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 Nürnberg?   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  ...

Day 12 - The Depression of the Arctic Summer (as well as winter)

One fine day in the middle of the night
Two dead men got up to fight
Back to back they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other

This was a common ditty when I was a kid. It was full of contradictions and the Irish love contradictions. Well, the first line is no longer a contradiction. A day in the middle of the night is no longer silly, and therefore no longer funny.

Except that it should be « one wet day in the middle of the night …. »

Which brings me to my next observation … about the depression allegedly caused by the endless hours of darkness in the arctic winter.  It’s not just the arctic winter that is depressing. This particular arctic summer plays with the mind also.  The difficulty sleeping is bad enough, but when the driving rain sets in, you can’t even lie there in darkness and hope that « it will be fine by morning ».   Evening, night and morning have no meaning here during May, June and July.   So there is no concept of « the weather overnight » and therefore no prospect of a natural improvement in the weather by morning .… meaning anytime soon.

Are you still with me? Cos it gets worse. Because the grog is so expensive here, and difficult to buy, you can’t even resort to the traditional Irish remedy of drowning your sorrows … other from by standing in the freezing rain.

It’s now 4:30 am. Part of the depression will be relieved by being able to get up in an hour.   No, not because it’s morning, because that doesn’t exist.   But because we have an 8-hour drive today, and we want to reach Tromso before dark (ha, ha … these lines are not funny anymore).

People we have encountered

Initially it was primarily Dutch and German. The Dutch in particular seem to travel in convoys, whether of normal cars or campervans. Of course, the Dutch have long been known as great caravanners, but they have now migrated to the ubiquitous campervans, both modest and very large. The Germans seem to travel in all forms … motorbikes, cars, commercial vans (complete with some painter or plumber logo on the side), sedans/station wagons and of course camper vans. As we went further North, the preponderance of Dutch waned and the French made a big appearance, especially in very large campervans.

Other nationalities that we encountered (or more accurately the licence plates we saw) were Swedish and Finnish obviously, Danish, Belgian, Czech, Polish, Latvian, Russian, Bulgarian, Slovakian, Italian, Swiss, British, Austrian and Spanish. The only well-travelled European nationalities that we did see were Irish and Romanian. We also heard American accents, but not Australian, New Zealand or South African surprisingly.

We met no other Lotuses. In fact, we saw no other sports cars travelling outside their home patch.

Today's Journey ...

Well yes, I did get up at 5:30 ... and we hit the road at 6:30 ... with blowing, blinding rain all about.   4 hours later, we drove over hte bridge from the last of the Lofoten chain (only the most SW of the islands is called Lofoten itself) onto mainland Norway.   Another 4 hours got us to Tromso.

Along the way, we had much high stress because of the weather, but a few curiosities as well.   At one point, I could hear a loud rumbling, like the Elise was becoming really really sick.  No, it was an army helicopter directly overhead and very low.   It slowly moved ahead of us, followed by a 2nd chopper.   Hmmm, amusing, but hardly weird.   However it was the military Jeeps coming the other way a few minutes later that were weird.    Both of them had machineguns set up in the back (in the style popular among supporters of Somalian warlords) and they had soldiers in position manning said machineguns.   It was really spooky.

We later passed a military town, not surprisingly.   What was surprising was to see a white mini-tank among the normal camouflage tanks.   I'd only ever read about such equipment when the Norwegians were fighting the Germans in snow covered conditions.

A further couple of observations about driving in Norway

All roads have 2 deep grooves caused by the wheels of heavy vehicles.   When it's been raining (which seems to be all of the time), these grooves fill with water and are a major menace because of acquaplaning and because they push the car this way and that.   It also means that oncoming trucks and buses send up enormous rooster tails of water right onto your windscreen.    See photo below ...

The other observation is that TomTom will take you down some strange sideroads when set to "fastest" route.   No, TomTom is not having a bad day.  It's all a consequence of the very low speed limits on major roads - remember TomTom calculates the distance and applies speeds based on some percentage of the posted speed limits.   Major roads are restricted to the national 80kph limit, and many long sections with houses within earshot are restricted to 60 kph.   Small secondary roads have the same restrictions, but may be shorter.   Shorter wins every time because there is no speed advantage on major roads.   Also in the minor roads' favour is the lack of trucks and buses.

Tips for Elise Travel #3:
Coping with Creative Overtaking Manouevres:

As most of you will know, my driver has a need to be the car in front so overtaking other vehicles is a very common occurrence on driving holidays such as this.  I recall an incident, many years ago, when Peter was doing a Formula 3 driving day.  Just before all the drivers were to go out on the track for a few laps they were told, in no uncertain terms "No overtaking while on the track".  However, Peter must have misheard this and he interpreted it as "Go for broke", and so overtook not one but two cars ... at the same time!!  He was removed from the track and severely reprimanded.....but I digress....

