V6 020 Downhill all the way

Volume 6 part 020 roaring ‘90s road map

Joe, Enzo and Elena came to England for summer of 1995. Enzo had a desire to see Scotland but if he blinked he would have missed it. We did Scotland in three days.

Thr other side is Scotland

Day 1 we drove to Edinburgh and took lunch overlooking Waverly Park. I enjoyed haggis pie in a pub. By nightfall we were in Aviemore and checked into the only hotel with rooms.

Pitlochry
Aviemore

It had never occurred to me that we should have booked ahead out of the ski season. We dined. I slept while Joe and Enzo made use of the almost midnight sun conditions to watch rabbits playing on the lawns until the early hours. Day 2 was Aberdeen. Lock Ness and a night in Oban. The rain petered out just south of Fort William. We checked into a “Best Western” hotel, not because it was a good hotel but because of the Bau-haus-meets art-deco style. The accommodation was fairly rough compounded by having no sea view and extract fans from the kitchen firing up below my bedroom window at 4.0am. We ate at a fish restaurant on the jetty after watching seals playing in the harbour and stealing from the local fishermen. The return was via Morecambe bay for some strange reason. We saw distilleries at Pitlochry, stood under the kissing gate at Gretna Green, flew through Edinburgh, saw Ben Nevis but didn’t see the Lock ness Monster or get to go Grouse shooting. Elena and Enzo were respectively, most disappointed. The Edinburgh woollen mills di great business.

spot the “monster”… and Enzo fell asleep….

The plan was to repatriate the Italians by car giving Joe and Bubble the opportunity to catch up on relatives in Germany on the way. The week before departure a business commitment to resubmit a business case to the government for a new women’s hospital in Sheffield, intervened. They would get the ride to Italy but I would work in transit.

Cousin Finney did a barbecue comprising of potatoes cakes. Potato cakes and beer. She did a good potato cake, a skill learned from her mother who also knew “how to entertain”. The second eldest son, Gunter was deputised as beer monitor. He wore tennis players sweat bands around his wrists. Josephine’s enquiry, as to whether he had been attempting suicide was not well received. His protestations to have cut himself whilst dropping a crate of beer were altogether too emphatic. She had merely made a remark about sweat bands looking like bandages. “Me thinks he doth protest too much…” sprang to mind and not least since he was purported to have been the one who walked out on his girlfriend through a fourth floor window!

We stayed at the “Alter Wirt” in Farchant on the journey down to Italy but dined across the road at a regular venue for dinner. There was just a hint of declining standards. Sybille invested in even more fake Limoges that summer, we did the sites including my seconf trip to Venice where bubble hit the glass shops and came home.

Allesandro, Carla. Joe. elena, Nadia. Andreas and Bubble 1995

The summer of ’96 was a repeat and final “Italian Job” in the 560 SEL. Ma went ahead by plane while I went to Abu Dhabi to design a rehabilitation centre from scratch. Abu Dhabi is remarkably hot in July. I had left the car at Heathrow for the best part of a month. Within a couple of hours of touch down in London I was on the channel ferry and on the way to France. A black XJS fancied a bit of right handed sport. The last time I saw his exhaust pipes was leaving him standing, a mile or so after the first pay station. The next time I saw him he was hurtling along a parallel slip road connecting the A16 to the A28. Unfortunately, I, also should have been on the A16. Rouen is a hell of a detour if you are heading from Calais to Paris which of course should have been Rheims to miss the traffic!

Without a map I was fairly lost.

The suitcase was full of three piece suits, damp from the air conditioning after a month in the desert. Only an English man would wear a three piece suit in the Middle East in July! I had the foresight to pre-pack a holiday travel bag from which I retrieved jeans and a tee shirt for the onward journey. A road side motel at the back of a dairy farm provided the bed for the night. The landlady sent me on my way at six in the morning with a packed lunch and directions eastward. Her wry smile and a cheeky pat on the bottom, made clear that she was aware that I wasn’t wearing underwear. In my haste I’d forgotten to pack a spare pair for the journey. There is something decidedly horny about driving a five-point-six litre, three-ton, V8 at more than a hundred and twenty miles an hour when you aren’t wearing underpants. I arrived on the Adriatic in time for join a gathering of the Bartolucci clan for “tea”. I was still not wearing pants!

