I have now been on the island for two months, which is a third of my sentence served. Mr Innes at the Car Club has quite rightly taken me to task for not posting anything on here for several weeks and I should have enough time spare to do so.
I have settled in really quite well and developed a weekly routine. I have joined a very well equipped gym and go there Monday and Friday mornings, and depending on other activities some Wednesdays. I go into the interior of the island once a week and walk around the mountains which are beautiful with some great views. The island is very varied in its vegetation with the north being really quite green and the south, very barren.
I have fallen in with a group of classic car enthusiasts and attended a couple of their Sunday displays for the general public (similar to the shopping/garden centre event the MGCC do). There are some surprising cars hidden away here including a 1954 MG TD owned by the proprietor of the holiday complex next door to where I am staying. Can anyone name the above car?
Bridget now has two new front wheel bearings and is handling much better. The roads here, with the exception of one main motorway, are small winding mountain roads or dirt tracks. Many of the mountain roads are not much more than single carriageway with hairpin bends very common.
Winter has certainly arrived with the temperature falling to 20°C on a couple of days. The south coast of the island, which is where I am based, gets the best of the sun but can be very windy. This causes mini sand-storms that can make the beach less attractive than the pool outside my front door. The sand on the beach is quite fine, but gritty and you can end-up sand-blasted rather than sun-burnt.
I have uploaded some photos of the area around Soria in the south-west of the island which is really quite beautiful and also some photos of a few of Bridget’s new friends.
On arriving on Gran Canaria I wasn’t totally convinced that staying for six months was really a very good idea. Certainly you can’t fault the climate, with the onset of winter the temperature has dropped to mid/high twenties, but the tourist industry here is so big that most of the islands culture is difficult to find.
However, I am beginning to find my way around and the interior of the island is excellent for walking, climbing and generally exploring. The island has three separate climatic systems; the south of the island is very similar to mid-north Africa, the centre of the island receives a little rain and a great deal of cloud and the north of the island is Mediterranean.
The centre is mountainous with the highest point just under 2000 metres. The mountains are fairly barren but have deep valleys that are well populated with tropical vegetation and pine woods. The wild life (as opposed to the night life which is pretty wild) consists of lizards, small mammals, nothing much larger than a rabbit, birds of prey, woodpeckers, green parrots and wood pigeon. There are no insects or reptiles here that have dangerous bites, stings or that try to eat you, a few humans might try, but …..
I now have a book of some twenty-five different walks scattered around the island (the walks not the book) that I purchased from one of the hiking companies on the island. They run guided walks, but the value for money was not impressive whereas the book is really all you need unless you want to be part of a group. Bridget has been enjoying a well deserved rest most of the time with the occasional run-out to the interior. The roads, with the exception of the main coastal motorway, are narrow, winding and often steep. You need good brakes and that is what made me realise that Bridget’s felt a little spongy. I decided to bleed the brakes but as with most work it is a lot easier if you can raise the car off the ground. I was told about a car restoration company working from premises near the airport and took Bridget there. Bleeding the brakes is no more than a 20 minute job at the most so I expected to be back on the beech by lunchtime.
I was just walking away from the vehicle when they lifted the hoist and I heard the garage owner say “What’s that?” I turned just as he reached out and touched the front offside wheel. It wobbled like a loose tooth. Clearly the bearing was totally shot and yet earlier in the week another garage had carried out a check and correction for her tracking! How they had missed the problem with her bearing I do not know. Fortunately I had a spare bearing set that the garage will fit on Monday. The nearside front one is also going, but will last until a replacement arrives from Moss. So for now I shall get plenty of walking until Bridget is fit once more.
The ferry trip from Cadiz to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, was civilised by any standards given that it was forty hours long. Bridget found it a breeze.
In Cadiz the queuing, bureaucracy and high temperatures took its toll and when some cars started to queue jump I could not help myself from jumping in front of them, thankfully bringing them to a halt, and berating the second in line, the first having escaped. He rather sheepishly slunk away and even though I hadn’t achieved anything, other than establishing that the British queuing system is right, returned proudly to Bridget. Later that evening, following the consumption of a well-deserved dinner, I suddenly felt that I was being watched. I looked up and some 20 feet away a slightly merry gentleman was grinning and when he realised I had seen him called out “Mr MG. You shouted at me and I am in terrible trouble”. We soon established that he was the driver of the car I had berated earlier and it transpired that my action had cost him dearly with is better half.
