Getting excited now. Decided to drive to Italy for my Summer Holidays with my Sister and my Nephew. At the time I still had my Scooby which would have been great to drive to Monza.
Now that has gone and I am driving my 500+ bhp R33 Skyline to Monza and then Lake Garda. It is going to be epic and I’m going to update my blog with all the excitement.
The route is basically through the tunnel and then to Reims for a look at the race track then night stop just south of Dijon. Next day to Chamonix and then over the top to Switzerland and then the Grand St Bernardo Pass to Aosta in Italy and then to Monza.
Car is almost ready, just needs a few last checks and packing then we are off at about 06:00 on Sunday morning.
Got Matt Monroe ready on the iPhone for going over the Alps and looking out for coaches and minis and Murias.
Saturday 3rd August:
Just getting the last bits and pieces done ready for leaving in the morning. Oils and water are all good and the headlight adjusters and GB sticker are on.
Just the last bit of packing to do then get the car loaded ready for the short trip to Croydon to meet up with rest of my travelling buddies.
Well not a great start to our adventure!!! Sat on M23 for two and a half hours due to an accident. Skyline was fantastic, never missed a beat but did use a shed load of fuel to go nowhere. A very nice young lady did mouth “nice car” through her horse van window. Well I thought it was nice car :-/
Sunday 4th August
Well up with the sparrows and my car was still there which is always a bonus. Beautiful morning and after the usual last minute packing scares we set off into a blinding sun.
After and easy drive down to The Tunnel we are now drinking coffee and waiting for our train. Also got on an earlier train which put us “feet dry” and hour earlier, what to do with all that extra time.
Wow what a day, got off the train and stopped to get petrol when my nephew said to me “I thought these GTR’s were supposed to be rare” I looked round there was another R33 at the pump next to me and an R32 and an R34 pulled in behind.
They were off to The Ring for a track day. What a great beginning to our European adventure.
We then headed off into the wild French hinterland to put as many miles as we could between us and Blighty. The Skyline didn’t miss a beat all day but did like to visit the petrol satiation at a rather alarming frequency. I filled up when I left my house yesterday and with that it makes five visits. Not all to fill from empty but that’s 554 miles on….oh sod it, I knew it was going to use loads of fuel but I don’t give a shit anymore.
Our first stop was a bit of a spur if the moment thing but glad we decided to stop. Not very Petrolhead but we stopped at the Canadian Memorial at Vimy which was very special. The actual Memorial is amazing and I think I might know where The Lord if the Rings guys got their ideas from.
Truly stunning memorial with the names if 11,500 Canadians who lost their lives in the Great War, very humbling.
Then we jumped back in the car and headed off to our next stop about two hours down the road. I’m sure some of you have seen this place but it was my first time and in its way just as moving as Vimy. You approach the buildings down a dead straight road just outside an industrial zone and it is the old Grand Prix buildings at Reims.
Fantastic place and so evocative of that bygone era of gentleman racers. I dumped my Sister and Nephew and set up the GoPro for a high speed pass which I will try to upload later.
Anyway she tried to video my pass with Henry’s iPad and only succeeded in videoing herself DOH.
Anyway after that we headed for our hotel where we arrived just after 19:00, exhausted but elated after a fun day.
Tomorrow the Alps and Mr Matt Monro.
Monday 5th August
Looks like its going to be another beautiful day. Woke up about 06:00 (even on holiday!!!!) and went to make sure the Liner was still there which it was. Think half the bugs in France are now splattered on the front of it.
Decided to clean the windows which was fine until I got attacked by a wasp. A proper Mr Bean moment with leaping and flapping of arms, what a cock.
Anyway got the others up and just having breakfast at our hotel before continuing our journey South and East.
So we set off at 09:00 for the Alps and after an hour and a half we have started climbing. Skyline really doesn’t like steep hills at 80 mph. She is huffing and puffing as the turbos fight for supremacy which requires a change down to fourth and some gas which is fun. Currently stopped for yet another fuel break, is this the most beautiful view from a motorway services? Just like the M1.
Now it’s all about the mountains!!! Just been through the foothills of the Alps and to say it is spectacular is an understatement.
Well what an incredible afternoon. The mountains never fail to thrill me. That is where my heart would live if it could leave my nackered body behind. Here are just a couple of photos.
We got up to Chamonix with amazing view of Monte Blanc and were lucky to turn off into the town just before the massive queue for the tunnel. Chamonix is very touristy and was rammed so I decided to head up the valley to Argentiere where we stopped for pizza with a view.
