Thursday, July 24, 2008

+ 4 – 10.25am (local) – The E79 to Sofia, Bulgaria

The Romanian roads and weather won the battle last night and after fighting through to Drobeta Turnu Severin it turned 1am and we were still 115km from Bulgaria so we decided to call it a night. After being moved on from a lay-by from a woman with a large dog shouting what appeared to be the Romanian for 'No Parking' we parked in a nearby Motel car park and enjoyed 4 of the least comfortable hours sleep I've had in a while.

The best time to travel we figured was first light and indeed it was. We cruised the last few hours towards Bulgaria with neither traffic nor rain, only to be met with some confusion when following signs for Vidin in Bulgaria led us to a port. Confusing as there was no water on our map. Apparently the border between Bulgaria and Romania is a river but the map just assumed we'd know that and didn't bother showing us! So after paying several different forms of ferry tax, we were herded onto a tiny flatbed ferry along with a load of lorries. They didn't bother closing the doors at either end of the ferry as that would mean less space and therefore less money. Health and what? Never heard of it. After a short 20 minute crossing we arrived on land for passport control. The guards were friendly and once again very little problems. The phonebox is still working a treat with officials!

Although it didn't stop us getting pulled over by police a few km down the road for apparently doing 76kph in a 60kph zone. Possibly a believable charge but when the Police found we hadn't yet got any local currency they decided we were more hassle than we are worth and waved us on! I personally think the policeman felt threatened when he saw just how well dressed we were! Day 4 and a change of shirt later and the suits are still looking sharp.

Diet currently consists of crisps, chocolate croissants and energy drinks. But we are definitely going to stop and cook up a noodle based feast soon. Although we have been saying that for about 16 hours now!

Today's plan is to hit Turkey but first we need to get an electric fan fitted in the mini to solve our overheating and more than likely find a cheap hotel to get some actual sleep.

Current thought: It's very nearly Pimms O'clock

Launch Day + 3 – 11.30pm (local) - The Road to Nowhere, Romania

Impressions of Romania are not good. Constant road works, lunatic lorry drivers and stray dogs pretty much sums the country up.

Last night we stopped at a small camp site near Zalaegereszeg in Hungary and had a much needed quiet night with noodles and a good night's sleep. Roads through Hungary were reasonable and we made good progress. Today needed some serious miles doing as to keep on schedule we needed to be in Bulgaria by nightfall. That seemed more than achievable but we had definitely underestimated how bad Romania would be. We had initially planned to head south from Hungary, through Serbia and into Bulgaria but we don't have a green card covering car insurance in Serbia and we've heard rumours of the border guards charging huge amounts to buy on the border. With that in mind we decided a short trip through Romania would be the way forward.

Heading for the Romanian border, we had our first police stop. A single police car and 3 armed policemen and 1 policewoman pulled us over at their checkpoint. We went for the usual formality of gathering our papers to show them but it soon became apparent they weren't interested and only wanted pictures of the car and phone box! So we obviously asked for photos of them next to the phonebox! Definitely one of the most friendly police experiences I've had.

The popularity of the mini and phonebox still amazes and will no doubt improve the further east we get. Arriving at the Romanian border saw all the border guards leave their posts to come and take photos and laugh at the car. Clearly they didn't see us as any kind of threat and after they all had enough photos they waved us on through. And that is pretty much the only nice thing to say about Romania. Apart from a group of guys who we met at a petrol station who found us so amusing they gave us a watermelon!

The roads in Romania were bad, constant road works and the drivers, especially the lorry drivers are crazy! They were quite happy to overtake us on uphill blind corners. Because of the roads and horrendous weather progress is very slow. At one point we saw a huge, expensive looking LED sign informing us of the air temperatures and also how bad the roads were. Obviously the government deemed it a better idea to spend the money on a fancy sign warning about pot holes than actually fix them! Think that sums the place up. We've also noticed that don't seem to be any young people here, especially girls. There are, however, plenty of scary, wrinkly old women with no teeth!

Only car trouble today is the light switch breaking. We used to have the choice between dipped and side lights but now it's just lights on or off and bunch of live cables sticking out of where the switch used to be. To turn the lights off simply pull out the blue wire. To turn them on, just push the wire back in. Genius.

The rain is now fairly torrential and with no street lights or cats eyes it's all a matter of guessing where the road is! Plan is to try and make the Bulgarian border before we sleep but it's all getting a tad dangerous now so may end up parking until first light. Safe to say we won't miss Romania, a lot has changed since Dracula's time!

Moral: Medium
Current thought: Someone got a serious bribe to let Romania in the EU.

Launch Day + 2 – 1pm – On the road to Passau, Germany

Finding our way to the Czech Republic was fairly easy and uneventful but finding a castle in rural Czech with only a small photocopy of an even smaller map proved a little trickier. But after only a handful of U turns and some head scratching we found our way to our first and only check point between London and Mongolia. There are some vicious rumours circulating that we asked a local for directions but being that we are English men this is obviously a lie.

Klenova Castle is semi ruined castle and is open to the public but last night it was sacked in record time to the sounds of 'Rule Britannia' by two very well dressed young men in a mini and phone box flying an enormous Union Jack!

On arrival we started setting up camp and the hammocks had just been tied up to the car when Tom, founder of the Adventurists, asked if we'd like to have our car displayed inside the castle! This honour was obviously far too good to pass up for the sake of a night's sleep so the hammocks came down and we drove the mini through the main gates and into the castle. Apparently a phone box on a mini is a fair bit smaller than a knight on a horse so there was no issue in fitting through the gate. Inside the castle, Roxanne was proudly displayed for all to see. (For all those who have not been formally introduced the mini has been named Roxanne. And yes she does have to put on the red box and drive the streets for money!)