Going “commando” has its complications, the most common of which is a zip fly. Fortunately, “501’s had buttons. By the time my favourite pair of jeans hit the dustbin, old-age and incontinence had done the rest. Dressing knickerless is a young man’s game. I guess the Adriatic adventure had been all the same as the previous twenty or so holidays.

In October 1996, Syb traded-in the ten-year-old 560 for a brand new silver Mercedes S320 with automatic self-close doors and double glazing. It arrived for her birthday in October of 1996 and just a week before the wedding in Aachen of Berbel’s daughter, Rita.

The M5, M25, M26 and M2, first time in the tunnel and a clear road from Calais followed a detour via Weston-Super-Mare where I had attended an interview for a lottery funded Helicopter museum. Anyone staying the night in Weston-Super-Mare should probably avoid the Best Weston. We checked out before we had checked in. The helicopter scheme was a long-shot in that the practise had little expertise in designing Museums other than the National Museum for the UAE, and particularly one’s for rotting whirly-bird carcasses playing house to the local rabbit population. We left Weston Super Mare around lunch time, arriving in Aachen for Dinner at the Haus Press.

The wedding ceremony in Aachen was a church affair in a protestant chapel near to the Central Railway station. Berbel was the former girl-friend of Cousin Willie. Willie had been dead since ’91 and his father since ’94. What a great opportunity for Bubble to be seen arriving despite scarcely knowing anyone else at the event other than Cousin Karl-Heinz who is Berbel’s brother-in-law. Bubble supposed that Karl-Heinz was sure to be at the wedding and where he was, his mother Sonia would be in close pursuit. Being seen making an entrance in yet another new car, was sufficient justification for Sybilla to make a thousand-mile round trip to attend the wedding of the daughter of a German xenophobe with an express hatred of all that was English. We arrived in a timely fashion and grabbing a conspicuous parking space at the foot of the flight of steps leading to the West Entrance. The car attracted the requisite attention, not least due to inadvertently taking the spot reserved for the wedding car relegated to double parking on the pavement of the Ibis Hotel across the street. Regrettably, Sonia was nowhere to be seen.

The bride was a big girl in a back-less dress. At the alter she took her place beside her Arian fiancé with the polish name. As she descended to her knees a beam of sunlight, searing through the Rose Window within the South transept to her rear, struck her exposed flesh with sufficient ferocity to explode a pig at a Ku-Klux-Klan hog roast.  The husband-to-be was half way down to his knees, catching the full force of the flash. The low level reflection up-lit up his nostrils like ruby coloured lava lamps. He was to be commended for not high-tailing it back down the aisle there and then but fearing the presence of the devil incarnate the priest had already started the committal ceremony.

Not until the closure on the automatic, electrically assisted air tight doors of the three and a half ton Merc with its double glazed side windows had us firmly cocooned did I subside into uncontrollable laughter. Syb was in a state of shock having suffered a momentary loss of vision rendering her incapable of seeing the funny side.

…but then again she rarely could see the funny side of anything! We attended a rather primitive wedding buffet choosing to give the evening event a miss. Conversation had dried up between Bubble and Sonia before the cutting of the cake.

For summer of 1997 Joe came to visit. Elena, Nadia, Nadia’s husband Andreas and their first offspring, Sophia tagged along. A seven seat “Disco” can come in handy but with limitations if luggage is involved. The trip to “Oasis” near Penrith was a two car affair. A long week-end in a stylish chalet, in the heart if a Cumbrian Forest would be complemented by sailing, swimming and horse riding. 

Dignity was in short supply that year.

The massage and aroma therapy proved to be a welcome treat until I fell asleep in a plastic deck chair by the pool in the Astra-dome with the asymmetrical weight distribution causing the rear legs to snap triggering me to be publicly hurled backwards through a synthetic palm plantation.

Nadia lost her bra on a water slide.

The horse riding afternoon had us bobbing down a dirt track clinging onto a herd of recently broken pit ponies and resembling a bunch of “Thellwells” riding cactus suppositories. The head-gear would have complimented a 1938 Nurnberg Rally. Joe ran alongside baby Sophia acting as stabiliser to ensure she didn’t fly headfirst through the thorn tree hedges lining each side of the rutted mud slide. Flip fops aren’t designed to aide running through mud. 

