If you see a break in the snow … Don’t you ever let a chance go by

We woke at dawn. That’s 7:15am. It was -8C. But it wasn’t snowing. There was snow out in the hills – we could see that coming. We knew we had a small window to run. We’d arranged with Emma, our contact, to leave the keys with the Neighbour’s letterbox. Left Emma a note explaining what had been left behind foodwise, grabbed the rubbish and our remaining bags and raced to the door, and entered the slow motion world of the icewalker. Negotiating fresh ice with several bags each was the sort of vision you’d see wind up on one of those compilation, “World’s Craziest Idiots” shows. Still we made it down to the main path in only 10 minutes and were home-free until Pip found some fresh ice and slipped. (Rudely, before I could get my camera out!)

No injuries apart from some pulled muscles and a twisty knee (quite a blow to her self-image as an ice dancer), but she was determined to crawl back to her feet and limp the rest of the way to dig out the car.


Not our actual car – snow free by comparison!

Found the car with about a foot of ice and snow on it; doors frozen shut; wheels half covered in ice and snow – but it started and provided heat to the windscreen while Pip scraped away at the ice. We slipped out of the parking space and felt the snow chains grip the icy road just as the first flakes of the next snow storm started falling. Everything seemed to be working, the chains meant it was largely a second gear trip out of town, but we weren’t slipping and the brakes seemed to eventually stop stuff. Made it down the hill without incident – only the occasional car overtaking – and onto the Strada Statale 7, which was relatively clear. Our dilemma was whether to leave the snow chains on in case there was ice and snow on the road between here and the Autostrada, because if we took them off, we’d never get them back on again. It was about 85km and we were crawling along at 50km/h making a hell of a racket (as snow chains are wont to do), when the racket changed to a clanging, bashing kind of a racket, and not in a good way.


Stock Photo – but taken this week

We pulled off to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, -4.5C on the dashboard gauge, light snow falling and thought for a while. A couple of cars stopped and enquired if we were alright. We were of course, as we’d decided to call the roadside assistance we’d paid extra for at the start of the rental. They didn’t have anyone available who could speak English, so asked for our number and they would call back in a couple of minutes. Got the same response when we called them back in half an hour. So we took stock of our supplies – half a bottle of drink and a packet of lemon Grisbees. We’d be OK. Decided to take things into my own hands and remove the snow chains (the crashing was the repair old mate in Calitri had done with wire coming un-repaired and flailing about inside the mudguard). Now I had bad memories of removing snow chains in my younger days – very difficult – and it was something I had not been looking forward to. Took a while, but got ’em off and continued our journey, hoping the road remained clear through to Avellino. Light snow fell most of the way, but very little and easily avoidable ice on the road. We were on target for Roma by 3:30pm.

It took until about noon before the 15cm of ice on the roof surprised up by slipping down over the windscreen and completely obscuring our vision for what seemed like an age while rounding a corner – but you know, newbie fail!

Now that we knew we would make Roma – we rang ahead and booked into our favourite hotel in Trastevere (Yes. We have a favourite hotel in Roma, so what?) and sat back for the 2 hour dash along the autostrada.

The drive into Roma was relatively easy and we arrived the hotel round 3:45pm, snatched a street park right near the place and hit the town. Sunday night in Roma – hit the Trevi Fountain and found a Chinese restaurant before a reasonably early night.

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We’re in chains

If only we could have got going earlier – pre-blizzard. Then we could have got stuck somewhere in the middle of a mountain … in the snow …in a ditch … freezing. It actually started snowing just as we were preparing to leave, and by the time we actually left there was a layer of the stuff over everything. We drove to the far side of town to the servo for fuel, and to ask the guy whether our tyres were winter tyres (they weren’t) and whether we could drive to Sorrento, or at least out of Calitri (he said we couldn’t without chains).

So we turned back into town for chains, which we suspected were priced at a premium on account of, you know, snow. In the time it took us to turn around and obtain the chains and, we thought to turn around and head back to the servo, where we could affix them under cover, the snow had changed gear. Our little Panda couldn’t climb the hill we had climbed 20 minutes earlier, and wheels spinning, we managed to nose into the curb and prepared to do the chains thing, in what was by now heavy snow. Now, shamefully, I’m not as agile as I used to be and getting down to pass chains behind wheels and attach them blindly was the cause of a lot language not normally uttered by me (at least since the sliding backwards down an icy street incident of a couple of days ago).

With Pip’s more agile assistance and more swearing, we managed to get one attached in a limp, badly fitted fashion and set out to the road side of the car to have a go at the second.


Limp badly fitted snow chains

The second was much more difficult and a kindly old gentleman stopped to offer assistance (probably because he was disgusted with our lack of mechanical anything). He had trouble too, and as the second old gentleman approached I was ordered to sit in the car and let it roll backwards on command – which I was able to do admirably, while Pip sheltered the old blokes with their umbrellas. After a few goes, the first old guy, hauled me out and reversed the car back into a drive, before the other old guy (and the other old guy – me) had to push him out and then watch him disappear around the corner with our car.

We followed and he signalled to us to get in and he spun and slid off up the road. He pulled up near a mate’s auto electrical shop, full of even more old guys. Eventually, one of them managed to get the second chain attached, before turning their attention to the badly fitted original one, which had broken in the space of the drive around the corner. Old mate number four, repaired the chain with wire and pliers and fitted it again – tightly. This had taken two and half hours in the driving snow.

The suggestion of Sorrento had been roundly poo-poohed by all the old blokes – too dangerous they said. So chains attached, soaked through and still in driving snow, we headed back to seek further counsel from the barista at the bar near us, Mario, who spoke English and who also said we should not try to leave Calitri.

Resigned to our snowy fate, we needed to head to the supermarket to lay in supplies for the icy days ahead – challenging enough to accept that all the advice we had received was correct. Shopping done, we faced only a challenging icy, snowy walk back up the path to our place, laden with shopping and luggage.

Spent the afternoon watching snow build up on just about everything and tried researching other ways to get to Sorrento – Mario said the busses still ran in this weather. Eventually managed to contact the bus company and worked out that we could catch a bus to Avellino then another one to Sorrento at 7:57am tomorrow morning. Early to bed for us.