The continued adventures of Millie
Foreword: I'm afraid its another epic blow-by-blow account which went into overtime. This time it is more from my side, with 'technical' contributions from Ivor.
Day 8, Friday 7th August
Dash South 1 -Grenoble Got up early feeling quite refreshed after having slept in a proper bed. En-suite facilities were a very welcome change from the usual 'scrum' of the Calais camp site shower block. Ivor quickly checked that Millie was still outside and that she was feeling okay (not vandalised or 'molested' during the night) -it had been very late when we arrived and we had to abandon her in the main square because there was no where else to park. A leisurely breakfast saw us on the road for about 9.30, just in time to join the morning rush which was made considerably worse by the major road works throughout the centre of town, and the situation was not helped much by the efforts of the manic gendarmes.
Never mind, it was a scorching hot day already! , and we had left all our troubles were behind us in Part 1. (NB. spoke too soon, as usual). It was after 10 o'clock by the time we got onto the open road (N44), a quick fill of petrol and we were heading towards Reims. Ivor released all the pent up frustration (aggression?) by flooring the throttle and trying to make time, could we possibly get to Nice by nightfall? (670 miles = not much chance). A full tank of petrol this time (see Day 112, last issue) -surely nothing could stop us now.
We had travelled about 20 miles and I was just thinking how great open motoring in hot weather was when Millie spluttered and died. We had enough speed to coast up (!) the hill and glide down to a 'lay-by' on the other side. Ivor did not say anything, his face said it all (What the bloody hell was it this time). He opened the bonnet and got a second degree burn from the bonnet stay! Sparing you the technical details and checks he did under the bonnet, he ruled out no fuel, fuel starvation, spark plugs, distributor, cooling system overheating and diagnosed 'an unknown electrical problem due to the excessive heat'. He agreed it did not sound very convincing but, although the exact cause was never traced, he seemed to be proved correct after it recurred throughout the next few days. (All theories 1 solutions on a postcard to Dave!)
While we waited for her to cool down Ivor checked a few things, including the exhaust and rear wheel. All was okay and would get us to Nice anyway. After about 10 minutes, sure enough, she fired up and ran faultlessly as long as Ivor was not over-enthusiastic.
As we rushed along the wind was like a hot hair dryer and actually became uncomfortable after awhile. There was a cloudless sky and I applied suncream to both of us as we drove. Bypassed Reims and on to Chalons-en-Champagne, re-named Chalons-sur-Marne? but with signs for Chalons, Chalons-s-M and Chalons-C pointing in seemingly different directions with interchangeable and some unknown (to the ~ M map, Tip 9) road numbers -confused? -so were we but despite the roadworks & new roundabouts we did get the right road (to Troyes) without too much delay. (Note 1) The road was now very straight and fast but anytime Ivor felt confident enough to 'floor it' Millie would only last about 5 minutes before spluttering. The trick was to keep pushing until he felt her starting to hesitate and then he backed off a bit. On the other side of Troyes (N71) we began a gradual climb on the start of the twistier roads and some of the scenery was wonderful.
A quick route check showed that because of the stops we had only covered c. 125 miles so Nice would have to wait another day. Grenoble, another c. 225 miles, was going to be as far as we would get today. We stopped at Baigneux-Ies-Juifs for a snack, ice-cream and another layer of suncream. Millie rested in the shade with the bonnet up while a group of interested locals looked on. We found out that they had had torrential rain a few days previously but that at 36 degrees this was the hottest day of the year so far -the wind was 'hot' and even the French thought it was very hot -"Pauvre Millie". Never mind eggs, you could have cooked a well-done steak on the bonnet.
