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 A lap of Europe

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Rallye James
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PostSubject: A lap of Europe   Sun May 22, 2011 11:09 pm

After over six months worth of planning, on Friday 13th of May, I set out for the ferry to France on the start of what would become the trip of a lifetime. After the usual dropouts and letdowns, six members of Performance on Track headed off. I was joined by Lee Marshall in his 4 month old Clio 200 with his co-driver and serial Alfista, Mark Furbank and Ed Ayre and girlfriend Zoe Entwistle in Ed's Megane R26. And with everyone else in modern luxury with air con and cruise control I went for the sensible option in my LHD 106 Rallye with a route half in my head and mapped out on my laptop, with my passenger Matt Willcox, soon to be the UK's biggest Dacia fan.

Friday

I got on the road at 7am, picked up Matt and headed down to Maidstone to meet the others. Great success so far, until the sat nav took me off the M4 and into roadworks in Bracknell. We were cheered up by Jesus and some guys dressed as monks outside a pub and soon enough we were on our way again. We met up in the services, had 15 minutes break and then got down to Dover with plenty of time to spare. After a Burger King which took an age to order, we were ready to board and soon enough on our way over the channel.

We disembarked and after a quick detour and a trip through Dunkerque's Total oil refinery, we arrived at our hotel for the night, the cheap but cheerful F1. A little bit of poor french was spoken and we were booked in.

Our next mission was to sample the town's nightlife. A quick drive down through the dangerous streets of Dunkerque (are you suppose to give way to people coming out of side streets, or do they just do that anyway?) and we were on the seafront where we attempted to find somewhere that sold food other than mussels. We had thought we'd found somewhere, although after sitting down with a drink and letting Mark speak some 'fluent' french to the waitress, we decided there was nothing on the menu that either we could understand, or was appetising.

A quick walk back where we came from (and a spot of a Sundance 106 Sport and a white 205 Rallye) and we came across a nice little pizzeria. Well, nice except that the bloke and his wife were seemingly overrun with orders and there was no apparent queueing system. But half and hour later we had pizza. Epic pizza at that. I mean almost Pinocchio's rivaling. Only almost though...

We spent the rest of the evening in a bar, with a huge fish tank, half a giraffe and a buffalo's head on the wall (I assume that's just how they do things here?), before retiring to our rooms and after a bit of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire 'en francais', getting some kip ready for an early start.







Saturday

An early start it was, woken by a crazy frenchman at 4am who had locked himself out and was banging on the door for half an hour. We eventually got up at 7am, showered and headed off. We left behind the crazy drivers, who were still at it in the morning and headed to the motorways. The first french stretch down to Lille was exceptionally smooth and clear and we made good progress. The Belgian border crossing was made obvious by the deep ruts in the road and we crashed our way onwards bound for Spa. This was all very civilised, sat at 70mph to conserve the fuel, and although I managed to go the wrong way around a roundabout in a service station (which I didn't even realise was a roundabout TBH) we reached Spa slightly ahead of schedule and proceeded to do the normal and just walk into the paddock. We just caught part of a bike trackday as we watched Eau Rouge before they stopped for lunch and then we set about exploring the rest, finding the GP start straight and the podium.

Our next stop was only two miles away (up some random single track lane) where I'd arranged to meet some of the Dutch Rallye owners club on a trackday, only to find they'd buggered off to lunch. Eager to catch some of the VLN race, we made tracks instead.

We cruised at 70mph again, only until Ed and Lee decided to have a little hoon to around 140mph, as we crossed the border into Germany. We then left the motorways behind and got on the back roads (I recommend the L10 to Hillesheim to anyone in the area) and before long we were in Nurburg. It was 3pm by now, so we got straight to Brunnchen to watch some racing. It was heaving! Car park full, cars parked all over the road and in fields! Still, we found a spot and sat watching a variety of cars, from a load of Clio 200s to Merc SLSs, a Viper, a Lexus LFA that sounded immense and the one off Ferrari P4/5C. Epic. (I may have also enraged a german A Class driver who gave me the finger when I tried to pull out in front of her, but we'll keep that quiet, yeah?)

We had a quick lap to the entrance which was deserted and then went down to Adenau to meet Hotel an der Nordschleife owner Eddy. We were given the basement suite to ourselves, which was quite nice, although we were slightly gutted that we didn't have our own balcony.

