A Travellerspoint blog

L-R-L Rally 2013 - DAY 4 COUPE DES COLS

UP DOWN, ROUND AND AROUND!!

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And so this challenge was 100% voluntary. Yes, Dear Reader, Team Fisher put itself through yet more tortuous hairpins, sheer drops and dizzy heights just for the sheer hell of it.

Setting off at late-for-rallying 9.30am we made a team decision that to attain our allocated height of 23,000m (height target was dependant on car age) we would have to forgoe food, drink, humour, tolerance, marriage and any fun whatsoever. Instead this was our journey.....

Views such as these...

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And...joy of all joys! More cows...

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(The Chevrolet Corvette you can see patiently waiting - and obviously going in completely the opposite direction to us - was driven by the charming Jan Storm and navigated by gorgeous Aege Steensma. Not long after this photo they had a 'mare, smashing the Corvette's right front end into an obstinate wall and having to retire. As the Corvette sounded like an F14 fighter jet, I think the sleepy villages of the French Alpes were just a tad relieved!)

But it wasn't all just whizzing about. Specific instructions were issued by challenge designer Keith, regarding photographic proof of our day's Col Toll; one crew member, one car, specifically identified sign. Here is ours...

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I think it was somewhere around here we came across three men and a woman tending their vegetable garden...on the slope of a mountain. A horse and plough toiled up and down...

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while this fabulous chap....

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gathered up massive potatoes. "Beaucoups des grandes frites!" he told us. His smile tells it all doesn't it. I am not going to get all soppy and wax lyrical about "the simple things in life" but it does make you think about what is important. These obvious close-knit communities in these tiny mountain villages, where life (especially come winter) must be tough at times, reminder us what is lost in most of the rest of Europe.

So back to the b*****y Col Count....

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We did stop somewhere for restorative hot chocolate but having driven passed this....

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We decided to stop for a long lunch. I don't think it can possibly get better than this do you?

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Back on the road....

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Please tell me it's nearly over...

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and finally...

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OUR GRAND TOTAL? 16321m

It was beyond wonderful. I had quite forgotten how invigorating mountain air can be. How beautiful. Majestic. Awesome. I MIGHT EVEN HAVE TO TAKE UP SKIING AGAIN!!

Getting back to the lovely hotel on Lake Annecy was a relief for two reasons. 1. All three of us survived intact. 2. I could have a large vodka sitting in a bath and then gaze out at this view...

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But before I sign off on this fabulous trip I wanted to leave you with this image....

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This was the scene a few hours after (almost) all our valiant cars reached The Palace de Menthon Hotel. Can you see the chap walking away for the camera? He is one of our mechanics. There are two and they deserve medals. Whether it was dealing with Bianca's brakes or replacing someone's clutch, draining the Rowe's leaking petrol tank into a watering can...it didn't matter. If they have to stay up all night to get you ready for your start time next day that's what they do. And they are so damn nice about it. Thanks boys!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07.10.2013 09:16 Archived in France Tagged col courvette Comments (0)

R-L-R Rally 2013 - All Roads lead to Sanremo

....hopefully

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We are finally in Italy and, as usual, the first stretch of the day involves numerous hairpins going in a practically vertical direction. "Bianca feels very frisky this morning," shouts The Driver, over the squeal of tyres as blind corners take on an added touch of excitement when we come into low cloud.

The Italian sun breaks through as we sweep into the beautiful square of Pamparato village to be Time Checked at a table set up under a shading tree by Dick Appleton...

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A gathering of locals give us delicious locally baked biscuits and the cafe bar made the best coffee of the week.

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Only one Regularity Trenta Miglia today before the Finish Line. Following our sterling performance at the last couple we felt pretty confident.
I want to give you proof of our dizzy heights at the top of the leader board on Day 5. I know it's "not done" to brag but THIS MIGHT NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN so we must milk it for all it's worth!

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Dear Reader it didn't go well. The first .5km I was reading charts for 38km instead of 37km. We got back on time and then The Driver dropped the stopwatch, had to undo his belts, pick it up and re-buckle. You would think this would only take seconds but when it happens on a left-hand hairpin and there are four belts to fasten it seems like an eternity. The stopwatch stopped on impact with Bianca's flooring but after clicking various buttons it started again. IT MIGHT SOUND PRETTY RUN-OF-THE-MILL TO YOU SITTING IN YOUR ARMCHAIR READING THIS. LET ME TELL YOU....IT WAS STRESS OFF THE RICHTER SCALE! But, refusing to throw in the spanners, we still thought we had a crack at hauling ourselves back on track...after all it was a 26km long Regularity.