Back on the road towards Dijon, then the N74 through Nuits-St. Georges but no time to stop to taste the well known wine (plenty of opportunities ahead) on our way to another Chalon, this time meant to be on the Saone -I hope it isn't as confused as the previous one was! It ~ where it was meant to be and as we headed for Bourg-en-Bresse we stopped at Cuisery and I bought tea in a nice 'farm-type' shop we found up a sideroad. We agreed it had been another frustrating day so we 'pigged out' on fresh farm produce and ham and wine from the 'fridge' (Tip 10). Another 100+ miles done with only c. 125 to go. Through Bourg-en-Bresse and onto the N75 which would bring us all the way to Grenoble. Naturally enough with the onset of evening and the rise in altitude the temperature was dropping fast and with no fear of the 'overheating-electric' gremlin recurring Ivor blasted through the foothills of the Alps -the problem was definitely not speed-related!
By the time we reached Grenoble it was dark but we found a site on the right just as we entered town. We quickly put the tent up by torchlight using only half the pegs -hope it won't be windy tonight! (Luckily it wasn't)
Day 9. Saturday - Dash South 2
Nice at last! Broke camp early without even having breakfast. We were going to get to Nice today, even if we had to physically push Millie all the way! The sun was on the other side of the mountains so we excitedly wrapped up warm and headed off. The scenery was beautiful, the roads were nice and twisty and Millie and Ivor came into their own. Both behaved impeccably and a thrilling drive saw us stop in Sisteron for a break and to re-stock the fridge.
There was a lovely aromatic outdoor market with a huge selection of fresh olives -yum. I cashed some travellers cheques and then it was 'pedal to the metal' (Ivor: 'Fibreglass' -but you know what Ruth means) -Nice here we come. And guess what, not a single problem. We snacked as we drove and in order to make time Ivor opted for the N202 road directly into Nice rather than the twisty "Route Napoleon" into Cannes. The drive was s\ill (dangerously) exciting; mostly flowing bends with the odd straight as the road followed the river. Ivor's moment of the day came as he gave two French poseurs in their TR6 the shock of their lives. They were at the head of queue of 7 cars and as we bore down on the 'cortege' -a Mazda MX5 (4th place) pulled out to overtake and, after Ivor tooted the last cars so they would not pull out in front of us, we followed the MX through and Millie's exhaust roared into the TR6 driver's left ear. They had probably seen the MX in their mirror, but their reaction suggested that they didn't know where the hell we had appeared from! As the MX driver slowed for the righthand corner and looked in his mirror, Millie's momentum enabled us to overtake him around the outside! Ivor gave a big "YES", patted her on the dashboard and gave a friendly, 'Royal wave' as we passed. The MX driver seemed pushed to even keep up with us. I was impressed although Ivor modestly said he couldn't be much of a driver. It was all very exciting from the passenger seat anyway! She had totally redeemed herself, not that the problems were really her fault anyway!
As we approached and drove through Nice we looked out for signs for campsites. At Villefranche we enquired at a Tourist Office and the grumpy girl there indignantly told me that "there were no campsites anywhere near Nice". I didn't bother to debate the matter because from her expression she was obviously not having a very good day! After finishing a cold bottle of orange between us we drove back through Nice and then Ivor recognised buildings from his visit 4 years ago. We were soon at the site where he had stayed previously but they had no space and, unlike everyone we had met so far, didn't even comment on Millie. Maybe we looked a bit too 'rag-bag' in comparison to the expensive motorhomes that seemed to fill the site. To cut a long story short we ended up looking for the Tourist Office in the middle of a festival in the village of Villeneuve-Loubet. They were very helpful and we got directions to other sites.
The first 2 did not have enough nights but we reserved them in case of emergency. At Papa Jacques (I think) there was no room and we damaged and almost pulled the exhaust off on his 'security system'. Frustration - everything seemed to be literally falling apart again -and after such a wonderful day. We jangled our way to the last place (La Vieille Ferme) but, like Calais, although they were initially full, the Irish girl (from Dublin, Note 2) on reception took pity on us and squeezed us into a corner of the site. The tent was set up quickly and everything unpacked -we had made it! Taking stock we were 1 week behind schedule, had sunburnt and wind-burnt foreheads and noses with 'Panda' faces (like skiing) from the sunglasses.
In the cooler temperature Millie had behaved impeccably and Ivor's theory seemed to have been confirmed.
