Friday, July 2, 2010

End of this Blog ... and plans for the Next

Thank you all for following our blog ... it was a very exciting trip for us ... and if you managed to enjoy any of the excitement ... then maintaining the blog will also have been worthwhile.

Peter 'n Karen
aka BlackHumour

The Next Blog:

Now that I have become a seasoned blogger (!), I have been granted the opportunity to ghost-write the blog for the adventure of our friends, Clive and Ces.   They are competing in the Peking to Paris Rally (known as P2P to insiders, hence our imitation A2A) through September and October of this year.

Because the trip is very arduous and the internet connectivity very dubious, Clive will leave daily commentaries on my voicemail, and do his best to email/mms/whatever some photos and footage.   Then while Clive and Ces are enduring heat, hardship, lack of sleep, discomfort, I will be doing my part ... dedicatedly updating the blog, while sipping a glass of wine in the comfort of my own balcony.

The itinerary for the P2P makes our trip seem like a Sunday afternoon spin. 

They will be in this 1938 Chevy ... bought and brought from RSA .... and then prepped, and prepped, and prepped ...

Note to Self:  Must the people we hang out with ... because our landlord while we lived in Chicago ... had also competed in the P2P ... in a Citroen 2CV!!!

Anyhow Clive's blog is at   Right now, it only has his previous rallies (beginner stuff like Tunisia to Egypt, and London to Morocco) mostly using a Lotus Cortina.   Oh yeah, he has a twin to our Lotus Elise, identical in yellow ... well, it was until he started tweaking it.

Our Next Blog

The next blog of a serious BlackHumour adventure will probably be of the TranSiberian Railway.   Karen has been planning this for quite some time ... and in 2011, she is scheduled to realise her long-held dream for the two of us to sit on a train all the way from St Petersburg to Beijing ... more of that in due course.

Day 21 - Cross back over the Alps to Home

Another long day in the saddle .... starting with 300 kms on those autobahns ... at our self-limited 160 kph ... hoping that we would meet traffic jams like we could see in the other lane ... it took us 10 minutes at 160 kph to pass the tailback ...

Eventually, we crossed through a little corner of Austria (only about 10 kms) and then into Switzerland, heading for Chur (which is the area where some folk still speak Romansch, the 4th official language in Switzerland).  Just after Chur, we turned South so that we could cross the Alps via the Spl├╝genpass and the Madessimo pass. 

This looks like what we're used to ...

And this is what it's like getting up there ...

This took us into Italy, through the high altitude village of Monte Spluga (1955m and one of my favourites) ...

 A view from my favourite cafe in Monte Spluga (and it has a spectacular cellar next door ... really amazing for a village that's only accessible for 3-4 months of the year) ...

From there, we took the nerve-wracking downhill section ... see the hairpin turns above and below ...

... to Lake Como, along its Western Shore ...

... then over a small hill to Lake Lugano ... and home.

After a quick shower ... the obligatory bottle of bubbles ... courtesy of Andrew and Pam ... complete with home made ribbon ...

and of course, a sunset, something that doesn't really exist up where we'd been in late June ...

Tips for Elise Travel # 4

Baby Wipes :

Actually, this tip must be attributed to my good friend and fellow Elise Co driver, Cecilia. Ces provided me with this tip before we embarked on the 2008 Roma-Italia Ralley, which Clive and Ces won in their Larry Lotus!! And we came 8th out of 40 something cars. Anyway, again, I digress…..

Baby wipes are very useful and can be stored neatly in the glove tray under the dashboard. The many uses include:

1. Wiping up after a spillage or leakage, ie coffee or leaky strawberry punnet

2. On very wet days, as we had when driving from Lofoten Island to Tromoso, wiping up the door sills due to rain leakage. Elie does leak quite a bit in heavy downpours. And once the door is opened, water will come in.

3. On very hot days, such as our last 2 days from Stockholm to Nueremburg, and Nueremburg to Lugano, wiping your hands after applying copious amounts of sunscreen. Also they can be quite cooling when applied to the face, neck, chest etc on these hot days.

