Normally we can only do one long rally abroad each year. They’re expensive and take a lot of time to organise and prepare for but when we saw this, I think we both looked at each other at the same time and said something like “That looks interesting”. This isn’t a rally, more a tour; or for my sailing chums, a cruise in company. Starting in Venice – and I know there are no roads in the lagoon part of the city, and instead of driving West to Monaco, we will begin by heading East towards Slovenia then South to Dubrovnik in Herzegovenia. From there we take a ferry to Bari on the heel of Italy and at last drive West to Reggio on the toe. Ferry again to Messina on Sicily, then work our way up the islands to Sardinia, Corsica and finally, Monaco. So, a meandering tour of some of the most interesting roads and visits to some of the more historic road racing curcuits imaginable: the Targa Florio on Sicily and the Tour de Corse on Corsica, not to mention the home of the Monaco Grands Prix.
Here’s a wee video of practice for the Targa Florio. Absolutely bonkers when you think that the roads are not closed. Penny says that this is what the manic regularities felt like on the Sierra Nevada Classic in Spain – 2015.
2nd September 2017
Loading cars in Kent for the Venice-Monaco #classic#touring#rally flagging off next week. 2 weeks through the Balkans and across to #Sicily, #Sardinia and #Corsica finishing at Casino Square in #Monaco A sensational line up. #Jaguar well represented with 4 E-types and 3 XK’s. Porsche, Bentley, Mercedes ranging from 1934 to 1976. Find out more at: roarr.me/Venice-to-Monaco
5th September 2017
Very early start today for the flight down to Venice. All very normal and then things got a bit strange when we landed. We’ve never been here bofore so In the first picture, this is us waiting for our pre-booked water taxi. Not quite like at home, is it? All the way from the airport to the Grand Canal our driver rarely dropped below 33 knots which is pretty quick but once into ther heavy traffice he did slow down. He was booked to drop us off at the canal door of our hotel but instead dropped at Piazza San Marco (St Mark), insisting that the tide was too high for him to get under the bridges. Our hotel receptionist told us we’d been ripped off, but “Hey, That’s Venice!”Glorious sunny day (just like home – NOT) so a quick change then off for a pizza then a wander round.Back street food and drink good (affordable) St Mark’s food and drink bad (expensive). This place is bl**dy crowded so we’re both looking forward to heading out to San Clemente, the island where the rally organisers have their HQ for the next two days.
6th September 2017
Fun and games. We’ve arrived on San Clemente by taxi (€80!) and they can’t find our booking; Oh, and sitting on the terrace for coffee, waiting to check in and there’s a blooming fashion shoot going on.
7th September 2017
Well, no photos I’m afraid today. We did about 315 Km with most of it on Motorway. Good road, a million trucks and five million motorbikes all heading to Croatia. Very Italian traffic jam in the harbour as our hire bus/boat jockeyed for position to get into the pier with about 20 other vessels. Lots of hooting horns, shouting and expressive hand and arm gestures. Still we made it and the car started first time. Once out of the city (and a few wrong slots as the GPS couldn’t keep up) we cruised at 75 to 80 mph. We got so fed up with the poor road signage and the GPS that Penny took us for a detour through a housing estate to finally get the right road. Then we missed the turning off the Motorway to get up and over the mountains. Still, we made it, albeit late for the control points and ended the day with a super drive down from the vine yards to Rovinj on the coast of Croatia. Quick shower and G&T then off to the old town for Misto Frito (fried mixed fish).
Well, guess what. We’re lying in equal 10th place. That said, it’s still early days. There are six in first, three in seventh, six in tenth, four in 16th and one in 20th so it doesn’t mean much yet. No fried fish tonight. After a wee drop of nerve tonic we decided to eat in the hotel. Great move. The food (duck for me and lamb for P) was superb.Long day tomorrow to Plitvice.
9th September 2017
Sorry for being so boring yesterday so here are some pics. Beginning with the entrance to “our” canal, the one with our hotel. Look at the crowds. The whole of Venice is like this. Then there’s the Doge’s palace. Pretty spectacular I’d say and we were staying just around the corner from the servant’s entrance.