Day 10. Sunday - Relax & Caanes-sur-mer
Ivor was up early to fix the exhaust. When I got up she was jacked up, rear wheel off and the unassembled exhaust laid out neatly. Another very hot day but the coastal breeze helped cool things a bit. While other campers spectated from a distance Ivor cut a bit off the end of the exhaust manifold (which was still on the car) and then re-assembled Millie (Note 3). He was pleased with the result and declared it a 'permanent' repair.
After breakfast we relaxed at the pool until lunchtime. Drove around to get our bearings and we bought wines etc and put them in the cool box. Parked up and went to the stoney beach, at least sand wouldn't get into everything. It also provided the tools for what looked like an interesting massage. A Frenchman was rolling round stones up and down his wife's back. Ivor sentimentally brought some home, but I am still waiting for my massage! A neighbouring sunbather was extolling the virtues of 'our' route to a group of people and we were quite chuffed. Went swimming and had a lovely lazy afternoon -now I remember what a holiday is like! But when we got back to Millie she wouldn't start - the fridge had run the battery flat! I asked for help from a pizza parlour but the only potential assistance was from a moped. Bugger! We were directed to a garage, c. % mile away! (900 yds doesn't sound as far!) and bought a battery and jump leads. We had figured that there was no point in paying for a jump start etc., and we would have the battery and leads for future use if necessary. Ivor's arms had stretched about 2 -3" by the time we got back to her. I got a quick lesson on 'jump-starting'. She started no problem, although I'm sure Ivor had his fingers crossed -another close call; we had been lucky to find somewhere that sold batteries (charged) on a Sunday. Back to the site for tea and aftersun cream. I was just pink but Ivor was very brown already -I hate people like that! We planned tomorrows trip to Monaco and decided to see Cannes tonight.
The trip into Cannes was great, hood down, foot down, no danger of Millie getting hot, exhaust sounding great, and plenty of petrol (Ivor: she will never let me forget tllat) Cannes was Ab Fab (Absolutely Fabulous), just the sort of place where you would 'bump into' Joanna Lumley or Tara ('TPT') and the 'Trust Fund babes'. Millie got loads and loads of admiring and inquisitive looks. There were Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes, Rollers and Bentleys everywhere but everybody had seen those before; they hadn't seen a Merlin and there was nothing similar about either. There was a lot of elegant fashion; the "promenaders" were certainly out in style.
After driving the full length of the prom, on our way back (opposite the Carlton) we luckily got a space -now to do some 'promenading' of our own! It was a balmy evening and there was a real buzzy atmosphere. The fashion shops had an extra aura and allure about them, but then this was Cannes not your ordinary high-street! (Ivor : Thankfully they were all closed!). We walked behind 2 girls who were obviously out posing because they had the cheap imitation Coco Chanel back packs with the tacky lettering. I am sure they heard me when I told Ivor that their packs were only £4 out in Turkey.
We passed a nice restaurant (one of many) La Comptiere de La Mer which was busy and had a 'happy', not noisy, atmosphere. The prices were also surprisingly reasonable and we decided to eat here tomorrow. There was an area taken over by 'rollerbladers' and we sat on the prom wall and had an ice-cream while we 'people-watched'. It was still quite buzy at 01.00 am as we left for home.
Day 11. Monday - Monaco
Although Ivor had been to Monaco before and had told me what it was like, I was still excited about going there. On exiting the tunnel I briefly saw the harbour before we drove up the main street. Ivor was babbling something about us being on the starting grid for the F1 Grand Prix but I was busy looking all around at the shop windows, fashion, yachts, expensive cars and generally feeling the 'monied' atmosphere that Monte-Carlo seemed to have.