4. Generally keeping the door sills and dashboard clean and shiny…….just like the driver & codriver!!

End of Tips for Elise Travel #4 and final tip.

And we have a properly animated itinerary from again ... since I've created it on the home computer, the earlier difficulty must relate to a revised setting on the travelling netbook.   Must try to create a single trip display for the full 9,000 kms!!

The final tally:

For those of you who must have the statistics, here's the total mileage ...

I'll post one more blog later this evening, which will talk about the likely next blogs, and when they might be ... but that's all for this particular post.

Final Day - Alps to Arctic

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 20 - A day on the autobahn

For those of you who just want to hear the music, click here.

For those of you who also want to hear about driving on the autobahn, continue reading here …

Today was the last silly long distance endurance test. An 8 hour blast down through Germany, almost entirely on the autobahn. As you know, some sections are unrestricted, so it became necessary to establish a real 200 kph, not just an indicated 200 kph like on the way north.

I decided that an indicated 230 kph was adequate, particularly as we were gaining rapidly on some large relatively slow-moving trucks.   The Garmin GPS reported that my indicated 230 kph was a genuine 218 kph (see photo below). 

Note to Jennifer:   Am I permitted to be classified as a real driver again?
There is no video clip of Karen squealing with delight at the new record. That’s because she was asleep at the time. Yes, in a baking hot car, on a carbon seat with negligible upholstery and no recline mechanism, without earplugs considering the windows were open. Impressive eh.

After this run, I decided that continuing at 200 kph for the next 5-6 hours might test even my powers of continuous concentrated driving, so I imposed a restriction on myself ... no more than 160 kph.    The journey might take a little longer, but playing chiken with trucks would be so much calmer and more leisurely at 160.   Don’t you agree?

A new first

I did have a new experience today. No, not the speed - I’ve been there before.   But changing down a gear, when already doing an indicated 200 kph, in order to overtake a "slow-moving" car.   That was a first.  (For your techies like Nicholls:  from 200 kph in 6th gear, the Elise just gains momentum rather than accelerates. Change down and it lands smack in the power band (6,500-8,500 rpm) of 5th gear, so it accelerates quite well.

The madness of the autobahn
While I’m on the topic of autobahn driving, I have to admit that the current situation is really nuts. And that’s coming from a long time petrol-head. It’s especially insane on those 4-lane sections of autobahn (2 lanes each way) that are unrestricted.

Consider this:   the inside (slower) lane has cars, caravans and trucks doing 80 kph, which are constantly being overtaken by other slow lane traffic doing a moderate 100-120 kph.   The outside (quicker) lane has mostly Audis (and the occasional Lotus) doing anything from 180 - 230 kph.   Now to put this into perspective for those Aussies and Yanks who are not accustomed to such high speeds, let's subtract 80 kph (50 mph) from all speeds.

-  slower lane has cars/vans doings 20-40 kph (100-120 less 80 kph) but these are constantly diving out into the fast lane to overtaken stationary trucks and caravans (80 kph less 80 kph)
-  meanwhile, the faster lane has Audis and Lotuses doing 100-150 kph (180-230 kph less 80 kph) constantly diving on the brakes because a 20-40 kph van has suddenly moved into your lane while you're doing 100+ kph.

For Americans and Brits,
- slower lane has cars doing 12-25 mph but these are constantly diving out into the fast lane to overtake stationary trucks etc.
- meanwhile, the fast lane Corvettes doing 60-90 mph are constantly diving on the brakes because a 15 mph van has suddenly moved into their lane.
Let me illustrate a little for the Aussies .... say you're cruising along at 100 kph on the Geelong Road   A bloke in a white van is doing 20 kph, but he simultaneously indicates and swerves from the inside lane into your lane to avoid a truck parked in the middle of the inside lane.   Your foot hovers anxiously over the brake pedal while you check the mirror.  Shit, there's a guy doing 150 kph just behind you and he's madly flashing his lights to encourage you to move into the slow lane out of his way.   It's all legal.

