Thursday, 27 July 2017

Brittany or bust, literally

Getting used to the new owners, 2003
At the age of eight, our car Nellie* was taken from her Fulham mews, jacked up an inch for extra clearance, weighted down with bull bar, snorkel and big tyres, and sent to Africa. It must have been a shock.

A few years later we bought her - and sent her around Africa again.

Her 24th birthday is next week, there are 206,000 miles on the clock, she's just travelled to Armenia, which is nearer to Delhi than it is to Paris... so it's no surprise she's suddenly gone down with a sort of automobile bronchitis: two weeks ago in Turkey as we turned a bend, she shrieked and her front axle started to emit a sorrowful howling noise, as it continues to do.

Splashing around in Georgia
Having been a companion in our year's adventure she has now become its main focus.

A little drama will ensue: in 10 days we need to reach our Breton campsite to attend the InterCeltic Festival and to rendezvous with friends.

But with every kilometre we travel, the teeth of something in the axle grind the teeth of another part into smaller stumps, until one day only a gummy grin will remain, and the wheels will stop turning.

Armenia: Lada Niva country
The ex-Soviet countries around here don't know what Land Rovers are, and the few garages which might be able to help are booked two weeks ahead.

So our strategy is this: drive her like Miss Daisy with a light foot, at a maximum 55mph to soften the grinding. And make a beeline for Brittany to reduce the kilometres she has to cover.

We're in Brittany for a week and hopefully we'll find a mechanic who can make the repair. We will of course subsist on gruel for the next six months to pay for it.

Very sadly this means missing visits to friends in Austria, Germany and France, as well as bypassing several planned countries.
Making friends in Bulgaria
If we don't make it we will assemble a Plan B, but so we won't tempt fate, not before. This is a first-world problem we know but still... wish us luck!

*Full name: Lady Nelson II. There is a story....

Friday, 21 July 2017

Why we went east again

Mondays off, comrades of Sofia!
Travelling doesn't exactly make you lazy but it does slow you down. Its pace has led me to realise that the 9-5 working day, especially the 9 bit, is quite inhumane. But that's for another time. I'm just making an excuse for the two-month delay in updating the blog.

As we may have mentioned before, we cut short our trip through India in March to return to the UK, via two special weeks in Jordan. A holiday from our holiday if you like, and it was a great month.

Supping at the tourist trough of London
Restored by hugs, cheese and Old Brewery, we then flew down to Athens and a happy reunion with Nellie in her tangerine packing factory. Her only deterioration was the big hole in the bonnet's insulation via indeterminate creatures which I hope died slowly of fibreglass poisoning.

So where to next? We were drawn to the fossilized republic of Transnistria in Moldova, on the Ukrainian border, the only country still sporting the hammer and sickle.

Macedonia. Not just a pretty flag
But as usual good food and wine, nice weather and lovely people got in the way: after zigzagging through gentle northern Greece we popped out in Macedonia - a beautiful, cheap, pocket-sized country with a great flag (which stopped it joining the EU - long story).

Then east to Bulgaria, which is the same, minus flag (like Greece they detest the Macedonia flag - another story) but plus a great Land Rover mechanic and the best beaches on the Black Sea.

Also the driving in Bulgaria was unusually good. I thought this might be because of EU membership but then remembered the Belgians, so it remains a mystery.

Blinking Balkan loveliness
These weeks reinforced our opinion that all the Balkan countries are magnificent, and everyone should visit, now.

The man at our Bulgarian beach campsite was a lorry driver in winter and it's his fault that we forgot all about Transnistria and continued east, via friends in Turkey, to Georgia and Armenia. We thought the borders and military situation would be too tricky but this gentleman drove there every other week. And we had an itch to go: we had noticed that the oldest church in almost every country we had visited, including Burma, was Armenian, and we wondered why.

So that's why we kept going east instead of circling up and round to head home.

But at last we are westward ho. As for Georgia and Armenia, and the Black Sea ship I'm writing this on, they deserve their own blog posts. Ditto photo albums on Flickr. All coming soon. Ish.

And 40th Happy Birthday to our biggest fan!