He is a Norwegian with an English wife, who understands the queuing system well and was embarrassed by the event. He made me feel a most terrible bully, yelling at him in the way I had and so we got mutually drunk together.
We all eventually arrived in Gran Canaria and Bridget and I drove to Playa del Inlges in the south of the island. By ‘close of play’ Friday I had found some winter quarters in Maspalomas and that is where I am now writing this. I will be holding regular ‘natters’ on the second Friday of every month, all are of course welcome.
Bridget and I have been travelling for just under three months during which we have covered 9,000 miles (14,600km) around Europe. With the additional 1,500 miles from here to home which we will complete next year, plus local mileage on the island, that will be a total of some 11/12,000 miles. I doubt if either you or I are overly delighted that Bridget’s retirement run has been anything less than Around the World but financially it never really was on.
Yes, I said retirement run. I think I have asked all that realistically I should of a car of Bridget’s vintage. I have calculated that she has certainly covered 150,000 miles (240,000km) and it could possibly be more. Many of them have not been easy, a classic British understatement, and she never was considered, even by me, to be suitable for what was asked of her.
Of the seven years since we started this activity we have travelled for well over three of them. The experience has been awesome for me.
Now the question is “What to do with Bridget?” I don’t know if any of the museums would be interested in taking her, this would be my preferred outcome as she would be properly maintained and available for the public to see and share. I am open to any other ideas, or even offers!
There are times, rare indeed, when everything just seems to go your way. This past weekend started that way.
It began when I arrived at the Montecastillo Golf and Health complex and told them I had booked a room for four nights. “Oh yes” said the receptionist, “you have a villa”. Whatever, I thought and was told I could drive my car around to it. What I wasn’t told was to leave it in the parking layby and not follow the golf cart road right up to the door, so I got it a little wrong. I have found, people allow classic car owners to do all sorts of things that ordinary drivers are not allowed to do and so everyone smiled politely over the weekend and said nothing about my parking.
I was speechless when I entered the two story villa I had for the weekend. It was the same floor area as some two bedroom houses. I thought “If only I had known, I could have thrown a party”.
The complex has of course a gym that I really needed, having only twice done any real exercise since leaving England. I could also play as much golf as I wanted, except I haven’t played since I was stranded at Charters Towers, in Australia, for four weeks. So I passed on that facility.
As usual, I hadn’t done any research on Jerez (pronounced Harez) and so was delighted to find, when I went into town that I was in the centre of the sherry producing area. Being a little partial to a Tio Pepe before dinner I decided to take the official tour of their winery. The tourist bit was a similar set-up to the port caves in Porto, but very different production methods, it was enlightening.
Next door to the Montecastillo complex is the Circuito de Jerez F1 test track. Sunday afternoon I idly drove up to the entrance to see if I could blag my way in and was very surprised when the security officer said yes, I could go to the Pit-Stop restaurant and watch the motorcycle racing. Even more surprised than me was the restaurant owner who was ecstatic when he saw Bridget. Although his English was on a par with my Spanish he clearly wanted to show me something in the restaurant. It turned out to be an event calendar and scheduled for the 11/12th September were two days of historic automobile races. I would dearly have loved to attend the event, particularly as the guy was sure Bridget would be able to go on the track, but unfortunately we will be on the ferry and unable to go. You can’t win them all, but it was a close run thing.
The next and probably final blog will be from Gran Canaria.
PS. I have posted some of the photos from our party in Porto as promised (had to be careful there were no spelling mistakes in the heading Porto Night Out)
My previous post mentioned, in passing, the financial difficulties the bikini manufacturers are obviously going through, given the lack of material used. I have received an unprecedented amount of feedback regarding my comments on present day swimwear, or lack of it, and felt that further clarification for the case for woollen, neck to knee, one-piece costumes should be made.