8th September 2017
Today we drove from Rovinj to Plivička Jezera. Actually easier to type than say. Actually quite a long drive too. A simple drive to Pula to see the Roman amphitheatre but it was closed. Filming for the latest version of Game of Thrones or some such or so we were told by the security folk. We were ripped off by Mr JACOB (very shouty) for a couple of Kuna (local cash) for car parking but thanks to him I can tell you, if you’re interested, where the best restaurant is and guess what, it’s run by his brother. From there we suffered another wonderful drive past the spectacular iron smelting works to a viewpoint on a cliff to the island of Cres. Actually pretty good spot but the camera is still in the car as I type this so you will all have to wait to see the exciting pictures. After this we drove down what seemed to be the Amalfi Coast (Italy, Sorrento, Positano and that lot) but there were no Italian suicide drivers so it was pretty nice, even if we were held up by a British RV (campervan) for what seemed like hours. After getting lost in the city of something or other with faulty GPS and road signs, Penny again managed to find a route through an industrial and then a retail park back to the rally route. Lunch was a while later up in the mountains at a village cafe. We were the only customers apart from four youngsters who were really excited about the car. Postcards kept them happy. Then a big drive up a mountain (3,000 ft + and coats on), down into the valley then a really super drive up another hill until we saw the bullet ridden houses left over from the last Balkan war. Quite sobering that was. We finished with another brilliant drive up to Plivitce for the night and a welcome rally meal of simple country food well served by lovely people. Talked rubbish for ages with Barbara & Michael Hurdle (’36 Bentley) about all sorts of other rallies (they send their regards to Ian Glass who runs events and found our Talbot for us). So, that’s it for today. Tomorrow we head south again towards Split and more sights.
9th September 2017
Today we toured (at a brisk march) some of the features of the lakes. For those from home, think of Stricklands Glen, but a thousand times bigger and with lots more waterfalls and a million more Japanese tourists, and warm and on and on…………….We eventually set off for the shlep to Split. At first the road was quite pleasant and we kept up a good speed with no problems. Then we realised the casual way the locals treat white lines. A Lexus overtaking a Jaguar overtaking something else ( three abreast) and coming towards us at quite a quick pace. It woke me up, I can tell you. After a really boring motorway section we then thoroughly enjoyed a fast, safe drive on some excellent minor roads to pick up passage waypoints and stuff. The driving day ended with a pointless six Km on gravel except it took us to a spectacular viewpoint a couple of thousand feet above the coast and overlooking Split. Then the road nosedived, literally with a very steep descent on some of the roughest concrete imaginable. Terry Bradley estimated 1:7 and probably wasn’t far off. Once into the city and parked up we had a couple of G&Ts then off to the old city for grub. We’re staying very close to Diocletian’s palace and I must say, he’s rather let it go in the last couple of thousand years. All the way from Northern Ireland and we blooming can’t get away from it. The pics show all the bustle and tourist shops inside the complex. Anyway, a very slow meal of tolerable fish and back to bed. Tomorrow we’re off to the Mostar bridge, the scene of some horrific fighting during the terrible war, only a few years ago.
10th September 2017
We headed South to Bosnia Herzegovinia. The day started in a very relaxed manner and sort of just drifted along in the same way. A nice drive on a very warm morning along the Dalmatian Coast (no spotty dogs seen) was improved with a stiff force 3 to 4 on the nose helping to keep the car cool. Our route took us down to a waypoint right on the beach but we didn’t bother trekking down the sand. We also didn’t bother with an optional mountain climb to just short of 6,000 feet but those that did go up said we didn’t miss anything. No view because of the clouds and freezing cold on the goat track road. Instead we trundled up an over a nice mountain on the road towards the border. We arrived too early at a restaurant that was recommended for lunch and wasn’t open even for coffee so we headed on further into the wilderness. The hinterland here makes the Burren in Ireland look really quite lush and fertile. When we saw a log BBQ lit beside a cafe so we pulled in for coffee and were greeted by our hostess, her two children (aged between two and four), hubby (preparing the goat for lunch), Grandad (born 1940 and been at sea as a ship’s cook all his life), old uncle Tom Cobley and all. New lifelong friends especially as the children now have nice new postcards of the Talbot to take into school. What a delightful welcome. Super coffee and two glasses of water for the equivalent of €2. The border passed with no problems even though the Bosnian guard wanted us to buy an insurance green card from his mate but we persuaded him that we really didn’t need one. Don’t really know how as we have no Bosnian and he didn’t have English but everyone was happy. Once across the frontier things changed. Broken roads, broken buildings, litter, mess and abandonded cars and houses everywhere. Traffic is very slow and casual on the road, mainly I think because most of the cars seem to be 1980s Mercedes. Probably old Malaga Taxis with several million miles on the clock. Before hitting Mostar, we detoured to the top of a mountain to visit a huge cross that we think is a pilgrimage site for penitents to visit. There were 14 shrines, one at each hairpin on the road to visit on the way up. Mostar is mad tourism defined. Stalls selling a thousand varieties of rubbish clogging every inch of the narrow medieval alleys. We had a passable lunch of meat stuff overlooking the river, and of course the bridge.