It was very hot by this time and I was a bit worried about the Skyline as it seemed to be getting a bit hot under the collar. Having an accurate water temperature is sometimes not such a good thing, makes you very paranoid. In the end I decided to go for it and go over the Grand St Bernardo Pass and hope the Skyline survived.
The first section over to Switzerland was amazing due to the views and the very unforgiving drops. I suddenly grew to love Armco.
We got stuck behind a big tipper truck going up some steep climbs which was a bit of a pain but we soon pulled off and we had a clear road. Not that I was pushing it, you become aware of the Skylines size and weight on roads like this.
The drop on the right here went all the way to the valley floor and damaged Armco and bunches of flowers at the side of the road hinted at the consequences of getting it wrong. The Skyline is fitted with massive D2 callipers and 330mm discs and race pads at both ends, this now makes a lot of sense.
As we got lower we saw some of the local produce in early stages of manufacture.
This got us to Martigny in Switzerland were we had a quick pit stop for yet more fuel. This was more of a confidence brimming as I had no idea how much fuel I was going to burn on the Grand St Bernardo.
Well The Grand St Bernardo was frustrating and amazing in equal measures. It wasn’t really as I expected after watching The Italian Job so many times. It’s a three lane main road at the beginning but it soon gets into some great driving roads and I remembered to get Matt Monro on repeat to give the right feel for the beautiful views.
Unfortunately it then got very frustrating as I was stuck behind an Italian plated Fiat Panda being driven at an unusually pedestrian speed but it wasn’t the end of the world. What I wasn’t expecting on this famous drivers road was bloody great artics. We got stuck behind one in a tunnel for ages and at one point we were screaming along at 20mph.
This led to me taking the wrong way as we closed on the summit. There are two ways, The Col and the Tunnel and the signs come up very quickly and as we had loads of traffic behind us I made a snap decision which was of course the wrong one DOH!!!!! To be fare I think we had all had enough by then and just wanted to get to Monza.
The rest of the way down to Aosta was pretty dull stuck behind slow cars and more artics.
From just outside Aosta we joined the Autostrada for a blast down the valley through several tunnels which were fun and some play time with Italian white van drivers, they are the same everywhere. Just as we got to the end of he valley something in black camouflage started pushing me and while I was trying to work out what it was I nearly missed our turning which required a last second dive for the exit as what turned out to be an Alfa 4C test hack flew passed.
The rest of the run along the A4 to Monza went without a hitch and we even got to indulge in some rush hour Tunnel Running through the new tunnel in Monza and arrived at the Outlaws at about 18:30, tired and hot but buzzing after over 900 miles in the Skyline which hadn’t missed a beat the whole journey.
That night we had a wonderful diner of good Italian home cooking and went to bed exhausted but looking forward to the last leg of our journey to Lake Garda for six days relaxing in my favourite place in the world.
Tuesday 6th August
Slept a bit late this morning but eventually got our shit together and got out the door. As we now had my six year old Son with us there was obviously a ton more stuff to cram into the poor Skyline and this took a bit of messing around but we got it all in, in the end.
We set off on roads I’ve driven hundreds of times but they all seem different in the R33, it just has a different presence to the little Lancia I normally drive here and about eight times the power.
It’s fun driving the Skyline in Italy, we know how car mad they are and the Skyline gets a lot of attention. On the Autostrada we had a Clio full of kids off on their holidays buzzing round us giving us the thumbs up.
The journey from Monza to Navene, where we are staying on Lake Garda is only about two and a half hours so we were soon off the Autostrada and heading down into Garda town. Going through Garda I had to stop at a crossing and stopped on the other side was a beautiful white Maserati Granturismo being driven by an equally beautiful blonde, Petrolheads dream date.
Driving along the Gardesano is a wonderful experience with beautiful views of the Lake and the mountains which is generally spoilt by certain of our European friends sticking exactly to the limit which make the trip up the Lake seem to take longer than than it took to get to Garda. Of course we got stuck behind one such person. I kept trying to remind myself that I was on holiday and was in no rush but pottering along in second and third gear is not much fun.
We finally arrived at our apartment ready for six days of relaxing and hanging out with friends. I love being in Lake Garda. It has a wonderful combination of beautiful towns, stunning scenery and the arguably the best inland sailing in the World.
When I lived in Italy I spent every weekend in Lake Garda working on the beach of my friends sailing school and I always love coming back.