Basically the feedback falls into three groups and I will handle them in that way. First, and easily the most proliferate are the licentious requests for photographs of nubile young ladies unknowingly captured on film (digitised images actually) in immodest poses. The gentlemen making these requests should be embarrassed and ashamed of their own behaviour and should consider how they would feel if their identities were published. They should have received their merchandise by the end of the day and I would remind them that payment is required by return, or the afore mentioned publication will appear on Monday.
The second group are the Australians, particularly from the Bondi Beach area. Nobody is trying to spoil your fun, indeed I would argue the opposite is the case. Firstly consider, the weight of a saturated woollen swimming costume will make the wearer a far stronger swimmer if indeed they wish to stay on the surface of the water. Secondly, and perhaps the more important advantage, is that sharks will no longer see people as a tasty little morsel, but as nothing more than a fur-ball! Also it is well documented that the Australian economy needs new industry to take over from the natural resource mining that is dwindling. Sheep farming is the answer, and is what Australians were originally born to do. Un-employment will fall dramatically.
Finally the third group are those arguing against the job losses for the garment industries in third world countries where most of today’s bikinis are made. It should be remembered that the third world is the area that will be most badly affected by rising sea levels as global warming takes hold and the ice caps melt. Woollen swimwear will soak up much of the additional water released into the oceans and save the flood prone areas such as Bangladesh. Wool is also a natural material and causes less pollution than manmade fabrics. Granted, there is a spinoff benefit for Britain, in that, the North of England could re-open all the old mills!
This proposal is financially and ecologically robust, as are the models for this year’s swimwear collection. I think I will talk to Bridget about releasing her own line of swimwear…….
Portugal is Bridget’s 52nd country and largely new to me. The drive down to Porto from Vigo was short but interesting. Lots of tree covered mountains, but unfortunately speckled with forest fires. Conditions are seriously dry and there are notices everywhere warning people to take care, but still the fires occur.
Arriving in the city of Porto, not Oporto as inaccurately entitled by the British, I was struck by the wide avenues, plentiful statues and unfortunately the disrepair of many buildings. Once again, the financial crisis is evident although some regeneration is under way in Porto.
My priorities were set and I visited the Port wine producers as soon as I had checked into a hotel. As the world centre for the production of port all the big names are here and all have visitor centres. I was recommended to choose Sandeman as the first which I did and was fascinated by the production process. However the disposal methods were far more fun. I was relieved to be told that once a bottle was opened it should be emptied within 24 hours. I have yet to find a bottle to last that long. I couldn’t help noting however, that they did not mention at any stage the ‘bad head’ effect of the product.
Although set on a path to discover all of Porto’s history I fell into disruptive company during the first evening and never really recovered. Two charming young ladies, Jenny from Toronto and Barbara from Berne, shared a drink, or two, over dinner at an Italian restaurant and that was the end of my strictly tourist exploration of Porto.
From Porto we drove down to Setubal, 30 kilometres south east of Lisbon. Although everyone has told me that Lisbon is a lovely city, and I believe that, I just couldn’t face another big city. We stayed overnight and then struck out for El Rompido, just across the Spanish border.
I have made the decision to take Bridget to the Canary Isles for winter. We are booked on a ferry from Cadiz to Gran Canaria leaving on Tuesday 10th September.
El Rompido is one of those purpose built sun and golf holiday resorts. Not my usual choice, but occasionally it’s good to have a change. Once again I have noticed the effect of the economic climate, this time on the big company clothing industry. It is obvious that the bikini manufacturers have run seriously low on stocks of material for production and this results in tiny bikini’s. The young ladies are obviously embarrassed by the situation but when that is all that is available…..
Personally, I think we should return to the all-woollen, single piece, neck to knee bathing costumes so popular when I was a youngster! Iran has the right idea with segregated bathing beaches; people are so much more relaxed.
San Sebastian is just as good today as I remember it from 2006. I tend to think of it as a small Barcelona, without the football enthusiasts. It has an old town full of small alleys with terrific Tapas bars, historic buildings, albeit many have been rebuilt following a major fire (probably some Nordic holiday makers or it may have had something to do with Portuguese and British troops sacking the town after giving Napoleons men a slap), museums and cultural events. It is very popular and hotel rooms are over-subscribed during August. It is to be the European City of Culture in 2016 and will have to seriously address the shortage of accommodation before then.