Now do that for several hours and hundreds of kilometres.  It's obviously a lot easier on a 3-lane road, where the only problem is the buffeting that your car receives when another overtakes at a speed 100 kph greater than yours (imagine you're stationary and a car passes really close to you at 100 kph;  now imagine you're already doing 100 kph and you're carefully threading a needle between a truck and a barrier when the Audi goes by at 200 kph;  are you sweating yet?

While we're on the question of Audi's, this is a question for Kenny to put to Nicholls.    See the photo.  Note the V12 badge.   V10 Audi, yes, but V12????   BTW, it was very fast on the autobahn.

PS:  Note to Tim Noel, although Tim is likely to be snoring by this point in the motorhead drivel.   Tim, see the food bag.   Still giving sterling service at coffee break and lunch.

Is it appropriate that we spend our final night in N├╝rnberg?   Some 60+ years ago, another group of people were awaiting their final night here.   But today, it's a beautiful town with vibrant old walled centre (reconstructed of course because it was flattened around the mid 40's).

For us, our journey tomorrow is back across the Alps to the Italian quarter of Switzerland.

Ciao ciao

Day 20 - Alps to Arctic

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 19 - Investigate Viking Culture in Ribe, Denmark

For those of you who didn't realise it, the Danes, the Norwegians and the Swedes all share a Viking history ... ie. they were great sailors who raided other countries very successfully between about 700 AD and 1100 AD.

They did not wear helmets with horns in them, as legend would have it, but they did travel as far away as Greenland, Ireland, Southern Europe and Turkey.

Of course, Ireland was a one of those countries invaded by the Norwegian Vikings.   Dublin was founded by the Vikings and it was ruled by Norse kings from 839 - 1171 AD.  Likewise Scotland, but England was more influenced by Danish Vikings than by Norse Vikings and many of the place names in England reflect this.

Anyhow, this sets the scene for today's BlackHumour activities.  

You remember this early-model Lotus zapping across continents at high speed ...

Well, today we are in Ribe, which is the oldest city in Denmark (dates from 854 AD) and one that was very popular with the Vikings, so we had to visit their Viking Centre.   This is more than a museum;  it's an entire working village/farm where original methods are practiced and shown by way of historical pageant.

So first you see Peter out trying to fetch some lunch for us ...

... And as you can see, he was quite successful ... succulent venison being cooked right now

Then it was the time of the up and coming Danes to get to grips with being true Vikings ... and instructions were on hand from a genuinely scary Dane ...

I think BlackHumour nephews Mike and Louie would love to participate in this particulr schooling ... don't you think, Therese and Debbie??

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 18 - Arrived back in continental Europe where ...

... speeds are much higher ... traffic is much heavier ... and where buying wine does not need a Govt permit ... it can be bought in a supermarket!!

The trip was an uneventful 940 kms starting at 6:50am ... with no stops apart from petrol and a swig or two from the incar coffee flask.  Me thinks I'll apply to be a support driver for some 24-hour race ... I may not be the quickest, but I can maintain a decent pace for more hours than most humans.

"But what happened to Day 17?"  .... demanded the virtual crowd.  

Well, Day 17 was a day of rest and sightseeing for Team BlackHumour.   That means that the Keeper of The Blog also had a day off.

He did try to file a dispatch  ... as you can see ...

But he had to abandon the dispatch so that he could negotiate the release of the Keeper of the Roadbook from the Royal Military Police ... because of activities considered typical of a non-viking wine buyer ... see below ...

Day 18 of Alps to Arctic

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 16 - This day intentionally left blank ...

… due to lack of excitement.

It was an 8-hour drive through pretty but unchanging country …

 it's guaranteed to put anyone to sleep ... as it did both us ... but especially the driver as you can see below ...

... until we encountered two 2CV’s towing caravans … just as we neared Stockholm.    That brightened up our day.

PS #1:   Here's some incar footage to give you more entertainment than we had in the entire drive  ...

PS #2:   This evening's entertainment:
This evening is in a classic out-of-town Ibis, and our neighbours are 2-3 families of Jaysus Howya types from Kildare and Wicklow … travelling is big dual-cab tradie trucks … complete with equipment in the back. Hmmmmm.

