This trip materialised because Tommy, another doggy I took to Puglia for a holiday with his owners, was due to travel back. But at the last minute, his ‘mummy’ had realised his Rabies jabs were overdue! So Tommy would have to wait until September now.
Meanwhile, word had got out in the Italian dog world! And so… enter Poppy, the little pooch in the picture above. She had, as so often the case in Puglia, been abandoned and was in a bad way when her adopted Brit carers took pity on her. They took care of her for a few months and when friends visited, it was love at first sight for the new owner, who has requested transport for Poppy back to the UK where she will be living.
The trip south began, as always, with a journey to Dover. I arrived at said port with 20 minutes to go before the 6am ferry left. Normally, there’s no chance you can get on a ferry when arriving that late! But on this fine Saturday, my luck was in and I was straight on.
After settling down to a hearty breakfast in the ‘Roadkings’ lounge for truckers, I found a comfy chair and shut my eyes. The next thing I knew, it was disembarking time, which I was suddenly alerted to by a tap on the arm from a passing Polak, most concerned that I might end up back in Dover if I didn’t wake up!
Once in the van and on the road again, my route took me, as is becoming my ritual route, through Luxebourg and across Switzerland, with the first destination point at Maglione in Tuscany. (More Terracotta plant pots!) Once unloaded, I was invited to have a cup of tea with the customers, which I accepted with much eagerness of course!
Their place has a very steep drive, set at a horrible angle to the access road, so once again the neighbour with the pick-up tractor type vehicle was on hand to help.
After a good long chat about all manner of world issues, including the price of wedding photos, Demi-johns and German roadworks, I bade them farewell and head for Umbertide.
This was a delivery that had to be made right near the top of a mountain. The road to this mountain was not only step and winding, it was a white ‘road’; very gravelly and uneven. And with a full load, I was quite heavy, so to stop at any point on this mountain road, would have been a problem, to say the least! So it was ‘foot down’ and hope for the best type driving!
Just before I had reached the property, I saw another house with an English car parked in the drive. As I knew that my customer was living in London, I wondered if this was their car and that this might be the property I was looking for. It turned out NOT to be, but in stopping, I was approached by the owner, William, from Bath! I gave him my card and he seemed very keen to use my services!
Once arrived at the home of my customer, I met Matteo, a local man who looks after all the holiday properties and expat second homes in the area. We unloaded an outdoor, wicker type sofa, some sun loungers and two heavy ornamental stone pieces.
After a pint of refreshing water, I took my leave and headed down the mountain where I found a spot and cooked up some breakfast on my camping stove!
It was now about 3pm (so, a late breakfast then!) and time to head to the next stop. This was a 6 hour drive south. The location was a little town in the mountains of Molise. Reaching this town was challenging; and finding the house was not easy! The town was full of alleyways and steps and paths, with very little parking for a big white Sprinter van!
After finding a spot to park, I then had to walk around hunting for the right house, which turned out to be right at the end of a narrow, cobbled street about 1000 yards from the van!
The customer was very helpful and helped me as I trolley’d the cupboard up steps, down inclines, over uneven surfaces and into her tiny property. This was at 8 in the evening and as you can imagine, the temperature was still warm. Still, the hot cup of English instant coffee was appreciated as I sat there dripping with sweat!
My journey to the next delivery seemed straight forward. However, there was the small matter of negotiating the way down this mountain in the middle of nowhere with a GPS system that seems to believe I am on a horse, not in a van!! Not 10 minutes had passed, when I was being instructed to take turnings up roads that led to nowhere. I know people often complain that their Satnavs send them into all sorts of dead end places and off road destinations, but I generally think that this is because people don’t follow the instructions properly and blame the machine! But in this case, I really was being directed into fields and off cliff edges! It’s the first time my Garmin has gone back to medieval times, imagining that there were roads where there no longer were any! And all this in the dead of night with fox cubs randomly running at me and at one point a wild boar in the middle of the lane!
Unfortunately, I was too stressed to take pictures of what was a very frustrating part of the journey! Eventually, I found my way off this mountain maze and onto the straight roads leading to the Autostrade.
