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2013 Coupe des Alpes - 2nd Day

TO THE ALPS

sunny

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Yes, that is me peering inside a Renault 5 Turbo before the start from Megeve's Place de L'Eglise. There aren't really many cars kitted out like this flying machine and, of course, Bianca. Most of the 219 just look like regular cars inside, which surprised me. But I now realise there is rallying and then there is....RALLYING. Dear Reader, I am also aware that there is another level altogether when cars hurtle through forests with the navigator shouting into a microphone connected to his driver's headphones, but I have no desire (yet) to give that a go.

So today we left Megeve (and its closed shops) for Alpe d'Huez, passing through pretty village after pretty village. Mist hung in the valleys...

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Milk churns stood at the side of the road waiting to be collected (reminding me of my childhood) and cows ignored us as we 'chased' a Porsche and 1985 Audi Quattro Sport down one mountain and up another to the 1650m Col des Saisies.

As 3 out of 4 mountain passes were shut due to snow we had route changes to get us to lunch at Courchevel's Altiport where the runway is absolutely bloody terrifying; if you dont time your lift-off right you could be joining someone's apres-ski party in the alley below. Oh joy; a shiny Pilatus Jet sat waiting on the tarmac courtesy of one of our sponsors, Jetfly.

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So nice of them to send it for me don't you think? What, not for me? You mean I have to go the wheels-on-the-ground way to Alpe d'Huez?

After lunching on local cheeses...

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and a surfeit of people watching...OUR RALLY PEOPLE EN MASSE; there's a blonde with butt-skimming shorts, pink sequinned cap and a boyfriend in white rimmed sunglasses (sorry, but that's just NOT ok), chaps with bellies that make me wonder how on earth they squeeze themselves in and out of their cars and young stubbled men topping up their tans. And it was HOT!

Here comes our pal Fred with 19 year old son, Vincent, who is all smiles as Dad had navigated them 40 minutes the wrong way down (or was it up) the motorway in their 2.7 RS Porsche. The lad is on a driving learning curve of vertiginous proportions and clearly relishing every second. Mind you he isn't the youngest participant. That honour goes to a five year old 'navigating' for her Dad in yet another 911.

So off we all headed for Col du Glandon up at 1924m. It seems Ben now has the hang of these hairpins and Bianca veritably 'squeals' in what I think is delight as we overtake a Porsche 911. By now there are cyclists galore...

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with calf muscles the size of watermelons...and that's the women! Fat lambs don't cease their munching and wild flowers lap up their long overdue release from a blanket of snow.

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This is goat cheese country too and there's even a museum dedicated to 'The Goat' in Le Rivier Allemond!

Alpe d'Huez is not a place of beauty. How the French get planning permission to build such utterly hideous monstrosities in areas of such outstanding beauty is beyond me. This was the view from out hotel...

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See what I mean!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 13:39 Archived in France Tagged flowers goat cyclists alpe_d'huez Comments (0)

2013 Coupe des Alpes - 1st Day

I am going to have to grow my hair!

sunny 75 °F

I forgot to tell you about a little elderly lady who came up to chat yesterday. She and her (now deceased) husband had owned a Volvo Amazon exactly like our Bianca from 1962-1986. Of all the cars parked all over Evian she found us, took photographs and went down memory lane. It was a special moment for her...and me!

So back to Day 1. They laid fresh turf in our honour, ladies with stretched faces carried little dogs in their handbags, men in topless cars added more gel to their already helmet-like hair, lots of stogies were lit and the strut was on! The thermometer's mercury was rising as one lady navigator with endless legs stripped off her jeans and swapped them for a skintight Pucci dress.

Ever heard 219 cars all revving at once? Well, it wasn't quite that extreme but almost. I hadn't been feeling excited/nervous/stressed...

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...until at 2pm Bianca, plus every car in the carpark, started her engine. Then there it is, this squidgey feeling as you edge forward. Suddenly you lose your pen, the route map falls on the floor and you can't pick it up because your straps are too tight, and...and...and. But what's this? No time check? No countdown? "Just go when you like." THE WINTER TRIAL THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT! But then on we went through that Start Arch, collecting our first sticker from the Rally Marshall and this Navigator was in business: "0.600 klms take 1st left at roundabout, 0.100 km bear left, 1.300 km 1st sharp left at roundabout to Centre Equestre". WE'VE STARTED!

And what a day. Scenery on the Route des Grandes Alpes that was mind bogglingly amazing.

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Bianca was positively purring with the odd squeal of her tyres in La Vernaz. Hairpins combined with a beautiful herd of cows walking themselves down the road to be milked

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their bells all a dong-dong, presented a slight delay.

And I did think the chap mending his fence a klm further on maybe should have waited until all 219 of us had gone passed? Fields were full of buttercups, cliff faces close enough to touch brought a thrill and then a moments quiet as the Virgin Mary gazed down on us flashing past. We went through a village called ONNION - I know, a French village called ONNION, how great is that? Small children allowed 'time-out' hung over school fences waving and shouting as we tooted and waved.

At 1618 metres in Col de la Colombiere we had snow; just on the sides of the road, but snow all the same.

And we even saw bee keepers coping with a swarm in their white get-ups. Wooden chalet-style houses with bright window boxes, Reblochon cheese makers...it's all so...ALPINE! In Col des Aravis a young chap was out cleaning ski boots and bindings, "ready for next season," in the bright sunshine.

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We caught up (yes, we did!) with a fleet of Porsche 356's who, quite frankly, were holding Bianca back. She was really quite affronted when the one in front of her started backfiring and then shot two sheets of flame shot out of his...exhausts!

I have made a BIG DECISION ladies. If we are going to carry on with this rallying lark I'm going to have to grow my hair. How am I supposed to read the route, press my trip meter buttons and apply lip gloss with it all around my face. No, it has to be tied up.

So, four hours and 170kms (105 miles) after the start, we arrived in beautiful Megeve and drove through the Finish Arch with the announcement, "And here is the only Volvo in the Rally". Well, it was something like that; my French is very rusty. By now, everyone knows Bianca and I can't imagine why I was feeling slightly overawed by all the roar and shine of our fellow competitors who are turning out to be real fun bunch.