Tomorrow is another rest day … to see the sights of Stockholm … but to be denied wine for the 3rd day in a row … yesterday was a red day (no sale of wine, although you can buy beer!!) … today is an even redder day … and tomorrow is Sunday. Jaysus.

Day 16 - Alps to Arctic

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 15 - Exit the Arctic Circle via Jokkmokk

At last the midnight sun ...

Before today really starts, I gotta put up the photo of the midnight sun .... taken just before 2:00am this morning.   Taking it into the sun was tricky especially with a camera that is gradually falling victim to the rigours of the expedition.  So I did the next best thing ... I photographed the sunshine on the nearby hill ... which also made it easier to include the watch showing 1:51 am.

We left Gallivare behind with a curious mixture of experiences ... the highlight was the Marita's homemade bread at brekkie ... the lowlight were the swarms of mozzies and midges last evening when we went for a walk ... and the curiousity was the array of beautifully maintained classic American cars cruising around what is a very small town (incl. Cadillac Eldorado, Pontiac Bonneville, Ford Thunderbird, Dodge Challenger, IROC Camaro, Mustang, etc).  I assumed that there was a meeting of aficionados until we threaded our way south through Sweden today ... more and more American cars, especially big ones like 50's and 60's Cadillacs, kept appearing out of side roads.

On another motoring theme, you ain't nobody in Sweden unless you have 3 monster spotlights across the front of your car.   Doesn't matter whether it's a Volvo or a Mercedes or a Yaris.   So for the Elise to fit into local custom, this is how it's going to look soon ....

Today's adventures ... well, emmm, errrr ....

Today turned out to be the transport day that we expected of yesterday.   Quiet roads, lots of woods, good weather ....  but not much else.   The only wildlife was a fox scarpering across the road in front of us.

Our detour to Jokkmokk was a bit of a fizz, and very, very quiet (more of why later) but we did get to see the Sami museum.   Sami are the people who have lived in Lappland for yonks, serious yonks.   They live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Finally, we reached the east coast of Sweden and our base for the night, Umea.   That's when we realised that there was something seriously amiss ... here is a photo of the main drag at 4:00pm as we checked into our hotel ... this on a summer Friday.  It was really eerie ....

The reason for all this eerie ghost-town atmosphere is that today and tomorrow are the midsummer holdiay in Sweden. Midsummer is a really big deal (lots of food, drink, dancing around a maypole at campsites and cottages etc), a bit like Thanksgiving in America, or Christmas in other places. So everything commercial is closed ... and I mean everything.  No restaurants, no bars, no beer, no wine.  Even McDonalds and the local Chinese takeaway were closed. 

Tomorrow promises to be the same, except that we'll be arriving in Stockholm, so we're hoping that a big city might still be awake, or at least have a place to buy a beer or a glass of wine.
As a consequence this evening's meal was a free hotdog provided by the hotel, a couple of yoghurts left over from 2 days ago, and a glass of wine that we could buy in the hotel.   Hardly epicure, but excellent for our pensioner budget.

Another long hot drive tomorrow ... but at least the roads will be quiet.   Karen is very excited about visiting Stockholm ... she's never been there, while I've been there a number of times on business.   And then it's Ribe in Western Denmark ... a city that's celebrating 1,300 years old ... and still has a town crier.

And finally, today's route ... unfortunately, it's not animated like the early ones ... the everytrail site is creating the map but will not complete step 2 which gives the animation and the html for embedding into the blog.

View Larger Map

Day 15 - Alps to Arctic

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 14 - Let's head south to the sun!!

We headed north to experience an aspect of the sun that was strange to us ... the phenomenon of shining brightly at midnight.    Now we are heading south to experience an aspect that is strange to people up here ... the phenoment of feeling the strong warmth of the sun on your skin ... albeit for a limited number of hours per day!!

So we will change direction, change currency (Finland Euros briefly, then Swedish Kroner SEK), change weather (reported to be good even just a little way into Sweden), change underwear, change socks, etc.

