In part 1 we looked at the background to our trip plus the first 4 days. There was much more to come in the next few days.
We left the hotel and headed back to the petrol station, now open , and success, we had a full tank again.
Off we went into the Italian Alps.
The scenery was stunning, every turn in the road opened up another incredible vista of snow capped mountains, deep green valleys and views into the distance.
At times we took our time, taking it all in as locals sped past us, usually on blind bends. Driving was a challenge as your eyes drifted to another incredible view only to be pulled back as a massive ditch at the side of the road threatened to swallow the car whole.
Then there was play time. We had a quick car. We had mountain roads. No-one seemed to be taking any notice of the speed limits, so neither did we. There is nothing quite so exciting and fun as driving fast on twisting roads (don’t speed folks it’s not big or clever).
We flew around a tight bend when suddenly, there was a policeman standing in the middle of the road. Hand in the air, signalling us to stop.
We pulled over into a large area no doubt used more during tourist season and for lorry drivers to rest up. It reminded me of that scene from the original The Italian Job film, where the mafia stop the English criminals and rive their cars off the road.
We made ourselves ready for a telling off and a speeding fine, how much Lira did we have left?
As I was looking at our small pile of cash, Dave, back in the driving seat, nudged me and said “whatever they tell you to do, just do it.”
I looked at his serious face and then back towards the police car. Another policeman was walking towards us, machine gun in hand, nothing too strange about that in Italy, cocking and pointing it at us, which was different.
I looked at the first policeman who was by now walking toward my car window, pistol in hand, pointing directly at me. This was certainly new. This was certainly nerve-wracking.
I looked at Dave again. I don’t think I had ever seen him look that concerned before.
I wound the window down and tried my best to smile and say hello.
He looked at me. He looked in the car. He looked at Dave. He frowned. He spoke to me “Are you English?”
Thoughts raced through my mind. Surely the Italians don’t hate the English. Is my nationality going to cause us issues?
I looked at him and said “Yes”.
He smiled “Ah no problem, drive on” and walked away.
We have no real idea why they stopped us especially as they were not interested once they realised we were English.
We were heading toward the Mont Blanc tunnel and the border with France.
Was this a smuggling route?
We drove on, not quite so fast as before. We also had a plan, Switzerland and Geneva was our stop for the night.
The Mont Blanc tunnel itself, is long, incredibly long. More than 11.5 km under the tallest mountain in Europe. It was a shock to the system, from incredible views to artificial light and seemingly never ending walls and ceiling. The relief when we came back into daylight was real.
We drove through more stunning scenery as we drove north until we crossed the border into Switzerland and were soon in Geneva looking for somewhere to stay for the night.
We were both tired and as we passed the Hilton Dave said “Right that will do”.
“The Hilton” I said “I can’t afford that.”
“On me” he said.
Fair enough the Hilton it was.
We booked in and went in search of food and something to do for the night. The evening was so memorable all I can remember is finding somewhere that has the Monaco Grand Prix video game and us virtually racing around the streets we had visited the day before.
We spent the morning walking around the streets of Geneva.
Again it seemed to make no impression on me whatsoever.
All I remember is the twisted cannon.
We jumped back in the car and were soon cruising down the road looking out over the wonderful Lac Leman toward our next stop, Montreux.
I knew nothing about Montreux apart from the annual Rock Festival so it was a pleasant surprise once we arrived.
Incredibly picturesque, looking out over the lake and surrounded by the Alps, we sat in a lakeside cafe and ate lunch.
As were eating Dave said “Have you ever been to Amsterdam?”
“No” I replied
“Do you fancy it then, we could get there for tonight?”
“It’s got to be a long way” I said.
“It’ll be fine” he said. So we paid our bill and at 12.30 we headed off to Amsterdam which according to Google Maps is 921 km and 9 and a half hours away. Of course we didn’t have google maps or a Sat Nav and were armed with our AA map of Europe.
Now I don’t remember our exact route. But I do remember driving down a German Autobahn, going through Luxembourg and into Belgium.