There was a huge motor yacht ('ship') named Lady Moura moored on one side of the marina. We raced up a hill (Ivor no doubt hot on the tail of an imaginary Michael Schumacher) and did as near a lap of the circuit as was possible. It felt strange to see the red and white kerbs, drive round the corner and see the famous Casino, round the bendy bits and into the tunnel that even I recognised. Around by the harbour and La Rascasse and onto our second 'lap' looking for a parking space. We found a car park and in the lift down to the street a couple of yachties were talking about the Lady Moura which is seemingly owned by the King of Jordan. Saw the sights including Prince Rainier's pad and wrote some postcards at an ice- cream cafe while we planned the rest of the day. Ivor took a photo of me outside Barclays and I wondered about a possible transfer -fat chance.
We had lunch in the rooftop 'garden' of the car park followed by a stroll through the nearby gardens with its statues and fountains. Ivor spotted a sign for the Moores Rowland office - maybe we could both be seconded here. I will definitely be back -some day. At a petrol stop Ivor got some oil and when we got home he had great fun, as boys do, changing the water and oil and getting dirty under the bonnet, engine etc. He felt it was necessary because Millie had been working hard, he was unsure how old the oil was and it would also be better for the engine. We reflected on what a great, trouble-free day it had been -and soon afterwards Ivor broke the front tooth off his 2"d denture! He laughed and replaced it with the 'Day 5' one which was only missing the side tooth (less obvious).
Day 12. Tuesday - The Italian iob l
(Thought -What could Michael Caine and his team could have done if they had 'Millies' instead of Minis!) Early start and stopped at the border I toll station before 8.30am to change my Ffr100 notes into Lira. A lazy man reading a paper had no intention of serving any of the people waiting. Ivor joined the queue outside for the (only) ATM. An Italian woman, surrounded by her family, was having trouble with her card; one of the men also tried it and failed. Helpful suggestions and gesticulations from the others to 'turn it the other way' etc only led to retorts -and being Italians all of them ended up arguing and screaming at each other (Tip 11). It started to get physical (maybe they were not all family after all, but either way we were not going to get any money here.
Back in the car and up to the booth, we were assured that we could get money at any toll station so we collected a ticket and sped off -almost gam and only 300 miles to go!. It was another hot day but Millie did not miss a beat and we made excellent progress. Ivor thoroughly enjoyed the swooping bends and tunnels and remarked how blase I seemed with my knees up and my arm resting on top of the door and tunnel walls passing not too far away from my elbow at up to 80mph. I ask you, how else is a girl meant to get a tan while 'cooped up' in a car? We came to the next toll booth -now we could get some Lira. I handed the poor Italian the lowest denomination Franc note I had -Ffr100. Ivor offered Visa but he could not accept that but to cut a long story short we eventually left with a boot full (well almost!) of Lira. Foot to the floor and we were off again.
Nearing Pisa Ivor noticed that the voltmeter was only just the right side of 12v. Everything was running fine but it was time for a pitstop anyway so we pulled in to a 'services'. It was only 12.30 which Ivor calculated to be a c.77mph average which he seemed pleased with "Considering we had been held up a bit in some of the tunnels and behind lorries". Up with the bonnet to have a preliminary look and let the engine cool down. Ivor announced that one of the wires from the alternator had come loose and that the battery wasn't getting full charge -"No problem". I got a meal ready while he went off to buy a local map for navigating around Pisa & Florence. Ivor was quite a while because he had such problems trying to find a shop attendant that he was almost tempted to 'borrow' the maps. After the lunch I rest I cleared up while Ivor repaired the wire. Got some petrol from a stupid attendant who managed to spill petrol all over Millie and her hood. Before he quite literally 'filled her up' Ivor took control over the nozzle and the attendant backed away and picked up his newspaper and ~ cigarette from the top of the petrol pump! (Tip 12). I paid quickly and we tore away from the station before the whole place blew up. Ivor was muttering about Italians, Europeans and they want us to join them and let them run things!