We did 'the usual' and headed straight to the Rewe beer supermarket to stock up and then decided on a meal at Sabine's family's Pistenklause restaurant. I remember it being great last time, but it was simply epic. And the service was outstanding, real German efficiency. I wrote my name on the wall too. We had a little wander around the village, a peer through the BMW M Centre at the new E90 M3 Ring Taxi and a look at some R8s on a couple of lorries and then left for Eddy's hotel again.

We finished the evening with the obligatory track walk and a few Bitburgers on the communal balcony.







Sunday

Keen for an early start up to the entrance, we woke at 7am and had our traditional breakfast at Eddy's, complete with donuts. We unpacked into one of his garages and braved the rain to see what was going on. It was quite quiet with not too much in the car park, so me and Ed bought tickets and went for a 'slow' lap in the rain. Rack went out in traditional 4 up style and soon left the Megane behind. In fact, I was only passed by a 5 series and a rather twitchy Scooby!

Deciding the rain was getting heavier, we next headed to the visitor centre, parking the cars in German flag formation, as we had done the Belgian flag for Spa

For the next round, I left my car in the car park and did my tour guide lap with Lee. Very impressed with the car and his bravery as a first timer with me telling him where to go flat! All this time we were getting nice clear laps and it made the experience even better. A dry line soon emerged and it was time to take the Rallye for a real lap Four up, with a full tank of fuel I this time overtook a Speedster (VX220) and only got passed by the 'taxi' Aston Vantage and a GT3RS. Epic 8v win! My last lap of the day was being tour guide in Ed's boost wagon, which seemed very quick on the straights and not too shabby in the corners, plenty of squeal coming from the tyres on the now dry track!

We returned to Adenau and had our Pinocchios pizza before loading up our kit from Eddy's garage and finished our time at the 'Ring with some viewing from Hatzenbach. I randomly got spotted by a dutch Rallye owner who knew who I was (he had met me at Pugfest last year) and showed me a brilliant picture he had taken of the Rallye on track.

At 3pm, after the heavens opened, we then pressed on as we had four and half hours to our hotel for the night just over the border in France. We made our first stop two hours later at Hockenheim, where after been told we couldn't go into the paddock by an angry German, we decided on the open grandstands instead. We watched a little bit of motorbikes on track and then headed on again... Into torrential rain, standing water and roadworks. An hour after leaving Hockenheim, we had done around 15 miles The only benefits to which were an opportunity to turn my engine off and get the CD player running again and taking photos of the blonde in the Smart car along side us

So, after roadworks, more roadworks, some more rain and standing water and more roadworks (avoid the A5 at all costs!) we checked in at 9:30pm local time and spent the rest of the evening in our rooms planning tomorrow.

It seemed there had been significant snowfall in the Alps that afternoon which looked set to disrupt us, though we planned to head to Andermatt to attempt the Furka Pass and the St Gottard Pass or even the Lukmanier Pass if it was the only one open. If all else failed, it would be a ten mile long tunnel underneath it all.







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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Sun May 22, 2011 11:13 pm

Monday

We started today later than the last few days, leaving the hotel at 9:30am and heading straight out of France onto the Swiss motorway through Basel. On the lookout for cheap fuel we made our first stop of the day at a services with a great erotic megastore and got ripped off with some Swiss francs as change. On the plus side I had an epic sausage roll (not from the megastore, mind). As we continued (and passed another services with another erotic megastore) we soon saw some snowy mountains in the background. I may have got a little bit excited at this moment.

Soon enough, we found ourselves leaving the motorway and heading to the ski resort of Andermatt. Our fairly minor road soon took a major detour as it turned onto a haripin and then suddenly we saw cars on various levels above us. The passes had begun!

We reached Andermatt with little difficulty, after a lorry had pulled in for us and a derv Mk1 Golf had covered us in black smoke. We stopped here to sample the fresh alpine air and to get a little bit of lunch and some Toblerone. When in Switzerland and all that...

Having checked the pass status, our next mission was the St Gotthard Pass. We got very lucky! We made it up to the top, though there was plenty of snow at the side of the road, the actually surface was dry and easy. We spent the next hour freezing in the snow, all for a couple of photos and a bit of naughty graffiti.