11th September 2017
Mostar to Dubrovnik. Not a huge day, only about 150 km. Does anybody remember the “Laundry Wars” in Moscow 2007 when the whole rally was held hostage by a crooked hotel? Well, I’m not saying that our pad last night was as bad but we weren’t allowed to leave the dining room last night until we had signed for food and drink (food covered by rally organisers) because of – oh, I don’t know what; don’t really care either but he obviously didn’t trust us, despite holding our passports. Sorted this morning after a heated debate about other bar bills being on my tab. So, we set off and visited something really peculiar, a Soviet underground airbase. Not as daft as it sounds but when you store planes in caves they can’t be blown up by nasty western nuclear bombs. This area is littered with them – caves, not bombs. Our route then took us over more desolated countryside with terrain so poor that farming anything that grows must be impossible and even the goats complain. Miles of burnt scrub and we also passed a burnt-out village. The road was on the bed of an old railway line (Austro-Hungarian Empire, I’m reliably told) and the first half was torture with a cruising speed of about 10mph for us. Then a nice coffee stop and the second half was a bit better with our speed up to about 40mph. We actually caught a tourist hire car and he very nicely pulled ove to let us pass. Unfortunately, at the same time a cyclist popped out from behind a bush with his toilet paper, nearly got run over and disappeared again to finish off. We eventually reached Dubrovnik and it’s manic traffic. The hotel is a huge resort place overlooking the sea so we might head into the old town tonight to wander around and eat. By the way, the photo of the circular thing was inside my bedside drawer. Not something I’ve come across before but at least I now know where Mecca is, just in case. It is blowing several gales outside with the wind flattening the waves and creating sheets of spray. Our Chinese laundry isn’t safe outside because everything might blow away.
Penny has just reminded me that there probably won’t be a post tomorrow because there isn’t a WiFi service on the ferry to Calabria. How will you cope?
13th September 2017
Remember my comments about the Laundry Wars & etc. Last night the Ferry in Albania held the rally to hostage by declaring that the boat we were booked on wasn’t running and that Adrian, the organiser, would need to cough up another €5,000 to get us all on a later boat. Sounded fishy to me. We were all contacted in various eateries to gather up as much cash as possible and get to the ferry terminal ASAP to make sure the boat runs. To cut a long story short, there had been a genuine mechanical hiccough and we were on a later boat but no guarantee of cabins. We ended up sharing with Pete and Morna Webber (1957 Bentley). Not too much snoring on anybody’s part but the boat was a bit grotty. No breakfast on board so we drove through Bari looking for somewhere but eventually ended up at a motorway stop. The drive yesterday was interesting. Three countries, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. Croatia we saw a few days ago although this was a different bit, obviously. Montenegro was pleasant, through lots of seaside resorts but very slow moving and at one point we took a small ferry and cut out about 40 km around the bay of Kotor. Albania reminded us a lot of Russia. Full on dangerous road antics, squads (3 or 4) of big blacked out limos with big bling wheels driving flat out about six inches apart and taking no prisoners. Ever seen a blacked out Hummer with 22″ chrome wheels, ultra low profile tyres cruising in a side road then taking off like a rocket with no warning to other road users at all – welcome to Albania. Cops every couple of kilometers flagging wayward drivers down and just general mayhem. In Albania we reckon there is a special university for car washing. Every couple of Km on the motorway there was a gang busy with the suds. Talking of motorways, you have to keep an eye out for small hatchbacks driving the wrong way up the hard shoulder between the car washers. Keeps you focussed I can say!