Having to solicit the assistance of two twelve year olds to peel me out of an undersized wet suit was the final depth of after spending half an hour on the floor of a sailing dingy avoiding the mindless behaviour of the untamed bottom boom and the other half hour underneath a capsized boat which paled into insignificance in comparison to the hoots of derision emanating from the shore line, directed at my svelte profile clad in shiny black vinyl. Contrary to popular mythology, “black” is not sliming. Elasticated black vinyl not only resists the body-parts attempting to defy gravity but when it’s not driving dangly bits into conspicuous places its attacking any and every orifice that might remain undefended. According to one of the witty twelve year olds, I was well past being an impersonation of the “Michelin” man, resembling more accurately a bag of potatoes trying to escape a piping bag. The boys tore at neckline with the same enthusiasm employed in ripping a Band-Aid from a hairy arm pit.  In a single coordinated attack I was forcibly peeled to the waste from the shrink wrapped wet suit resulting in me being savagely slapped by both free flailing arms whilst the recoil sent the two boys flying backwards through the changing room door where they were exiled for the remainder of the extraction process. It was left to Andreas to get the rest of the full cover, life-sized condom passed my knees. To add hurt to injury the whole sorry adventure was caught on video.

As always, restaurants provided the high spot of the weekend, commencing with a Chinese banquet during which a barely walking Sophia thought it appropriate to do a strip going berserk in nothing more than a nappy like a remake of Chuckies Bride. We managed a steak house and a pub meal which was fortunate as we returned home via Morecombe and Blackpool which are both hardly famed for their culinary delights.

If I did a “Centre parks” again I’d know to take rations as for the most part the place is self-catering.

It transpired that a malfunctioning gear box preventing Joe from reversing the “Disco” out of the chalet driveway was a two ton boulder strategically placed in the soft landscaping to protect the pedestrian footpath. Engaging “Drive” liberated the trapped vehicle which shot forward leaving part of the back bumper as a souvenir for the dumbstruck neighbours who narrowly missed losing their front porch and part of the veranda. The assault on their trash can was hardly worth the animated response.  One finger would have sufficed in retaliation. Italian heritage was little excuse for exiting the country park on the right hand side of the road, particularly as she was supposedly following the lead car, driving on the left!

S320 first outing to Italy – 1997

The week before setting off to Italy for a late summer break, an unexpected work commitment arose yet again. After safely delivering “Bubble” and with only a day in Pesaro, Enzo drove me to Bologna airport for a flight back to the UK via Heathrow. Trains and taxis got me to Cromford for about four in the morning. I slept in. It was Bank Holiday. Princess Di was killed that night. Joe knew before me and rang early to tell me so and thereby ruining my siesta.

I did what had to be done in the office in Sheffield followed by a couple of days in London to sort out a project with a partnering practice based in Knightsbridge. The memorial flowers submerging Kensington Palace brought on an attack of hay fever sufficient to impact on the Friday morning’s board meeting , either that or the consequences of the previous evening spent in Soho celebrating a successful conclusion to a design completion for an Emergency Hospital in Zurich.

The office arranged the car to take me from Richmond to Heathrow. I was still hung over when I boarded the afternoon flight back to Bologna but sufficiently awake on landing, to hire a little Lancia for the return drive to Pesaro to be repatriated with Bubble and her Mercedes.

I watched the state funeral for the Princess in a beach bar located next to the abandoned Children’s home.

Italy was becoming so passé that I have little recollection of what happened in 1998 although we have photos to prove we went. I do recall the year when a guy in lime green speedos spent a lot of time preening himself on the beach to an ever-increasing gaggle of voyeurs. His self-admiration knew no bounds. I was most impressed at the young man’s cat-walk confidence. He was there to be seen and “be seen” he would! We came upfront and personal when the police called me off the beach for parking on the sea-front boulevard being cleared to make way for the “Giro D ’Italia”. Under the gaze of an unforgiving crowd of spectators I gingerly approached the sliver barge, resplendent in all its shininess in the midday Italian sunshine. The lime green youth was in the beach bar sat on a moped. He couldn’t fail to miss the GB plate on a Merc the size of a small 747 diagonally parked conspicuously in splendid isolation on a previously thronging, double parked one way street. I sheepishly returned to the car accessing from pavement on the right hand side. The boy’s attempt to upstage back-fired when a “wheelie” sent him backwards, skyward into a sun awning and his bike sideways into the passenger door of a presiding police car. His dismount from the canopy was a quality “five-point-nine” yet failed to impress the lightly armed, extremely agitated traffic cop. A tactical retreat was called for. Regrettably, the street artist wasn’t seen again.

