1. Biarritz – Venice
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Tom – We are now on the ferry to Greece from Venice. Petra is feeling slightly sick already and the rest of us are drowsily (Stugeron) lying about reflecting on the last few action packed days.
Having been delayed a week we ended up on Friday morning having almost done everything on Justine’s list, including bombarding our poor neighbour’s letterbox with extra, extra, extra sets of spare keys.
We were just beginning to panic that our passports and visas were not going to arrive before the weekend when Petra suggested checking the post box. Of course they had been there all morning!
It’s strange to do something as mundane as locking your front door knowing you may not be back for such a long time. Everyone bundled into the car as if late for school and off we drove.
I’d tested, re-tested, stroked, oiled and greased Kabylie for the last few months but as we drove out of Biarritz I was acutely aware that statistically this was a seriously unreliable car. Our visa delay had meant that we had just over two weeks to cover 4,174km from Biarritz in S.W France to Trebzon in Eastern Turkey. No small challenge for a nearly 60 year old car, laden to the brink and entirely rebuilt by an amateur. Having most recently broken down only the day before it seemed likely we might be fishing keys out of the neighbour’s letterbox before nightfall! View our tracker
To our collective surprise everything went surprisingly smoothly and with heart in my mouth we slipped onto the auto-route and roared up to cruising speed. (80km/h) Our first drama slowly begun to emerge from the bonnet as I realised I had not tested my canvass spare wheel cover at these crazy speeds. It inflated like a large pasty obscuring most of the road as the trucks roared past.
Having finally found somewhere to stop to strap everything down we were off again and the kids slipped into long journey stupor. We often drive to the UK so they know the routine and are very good at it. Thanks to a technical trick this old girl was now quiet (almost) as a Roller. Noise reduction headphones and extra seat foam are a vintage car must.
As we passed Pau the first “I’m hungry” came from the back. The sun had now come out and was shining off the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees in the distance. It was time for our first campsite.
The next day was the big slog from near Tarbes to somewhere near Arles. For me it was a pleasure because as the kms slipped by, the statistical likelihood of Kabylie breaking down, dramatically reduced. I appreciate that 80km/h is not fast but it feels more than enough when you’re grateful to be moving at all.
As we roared down towards the Med from Carcassonne there was great celebration when three dead flys were spotted on the windscreen. Kabylie’s stock was also greatly increased when a trailer in front suddenly shed its entire cargo of plastic crates. Swerving was impossible with such a load so we ploughed through the lot like the Millennium Falcon in an asteroid belt. There was a very large bang and dust in our wake. If we had been in a car we would have been is serious trouble. View our tracker
We camped near Arles on the edge of the Camargue and hungrily ate pizza out of the wind in the Petanque club polytunnel. We deployed the rooftop tent in a record 10 min and snuggled down to our first long awaited film in………Hindustani. So we tried another and another and yes, it turned out that all the films Petra had found us were all somehow the Hindustani version apart from one about the Mormon Church, so we watched that and it sent us to sleep rather well!
Arles to Italy was another slog. Our image was greatly improved by writing 1957 on the back window. Suddenly we were “les aventuriers” not some annoying goons from the circus, holding up traffic. We had honks and waves all along the Côte d Azur and crowds around the car at the frequent petrol stops. I can’t say it didn’t feel rather good, especially when one of our admirers offered to swop his very fancy Porsche for it! The pleasure was momentary as I glanced at Justine and saw the YES YES written in her eyes! As we rumbled past St Tropez the same very fancy Porsche rode with us as outrider for a while, honking his horn before he sped off into the distance with an impressive roar.
After lunch we broke the journey by hooking up with the Veritys. We had introduced Tom and Heather to each other at our wedding and now two gorgeous children later, they too had taken to the road to tour Europe in their van. Two adventure vehicles both being in the same part of France was too much and we had to make a detour to briefly swop stories of lack or sleep and life on the road (for us a mere two nights of it!)
We continued along the hamster run of an auto-route that leads to the Italian border. Tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge all the way. caged in with high fences and no hard shoulder with an obscene number of supercars buzzing past. Tiring driving. If we broke down here we would be in serious trouble. However it was not Kabylie who nearly had to be resuscitated but Hector who holds his breath at every tunnel. A 1.8km tunnel nearly finished him off.
Once in Italy we hunted around looking for a campsite that did not look too dodgy but when we found one, crammed with motor homes, the whole place stopped and stared as we drove in like cowboys from out of town walking into a saloon. The roof tent caused a sensation and confirmed we were definitely aliens.
The next day we managed to make it all the way to Venice ready for our ferry. Another enormous distance but we did manage to overtake three lorries on the long hill out of Genoa and a van puffing smoke near Verona.
We also came across a fabulous shop selling lorry air horns and we were all struck with a primeval urge to get one. In some ways maybe doing an overland adventure is really only an excuse to fit extra lights and horns to your car. We all agreed that if we make it to Iran we might need some meter long, two tone, bad boys! View our tracker