A glass of Veuve C., quick swim and then a bus to dinner. Really the proprietors should have checked their reservations list. If they had know The Fishers were on it they would have known a MOTHER OF ALL STORMS WAS ON ITS WAY! But we rallyers rallied on, sipping our wine and bolting our food as it got blacker overhead. I am proud to say that we, Fred and son Vincent, plus our new Mr Bean lookalike friend and his pals were the last table sitting but two blasts of forked lightening sent us indoors with the speed of one of their 911's.

Damp and weary we boarded the bus 'home' wondering if anyone cut any wood to fire up the hot tub?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09:12 Archived in France Tagged megeve Comments (0)

2013 Coupe des Alpes - How Many Cars???

Are we Outclassed?

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Well Dear Reader, we survived the night; no one came marauding up the stairs, sword in hand. Dinner had been disappointing so breakfast was everything I'd dreamt about...including the sweetest freshly squeezed orange juice this side of Florida.

Nancy is full of gourmet food shops but we had no time for that. It really is a lovely city with architectural wonders galore. Even those dreaded 'outskirts' have their gems...

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Stopping to top up Bianca's oil (she has her own personality and being an oil-lush is one of her little quirks), we set off for Evian. Pretty soon the scenery turned distinctly alpine and our pace slowed as we passed through countless small towns and villages where timber is obviously the main source of employment. By 1200hrs it was 24 degrees (C) and by 1330hrs we were in Switzerland. We think we skipped into Germany but it wasn't obvious apart from the lack of speed limits!

By 1450hrs those majestic snow-capped Alpes were in view and at 1510hrs we were on the shores of Lake Geneva whose water resembled mill-pond. Stopping while they cleared away felled trees this gently motored passed.

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Having witnessed the squeeze trucks have on the tortuous bends it seems pretty sensible moving cargo this way don't you think.

After 396klms we had reached Evian les Bains and went to scrutineering.

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Having scanned through our Route Book we discover...THERE ARE 219 CARS IN THIS RALLY! We had no idea; thought it was just a friendly little whizz around up and down the odd mountain pass. You should see this lot. If I tell you we are the only Volvo and there are three Mercedes here worth £600,000+ each, plus Ferrari Dino in numerous numbers and that Porche 911 are common as muck, you might understand why I feel a little... Not sure how I feel truth be told. Oh yes, and there are only six UK crews out of that lot.

Plated up...

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we headed for The Hilton. No stone staircases here! I was feeling tender towards Bianca, not wanting her to feel overawed, so spent some time washing and polishing while Ben applied her No. 41 door stickers. Then it was out for well deserved drinks and delicious lake fish.

And this is why people flock here...

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The Evian Building

So it seems we are in for a totally different challenge this time around. Mind you, I haven't seen anyone with a 2013 Winter Trial sticker so maybe this lot are just posers!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 23:02 Archived in France Tagged evian 2013_coupe_des_alpes Comments (0)

2013 Coupe des Alpes - On Our Way

Tunnel - Nancy

sunny 77 °F
View 2013 Coupe des Alpes Rally on haveyoubeenyet's travel map.

Bianca gathers fans wherever she goes. Even in the Eurotunnel

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where the couple behind us in a Mazda sports car (well...they loved it), were off to look at battle fields, and the girl in front, in a jolly little Skoda, told us about her father who competes in Old Timers Rally. We aren't quite there yet.

Once in France it was all allotments, mist and cows. I love cows. We don't see enough of them in Suffolk. Drifts of red poppies edged huge arable fields and then Louis de Sacy's vineyards came into view. Isn't lunchtime?

The sun came out as we entered the Foret d'Argonne whose dense trees soon gave way to the rolling wooded hills of Lorraine as Bianca whizzed along. In truth, she was starting to feel like an oven. Not much soundproofing goes on in a 1962 Volvo, air vents are small, our portable fan was fighting a losing battle and forget opening any windows. You do get used to it and I even nodded off for a bit. No navigator skills needed as yet as Satellite Sally in charge.

A sign for Walygator...what on earth?....brought a moments hilarity. Is it a theme park for alligators and Wallys? Metz Cathedral whizzed by in all it's red splendour and then a massive football stadium which had nothing splendid about it whatsoever.

Today's journey of 7 hours and 791klms (yes, we really got a wriggle on today!) brought us to the beautiful city of Nancy with its Cathedral (locked at 7pm)

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and the UNESCO Stanislas Square

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where fortifying drinks were downed in the setting sunshine. I am not going to tell you about Stan and his Square because it's all on Good Old Google.

We are staying at Hotel D'Haussonville built in 1528. It was part of Stan's building plans too. We could do with someone like him in East Anglia!

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Yes, that is our girl across the street. Isn't she gorgeous!

It had an amazing stone staircase. Ben explained why it went in a clockwise direction...so you could defend from the top with your sword in your right hand and those coming upstairs on the attack were at a disadvantage as their sword had to be in their left hand. Here he is demonstrating....

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My husband never fails to amaze me!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 12:58 Archived in France Tagged nancy stanislas_square Comments (2)

2013 Coupe des Alpes Rally - Get Ready Bianca

We're Off Again!

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View 2013 Coupe des Alpes Rally on haveyoubeenyet's travel map.

Are we suckers for punishment? Or just plain crazy? Whatever your view, we are off on another Rally. This time to the French Alps. We've been told that after the 2013 Winter Trial this will be a piece of cake. Ha! We all know people tell fibs don't we!

I've been into the garage and had a chat with Bianca (our 1962 Volvo Amazon for those of you who haven't met her yet) who, I must say, is proudly displaying her first Fisher Rally Sticker and looking rather marvellous with her white paint all a'shine. You might remember I said she had a leak? Well, Ben's sealed her floor, taken her out in a rain storm and still water's finding it's way in. She's reluctant to give up this particular secret so watch this space.

Rain is forecast. OF COURSE IT IS!! THE FISHER ARE GOING ON HOLIDAY SO IT'S BOUND TO BLOODY RAIN!!

Our pals, John and Judith aren't joining us for this one. Instead Fred will be. In his Porsche Carrera RS with either his son or his father; you don't need the details. Fred's a vet. Not sure what help that will be but he's probably thinking the same about us. Mind you, he has done it before......