Here are a few photos so you get a feel of how beautiful it is.
We had a great time playing in the pool and hanging out with our friends at Europa Holidays where I used to work. If your ever tempted to go to Garda for a holiday check them out they will not disappoint. I even managed to get a couple of hours of Kat sailing. It was so good to be out on the water again after about five years.
Thursday 15th August
Well all good things come to an end, and it always seems to happen much quicker than you think it should. We left Garda last Sunday and had an uneventful drive back to Monza except for stopping at every service station to look for 100 octane fuel which I finally found just before leaving the Autostrada. For info anything more than 95 octane is not readily available in Italy. Only a couple of distributors sell it and not at all their stations.
We dropped Helen and Henry off at Malpensa on Monday evening and me and Thomas are now in the hills above Salo on Lake Garda for the last few days of our holiday.
I decided to wash 1400 miles of bugs and grime from the Skyline, it was hard work getting all the bugs off.
I was able to take a look at my poor lip, it has taken a real pounding and will need some work when I get back. It is just too low to get away with any kind of car park ramp or bad road. Might have to think about something different.
My thoughts are now turning to the return leg of my trip. I have finally decided on the route and booked a hotel. Had to change my original route as the DTM are at The Ring so will be mad there so we are going directly to Spa where I have booked a night at the Hotel de La Source which as the name suggests is right on the La Source hairpin at the circuit. Quite looking forward to that.
Saturday 17th August
And so it begins!!!
Had a good blast back from Garda to Monza via Malpensa Airport last night. The highlight was suddenly becoming aware of a car next to me on the Autostrada and turning to see a beautiful red Ferrari 458 with the driver giving me the thumbs up. As he pulled ahead I saw it was on UK plates. Think he was coming from Maranello.
Picked up Jamie from the airport then went posing round Monza to find mcDonalds.
After about four hours sleep we are now ready for the off.
Bloody hell what a day!!!
We started with a quick cruise to the front gate of the Monza Circuit but due to it being a public holiday in Italy it was closed so we couldn’t get in to take any photos :-(.
Then we got on our way with a quick blast through the big tunnel in Monza and out on to the Tangenziale Nord and headed for the border. On arrival we parked up to get an espresso and brioche and buy the Vignette so we could use the Swiss motorways. As we got back to the car we saw our first fellow Brit in a Caterham. So replenished we trundled into Switzerland, our second country of the day.
The road going north to the Gottard Tunnel has to be one of the most breathtaking bits of road in the World. It winds its way round beautiful lakes and between towering peaks.
The funny things is that every time I’ve driven this piece of road it’s always been sunny, even in the middle of Winter. Today was no exception, it was roasting.
Driving in Switzerland is a very serene affair after the madness of Italy. No one is right up you chuff and most everyone sticks to the speed limits. It’s a bit too nice for my liking, I enjoy the cut and thrust of Italian driving.
The roads were quite busy today with lots of people going to it coming back from holidays and this caused a two Km traffic jam to get into the Gottard Tunnel which in the heat was no fun at all.
We did like the signs which appeared to allow only sports cars.
After 20 minutes in the tunnel we wound our way down the other side passed an even bigger queue going the other way. We almost felt sorry for the two bright red 458’s we saw going South soon to join the queue.
We cruised on through the amazing mountains until we came to the next services and decided to stop for a quick pit stop and brim the tank, again!!! Times must be hard in Switzerland because we had to pay a Euro to use the loos which was a surprise. There were some compensations, the view from the car park was breathtaking.
We then headed off down the valley toward Basle with continuing beautiful scenery.
Then suddenly we were out of the mountains and into the plain as we neared Basle. The roads were a bit dull now we were on “normal” Swiss roads with heavier traffic and not being able to have any fun in the tunnels as I was paranoid about getting busted for speeding and having the Skyline crushed. We passed Basle without too much incident, the odd last minute lane change when I realised the Sat Nav had developed a mind of its own and was trying to take us on a different route. It tried to take us through France and on the Toll Roads. I wasn’t having any of it, I wanted the Autobahn to see how the Skyline went at speed.
We soon reached the German boarder and got yet another thumbs up from a German lad in an old 3 Series, gave it the beans passed him to show our appreciation for his positive salute.
We were now onto the Autobahn proper and so it was time for some fun. Well it would have been except for the traffic which was heavy enough to restrict us to 80-90mph for long stretches.
