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My journey to France and the first week...

The big test of Bertha's and the Machines stamina!!

snow -10 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

Well it was 10:00 on Boxing Day I set off from Leeds after an emotional good bye from my family (which includes Mr Jinks)! Big Bertha had half a tank of fuel (great planning on my part) and was raring to go! The first thing to go wrong was the Tom Tom was not working, whilst this was not going to cause me too much of a problem getting to Dover it was the other side I was worried about! Luckily it was just a flat battery and after a quick charge, panic over.

I had to be in Dover for about 15:15 which gave me a good 5 or so hours to get my ferry in time... All was going OK and was making good time after just one scheduled fuel stop until I hit the dreaded M25, seems Boxing Day was probably not going to be the quiet travelling day I thought it was going to be. Now maths has never been my strong point, I calculated that Dover was 423 kilometres and the van does on average about 80 km (though the trusty Tom Tom reckons the speedo is about 5 km out so that would make my average speed about 75 km). I can honestly say Bertha is not exactly a Porsche Cheyenne, I can count on one hand the number of vehicles I have had to overtake and I am writing this blog two weeks after my departure!! So going on my calculations I should get to Dover in just over 5 hours... I certainly wasn't leaving much room for margin of error, well I think we all know where this is going, yes I missed my ferry!! Note to captains log: Must plan travelling times better! I turned up at the port just as my 15:55 ferry was pulling away into the distance, luckily they got me on the next one 50 minutes later and it only cost an extra tenner!

Now its worth noting at this point that on Christmas Eve I hurt my back trying one of my audacious strictly come dancing manoeuvres on one of the ladies frequenting the Devon public house that evening! Now come Christmas day I could hardly walk but I just battled on hoping that it would miraculously sort its self out in a couple of days and I would be flying down the mountain in no time... What can I say forever the optimist!

So when the boat docked I jumped in Bertha and followed the trail of camper vans out of Calais. Seems that the Tom Tom knew exactly where we were and off we went, obviously on the right hand side of the road. For those of you that know me I have got history on this!! As I am a tight Yorkshire man and mainly because Bertha cannot handle the high speed life of the French toll roads I decided to take the slightly longer and toll deficient route through France - Belgium - Luxemburg - France and by the end of the first day I was well over half way of the 1386 km journey. I pitched up the camper for the night in a quiet little super market carpark. That was until they had all their post Christmas deliveries early that Saturday morning, note to the captains log: Must choose camping locations more wisely!

Now my back was still troubling me a little bit so rather than busting a gut getting to Chamonix in two days I thought I would do the next couple of sections of the Journey over two days. That afternoon I had a couple of hours in Luxemburg and then the rest of the afternoon stopping off at various shops for snow chains and believe it or not a tea towel.

France has left a couple of tea towel related of questions still unanswered for me, that being 'What the hell do the French call tea towels and for that matter do they even have them? and if they don't have them how do they dry their pots??' I know its mind blowing!! Answers on a post card or email please Jo!

Wanting to get a good nights sleep I managed to find a library car park, surely nobody will be going to a library in France before 9:00 on the Sunday after Xmas?? My suspicions were correct!!! Maybe I am learning fast?

Got going nice and early, had just over 300 km to go and straight away the roads seemed to be getting steeper and steeper. Before I new it I was seeing mountains and vineyards, something caught my eye as it took off next to the van. It was only a eagle and a pretty big one too, it was literally flying next to Bertha before it probably thought better of ruining its street cred!

I gradually got higher and higher, the higher I got the more snow was about, at one stage I actually went though the ski resort of Pontarlier. Pontarlier is not only of France's highest cities at 850 meters but seems is also the capital of that dirty drink absinthe!

I rolled into Chamonix in the afternoon with plenty of time to get a well deserved and well over due may I add shower, sauna, swim & another shower, in that order I may add! It should be noted that in France they actually make you wear speedos, now speedos in general have never really done it for me but a pair two sizes too small bought in a mad rush in some French equivalent of Matalan certainly doesn't leave a lot to the imagination.. I will leave that one there or maybe I will post up a picture if there is enough demand for it? Here is one of Bertha parked up in Chamonix for the moment;

Now for a bit about camper life, so far so good, managed to get pretty good nights sleep and had been keeping warm. When I got out of the sports center it was -10!! In the van my fingers were freezing and I could see my own breath... things were not looking promising.. I put on the heating and went for a burger and pint, the food and drink came to a grand total of 18 euros, in our money that basically now equates to 18 quid!! Seems I was going to have to get even more used to loosening those pants every time I went to pay for something in France.

When I eventually got back to the van expecting to be putting my 4 layers on for the night I was pleasantly surprised to find it was like sauna, how many more tricks does Bertha have up her sleeve?

