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.

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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.

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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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Cabin fever

Last full day in Calitri. Another day indoors – except for when we went out. Temp hovering around -4C all day. Snow on and off (but when it’s on, that shit’s heavy!)

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Neighbour John working in the ice mine outside our front door during a break in the snow

We spent the day indoors – checking weather reports, seeking advice from anyone who would tell us what we wanted to hear and hatching a plan to drive out on Sunday morning. The weather reports suggested a lull in the snowing for a few hours then. Should we go via Bisaccia, the quickest way to the Autostrada, or Avellino, the lowest, least likely to be blocked with snow way. The decision was made for us by the lady at the shop. We braved to elements in the afternoon to walk down to the shop, ostensibly to get a packet of chips and relieve the cabin fever, but also to take one lot of bags down to the car and seek counsel from whomever we could find.

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Out our window – a new lot just got dumped

The most perilous part of the journey from our front door to the Piazza is the little bit right outside in Vico Ruggiero, down icy sloping steps which must be traversed slowly and with a tight grip on the railing (which unfortunately changes from side to side as you descend). This whole journey made more difficult with the addition of luggage and rubbish. Once down to the main path, you needed only watch out for ice hidden under snow, but the powder gave you a reasonable grip as you plod along.

We made it to the shop and sought the wise counsel of the check out segnora, who confirmed our thinking that as the road to Bisaccia was crapper and the town was higher, the snow was likely to be worser – via Avellino was the way to go. We returned to the Borgo flat to pack our stuff and clean the joint (both not very difficult) and to do a ring a round the walking distance restaurants to find a venue for our Calitran last supper. As luck would have it, the Locanda dell Arco just down the path from our place was open for the first time since NYE and we booked for 8:30pm.

We commenced the crawl out of our place as the temp dipped to -8C, with the ‘feels like’ at -15C, and moderate snow. The 200m took us about 15min of wall clinging and tiny stepping, but it was worth it in the end, had a lovely meal with enough wine to give us new courage for the slip home. There were about 12 brave others in the room. Off to bed, knowing that the weather only gave us about 2 hours of no snow to make our escape.

… and the snows came, but the bus didn’t.

Snowed in, but that didn’t stop us getting up at dawn and trekking out to the bus stop – about a kilometre away (feels like 4km in a blizzard). It was -2C according to the thermometer that was mocking us from the bus stop sign as we fought, like Scott of the Antarctic, through driving snow. And that snow stings your cheeks. We over-allowed time to get to the bus stop and found ourselves plonked at a windswept intersection, with frozen everythings and 40 minutes to wait.

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The bus stop for the beach

Fortunately, the bus company provides what we know from previous trips, is called a sala interna – a waiting room. Stinky, dirty, but warm. So we waited… and waited …and waited. Waited until an hour after the bus was due (well, it could have been late in this appalling weather) and I jumped onto Facebook messenger where I’d had a discussion with the bus company to ask if the busses were running on time and told them I wanted to go to Avellino in the morning. They answered that it was a holiday and the busses were running on time, but there was only one bus at 5pm this evening. We were disheartened (understatement), especially at the thought of traipsing back up to the house for an indoorsy day – best not to sightsee at (now) -4C.

We busied ourselves with devising a plan B. There is growing chance that any escape from Calitri in time to make our flight on Wednesday morning – the weather is experiencing an extraordinary event across the south of Italy – is problematic. Plan B at this stage is to drive out on Sunday, carefully.

The rest of the day was cooking and trying to figure out which rubbish to put where and when. There’s the plastics, which need to be taken to the big bin in the piazza; the cardboards and paper to another big bin in the piazza; the third big bin in the piazza is for the glass and aluminium. The ‘umido’ (biological kitchen scraps) gets collected from the little square near us on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and; the rest of the rubbish gets collected from the little square Tuesday and Saturday. All little square collections are before 8am. It takes some getting used for two wastrels from Brisbane, where the council are more likely to collect the recycling in the normal garbage truck. We did our best – you gotta play the game.

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Pip – Snow

Just as we were cooking dinner, came a knock at the door – unusual to say the least (having despatched those 7th Day Adventists the other day) – and it was Barbara, our neighbour with an unrefusable offer of freshly made apple pie after dinner. Barbara and John we had met at the little bar on the Piazza the other day and their front door is barely 3m from ours – that’s 3m uphill and icy. If you’d seen us trying to traverse those 3m on all fours without the aid of ropes and not in our full winter gear (it’s only 3m after all), you might have recalled a scene from a movie where people were trying to cross a 200m chasm by wooden plank bridge.

Barbara and John are former Coloradans, now resident in Calitri (having featured in an episode of Househunters International), and have a beautiful, and quite large house above the one we’re staying in. We ate apple pie and drank coffee and calmed their toothless chihuahua, Bubba and chatted about life in Italy. This was a welcome and most pleasant bright spot in an otherwise snowed in day.