We headed down the pass (being overtaken by a loony local in a Megane estate!) and then down a motorway, down for about the next 50 miles! It was crazy how far up we had been. As a second break, we decided to visit the dam at Contra, as featured in the James Bond film Goldeneye (they make it out to be soviet Russia), well worth a visit, for the road up to it alone even! At this point I admitted my fear of heights and stayed well away from the metal fence. We watched some dude in a helicopter transporting branches from one forest to another (?) and did a couple of tunnel runs in the 106 and Megane before getting back on the motorway.

As we headed to Italy, the driving standards got worse, and worse. We found a random traffic jam caused by the police and four motorcyclists and got abuse from the locals for pushing into the fast lane. Oops! It didn't take us long to reach the hotel (apart from a detour through the border town of Chiasso to avoid a non existent toll, where Ed got stopped by border control for taking photos of them). We took a short break from the chaos and then went for our dinner on the shores of Lake Como in a rather nice Italian restaurant. The 15 minute drive each way was the usual mayhem, but at the end of the day, we were all safe although rather exhausted.











Tuesday

After a good night's sleep in our luxurious Ibis accommodation we made our way onto the autostrada aiming to get the easiest way out of Italy. We came across a few toll booths as we bypassed Milan and then as we took the exit to Genoa, we were faced by the most scary thing ever... A random toll booth with only a slot for a card, no information for paying and no English instructions! I first pressed the assistance button hoping for someone to come to my rescue but he was obviously still in bed. Next, in a moment of desperation as the locals started to queue behind our convoy, I pressed the scary big red button which I had no idea what it did. It gave me a ticket and lifted the barrier! Panic over!

So with that down we pressed on, nice easy driving. Stopped somewhere for some fuel where a local actually filled the car up for you. Weird. Before long we were on the riviera and the 'Autostrada dei Fiori' (literally translated as motorway of flowers?) which was just a continuous line of tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge (repeat x100 for the next 80 miles!) with the sea in full view on our left. Much fun! And then as we came out of the final tunnel and looked down to the coast we got our first glimpse of Monaco. We left the autostrada and the road twisted and winded it's way off the side of the mountain down into the principality. Before long we were parked (on the 7th floor of a nuts multlistorey) and ready to explore.

We soon found our way down past the local Ferrari dealership and onto the start of the circuit and set about doing a lap on foot. Straight up the hill we found casino square. Money everywhere! Rolls Royce Ghost, mad brushed aluminium S5, California, more exotica that I can't even remember!

We continued down, past Mirabeau, round the hairpin and to the entrance of the tunnel. We made a withdrawal and then it was McDonalds time! I was majorly impressed that it was no more expensive than the UK, came to us straight away and was piping hot. Brilliant!

Before continuing our lap, we took a stroll to the beach, I looked after the baggage as everyone else took a dip with the fish in the harbour. We completed our lap (via McDonalds again), looked at some lovely boats that Lee was going to buy with his Euromillions winnings and then returned to the cars, ready for a driving lap. Other than me almost running a couple of people over, it was epic and I've finally fulfilled one of my dreams.

We left via a batcave tunnel to Nice, paid a few more peages (tolls!) and arrived in our seedy F1 up a back alley just in time for a beach stroll and watch the moon rise over the horizon.







Wednesday

We left our hotel at 10am, after me nearly losing my sunglasses and then guiding us down the wrong side of the first road of the day. Oops. We then started to backtrack on ourselves and breakfast was served at a services overlooking Monaco with the most uneven car park in the world. So much that I got the 106 on three wheels (I never miss an opportunity). As we neared Italy we soon turned off towards the town of Sospel and the windy road up to the Col de Turini. At this stage we were lucky to have a local in a Dacia Sandero (Matt really wants one, but he'd prefer a Duster even more!) who led the way taking the racing line, neither slowing us up or disappearing into the distance. When we reached Sospel, the sat nav made it's first error, sending us up a cobbled street to nowhere. We came back down and drove through the village centre, soon to be overtaken by Sebastien Loeb in a Renault Traffic. And then we were on the Turini proper! The road was dead. We saw two, maybe three cars coming down towards us and some guy at the top doing roadworks! Some sections were a little bumpy whereas some were fresh and smooth but on the whole it was a great road. Upon the top we started an inter-cafe war when we walked into the wrong one first and then decided we didn't want the special 12 euro salad, so made some excuse to go and look for Lee and Mark before diving into the much nicer cafe over the road. Being a fussy eater, I wasn't too sure of the menu, but I managed to get a perfect demi baguette with cheese for my lunch whilst the others had omlettes and soup. Spot on.