Next on the list: Fasano in Puglia. Here I would collect Poppy the Pugliese Pooch! I arrived at 2:15am where Klaus and Sue had kindly left their holiday flat unlocked for me to slip in and sleep! I did just that and woke up to a lovely cooked breakfast by the pool! Sometimes, this job has it’s rewards!
Then Poppy arrived at 9am. Poppy is a beautiful little dog and so friendly. She hopped up into the passenger seat while I loaded her supplies for the journey. We were off!
From Fasano, the journey to my next stop was only 40 minutes. A small collection of luggage from a customer who’s decided, after 10 years of summers in the sun, that it’s time to move back to Blighty.
Next stop was only 30 minutes away and I was running early. My customer was expecting me at about 2pm, so I quickly darted into the supermarket for some supplies… Namely… 12 bottles of Prosecco! And at 3.79euros a bottle, I was mad not too!
I turned up at Chris and Anna’s house for their delivery of Jewson roof batons! Apparently, the quality of timber in the UK is far superior and justify’s the shipment! Who am I to argue?
When I arrived, Chris was out in the garden tending to his nuts! He had 11 Almond trees and was harvesting the produce. I was fascinated by the machine that automatically just shells the almonds from their original coats.
There were bucket loads!
We offloaded the timber, had a cup of coffee and a chat, and I then moved on to a friend and old client who lives around the corner. He had a pool and I had a need to be in it!
I had some time to kill, (and kill it I did!) so after a dip in the blue, I had some sleep in the swinging chair by the pool. Meanwhile, Poppy was chilling out in the van with the windows down. She couldn’t joint me as Gerry had a lot of territorial dogs on site!
After some sausage, chicken wings and chips, followed by fruit salad and gateaux, I got on my way. The next part of the journey would take me west, from where I was near Brindisi, to the west coast south of Salerno. It is a place called Scario and the house is situated… You guessed it… Up a mountain!
I pulled over in a layby where I thought the shadow of trees would shield me from that horrible bright and hot sunshine through the screen at 7:30 in the morning! I was wrong! Poppy had her little walk and then settled down in her bed by the accelerated, clutch and break pedal area! She was fine and slept like a log.
I arranged to meet the local builder, Pepé at 8:30am, so once the sun had done it’s rude job, I was up and dressed. The house was only 5 minutes away, so I pulled into the driveway and waited for Pepé to arrive.
He was early and we got the 2.4 metre flatpacked table into the property in minutes. I then said goodbye and set up the breakfast burner!
The view from here is stunning to say the least. Looking out over the Tyrheann sea with the mountains hugging the curved coast, from the swimming pool, is quite something!
Unusually, I had time to use up again. The next customer is an artist who creates sculptures in his studio south of Rome. The gallery in London had asked me to collect the goods for exhibition in London in late August. Because it’s quite hard to juggle all the dates between all the different customers, I’d had to leave earlier than needed.
The artist, James, would not quite be ready from my arrival on the 23rd, so I’d promised I’m the 24th. But when you’re previous customer is happy for you to make yourself at home in his pool while he’s not there, then why would I worry about delays? 😉 Plus, Poppy was happy to play here all day, so why not!
By about 3pm, my skin had taken just about all it could from the west coast Italian sun! So I packed up and headed to the next drop: Isola Del Liri, an hour and a half hours south of Rome.
The journey was non eventful. Except to see Poppy up and down in the seat between the shade of tunnels (lying down) and the bright low sun hitting the passenger side of the van as we emerged from each tunnel (up and running for cover!)!
Also, there’s the crazy driving one experiences when cruising the autostrade of course! Using cruise control means I maintain a consistent speed, something that seems alien to the average Italian Alfa Romeo driver! Some of them zoom at crazy speeds along the outside lane of course, flashing lights and swerving across the lanes to get by. That’s par for the course in Italy. But the more frustrating drivers are those who insist on trundling along in the middle lane. Approaching from behind at consistent speeds means I am bound to overtake them. As I do, 9 times out of 10, the driver will feel obliged to shake off this uninvited take over situation and so will slowly speed up, leaving me to dive back in behind. Due to, what I can only imagine is short term memory loss, the said vehicle will inevitably slow back down to the speed at which I will need to do the whole manoeuvre again!