Overlooking the city is a figure of Christ atop of Mount Urgull on which were the fortified ramparts that Napoleon captured during the Peninsula War of 1808-14. There is even a British cemetery in the grounds for the soldiers that fell during the taking of the city.
I decided to give Bridget another five day rest and went to the beach.
One of my favourite restaurants, The Bull at Bisham, is a family run business and for years Andreas, the head of the family and from North West Spain, has been telling me I should visit that part of the country. Now was my opportunity and rather than driving south to Salamanca and crossing into Portugal I decided to drive along the Spanish Coast before turning south. He’s right you know. The drive along the coast starts pleasantly and gets better the further you go.
I thought I would stop for the night around the town of Gijon, but as I drove into the town immediately changed my mind and decided to stay for two nights. The sun was blazing, but apart from that I was struck with the similarities of the town to Weymouth, in Dorset, where I spent my childhood. Gijon has a long sweeping bay with soft golden sand, getting quite poetic now, and on a peninsula at one end of the bay there is a late nineteenth/early twentieth century fort almost identical to the Nothe Fort in Weymouth. Gijon is certainly far larger than Weymouth with a population of over 280,000.
Bridget and I left Gijon on the Thursday and as I was checking out the receptionist told me I would miss their Cider Celebrations. A strong ‘scrumpy’ style cider is a local speciality and every year they have a drunken weekend, sorry celebration for the years’ crop. Weymouth Town Council should look to twinning with Gijon.
From Gijon we took the E70 highway along to the furthest corner of the North West coast to A. Coruña before turning south to the town of Vigo. I am not the first Brit to have walked upon the streets of this town. In both 1585 and 1589 Sir Francis Drake attacked the town even occupying it for a short while whilst in 1719, because a Spanish fleet which departed from Vigo attempted to invade Scotland in support of the Jacobites, the city was occupied for ten days by a British force. Isn’t it a good thing that the English have stopped bullying countries we disagree with…..well with some exceptional cases!
Although people here are trying hard to cover it up, this part of Spain is certainly feeling the effects of the economic climate. Many businesses have closed and even four star hotels are charging half the price of those in San Sebastian.
Before closing I should say that the lack of news about Bridget is because she is running well with no cause for concern, which is a bit worrying.
Tomorrow, Saturday, we leave for Portugal and the town of Porto.
Sorry for my prolonged absence. It has been so long that I couldn’t remember what my last post covered and had to go on site to see. Anyway, we have had an eventful few days in France and another of those “Bridget should never have made it” moments, followed by Moss Europe digging us out of the clag again! They must be fed-up with us by now, but they continue assisting.
After the wonderful run through the Selvio Pass and a couple of nights at Terisimo we continued in the general direction of France. My regulars will know the high esteem that I hold France in, and I suddenly had an unaccountable urge (possibly connected to a surfeit of wine) to visit my cousin in Blaymont, Lot and Garonne. Although they had other family already there, they were, of course, delighted to be honoured with a visit.
A number of times I was unable to ignore an aweful banging when I started Bridget up first thing in the morning and it was apparently getting worse. We stopped overnight at a hotel just south of Lyon. I choose it because when surfing hotels in the area I noticed a photograph of two MG’s parked outside, one a MGA and the other a MGB. They had French plates and, as I found out from the proprietor, they belonged to members of France’s MG Car Club.
Bridget and I spent a very pleasant evening chatting with a New Zealand/Frech couple and their gorgeous children. Lots of photos were taken, but I couldn’t help feeling they should have been of the New Zealand father who had been a professional rugby player.
Anyway, the following morning Bridget sounded really bad when I started her up and although she was running smoothly I decided that when I got to Blaymont I would ask if the local garage had a hoist we could lift Bridget on for an inspection. Initially it sounded to me like the exhaust knocking on something, so it wasn’t very serious, but gradually I changed my diagnosis. As we had now covered over 7,000 miles I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to change the oil, etc., at the same time.
After arriving at my cousin’s house and exchanging the usual pleasantries about Henry V and Agincourt, I asked if the local garage might oblige? My cousins sensible half, knew where we should go with Bridget and, as it turned out, he was spot on. Francios works part time for himself on almost anything mechanical, tractors, agricultural machines, occasional classic cars and even French cars. Basically, he’s a damned good mechanic, in the old style.