On holidays, such as this, the roads are windy, rain falls heavily and constantly, and there are many trucks, caravans, buses, combine harvesters & of course cars.  Overtaking in these circumstances can be exciting (??!!) ... especially when sitting in the left seat in a LHD country.  I have found the best way to cope with this is to :
1. take a deep breath (mandatory)
2. clench buttocks (not sure why, but it helps)
3. close eyes (optional)

Item 3 is optional as I have found it is often useful to calmly & clearly (or if that doesn't work, hysterically) tell the driver that a truck/bus/caravan/car is approaching rapidly and that I can see the whites of oncoming drivers' eyes (this is accentuated because we are in a right hand drive car so I am the one in the firing line of oncoming traffic).

4. If required, chastise the driver.  Please ensure this is performed AFTER the overtaking has been completed and after you are safely on the correct side of the road.  Any chastising (or striking) of the driver during the move itself could have dire consequences!

End of Tips for Elise Travel #3.

Game for bored little children:
Can you spot the TomTom, the Garmin GPS, the mount for the Camera, the mobile phone, the sunglasses, the flask, the drinking cup, the road book, the map ... all on the dash of an Elise?

Day 12 - Tough journey to Tromso

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 11 - Golf Boy's Big Night Out (for 2 months straight)

Today was a day for tootling around. So we covered 2 or 3 of the separate islands, as far as the Lofoten Golf Links, which is a 9-hole golf course on the edge of the ocean, facing the Arctic Ocean. If your drive is good enough, you could get a hole in one to the North Pole. (Tom, am I using the right terminology?).

Since we know little about golf, and can not read Norwegian, we didn’t learn much at the Club House, other than that they have very nice Cloud Berry muffins. We did get a score card for golf legend Tom Power-Horan, but later that same day, it got drowned by some beer spillage, and is now almost illegible.  But we do have photographs!!

Tom, you would love it here … you could play golf 24 hours a day … for at least 2 months.
Ken, you’d have to drive him to the Golf Club early in the morning (like 4:00am) one day in late May, and then go and pick him up late in the day (like midnight) some day in early to mid July!!!!

Tee off ….

Don’t hit that Lotus …

8th Hole ….

During the day, we confirmed what Erling has said … which is that the further South on the islands, the more dramatic the scenery, and the more beautiful the villages. If any of you are ever venturing up here, go for the fishermen’s cabins (the Rorbuer). The are cheaper, self sufficient, and in fantastic locations.

We also confirmed that driving can be hazardous … and since they had snow here only 2 weeks ago … that was probably the reason for the Saab being in the ocean.

Grass roofs are quite common here … the Norwegian equivalent to our Irish thatched roofs …

This is supposed to be the largest mural in the world … any competitors …?

And finally a little video clip of typical road conditions … dramatic … and even more so because of the rain …

Day 11 - Tour of Lofoten Island

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The night of 20-21st June

Before we embark on today’s journey, which will be a leisurely stroll around Lofoten Island, here are some images from between Day 10 and Day 11 … late last evening and from after midnight … including some footage of driving after midnight. Appropriately, it was also 21st June … the longest day of the year … oops, the longest day of the year has little meaning in a place that has 24 hours of daylight for about 2 months!!!!

NOTE (especially Debbie and Louie):

Because it was the eve of 21st June, Senator George Mitchell negotiated with the Rain Gods for a temporary truce. There was to be no rain during the night (it took many diplomats to define the night ). It was hoped that the truce would continue beyond first light (wasn‘t that several weeks ago?) on 21st, but unfortunately the bombardment resumed with even greater ferocity at 0700 hours today.

Nevertheless, we are thankful that we could emerge from our rain bunkers for those few hours … especially on such an auspicious day. We have recorded those precious moments in some photos and video for your pleasure.

The view from our window:

Artistic view of Å:

Dinner arriving … I had cod and Karen had

Karen spots a sea eagle ...

Peter talking … hardly unusual but rarely recorded … most cameras are asleep by then:

Peter not talking … but I think that the seagull on his shoulder is talking … in fact they never stopped all night:

The Russians have arrived …. Taking advantage of the truce

And video proof … they were fishing for state secrets

Various after-midnight images:

And finally, what it’s like to drive after midnight … two clips here … one along the sea-shore … and another arriving back into Å about 12:45 am … quarter to one in the morning: