Bingo, Beavis and Bee-B’s epic journey to Italy!
Off to meet the animals!
Today is the 11th of November. Donald Trump has been elected as leader of the free world, it’s my father in-law’s 70th birthday and I’m off to Italy!
With all this in my head, at least one of the things mentioned there was having some trouble being processed. However, there was work to be done!
The van was already part loaded with a kitchen worktop-unit, a table and a bag of birdseed! These were the items collected earlier in the week from Nottingham. I also had on board some fragile furniture collected in London for a well known Interior Designer who’s face has been on a number of glossy home-making magazines. Her goods were going to Rome and to a place near Grossetto, Tuscany.
But today, the first stop was Uffington, near Farringdon, Oxfordshire. This is where I would meat Beavis and Bee-B, two male felines about to embark on a journey of over 1000 miles by road!
I was met by Annette who said she saw herself as the cats’ grandmother. After a kind neighbour had helped to place the cats into their individual travel cages – without too much hissing and wailing – Annette said her goodbyes and off I went.
The final pick-up point in the UK was in St Albans, Hertfordshire. This was the home (soon to be ex-home) of Bingo. Bingo was going to be travelling with the cats, but would have an extra 6 hours in which to put up with me! He was going to be with his adoring master – Matteo, a young boy who’d gone to live in Oria, Puglia with his mum and dad.
Dad was Ronan. I met him in St Albans with Bingo and we loaded the van with boxes and goods destined for the family’s new home in the sun! Once we’d packed everything in, I was offered Poulet a la Creme, a slice of cake and a coffee!
Sometimes, meeting customers involves just the usual formalities, a brief conversation about the weather and how great it is that they are starting a new life in another country. Not with Ronan! It was like chatting to a long-lost mate! Of course, breaking the ice with the bombshell that is: “So Donald Trump then…” is always going to initiate a lively conversation and kill any awkwardness, but there was no need. His positive energy combined with an incredibly similar outlook on life to mine, made for a very natural exchange!
Once we’d both spun out in quicktime our life stories, established that Marvel superheroes, fictional broomstick-riding, spectacled magicians and Batman were only really fine for anyone aged 14 years and less, we realised that the rest of the world must be mad and that we were duty bound to save it from it’s dumb-downed state before it is too late!
Finally, we placed Bingo, the white haired, bouncy and excitable terrier into the front footwell of the van with blankets and sheets to keep him comfy, and said our goodbyes.
A quick one-third of the M25 later, and I was on my way over the Dartford crossing and on towards Tescos for my week’s supply of nosh!
Dunkirk to Petritoli
Once on the ferry, I headed to the usual spot – The Road Kings canteen and lounge, where truckers, coach and van drivers alike all partake of bland food and appallingly slow wifi connections!
Eating meatballs and chips, I have decided, is better done without Eastenders on in the background! The outbursts of high-pitched female screaming and indiscriminate shouting is not conducive to digesting ferry-cooked food!
Back in the van, Bingo was beyond ecstatic to see me! Poor little fella must have felt abandoned while I was upstairs being screamed at by cockney women and tolerating the meatballs! I always think it’s a shame you can’t really gauge how a dog feels because they just maintain that dog look, whatever internal wrangling they might be dealing with!!! So I comforted myself believing Bingo was having the time of his life in there… alone… with two caged, disinterested cats!
Our next stop was just north of Basel, Switzerland. Time for Bingo to stretch his legs, have a meal and spend a penny! Bingo is almost uncontainable whenever the van slows down and he thinks we are going to stop!
Once I’d refuelled and tended to the cats, we were off again. Just the Swiss border to cross and a 2 and half hour drive from one end of Switzerland to the other. As we approached Border Control, one officer from a bank of 4 steps out and tasks to me about where we are headed. Meanwhile, the other three are smiling from ear to ear as Bingo pops his head up and shows his handsomeness!!!
The track across Switzerland was a journey of two halves, with the weather cold and snowy in the north, and then through the other side of the Gottardo tunnel, sunshine! We then made it to Chiasso where we were not even stopped on the Italian border, and headed south. An hour later, I decided to give Bingo another run around at the Autostrade service station.
Beavis and B-Bee’s delivery
A few hours down the Autostrade, I made it to the town of Petritoli. It’s a typical Italian town with beautifully lit streets, narrow passageways and alleys. The delivery point was a house on one of these narrow streets and so I had to find a place to park a long white van in a town that clearly doesn’t have many long white vans visit!
After some time spent walking about to ‘spy out the land’ before driving deep into narrow, one-way lanes that might prove impossible to get out of, I found somewhere suitable to park. I say ‘suitable’… I really mean completely UNsuitable, but in Italy, you take what you can!
Locating the customer was proving a little tricky as I wandered the upper level alleyways to find the right house. Phone contact was proving difficult and so after an unsuccessful navigation expedition, I resorted to emailing with my position!
Fortunately, I was met and we were able to successfully carry the expatriated cats to their new home!
300 more miles with Bingo!
The journey out of Petritoli was straight forward and once back out onto the Adriatic coast road, I looked for a service station where Bingo and I could settle down for the night.
Nestled between two lorries at the Esso station, I cooked me up some Tescos packet pasta, which, I have to say, was absolutely delicious! I was expecting a 25p bag of dried pasta to taste bland, but to my surprise, it was incredibly more-ish!
I took Bingo for his toilet needs and then settled him into his cozy, footwell position wrapped in blankets! He slept like a baby!
