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Heading to Bulgaria via Italy

Road tripping

View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

So the plan was to rest my back a little, go to Bulgaria and check out how finished the ski apartment I am in the process of buying in the resort of Bansko was. So my predicament, it was Saturday in Chamonix and my heater had packed in the night before, it was baltic in Chamonix.... My flight to Sofia, Bulgaria wasn't until the Tuesday morning, so do I stick around twiddling my thumbs in the freezing cold or do I go on a road trip?

The road trip won hands down. I set off from Chamonix about 18:00 and decided to take the route through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, mainly because with my season pass the toll for going though the tunnel is just 11 euros! After I queued for nearly two hours I eventually reached the toll booths, when I gave the guy my season pass he looked puzzled and mumbled something about needing a different ticket! Basically I was meant to get my cheaper ticket in Chamonix village, as I handed over 44 euros, that's 44 pounds for those of you that do not keep up to date on exactly how poor the euro it to the pound at the moment. I can honestly say I think I actually wept as I gave over the money.

The tunnel itself is actually very impressive at 11.6 km long, they even gave me a free DVD about how it was built, though I would have preferred a few quid off the ticket price if I am honest! One strange thing was inside the tunnel it was actually really really warm and all the ice and snow that was on Bertha started melting, this started me thinking and more to the point hoping that the tunnel would melt the frozen diesel (if that's what the problem is), a magic tunnel in my books! On existing the tunnel I stopped at my earliest convieance to see if the heater would fire up, she did!! All of a sudden that 44 euros seemed like money well spent, after all I was heading to Milan and I was hoping for it to be a little warmer, but I was pretty sure that whilst Milan enjoys great summer months they also enjoy a nice cold winter!

I took the opportunity of stopping to fill up the mini hot water bottle that my friends Laura & Kelly bought me as a travel present!! At the time I said the obvious and gestured at its nice fit down my trouser front, as it happens it was a perfect fit for the back of my trousers, just where I had the back pain. So thanks girls, top present! I continued driving and eventually pitched up in what seemed like a quiet housing estate in, no sooner had my head hit the pillow I heard a cockrill doing what they do best, this followed by what seem to be a crescendo of cocka doodle do's, been the ever optimist I thought that they might calm down..... I think it was 5:30 am when I moved Bertha elsewhere!! I also tried to turn the heater on, unfortunately it had stopped working AGAIN!!

Got up in the morning and had a drive around, as it happens I had camped up directly next to the San Siro stadium. Parked up and got the metro to Duomo to see the Milan Cathedral;

As nice as Milan is, with its great winters and great summers there didn't seem to be too much to do, except the odd museum and picture gallery and I certainly wasn't in the mood for traipsing round museums on my own! So Italy in general seems a really nice place, my only problems so far was that not many of them spoke a word of the queens English! I know many of you will think, well to be fair I was in their country and they shouldn't have to and I would agree with you. My comment is mealy I don't know how people can get through life without having at least a basic concept of the English language, its pretty much everywhere you look, films, music!

One other comment about the Italian people is that I found them terrible and very aggressive drivers who don't even know the meaning of a red light. Whilst on the Italian traffic light system, I would love to know what an eternal flashing amber light was? After sitting at one for a about 5 minutes any further lights such as these I interpreted as pretty much green for go!!

When I got to Milan from what other people have said I expected it to be wall to wall, hot chicks!! Now lets just say I was very disappointed I would definitely say with all their gold bling, shiny puffa jackets and words like GUESS plastered all over them. There are more hot women in the White Rose Centre in Leeds per square meter than there are in Milan! I am pretty sure it was my friend Gunny that gave me tip about the women been hot... Maybe that explains a lot... :-)

Though I must admit I didn't see a man that wasn't sporting a very nice pair of leather shoes! So they have got some things right!

Now I don't think I have many Italian friends or friends with Italian blood and I am generalising and don't mean to cause offence but... I found most Italians very offensive and not polite whatsoever, they certainly don't posses any queueing skills! Saying that maybe that's just my English perspective?

Later that afternoon I got back to the Van and tried the heater again, still no joy! The thought of spending the next few hours in the van without any heating didn't fill me with confidence, so I decided to hit the road again!! With the engine running and blowers blowing Bertha was not such a cold place to be. Next port of call Lake Garda.

Rolled into Garda late that evening, it has been some of the worst conditions I have driven in before, in terms of fog! Pitched up for the night and when I opened the curtains that morning had a pleasant surprise in that it was a glorious day!

Popped into the tourist information and got some ideas of things to do around Lake Garda, a very polite (so they do exist) lady behind the desk gave me some good ideas and I headed up to Malcesine a bit further up the lake. Along the way some of the scenery was breath taking;

The idea behind driving to Malcesine was to go up the cable car to the top of the mountain there call Monte Baldo, up on the top people were skiing and snowboarding and there were some great views of Lake Garda to be had;

In general I found Lake Garda to be a really nice picturesque place and I am pretty sure I only scratched the surface. I expected it to be very much like our own lake district but in reality it was a cross between the lakes and Blackpool. Lake Garda had it quaint little villages and breath taking views;

But it also has Movieland Studios, Sealife World and even their very own type of Tuk Tuk. The theme parks both had their fair share of high octane roller coasters and various other rides!! Now I would have never associated white knuckle rides with somewhere like Lake Garda! I think I was also pretty lucky in that I was there during their winter months and is had been a really nice day, I can imagine in Summer the place would be packed with tourists it might take the appeal off the place for me slightly!

Drove back to Milan that evening to be nearer the airport, as I got my head down for the night I heard some rain or thought I heard some leaves rubbing against the van roof, when I awoke in the morning to get ready for my flight You can imagine how surprised I was to see this;

About 4 inches of snow had fallen and I had to get to the airport, luckily Big Bertha made it without me having to put my snow chains on. When I got to the airport the plane was delayed for an hour, I thought not bad considering! At 17:30 we eventually got off the ground, my flight was due to set off at 11:05!!!! Communication and availability of basic food and water in the airport was non existent and we had no indication of what was happening, watch this space for a copy of the complaint email to Stelios Haji-Ioannou of Easyjet!! In checking the correct spelling of his name and I have also found out that he has now been made a sir..... What the f*ck is the world coming to?? Sorry for the bad language Mum!

Posted by machine 08:14 Archived in Italy Tagged automotive Comments (2)

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)

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