Roadtrip to Spain 2018 (Part 2)

We’re just back from a two week jaunt to Alicante in Spain.  The total distance was 3,354 miles and we averaged 36.9 mpg, which was marginally better than the 36.4 we achieved on the trip to the Picos de Europa last year (see blog post Roscoff to Stourbridge) .

GT86 BRZ fuel economy mpg

While Jacqui was driving on the last day I went onto a Pistonheads forum and asked whether I could do better than the GT86 for a £30K sportscar / 2+2 which could average 36 mpg on a roadtrip.  There was a good discussion and I think we concluded that if we rule out hot hatches (which I do) and all diesel cars (which I also do) then there isn’t really anything. There was some debate as to whether the GT86 is a sportscar and some suggestions for things like the Elise, but having owned one and also done a few European journeys in a Honda S2000, the GT86 is definitely the most comfortable and most practical. So practical in fact that when my youngest son flew out to Alicante  to join us for a few days we could pick him up in it and we even drove to Valencia and back with him in the back and with no complaints. I have thought about getting an Abarth 124 Spider but you couldn’t do that in one of those.

Adult in the rear seat of a GT86

As mentioned in the previous post we  crossed the Channel through the Eurotunnel, which is our favoured way over to France. However, we did try something new this year which we have not used before. These are toll tags. My brother-in-law recommended them and they are brilliant. You have one for each country and they stick onto the windscreen behind the rear view mirror. Then when you approach a motorway toll, instead of stopping and paying (always a hassle in a low right-hand-drive car on the continent, even with a passenger), the tag beeps and the barrier rises (and your bank account is debited). So satisfying to pass the queues of people hunting for change or their mislaid tickets. They are also brilliant for hiding the costs of all of those tolls from you.  Normally, after paying, we say to ourselves that we should really try to avoid the toll roads. These things lull you into thinking that they’re free! I daren’t look at the bank account!

Motorway toll tages for France and Spain

It took us three days to get down to Oliva just north of Alicante, stopping at Mâcon and then Figueres. Jacqui thought the road down through France was boring (which it was) so for the return journey we took an extra half day and went via Andorra in the Pyrenees. Our return journey looks a bit odd when plotted on the map but we called in to see some friends in Auvillar and that pulled us a little west. Anyway, the return journey was much more interesting. Some may wonder why we avoid Paris. Lots of people go that way and we have too in the past, but I doubt our marriage could survive another afternoon sat in traffic completely lost on the French equivalent of the M25.

It can never make financial sense to drive to Alicante as opposed to flying and renting a hire car. However, we like the journey and the unexpected things you see on the way. We also like the freedom of being able to change our plans  at a moment’s notice and take odd little detours.  Here’s a little unplanned detour- well, as you can see we were a little lost somewhere in northern Spain with the snow covered Pyrenees in the distance. That GT86 can go anywhere!

a country road in Spain

This is the road we should have been on…

We normally take in a motor museum on our trips but alas on this trip we didn’t. However, the Dali Museum in Figueres did yield this little artistic gem.

Car at Dali Museum

My photo doesn’t really explain it and neither does this video I suppose, but at least the video shows why it is called the Rainy Taxi.

Oliva, where we have an apartment.  There seems to be a good classic car club down  the road in Denia.  Shame about Brexit.

Oliva

My son took this photo. No Photoshop involved, just careful positioning of the car and camera. A real crock of gold.

Rainbow over a GT86

On the way home our first stop was in Sitges. This was taken in the morning at the harbour. By lunchtime the scenery was a little different…

Sitges

We’ve driven over the Pyrenees  before but only in the summer and were surprised there was so much snow there still.

On a road trip the music is all important. When I first bought the Giallo I thought the audio unit was very weak and there was also no built-in sat nav so I bought a Clarion NX302E head unit.

This gave me a Bluetooth connection to my phone for Spotify and phone use, a rear view camera and European maps. The sound quality was immediately better, however, the unit really is disappointing. The main problems concern the number of clicks (stabs with your finger on the display) that you have to make to change anything.  When you’re driving fast on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country you don’t want to be distracted by a slow reacting interface. The things that irritate me most are that you cannot quickly change the maps from North Up to Direction of Travel Up and you cannot easily zoom in and out. Also, you cannot easily turn the volume off (really! there is no Off button, only a temporary mute button). OK there is a volume off setting, but that is buried deep in the system settings and you cannot navigate to those easily when driving.  The radio is ridiculous – there are pre-sets but they are not easy to set (which you need to do when you leave the UK) and there is no auto tuning facility and no tuning knob.  The Bluetooth is also flaky and the unit doesn’t fit the dash without spacers either side. Why did I buy it! So, for the next roadtrip in June to Italy I want to get something different. Not sure what yet but it’s sure to have some hard buttons on it,  not just virtual buttons and if I cannot get what I want I will ditch the sat nav and use my phone and settle for a good audio system. I’m not sure these all-in-one things are any use at all. Rant over.