The sight of brown grass and olive trees hint at warmer things to come but there were what seemed like hundreds of tornati (Italiano for sharp bends/hairpins) to be dealt with first. Do you ever wonder if I want to puke? If you know me you will think this an absolute certainty....normally I can hardly pick up a map let alone read it en route to anywhere. But weirdly rallying doesn't have the same affect. Some days I take motion sickness pills 'just in case' but, so far, all has remained where it was put. I am told it's the adrenaline!

We head off on our final whizz to the finish in the hills above Sanremo and are back in the clouds. A lone cow looms out of the mist, all alone on a mountain road. We have seen lots of cows...brown, white, black. I like cows. The Fisher Family has a daft family tradition of shouting, COW! COW! COW! in memory of me screaming it at a Malaysian taxi driver who was so high on something or other he didn't spot one which almost upended on our bonnet.

We pull off the road to attach our Union Jack flags and take the covers off Bianca's spot lights and with horn blaring and all lights a-go-go we arrive at the finish arch. Sadly we don't have a photo of us...yet. But here are the winners....Ivo and William in their Austin Healey 100M.

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It seems Ivo's Zen paid off!

And here is Bianca with her rosette parked next to Car No. 39, a 1963 Mercedes 230SL (WII3) driven by York, he-of-the-waxed-moustache (sorry no photo...he doesn't speak much English!) and navigated by the ridiculously charming and amusing Franck.

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Now a little bit of history for you Dear Reader. Legendary Eugen Bohringer drove Car No. 39 to victory in the 1963 Spa-Sophia-Spa, which covered 5,500km in 90 hrs. Moustachioed York located the car (which Mercedes told him had been scrapped years ago) restored it and brought it to the 2013 event after Mercedes eventually acknowledged it was the car he'd always believed it to be! The red beauty wore down two full sets of brake pads in five days, climbed almost 30,000m on the Coupe des Cols only to be disqualified as they were minutes late at the final Time Check and very very nearly won this year's Rally. By the time 'she' came through the Finish Arch...

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she was dirty, sore and weary, her exhaust dragging, brakes almost shot....again. But OMG they had an utter blast and so did we with them!

I will leave you with one of my favourite photos of The Driver....

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Yes, that is Mt. Blanc!

p.s. we came 6th overall in the Club Class. It seems we made a total balls-up of that last Regularity. But hey...that's Rallying. If it was easy what would be the point eh? Will we do more? You bet. This Rally was fun, fun, fun....after those first two days!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 04.10.2013 05:56 Archived in Italy Tagged italy liege_rome_liege_rally eugen_bohringer austin_healey_100m Comments (1)

Day 5 - WE GOT A PRIZE!

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Dear Reader,
I have deliberately skipped Day 4 as will add at the end to get the photos in....they won us a prize...TEAM WHO SHOWED BEST SPIRIT OF THE COUPE DES COLS. Now you are on tenter hooks aren't you!

So onto Day 5. But before I do that I need to tell you Team Bianca was lying 4th in Class by the end of Day 3. I KNOW....WE CAN'T BELIEVE IT EITHER. I squealed and whooped when it was announced...our beloved Bianca took it all in her stride!

So this morning pretty weary but buoyed by our 4th place we were raring to go. Col de la Forclaz Benularity went pretty well. It seems The Navigator 'might' have started getting the hang of timings and doing things in a rotation of checks with my eyes...trip meter/Benularity (timings) Sheet/tulips again, again and again for 18.81km.

On to T.C. 5:3 Montaimont where we passed through Albertville and looked for Pussy (it's a town near Bonneval!). Then up Col de la Madelaine at 2,000m with its extraordinary rock formations. Photos not possible as putting the camera out the window with a sheer drop of that height was not an option. At one point The Driver asks..."why are you so quiet?" He's bloody hilarious isn't he! No barriers, nothing to break the fall, flashing images of falling vehicles...I could hardly breathe let alone speak!

Here's two photos for you...

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The small light blue car you can see is a Triumph TR3A being driven by Geoff and navigated by Vince, who gave us hours of entertainment both on and off the roads.

We go to an Ice Circuit Serre Chevalier. No ice in sight but OMG it was fun. My screaming was apparently louder than the tyre squeal and engine noise combined. We were the last to go and, grinning, the wonderful Rally Marshalls let us do it again. This time The Driver got Bianca on two wheels. The official photographer fled thinking we were going to flip over and we did it in 1.37 - two seconds faster than the first lap! Sadly only the first time counted but it was still one of the fastest times and I think will possibly go down in Liege/Rome/Liege Rally 2013 history as it was mentioned in dispatches at dinner. Look on this link if you are simply dying for more info, www.liegeromeliege.eu then click on 'day reports Day Five'. There is a write-up and photo of Bianca with "compressed wheels".

I didn't make it to dinner...exhaustion took over...so didn' t hear Bart announce we came 1ST IN CLASS today! OH MOTHER OF ALL JOYS! Let's go home now on that stratospheric note!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 30.09.2013 09:38 Archived in France Comments (0)

2013 RTL Rally - Toys Out of Pram

THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!