Millie was back on full charge and we drove into Pisa at a seemingly very leisurely pace relative to the morning dash. We did well to find our way through the Italian chaos but couldn't find the final sign for 'Le Torre Pedante'. Ivor pulled up beside a bus and 'asked' the driver who told us to follow him -we presume it was on his route! I was really missing not having the language and Ivor teasingly speculated about bringing an Italian with him next year, but I soon put him in his place! The bus driver pointed out the window, we parked on yellow lines (Tip 13) and ran towards the square. It seemed weird to see it in real life. We took the sadly typical tourist 'trick' photo of us holding it up, and meandered our way back to Millie through the market stalls stopping to buy a few 'leaning tower' souvenirs. "Been there, done that", now to Florence. It was 2.45pm.
Florence (Firenza) was about 40 miles away but we got on the wrong road out of Pisa, very poor signposting, but soon after we got onto the main road and up to cruising speed the mystery 'electric bug' struck again. The morning had gone so well, and Ivor had 'promised' that it wouldn't happen again. Waited 10 minutes in the shade of a tree beside the road and off again. We aimed for the centre of town near where most of the 'green areas' were (I gave our map to friends who went to Florence on their honeymoon a few weeks after we returned so I can't recall where we actually went). I took a few minutes to write some cards while Ivor rested, then we went to a park for a walk but were gesticulated out by an angry park-keeper who pointed to an old sign (half the painted figures had worn off) leaning on a bush. The park closes at 4.30pm and it was now 4.25. Silly us, we should have known it was 'closed' despite the double gates being wide open!
Off in search of the fabulous piazzas and famous ice-creams. Picture of Millie and I outside Gianni Versace's and we hit the road home. Another crazy day on tour with Ivor -and we weren't home yet. We had only spent c. 3 hours in Florence, not nearly enough but we had to leave. Navigating our way out was hectic but Ivor found it quite easy to cross lanes as we seemed to be allowed a bit more room to manoeuvre than the locals.
As usual it was my job to acknowledge the friendly beeps, hoots, and whistles as Ivor, in 'ultra swivel-head' mode, made sure we got safely through the mayhem that is Italian traffic. By 10pm (we had got out of Florence by now!) we were both getting tired and we were looking out for signs for Monaco, Nice or somewhere to indicate that we were approaching 'home'. Progress had obviously not been as fast as on the way down because it was now night-time but because it was cool Millie was running fine so no worries there. Genoa was the last Italian place we both recognised and rather than end up in the North of the Italian Alps we agreed to pull off, besides we had to get more fuel (Ivor was never going to run out of fuel again).
Horror!, as we slowed down in the Genoa traffic she started acting up again presumably because of no 'airflow' and we pulled off the road. We must have been in a 'good' part of town considering the number of glamorous 'ladies' that were hangin g around. Restarted after a few minutes, fill of petrol and back onto the motorway. Past Monaco, through Nice -it was great to be back. Slowed down again for speed limits etc, and unbelievably she started spluttering again, finally cutting out literally around the corner from the campsite. We almost cried in disbelief -up with the bonnet again. Two rough, suspicious looking French guys stopped and offered help. We were okay, and Ivor thanked them but the 'suspicious' car drove to and fro a few times. After the seemingly umpteenth time she started and we drove the remaining 200 yds.
What a day, we crawled into the tent and fell asleep.
Day 13. Wednesday 12th - Rest & Repairs
After the 'traumatic' end to yesterday we had a long lie in. We hadn't realised how hard we had pushed ourselves up until now, especially Ivor who had done all the driving and repairs. I even feel exhausted thinking and writing about it now! I could see that Ivor was concerned about the gremlin -after all we had to get back to Calais somehow! During breakfast he was continuously looking over at Millie and I knew he would come up with a solution. Ivor : The ~ temperature had never gone above 100 degrees and so it was not the 'usual' overheating problem. It could only be 'extreme' heat I electric related so therefore more under-bonnet ventilation was needed. Plenty of air could get in, it was just that it wasn't efficient enough. I took the hinges off the bonnet, made holes through the bottom lip directly under the original holes and re-fitted the hinges 'upside down' in the new holes (only 1 bolt each).