14th September 2017
Sorry to report that our Samurai Talbot is now in the “Oh Dear” club. Yesterday we decided to cut out a large chunk of the route to finish early and give the car a good old fashioned spanner check and lubrication service. After about 1,700 km the old girl needs it (the car, not Penny), so, on the shortest day, the run into Meteora and with about 10 or 15 Km to go we came over a gentle rise on a nice straight and quite quiet road and a loud clattering started in the engine room and the oil pressure dropped. The more experienced of you will realise what this means and I confirmed the diagnosis when, with Tim, one of the excellent back-up crew, we pulled off the oil filter and it was full of tiny bits of metal. The oil was a metallic emulsion too. One of my fears after Japan has come true. Oil starvation of the big-end bearings on the interminable downhill sections has fried a bearing and it has failed. Not nice but as the boss of the garage the car is now with said (via Google Translate), “not dead but in need of specialist nursing and cardiac care” and he agreed that it is job better done in UK by someone who knows about these things. So, we are back in the tender (air-conditioned) comfort of a modern Fiat 500 rental to follow the trip to the end. Incidentally, the garage had a couple of quite nice, 1972 genuine Fiat 500s, just like the one I had a thousand years ago but wouldn’t budge on their asking price so I don’t have a souvenir from Puglia! Praise to our insurers, Hagerty. They are arranging repatriation for the Talbot and coughing up for our hire car to finish the trip. I tried to negotiate for a Fiat 124 Spider (Mazda MX5 in an Italian designer dress) but Hertz weren’t having any of it. Matera by the way is amazing. Once known as the “shame of Italy” because of folk still living in caves it is now a wonderfully spectacular spot. Our hotel is a collection of caves linked by very steep steps up and down a cliff. I’ll post video and pics later. Highly recommend a visit too. Today was, I think the longest of the trip, scheduled about 520 km with a short ferry trip to Sicily. Because we were away late to sort out the Talbot and hire car we cut out a lot. Our navigation chum – Galileo by Apple IPad went on a huff about half way through and Penny had to ‘wing’ it and did well to find the ferry on time.Tonight in Taormina on Sicily (Cosa Nostra, Godfather, Corleone, dare I say Mafia? & etc), in the lee of the volcano Etna. If she hasn’t blown up we’ll have a closer look tomorrow. For a change we had a decent fish meal tonight, Frito Misto that we’ve been looking for for ages but still had to pay tourist rates for peasant fare.
14th September Pt 2
The bad time!
16th September 2017
Sorry, nothing tonight, we’re on another ferry to Sardinia.Drove a bit of the Targa Florio route and some very entertaining mountain roads. Lots of video to check and maybe a few pics tomorrow. After we dock there are about 300 Km so even that might not happen. The web page will be updated tonight and uploaded tomorrow for those not on facebook. Don’t know why I typed that because you all are, obviously.
17th September 2017
Yesterday on Sicily. What an absolute dump. Fly-tipping absolutely everywhere. We did see a couple of bin lorries making half-hearted attempts to clear up but honestly, it would take an army, working for months to make any impression. Then the roads. They are incredible – BAD. Everywhere there are potholes, ruts, missing bits – just awful. Wherever they are really bad, someone has driven a steel pole in and stuck a sign on the top to warn you. On the first rough bit, which we were warned about, to be fair, I didn’t expect the very first hazard and took it at about 30 mph. All four wheels off the road and the luggage from the back of the rental nearly joined us in the front. We drove a fair chunk of a couple of bits of the famed “Targa Florio” race circuit and those race drivers must have had nerves of steel. Not for the faint hearted racing here. I can tell you. To see what practice was like, scroll all the way back to the beginning of this blog and there’s a bit of original video there. Worth seeing.We also wandered up to see Mt Etna which had at least put on a bit of a show for us with smoke gently billowing out of the top.We’ve been told by those in the know that the problem with the rubbish and roads is the local Mafia bosses. They still control everything and if you don’t pay then it doesn’t get done. Hence all the squalor. Oh, and all the Euro cash to preserve the circuits has been spent on signs, not the track.Our billet was at a winery up in the mountains. Allegedly 5* but when we arrived there was no water in the taps and one of the party kicked off because there was no Vodka. The meal was unimpressive and the wine (made here) that was suggested by the Maitre ‘d would have made an excellent engine de-greaser. Then, in the room, the air-con cut in and out all night at full blast or nothing. We had no controls nor could we turn it off. On to the ferry at Palermo – and there’s another place I wouldn’t walk out at night, and a half-decent meal and off to bed.