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I am putting two days into one posting tonight as I sit with a large vodka and tonic on the terrace of the Palace de Menthon watching the sun sink over Lake Annecy.

Scenery-wise we couldn't have had more spectacular stuff these last two days. There have been miles of lush pasture...

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cow's bells (that is bells) bonging, hectares of vines clinging to hillsides, ski lifts, views of Mt. Blanc, cheese makers. There was fondu for breakfast in an alpine bar while a chap played flamenco/matador style music on his accordion. No, you couldn't make that last bit up....you had to be there. It all had hints of the utterly barking!! Mind you, there was a little sign entering Noirefontaine (I think) illustrating grapes, cheese and fly fishing. No wonder the three old boys leaning on a gate watching us all thunder past looked so happy with life!

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I think Santa is following me. Early morning we spied the most magnificently bearded one driving a white van. He turned up again late afternoon , so did Team Rowe...

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...on time at Le Tram Time Check in Confort. They were two moments of joy in what have been two off-the-scale-stressful days on the Navigation side of things. I was hoping this would get easier as the days added up. I should have realised when Mark and Keith (designers of the route) asked us if we had enjoyed our 'easy first day'? WHAT THE ****?

Sunday night, over dinner, my new best friend Ivo told me I have to imagine Bianca has no windows so the stress can simply waft into the atmosphere. And I had to be "ZEN". Me? "ZEN"? He truly is having a laugh isn't he? It didn't work for me. It didn't work for Evo either who a full 24hrs later is still a little 'concerned' over the shouting match he had with his delightful son, William. We have decided to be "ZEE" instead. Dear Reader, this might all sound daft, nonsensical stuff to you but it's things like this that become monumental in their importance when you are in the thick of a Rally.

But there is LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL...we think we did pretty well ok in our last Benularity late this afternoon (until a herd of cows held us up!) as the sun was setting against Mt. Blanc...

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This was taken at the penultimate stage of this year's Tour de France!

A Benularity, by the way, is driving a certain route in a certain time, at varying speeds, which you have to work out yourself. This didnt happen at the one early this morning when four Rally cars all congregated at a Mother's b.....r of a junction. A Mercedes was chucking itself up and down a lane, one chap went for a walk round the village searching for someone...anyone...to help, a blue Porsche raised dust, we tried each and every track until we went back to the last 100% certain turn and started again. That will be another 20 minutes penalty to Team Fisher then!

I am tired. Need food, sleep. Tomorrow we do the Coupe des Cols - a wee extra day we signed up for! We have to climb almost 30,000 metres between the hours of 0830 - 1600. Yes, Dear Reader...another day of madness beckons!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 24.09.2013 23:16 Archived in France Tagged tour_de_france mont_blanc Comments (2)

2013 Liege - Rome - Liege Rally Day One

What Country Are We In?

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Fireworks and vomiting wedding guests kept The Driver awake. It's not a good start. No matter...the first Time Trial South of the Border (no, I don't know which b.....y border) goes quite well. WE USED A STOPWATCH FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OUR RALLYING CAREER! This is very exciting as those of you who have been involved in this game will appreciate.

The next 78km passes through rolling countryside, villages of pretty stone and brick cottages, fishermen on full rivers (Comblain-au-Pont) and OMG so many cyclists it's a crazy business!!

We get to Luzembourg - it's lovely - and leave it again. We make it for coffee AND LUNCH! Those of you who read my missives on The Winter Trial will realise this is an achievement in itself for Team Fisher.

Cows, horses and donkeys graze in fields. Well, that's milk, cheese, salami and burgers taken care of this winter isn't it! St. Hubert (patron saint of hunting) is a pretty town. There's a monastery (no surprise there), thick forest and hides at strategic points for boar shooting. I think The Driver would rather be sitting in one of those all day than with his mad raving Navigator.

"What country are we in?" I have absolutely no idea whatsoever as over the past 24hrs we've touched France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Luxembourg...not necessarily in that order.

We waited for a whole 60 second minute to start the SURE THING Benularity (timed trial) We weren't supposed to. Dear Reader....remember The Winter Trial Tribulations? We got close. The intention had been to take it 'nice and slow' aka Kieran and Phil in their E-type, who won this year's Peking - Paris AT THEIR FIRST ATTEMPT! I know, it's sick making but they are so nice we decided we will try to sit next to them at dinner every night if we can in the hope some of their magic dust rubs off. Back to the Beloved Benularity...The Not-Calm-For-Long Navigator ricocheted from FOR GOD'S SAKE SLOW DOWN MAN to GET A B.....Y RIDDLE ON MAN. We were 10 minutes overdue.