With the bonnet re-fitted this raised the bonnet and left a c. YO" gap between the bonnet and the bulkhead and therefore all the air coming through the front could 'wash over' the engine and electrics, exit through the new gap and go up over the windscreen. It didn't work out quite as easy as that, but working with only a screwdriver (Tip 14) and employing the usual stock of well used expletives I eventually got there. It seemed very logical, was my best shot and it would have to do -fingers crossed. Even when parked, with the greater slope on the bonnet, at the gap I could even feel the hot airflow from the engine bay. It was working already -and we hadn't even moved! Afternoon at the pool, tea and then champagne on beach that evening. With the gremlin 'exorcised', today had been a good day.
Day 14. Thursday 13th - St. Tropez
Plan was to start early, book the restaurant in Cannes on the way through, see the Riviera, St Maxime, St Tropez etc and return for the meal. I packed a black outfit which had been brought specially in anticipation of a 'glamorous' event. Ivor said the white outfit I was wearing would be fine, but I wanted to change later and do it in style. One simply couldn't arrive and let Millie down by not being suitably dressed. "Click" -the battery was flat because Millie hadn't been given her daily re-charging run. No problem -use the reserve battery -churn, churn, cough -please start, pleeeese -bugger, the reserve battery had also been used once too often without recharging. (Ivor: The terminals were different otherwise we would have alternated the battery in Millie). Waited for a while and tried again -no go. The neighbouring Italians helped with a jump start and we were off but behind schedule.
Got to Cannes and we pulled up outside La Comptiere de La Mer to book a table for that evening. Ivor was concerned about getting parking when we returned so I was to ask. When the manager saw Ivor in Millie outside he wondered was that my car and before I could ask about parking he offered to reserve a place for Millie directly outside the restaurant! I walked out of the place feeling like royalty (a far cry from the state we would return in!) Thrilled with Millie's influence, we left Cannes on a high only to hit solid traffic all the way.
It was another very hot day and the sea haze was destroying the views. Ivor was (pretending to be) confident that his bonnet modifications were going to work - the trouble was that the theory relied on the car being in motion!; but Ivor said that the engine fan 'should' be sufficient. We stopped at a huge Geant hypermarket - delicious food everywhere. Bought wine, disposable cameras, wine for the Italians who helped us, more wine for us, salmon mousse, olives, orange juice etc. and more wine. My sunburn was quite the centre of attention and more than one man commented on it; .1 can feel the heat from here" etc. There were also offers to rub suncream on me, honestly, these French, they would try anything! ~ -As we stopped at a roundabout on the exit of town Millie suddenly jerked violently forward and there was a crunching sound as if she had leapt into gear and the axle had fallen off! I really thought something terminal had happened her, especially when Ivor baled out hurriedly only for him to rush to the back of the car and challenge a very dishevelled (and scared!) French boy who had run his scooter up over the back of the car. Ivor (bad cop) examined the bent bumper and the scuffed rear wing and was threatening Gendarme etc. I (good cop) helped negotiate a Ffr150 payment as compensation. Horns were beeping somewhere further down the queue so, after he paid up, we pulled off to one side and helped him straighten his handlebar. After he was gone we straightened the bumper and Ivor told me he would 'T -cut' the 'scratches' and that she would look brand new tomorrow. A sure testimony to the strength of the car and panels.
Back on the road again, chuckling at the 'profit'. St Aygulf -very hot, fed up of traffic so we took a lunch break in a shaded side road and checked the timings; we would not have long in St Tropez. St Maxime at last, but another traffic jam into St Tropez! The rear passengers of the car in front took pictures of Millie and I took one back of them. At this stage we calculated that we had only max. 1 hour in St Tropez. Quick tour of the marinas, street paintings, shops etc., usual photographs and we raced out of St. Tropez and into another traffic jam. We were going to be late AND lose our parking space. At St. Maxime Ivor decided on the longer way back using the Autoroute. This was the first time to use them and we weren't fully loaded with all the baggage. This was serious, scary motoring although by this stage I had confidence in Ivor. He was totally focused and I took the opportunity to tidy myself up a bit and put on some make-up. There were (encouraging?) toots from the locals as we shot past them (Note 4). We even got a 'thumbs up' from a guy in the passenger seat of a Porsche Boxster as he passed us! We bet he was jealous, they weren't driving a Merlin and we were -we had the only one on the Riviera and Boxsters were cheap at 1 p a dozen!, not the thing to be seen in if you wanted any real street cred.