All motorways were finished. All borders were gone. In less than a generation we had dispensed with green cards, petrol coupons, customs posts and passport checks. Credit cards replaced the need for monopoly money issued by a half dozen national banks. Soon, the Euro would provide common currency for bars, tolls and tipping. Belgium had discovered sign posting and Italy fairly level tarmac. Germany failed to discover speed limits. The French had reluctantly discovered Calais and with a little persuasion from the EC and shed loads of hand-outs had connected the ferry and fishing port to both Paris and the Belgian border. Long crossings to Ostend and Zeebrugge to take advantage of the motorway link to Brussels after half a night in a bunk bed became distant memories almost overnight. Without easy targets at Belgian traffic lights, the Irish had stopped shooting at us.

From Calais there are a choice of routes to the Adriatic.

Heading south is supposedly the quick route to Italy but you face the French road tolls and also draconian speeding restrictions on par with the rest of the civilised world. France is also full of the French.

Heading North East to do the dash through Germany, offers the option to turn off the coast road at Dunkirk towards Lille or head further North to catch the AutoRoute from Ostend to Brussels. The concrete pave road surface has long gone and with it the rhythmic osculation of the overloaded suspension bouncing in time with the double beat from front and rear axles as the tyres rode the expansion joints occurring with the frequency of a Victorian train track. Remaining straight as an arrow with unrelieved boredom for the full flat, meander-less journey, the formerly two lane dual carriageway has largely been converted to three lanes doing away with the need to switch all lanes with the aid of manually operated lift arm barriers into alternate single direction travel during national holidays.  Making use of the hard shoulder might have been better use of Belgian ingenuity.

We developed a preference for the Lille route to avoid Brussels. The motorway creates a ring road around Lille on par with the Paris “Periphique” but on a smaller scale and altogether less bloody. The signage jumps out unexpectedly so don’t bother switching lanes after joining the new main road after “gate seven”. You’d be in and out like a monkey’s two stroke orgasm. Following the signs to Brussels to miss out Brussels is a locally devised initiative-test but quickly give way to the signs for Mons and in quick succession, Liege. Resist the temptation to assume that the signs to Charleroi are the correct detour to avoid the Capital unless you want to come up behind a vintage Hillman Minx you had passed at twice his speed forty-five minutes earlier!

Liege was once a city you couldn’t find or when you had found it, you couldn’t leave. Now, you can fly right passed on a motorway where there is really only one way to go. The Belgians had never been big on signage, probably fearing a third world war and being trampled on by a timely neighbouring jack boot flattening yet another seasonal crop of prize poppies. My text-book starter pack in speaking French during the 1961 attempt to escape Liege got us nowhere with the Belgians other than to raise Walter’s blood pressure to a level rivalling Krakatoa in full eruption. I blamed the reciprocal incoherence on the discovery that half the population speak Flemish assuming their French to be worse than mine but also in asking for directions to Aachen when, to this day, .the Walloons call the place Aix-La-Chappelle. So much for European harmonisation!

Other than that the tarmac is much smoother and that the lane painted markings are pure white, reaching the sanctuary of the Federal Republic of Germany is hardly noticeable.  It is a lifetime ago since the border guards checked passports offering advice to turn-around whilst you had the chance as snow drifted under an already clogged front axle.  It is longer still, since visas were waived but the boot and glove boxes still checked for contraband butter and coffee. The former border post is a now a motorway service area.

Timing is everything. The roads North from Calais are largely toll free. If you tank up in Dover you don’t need to spend anything in either France or Belgium other than the exorbitant cost of the increasingly frequent pee stops that go with old age and blood pressure pills. Generally, French toilets out-smell British toilets and rarely offer soap or discretion. Both German and French toilets demand a ransom for prisoner release with Germans using the extortion to keep their facilities spotless. Italians resort to what amounts to a prisoner exchange scheme through the imposition of turnstiles which swap one going-in for one coming-out usually involving pre-bought tokens, the proceeds from which disappear more efficiently than flushing an EU grant.  Austrian toilets are so much more civilised benefiting from highly rated hygiene standards maintained by underpaid migrant workers uninitiated in the art of extracting protection money and rarely more than a few metres away from a portion of fresh apple strudel served with a generous dollop of surprisingly unadulterated  free range whipped cream.