And so it goes for miles and miles! I’m thinking of sign-writing my driver’s door with a service announcement advertising my use of Cruise Control and that those confused by this abnormal use of consistent speeds should get over it!
I arrived at the destination eventually. It was 7:15 in the evening and the client was busy still packing his sculptures while the rest of his family were all running about catering to guests, organising builders who were renovating porches etc. As the goods would not be ready until the next day, I set up camp in the van, walked Poppy and then had a shower, offered to me by the customer.
After about an hour and a half, everybody went out for a meal, including me!
I awoke the next morning to the news that there had been an earthquake in Umbria, about 90 miles north of where I was (as the crow flies). A 6.2 on the Richter scale apparently. It was at about 3am and caused quite a bit of damage, the effects didn’t reach here, as both Poppy and I slept undisturbed!
I got up early and let Poppy out for a run and a wee. I thought about getting the burner out for a fry up, but then saw a fig tree! Easy breakfast!
Once I’d reached a point with the figs, I decided to set up a chair under the garden’s palm tree. The sun was peaking over the top of the trees which had shielded me from that familiar morning heat shock! I also got my book out and set my phone in front, on the ground, angled up to capture the moment, using the timer.
I posted the above picture on Facebook (as you do!), only to have it met with the usual amounts of derision! Normally, there will be some comment from a ‘wise guy’ stuck in rainy Britain deriding my working life! But this time, I’d unknowingly given everyone a priceless opportunity, given that the picture looks just like I’m reading a book on an outside loo! And with the caption “The long wait begins!” that I’d attached to the post, I really was asking for it!
Most of the day was spent defending myself against mosquitos, horseflies and licks to the face from Poppy! The property was a big old house on the hill with a long, sheltered part out back where I spent hours on the swinging chair to escape the boisterous Poppy! Also, my controversial reading material attracted the attentions of the home owner, a skeptical Italian man, himself disillusioned with religion since he was 21. Over his homemade spaghetti bolognese (of which there were half a dozen partakers, all sat alfresco), we discussed the finer points of healthy doubt, heresy and lost civilisations!
The intense heat of the day, even in the shady part, was too much and so I flopped down on the swinging sofa after lunch (when Poppy wasn’t looking!). I was woken up by the builders who were erecting a porch for the front of the house. They wanted to help with the lifting of the Ride-on mower from the van, while they still had some energy hidden from the sun!
I then did my usual tidy up of the loading area, folded the blankets, bound up the straps, straight-lined the bungies and swept the floor! My customer was nearly packed and would be ready for the loading of his 6 months-worth of commissions!
Once loaded, I said my farewells and headed for the capital. I reached the centre of Rome at about 8:30 in the evening, when all the tourists were out photographing the immense buildings with their columns and pillars all lit up. Romantic couples on every street soaking up the warm, city air. (Is that where the name Romantic comes from I wondered?)
The place I needed to be was an apartment in the heart of Rome. The streets leading to it were narrow, twisty and cobbled. Tiziana, my loyal client!, had arranged help and managed to bring everything that needed transporting, down to the ground level. So in the evening heat and dull light, we loaded for Trieste!
By this time, I was feeling a little shattered. Must have been all those hours doing nothing today!
With Poppy in the passenger seat, head aloft and upright back, staring at the passersby and mad traffic, we headed out of the metropolis. It was impossible to take clear pictures of the beautiful structures I passed. Trees hid their beauty from the roadside and the crazy drivers on cobbled main roads demanded my full attention! If only Poppy could have at least offered to drive!
I got as far as a motorway service area north of Rome at about midnight and after giving Poppy her pooing rights, settled down for a four hour sleep. At 4am, we headed to Triested. I wanted to clear Bologna at a reasonably early hour before the traffic chaos hit the surrounding Autostrade. The route took us past Florence, around Bologna, up near Paiva, a stone’s throw from Venice and along the Northeastern coast.