More later ...
... ok, so now it's later and we're basking in warm sunshine in the garden at the Gallivare B&B!

Bye bye Tromso ...

Hello Sweden ....

How can it be so different?   But it is.  The terrain is completely different.   The weather is completely different.  The atmosphere is completely different.  But what's unbelievable is that we're still within the Arctic Circle and it's sunny.  So we stand an excellent chance of seeing the midnight sun tonight.  So much for Lofoten and Tromso.  Gallivare has a ski-hill nearby and we can see the sunset, or more accurately the sunnonset, from the top.

We expected the journey from Tromso to Gallivare to be a simple transport leg. 

But it had a few major highlights.  Firstly, we spent more than 100 kms in Finland, which our planning had not detected.  

Karen's initial instinct was to go in search of Kimi Raikonnen, but after a short debate, she accepted that we could not check all of the bars in Finland.   And besides, we were not just in Finland, ut in the Lappland part of Finland.  So the excitement about meeting Father Christmas took over from Kimi.

This was a much more successful approach, because soon we saw several reindeer on the side of the road.  Imagine, seeing reindeer in their home country, Lappland.   Karen was convinced if we stopped the car, turned the engine off, and waited a while, we'd also see Father Christmas (probably heading home from the bar). 

All logic went out the window when we got to Gallivare because Karen discovered that the Father Christmas Games are held in Gallivare each year.   Oh no!  guess where she wants to be next November!!

PS:  Special mention must also be made of Marita at the B&B and Saeko at the Tourist Office in Gallivare, who have been following our blog.  We are honoured to have our 15 minutes of fame, especially in Lappland.

Finally, for your rally fans out there, yes, Finnish roads are largely straight with yump after yump after yump ... the photo doesn't do it justice because by then our little camera was giving up the ghost ... and the ones in the photo are only littl'uns.

And finally, today's course ....

Day 14 - Alps to Arctic

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 13 - R&R in an Arctic Cowboy Town

Somehow I don't think it'll be as relaxing (or as warm) as at Erling the Hospitable's ancestral home.

And since it will be raining again tomorrow, and we won't be able to take a photo of the midnight sun, here's one that I baked earlier .... yeah right!!!!

For those of you in the Soouthern Hemisphere,  the equivalent of the Arctic Circle (ie. the Antartic Circle) would like the following ... and would be a little difficult to get to by Lotus Elise ... see the comparisons below ...

The Antarctic Circle:

The Arctic Circle:

Words and phrases that have no meaning in the Lapp language ....

  • Get up in the middle of the night

  • Be home before dark

  • leave at first light

  • be on the road at daybreak

  • the twilight hours

  • Get out of town by sunset

  • Be executed at dawn
.. and, of course, were-wolves are out and about all winter long ...!!!

Today's Activities

As you can guess from the above, today has not been a day of dramatic photographs.   To misquote Chris Smither's wonderful New Orleans song

I got ba-na-na, watermelon, peaches by the pound
Sweet corn, mirleton, mo' better than in town,

I got okra, enough to choke ya,
Beans of every kind,
If hungry is what's eatin' you
I'll sell you peace of mind,
But this ain't what you came to hear me say,
And I hate to disappoint you,
But I got no photos today,
I got no photos today,
I got no photos today,
No photos today

Instead, we had to make do with Mack's Brewery, the Polar Explorer Museum, and the Planetarium ... each very interesting in itself.  Those polar explorers were nuts.  The conditions, the risks, the hardship.   Incroyable.
The Tourist Office says that the rain will stop soon.   But that might be in Polar terms.  Because they also say that Christmas is coming.   And that nightfall is not that far away.   All we know is that Gene Kelly would have loved it here.
One amusing little aside was from our visit to the planetarium.  There was a special show about the sun.   They explained (without the assistance of They Might be Giants) about its influence, its heat, etc.   The amusing part was that the show was an Australian production.   We travelled all the way to the Arctic Circle to watch an Australian documentary narrated by Jack Thompson!!
As a consequence of hearing about the exploits of the sun, we tootled (in our raincoats) back to the hostel humming to the following tune  ...