17th September 2017 Pt 2
After a passable night on the ferry, we spent Sunday driving up and down mountains. If anybody counted the bends and hairpins, I’d love to know how many but there were lots. How different Sardinia is from Sicily. Clean roads, wonderful roads, both on the surface and the quality of engineering. We really overdosed on spectacular views today and for all my motorcycling chums, forget about anywhere else in Euroland, this is paradise for touring on two wheels. There are mountain passes the likes of which you may never see anywhere else. We’ve covered about 300 km from Cagliari to Oliena in a national park. Thankfully it wasn’t so hot today (it has been up to 37 deg) and we were able to turn the air-con off and drive with the windows open for a while. For those in the older cars, the trip is becoming a bit hard. The distances are pretty big and there isn’t much time for the neccessities of life – morning coffee, nice lunch, a bit of an amble afterwards and arrive early for a beer and a chat by the pool bar. We were also delayed with a puncture. Rounding a blind corner (don’t know why I said that, they are all so tight that you can see nothing), I saw a boulder about the size of your head slide down the bank on the inside of the corner (Penny’s RH side), bounce off the kerb and right under our front wheel. Maybe only at about 40 kph but lots of very bad words were more than muttered when we juddered to the big bang of it hitting. Thankfully we stopped on a straight bit so were able to jack the car up change the wheel. Somebody was looking after us because the car had a space-saver spare and not a can of aerosol to re-inflate the tyre. I could put three fingers into the hole in the sidewall! So, a slower drive (max 80kph) got us to the hotel about an hour later than planned. Sitting here on our balcony, shirt off, G&T beside the computer to type this and thinking about supper. Even when there are problems, life isn’t too bad, is it?
18th September 2017
We had a wonderfully chaotic group dinner last night. It wasn’t planned but just sort of evolved and was shaping up to be a real “session” when we baled out and went to bed. We needed an early night because we had to find a tyre depot to replace the one that burst yesterday. The sidewall had a hole I could put three fingers into so it wasn’t a matter of repairing it. Reception helped and gave us the details of a place in the nearest town, only 12 km away. We eventually found it’s back gate but couldn’t find the front but they let us in anyway. Google translate came to our aid again when we discovered that, because we are obviously tourists, the hire car is obviously Italian and we couldn’t prove our title to it, despite showing the hire contract. So, I had to provide a written statement of where, when, how and at what time we drove over the rock. Where it happened was a problem. As far as we were concerned, it was up a mountain but eventually a compromise was reached and the document was faxed to the Polizzi who OK’ed the statement and sent it on to Hertz for their input. It all went a bit pear-shaped at this point but eventually, after three hours ‘phoning Rome, Verona (HQ) and probably the Vatican too and not getting any further, I was also trying all the Italian and international help numbers I had from Hertz, the agent who rented the car to us back in Matera finally managed to speak to someone important enough to allow us to buy a tyre and have it fitted. Phew! 25 minutes later we were off like a scalded cat, cutting out the rally route to use high speed motorway to get to the next ferry (to Corsica) on time. Fine, until after about half way at Olbia, the motorway ran out and we were reduced to 30 mph on narrow country roads with lots of traffic. We pulled into the ferry loading lanes just as they were about to start embarkation.The ferry has just delivered us to the ancient medieval fortress town of Bonifacio and I’m typing this and Penny is looking for an ATM to get some cash.