Looking at the map now it looks as if our map reading was awful as it is a mad route to take. I’m guessing that we left Montreux and headed toward Bern and then Basel before crossing into Germany toward Offenberg. At that point we must have headed toward Strasbourg and then North to Luxembourg.
The reason I remember so vividly our trip in Germany was our car crisis.
Just before we left England Dave had taken the car to be serviced at a dealership in Sheffield, and to fix a cooling problem. All fixed and ready to travel we set off.
I was trying to sleep on the back seat while Dave was driving along the German autobahn. No speed limit so it was time to open her up and he was soon hitting more than 200 kph (130 mph). Big German cars were flying past us as if we were standing still.
Then an anguished statement from the driving seat “Wake up, we’re on fire”.
Some words get your attention.
Fire is one of those.
I sat up and saw clouds of smoke billowing from under the bonnet.
Dave was slowing down and pulling over as quickly as he could. We came to a stop, got out, looked at each other and carefully opened the bonnet to see what was going on.
We looked at the car.
We looked at each other.
We had few engine skills between us.
Once the car had cooled Dave started searching around the engine bay in the hope of finding some clue as to what was going on. Suddenly he pulled a wire out that obviously should have been connected to something. Then out came its mate, he plugged them in and the turbo fan immediately started.
We had driven more than 2,250 km (1,400 miles) without a turbo fan. It was a miracle the engine had survived this long. The turbo fan running constantly was the issue that had sent it to be fixed. All they had done was unplug it.
Once the car had completely cooled down we set off again. Through trial and error we found the perfect speed where the car did not over heat again. 90 kph (56 mph) was the answer. On an autobahn! We were pissing everyone off. Lorries were passing us as if we were standing still. The big Mercedes saloons would appear and disappear in seconds.
We carried on and saw a sign for a service station. It was over the border but we need to get fluid back in the car.
We took the turn and carefully drove, keeping our speed constant. The border approached, there was a queue. Damn.
We sat in the car and watched the temperature rise. We turned the engine off which helped. But then we needed to move forward again and headed to the red line again. We crept toward the border, balancing the rising temperature as we went.
We made it across, and there was a beautiful sight, a service stop with a space right in front of us. We parked, we ran in the shop, we poured litres of liquid into the car. Relief.
We regrouped and waited for the engine to fully cool. The fan was still going at full speed and we knew we would need to move soon before it drained the battery.
Off we went, heading north again. We would make Amsterdam.
We entered Luxembourg, another beautiful country and then we were out again.
That was the quickest country of the trip.
We arrived in Belgium. The heavens opened. We had seen nothing but sun all week.
We drove through Belgium as the wind and rain battered the car. It rained and rained and rained some more.
Then we saw the border to the Netherlands, we were nearly there. To welcome us properly it stopped raining.
Not long after we drove into Amsterdam, we found a parking space really quickly in the centre. As Dave parked the clock struck 10pm and I watched the Bureau de Change in front of us close. We had no Guilder but no problem, we would just change some in the hotel.
Not long after we drove into Amsterdam, we found a parking space really quickly in the centre.
As Dave parked the car, the clock struck 10pm and I watched the Bureau de Change in front of us close. We had no Guilder but no problem, we would just change some in the hotel.
The first hotel we saw was a Hilton. Deja vu. We walked in and asked for a room.
“Sorry we are full” said the receptionist.
“Any idea where we can get a room?” I asked
“It is Saturday night, Amsterdam is full” she replied.
“Full? You mean there is nowhere we can get a room for the night?”
“Not in the centre. There is a hotel next to the main road just outside of town”.
We remembered the place. To describe it as just outside of town was being generous. It felt like it was half way back to Belgium.
“OK” I said, “can you just change us some money please”
“I am really sorry” she replied “but I can only change for residents”
Already knowing the answer I asked “is there somewhere we can change money”
“No they will have all closed at 10pm”
We had traveled half way across Europe, survived car troubles and now we were in our destination with no local currency. We had pounds, French Franc, Italian Lira, Swiss Franc and even some Deutsche Mark but no Guilder.