Had a pretty good nights sleep except what looked like some pissed up Albanian (no it wasn't Milly either) knocking on my back door, I pulled back the curtains and he was stood there swaying and mumbling! I think he was just genuinely confused!

The Monday I still decided to take it steady and do the Aiguille De Midi which is the cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, was built in 1955 and held the title of the world's highest cable car for about two decades.

My back then started to feel a bit better so I got out on the mountain for the next few days, including bringing in the New Year riding in 30 cm of fresh powder on a blue bird new years day. Days don't really get much better that that!! Obviously the only thing that spoilt it slightly was the mandatory new years eve hangover that was obtained drinking vastly over priced drinks and shots in the La Terrasse bar Chamonix. The French also have a tradition of hitting the streets and letting off fire crackers, some of them pretty big, willy nilly! I am sure that someone would soon put a stop to any sort of tradition like that in England!

I did a few more days up the hill but even though my back was a lot better it wasn't 100%. As I wasn't able to give it my all I wasn't enjoying as much as I usually would. After going to the physio on the Friday decided to rest my back for a few days and go on a road trip to Bansko, Bulgaria via Milan where I would board a flight to Bulgaria. Didn't fancy the 5400 km round trip in Bertha on my own, especially taking into account some of the less that desirable countries you have a to pass through and nearby!

Also at the this point the heater had packed in, on Thursday night a two litre bottle of water that was situated about 1.5 feet next to me froze solid during the night...... Note to captains log: Unknown heater problem, thinking its related to voltage in someway or maybe the diesel has frozen?

Posted by machine 09:30 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Last few weeks and just over three weeks to go..

Bertha goes silent


Well quite a bit has happened over the past few weeks. The last weekend I basically caught what felt like TB and stayed in all weekend and watched TV, in fact to be exact I watched 16 episodes of The IT Crowd and about 6 films between eating copious amount of soup and Lemsip.... The makings of an award winning blog posting I think not!!

Anyway on the weekend of the 22nd I took big Bertha along with my friend Gavin Longley to North Wales, on the way over my state of the art iPod stereo system basically blew up, before you say anything it was quite loud.... On a unscheduled toilet stop I decided to have a quick look at the wiring and fuses, couldn't see anything drastically wrong so continued with only good conversation and our even better singing voices, there was talk of 'The Cherokees', Gav and I bands reforming.....

By the time we got to our destination we managed to have a couple of beers, it was when I went to the cash point I realised that I had lost my wallet, obviously on the unscheduled toilet stop! Realising there was nothing we could do about it we got our heads down for the night!

Went for a nice walk in the morning and saw some of the Welsh countryside and then drove home!! So the main points here are, Big Bertha got me to Wales and back, the best part of 270 miles. About 170 of those without any music and the fact that I also lost my wallet...

Now after cancelling all my cards on the Sunday I came into work on the Monday to find that a lady called Rachel had phoned from Colwyn Bay police station to tell me that my wallet had been handed in! Now I don't know about you but when things like this happen is really does restore my faith in the world.

I promptly phoned the police lady, who confirmed that my wallet had been handed. I must point out that this lady was very polite and efficient and bent over backwards to try and get the wallet back to me as soon as possible, I must say she also sounded hot :-) She then basically went on to tell me that a guy had handed the wallet in but confessed to taking 20 quid out because he was skint, I was like 'well I guess I would have given him something for handing it in as it wasn't about the money it was more about my driving licenses, gym card etc...', anyway I saw the funny side of it and Rachel said the guy was going to bring the money back in when he got paid! Almost a week later I speak to Rachel and to cut an already long story short, the guy had brought the 20 quid back in. So it seems that my wallet is winging its way back to me as we speak with all its contents... Looks like I will not have to send knee cap finance round to the guy that handed my wallet in and lent 20 quid out of it :-) Seriously I have asked for his address so I will make sure I send him something for been such a good citizen!

I must say that Rachel did all she could and its makes a refreshing change to find someone working in the public sector who does everything within their powers to make the whole process as painless as possible!! After all she could have just said I have to drive to Colwyn Bay and back!! Hats off to you officer!!

Oh one last big bit of news, my Chamonix season pass has arrived so I should be straight on them lifts when I get to the village!! Hopefully midday 27th Dec... Big Bertha permitting!!

One last thing, you will be pleased to know I have now fixed the stereo!! Seems it blew a inline fuse... Anyway I have up-rated it from a 3A to 5A!! I would have gone stir crazy on that journey with any music!! Though if it catches on fire like one of Bowdens motors then I would ask the fire investigators to start there :-)

Posted by machine 13:15 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Season Passed out!!!

Chamonix here I come!!