DEAR READER....THIS IS NOT EASY!

We make it to the hotel. A man takes our bags. A girl gives us pink champagne. RESULT!

Highlight of the day? John Rowe trying to chew a lunchtime cold snail!!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 24.09.2013 10:07 Archived in Luxembourg Comments (1)

2013 Liege - Rome - Liege Rally - Wedding Crashers!

The Driver's Birthday

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It's Ben The Driver's birthday but there's no peace for the wicked. Keys put on his new 'vintage' Volvo keyring (I know, my generosity is unstinting) we headed for Vaals in the Netherlands. We got there early. "'Sandwiches and coffee are waiting for you in the castle," said a friendly crew member. We found it. Thought...."this is a bit upmarket isn't it," and piled our plates. "It's a wedding party," grins Ben, moments later, "and we are definitely underdressed." Mortified, I fled. Not him. He hid behind a pillar until every morsel of gorgeous juicy chicken and rice was devoured!

Scrutineering went well. Bianca gleamed, her official Rally plates and stickers in situ, Union jacks flying.

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She was raring to go....and after a nice chap called Mark fiddled with her widgets....her 'pinking' is hopefully now 'plonking'...and to keep the third person in our marriage happy, we headed off on a 'jolly'...it was such a glorious evening why wouldn't we?

We found this place...

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Not bad eh!

And stopped for tea and apple pie so I could 'work' on the route map! IT ISN'T ALL FUN YOU KNOW!

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Dinner was entertaining....I wont bore you with the car talk. Early'ish to bed hoping for a good sleep before competition starts tomorrow at 0914hrs.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 22.09.2013 10:24 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

2013 Liege - Rome - Liege Rally We're Almost Off...Again!

Moules et Frites in Brugge

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We didn't make it time for moules et frites in Dunkirk. Instead we walked along the prom...

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It is impossible not to reflect, remember and be thankful to all those who 'battled' on our behalf. And as the wind blew and the Channel went grey it prompted more than a few minutes of historical discussions amongst Team Bianca.

Arriving in Brugge (or Bruges), a city of beer and chocolate, honey and biscuits, (I know, sounds like paradise doesn't it) mere 1hr 40mins from Calais, Bianca trundled down narrow, winding cobbled streets until manoeuvring herself into our hotel's very James Bond car park via a lift (yes, a lift for Bianca and her Team) her tyres squealing on the immaculately painted floor.

Armed with a map, we set off for a wander. If you haven't been to this enchanting city...make a plan! We walked around for five hours, took a zillion photos...

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had cups of tea, massive slice of chocolate cake (well, this is the centre of the universe for chocolate isn't it?) and then as the sun started to sink in the pure blue sky...local sweet dark beer for The Driver and something fizzy for The Navigator.

A handsome chap dressed as a waiter sold us two nuclear-strength cocktails off his well-balanced (as in gravity not content) tray. After photos taken by his gang of laughing pals we discover it's his stag 'do' and whatever he didn't sell he was going to have to drink. Such jollity!

We found my moules et frites...it wasn't difficult! They were fat and juicy and so were the frites....! We washed them down with something marvellous before we were joined by Team Rowe...their MkII Jag snuggled next to Bianca in 007's underground lair....and were kicked out a few hours later!

I just want to leave you with this...

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He is Achilles Van Ackerman, Belgian Politician. I don't know any more but, seriously, when did you ever see a bust of someone wearing specs? And what's with the size of his tie???

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 21.09.2013 10:23 Archived in Belgium Tagged brugge bruges frites moules liege_rome_liege_rally Comments (0)

2013 Liege - Rome - Liege Rally

Bianca's Ready But I'm Not!

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Bianca is Piston Ready. Her four BESPOKE new ones duly arriving from the USA on time. So Dr. Ian Button hoisted her in the air, took out her engine, fiddled about a bit (stop it in the back) and Bob's your Uncle (well, I don't know if you have an Uncle Bob but I hope you do because I don't want to start this blog telling lies) she's as fit as a butcher's dog.

(Our butcher way-back-when didn't have a dog but we did. "Do you know where your dogs have been since lunchtime Mrs. Cooper?" "They've been here all afternoon Jim, lying by the fire." "So how come a bloody trail in the snow leads from my shop's backdoor to yours?" Mum was Brown Owl, Chairman of the Wild Indians (W.I.) and a respected member of our village community; but somehow telling fibs still came naturally.)

I digress....I think it's the nerves about what's to come. Bianca isn't fretting one bit. You see, our girl is now bright and sparkling right down to her nuts and bolts. In fact, she's been steam cleaned in places she never knew existed and, frankly, you don't need to know about. After that nasty business of spewing oil all over her innards during the Coupe des Alpes we are confident that with a full complement of pistons pumping away at 800 p.s.i. (I know, I'm impressive aren't I!) she will be whizzing up and over the mountains to San Remo and showing 'those others' her tail-lights as she takes the hairpins. NO MORE WILL SHE BE CALLED A DEMENTED HAIRDRYER!