Immediately following the border crossing, East of Liege, the turn off for Aachen is signposted “Brand”. Avoid the temptation to head for Aachen “Centrum” to access the city by motorway as this entails heading half way to Cologne and back. The road through Brand has always felt like going home and takes us North, along Trierer Strasse, past the old homestead at “133”, down the hill veering left at the swimming baths where shockingly, uninhibited strangers showered naked and after which Walter bought us “Twei IKA” because he couldn’t pronounce “Zwei Eis” in German, then onto Kaiser Platz before overnighting in a choice of hotels on Peter Strasse just beyond the “Quellenoff”. We stopped using the family-run, Haus Press in Upper Brand after the booking screw up in April 2003.

We’ve come a long way since the penny bus ride from school to the Ripley market place, a week at Butlin’s and sleeping on Oma’s couch.

From Aachen, the road to the Adriatic is simple. Head out to the east bound motorway that starts on Europa Platz, approached from town via Julicher Strasse and turn right just before Cologne. Head south up the Rhine Valley on the West bank, cross the river near Ludwigshafen, and fly straight through to Heilbronn. Turn right to Ulm and then left to Munich along the Stuttgart Motorway. Before Munich take a right to Garmische and a few miles of urban traffic. The highway through Garmische leads via Mittle-Wald to Seefeld and in turn, over the mountains to Innsbruck. The Seefeld stretch is a relief from Motorways and gives a last chance for a bit of shopping and topping up with fresh ham and home pressed pastata even if you don’t intend to stay the night. Down a steep hill into the valley of the River Inn and up the other side via a motorway, it’s across the Europa Bridge, straight through to Brenner and the border between Austria and Italy. The customs queues and curious border guards are history but, curiously the money exchange on the central reservation has survived. Leaving the mountain pass characterised by a winding road peppered with alternate tunnels and bridges, just south of Verona, the road across the Po Valley to Modena is flat and straight and marginally less boring than those in Belgium due to the erratic confrontation between Italian cars and East European trucks.

Buuble’s favourite stop over – Brenner Pass Decemebr 1997

At Modena, marvel at the lack of Ferraris, turn left to Bologna, survive the ring road heading east with caution due to average speeds now approaching the low “Hundreds”, to ensure filtering right at the Moretti brewery. The Moretti brewery was once named “Prinz Brau” on the theory that German sounding beer would sell best. Fortunately, the original, enormous brass brewing vats remain a landmark, visible from the motorway through four storey high glass walls, and thus averting an involuntary detour via Ravenna the year that the signs changed.  Attention! …Don’t miss the Moretti brewery otherwise its straight through to Ravenna and Ravenna is not a place you want to be.  From the Moretti Brewery, it’s straight all the way to Rimini where the motorway hits the coast mutating into a rattle snake of twist and turns. Within a few miles south of hitting the coast, the exit to Pesaro is skilfully disguised by a tunnel approach giving some 800m to change lane and throw out the parachute brake.

Easy! Pay a road toll with a small mortgage and arrive at your destination desperate for a brandy or two and the occasional new exhaust pipe or timing chain.

Forget trying to use the Karlsruhe and the Stuttgart bit of the German Autobahns. Far too many commuters. As an alternative to Garmische there is always the Fern pass via Kempten but the journey is usually longer. Give the motorway via Salzburg a miss as it’s tolled, always busy and such a long way around the mountains.

December 1998

There were so many summers coast to coast with Calais to Pesaro regularly in the same day or via Mont Blanc in around twelve hours. Winters were an altogether more sedate affair.

The French “connection” is Calais, Paris, Lyons, Dijon, Chamonix and Monte Blanc, by-pass Milan using signage for Alessandria, Bologna and don’t forget the Moretti Brewery! Downhill all the way! Somewhere along the line avoid the temptation to succumb to poor signage by steering via Turin. It’s always rush hour in Turin. Remember the advice of the traffic cop dressed in a facsimile of a Boy Scout uniform who stopped me for speeding in 1982 that going via Luxemburg is not a sensible option and possibly avoid a two-hundred Deutch Mark, or equivalent Euro fine in today’s money.

The tunnel under Mont Blanc is a marvel when it’s not practising self-cleansing through mass incineration. Geneva is pretty and if you park in the Bank on a corner overlooking the lake you can exit through a rear door to do a little shopping whilst the attendant thinks you are still inside doing some wheeler dealing… He graciously assisted me in offloading my bags of booty and Toblerone into the boot of the ever-so oversized, hand finished Mercedes 500SEL with the conspicuous GB plate mounted back and front for good measure.

Peter and Bubble – Farcahnt – December 1999
Christmas day Italy – 1999

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