Monday, June 30, 2014

Day Four - Sauze D'Oulx to St Moritz

Day Four, marking the halfway point of our Alpine Tour, proved to be a mixed day both in terms of weather and driving.  First thing this morning it was bright sunshine but bitterly cold (see previous post) yet by the middle of the day we were peeling off the layers and slapping on the suncream.  By days end we were wrapping up against the chill again as we ascended to St Moritz.

First thing we headed north to the Mont Blanc tunnel, a bit disappointing as the mountain was shrouded in cloud and the tunnel didn't seem as big as it looks on Top Gear!  Nevertheless we saw the glacier on the drive up from Chamonix and managed to get the engine note reverberating around the tunnel without exceeding the speed limit by too much!

Our next landmark was Lake Como - what a super place to visit!  We were only able drive the (surprisingly long) length of the lake, with the snow capped mountains in the background, but it looks worthy of a longer stay.

We did stop briefly on a couple of occasions ... did I mention it was very hot during the day?!

After Lake Como we headed up to St Moritz and our first alpine pass - the Moloja Pass!  Angela drove but her progress was thwarted by a rather sedate German Mercedes driver ...

We finally arrived at our hotel for the next two nights, the 5-star Kempinski Grand Hotel - it's rather nice, I don't think we're going to want to leave!

Top Down Motoring .... Whatever the Weather!

There's not much point in having a convertible if you don't get the top down!  So with the sun shining this morning we dressed for the weather and headed off on Day Four of our adventure ....

(This one especially for the guys at PCT Cars for their help in getting the car together for the trip - thanks!)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This is what we woke up to this morning ....

The view from our bedroom window - lovely!

Day Three - Carcassonne to Sauze D'Oulx

As we had a fairly late night last night and both of us were a bit hung over this morning we did not set off quite as early as we had planned!  Consequently our intent to drive along the French Riveria coast through Nice and into Monte Carlo was abandoned in favour of the most direct route to the principality.  We arrived early afternoon to bright sunshine, a welcome change to the grey clouds we left behind at Carcassonne.  We made for the casino being well signposted and picked up the Grand Prix circuit.

Our first 'lap' was a bit tentative - the roads look quite different in their non-race configuration though there's still enough kerbs around to see where the F1 cars have trod.  I also wasn't sure how much we could actually get around but as it turned out we could do it all except the right turn in Casino Square, this being a traffic island hence going the wrong way, and the new chicane - we had to drive down to the old chicane used in the pre-modern era (was it Lorenzo Bandini who ended up in the harbour? You can see how easy that would be!).  Anyway, having done it once I had to do it again, and then again - all the landmarks like Tabac, the old hairpin and of course the tunnel.  I have an on board video but too large to post here with mobile broadband!  When we get to a hotel with free WiFi ....

We shared the driving today, a mixture of motorway and some A-Road through the Italian hills; lots of tunnels and bridges.  Angela doesn't like Italian motorways as the driving isn't quite as well disciplined as France or the UK but she seemed to adapt pretty well!!  As it happened she drove the final few miles to the hotel which involved a few hairpin bends which she did enjoy - no brakes needed, just chuck it in and wrestle it through.  We may have some rubber left for the Nurburgring!

Sauze D'Oulx is primarily a ski resort so Sunday evening pretty well everything is closed, including the hotel restaurant!  The receptionist was able to get us a late table at a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed a beverage and a snack ....

YES - Monaco Baby!

I'm sure most F1 fans will remember Jenson Button when he won the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time .... "YES - Monaco Baby!" he shouted over the radio.  Well my excitement may only be a fraction of that shown by Monaco-resident Jenson but the thrill of being able to drive around pretty well the whole of the Grand Prix circuit today was fantastic - so good in fact I had to do it three times!  Angela was, well, less enthusiastic shall we say!  

Nevertheless here we are in Casino Square with the Hotel de Paris in the background.  It was packed with tourists and very flash cars - no chance for me to park alongside the Ferraris, Maseratis and a Buggatti Veyron!  I had a few seconds to grab this picture before being moved on.

Day Two Update

I've been asked (make that 'told') to tell you a bit about my belated birthday meal at the Hotel's Michelin starred restaurant last night.  It was very nice (not enough? Oh alright then ...)

While I had duck pate for my starter Angela tried the French delicacy frogs legs or 'cuisses de grenouille'.  She really enjoyed them!  I tried one but all I could taste was garlic so I still don't really know what frogs legs taste like!

Between courses we had Chef's specially prepared tasters which included the smallest pilchard sandwich you have ever seen!  Stick two matchsticks together and cut them to one inch long and you've got the idea!!

For main course Angela had fish and I had beef with truffles.  Now I've never had truffles before (yes, really) so interested to see what all the fuss was about .... not impressed!  Didn't enjoy the first piece so rather them go to very expensive waste Angela finished them off.  I guess my tastes are for simpler food - and plenty of it!

Given the small portions we had room for desert - Angela had a soufflé which she described as 'eating a cloud' it was so light, while I had a very fancy & delicate chocolate and fruit concoction, very nice!