We leave in the morning. Early train through the tunnel. First night in Nancy (why does that name always make me smile) via Reims.

I'm off to pack. Do you think I'll need my Ugg boots? They were skiing in Courchevel-Alpe d'Huez last week. That's our overnight stop on Friday. Oh joy!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 10:08 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged snow rain tunnel ugg bianca 2013_coupe_des_alpes 1962_volvo_amazon Comments (1)

Puglia - In Conclusion

Home Time

all seasons in one day


Dear Reader, it's home time. After spending time last night deciding where to go today we woke to glorious sunshine so the pool beckoned once more. You might think we are really 'rubbish at this sight-seeing lark' but, you see, we are English. And we don't get much chance to see the sun let alone the opportunity to soak up some Vitamin D to see us through the long, dark, cold, wet winters.

So after a few hours of basting, we packed our wet bikinis, ate a late lunch (serenaded by the promised thunder and lightening) and headed for the airport. Satellite Sally pulled a blinder and we ended up in the highly dubious outskirts of Bari. Eventually, and after seeing parts of the town I don't ever wish to see again, we made it to the airport. N.B. there is no shelter between the rental car parking and the terminal and you have to walk. This is why you MUST ALWAYS TAKE A SCARF ON HOLIDAY LADIES!!

Bari airport doesn't offer much but you could get a slice of pizza if you so desire but the oven is 100% electric! There is also a shop selling what turned out to be delicious salami and good looking mozarella, oils etc. The pair of shoes I'd bought in Monopoli to make me feel 'so much better' after my fall meant I couldn't buy anything else!

In Conclusion:

  • If you want a quiet few days away from it all Puglia is the place for you
  • If you are obsessed with looking in churches it isn't
  • If you want to sit on the lovely looking beaches, eat in busy restaurants, stay up late, go dancing...best visit in July/August
  • If you want to get windburn on lovely looking beaches, with a picnic and three mangey dogs for company...best visit any other time
  • If you want to eat pizza at lunchtime, or any time, ask questions before you sit down
  • If you want to eat fantastic fish and local produce this is the place
  • If you like elderly locals to smile back at you...forget it
  • If you want to practice your Italian...go for it
  • If you don't like driving along narrow lanes use the motorways
  • If you have to fill up with petrol you must pre-pay for your fuel at the pump and some places only take cash...it's easy after the first time
  • If you like drinking local wine this is definitely the place to do it
  • If you want a decent cup of tea take your own kettle

Ciao

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09:05 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Puglia - 5th Day - Oh Bliss

The Sun's Out

sunny 78 °F

By now we know each and every weather forecast site on Google. We chose the one we liked the look of best and plumped for a day at the pool figuring we'd 'done the tourist bit' yesterday.

So this is how it looks walking to breakfast

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Not bad eh? And, yes, that is the sea in the distance.

This was the stop after breakfast...

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We spent ALL DAY here. Am I boring you?

So that night, suitably bronzed, we headed back to Savelletri. We'd been there the night before. (Details below)

To complement the active fishing community in this two-street-village there is a fish market selling everything from octopus to live lobster

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obviously supplied by blokies in wee little boaties....

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and happy chappies in the more sea-faring varieties....

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We went to this funny glass cube place we'd read served amazing fish sashimi/carpaccio but the man running it was so b.....y grumpy and the place deserted that we walked next door to a 'pizzeria'. Pizzas chosen, up sidles the waiter. Now, this you won't believe..."Sorry, the pizza oven isn't working." I couldn't think of a thing to say that wouldn't start a war so we left. AN ELECTRIC PIZZA OVEN IN ITALY FOR GOD'S SAKE? How can that even be legal?

So we walked around the corner and found a pretty looking restaurant overlooking the harbour called Saporedisale on Via del Porto, which must surely translate as Port Street? www.saporedisalesavelletri.it

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That's it basking in the early evening sunshine! And if you look closely you can see a chap mending his nets on the back of the blue and white boat. Seems not everything in the world is disposable these days!

"This is more us," says my gorgeous daughter, large glass of Prosecco (€3) in hand. She's right; smiling waitress, freshly baked bread and.....PIZZA on the menu! Truth be told I ordered the wrong kind in my desperation. The 'local' variation uses a white base (no, I don't know what that means and it was way beyond my Italiano), which is baked before your chosen filling goes on and it's folded over like a Calzone. Except it wasn't nice because the cheese was still in little hard blocks and there was none of the sloppy, stringy business going on....which is surely the whole point of a pizza? But having spied what the family at the next table ordered we vowed to come back the next night especially when they gave me a gorgeous chocolate pud because I hadn't demolished the pizza! The restaurant, not the family next door!

So, as mentioned, here we are on Friday night. Same restaurant, different table, glorious sunset, two little fishy pate thingies, two perfectly grilled fresh bream chosen from a vast ice-encased selection, baked veggies and lightly fried potatoes (€15 each) and two enormous glasses of Prosecco. RESULT!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 08:49 Archived in Italy Tagged sea fishing port octopus bream savelletri Comments (0)

Puglia -4th Day - Hobbit Houses

And Caves...


The weather forecast was not pointing to a second day by the pool so armed with umbrellas we headed to Trulli country, deep in the Bari region, a few miles west. The chap on reception said, "it's an easy drive to Alberobello along the motorway". We didn't much like the sound of that so put our trust in Satellite Sal and her preference for taking us 'off piste'. What a great decision. The roads were empty and I sounded like a broken record with my "Oh, look at that!" and "Wow..." as Rose whizzed us down little roads edged with those ubiquitous low stone walls. Vines, with underlying drifts of wild red poppies, are more prolific here plus citrus groves and almond trees.

Each homestead, large or very small, seemed to have its own plot allocated to produce. Hay was baled and now and again we spotted someone working in the small fields; one stooped lady wielding a hoe between the ruler-straight rows filled with veggies, an elderly man on an elderly tractor pulling an elderly plough in the next.

And suddenly we saw them. Our first Hobbit Houses. Dear Reader, Trulli houses are...