The decent over the Turini was a little of the same, hairpin switchbacks down through the forest, mixed with ten or so minutes of hail. And then as we went back towards Nice we hit a stumbling block. The route planner that I had been using had massively underestimated the toll fees for the motorways. In a desperate bid to be cheap, we found our way almost into Cannes before deciding 10 minutes later that we'd rather pay! Making up for lost time I put my foot down and we did a legal 130kph for the next couple of hours. Around Marseille we made another stop and the route was remapped avoiding the remaining 30 miles of toll motorway and instead taking a 20 minute longer detour thorugh the scenic Camargue national park. We found every caravan in France also on this route, but I soon gave them some 8v powah and Ed gave them some boost. Only Lee in the 200 seemed to have trouble getting past. Before long we arrived in Montpellier and found an Etap, slightly more upmarket than the F1s we had used. We now had a shower and bath in our room and Ed and Zoe had a door through to Lee and Mark's room. Dodgy!

Our evening was spent with a casual drive into the centre ville and a lovely meal in a slightly posh outdoor restaurant (we didn't really fit in with our shorts on, typical tourists). After steaks, milkshakes and ice cream and some laughter at changing the sat nav voices, we headed back without Jane (English) but with Kathy (Irish) who took us for a nice tour of Montpellier's roadworks and the most un-street-like street ever. We finished off with a small detour over a zebra crossing (as in, the direction pedestrians would walk it), across the pavement and back to our hotel.







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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Sun May 22, 2011 11:13 pm

Thursday

Woke up in Montpellier after the best sleep yet on the trip. After discovering that 'all you can eat breakfast' was all you can eat as long as it's bread, we decided to get a move on and stop somewhere for the traditional motorway service station 'jambon et fromage' baguette (we were getting good at this french lark, especially Mark!). Our first stop a little over an hour away was the Millau. There was a little bit of a mixed reaction to it. I kind of expected to come down a hill towards it and see it in the distance for a while, but although it's signposted, it takes you by surprise when you round a corner and it's there in front of you. I'm glad to have done it to have ticked it off the list, but I don't think I'd bother again. It's an impressive structure and great piece of (British) engineering, but once you've seen it, you've seen it!

Next we set off towards Clermont Ferrand, stopped for breakfast at midday, filled up the cars and washed the windscreens with their complementary squeegees All went well for the next two hours as we tore up through France at a rate of knots, not stopping for anything, only until we left the motorway to go cross country and the Rallye decided to try and die. In fact all that had happened was something with the alternator belt (the third one I've had fitted in the last six months!) causing it to scream at low revs, so we carried on regardless in search of some WD40 and took the D roads towards Dijon.

They turned out to be a mixed bag, the first few being stuck behind various lorries and tractors, continually overtaking trying to get a move on on our longest day of driving. After a while we pulled in to a truck stop in the town of Lapalisse and to relieve a very tired Ed, Matt left me and took the wheel of the Megane to experience some boost. We hooned onwards, keen to get to our destination, and in my case, keen to get out of the wounded 106. Now we reached the good back roads, a windy road following a canal, with hardly anyone on it, through some small french villages that may have had speed limits, but we didn't have time for 50kph...

Our last stop of the day at St Gilles on the D974 saw Matt climb a telegraph pole and spy on a woman in a house, some random baguettes floating down the canal and a chap in a white 106 GTi show off when he saw the Rallye by going flat out up the road. We then passed a Dacia dealership. Matt got very excited. A little while later up the road, in a small traffic light grand prix between a Rallye and a Clio 200, a certain yellow car may have got flashed by a speed camera doing roughly 110kph in a 50kph zone. Oops!

As we reached our destination, in search of a little more luxury, we ditched our Accor hotels loyalty and ended up in a Premier Classe over the road, a more modern version of the Mr Bed from a previous trip, with the same toilet and shower in one combo. Interesting...

We finally got moved in after an epic hunt for the room access card which turned up stuck to Matt's iPhone (another reason not to like them!) and as we saw a Dominos delivery moped outside the hotel, dinner was decided. We took a quick (literally) trip into Dijon centre in the Megane, ordered very cheap pizzas (15 euros, buy one get one free, for mediums) and took them back to the hotel... at 200kph. I let you work that one out.

So after a scoff, a Bitburger, some internet surfing in the hotel and some Sex Crimes 2 and 3 on the hotel TV, it was bedtime in Dijon.