All the ralliers were camping in the bottom field below the castle and seeing all the camps very much resembled a medieval army preparing to launch an attack on the castle. And that's exactly what happened! In some of the best and worst knights and wench oufits the ralliers descended on the castle for a hog roast and cup of mead. Much dancing and merriment was then enjoyed within the castle walls until the early hours but as usual we were less like nobility and more like jesters! But despite what anyone says, sequins do look like chain mail and Ben looked a most manly knight.

Also laid out for us at the castle was a travelling 'sauna' and 'shower'. The sauna was basically a small trailer with a load of wood panelling and a big heater. Apparently putting all the water on it gets it fairly hot quite quickly as we discovered with near face burning results. The shower was actually a bucket and a hose with freezing cold water. So after being nearly burnt alive in the sauna the shower was most refreshing and after almost 24 hours of near non stop driving it was well needed. Wearing leather shoes and socks for 36 hours has resulted in one pair of socks being thrown away and the shoes banished from inside the car. So suits and flip flops will be the order of dress today!

This morning we decided to have a taste test between our Extreme Energy drinks and the local alternatives. The two contending drinks were Kamikaze and Semtex. Both were horrible but we are now suitably wired for the drive through Austria. Also on the beverage front there has been a slight Pimms emergency! After the excitement of arriving in CZ we appear to drunk 2 bottles of it! We are now running seriously low and only hope that by some miracle we can find ourselves an Eastern European supplier!

Mileage clock has just hit 121,000 miles so that's 1000 miles down already. At this rate we'll be there in 10days. Yeah right.

Moral: High.
Current thought: I'm never drinking again.

Launch Day + 1 – 10.30am – Approaching Nurenburg, Germany

After heading off the ferry we turned left. Several hours, France, Belgium and lack of sleep later and we are now in Germany and steaming (quite literally due to a slight over heating problem in traffic jams) towards the Czech Republic. So far one spot light is off, the grill is off, the bonnet is raised and we are collecting a small army of dead flies on the front of the phonebox. But no time to worry, the party clock is on countdown. So far we've had 3 fuel stops, tears, laughter, sickness and hysteria. But luckily most of that was from the teams we are currently convoying with.

Moral: Medium – High
Current thought: If it overheats in Germany, I hope it's snowing in the desert.

Launch Day

For all those unable to attend the grand send off it was a marvellous affair. Like all great British events, there was rain but the sound of Rule Britannia being belted out from the mini's external speakers soon had the sunshine and the crowds there in the thousands.

The launch started with a short live interview on Radio 5 Live and ended with A Very British Adventure being awarded the prize of 'Most Pimped' for the best car on the rally. Now I don't know how you like to measure success but I'd say by anyone's standards that it's a good start to the rally!

The launch consisted of around 250 cars lined up along North Carriage drive in Hyde Park with thousands of spectators wandering round, chatting to the ralliers and inspecting the cars. We had a spot right next to the main stage and dressed as proper English gentlemen we spent the morning with the phonebox standing upright on the roof of the car, playing uplifting British anthems and handing out cucumber sandwiches. We had a great reception and the usual looks of laughter and disbelief greeted the idea of what we were about to do.

The launch itself happened just after the midday sun which us steaming out of Hyde Park for a tour round London, still pumping out the British anthems from the external speakers. We of course made a detour to play the national anthem outside Buck House before beginning the drive down to Dover.

Overall it was a thoroughly superb way to start the rally, and as our cd suggested, it was a Very British Send Off.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Eve of Greatness

We find ourselves now on the eve of the great adventure and know not what lies before us, only what lies behind us.

It has been a long journey to get to this point and yet a longer journey awaits us. It must be noted that never in the field of global exploration has so much been owed by so few to so many. To everyone who has helped get us here, we are thankful. But from here, we must go alone.

We go to explore, not to conquer.  We shall respect the ancient lands we travel through and will no doubt be marvelled by their hospitality. We will document our adventure, so those at home have some knowledge of what we see and experience.

The weeks ahead will be as long as they will be tough but this is no time for ease and comfort, it is time to dare and endure.  We will lose time, we will lose weight, we will lose engine parts and we will get lost. But we will not flag or fail. We shall drive until the end.  We shall drive in France, we shall drive round seas and oceans,  we shall complete our journey, whatever the cost may be.  We shall drive on beaches, we shall drive on the autobahn,  we shall drive through fields and streets, we shall drive in the deserts and the moutains and we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, the mini can take us no further, we will carry on, until in God's  good time we reach UlaanBattar.

Keep track of us as we travel and keep donating to the charities so all this is not done in vain.

Our business now is east.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Welcome to our Adventure Diary

The Swiss would've bought it, the Americans would have bombed it and the French would have surrendered to it. But not us. Here at AVBA HQ we merely sip from our Gin & Tonic and smile wryly as launch day marches towards us. Plenty of time to sleep when you're dead, so until then we're working round the clock to get things sorted.

This blog will be our 'On The Road Adventure Diary', which combined with the tracker and our text updates, should help you follow our progress as closely as if you were sat behind us. Only with more leg room and less of a petrol smell. To subscribe to the Blog click on the Subscribe link below, this will give you the option to add it to your toolbar as an RSS feed. I'm sure it works fine in Internet Explorer but like all good explorers, we only use Firefox.

8 Days to go now. Are we nervous you wonder? Of course not, The Empire wasn't built on nerves, it was built on stiff upper lips and a big flag!