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like something from childhood fairy tale fantasies and over the next couple of miles they became more and more prolific. Reaching Alberobello, Sal directed us into the midst of the weekly market. As locals weighed down with groaning bags of veg had absolutely no intention of getting out of the way, Rose reversed, closely observed with a mixture of curiosity and humour by old men, bellies stretching their white vests.

By some miracle we found a road of parking options. Not feeling able to cope with a Italian parking meter, we chose a site where a cheery local took €4 off us, said we could stay all day (well I think that was the gist of it) and directed us to a spot under an olive tree. He also indicated the umbrella was a GOOD IDEA!

Obviously Thursday is market day and if you've never been to an Italian market this is as good as any market gets. They sell everything from shoes (it is Italy after all) to cheese, picnic plates to pyjamas, local fruit and veg to massive hams. In Alberobello it spreads throughout the town and packs up at lunchtime.

Alberobello is built on two hills; on the eastern hill is the new town (relatively speaking) whereas on the western option lies the UNESCO urban conglomeration of trulli, plural for trullo, dwellings. According to the leaflet from the Tourist Office these are, "dominated by the external use of sheets of stones, the chiancole, which covers the conic roof..."

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Reasons as to their unique style and construction seem to vary from tax avoidance (due to their basic nature and the ease at which they could be pulled down) to places for farm workers/shepherds etc to shelter. The latter makes sense in the surrounding countryside but not in Alberobello where you will see 1,000 clustered together.

Many trullo are permanent homes, others serve as shops selling the usual tourist 'stuff'. You will also find fine crochet work and local produce such as olive oil, nuts and honey. Rose found one with its low wooden ceiling intact (the only one we saw). With marvellous sign language it was established a ladder led up to the inhabitant's sleeping platform. (A bit like those in the Zimbabwe bush last year!)

Some have been turned into cafes, bars and restaurants but most were closed. No matter, we ambled around enchanted. Being naturally nosy (I wasn't a journalist for nothing you know!), we saw workmen, smiled sweetly and got inside a trullo in the midst of a make-over. Amazing to see a state-of-the-art bathroom and fireplace waiting for installation with one chap up a ladder slapping whitewash on the ceiling at the same time as making eyes at Rose cooing, "Bella Chica". No doubt this tiny dwelling would be on the books for prime rental in time for the summer season.

The heavens opened. Thunder, lightening, the whole kit and kaboodle. Lunch called. We were looking for La Cantina (tel: 080 4323473) on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Dashing into a bar, map in hand, a ridiculously handsome young man was hauled from his lunch, "my boy, he speaks the English", to give directions.

And perfect they were. Passing some lovely (closed) fashion shops we found it. Now, Dear Reader, Cantina doesn't look much from the outside

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but venturing down a short flight of steps we entered a small (27 covers) empty restaurant where a smiling lady sat us down, swiftly brought delicious warm breads, local olive oil and two menus. We chose. Chef Francesco appeared at our table, all white apron, black chef hat and close cut beard, and changed our minds suggesting fresh zucchini layered with spicy salami and local smoked cheese and, orecchiette (ear) pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and cacio ricotta". Well, why wouldn't you qo with the suggestion of a chef with a wide smile?

Here's the result....

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Utterly delicious. Our best meal by far. By now a few other diners had ventured inside including an obvious 'regular' and an English couple there because La Cantina is apparently No. 1 on Trip Advisor. After lots of "Ciao", smiles, handshakes and waving we ventured out into bright sunshine.

As this was our 'be a tourist' day, we headed for the Grotte di Castellana a short drive away where we joined a 50 minute tour (€10 each. A 2 hour option takes you even deeper into the bowels of the earth to the White Cave) Our German/Italian/English speaking guide pointed out camel, owl, temple and cobra stalagmite and stalactite configurations so named by speleologist (scientist who studies caves) Franco Anelli, who lowered himself, on a rope, into the vast dome-like first cave in 1938, and used them as a sort of 'road map'.

Not thinking about the bats who surely inhabit this fascinating subterranean warren, I, like everyone else, gazed, open mouthed and rendered speechless. 20 minutes further on...we were told of 'special' evenings when horror films are projected onto the cave walls. CAN YOU IMAGINE...vampire films with bats flying round your head...Oh Dear Lord...are these people CRAZY?

This would be a great visit for any age but I wouldn't advise it for anyone a bit wobbly on their pins as it is very, very slippery underfoot. We walked down hundreds of steps but there is a lift. It's chilly too. N.B. no photography is allowed apart from in the first cave.

As it was nearly 6pm we headed for 'home' via..the fast route!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 08:27 Archived in Italy Tagged hobbit Comments (2)

Puglia, Third Day - By the Pool

Sunshine A Go Go

sunny 77 °F

We slept 10 hours! Breakfast was long...local cheeses and yoghurts, fruit, amazing cakes, pastries and tarts, eggs, yoghurt, yum, yum and more yum!

The sun was out. Not a cloud in sight. We headed to the pool laden with trashy mags, books, sunscreen etc.

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Yes, it was as glorious as it looks. A balmy 26 degrees, no chlorine, hammocks, loungers plus hot and cold running whatever you fancy. We had more mozarella for lunch and a bowl of pasta. If ever there is a place to eat what's produced locally Puglia is it....

So at 7pm'ish we set off to our email reserved (and acknowledged) table at the Lido Bosco Verde described in Conde Nast Traveller as somewhere to eat "carpaccio of tuna, prawns and scampi, seafood soup with courgette flowers; home-made spaghetti with clams...all served on wafer-thin vegetables drizzled with onion oil." I know - IT SOUNDS WONDERFUL. Satellite Sally was absolutely adamant (in her own special way) that we had "reached our destination" but dear Reader...the only thing being served here was sand and wind. It was totally deserted apart from the by-now mandatory mangey dogs.

Did we weep? No...we set off towards Ostuni via the country route (Sally's idea!) and it was actually looking rather promising. Perched on top of a hill, Ostuni shone gloriously white in the setting sun. Up close...godawful ugly town on its outskirts. And before any Italians message me to say I'm this, that and the other, I'll tell them to be in our Peugot and look at it though our eyes. I'm sure if we had parked, got out and set off into the centre (yes, towards the Cathedral) we would have found somewhere absolutely fantastically wonderful to eat but after driving around searching for a place to park and/or a place to eat we drew a 100% blank. It was getting dark and yet again there was hardly anyone around. It wasn't quite scarey but getting there.

