhere to spend the night. Locating a camperstop in Carpi we put the details into the Sat Nav and make our way there, not too far to travel in the morning. The Camperstop (Aires) is located at the swimming baths and there is a 24hr cafe and pizzaria. Water and toilets facilities and no charge. Felt quite safe and spent a pleasant night here.

Day 39

Maranello / Bologne

Woke up after a good night sleep, only woken up on the odd occasion for shouts of “Number 42…Salami Pizza”. Today is going to be a busy day if all goes to plan so first stop, “Ferrari Museum”. We leave Modena and head the short distance to Maranello. As we approach we get our first sights of the famous ferrari cars as a Ferrari 360 roars out of a side road and past us and out of sight. We approach the Marranello road sign and to the right we spot the factory and test track. We try to stop for photos but the trees block the view for any good ones. A mile further on, the restaurants and shops are all dedicated to the Ferrari brand and we turn to the right into the car park of the Museum. Ferrari cars line the square as you can hire them for 15 or 30 minutes. The price we were quoted was €50 and €120 but on the half hour trip you could drive it to the motorway and see how fast they really go. We park up and enter the museum. The entrance fee is €13. You recieve a small map of the museum and are met straight away with two F1 simulators (You have to pay to go on). The museum has a number of rooms all dedicated to different cars. An F1 room, road cars, vintage as well as a room dedicated to the factory which contains an Enzo Ferrari, one of the fastest cars in the world. Being car enthusiasts we have a good stroll and take plenty of pictures before finding our way back to the shop. We are tempted to buy t-shirts but the price puts us off. We head out and back to the van very happy we have come here and decide to have a bit of lunch before we head of again.

With lunch finished and photos all loaded onto the computer we head of for our next port of call, Bologne. Like Maranello, it is not a far distance so we reach it pretty quick. We only have a few hours to have a look around so we can reach our stop over, so once we drive in, some of us jump out to head straight to the city while the others concentrate on trying to park the van, (no easy task). I luckily am one that jumps out and heads to the city. The first building we come across is a church which has three tombs held up by pillars in its grounds. It is the Basillica of San Francesco. There is scaffolding covering most of the front entrance and unfortunately for us it is closed till later in the day. We leave there with directions to the centre, but on crossing the road we stop for a second to admire the large Statue of Our Lady on a column in the middle of the road. We head off through an archway which leads us past little shops. We are not sure if we are heading the right way as we walk into a square which contains the Church of San Martino, again unfortunately for us it is closed, however we notice something else on an opposing wall which catches our eye. We head over to see we are standing outside the building “Guglielmo Marcone” was born and raised in. Impressed with our ability to locate all things so well, we head of further into the back streets until we see a square with what looks like to be a well in the middle. We head in and find it to be the Square of the Police Headquarters. We rush out through a large opening and find ourselves in the large town square, containing the Cathedral and a number of bars and restaurants. The square is extremely busy and to our luck we have entered on a three day “Music festival” Large tents pack into the square on one end and music sounds out to the enjoyment of everyone around. In the centre two clowns, surrounded by the crowds, entertain, and to the sides, people are sitting enjoying the goings on with fine cuisine and drink. The smells of the food take us by surprise as the entire town seems to smell of home cooked food, a totally unique thing to experience. It would be very easy to join in the festival and have a few drinks but we have a bit more sight seeing to do first so we head across the square and into the cathedral. The doors open as walk up the steps and the queues of people who were waiting to enter, join us as we walk through the large doors. The first thing that hits you is how cold it is. It is a warm day outside but it feels like walking into a fridge, it really does have a icy feeling. No photos are allowed to be taken inside however the odd people are snapping away so I decide a few little ones wont hurt…surely! It is nice in its own right and well worth a visit, but if I’m honest it is not one of the best I have seen. We head out and spot a small street full of butchers and flower sellers. The smell rumbles our stomachs and we just have to taste some of the hams hanging inside the shop windows. We enter one butchers next door to a fresh coffee seller and order a few slices of Parma ham, however before eating it we take a good smell and it is nothing like at home. This must be the “Rodeo Drive” for designer food. The Parmasan Cheese is still in its full wheel and they stand ten high around the shops. We head in and look for the free tastes on the counter, a huge amount is on offer and we do our best to taste as much as possible before heading back out to the hussle and bussle of this busy little street.

We can see a high steeple in the distance and decide before we head on back we need to know what it is. We walk for a few minutes and it seems to disappear into the surrounding buildings though we do come across an Roman market place with church adjoining. We decide we have walked far enough so head back towards the town and on to the van. We are very impressed with the city though it holds one more surprise for us before we leave. Once back in the van we head towards the bus station when we come across a huge market, selling everything from clothes to vegtebles to music to chocolate. We manage to find a place to park and we have a very relaxing hour walking around.

With feet sore and all shopped out we head for our final destination of the day, and place to stay, Firenze (Florence). Being roughly only 70 mile away our driver heads us off as we place all our pictures on the computers. We arrive in Florence without any trouble and head to our Aires which is only two mile from the town centre. It is €12 a night but is well worth it. We park up in the midst of twenty other vans and settle in for the evening. A local nightclubs music can be heard as we rest up but it is definetly not a reason to put you off coming here. It feels totally secure and safe and after having our dinner we rest our weary feet and with a glass of wine we reflect on the long but excellent day we have had.

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