Yes, our 1962 Volvo Amazon 131 beauty is positively quivering with anticipation. It starts when the sheepskin gets put on The Navigator's seat, her oil and water are checked each and every day and she's going out for jolly little trips with The Driver.

I'm off to check the long-range weather forecast and pack. Meanwhile...after [b]TBD[b} Team Bianca Discussions...Ben's plotting the route and calibrating the trip meter down the lane. Well, Dear Reader, if The Navigator doesn't have the correct clothing it could all go Pistons Up!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 13.09.2013 07:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged weather amazon pack san_remo volvo bianca pistons 1962 131 21013_liege_rome_liege_rally Comments (3)

Bespoke Pistons No Less!

It's Worse Than We Thought :(

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Dear Reader,
I realise this is meant to be a Travel Blog but Bianca is such an incremental part of our travels these days I felt an update was called for...and I know there will be some amongst you (not many I agree) who are concerned about her wellbeing.

It seems that after undergoing the humiliation of being launched skywards and having her 'usually-private-areas' examined by 'Dr. Ian Button', the diagnosis is worse than we thought. Three of her pistons are firing at 200psi whilst the other poorly sick one is only managing 20psi. Are you under the misapprehension of thinking I have a clue what I'm talking about? No? Didn't think so. But, FYI, PSI stands for Pounds per Square Inch. I know...why isn't it PPSI?

But, of course, OUR BIANCA IS EXTRA SPECIAL. She has a RACING ENGINE! Who knew? As her Navigator I think I should have been told don't you? As a result...four bog-standard new pistons from some factory in the UK, or even Europe, will NOT do. No. Hers are coming all the way from the Good Old US of A and are bespoke. Now, the only things I know of being bespoke are stuff like men's suits and kitchens. PISTONS? REALLY? ARE YOU FOR REAL? "They should be with us by the first week in August," says the doc. And we all know what that word 'should' means don't we!

So, attempting to stay positive, I asked My Driver, "Is this going to make her faster". "Well," says he, "Ian reckons she'll definitely have more power."
Does that mean the same thing? I hardly dare ask, but fingers crossed she's better soon. We've just entered her for Liege - Rome - Liege in September.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09.07.2013 02:50 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged usa driver bianca pistons Comments (0)

Bianca Needs Surgery

Dr. Button's In Charge

sunny 68 °F

Dear Reader,
Bianca is very poorly. She hasn't quite blown a gasket but 'Dr' Ian www.ianbuttoncars.co.uk in Fordham, says she's pulled a piston ring. I KNOW...HOW PAINFUL DOES THAT SOUND?

After her initial consultation on Thursday she was admitted this morning. As I followed behind it was hard to believe there was anything wrong. Gleaming after her full body wash, she looked as though she was singing as My Driver swung her around the gorgeous Suffolk lanes. However, Ian looked concerned as Ben read out the full list:

  • Driver's door won't lock
  • Horn switch on driver's side has come off. I will be sad when this is fixed because I had TOTAL HORN CONTROL FOR THE COUPE DES ALPES!
  • Back window brake light not functioning
  • Brake pads - surely worn out after all that up'ing and down'ing through the Alpes
  • PULLED PISTON RING - as diagnosed by the maestro - and the BIG ONE
  • And there's a dent on the right front wing where My Driver had an argument with a small concrete bollard outside our hotel in Nancy but we'll gloss over that!

You will, I am sure, be relieved to hear Ian has promised to give Bianca a general anaesthetic! And she's got our 1950's Series IIa Land-rover to keep her company. Green Gloria has 'a lot of issues' for Ian to get sorted by this coming Winter.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 25.06.2013 06:17 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged ian_button_cars piston Comments (3)

Come on Bianca...We are Almost Home!

OIL, OIL EVERYWHERE

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We are up with the lark (the birdsong in most of France has been extraordinary, just like our Suffolk garden) and, after noticing a marked drop in temperature as we breakfast outside, we speak softly to Bianca in the hope we will ALL make it home tonight.

Things start well because she starts first press of the button. It is cooler. Scenery mainly consists of yet more vineyards. Then...it pours with rain. Thunder and lightening...very, very frightening. Big, fast, dirty trucks...very, very frightening. We stop en route more times than we can count. (N.B. Do NOT turn off the autoroute for an engine-check thinking you will use the loo too unless wearing a plastic onesie and oxygen mask!)

