Today was one of the longer biking mileage days of the trip – about 32 miles. It took us 7 hours to do it! That included two scheduled tours for the day.
We started the morning by staying on the barge for about an hour as we departed Mantova and motored to our starting point,
It was a quiet departure in perfect conditions. It is always a novel experience to be able to stay on the barge for a bit of a “free ride” before we start cycling. Our time on the barge included going through a lock. This was also a novel experience to do on a barge since my experience with locks has generally been while in a kayak.
After awhile, we pulled up to a dock in the middle of nowhere and worked fast to get ourselves and the bikes unloaded. Then it was time to hit the pedals for the next 32 miles or so.
We rode up the dirt road seen in the picture above for a short distance and then needed to cross a busier highway to connect with another path. Elena’s crossing strategy is to wait until traffic has mostly cleared and then position herself and her bike in the middle of the road to stop traffic while the group crosses.
After we crossed we had to pedal a very short stretch down the side of the highway before we turned off onto a side path. We were all riding single file along the edge of the road, but Elena put herself just a bit more into the traffic lane to help alert passing cars that there was a group of cyclists sharing the road.
Just when about one-half of the group had already turned onto the side path, a car came along and laid on the horn as it zoomed by. For the most part the Italian drivers have been quite patient and polite around the group -so it was a bit of a surprise when that happened. Much to the amusement of those who were in a position to see it, Elena responded to the driver’s rudeness in a completely Italian way – a one finger salute and a bit of “trash talk” (even if the driver was already long gone.)
Our route was mostly along the top of levees that must have been built to serve as protection from flooding for the fields and towns we could see along the way. It was nice to be up on the levee because it afforded a bit of a better view…but it was not shaded and it was shaping up to be a hot day. We were cycling in an area between where the Mincio River joins the Po River and another parallel river/canal called the Tartaro-Canalbianco-Po di Levante. Say that three times fast!
We stopped in a small village for a “coffee break”. It was nice that some older ladies who were there at the same coffee/bakery shop were interested to know where we were all from and what the group was doing. Thank goodness Elena was there to explain since other than one couple from Great Britain, our group is all from either Canada or the USA. No one speaks Italian!
We rode a bit further along the route, heading for a town called Bergantino.
We ate our lunch there.
We were also scheduled for a tour at a Museum for Carnival History.
It turns out that the area we were passing through is known for the manufacture of carnival rides. There is quite a history about the families from this town/area that started building and operating carnival games and rides back in the late 1920s.
It all began when two young bicycle mechanics, who were a bit down on their luck, happened to see one of the first electric “rides” at a fair – it was an early version of cars going in a circle. At the time very few people had ever ridden in a real car, so the ride was a tremendous hit. The mechanics noticed how the fairgoers mobbed the ride, eagerly paying for a turn. They went home and started tinkering and the rest -as they say- is history.
Eventually over 100 families from the area ended up involved in the carnival ride business. In modern times there are now 70 companies based in the area that work to create both mobile and fixed amusement rides, big time fireworks displays, and luxury caravans (travel trailers).
In the USA, when a carnival comes to town, it is owned and operated by one company. In Italy, a family might buy one ride and travel with it to fairs and events – and so each ride at a fair is independently owned.
The museum was small, but you could tell there was a sense of pride in their story.
First we saw a demonstration of hand cranked/automated music players. There were several there -in all sizes and each one louder than the last.
There was also another area that had miniature models of some of the earlier rides.
Last, we were shown a video of the more modern rides (in action) that are currently being built by two different local companies. It was hilarious to hear the group muttering things like -NO, JUST NO! when some of the more modern rides came on screen. A sigh of relief and “hum” of approval was heard when we saw a ride that wasn’t turning you upside down and sideways!
Below are a couple of random pictures from the museum.
After our tour, we got back on the bikes for a short distance before arriving at a farm that produces Grana Padano cheese. This cheese is only produced in the region we were in and is considered a (friendly) rival cheese to Parmesan.
Grana Padano was first created in 1135 by some monks who were trying to preserve the day’s milk surplus. They simply called it “old cheese”, but over the years the name evolved to Grana Padano. In the 1950’s the names and regions where Italy’s cheeses were produced were officially formalized. If it isn’t produced in the region we were in, it can’t be called Grana Padano. There are now 129 dairy producers and 149 companies that age and sell the cheese.
We were given a talk about how the cheese is made and processed and then allowed into the warehouse to see the cheese rounds that were ripening. There was a LOT of cheese in that warehouse!
We took a “cheesy” selfie!
The markings on the wheel identify the maker and bear the official name “Grana Padano”. The cheese is aged for between 9 and 20 months.
After being in the warehouse -and after Mike lured me onto the giant cheese scale to see how much I weigh- we were invited to an outside picnic table where our hosts put out a wedge of Grana Padano, some cracker-like snacks and poured us a small glass of wine. It was very good!
After that tour we still had about 5-6 miles to go before catching up to the Vita Pugna in a small town called Zelo. The miles were uneventful -we were a bit “horses to the barn” by then- so I’ll just share some of the pictures of things we saw along the way.
Everyone was happy to see the Vita Pugna! Our last couple of miles were quite bumpy to say the least.
Zelo has a population of slightly over 300 people. We were told that we’d have no internet for the night. So after dinner, we walked a short way down the street to see what an Italian Irish Bar looked like… (Hint: It looked like a bar!)
We had a drink and were ready to call it a night. It was a long day -and our second longest mileage day of the trip was waiting for our efforts tomorrow.
Zelo had a scenic old cobbled bridge and I loved the view we had of it from the barge!