We only had a bad 'tourist guide' street map and we got lost in the Cannes' one way streets. We were 3;4 hour late. They ~ kept space with chairs but they were now surrounded by scooters. We both had black faces and my white dress was all grubby (however, judging by the shops, dark grey was the 'in' colour) The waiters were very pleasant and commiserated with our troubles -and wondered where the car was! It was a good meal, humorous waiters -when Ivor enquired if the beef was "Boeuf Anglais" (British Beef), yes it was, we all joked a bit after we ordered it and the waiter left waving his arms in the air, shaking his head and making strange 'moo-ing' noises much to the amusement I alarm of other patrons. Le Comptiere de La Mer is friendly, relaxed with good food and we will definitely go there again. We enjoyed another bit of a walk around and then back to the. campsite feeling quite exhausted after a very mixed day.
Day 15. Friday 14th - The Dash North
Why was I glad this was not Friday 13th? I paid the bill and said "Goodbye"s to the office staff and gave the Italians the wine (for helping us yesterday) while Ivor packed up, checked Millie and polished away the scratches. Although we had a long way to go we were quite leisurely, relative to previous days at any rate. It seemed unbelievable that we were actually on our way home. I didn't want the adventure to end, but then there was a lot of road between here and Calais. Paris for nightfall, almost 600 miles -were we, and Millie, up to it? Because of the distance I time aspect we decided to take the motorways, which Ivor promised had their scenic parts, so it was the A8 Autoroute to Aix-en-Provence, the A7 to Lyon and A6 to Paris -8, 7 ,6 rather like a countdown. It was after 10 before we left Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage, but there were no real deadlines today.
The original plan (we had 'lost' 5 days) was to have travelled leisurely 'clockwise' along the Mediterranean coast, foothills of the Pyrennes and Atlantic coast, arriving Brittany (and KeraofD for the last few days. It had been a good ~! The whole trip was blissfully uneventful with only fuel and food stops. Roxette was playing for the umpteenth time as we had not managed to make the touring 'French / Continental' tape we had promised ourselves (Celine Dion etc). The afternoon got noticeably cooler the further north we got. Near Auxerre we stopped to book accommodation and the French Tourist Board were very helpful and we got a Climat Hotel in Fonteinbleu. Climat provide a very good value, basic room etc.
We were a bit behind schedule because we were fully loaded, started a bit late etc. It was getting dark mainly because of the threatening black/purple/grey clouds that had gathered. It was after 9pm with about 70 miles to go. I could see that Ivor was tired but he said it should only take 1'!2 hours. Up with the hood, check the load, a few miles further and the heavens opened. Neither of us had seen such a deluge - no worries about heat, Millie was in danger of drowning this time! It was very slow progress behind a long procession of cars but the heater worked well and we were nice and cosy.
When we eventually got to Fontainbleu we got lost for about '!2 hour before we found the hotel and we got soaked between getting out of her and into the hotel. We were like two drowned rats at reception -it was precisely 00.35, I remember it well. Ivor was almost asleep before we got out of the lift! Day 16. Saturday 15th -The Final Lea Leisurely breakfast, loads of coffee and croissants. Ivor switched the bonnet back and off towardsParis. We saw the Eiffel Tower -from the Autoroute! We should have been leaving Kergoff instead of Fontainbleu, but there is always this year (1999) -"Sorry we didn't make if. Although almost half the holiday was taken up (not ruined) by the trials and tribulations in getting to the Cote d'Azur, looking back on it, it was actually good fun.