My alarm went off at 4am and with a quick change and Bingo in the passenger seat, I pulled out onto the coastal motorway and headed south. It was Sunday morning and the roads were quiet; and after about an hour and a half, the sun could be seen shining it’s golden, dawn rays into the sky.
We arrived in Oria, Puglia at about 9:30am and found the house for delivery immediately. Master Matteo, Bingo’s 6 year old number 1 fan was playing in the street with his uncle, eagerly awaiting his arrival! As we arrived, I wound down the passenger window so that Bingo could express his excitement at being reunited!
Once the excitement had died down a bit, I had a coffee with the family and then began the unloading into the underground garage.
All done, goodbyes said and photo’s taken, I headed 30 minutes east to San Vito Dei Normannie where I met my mate Gerry at his place for a pizza and a shower. (Not at the same time! No one likes soggy wet pizza!)
We discussed a little American politics, drank coffee and then went 1/4 of a mile down the road to Giulio’s house where I we unloaded the granite topped kitchen unit.
On to Roma!
I left San Vito after refuelling and a few more gratuitous van photos! Next delivery point was Rome. The flat was right near the River Tiber and close to the city centre. It was one of those places nestled in a maze of cobbled streets not designed with the Mercedes Sprinter in mind! With cars parked on either side of each narrow street, the twisting and turning from one street to the next was sometimes tense! I had to resort to driving up one-way streets the wrong way and performing 20 point turns in order to avoid clipping badly parked Alfa Romeos!
Eventually, I located the destination and found an ideal parking spot. This was the delivery of some artwork and furniture to an Interior Designers home. Unfortunately the lift wasn’t quite big enough to facilitate the largest item, and so the client’s brother helped as we carried it up to the second floor.
After a relatively simple delivery, I embarked on the complicated way out of the Roman road maze! The next delivery was to a rural place near Grossetto in Tuscany which was just a two hour drive north.
It was now 8pm and I was getting hungry again! So I found another suitable stopover point at a service station, got out the old camping burner and cooked up some rice and peas before turning in for the night.
At 6am I woke up and headed to the property. I was to meet Mariana at her place of work and this location was not clear to me. So using Google Translate on my phone I painstakingly tried to communicate with her via text messages.
This was not proving helpful at all, particularly because Google Translate was interpreting the street name (Strada del Giordino) as ‘the garden’. Not realising that Giordino means ‘garden’ in Italian, I thought I was looking for some random garden where Mariana would be waiting. All the other directions she was providing just didn’t make any sense and so after unsuccessfully asking locals to interpret her words through some kind of gesturing system of navigation, I gave up!! I headed for the actual delivery address and hoped the key holding Mariana would just turn up, which indeed she did!
I really need to take a crash course on learning Italian….
Loading up at Castel de Forma
The load back from Italy was waiting for me in Castel de Forma, about 2 hours east of Grossetto. It was a house move for Graham and his wife Lynne who, after 15 years in the Umbrian countryside, were relocating to Somerset to be nearer the grandchildren.
Everything was packed and ready to go and so I parked close to the house and we started loading up bed frames, boxes, cupboards and all sorts.
After loading, it was time for some alfresco pasta and clementines!
With 2/3rds of the van full, I headed to the town of Fabriano which was about 1.5 hours away. Here I was to collect some very expensive paintings destined for the Isle of White. They were located in a museum and I met Giorgino, who spoke perfect English, and was able to help me load the 6 foot, well packed frames onto the van.
A few photos later, and I headed to the nearest layby for a sleep! Just before I dropped off though, I answered a few emails requesting quotes for future trips to and from Italy. I also had a notification for an item to be collected in Milan the following morning and taken to Porton Down in Wiltshire ASAP.
This was a notification from the Courier Exchange, a useful subscription site that posts adverts for couriers like myself who happen to be in areas where there’s a need for transport. So I rang the company that was offering the work and in less than 10 minutes was told I’m successful with the quote.
I was 5 hours from Milan and it was 6pm. So I still had time to get my eight hours sleep and arrive in Milan (The Brain Injuries Unit) at 09:30 to collect the ‘dry ice’ package. (I dread to think…!)
I arrived at the Mario Negri institute and was invited into the wide open foyer with marble floor and comfy seats! Not totally unexpected, the contact I was given to see regarding the package, was surprised to see a courier waiting to collect a ‘dry ice’ package. I was asked to wait patiently while they sorted it all out; and I was promptly shown the direction of the ‘all inclusive’ canteen, where I feasted on a croissant and macchiato!
Eventually the situation was resolved. The Italians are very keen to ensure there is corresponding paperwork to everything. This is what I’ve found! So with that sorted, I was able to take the eyes to the van. (did I mention? This was a box containing eyes! And not on dry ice, but wet ice. Quite an important distinction apparently!)
I must admit, it is going to be very tempting when I get to the destination (where these are part of a Government Defense experiment, apparently) to look at the person receiving the goods, hold onto the box with a fierce grip and say: “You can’t take your eyes off of me can you?”
I spent a few minutes trying to work out the best route back. Normally, the simplest route is through Switzerland but as it was now about 10:30, this would mean I might increase my chances of being stopped on the entrance border with Switzerland. If the Italian border police see anything remotely commercial, they tend to either turn vans away or send them through the customs route, which, would be too complicated given that the paintings I had on were worth about £20,000; and the eyes… who knows?
Rather than go the long way around (accross to Verona, up the Brenner Pass and out through Austria and Germany), or the expensive way round (west towards Chamonix, Lyon and up through France), I decided to park up, cook me up some SuperRice and sleep! That way, I can cross at night when the pedantic police are all snuggled in their cabins watching tv and drinking coffee!