Apart from the head unit everything else on the car worked perfectly and it got a lot of admiring looks along the way and favourable comments at service stations.  As on previous visits to France and Spain we didn’t see one other GT86 or BRZ. Well, come to think of it we didn’t see one on the way to and from Folkstone either. We saw lots of Porsches and BMWs. Common as muck they are.

So another good trip, but at the end of the journey – What a mess!

Spanish Fly

 

Roadtrip to Spain 2018 (Part 1)

Blogging from the passenger seat… We crossed by the Eurotunnel yesterday morning and got to Sancé near Mâcon by late afternoon.

From my postcard blog (postcardsforpetrolheads) I was aware of this fine photograph and postcard of a cafe in Sance. What a fantastic location it would make for a Maigret novel! I couldn’t use it of course since it didn’t have a car in, but decided to go and see if it was still there. Jacqui is most accommodating to my little whims so eventually we find it. What a great building! So I got her to position the car just so and plonked a nice car in my own photo of the place. Next stop Figueres.

We passed some impressive chateaux along the way but I prefer the path less well travelled and the slightly odd ball places. We’re now in Figueres and find ourselves in this bar on the wall of which is a photograph in which is a Renault Dauphine. I learnt to drive in a Dauphine at the age of ten so have always had a soft spot for them. So I took a photo of it. Went for a walk later and found the same building. Perhaps this is going to be a theme of this holiday – past and present.

Snow Day Blogging

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It’s a snow today today and the GT86 is safely tucked up in the garage. I had some minor scratches sorted in the week by Smart Insurance, who I can highly recommend, and while they were here (they work at your home or workplace) they pointed out that the lacquer had come off various small places on the front. I hadn’t noticed this before but took it into Toyota yesterday to see whether we can claim on the warranty. Photos were taken and  sent to head office. They didn’t say no, so fingers crossed…  The car has to go in for a power steering recall anyway but I have to say that after 41,000 miles it is still running absolutely perfectly and is still a great practical sports car. That said, we are thinking of changing it before the summer to get another convertible as we have a trip planned to Tuscany.

Before that though we are planning a drive down to Oliva in Spain at Easter and a snow day is just the opportunity I need to plan the trip. 1,800 km each way, so 600 km per day should be feasible. We did contemplate doing it in two days but that would curtail the lunch stops and we do like a nice lunch. My brother-in-law and my nephew did it in one go in a Porsche 911, but they could not sit down for a week after that. The last time we did it was in the Honda S2000 over the Pyrenees, but that was a more leisurely drive. This trip we want to get there quickly.

The idea was to have a couple of weeks of warmth and sunshine, so it was a bit of surprise to hear that the F1 testing in Barcelona this week was more or less snowed off. That’s not supposed to happen!

The timing of this trip isn’t perfect as I’ll miss the first hillclimb event of the season at Loton Park and I’ve also realised that we’ll have to be careful about the hotel choice on 24 March as it will need to be showing the Australian Grand Prix on TV for breakfast on the Sunday morning. First GP of the year. How will Alonso do? Very exciting! Very exciting too to see an Alfa logo once again on a GP car. Good luck to Sauber!

Sauber Alfa Romeo

If you read my other blog about my postcard collection – Postcards for Petrolheads  – you will have seen quite a few Italian cars featured recently. This morning I posted my Iso Grifo card. What a find! And I’ve also just bought one with a  Facel Vega on it, which is a coincidence since I mentioned that rare marque only last week on here.  Here’s the Facel Vega postcard which I will be blogging about after working out the route to Oliva.

Facel Vega postcard

OK, let’s get planning; route, tolls, restaurants and hotels. I do love a road trip!

 

Belgian Grand Prix 2017

We’re just back from a long weekend in Belgium where we went to see the Formula One Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.

Lewis won, Seb was close behind but this time avoided running into the back of him on a safety car restart, Daniel Ricciardo surprisingly grabbed third and my man, Kimi, fought back to fourth after serving a 10 second stop-start penalty for not slowing down under yellows for Max’s parked up Red Bull. Ocon and Perez bashed their pink Force Indias together twice and Bottas got squeezed out of a podium finish by Ricciardo and Kimi. Oh, and Alonso gave up and said his Honda power unit had packed up, though most probably he got bored with its lack of power and called it a day. The race was dry. And that’s the race report done, now for a quick account of our trip.

According to Google Maps Spa is nine and half hours drive from Kinver. In reality, with stops for coffee and fuel, waiting for our turn to board the train at the EuroTunnel and getting held up in traffic jams on motorways it took 11 hours each way. We bought the tickets last December and got a cheap early bird deal with CampingF1 which included general admission to the circuit and a pitch at their site which was about twenty minutes walk from the circuit.