We stood outside the hotel and looked at each other. There was nothing we could do to fix the issue so we went for a walk. You never know we might find somewhere to stay or change money as we went.
We walked around the streets of Amsterdam. One of the best nights out in Europe, not that we would know as all we could do was walk and watch other people enjoy themselves in the bars and cafes.
We walked around the red light district, an experience in itself, we crossed canals, we walked through clouds of marijuana smoke.
After a couple of hours we headed back to the car.
We jumped in the car and decided to head back towards France so that we were closer to our morning ferry back to the UK.
We crossed the border back into Belgium. It was raining.
In the early hours we got to Ostend. We parked the car, put our seats back and grabbed a couple of hours sleep. We could have been sleeping in the Hilton, instead it was a car seat.
I woke up just after dawn, rubbed my eyes and took in the scene.
I could see the sea, it was very rough, the wind was still blowing and the rain, although it had eased, was still coming down.
Looked like we had a fun ferry journey coming up.
Once Dave woke, we had a stretch and the set off to Calais and our ferry back to England.
The rain stopped as we left Belgium. The sea was much calmer, the rain had gone and the sun was out.
Belgium seemed to hate us.
We landed back at Dover and sat in the queue for customs. We had rested and ate on the ferry so felt refreshed and ready for the drive home. We edged toward the front of the queue. We watched a car ahead get pulled over and customs started removing everything as they did a through search. Bad luck people.
It was our turn. The customs officer looked at us. Two men in their twenties, in a fast car, unshaven, returning from Europe. You could almost see the glee in his eyes.
“When the car in front moves I need you to pull over into that space”. He pointed directly behind the car already being searched, the spare tyre was on the floor as the customs officer seemed to disappear into the car as he continued his search.
“Have you got your passports and car documents?”
We passed them over, resigned to the car being pulled apart as they looked for non-existent contraband.
“Is this a company car?” he said.
“Yes” replied Dave
He lent through the car window and passed the documents back to us “No problem sir, you can carry on. Have a safe journey.”
Thank goodness for that. It was off home for us after all.
Two weeks later
Dave had taken the car back to the garage and gave them a telling off over their inability to fix the car properly. They apologised and had the car back to fix the problem.
We drove back to Sheffield to collect the car once it was fixed. We went in a borrowed car, I was to drive his back to Wolverhampton to swap cars back before we were to set off on a trip back to Europe on a sports tour. Time was short.
The road from Sheffield to Wolverhampton took us through the Peak District. Dave worked in Sheffield and so knew the roads well. I did not, so was following him. He set off through the hills. He was moving some.
I followed as best as I could on the unfamiliar roads. Then, just outside of Leek, the car over-heated. Smoke was bellowing out of the bonnet.
I parked up at the side of the road and waited for the engine to cool. I opened the bonnet. I picked up the turbo fan connector and plugged it back in. They had done the same again, they had just disconnected the fan.
I drove on, knowing that my best bet was keeping a steady speed. I could make it.
I got to the motorway and all was good, I could get to Wolverhampton by nursing the car home without losing too much time. It was just before Easter, the roads were busy and then, a couple of miles before my junction, the traffic came to a standstill. The engine started to overheat. This was going to take a while and could get messy.
I made a quick decision and jumped onto the hard shoulder. I kept driving, I knew I shouldn’t be doing this and kept my head down, but it was the only way to get the car back and for us to get to the mini bus on time.
I managed to get off the motorway without getting arrested but the car was still struggling. I knew someone who lived on a caravan park nearby. If she is in, she would be able to help.
I pulled up and knocked on the door. No answer. The tv was on though so I knocked again. Still no answer. I tried the door, it was open. I shouted for her, no answer. I went in and filled a bottle with water.
I sorted the car out and put her water jug back where I found it. Still no sign of her. I closed the door and off I went. I have no idea if she ever knew I visited that day, I had forgotten all about it by the next time I saw her.
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