By now I could have eaten my own arm (not the sore and bloodied one I hasten to add!). Unable to face explaining to our friendly hotel restaurant waiters why we wanted a table after all we went to the sister hotel (Masseria Coccaro) where we had yet another small extravaganza of various fish sashimi followed by risotto all washed down with a large glass of local prosecco.

Not a bad end to the day.....

p.s. reading up on Ostuni I am apparently quite correct describing the outskirts as 'ugly' but we did supposedly miss out on the very attractive center of town.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 08:02 Archived in Italy Tagged swimming_pool puglia sunloungers ostuni Comments (0)

Puglia - Olives, Olives and More Olives

Not the Usual Italy

We are spending five days in the heel of Italy's boot, so to speak. Our hotel, Masseria Torre Maizza, is just outside the little town of Savelletri on Italy's west coast. We flew into Bari (60 mins drive away) but you could go to Brindisi, which is marginally further.

Day one didn't really exist as we arrived at our hotel in the dark directed by Satellite Sally with an Italian accent that beggared belief and had quite put an end to any appetite.

Day two saw weather we were not exactly ecstatic about. Changeable: sun, cloud, wind, rain. We went exploring the hotel. I slipped and fell down down the painted very-worn stone steps from the loosely described 'Moroccan Roof Terrace', took a chunk out of my elbow and, worst of all, broke my Rondini sandals. Mucho bloodo. A First Aid kit produced by reception consisted of one plaster, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine (what the ****) and turned my daughter into someone I didn't recognise. "We need something better than this NOW!" Dear Reader, they were afraid. A couple of packs of dressings and some sticky tape were produced....from the kitchen!

Our hotel was surrounded by olive trees sprouting out of deep red rich-looking soil in fields bordered by low stone walls. Ridiculously narrow lanes (sign posting is surprisingly good) wend their way through groves and groves, which now and again change to tall'ish vines and some fruit orchards but this is real Olive Country. Some look like they've been around since Caesar's days.

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Bandaged and sore (me), Rose (calm now) drove, "on the RIGHT"...north to the old fishing village of Monopoli, which was first settled in 500AC and has been through some pretty rough times since. What with slaves, pirates et al I don't suppose life here was much fun 'back-in-the-day'. Anyone sensible probably just got in his little boat and went fishing..... There's a lot of fish in this part of Italy and the restaurants are full of it.

Monopoli is certainly bigger than a 'village' now but like all towns in this part of Italy it's pig-ugly on its outskirts. But, again...like all towns in this part of Italy...if you head for its harbour and 18th Century Cathedral you will be ok.

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(Yes, that's me on the steps.)

We couldn't get in it but, as you can see, it was impressive from the outside.

A charming chap: "This is not the usual Italy. We don't see many tourists here," gave us a clue as to why it (and most other churches we found during our trip) was firmly locked. I'm sure if you turned up when the bells rang you'd be able to push your way in but I imagine you'd have to sit through Mass from beginning to long-end understanding not a word. Once is quite fascinating but do you have any idea how many churches there are in Italy? That's one hell of a lot of of up'ing and down'ing on the old knees and feeling pukey with incense. And let's face it...there are only so many Madonnas anyone's brain can catalogue.

Dear Reader, it's a funny place this Puglia (funny peculiar, not funny HaHa). It shuts down, totally, completely, 100% between the hours of 1-6pm. If you are in a restaurant you will be ok but life outside? Nothing, no-one except the odd scabby cat and mangey dog. As Rose said, "It's as though there's been a war or a plague and everyone's died." FYI: I gather things liven up a bit in the summer with buses running from the town centre out to the beaches.

Searching for lunch we set off down the alleyways. We spied a sunny courtyard with a table

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and wondered if we sat down whether someone might bring us a plate of piping hot homemade pasta. An old bloke peering out of his window at us didn't give us much encouragement so we walked on. Pizza called and we found La Dolce Vita in Piazza Garibaldi where 91 varities were on offer.

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Dear Holy Mother..can you believe it. "Oh sorry, we don't serve pizza at lunchtimes." WHAT? WE ARE IN ITALY AREN'T WE? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS. He was. Believe me. I don't think Sharon Stone's legs, Victoria Beckham's glare or even Jose 'The Special One' Mourinho could have persuaded him to fire up that pizza oven. So mozarella, tomato and tuna carpaccio it was. Delicious, but not pizza! Still the ceiling was interesting.......

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We headed back to the car which we'd parked with a view of the walls of the Bastion S. Maria complete with canons.

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The Charles V castle was completed in 1525. Did we go and look around? No. Frankly, it was blowing a gale and we were so relieved the car hadn't been clamped or towed away we jumped in and headed back to the hotel for hot baths followed by nuclear strength vodka and tonics and plates of steaming pasta in the hotel's lovely restaurant...the longing for pizza long gone!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:40 Archived in Italy Tagged puglia Comments (0)

Taking the Stress out of Ryanair

It's Just About Bearable if You Know How

sunny

Dear Reader,
Ryanair has just been voted WORST AIRLINE FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE by 2,500 Good Housekeepingreaders. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has used their services, and I use that word loosely!

As I seem to end up as one of their passengers on a frequent basis, flying to a variety of destinations, I thought you might like a few of my tips.

1. Website Reservations:

- Give yourself lots of time and make sure you will not be interrupted.
- If you must have a drink to strengthen your powers of patience make it more of a gesture than a potential concentration-killer. You need all your wits about you.
- Make a list of all passengers in your party and put a line through as you register them. An experienced traveller girlfriend of mine recently booked two seats for her husband and none for one of her children. A Freudian slip you could say, but subconsciously wanting to leave a teenager at home (or take an extra man!) cost her dearly.
- Check, check and check again. NEVER ASSUME & NEVER PRESUME
- If your booking is not going through there will definitely be some little box somewhere you haven't ticked. Is it the insurance one? Maybe Terms & Conditions?
- Is paying extra for Priority Boarding worth it? Only if you have small children. You might get on a bus first but there is no guarantee 'regular' passengers will not board the same bus and get on the plane first, believe it or not.
- Can you really pack enough for 3 weeks in Ibiza in a carry-on bag? If in doubt pay to put a bag in the hold....telling your 18 year old she can't take 4 pairs of wedges is not the way to start a holiday!
- PRINT OUT BOARDING PASSES FOR BOTH JOURNEYS PUTTING THE RETURN TRIP ONES IN A SAFE PLACE...IN YOUR BAG...NOT ON THE DESK AT HOME!