We made it to Trieste 30 minutes before the guys who were assigned to help with the unloading arrived at the property. So I grabbed a desirable Machiatto Latte from the Bar opposite and fed Poppy some dried whatever!
Unloading was straight forward. The lift to the 5th floor was typically small, so the process was long winded. But all good! A wee jog up and down the many flights of stairs was needed after all that sitting around and driving, anyway!
From Trieste, England was about 18 hours. I’d allowed for 24 hours, so Poppy and I went in search of a beach! Poppy wasn’t bothered about her lack of swimwear, but I was bloody annoyed that my Burkini hadn’t arrived from Amazon in time for this trip!
The trip back from Trieste takes you through the breathtaking valleys of Austria. Miles and miles of meandering motorway channelled through tunnelled rock and between huge, imposing mountains. The pass winds up towards Villach and onto Salzburg before seamlessly becoming Germany.
The roads through Germany are endless! At the moment, the government there seems to be spending trillions on their upkeep and maintenance. Consequently, every few miles, just as you’ve got into your stride, as it were, another set of kinking roadworks, outlined by thick parallel yellow lines to contain your passage. Down to 80kms an hour. Then 60 as the bends approach. It becomes tiresome!
I continued to drive through the night, stopping once for an hour’s rest and a few times more for Poppy and for fuel. We entered Belgium. No security in these terror filled days! Weird! Then into the northern strip of France that leads to the ferry ports. Here there was a security checkpoint! Aha! The cones and signs directed traffic to pull off the Autoroute and into the slip road leading to a roundabout. I approached carefully to see no one! Not one guard, policeman or police vehicle! The signs directed us back onto the main road and away we went!
I arrived at the port of Dunkirk, handed Poppy’s passport to the ferry company official who turned to me and said, in her French accented, otherwise perfect, English:
“There is no stamp for the ‘wormer’. You have to go to the vet, get the injection and wait 24 hours before you can bring the dog back through”
Note to self: Never trust an Italian vet! One just assumes these professionals know the rules and will make sure the passports record what’s needed. Oh well. A quick trip to the local vet in Duinkirk then.
There was a small amount of waiting time involved once I arrived. After about 15 minutes, Poppy was on the hospital table ready for her tablets! The vet recorded the details, gave me the address for a local ‘Pet Hotel’, and 38 euros later we made our way to Poppy’s digs for the night!
Luckily, I had another job from London to Vron (northern France, just 60 miles south of Calais). So this, although somewhat inconvenient, was very lucky. The 24 hours needed before Poppy was allowed into the UK, I utilised with this job. Perfect.
We said our goodbyes and I headed for the Calais ferry, which, incidentally, is only 15 minutes from the Pet Hotel. I altered my booking online and hopped on the next available boat.
One Lasagne, chips and a nice sleep later, I was on British soil again headed for the cutely named delivery point: Billingbear Farm, where my artist client needs his work taken. I arrived to meet Jan, (pronounced Yan), an Easterner European man, or possibly Russian, it was difficult to say. He directed me to where the interestingly shaped sculptures and crated paintings were to be discharged, and promptly buggered off!
The peices were heavy and the sun was burning hard, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, an’ all that…. (Ooh, I now really fancy a Toffo!!! Remember them?? Whhhoooo??)
Next stop was West London. It was 5:30PM on a Friday and I was heading into the big Smoke! Crazy, but necessary! A quick unloading of just four suitcases and boxes into a second floor flat in Brooklyn Court, and I was off to the pick-up point for the next leg of this never ending journey.
A lucky break though… This next place was just 10 minutes around the corner! (In London language, that’s basically next door, but it takes that long to move the van that distance! I jest…!)
Here I met Elizabeth, a Seattle born lady and friend of the client, who let me into the nearly empty property in order to load up the remaining peices that were destined to Vron.
By this point, I was shattered and starving with the oh so joyful prospect of making my way through South London on a hot, Friday night. Traffic was it’s usual, congested state and there were people everywhere. The smell of kebabs, curry, Chinese chile beef…. Yes, that was the overriding smell filtering into my nostrils fro the entire 10 mile, 40 minute, ring-road experience… (Boy was I hungry for Chinese Chile Beef!)