For those who are interested, here is a walk through the campsite from our tent to the beer tent. (If you cannot see the five videos in this post, maybe you’re viewing this in your email. Switch to your internet browser instead)

Friday was spent travelling and trying to find the campsite, which should have been easier than it was. The directions I had printed off were to the 2016 CampingF1 site (I was not the only one to do this) and we spent a frustrating couple of hours driving around country lanes near the circuit being directed and redirected by police who had closed half the roads and had no idea where we wanted to go. But in the end we did find it at about 7 pm and got the tent up before having a bite to eat and a few drinks in the beer tent. That night there was thunder and lightening and lots of rain, much of which found its way into our tent, into our bags of clean dry clothes and onto us.

Saturday was overcast but dry and we spent it trying to walk the circuit. I wanted to walk right around with the idea of scouting out a good place to watch the race from. I knew that Spa was a beautiful circuit, situated in the Ardennes Forest, but I had no idea how great the elevation changes were and just how long it is (7km, 4.35 miles).

Our campsite was near the Les Combes entrance and we walked from there all the way down the Kemmel straight, past Eau Rouge and around in circles after the FanZone area at La Source.

Walking down the straight on Saturday.

Despite having an official map that showed public walkways we could not find a way either into the infield from near the pits, which is what we wanted, or around the back of the circuit from that end. We were not the only ones and I suspect the routes we were looking for had been closed off, maybe for security reasons or inadvertently. Anyway we watched qualifying from the FanZone village and saw some of the supporting races on Saturday afternoon from the Straight.

In the FanZone area where we resisted buying any merchandise at all! Eau Rouge in the distance.

The race on Sunday started at 2 pm but we like thousands of others arrived at the circuit early to get a good vantage spot. Having spent the whole of the previous day walking, we decided to watch from the free general admission grandstand near Malmedy. However, after half an hour sitting on the wooden benches without back rests we decided to chance our luck at finding a different location next to a fence to place our camping chairs and we went through the tunnel into the infield and found a place opposite a big screen at turn nine.

The free grandstand we rejected. It’s early and the sun has not quite broken through yet.

The following video shows what it was like getting to our favoured spot at about lunchtime. We had chosen this spot at about nine o’clock when we were able to claim a second row seat. You can see how many people arrived later.

And this is what we saw from there. Clearly not as much as you see on TV, but what we did get was the atmosphere.

They are saying that it was a record breaking crowd with the attendance over the three days being 265,000. If you have an aversion to crowds this was not the place for you, though everyone was very good natured, even all the Max fans in orange to me wearing my red Ferrari cap.

The GT86 was a joy to drive once again and returned 38.6mpg over the 933 miles, nearly all of them on motorways.

Museo Fernando Alonso

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A couple of weeks ago we visited Alonso’s museum in Northern Spain. I had a read a few  5 star reviews on Trip Advisor and was really looking forward to it. However, despite being a big F1 and Alonso fan I was disappointed. And here’s why…

The museum contains lots of F1 cars, which is good and interesting, but all look immaculate and have their engine covers on.  The museum also contains hundreds of Fernando’s helmets, overalls, gloves and boots (is that interesting?) and hundreds of trophies.  OK some of the trophies were unusual and interesting to look at, but when you’ve seen one huge silver trophy you’ve seen them all in my opinion.  There were a couple of short looping videos which were quite interesting and a shop and a cafe so why was I disappointed?  Because there was no real story. Because there were no captioned photographs showing memorable moments – great overtakes, accidents, power slides, Alonso in the bar with other drivers etc.  It was just a huge shed with his things in it.

I felt the same when we went to  the Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse. Just too any Bugattis in one place. But the Le Mans museum on the other hand was full of old photos capturing moments from history and telling a story.

Here are a few of my photos…

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What it needs are more photos like these….

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And some interactivity. A simulator would be ideal or the opportunity to sit in one of the cars.  So, no five stars from me I’m afraid.

Last Day – Roscoff to Stourbridge

Ferry left Roscoff at 9.15. We got home about 6.30. The car has been phenomenal. Really fun to drive (glad I changed the manifold and had it remapped), eminently practical  and very comfortable and it got a lot of attention wherever we went. We only saw one other GT86/BRZ  on the whole trip and that was a red one coming out of Kidderminster on Day 1.  It needs a good clean now inside and out and of course some major bodywork. We did 2,700 miles and averaged 36.5 mpg, which is quite good for a sports car I think.  Next trip is to the Belgian Grand Prix in August but before that, and before a visit to the body shop, I have two more hillclimb events at Loton Park next weekend.

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