19th September 2017
We had quite a storm last night at Bonifacio. Reminded Penny that as Hurricane Jose has finished and now Hurricane Maria is bashing the Caribbean, she wishes Jose and Maria well on the Frankfurt to San Sebastian rally and hopes they don’t cause as much havoc. Best wishes too to Anne & Jean Steinhauser on ther Calais to Cannes, Blue Train Rally.
Queueing for the last ferry from Bastia on Corsica to Nice and the wind is getting up again. Lightning in the clouds all around too!
20th September 2017
Well, here we are in Monte Carlo.The ferry last night was only half full and the food wwas dreadful. I thought I’d play safe with Lasagne but it was only luke-warm so when I woke up at about two a.m. with a grumbling gut I feared the worst. So, not much sleep when we arrived in Nice. No breakfast for me but P had a coffee and croissant at a cafe before we drove to the top of a cliff for a magnificent view over the Bay of Nice. The drive yesterday was quite long and more up and down several mountains. We saw lots of what we at first thought were wild pigs but as they were nearly all ear-tagged, maybe not. The drive into Monaco was a bit tedious but we arrived early and walked out for lunch at a nice place on the Grands Prix circuit. Prices here are daft but we had a nice bite and it didn’t break the bank. As it turns out, the prize-giving dinner is in the same place tonight so we have that one sussed. When I manage to get the videos downloaded (probably next week). I’ll post some interesting ones, including the circuit.Tomorrow is a day off and we should be home on Friday.We’ve had several calls from the people who are looking after repatriating the car and, fingers crossed, it might be back in UK by 5th October – but I’m not holding my breath for that.
21st September 2017
Last day in Euroland. What a faff. To save the insurers a bit of money, we agreed to return the hire car to an Italian depot, just across the border in Alassio. Not a big problem, just an hour and a half’s drive, so we left at about 11:00. We had thought we could hire a French car to leave in Nice Airport but that didn’t work because the Hertz depot has no cars, at all. AND, the office in Alassio has a THREE HOUR lunch break and didn’t re-open until 15:30. Actually he arrived at about 15:15 but couldn’t do anything because “the computer said nooooo” or wouldn’t turn on. Whatever. Eventually we handed the car over and decided that all is not lost, and decided to take the train (Hertz office in the station). Welcome to the slowest service on the planet. It stopped at every possible siding until we crossed the French border and changed onto a SNCF locomotive. Clean, quiet a bit quicker but a half hour stop to be searched by armed police at the first station (lots of migrants/refugees under the motorway). Eventually we arrived back in MC – seven hours later. Well, P & I are a bit brassed off by now and when we get to the room, it hasn’t been made up. No apologies from reception and soon a couple of guys came and did the towels and sheets. The mini-bar checker had been in and replaced his glasses but housekeeping – no chance. Turned on the Tablet and guess what, no WiFi. Eventually a child turned up and looked at the screen as though he’d never seen his own hotel’s login page so I took him through the procedure then he clicked on an invisible link and I’m typing this. Hooray! But don’t talk to me about 5* hotels, especially French ones.
27th September 2017
This was one road we opted out of. I hope you’ll understand why – Peter & Louise climbing the magnificent Sveti Juri in Croatia on the Venice Monaco Rally in their 1965 E-Type. Unfortunately the clouds set in before they summited. Still a brilliant drive from sea level up to 2000m in ~10km of super twisty tarmac.
October 26th 2017
Oh Dear Department. I’m here in hospital, recovering after having my Gall Bladder removed and Gareth stripped the motor and sent me this picture this morning to welcome me back to my room after a MRI scan. At least I’m improving. Sadly the crankshaft is broken. Not big ends or main bearings. At one point we even thought that perhaps one of the brake bands in the gearbox (pre-selector) had come adrift and temporarily blocked the oil relief valve but that still didn’t explain the very odd rumble when the motor was turned over. Now we know. The Talbot crank is pretty indestructable with plenty of good, large main bearings to stop it flexing and, as you can see, plenty of counterbalance weights too. The two red lines mark the broken faces.
13th November 2017
Here’s the new one and I hope to never see it again! 15 kg lighter, designed to run up to 7,000 rpm and regularly raced at 6,000 which is apparently good for about 140mph (but not with my differential, or me driving for that matter