Near Arras we visited a War Cemetery. Ivor likes military history and both our families had relatives who fought in both wars. It is always a sombre occasion and we both signed the memorial book (Note 5). Arrived in Calais, unfortunately no room to fit cases of cheap wine, so went to the port and tried to get an earlier sailing. 3 attempts were met with the "Gallic shrug" of the shoulders -seemingly there were no standby queues for the Hovercraft (definitely no organisation!) On returning from the 3rd attempt, guess what, Ivor was under the bonnet of a Land Rover Discovery helping to fix a leaking hose! We finished up the remaining food, bread, brie and raspberry jam! Very nice actually, almost 'Deep fried Brie with Cranberry sauce" Ivor took a bit more care 1 getting on the hovercraft this time!
When we got off at Dover we had very mixed feelings, partly sad that it was effectively all over and partly triumphant 'all conquering heroes', eg. Camel Trophy, Paris Dakar. Millie was no longer a "Petite Voiture", she had proved herself all heart and very reliable -the petrol and exhaust had been Ivor's fault, and after the extra bonnet ventilation she had never missed a beat. We found a place in Dover to stay the night -and slept soundly. Day 17. Sunday 16th -The End (Ivor ) The rest is boring -drove Ruth to Gatwick kissed our "Goodbyes" and I tore up the motorways heading for Liverpool and the Seacat sailing home. Just before I left the M6 for Liverpool, while I was doing a steady 55 mph in the inside lane, reflecting on the events of the epic 'holiday', a truck literally blasted past and the plastic window ripped / shattered and smacked me across the face! There had been a small, almost fist-sized, hole with cracked edges in the driver's 'window' when I bought her and I enlarged it a bit, cutting away the cracked parts, to make a handy aperture for handing out ferry tickets. The window was now useless anyway so I 'broke' (the plastic was quite brittle) it back further and folded it behind me. That is why Paul now has an 'unbreakable' perspex window on the driver's side. I cut a piece to size, drilled holes c. 1" apart the whole way around and hand-sewed it in with heavy nylon carpet thread. The car will get blown over before that breaks!
EPILOGUE -Notes (Millie is now owned by Paul in Manchester -"Treat her well -she used to be mine")
Note 1 -Ivor, having been a rally navigator prides himself on accuracy etc., told me after our return that on another map it ~ named Chalons-sur-Marne -so Chalons is 'in the country' ~ 'on the Marne'.
Note 2 -(Ruth) One night during Christmas I was out with work colleagues and a stranger asked me "How did the rest of the holiday go, and how was the car?" It turned out to be the Dublin girl from La Vieille Ferme! I hadn't recognise her in her nightclub gear.
Note 3 -Took 2" off. An angle grinder would have been very handy, but I had to make do with the junior hacksaw. It took a lot of perseverance and perspiration!
Note 4 -Ivor told me later that we didn't quite hit the 'ton', but with the dodgy back tyre, me in the car (he never drives dangerously flat out with passengers!) and sense prevailing, he did not want to overdo anything because of the fatal consequences!
Note 5 -(Ruth) I work in Dublin and on my first visit home to Limerick after the holiday I was approached by parishioners "We see you were in Flanders last week" (Ivor : NB. Flanders is actually more to the North, in Belgium) I was totally surprised as to how many people seemed to know about my holiday They had visited the very same cemetery a few days later and had seen my name and dedication in the book!
TIPS -Continued from Part 1
Tip 9 A 2nd map would have been handy, but we were travelling light. After the succession of roundabouts I lost my sense of direction -a compass might have been useful! (Local maps are always best, ie. ones bought,in France)
Tip 10 The 12 volt 'cool box' was worth its weight in gold. Being able to have a cool soft drink (at supermarket, not Black Market prices) at a moments notice was especially valuable while on the move (or stuck in traffic jams).
Tip 11 If there are Italians ahead of you in a queue, forget it!
Tip 12 Always fill the petrol tank yourself, and keep an extinguisher handy (for spraying at dozy, dangerous attendants).
Tip 13 When in Italy, do as the locals do!!
Tip 14 ALWAYS bring a screwdriver, even if it means leaving the hammer behind.
THE END !!! (we got there -phew!) Didn't realise we went through so much!!