This was one of the most tricky trips I’ve had to do so far. Customers had booked their transport to Italy for the week of the 8th March and as that date approached, fears were starting to emerge of the Coronavirus entering Italy with many infections being detected.
But with there being no real clue as to how bad things would become, I made my way to London for the collections. One of these collections was for a dog who would be travelling with me to Tuscany.
The dog’s name was Sibi and I had brought her back from Tuscany for her owner a few months earlier. Together with a piece of furniture and some other items, all was loaded and so I headed for the port.
Once in France, news started to come in that things might get serious in Italy and by the time I’d made it to Troyes, I was seriously considering turning around and coming back to the UK. The trouble is, Sibi would need a Wormer treatment that required a 24 period from then until when she could cross into the UK. And her owner had already booked a flight to go out and meet her in Tuscany. I was suddenly feeling pressure from family that this might not be such a good idea and that there could be a chance I’d be stranded in Italy!
I decided to stop at Troyes, have a sleep there and wait to see what events developed in the morning. And, sure enough, I woke up to the news that Italy had decreed all of Lombardy as a ‘Red Zone’ and that entering it would not be possible.
Lombardy was where two of my stops were. One for a Piano delivery to near Varese and the other was the collection of a Moped, south of Milan. After some frantic planning and responding to text messages from family, fellow couriers and customers, all feeding me with advice and Government advice, I decided that the dog, Sibi, was the priority and that I would find a route through Italy without having to touch Lombardy.
No sooner had I set off, news came in that the areas had been increased and that the route I was going to take through Mont Blanc would mean I’d have to travel through a locked down area, namely, Aosta and Asti regions. So I decided that I would pull over and see on a map what areas were not affected by this lockdown and see if I could get to Tuscany and Umbria without entering these Red Zones.
I saw that if I were to head to Lyon, down to Marseille and across to Nice, then the border at Menton would be clear and that region of Italy, all the way to Genoa and down the coast road would be in a region unaffected by the lockdown.
As I made my way there, reports were coming in that the border at Menton would be heavily patrolled. But it was too late. I’d made my way south and was just going to face whatever was ahead of me.
I was surprised to see when I arrived at Menton that there were no police patrols at all. I didn’t see one police car and was able to sail through with no problem. From Menton, I travelled the coast road all the way to Florence and rested there.
My first delivery was in Monte Santa Maria Tiberina. I arrived at about 9am and had coffee with the customers. They, along with the rest of Umbria, seemed unaffected by what was happening in the North of the country and described the situation as normal; everyone going about their business; shops with plenty of food and no one panicking!
So I made my way to the next deliveries. Both near Umbertide and up in the mountains. One was able to help me offload their shipment and the other was for a customer who gives me a key and I unload all the goods into his store area.
Next, I travelled into Umbertide to collect a few packages from an Estate Agent’s office. These goods were going back to East Sussex. And from Umbertide, it was a quick trip up the E45 to Montagna, in the mountains north of Sansepolcro, Tuscany. This is where Sibi was to be delivered along with a few bits and pieces.
At this point, I had to pause and see what other deliveries and collections would now be possible in Italy. The next one to do was in Ravenna and I saw quickly that this area was also NOT in the red zones. So I made my way there.
About 5 minutes from arriving, I received a phonecall from the collection point. The message was that the item I was collecting had not yet been paid for and so I would have to leave it for another trip. With a quick call to the buyer, that situation was very quickly sorted out and I went on to collect.
The item was a 2.5 metre sideboard. It is possibly the heaviest sideboard I have ever collected! It took three of us to lift it onto the van and we really could have done with a fourth! Once on, I strapped it down and plotted my route to Vicenza, another non-affected zone.
To get to Vicenza, I worked out that I would probably be entering red zones. But I decided that by remaining in the van the whole time, technically I hadn’t exposed myself to the virus. And so this is what I did. My fuel tank was full and my bladder emptied!
Arriving in the small town in Vicenza, it was about 8pm and the customer was waiting on the road for me to arrive! They had been tracking my route the whole way and could see exactly when I was arriving. I unloaded the goods there and then decided that all this running around and stress was deserving of a nice shower and bed for the night!
I loaded up the booking.com app and found a fantastic hotel 3 minutes up the road. It was a Best Western Hotel and for 32 euros, it was an absolute bargain! The cleanest and most well presented hotel I think I’d stayed in.
As soon as I had settled into my room, more text messages were flying in and the latest news was that the whole of Italy would be ‘locked down’ from midnight! I was then being bombarded with “You have to leave the country now! Don’t hang around!” and “You will be trapped!”. But at this point, I was so tired and sick of running! I decided that this was where I was staying tonight and whatever disaster was coming, I’d face it in the morning!
That evening, I worked out that if the whole country was now officially a ‘Red Zone’, then all my efforts to avoid these areas was in vain! I then decided that it would make sense to go into Lombardy the following morning and collect the moped and deliver the piano!
The next morning I set my satnav for San Donato Milanese and made my way there. The GPS was telling me I had to go the long way around and that all the roads into Lombardy were blocked. This turned out to be false.
Once at the collection point, I met the client’s Mum and Dad who were adorned with surgical gloves and facemasks! They kept their distance but helped as best they could to get the moped up the ramp and into the van.
The streets of this area were quiet but still I saw people getting on with their lives. Walking dogs, going to the shops etc. The main dual carriageways and motorways were flowing normally. For every 12 cars, I counted 50 vans and lorries. So it was very much freight and commercial operating as normal with fewer commuters in cars etc.
I reached Comerio, near Varese. Access was pretty tight going into the customer’s drive, but I managed to get close to the front door where the customer helped me in with the piano.
From there, I headed straight to the border at Mont Blanc. No police or medical staff there testing drivers going in or out. I headed back through France and reached Calais. Again, no sense of urgency. No one really bothered about where I’d been and so I managed to get back into the UK ok and delivered the moped back to London; and the sideboard to Sunningdale.
From there, it was a bit of self isolation on the south coast at a friends house that was empty at this time. Who knows what the next few weeks would bring. But work was now postponed until the situation was a little more clear.