So that and a couple of bottles of wine later and we've both woken up with headaches this morning!  I've done the first driving stint but have handed over to Angela before I take the wheel again for the drive through Monaco ...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day Two - Dourdan to Carcassonne ... and the sun was shining!

We successfully completed the journey to the south of France without any issues!  Angela drove all but the last few kilometres - bless her cotton socks!  En route we had to fill up with fuel twice (ouch!) and Angela had four changes of clothes by the time we had dinner!!!  Don't ask ....

We crossed the 'Viaduc de Millau', the 12th highest bridge deck in the world and a spectacular piece of engineering ....

By this time the sun was well and truly out so we just had to put the top down to get the best view of the crossing ...

From here we headed for our overnight stop at the hotel within the old city walls of Carcassonne which we found without too much trouble as Angela has been here before (we did have our first tiff but this was quickly forgotten!)

Tomorrow it's Monte Carlo or bust ......

[Two quick post scripts - tonight's room has tea making facilities - yippee!  And the car temperature debate has been amicably resolved - Angela now wears her Ugg boots and a thick jumper and scarf  so has stopped complaining - a suitable compromise!!]

Ready to go .....

After a bit of a lie in and a lazy breakfast we're ready to go for Day Two and the journey south - only a bit behind schedule but hey, it's a holiday!  Angela's at the helm today!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day One - Stratford to Dourdan

We have successfully arrived at our first overnight stop - the Hotellerie Blanche de Castille in Dourdan just south of Paris.  En route we braved the Paris rush hour traffic to circle the Arc de Triomphe - twice! - followed by the Place de la Concorde and then the iconic Eiffel Tower.  We'd love show you some photos but none of them were any good (tomorrow Angela can drive and Andy can take the photos!).

Apparently it's market day tomorrow so the whole of the centre of Dourdan is cordoned off - guess where the hotel is?!  Yep, slap bang in the middle.  We toured the whole of Dourdan (probably not really but if felt like it) trying to find the hotel without success so had to park up and walk in to find the only vehicle access to the hotel was a pedestrian walkway!  The only glitch in an otherwise super day.

The room is quite comfortable and has a lovely view but no tea making facilities!!  Andy is gutted!  There'll be no living with him in the morning.

Weather on the journey was very mixed - we had the top down around Paris yet at other times were slowed to a crawl due to the heavy rain with near-zero visibility. One major point of conflict has arisen between driver and co-driver; Andy likes the car cool so Angela is huddled up in blankets and coats, yet when she drives the car is like a sauna leaving Andy gasping for breath and struggling to stay awake!  It's not certain that any compromise will be reached by the end of the trip!

Tomorrow sees us heading for the south of France and hopefully some more typically warm weather!

So Far So Good

Tempting the gods of (mis)fortune but the first leg of our journey went without a hitch - and we were only a bit late leaving!  And everything got packed although there's not a lot of spare space so no room for presents!!  Next stop France ....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Packed and Ready To Go!

Well, we're all packed and ready to go.  To her credit Angela managed to stick to the 'one bag' allocation, which is to say one bag for clothes, one bag for shoes, one bag for hats .... !!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Just 24 hours to go ......

In just 24 hours from now we'll be setting off on our Alpine Tour, assuming we survive the stress of packing all the clothes (and cameras!) into the tiny Boxster.  Final details of the route have now been sorted so for those of you who wish to follow our progress here's what you've got to look forward to ....

Day 1 - Friday:  leaving Stratford for the Eurotunnel then on to Paris to cop an eyeful of the tower (!) before heading a short way south to Dourdan for our first night stop.

Day 2 - Saturday:  the long drive south on the French motorways, diverting to see the Viaduct de Millau (hopefully if it's not shrouded in cloud), before arriving at Carcassonne for our second overnight stop and a belated birthday meal for Andy (our second date was a birthday meal for Angela - how romantic!).

Day 3 - Sunday:  heading for Monaco and taking in as much of the French Riveria as time allows (depends what time we get up after our night out!) before heading into Italy and an overnight stop at Sauze d'Oulx.

Day 4 - Monday:  the alpine part of the adventure begins with a trip through Val D'Isere to the Mont Blanc Tunnel then on past Lake Como and into Switzerland to St Moritz for our next two nights in 5-Star luxury.

Day 5 - Tuesday:  a day of alpine passes including the famous Stelvio Pass - not for the faint hearted!

Day 6 - Wednesday:  we head north through Austria and to Daun, Germany to meet up with an organised group of 60 cars heading out from the UK.

Day 7 - Thursday:  a private track day at the infamous Nuburgring Race track - how long will the tyres last!

Day 8 - Friday:  return with the group through Belgium and France to the Eurotunnel then finally (if all goes to plan) arriving back in Stratford with some fantastic memories.

Friday, June 20, 2014

One week until the adventure begins ....

One car, two drivers, eight countries in eight days, fourteen Alpine Passes and as many laps of the Nurburgring as one set of tyres will allow!