N.B. Mistakes are EXPENSIVE! You DO NOT WANT to be adding on anything; bags, insurance etc. once the Pay Now button has been ticked.

2. Packing:

- I have written a separate blog entry on this How to pack for Ryanair. Most important...a pair of luggage scales. If your bag is overweight or too big you stand a very good chance of having to pay an extra £35+ for it. And take them with you.

3. At the Airport:

- Go through Security and into Departures straight away. I know this might be obvious to most of you but...you don't need to check-in if your have your boarding pass...that is the thing you printed off before you left home remember.
- Buy a sandwich, drink and any necessary yummies for the flight (food on Ryanair is disgusting) as well as sunscreen, magazines etc. but remember you must be able to get it in your carry-on. Again...if you get a member of staff who has just had a row with his/her girl/boyfriend you could end up giving them your copies of Vogue and crayfish and rocket sandwich. I saw it happen in Milan! Me? I stick my Kindle in the belt of my trousers, put on extra clothes from my case, wear my hat, sunglasses, scarf and fill my pockets.
- As soon as your Gate number comes up get there ASAP. Yes you will have to stand in line like cattle but it means you will get seats together and not have to spend the trip with your bag rammed under the seat in front of you. If staff ask if they can put your bag under your seat when you have already got it in the overhead locker say NO.
- If one of your party is elderly tell them to get on last and save them a seat...better still, book a wheelchair so they get on first...with you!

4. On Board:

- Take your head off and put on a different one. It's the only way.
- Order a drink but don't for one minute expect ice. As for lemon/lime...forget it. That fantastic sound of something being poured over ice? Unless you have it on your iPod that's the only time you will hear it on board.
- You are safe to rest your head on the seat in front of you. They don't recline.
- You will not understand any announcements.
- Only a member of staff with empathy will heat up a baby's bottle so take it already warm.

5. Disembarking:

- Get on the bus from plane to airport building last so you are first off, first through passport control, first at your car hire company of choice. TA DA!! Don't be politely English; you will be knocked over in the stampede. Sadly I don't have a tip on how to stop an Italian girl talking on her phone instead of handing over the keys to your box with four wheels. Glaring, smiling, showing photos of your handsome son won't work!

6. Shopping:

- Remember, if you go shopping you will have to get your purchases in your case. So, if you are of the carry-on only variety of passenger, be prepared to resemble the Michelin Man as wearing all your clothes on the way home is the way to do it!

HAVE A HAPPY FLIGHT!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:20 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged food car packing plane tickets weight scales ryanair checking departures Comments (0)

How to Pack for Ryanair

Carry-On Only!

sunny

So Rose and I are off to Puglia, Southern Italy for five nights and it's our old 'friend' Ryanair who gets our business...again.

We are hand-luggage only travellers when we visit Europe so here are my well-tried and tested tips.

First of all make 100% sure your bag qualifies. You DO NOT want to start a trip fretting it won't fit in that damn ruddy box thing if you are unlucky enough to land a stroppy check-in girl! Spain has some of the worst and it can mean a pretty godawful end to your hols if you have to pay extra ££££ because your bag is too big and/or heavy to carry-on. For the record, a carry-on bag on Ryanair must measure 55 x 40 x 20 cm and weigh no more than 10 kilos in total. Mine is from Antler, grey with wheels and a handy pocket on outside for passport, wallet and aforementioned see-through bag.
Here's what I packed:

1 x knee length white shorts
1 x white jeans
1 x white vest
1 x white t-shirt
1 x light yellow t-shirt
2 x Lily Pulitzer dress
1 x Zara white/gold sweater with long silk lining - gorgeous!!
1 x tan Rondini sandals - I have 3 pairs and they will take you anywhere!
1 x white wedges
2 x bikini
1 x one piece
2 x pool cover-up
1 x roll-up hat with wide brim (more stylish than it sounds)
Lingerie, nightie
Small Coach leather clutch
H&M fold-to-nothing nylon animal print bag - surprisingly stylish for £4!
1 x Muji clear zipped bag for lotions and potions (remember 100ml only is allowed and lipstick, gloss, cream eyeshadow all count as 'liquids')
1 x make-up bag
1 x medication bag...just in case - I don't speak Italian and sounds and actions for certain 'typical holiday ailments' is not a good look!

1 x pack of cards
1 x Garmin
2 x chargers
1 x iPad - put it where it's easy to get out for security checks
1 x kindle (optimistic as my book is the 650 page Wolf Hall)
1 x large paperback
1 x large round hairbrush (it's amazing how much space it takes up)

Travelling: J Brand khakis (yes, those safari ones again), white vest with bra top, blue long sleeved shirt, brown Brora cardi (yes, my old faithful),
long animal print scarf, heavy leather belt, burnished silver leather trainer-type shoes.

Obviously the above is for days in the sun with a chilly spell now and again. Even I am not sure I could do carry-on only for two weeks skiing in St. Moritz!

ARE YOU IMPRESSED DEAR READER?

My daughter is even more impressive...

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 05:55 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged packing puglia ryanair carry-on_luggage Comments (0)

Canoeing Down the Zambezi

Riverbank Full Frontal!

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After a day's walking through the Zimbabwean bush in search of an elusive pack of lion and encountering a herd of buffalo (!), it was time for supper under the stars at Zambezi Life Style Camp; surely heaven on earth. "Tomorrow we are going canoeing," announced guide, Fisher. Dear reader, I was absolutely terrified (even though Fisher had eight years experience guiding groups of 10+ canoes along the length and breadth of the Mighty Zambezi) and lay in bed listening to every lion breath, hippo grunt, impala shout, baboon argument and elephant pad around camp...all night.

