Sunday, 28 August 2011

Light Years Away

What do you do when you have run out of funds, hope of a better future and patience? You set your car's nose England-bound.

It all started over two years ago when talks started between my wife and I that we sould join all those people who in wish to grab fortune's better end set themselves to Western and Northern Europe. There were initiatives taken and withdrawn when finally tensions within our broader family and lack of funds lead to concrete decisions and conclusions at the end of last year and the whole procedure of moving started taking shape.

The setting looked like so: me, my wife, two dogs and all that one could fill in a Ford Escort. Printed Google Maps directions, over three tanks of fuel and 1,200 miles to cover from Kaposvar, Hungary to Keynsham, UK.

Light Years Away by joesatriani

The car as said abve was a 1998 Ford Escort CLX. 1,4-litre CHV petrol engine, 5-door hatchback with the highest trim level of the time including electric windows, rear spoiler, etc. It was almost new when we bought it three years ago with 45,000 kms on the odometer (no, it was REALLY that much, no cheating) and was in excellent condition. Sadly we haven't been as good owners of it as the previous ones. The rear right door suffered a scratch and a dent, and the rear bumper gained a cavity due to a close encounter with a trailer while reversing - and we didn't have time to fix those yet. There were two hubcaps missing as one was stolen and another was lost.

Despite that, mechanically it was still in a prime condition as we are talking about a 65,000-km car pre-trip.
A big check-up was necessary before the trip as I didn't want to break down in the middle of the Autobahn. This included some mending and fixing. First of all, a new cam belt was crucial to be installed. Eventhough the old one was on low mileage, it was already 13 years old and when you speak about rubber, you say aging. Along that a new water pump was installed and the oil was changed along with the oil filter and the air filter. Brakes were still fine, although they have to be changed soon. Piston sealing replacement finished off the procedure and it was done in one afternoon for less than 200 GBP-worth of Hungarian Forints.

That said, we set off on the national day of Hungary, 20th August at half past 9 at night to catch our ferry in Calais at 3:20AM on the 22nd. Most of the trip in Hungary was spent on B-roads with cautiously as I didn't want to hit any wild animals during the night. Shortly after midnight we managed to reach the border. Before entering Austria, we stopped at the last MOL petrol station to take a leak and stretch ourselves, while the dogs could get a drink. Moving on to Austria was like entering a whole different universe of roads. The main road on which we were heading to the motorway was like a motorway in Hungary altogether. It was pitch dark, and I was still maintaining an appr. 90km/h speed as I got used to it already. I was enjoying the ride as we rolled on and on and on. In Austria, it was perfectly clear which road to take to Germany from the first moment on. Passed through truck-stops and byroad night clubs the world narrowed down only to the stretch of road we were riding on. My wife was reading the itinerary but she showed the sing of tiredness already. At the last fork we had to take, I missed the exit, eventhough it was painted clearly on the ashpalt. No matter what I stepped on the brakes hard, the tyres were screaming and came to a full stop, putting it reverse and pulling back to the right direction while another car was passing us. It was ugly, it was completely breaking the law, but I don't say it was unethical.

I mean: do you want to spend the rest of your fuel tank and time spending to find the right direction when you got a route map only?

Then came the most unnerving bit: entering Germany and riding through it. There were about 100kms to cover in Austria before entering Germany and that meant an over 700km part without changing directions. We crossed the boarder South from Passau and there was an option to hand over the steering wheel to my wife. I didn't want to. Iwas thrilled to drive through Europe. I wanted to complete the marathon alone. I was wide awake even when we stopped at a service station over 100 kms after we passed the border. First time filling the car. Stretched our legs, ate something and off we went. It was a bright, sunny morning, but that didn't reveal much of Germany. I did find out though that Bavavaria really is the territory of BMWs as stated in the name. Met the most dominating Beemer owners of the Autobahn out there. I expected the road flooded with Porsches but not even one showed up even in Stuttgart area. Road up and down, narrowing here and there as construction works marked the A3 all the way through. In the meanwhile it started raining heavily but we were just eating up the miles. At Köln we changed to the route that was virtually heading straight to Calais. Passing closely to the Nürburgring we entered Belgium. I didn't really noticed where was that magical border but it was made clear by the lightposts as it was noted out that Belgian motorways are lit all the way through. I can confirm that, really, eventhough it was a bright sunny day. Passing by the Spa-Francorchamps track we were heading to the Bruxelles ring that was completely jammed, as one lane was shut due to construction works and another one was blocked by a broken down car. I was still driving, but Icould sense the fatigue. Thank God to the traffic jam, it pushed up my blood pressure as much as I could feel just about normal for the rest of the trip.

We entered the last but one leg late afternoon as we were heading to Calais, up to the seaside and riding along it. My wife missed one exit to mention intime so that put some nerve into me but we got back on track quickly.

France, finally. I was so happy about it but I was still short of the realisation what I was to go through there. Exit 47, that's what we were looking for. We still had time. There were about 8 hours until the ferry's departure. We stood in the line and I was expecting trouble already. To tell the truth, I would have been surprised if everything went well. Of course it was the British authority and our dogs. Don't want to go into details but that "nuance" cost 24 hours staying overnight and a visiting a local, Dr. House-like vet, summing up to 175 Euros. Did I say I was happy? No, because I wasn't.

After being completely desperate we finally got on our ferry at 0:20AM on the 23rd and heading for the Isles, hitting the coast at the cliffs of Dover.

I was preparing myself to driving on the left clearly, but it was a different experience to get used to mph instead to kph. By experiance and simple calculations it has always been simple to know that 30mph was 50kph, 50mph was 80 kph and 60 mph was 100kph. Fortunately we haven't met any other measures really except for 40mph, which is around 65kph as I had to calculate it first I encountered it.

So we finally arrived to Keynsham at around 8AM with a sleep included in the meantime and that was it. 1,200 miles without a problem. I have driven through a kerb in Calais I simply just didn't notice, it was out of sight - didn't manage to take a closer look, but hopefully the floorpan won't rust away soon. Despite that, there weren't any problems really. The Escort just worked fine and fulfilled the puropse it was named after.

But the best bit was still to come. A few days ago we were invited by a Hungarian couple in Melksham for a gather-up. The area I was driving through was very much like Somogy county where we are from, except the buildings and speed limits with more sense. Where the 40 mark was put out, that would have been 40 in Hungary too, only in kph. On the way back it was already dark, and Google Maps supported another route instead of what we came in. It was raining, and it was a forest road, and I was riding a Ford Escort, on the left side of the road, and with the steering wheel on the left trees were just flying by at my window. My wife was reading the route map: "500 ahead to next intersection then turn left  and go another 1.7 kms..."

Was I thinking RAC Rally of Wales? Yeah, I was. Hello, United Kingdom, I'm here!

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