Yes, we know that the UK comes to a halt when it snows. We know that is because it is rare and we are never ready for it.
But before you complain too much let me tell you the story of my journey to the supermarket yesterday…
The idea was simple. We had invited some friends round for a drink & pizzas at 7pm so it seemed a good idea to pop out in the Smart car to get a supply of wine.
The next village has a small Conad but not much in the way of quaffables. Liz wanted to get the van respectably clean inside, so I decided I would do the shopping alone. I knew there were supermarkets at Ragusa, 19 miles and 40 minutes in the car. But we had been there a couple of days ago. Why not go somewhere new?
I consulted the map and decided that I should go to Gela. The guide book said it wasn’t worth visiting so I wouldn’t be wasting a trip out without Liz because she wouldn’t want to go there anyway. It is 28 miles and 55 minutes according to Autoroute, so off I set at about 12:45.
The weather forecast said we should expect 14mm of rain over 11 hours! But, hey, it doesn’t rain in the car or supermarket; it wouldn’t worry me.
The trip there went pretty much as expected. A few puddles across the road and a couple of them quite deep but nothing to cause alarm. Reached Gela at about 2pm, filled up with petrol and bought cigs etc at the Tabachi. Now for the supermarket…
I drove through the town but didn’t see one. I drove round the outskirts and didn’t see one. I drove round the inner town and didn’t see one. But I did see a large police station. So I parked outside and approached the door. It clearly wasn’t intended to be the public entrance, so I asked a policewoman passing by where the main entrance was. Somehow, she decided instantly that I was not a local and was English. Must have been a detective! Anyway, she told me that there was no public area and then immediately told me to follow her. She led me into the centre of the building which was designed rather like the spokes of a wheel. In the middle was a large atrium with a number of policemen having a conversation.
“Which one of you lot speaks English?”, says my guide. One of them steps forward and says to me “I speak a little but I would do better in French.” Now, I have a policy of always trying to speak the local language even if offered English, knowing I can give up and resort to English or French is a bonus. I asked where the local supermarket was. I explained that I was looking for an IperCoop, Auchan or a Simply sort of supermarket. Immediately his friend said “You will have to go to Catania for that but it is a 100 miles!” No, said I, I want somewhere more local. ” Well you could try Licata, there is a big shop there!”, offers another one of the policemen. Now Licata is another 20 miles further along the coast on small roads. It would mean another 45 minutes driving.
“No. is there not a shop in Gela?”, I say. My first volunteer agrees that there is a EuroSpin in Gela and he watches while I put its location into my GPS.
At this point, I remember that I also want to buy a USB Hub so I ask where I might get one. He doesn’t understand what that is because I don’t know the Italian or French for USB or Hub. But we manage to establish that it is a part for a computer. Now yet another of the assembly of policemen goes off to one of the offices and fetches another lady who is clearly one of the station IT staff. She does know what a USB Hub is and also knows that there is a distributor in the town who may be open. Sadly, none of them know the name of the relevant street so the GPS is not going to help.
“Don’t worry about that” says my new friend. Yet more policemen are fetched and they explain to me that the new policeman will drive there so I can follow!
I thank all the now considerable gathering and off I trot after my new guide and his colleague. A large police van is fetched and waits for me to get my car behind it. Off we go on what turns out to be a 10 minute journey snaking round the back streets of Gela. Once there at the closed shop, I say my thanks and farewells to my guides, who seem to have thoroughly enjoyed escorting this strange car with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
At this point, I can log the spot on the GPS and set off to the EuroSpin. This turns out to be a sort of poor man’s Lidl. It has a reasonably large wines section but there is nothing on the shelves priced much above 5 Euros. But that is OK. I am not looking for expensive quality and I select 6 bottles of assorted mysteries to try.
At this point I had been in the shop for the best part of 45 minutes. When I came to leave, it was pouring down – like a cloud burst and customers are refusing to go out to their cars. I explain to one fellow that I am going out into the downpour. I have my umbrella and I am English so I am well used to such weather. This causes much amusement to the cowering customers and off I go.
Now to drive back to the computer shop.
As soon as I get onto the main road; a dual carriageway, I realise that the puddles have become street-wide rivers! The closer I drive, very slowly,into town, the deeper the river becomes. It isn’t helped by the fact that the water has pulled a sheet of plastic, that covers the underside of the front of the Smart, down at the front. I now have a large water scoop! Every so often I have to pull over onto the river bank, get out with the umbrella and re-clip it under the front bumper. Not fun.
On reaching the inner ring road, I see complete chaos. The problem is that Sicillian roads are built without two features common to all UK roads. No drains and no camber. None at all!
As I plough cautiously down the main drag, the first thing I see is a very large section where the water is about 30cm deep. I can tell this because, sitting right in the middle of it and all alone, is a lovely new drowned BMW. What else? The driver can’t do anything about it because the water is higher than his sills. Without drains that might have eventually allowed him to dry out, I am not sure what the future holds for him.
I decide that, under the circumstances, I could use the service road around this urban sea, even if it does mean going the wrong way down the one-way system. It is Italy, where No Entry signs are only advisory after all! This gets me some progress. Then the service road comes to an end but there is another one on the other side of the main road, so I cautiosly motor-swim across to it. At this point I realise that I am leading a little convoy or mostly 4x4s in my little Smart car!
Eventually, I make my way onto the main road out of town where the tarmac is only 10cm below water level and getting better as we go up hill. There is a new phenomenon to deal with now.
There are many potholes that have been patched with tarmac. The water pressure has caused most of them to erupt like small volcanoes. I quickly learn that if you see a puddle surrounded with black pebbles arond it, don’t go through the puddle – it is a bit like driving off the edge into a small swimming pool!
This lesson learned, and observing a few drowned Pandas in them, I am making better progress but there are still sections which are really too deep for such a small car. However, I decided that when I got an Italian 4×4 right up behind me, it would be wise to pull over and let it pass. This way I can chose my own speed and course. This decision led me to the solution. I had let a small lorry past me who then plowed immediately into a deep bit. As I was now fairly close behind it, I discovered that his double wheels pushed most of the water to the sides and I could follow in its tracks without getting submerged – as long as I continued to tailgate it.
The route home was not qiite what I intended. The GPS had clearly been on the vino again and there were several blocked roads; either with drowned vehicles and some with official barriers.
By the time I got home at 7pm, the 55 minute 28 mile journey had taken me three solid hours and 44 miles.
Now just consider that this was all caused by about half an inch of rain over an 11 hour period!