But I kept my feelings secret until we were at the riverbank in the early afternoon and heard; "Pam I'm putting you in a canoe with me and Ben, then Peter and Rose can go on their own together," ON THEIR OWN! WHAT IS HE THINKING? My two 'babies' (23 and 25) heading off alone into that swirling maelstrom. My white panic striken face got the message across. See, Fisher's 'getting' me now; it's almost telepathy. Truth be told, he's seen me hysterical twice (NB: I Hate Bats Entry and I can't mention the other time....I don't know you well enough yet!) and he obviously couldn't cope a third time.

I felt sick with nerves. It's not like me. I love Africa with all my being, but sometimes it does test a girl.....

Before I knew it the seating-plan had been changed, I'd got my life-jacket on, paddle in hand, and with the Camp guys giggling we were pushed out onto the water, with Rose at the front and an out-board motor called Fisher at the stern.

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Peter and Ben were already having Father/Son discussions, mainly regarding what was in the coolbox, and Rose and I were soon getting the hang of it and thought we were absolutely amazing until suddenly we were going nowhere. Fisher had stopped paddling!! Oh, so you actually have to put some effort in do you? "Fisher, why do you keep tapping the canoe with your paddle?" says Rose. "So the crocs and hippos know we are here and won't come up underneath us." WHY, OH WHY, DID SHE ASK? "PETER, BASH YOUR CANOE!" "Can't hear you Ma." Such a hilarious boy!

The crocs duly didn't 'bother' us, ("Mummy, stop wacking the canoe like a demented lunatic and paddle!") but we knew they were there...lurking. What look like logs basking on the river banks vanish within a second, into the Zambezi depths, taking their beady eyes and rows of razor sharp teeth with them. You will hear horror stories of croc attacks on the river. I'm not going to relate them here, but be assured, they are not Swallows and Amazons bedtime reading or Tales of the Riverbank. This river is full of hidden killers. It is not a place to mess about. You MUST listen to your Guide. No fingers or legs trailing in the water, no rocking the boat...and keep tapping regardless of what your children tell you!

Just as the sweat was running down my back, cocktail hour was upon us. Shame! But what could be better than pulling up

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to a sandbar island

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where the only footprints were ours plus hippo

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and croc

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and hearing the plink plonk of ice dropping into a vodka and tonic. There was even a slice of lime!

The sun started to go down...after three hours on the water it was time to go home. I was actually sorry and started to relax until a hippo launched itself out of the water, it's mouth open looking like the Gateway to Hell, massive canines shining in the setting sun before its jaws snapped together like the doors of Holloway Prison. (No, I don't know what they sound like but can well imagine). And then there's that noise they make. In past blogs I've said hippos at night sound as though they are telling each other the most hilarious jokes known only to....hippos. Well, when they are this b....y close the jokes are not funny!

The camp Boys met us at the river bank, as the sun was sinking fast

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the canoes were loaded and we headed back to Camp. Never did a bucket shower feel so good.

Two Germans arrived in Camp...Siegfried was keen to go canoeing. So we went again. The next day. Christine was scared to death. Well, not literally but it was close at times with only stories of mid-river cocktails bringing her round. Seating plans were changed once more with Fisher guiding/propelling our new friends, Ben and Rose in another and me with son, Peter, bringing up the rear.

Today, the water was smooth and slick.

Ben and Rose

Ben and Rose

Dear reader, I don't want to crow but I was feeling like an expert by this time and we were doing very nicely until HE decided to stop paddling and go into dream mode. "You MUST keep up with us," shouted Fisher. "And watch out for that bush!" All my terrors came flooding back while my first-born giggled. "PETER, STOP B.....G ABOUT AND START B.....Y PADDLING!"

Catching up!

Catching up!

We stopped mid-river, tying our three canoes together creating a veritable cocktail bar.

Mixologist Peter

Mixologist Peter


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Christine was finally smiling whilst Sigfried looked as though he'd run a marathon. Bless! But, oh, it was utter bliss as we all had those, "we wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now" feelings.

This is the life!

This is the life!

Setting off once more I think we were all happily daydreaming as we slid soundlessly along.

And then we saw her. A lesser spotted...woman in a shower. In all her glory. Having a marvellous time. Full frontal, soap-a-go-go, eyes closed, in African bliss. Honestly, you couldn't make it up. I can see how it happened; husband makes camp placing your bucket shower with a view of paradise. So romantic. "Darling, why on earth would it need four sides; it's only the river out there. Look how beautiful it is and there are only beasties and birdies to see you?" NOT TONIGHT!! These seven canoeist's eyes were as wide as any bushbaby's and mouths as open as any hippos! But give that girl a medal...she just grabbed her little red towel and gave us a view of her other side!

Fisher was horrified. We were delighted. Beaching our canoes we headed up to the vehicles to find them turned into a playground. Those vervet monkeys will get into, and up to, absolutely everything! A tube of toothpaste (no, I don't know what it was doing there either) had obviously provided them with moments of sheer unadulterated ectasy and they scampered off with white moustaches!

Later, as we chatted around the fire Christine announced she wanted to, "spend the whole of next day canoeing". Sigfried had to lie down!

So what to wear canoeing along the Zambezi?

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A thin long sleeved shirt (unless you are already tanned), hat, sunglasses, shorts, flip-flops. Take a kikoi or towel to cover your legs to avoid sunburn. Put suncream on at least half an hour before you start because you will sweat and sweat and sweat so you don't want it running into your eyes. I say a long sleeved shirt because life-jackets are probably one of the most uncomfortable things on the planet, especially in that heat, and you'll get red raw armpits if you are just wearing a vest. You will be provided with a dry-bag for cameras.

Have fun and do let me know how you get on.....

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 04:19 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged river island sand crocodiles hippo vodka canoe zambezi crocs bucket_showers paddles what_to_wear zamebzi-lifestyle-camp Comments (0)

T.W.T. 2013 - A Navigator's Reflections

Where to Next?


Dear Reader,
Well, we did it. Was it tough? Beyond measure. Are we proud? 100%. Would we do it again? You bet your life!