Well I have finally bitten the bullet and got my season ticket for Chamonix, you get 35% for sorting it out before the 23rd November!! Came to 703 euros plus 10 euros shipping, thats 500 bones well spent in my book!!

It seems I also get free unlimited access to the Verbier ski area where I am having my 30th with the boys and also plenty of other 'freebies', mental note I need to find out what 3 days "decouvertes Haute-Savoie' in other ski areas means!!

The next step is to book my ferry!! I might even be a rebel and do the deed this evening!

Posted by machine 13:16 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Spent the night in Bertha...

Living it up in Huddersfield


I can confirm that on Friday 14th December I spent the night in the van! I pulled in Ramsdens car park at Oakley House, Huddersfield, got a taxi into town to meet the rest of them. Woke up the next morning at 11:30am, I can only assume that the powder hound (still working on the name situation) came into town and picked me up, closed all the curtains and tucked me into my sleeping bag! Or I got absolutely smashed with work and my homing pigeon instincts got me back.. Either way, had a pretty good night’s sleep and she also started first time in the morning. Also far easier, cheaper and quicker that messing around with trains and taxi’s back to leeds!! Two more work do's before I leave, recon I will be getting my moneys worth!

One question has come up though, could I get done for drink driving for just sleeping in the camper??

Anyway the bottom line is she is back in the good books! Roll on boxing day!

Posted by machine 08:17 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

To Castleford and back or not as the case maybe....

Big Bertha lets me down for the first time and hopefully the last!

Sooo, now the van is pretty much ready to go into the mountains I thought I better start taking her out for a few short runs!! Last Thursday I was going for a night of fun in Casvegas to see if I could hurt myself on the toys that they have out!! Managed to fill das bus up with 46 quid’s worth of diesel and set off for the slope! En route my iPod / MP3 sound system seemed to start playing up! Obviously wasn’t too happy about this as its brand new and I was relying on it to keep me sane for my long journey to the Alps / Bulgaria or wherever else I might fancy parking up. Didn’t think much of it at the time, just put it down to my dodgy wiring...

So got to Cas, did the business on the slope for a couple of hours. In fact whilst I am on the subject of Castleford, now I don’t know if this is because I am becoming a grumpy old man nearing 30 or whether I am fully justified in saying that the customer service is abysmal. Last time I got thrown out because I had forgot to bring a jacket and had to hire one at my own cost. After that I sent in a letter of complaint basically saying that I didn’t see what the problem was as I had done this once before and nobody said boo that time!! Anyway for my inconvenience and because I was such a good customer they gave me a 20 pound gift voucher... So after I had queued for the best part of 15 minutes on one of the queues to be told they only take credit cards (no sign alerting me to the fact may I add) at this queue I was disappointed to say the least and obviously gave them a piece of my mind follow by cutting my losses and paying via credit card. The young wee lassy was very apologetic... Maybe another grumpy letter is in order??

So left Chris from work and went to go and start-up big bertha (still not decided on a name yet) only to find she was as dead as a dodo! Not knowing how this could have possibly happened and at 10:00pm on a Thursday evening was more worried about getting home to bed I proceed to ask anyone who walked past if they had any jump leads! Not having much look I decided to cut my losses and try and phone my recovery company. Unfortunately their emergency hotline was closed because they had to evacuate the building... Not what I wanted to hear and as I sit here writing this I can already feel another letter of complaint in the making....
Just about to cut my losses and get my head down in the van, I think the only thing that stopped me doing that was that I didn’t have a tooth brush with me! Then from out of the blue a young lad that I had asked 10 minutes earlier came running back saying that he actually had some!! I very nearly kissed him but he wasn’t my type! A little while later she was ticking over again and I could almost smell my bed! Here she is outside Casvega’s in her non mobile state;


As I set off things started to get dimmer and dimmer on the light front, in the end I just thought balls to it and continued on my journey. By the time I got Big Bertha to her final resting place at my Ma & Pa’s there was virtually just a faint glow from the headlights.. the last 4/5 miles in the pitch black on the motorway was worrying to say the least.

Well the next day I got under the bonnet and managed to find the problem. The alternator belt was looser than a lady of the nights chastity belt! Anyway with the help of my friend Mr Booth we managed to perform a late evening repair and tighten up the two bolts that the ‘mechanics’ had forgotten to tighten up... If I thought it would get me anywhere I would be writing another letter of complaint, don’t think that back street garages are too bothered about them...

So all’s well that ends well and Big Bertha lives to see another day... Though it does pose the question, if she cannot get me to Castleford and back a 12 mile round trip, what are the chances of me doing the 1000’s of miles round Europe...... Only time will tell...

Posted by machine 07:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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