Friday

Tired from a long day yesterday, we had a little lie in and set off at 10:30am. Well, we did after I had climbed into the 106 through the boot, due to a French Scenic owner taking a liking to my parking space on the side next to my drivers door, and my passenger lock not working. From Dijon we avoided the peages again and headed for the D roads. First, the D996, following a truck. Considering I'd found this road recommended on Pistonheads, I began to wonder what all the fuss was about. And then the truck turned off and it got interesting. Slightly bumpy, but windy, with a couple of hairpins. And not a sole using it. We came across one bus, but it was soon dispatched and we made rapid progress. Along with rapid progress came rapid running out of fuel and a petrol station was our first stop of the day. While the drivers filled up, Zoe took photos of snails and Matt went green. We waited ten minutes of so for him to compose himself and then set off at a more leisurely pace for the rest of the D996. Soon it became the D396 and with that the hairpins vanished and we left on super smooth straight flat roads. We picked up the speed again and were back knocking minute after minute off our arrival time at Reims. With an hour to go, I started to flag and we pulled in at a supermarket on the search for sandwiches. We got back on the straight roads, now a bit busier, but we were passing everyone on the road.

After another hour of so, we found ourselves driving down the pit straight at the abandoned Reims circuit. Unfortunately, since my last visit in 2008, it's a lot more fenced off and inaccessible, but I took some shade in a pit garage after sitting in the boiling 106 all day and we spent the next hour having a rest.

From here, we had the options of nearly three hours on the toll roads, at an unknown price, or an hour extra on the D roads that we were enjoying so much. D roads it was then! For the next hour all went well, with Matt now at the helm of the Megane again and me on my own, until we came across a barrier over the road and no detour. So we took a gamble down towards another village and soon got back on our route, now on the prowl for a McDonalds. On the approach to Lille we got on some toll free motorway and began tanking it back at over 120kph again. It didn't take us long to reach Bailleul, only half an hour from our hotel. We parked in the car park of the supermarket next door, only to be told by a local that it closed in half an hour (or that's what we deciphered anyway), so we got our fast food and ate it fast. The final stint of the trip was over before we knew it and we rolled into the F1 hotel care park with sad faces. Sad faces the same as the electronic 50kph speed limit signs that we had been seeing all day...

So then we sat outside the hotel, drinking the remains of whatever we had bought around the continent, mixing everything with Zoe's himbeersahne licquer and making it turn to solid foam...

Another lap anyone?





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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 2:06 am

Holy crap what a write up!

Pics look ace, i'll have a proper read soon! Razz

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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 2:22 am

Same here, that's impressive!

What kind of costs are you looking at for a trip like that? Have you got an itinery / location list?
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 2:28 am

I found it hard to keep track of the costs, but all in all I think it was somewhere around 900 per car/pair.

We did this route near enough, only missing out Monza and the Furka Pass.
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 3:56 am

Awesome read James

I'll finish reading the rest later. I am seriously jealous, want to do something like this.
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 4:10 am

EPIC Read man!

Did you get any European scuff?
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 6:25 am

Won't lie, the whole trip looked awesome. Definitely something that needs to be done at some point!

106 Sport just reminded me how good the standard nana's look!

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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 6:45 am

Sounds like an awesome trip...very jealous!

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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 9:21 am

Id love to do that james! Looks a brilliant trip!!

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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 10:57 am

EPIC Read! My eyes are now bleeding!

Really want to do this at some point but i dont know if i'd trust an S1 Valver..:L

(Yes thats next on the cards)

But heyho maybe ill just be a passenger one day Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 1:49 pm

Sad I shoulda been there!!

Epic write up though fella. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 4:16 pm

One word mate epic! Looked like good fun
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Mon May 23, 2011 11:59 pm

Great read, thanks for sharing Smile

Certainly one of those 'to do' things in life!

Love the numberplate on the 200 Cool
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Tue May 24, 2011 8:36 am

That is one hell of a trip! But i have to admit after reading about half of it, i ended up just looking at the pictures instead Laughing

Your fingers must be numbe after all that typing? Looked like a good way to spend 900 abroad!
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Tue May 24, 2011 5:21 pm

Haha, I didn't type it all in one go, I made sure I wrote something each evening on the trip while it was still fresh in my head Smile
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PostSubject: Re: A lap of Europe   Thu May 26, 2011 1:06 am

Now that is what you call a write up Smile

Looked like a good time, i need to do this at some stage of my life Smile
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