80 cars started the 13th Winter Trial Classic Car Rally battling through rain, sleet, wind, ice and snow driving some 1,900kms (1,800 miles). 38 of them were in the Club Class, including us. (The Trial Class is for die-hard nutters who seem to thrive on push-it-to-the-limit-stress and sleep depravation) One car retired. We came 30th! We are beyond over-joyed.

Our aims were: 1: to not get lost. Let me think a minute.... Nope, don't think we were ever actually LOST. I might not have known where we were on the route/map at all times but lost we were not and we only asked 'a local' once if we were headed in the right direction using pigeon-Czech-speak. 2: Best Dressed Team. Dear Reader, I tried honestly I did but it just became less and less of a priority as the days flashed by. I did co-ordinate as much as possible but dressing-up at night after 10-12 hrs on the road? No chance, and I only managed a candlelit bath once! Lipgloss was applied (by both of us at times...even when it was pink and sparkly!) mainly to prevent frostbite, and whoever invented the UGG boot should be knighted; I didn't have cold feet once.

In terms of preparation I think we did ok. Lots of yummies to munch on, flasks, hot water bottles, torch, tow rope, snow chains etc. We passed the scrutineering, which was our first box ticked. I am glad we were advised by experienced rally individuals, both before and during, not to bother with timings; I don't think we could have survived that mentally intact! But I do want to learn how and when to use our two stop watches (!!!)..that would certainly help us jump up the ratings. And I wish we could have taken more photos but there simply wasn't time. There are lots on www.thewintertrial.nl - the marshals view has some of the best!

We were lucky. We only came unstuck, well stuck actually, once on the Test Track. Others weren't so fortunate and we saw many a car slip into a ditch. Our pals in their Jag ended up stranded across a ditch when they hit a piece of ice; they were pulled out by a local farmer in his tractor!

There have been laughs galore. Stories of experts getting hopelessly lost in the forests of the Czech Republic, life-long friends not speaking apart from barking instructions, people face down in the snow pushing stuck cars and, yes, man-tears! My dear friend, Judith, had one of the best. In a mad dash at a Time Check she rushed to the Ladies. As time was of the essence, and 'someone' was taking an age, she banged on the door shouting, "Hurry Up"! Out came a red-faced man... As if that wasn't shock enough, as she flushed the cistern promptly fell on the floor. It wasn't her day!

But the TRUE STAR was the Car

Bianca...what a girl!

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Is it possible to be emotional about a car? Well, those of you who know me won't be surprised. It's a weird one but there you have it. Now I think I understand why chaps get so attached to their motors.

So, Bianca is now basking in her glory. She's been washed and polished, and had her snow tyres removed by Steve at HiQ Tyres....

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...and has been sitting outside today in the sunshine all sparkling and showing off her Winter Trial window sticker.

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I'm sure it was beyond frustrating at times for her, being so experienced, but she never faltered, coughed or spluttered. Our White Goddess did us proud.

We truly didn't realise how hard it would be. How much energy, both physical and mental, it would take. But now we are living in a bubble of excitement. In our dreams, we hurtle around bends on snow covered tracks all night long and wake up feeling sort of bereft it's all over. Judith (one of pals in the Mark II Jag) and I have to chat every day as 'other people' simply don't understand; their eyes glazing over pretty fast as I prattle on and on and on.

As Elliott driving the 1935 Bentley Derby said, "After three months none of my pals wanted to know me any more because I had become a Rally bore. So I had to do another one just to have other bores to talk to!" Dear Reader...you heard it here first!

P.S. Team Fisher covered 2,800kms/1,700 miles in 7 days.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:53 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

The Winter Trial 2013 - Bianca's thoughts

When Can We Do It Again?

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I've done the Winter Trial! And we won a prize!

There have been other rallys but never anything like this. All that snow and ice. I confess I've been a bit scared at times but didn't let it show. My driver had faith in me; "come on Bianca, you can do this girl", and was kind. He's only crunched my gears a few times and we missed that post by half an inch! My wheels have spun now and again but I've only had to be pushed twice (those Czech men are tough) and it wasn't my fault. If that Porsche 911 hadn't stopped halfway up that hill in the dark I'd have got up it no problem. That Timed Test in Col de Svaty Jan village on Thursday night was frustrating; that Porsche again, stuck up another hill. I had to wait 15 minutes for his driver to get his snow chains on before I could show him how it should be done!

We've seen some weird and wonderful things such as a chap and his ancient mutt walking along a forest road pulling a trolley holding a huge circular saw; truly Hitchcock. The smiling children were lovely, though it was pretty alarming when their parents blithely pulled them on sledges along the roads during our Timed Tests. I heard my Navigator shout, "get those children out of the b*****y way," a few times. Such a worrier!

I do have a bit of a leak in my floor, had trouble with my brake lights and my speedometer seems to be doing its own thing, but nothing else. Most nights I've been tucked up in a garage with lots of pals to chat to. Being left outside wasn't much fun; I always started first time but it took me a while to warm up in those -12 degrees early morning temperatures.

My navigator has squeaked a bit and I think I've heard her crying but she lovingly polished my lights every night and I could hear her fretting she couldn't give me a wash. She's hugged and stroked me a lot. I'm not used to that. I like it.

There were a few other Volvo Amazons. One a 1972 142 (younger than me!) was really naughty. Well, the team were Irish. They had a fire, failed electrics, bonnet coming up mid-Test, into the snow, driver almost run-over. It sounded hilarious...to me! Those Porche 911 are party animals but even they were exhausted settling down come midnight when only the most poorly cars were being tended to quietly by their concerned teams. Those pre-war open cars are made of stern stuff and boy, their stories would make your mudguards curl.

I was put on a transporter for the trip home. My driver came to pick me up on Monday. He was so pleased to see me again; I think I'm really one of the family now.

I wasn't looking my best:

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I'm home now, back in my garage. The other cars want to know all about it. But first I'm going to be washed in warm water and rubbed all over with a soft cloth. Then they'll put my first Winter Trial sticker in my windows; my navigator will probably shed a tear.

I think I can hear the other two members of 'MY TEAM' planning the next rally. Bring it on!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:28 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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