I was back from my Winter Quarters in the Canary Islands some two months when the ‘itch’ started. Not the kind you go to a doctor with, but one that can only be cured with a ‘walkabout’! Not something that could be ignored, because that route only leads to hum-drum, boredom, even talking to oneself. I went online and quickly bought a ticket for the Channel Tunnel. Not a lottery ticket to win it, but a one-way ticket to freedom.
I decided to turn right at Calais and head south, even though the sun and heat was, according to the BBC weather presenters right across the Country. Bertie the ‘B’ was now as ‘completed’ as such cars ever are and I was keen to experience how he handled with a new Mazda gearbox. Even the sceptic in me had to admit the drive was now easier, smoother and quicker than previously.
Due to various delays, one caused by my not having secured Berties left brake calliper properly, my first night was spent in Rouen. Just 286 miles, including the ‘tunnel’ seemed short in comparison to what I would demand from Bridget. I was hot and flustered, not bring used to items falling off the car because of my own ineptitude (not that I’d usually admit it). I decided on a plan; I’d go to my cousin’s gaff for a few days to get over my ‘mortality’.
I refused to rush, so the next morning, I set off having spent the previous evening debating whether to go via Angouleme or Limoges. I don’t know precisely why, but I chose Limoges, another mistake. Limoges is trying hard to tell the world, or perhaps just Europe, to visit and see the interesting city. Unfortunately, like so many other places, it needs a little tender clean. Some people are trying hard to promote the city, but it needs help. France has far more homeless people sleeping rough in their cities than I have seen anywhere else. Along with many ‘high street’ stores closed the place looks abandoned, with folk starting to believe that the ‘end is nigh’. To the casual visitor, the local government appears not to be concerned.
I moved on the following day to my cousin’s gaff in the Lot and Garonne area. As it was a private visit, I won’t mention the day of golf (disaster, but I blame the heat), the dog walking or the ‘mucking out’ I was forced into. I should add the ‘mucking out’ was for their horse.
After a few short days I set out in the general direction of Italy, first staying at Nimes. This was on the recommendation of a friend, of a friend, of my cousins’ husband. They said ‘it’s a nice city’ or so I was told. And it is. It has some interesting Roman historical buildings, particularly the Amphitheatre. It has been receiving a lot of restoration over the past sixty plus years, but to enable it to stage evening events, mainly musical, much of the original stonework has been covered by modern seating with a huge stage on the floor of the arena and a separate event control area. A couple of days before I arrived, Elton John had done a gig there. I should have been able to stand on any spot and conjured up mental visions of the Roman people that had stood on these very steps before, but all I could see were hoards of Roman soldiers holding candles and swaying to the strains of “Candles in the Wind”. The Nimes authorities really could learn something from the Arena de Verona.
When I left my cousins’ house I was planning on going from Nimes to Viareggio, but as the heat was so strong I decided to add an extra stage in between. I thought I would stop in Nice, however the hotel I normally stay at in Nice was full and so I did a little exploring on the internet and found a place that sounded interesting and only 10 miles further away. I bowled-up to the access road into Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. I couldn’t actually enter the village because of a hydraulic bollard in the centre of the road! I abandoned Bertie where she was and walked up into the town square where the Deux Freres Hotel is. As I approached the door a gentleman walked out and said “Welcome to the Deux Freres. I saw you arrive so I came out to lower the bollard for you. Now you can drive up to the door and just park there.” He pointed to the road immediately in front of the door. I did his bidding and went to check in. I was told that I could just leave the car outside at least until 8:00pm when the local police always arrived to reprimand any undesired behaviour, such as illegal parking. I was eating dinner in the restaurant when the police arrived just after the appointed time and had totally forgotten about the car. The hotel manager came to find me and say that the police were being very officious and wanted the car gone. I said, “Tell them that the driver is drunk and incapable of driving”. He returned several minutes later to tell me that as they cannot easily get the recovery truck up the access road to take my car away, they will issue a €35 fine. When I checked out in the morning there was no sign of a ticket and the hotel had nothing, so I left.
I cannot praise the hotel highly enough, the staff were all excellent as well as diplomatic. You should not assume from what I have described that they were complicit in my shenanigans, but they trod a delicate middle route. The restaurant was excellent and not at all expensive for that area of France. Also the view was remarkable looking across and down on Monaco and much of the Riviera.
From Lake Como I headed north intent on driving through Switzerland for the first time and heading into Germany. The first surprise of the day is that there are no toll roads in Switzerland, but you have to pay €40 for a vignette at the border instead. The cost of fuel in Switzerland is even higher than it was in Italy and that was more expensive than the UK and France. The drive through the Alps and alongside Lake Lucerne is worth every penny (or should that be cent) of the €40. Once into Germany I headed for a hotel in Stetten Am Kalten Markt only a few miles away from Hohenzollern Castle which was the reason for my being there.
Whilst eating breakfast the following morning I changed my mind once again and decided instead of going down to Viareggio, which is a great beach resort, I would revisit the Italian Lakes; Como in particular. Back in 2006 when I drove the complete coastline of Italy I ended my tour by visiting Bellagio, a charming but somewhat touristy village on the banks of Lake Como. This time I settled for Tremezzo on the opposite bank to Bellagio. I spent a day and a half of nostalgic wanderings, but things have changed. Speaking with a local they confirmed that the ‘Lake’ area of Italy, as well as many Italian cities, has been so in-undated with tourists that the price of everything has soared. Now a mediocre hotel or restaurant charges ‘top dollar’. Also the traffic on the narrow roads around the lake is like a race track, motorcyclists being the worst offenders.
During the ride through Switzerland, Bertie developed the first problem of the tour. I thought several times that he wasn’t firing on all cylinders but initially put it down to the heat. However that evening after dinner I decided to just take out the spark plugs and examine their condition. The first one I removed was covered in sooty deposits confirming what I had thought for a while, that the fuel mixture was too rich. I would also need to lean off the carburettors a little, remove and clean all the plugs and see how things went. I subsequently discovered that the main problem was almost certainly the quality of the fuel I was using. Normally I just fill up the tank with 95 octane petrol, but in most European fuel stations they add Ethanol, either 5% or 10%. I had been using the latter, but after the spark plug problem I changed to the 5% Ethanol. The engine immediately started running as it had at the start of the tour, smoother, quieter, pulling better and improved fuel consumption. There was no further problems.
The following morning I visited the Hohenzollern Castle, something I had wanted to do for some time. I found it disappointing. It has little history of its own, there having been three built. The current one was built in the mid nineteenth century and pretty much abandoned by the owner following its inauguration and was not put to any useful purpose until the 1960’s as a tourist attraction. It is in clear need of serious restoration if it is to remain and the current owners do not appear to be compelled.
I decided to head home, some ten days or so early! I am heading up to Spa in Belgium, then back to the UK. The total mileage was just 2,500 and Bertie behaved impeccably, even after the fuel abuse.