I settled for Macdonalds on the Sidcup Bypass!
I made it to the ferry at about 11pm, slept the hour to Calais and drove off to find a rest area towards Bolougne. 4 hours later, I headed for Vron which was only 30 minutes away.
I arrived at the beautiful village of Vron, where idyllic bungalows were scattered spacious along the road. The neighbours had been briefed to watch out for an exhausted looking Englishman! They were super-helpful and assisted (all 4 of them!) as I explained in my French-accented English! which items were to go where, as per the customer’s email instructions.
Finally! That was the last one! Oh yeah, don’t forget Poppy! I headed back to the Pet Hotel after, annoyingly, failing to take the proper slip road onto the motorway and ended up having to drive 11 miles to get back on the north bound carriageway!
Poppy was very pleased to see me. That’s how I’d put it if I didn’t really want you to know she was pleased to see me! She was like a puppy dog…wait, she is a puppy dog! You know what I mean! Bouncy, rollie, jumpy, panty!!! I think she thought I’d abandoned her, and she wasn’t having that again, I got the impression she thought!
£50 euros later, she was back in the van, remembering the good times, no doubt; the 1700 miles of sleep, van-sun, air-con blowing through her floppy ears and “Ghettoside” on Audible (a fascinating audio books we listened to…! all about disproportionate Black homicide in Los Angeles during the late nineties early 2000s. Poppy was gripped!
Second attempt at a channel crossing! Poppy and I were greeted with looks of “Awwww…!” from the three DFDS uniformed lady staff as we walked into the air-conditioned, modern looking terminal office. Poppy seems to have the power to melt women, even in air-conditioned environments, a power I wish I could have possessed in my teenage years!
The staff managed to hold it together for passport checks, but I’m not convinced they weren’t shortly afterwards killed off by lingering cuteness fumes!
Once on the ferry, I had to leave Poppy in the van. It was then a trip up the stairs to the Roadkings retaurant again where I chose Chicken and chips before retiring to the lounge to blog a bit more!
Sitting in the truckers lounge is quite an experience if you’re a fan of ‘people watching’. Take, for example, the driver who was eating at the table opposite me. He looked Romanian, was about 25 stone, short cropped dark hair and only just managed to fit himself onto the dining chair. I pondered on how long it would be before this obese guy had a heart attack at the wheel of his 38 ton artic.
Then there was an unexpected family who entered the drivers area. They appeared Turkish. The dad was about 7 feet tall, round faced, wearing a baggy t-shirt that sat over his huge belly but didn’t quite cover up the ‘spare tyre’ hanging over his belt which held up a pair of long shorts. As he waddled over to the ‘free’ coffee machine, his wife, who looked twice his age and dressed in traditional Eastern European garb, plonked herself and kids next to me and produced a huge Tupperware tub full of provisions especially prepared in order to avoid expensive ferry food!
I waited for there to be an approach by ferry staff and after about two minutes, one appeared to instruct the wandering family that this was indeed the truckers and drivers lounge. From their appearance and manner, especially the loud and full-of-swagger dad, I thought there might be trouble! But they were very cooperative and left.
The ferry was packed, being as it was, Bank Holiday weekend. But I was the first vehicle loaded on at Calais, and consequently first off. As soon as the ferry doors opened, texts were flying into me from friends and family that a bridge over the M20 had been struck by a lorry.
Luckily, my journey to Poppy’s new owners took me off a good few junctions earlier and would mean me rejoining the motorway a few junctions after the incident.
Finally, Poppy was at her new home and the journey could end for her. We were greeted by a crowd of family members at the gate of their lovely home in the Kent countryside, all extremely excited to see Poppy! It was overwhelming for her, but Poppy seemed very happy to be made such a fuss of.
Poppy did keep rushing back to me after getting to know the other dogs in the family who would now be her brothers and sisters! So it was decided that I would exit the scene while Poppy was taken for a run across the fields.
I said my goodbyes to her and her new family and headed home. Another happy ending and a final trip home!
Until next time…