We agreed to take Bridget to his premises after breakfast Sunday morning, which we did. Bridget was driven on the hoist and the service began.
Francois changed the engine oil, which had been the light Norwegian oil that had been worrying me, the gearbox oil, greased the front suspension points and adjusted the handbrake. I noticed he was pondering something at the front of the engine and as he did so he was flipping the fan backwards and forwards. I realised that was not right and stepped forward just as he said he thought something wasn’t right. My eyes fell upon the place where the pulley restraining nut should have been, just to see the end of the cam shaft!
While Francois checked to see if he had anything that could replace the lost nut I reflected upon the likely outcome if I hadn’t decided to stop in Blaymont and check everything. Francois did not have anything we could use and so I said I would e-mail an order to Moss later that afternoon and felt sure they would be able to get it to us by ‘close of play’ Tuesday.
My faith was rewarded on Monday morning with a confirmation from Moss that a replacement nut (not for me) was on its way. Clearly the original nut that was lost had not been tightened correctly after someone fitted the new duplex timing chain and a Royal Commission will be set-up to investigate who was responsible. Francois was also impressed with the speed at which the replacement arrived and took Moss’s details so that he can order parts for a clients’ Healey that causes some problems from time to time.
So I have spent a pleasant four nights (that’s what I have been told to say) in Lot and Garonne and Bridget is re-invigorated with another service and an emergency repair that should never have occurred. En route today I couldn’t help noticing a slight knocking from the passenger front wheel when turning any right-hand bend. Maybe I should check the wheel bearing?
We have now moved on to San Sebastian in North West Spain. We visited this location in 2006 on our first ever run together. I note from my Tour Log that her mileage reading on arriving then was 62,222 and this time it is exactly 22,222. I am sure the wizards and witches amongst us can make something out of that. We are staying on the San Sebastian University campus just as we did then, not being any richer.
We will have a few days rest here, to regain our sanity, and then I think we may drive down to Portugal. That will be a new experience for both of us.
PS I really must add a personal note to this blog. My sincere thanks to Rosemary and Peter for putting me up and putting up with me. Also, best wishes to all those I met during my stay in Blaymont. I will forward the invoices for the Midget rides!
From Pordeone we drove over to Tremisone, on Lake Garda. This area has always been a favourite of mine and very many Brits for many years. For me it’s just about nature, the mountains and inevitable lakes. Unfortunately this particular area is just about saturated from a traffic point of view and it is difficult to know how to resolve it. Widening the roads, apart from being difficult, would spoil many aspects of the area, but it is impossible to restrict the numbers.
I had checked into my hotel in Pieve di Tremisone and completed the initial recce of the town and was just about to enter the building when a MGF pulled up in the car park opposite. I walked over and introduced myself to the occupants, a couple from Hebdon Bridge. Unfortunately they are not MGCC members, but still very nice people. First of the family I have seen since leaving the UK.
One of the photos I have uploaded shows Bridget beside a lake with a tower in the background. I will not give any explanation of this location but will turn it over to Julian who will tell you all about it. Don’t worry Colin, you will not be left out; I will take a picture of Calais for you to describe on the way back.
I decided, quite out of the blue, to change direction and head north to Merano, only about one hundred miles north. From there, we will launch ourselves against the Stelvio Pass, listed as one of the ten most beautiful drives in the world. I see from the internet, that for one day each year it is closed to cars so that cyclists can have it to themselves! Bl…y cheek. I wouldn’t mind so much if cars had a reciprocal arrangement, but these people tear around the pavements of Europe with scant regard for pedestrians, etc……. think they own the place.
Wednesday. We drove from Tremisone to Merano today under a cloudy sky, but the temperature remained around 30°C. I arrived and was very impressed with both the town and the hotel. Merano is what I would call a Tyrolean spa resort. It is not too large, welcoming and clean. It is very geared-up for the tourist, not in a glitzy way, but wants tourists to feel welcome and at ease. The town is surrounded by the beautiful Italian Alps which makes it a winner with me straight away.