We are very worried. Bianca 'drinks' 6 litres of oil before we reach Calais and is still spraying it everywhere. Her bodywork is covered in a fine film of the stuff and at one point I even discover some inside. Strangely, however, all her vital signs (temp, oil pressure, water level) are A/OK. I want to hug her and like some barm-cat keep telling her she will soon be home warm and snug in her garage if she could, "just please hang on a bit longer". (I feel quite emotional just telling you about it.)

We discuss 'it'. The possibility of breaking down and conclude that the other side of the Eurotunnel would most definitely be preferable. Even in the train would be better than the hardshoulder of the A26 to Calais. Ben speaks to Ian Button, who quite possibly loves Bianca almost as much as we do. "Try putting the seal of the oil tank filler cap on the other way," he suggests. Now, Dear Reader, I know this seems ridiculously simple but by this stage we were feeling desperate. If Ian had suggested I strap myself to her bonnet singing Rule Britannia I could quite possibly have given it a go.

EUREKA Bianca seems to have stopped guzzling oil and spraying it all over her innards. We plough on and 8 hours after leaving Puligny Montrachet we reach Calais. Somehow we are only an hour late for our designated train. Once inside Ben gets his good old dipstick out again. I can feel it Dear Reader...Naughty...your suspense I meant! You are dying to know aren't you... WELL - GUESS WHAT - NO DROP IN OIL LEVEL! I haven't felt relief like this since....oh, I don't know.

We've only been away a week but have forgotten just how godawful traffic is in England. It's not ideal for our girl but at least if she says, "enough is enough" we will all get put in a Big Yellow Lorry and taken home.

WE MADE IT! I don't know who is most relieved but I swear Bianca sighed when we turned her light off tonight. After all, 5,100+kms (3,000 miles) is an awfully long way for a 1962 Volvo Amazon.

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Posted by haveyoubeenyet 25.06.2013 05:40 Archived in France Tagged rain thunder oil calais lightening puligny_montrachet autoroute Comments (0)

OMG IT'S HOT IN HERE!

I Haven't Sweated like this since Canoeing down the Zambezi!

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And so we leave Provence behind and head for Beaune. We didn't leave until midday wanting to soak up each and every possible ray from that big yellow thing in the sky. Dear Reader...if you are looking at this blog from anywhere other than the UK, you cannot possibly understand how starved we Brits are of feeling warm through to our bone marrow!

However, sometimes I get it wrong. Hard to believe I know, but there you are. We should have left before dawn. It's hot out there. I MEAN REALLY HOT!

Still there was lots to look at; thousands (truly) of hectares of cherry, apple and pear orchards. Field upon field of lavender, and vines as far as the eye can see clinging to every south facing patch of land, and being hand-weeded. With not a sprayer in sight I am thinking maybe this is an area for organic produce? Pretty soon we reach the vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape. Not a weed in sight. Do you think they do their weeding in the middle of the night?

Bianca isn't feeling her best. We stop at a service station. "Our girl is very warm," says Doctor Ben getting his dipstick out (that's enough giggling in the back!) and on the strength of a none-too-perfect reading decides to buy her more oil and us...ice lollies. It's so hot we can literally wring out our t-shirts; not a good look. Replenished we jump back into our beloved cauldron and press the button marked STARTER. Nothing happens. WE GET OUT AND PUSH! She starts. OH JOY! She obviously just wants her crew to work as hard as she is.

By the time we reach the (cool looking) Rhone in Lyon we resemble two broiler roasted chucks. Smug b......rs in their air conditioned trucks and cars smile benevolently as we sit in gridlock traffic with Bianca smoking. Even the wine gums have melted! With every window wide open the heat emanating from her floor and the transmission tunnel, which extends from under her bonnet to the boot, was so hot you could have fried an egg on it. And she had problems, spewing oil all over herself and anyone else who got remotely close. She was drinking oil and promptly spitting it out of her filler cap. Well, that was our theory.

We stop again and give Bianca more oil after checking all her other vital signs, which amazingly were 100%. Would you like to see my cockpit? Thought so...

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Yes, those are my feet in their Rondini sandals. And, yes, those are two lollipops, given to us up some Alp or the other. That black box is my trip meter and can you see my fuse boxes? Pretty cool eh! Those red pens are essential and I am trying to work out how to throw the compass out the window...it informs us we are headed N/NW PERMANENTLY. That's not so cool.

We finally reach Beaune and the beautiful village of Puligny Montrachet. "She looks like I feel," says a woman to her female co-walker outside the hotel, as I stumble around Bianca in a sweaty haze. "It's an oven in there," I grunt. "Well, at least you haven't walked nine miles in this heat," she says. GET HER! Dear Reader, I hadn't realised there was a competition for "most sweat-making activity in France" that day.

After a long cool bath, a strong vodka and the realisation we have somehow covered in excess of 460kms today, we head for dinner. This is the only photo you need to see...

