Even 40 km and more to the north, we are in the suburbs of Milan now, which is the biggest and most important city (industrially and economically speaking) in Italy, far more so than Rome. Our distinct impression so far is that sidewalks are optional. As we worked our way out of Como south, we found ourselves crossing the street back and forth constantly to find a reasonably safe place to walk, sometimes just one side of a white line painted on the road that seems to demarcate a virtual sidewalk. I was determined today not to do any death-defying feats along highways today, and we did manage reasonably well to take secondary and neighborhood roads most of the way, once even through a small forest. But we do at least know now the correct answer to the old question in this post’s title: To get to the other sidewalk.
About 14 km of our day’s trip was along a so-called pilgrimage route, the Cammino San Pietro, named for a 13th century martyr of this region. It was not well marked (we found approximately 3 stickers noting the correct direction, and two signs, one of which had fallen off its wooden posts) and altogether the least inspiring walking trail I’ve ever been on. The rule seemed to be that whenever we saw an interesting looking road or path heading off in one direction, the pilgrimage trail went in the other. There were major road crossings with no crosswalk, the edges of industry, drab commercial spaces… definitely no aesthetic crutch to lift you up to the higher realms. Maybe it was trying to drive home the message that our Christian lives are to be lived out in the world as we find it, not the world as we wish it was. That’s the best I can make of it. The truth is that walking in cities, on roads, and among cars is just about the most anxiety-inducing activity I can think of. We both are way more tired at the end of a shorter and altitudinally flatter day through a city than a longer and more difficult one in the country (not the mention crabbier).
We were particularly eager for the day to end because of the gold at the end of the rainbow—Zeke, Ginny, and Roger in the camper van. We found a good place to meet them, sent a text message with our coordinates, and waited for them to arrive—and waited and waited. Sent another message, waited, no response. Finally resorted to calling their French cell number from our Italian cell number despite the undoubted astronomical expense: we got about 4 seconds of conversation before we were cut off. Supposedly we had 20 euros of credit on our Italian phone, but it had apparently run out, and we had no other way to get in touch with each other. Not exactly the ideal situation for two tired walkers already frayed by car dodging all day.
At last when we were contemplating splitting up to go to the grocery parking lot 2 km away where we knew them to be, another angelic intervention presented itself. Two old ladies appeared in the door of the stoop where we were sitting. I said, “Scusi, no parlo italiano, telefono no functiona…” Pause, telephone gesture, “telephone? Due minuti?” (I have no idea if any of this is Italian; it was a guess with some ideas from Spanish thrown in.) The old ladies directed us to an office just next door still open. I went in and repeated my routine, and smilingly one clerk led me to the phone. Then I said, “Francia… solo due minuti!” and rattled some change to show my willingness to pay. I must have really had that look on my face because she smiled again and said, “OK, calma, calma!” I got Roger on the phone, shouted for Andrew to come and give him the coordinates while I dashed back to watch our stuff. They wouldn’t accept any money, and our loved ones were there ten minutes later. It was a joyous reunion in many different ways.
It was also the first night of camper van camping in Italy. We discovered that you can officially park and do the water dumps at the so-called “Area di Sosta” spots, of which there are many. We found one not far from our stopping point and pulled in for the night. Over dinner we couldn’t help but notice that the other camper residents were, well, noisy. As we were getting Zeke ready for bed, they were joined by a stunt driver screeching his way around the parking lot. We were having second thoughts about our overnight location. Then the whole caravan drove off, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Until they came back. This time it seemed like the people in the camper van were trying to get away from the speed racer… and he didn’t like it, because as soon as he got out of the car he ran over to one of the campers and smashed two of the windows in. At this point were definitely decided to move on and hoped not to see how the saga ended.