Having checked into the hotel I decided to visit Castel Trauttmansdorff botanical gardens. These are a real treat in particular their display of dahlias. On arriving back at the hotel I was astonished to see another MG Midget parked in the car park (I know that’s where they are supposed to be, smart ass). This was also had a red paint job, but not Rosso, and had German registration plates. I think the rather bemused hotel owner thought this was some sort of joke we were playing.
We left the hotel at around 8:30 and the mysterious owner of the other Midget had not appeared at breakfast. I had other things on my mind however with todays run. The Stelvio Pass is rated amongst the top 10 runs in the world and reportedly has no less than 48 hairpin bends. The peak is 1.7 miles above sea level. I thought we would get on the road before it became too hot.
It was one of those days when I wish I had a support vehicle or some such thing who could go ahead and take photos as we progressed. I also wished that Germans with Winnebago’s and cyclists in general were banned from the pass on ‘my day’. No offence to either, but they do get in the way.
The run was everything I could have hoped for. The scenery all the way is breath-taking and the road is perfect for MG’s and the like. It has even made me think I should enter Bridget for some hill-climb events, she behaved impeccably and, even after leaving the pass, was still happy to complete another 160 miles on to Como.
It has been seven years since Bridget and I were in Como together. This was one of hundreds of locations we covered in our very first run in 2006. We have completed a lot since then. To end an exceptionally good day I walked along the lakeside promenade and decided to have a beer and watch the world go by. I had only been sitting for a few moments and what passed by just ten feet from me? Another red midget! Yet a different one from Merano and this time I think the registration was Swiss, but I am not sure. I am started to suspect that Mike Parker is having me watched. He has always believed that I don’t actually go anywhere, but just spend my time in a Brighton hotel room writing blogs.
Feeling thoroughly refresh after a couple of days in Maribor, Bridget and I set-off for Sesta al Reghena, some 20 miles West-Nor’-West of Trieste and 15 miles West-Sou’-West of Udine. I am not sure how to pronounce the latter, so I asked a cockney “Wasn’t he that geezer with chains, a sack and a tank of water?” It occurred to me after, what a shame it is that there wasn’t a prison camp there during World War II, then hundreds of Brits could tunnel their way out and we could make a film entitled “Escape from Udine”
The drive was event free and the scenery was back to what I enjoy so much, lots of open space with some serious mountains in the distance. Much of the urban housing across Slovenia is similar to the chalet styles you would see in the French Alps areas, Austria and, I imagine, Switzerland. The latter is one European country I have not been to, other than a brief trip to Geneva; perhaps I should just give Bridget a little ‘right- hand down a bit’ and correct that oversight.
I chose to stop at Sesta al Reghena for no other reason than, from what I could make out, it is a small comune, or village, with just a hotel and a couple of restaurants. So I have no idea of its history, why it exists, or the people that live here. I have already discovered that the hotel staff speak Italian or a little German, but not English, so this really should be fun.
I have received one or two comments recently saying I haven’t mentioned much about Bridget, but there really isn’t much to report. Short of taking a mallet to her air filters there is nothing really wrong with her (that’s probably torn it!) We have covered over 6,000 miles (9,600km) and passed through 16 countries (including Italy, excluding the UK).
I love just about everything in Italy, except their television which, after France, has to be amongst the worst in the world. Anyway, Sesta al Reghena is, as I suspected, a small sleepy commune dating back to Roman times. The small Benedictine Abbey of San Maria in Sylvis was built here around the seventh century and very little else has happened. There is a very good hotel/restaurant which was most unexpected, but welcome.
Some 15 kilometres up the road is the historic town of Pordenone. The town planners here have managed to mix old and new together quite successfully without spoiling either. The Fiume Noncello has some of the cleanest looking water I have seen in any Italian river, also some largish fish. As with any good Italian town there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars. The town hall has an interesting ‘astronomical lunar clock’. I’m sure they mean relating to astronomy, not enormous. I’m afraid I’ve no idea of the date it was manufactured. The other mystery in Pordenone is the walls of the buildings originally were covered in fresco’s, not uncommon in the middle ages, but they included many of coats of arms. There are no records for these coats of arms and no known explanation for so many.
Ah well, back to the vino, then….