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Bon nuit!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 24.06.2013 10:21 Archived in France Tagged hot vineyards orchards oil lavender apples lyon pears puligny_montrachet cherries chataeuneuf_du_pape Comments (0)

Tomatoes Galore in Alpes-de-Haute Provence

Forcalquier's Market Heaven!

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No one does a market like the French. And the best of the best are in Provence. Back in the 1980's, Ben and I lived in Port-Grimaud (next-door to St. Tropez) and bought food almost daily from surrounding town or village markets. St. Tropez's Tuesday market is legendary; it's where you will rub shoulders with chefs from moored gin palaces stocking up on their flowers, langoustine and other yummies for the night's on-board party, locals with their baskets buying lettuce, a bag of fresh apricots and a box of paella to take home for lunch, and visitors bulk buying leather sandals and brightly coloured baskets. (Good luck getting those home on Ryanair!) Cotton dresses, espadrilles, olives, honey, jewellery, freshly baked bread and pasta; it's all there.

So we were thrilled to visit Forcalquier, 3 kms from Mane, where we'd been told there was a 'fantastic market' every Monday. They were right... Just look at the variety on this fish stall...

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And these tomatoes...you won't believe how much they taste of TOMATOES!!

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This market isn't just in the town's central Place du Bourguet, it spills into every little side street, meandering up, down and around.

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Handsome lads play guitars and fiddles and there was even a hurdy-furry. (Sorry no photos of them!) Shops are fascinating and co-exist happily with the market stalls.

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We bought strawberries, warm from the sun and sweeter than anything you will find in any supermarket, a boxed set of knives; bread, cheese, butter, with hand carved olive wood handles for a wedding present (€50), whole salami

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and jars of honey. Everything can be sampled and the atmosphere is jovial and relaxed. Tables for coffee (or something stronger) spill off the pavements and it's all just SO GLORIOUSLY FRENCH. Stupidly I didn't go back for the gorgeous fine wool scarf I spotted but I am hoping the same chap will turn up in Carcassone in August (I know it's a long shot but you never know right!!)

The fine 13th century white Notre Dame Cathedral provided a few welcome moments of coolness and calm amongst the market's melee, before we slid onto a couple of vacant chairs for the obligatory coffee and some people watching. Locals greet each other, tourists take photos and solitary figures just enjoy soaking it all in.

Laden down, we head back to Bianca who we had left in a shady roadside parking spot much to the fascination of two toothless old gents! (N.B. Get to Forcalquier early to find a parking spot that isn't a hot sticky walk away)

Back at Le Couvent des Minimes we forced ourselves to lie by the pool until the sun was over the yardarm. Somehow I managed to devour a whole punnet of those fabulous strawberries too! This is heaven on earth!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 24.06.2013 06:16 Archived in France Tagged flowers market cathedral strawberries stalls honey apricots forcalquier salami yardarm Comments (0)

It's Over - Time To Move On

From Cannes to Mane-en-Provence

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You know you are somewhere pretty damn smart when you watch a seagull fly past your balcony with a whole croissant in its beak. The one Ben laughed at stole his treasure from the breakfast laid out on someone's suite terrace just below us. And you got the feeling it was a practiced manoeuvre!

The hotel kindly gave us this...

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It isn't our Anniversary! All I can think is that the gorgeous room they moved us to had been intended for a happy couple about to celebrate theirs but 'something' happened. Let's hope whatever it was it wasn't divorce!!

Rally cars were burbling along the Croisette in the early morning sunshine no doubt heading home for a well deserved rest. Included was Jerome, our new pal who MUST BE related to Mr. Bean. The previous night he'd dragged us into his 'suite' hopping and bopping with uncontained excitement. "Zey must 'ave made a mistake Pom. I 'ave looked up zee pryce et, mon dieu, ooh la la! And zat Rod Stewart is next door wiz 'is beautiful 22 year old wife!" (Penny Lancaster will be thrilled to know she is ageing so well!) Watching Jerome whizz his 911 back to Versailles, we decided he must have been making a quick getaway before 'The Management' realised their mistake.

And so we headed for Mane-en-Provence close to Aix en Provence. I dozed, by now used to Bianca's 'special noises'. A few Rally cars were around but My Driver was in holiday mode so the pace was calmer. In fact, we were both smarting a bit from a remark by a British Morgan driver at the Gala. "Like being followed by a demented sewing machine," he said. We laughed at the time...remembering passing him more than once on the hairpins! Nose out of joint maybe? But as it was my Dad's red Morgan that caught my Mum's eye 50+ years ago I hold them in deep affection. However, I'm not happy when people abuse our White Girl.

It wasn't all Autoroute and we were soon whizzing around the beautiful winding lanes so typical of Provence. Aix is famous for its tree lined boulevards but this one leading into Mane must surely rival anything they possess.

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Le Couvent des Minimes hotel and spa resides in a converted monastery dating back to 1613.