At the next fuel stop we decided to have some good local cooking so we queued at the on site Burger King behind one of those families we all dread. They were French and everything they wanted was not as advertised and of course the toys they wanted for the Happy Meals were not available so we had to wait while a suitable alternative could be found. In the end we got served and sat down to eat our German burgers and watch the new scenery which was on display. Jamie was taking special interest and was pondering on why Italian, Swiss and German girls were so much better than British girls. Of course I could not agree with him on that point.
Feeling refreshed and well fed we headed off again determined to push on a bit harder and luckily the traffic had thinned a bit so we had several blasts up to 125mph which was totally effortless and completely stable. There was obviously much more to come but a combination of traffic and my bottle restricted our speed to this. I also found out how good the brakes are again when someone pulled out on me as I passed 100mph, very glad it stops as well as it goes.
Eventually we ran out of road to play on and arrived at a contra flow which we stayed in until we turned off to Strasbourg. It felt very strange after most of the day spent at motorway speeds to be stuck in traffic and doing normal road speeds. At this point my long suffering iPhone cried enough. I had been using it for my navigation (CoPilot Live) and music and it was on charge all the time. No wonder it switched itself off. This though left us in the middle of Strasbourg with no navigation so we just took a punt and followed the signs to the Autoroute which luckily turned out to be the right way.
So we were back onto autoroute but it was limited to 50 mph!!!! Four lanes of traffic crawling along for no obvious reason. Always thought these Frenchies were a bit strange.
It was all a bit uneventful from then on until we crossed into Germany again and as soon as we crossed the boarder I missed the next turn on the route. Too busy looking at the abandoned boarder crossing. After a short detour we were going in the right direction but were in a town which just looked odd. As we were coming up to some lights a beautiful pale blue Cobra came up next to us and we got a wave from the driver. Everyone loves a Skyline!!!
At this point I was getting a bit concerned with our direction and so I asked Jamie which destination he had plugged into the iPhone when it cooled down enough to touch. He said, the first one on the list obviously, going to Spa. Ah I said that might be the problem. There is more than one Spa in Belgium and the one in the CoPilot was the wrong on. It’s about an hour from the Spa we were heading for. Anyway we changed the setting and we were going the right way in the end.
You know when you think “I really should stop and fill up” but you don’t because you think of course there will be another petrol station just up the road. Well listen to that voice!!!
Coming out of the town we passed a Shell Station, I checked the fuel gauge, just under half, plenty to get to the next station, wrong. We headed out of town and into the Ardennes. The roads were clean and really good so the speed started to increase and soon we were hitting 125mph again and cruising between 100 and 110mph. I know this isn’t what the car is capable of but I’m not used to this sort of performance and a result of being older hopefully makes me a bit wiser so I decided this was enough. Obviously at that sort of speed the fuel gauge seems to be assisted by gravity and soon I realised we were down to a quarter of a tank. It was at this point that I realised we were in the middle of nowhere.
So now I was faced with the eternal dilemma, drive economically in case it was a really long way to the next services or go for it and make use of the nice bit of road we were on and hope the Germans would have a services soon.
Guess which one I went for?
Yep, foot down and back up to 100 mph plus and worry about the fuel later. These were the roads the Skyline was built to own. Two lanes of smooth tarmac with long gentle curves and rolling hills. There were very few other cars on the road so no one else to worry about and no trucks which was great.
It is truly amazing how efficiently the Skyline converts fuel into heat, noise and speed. Soon we were down to less than a quarter tank left and I was seriously thinking about getting off the autobahn. Then after a long left hander we saw the most welcome sight. Services 13Km ahead. So carry on as before, I must have enough fuel left to go that far.
After 13 tension filled Kilometres the Service Station came into view and we could relax. We pulled in and brimmed the tank, yet again with 70 odd litres of 100 octane and parked up for a well earned rest and a quick chocolate bar to put some energy into our tired bodies for what we hoped was the last hour before arriving at Spa.
After dumping our rubbish in the bin we trudge back to the Skyline. I purposefully parked her away from the People Carriers and Trucks. She is sitting waiting for us, a sleek, brooding presence that seems to dominate the parking area. It feels that, like us she is tired of the long day on the road but eager to get to Spa and our hotel. We back out of the parking space and meander our way to the on ramp. Time to put on a show!!!! I floor the accelerator and after a short delay as the turbos spool we are rewarded with the bellowing roar of the RB26 and the savage acceleration. I grab second which is accompanied by a loud thump that seems to vibrate though the very fabric of the Skyline as the unburnt fuel ignites and shoots flames from the exhaust.