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Our room is cool and quiet. We headed for the pool...

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And fell asleep. It seems the Coupe des Alpes whacked us out more than we realised.

As dusk fell, we checked on Bianca who relaxed in 'pride of place' the other side of the parking ropes. Quite right too!

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Posted by haveyoubeenyet 24.06.2013 04:36 Archived in France Tagged aix provence le_couvent_des_minimes mane croissete plane_trees Comments (0)

Day 3 - Bianca's Playing With The Big Boys!

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An 8am start from Du Palais des Congres today saw us get a free run down the 1924m of twists and turns of Alpe d'Huez. Pretty soon we were "punching above our weight," as we kept pace with an orange 1973 2.4S Porsche 911 and grey 1965 350 GT Lamborghini en route to the Col du Lautaret; a Pass rising to 2058m. Waiting at temporary traffic lights Bianca gives me a bit of a scare as we seemed to be surrounded by steam. "It's just the oil breather," says Ben from under her bonnet.

The Coupe des Alpes is not a race we keep being told. Ha! Ha! It's obviously just human nature that makes a driver's right foot head south then is it? I can tell you one thing though...IT'S HELLISH GOOD FUN! There are no time checks, regulations or driving skill tests but most of the drivers push themselves almost to the limit. Take the guy in his red Mercedes Gullwing.

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We slowed to let him pass. It must have made his concentration waiver as he almost took a 200m dive when he misjudged a turn, spraying gravel, his back end twitching and swinging like Kylie Minogue's butt. As his gorgeous motor already has two huge dents, he is obviously someone who wants to actually 'drive' his classic car rather than have it on blocks in a garage appreciating in value but bored out of its shiny mind!

A few klms further we spotted a bewildered crook-holding shepherd keeping his large flock from crossing the narrow road. It doesn't bear thinking about if they made a run for it.

And again we catch up with the Lamborghini. HOW DOES OUR GIRL DO IT? But my emotions at that point are nothing to what we both feel as she takes on a Ferrari Testarossa and the Audi Quattro. "SHE'S REALLY PLAYING WITH THE BIG BOYS NOW," shouts Ben above the screams and roars of engines. "I love that smell," my driver grins. Apparently it's a kind of oil high-powered cars use that sends out a 'special scent' of vegetable oil. Who knew? Perhaps I should bottle it?

Honey and goats cheese are being produced among the hairpins leading us up to the Col de la Bonette National Park.

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We later learn from Fred and Vincent that one of our Marshalls was clearing the route with his snow shovel just moments before our arrival. Certainly it's a tight fit at one point and with the navigator being on the drop side I am feeling a bit jittery. No matter. Bianca and her driver are in full control and negotiating proper Nordic walkers and what seem like hundreds of cyclists we start the descent from what had seemed like the TOP OF THE WORLD!

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A picnic hamper is handed through the window at our check-point complete with fresh bread, cheese, fruit etc. A veritable French feast. There's even a sharp Coupe des Alpes knife each. I know they're sharp because Ben cut his finger in his excitement to get at the foie gras pâté!!

Now it's time to follow the tulips to Nice on the Cote d'Azur. 320klms from the start we are driving along the Croisette to our finishing arch at the Palais des Festivals. Disappointingly there are no hugs of congratulation, bottle of champagne or photographer aka The Winter Trial, and certainly nothing like the swell of emotion we both felt (and witnessed) on that occasion. This Rally was more about spectacular scenery and from a Navigator's point of view it was a piece of cake although I did have to concentrate all day and not just on not being sick! Ben says he feels a bit weary but that the driving, although fast, was nothing like as challenging due to the good conditions.

For the first time during the Rally we pull up after Fred and Vincent's yellow Porsche. Seems it was Fred's turn to get his north and south mixed up today!

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After checking into The Carlton Hotel, which is celebrating its centenary this year we head back to start the celebrations!

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Too many (small plastic) glasses later we head back to 'scrub-up' for the Gala. We've been upgraded due to dodgy a/c. This is our view...

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Back at the party the fizz is now in glasses and enormous cups are being awarded for things like youngest navigator, women's teams (I admire them as some of those mountain roads would have left me jabbering if I was driving but I do wish they'd make more effort with their lip gloss!), organiser's favourite car (awarded to the shorts wearing blonde who 100% deserved it as I even saw her cleaning the tyres of their Alpha Romeo Giulietta SZ Codatronca, which means long tail!)

But in our eyes there was only ONE WINNER and that was our BEAUTIFUL BIANCA!!

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At our 'Horse Power' table (think vets and cars) talk obviously turned to, "where next?" Dear Reader...could it be Corsica or Morocco in October?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 17.06.2013 10:49 Archived in France Tagged cannes champagne prizes carlton_hotel Comments (4)

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