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:: Friday, 29 September 2006 ::

WOGFROG06 THE HANDOVER, THE DEBRIEF

ByeByeBuddy.

Handed him back at half 12, exactly 14 days after collecting the little buddy.

We did over 3000 miles together, many of them really memorable for the gorgeousness of scenery and the sublime funcitonality of the car. What an engine, what handling, how comfortable, top stereo, goodenuff bootage, good security, supereasy soft-top roofage, oil pressure always great, excellent mileage, brakes (never really tested hard) felt very solid.

I see entirely why it has made Car of the Year 2006.

We did not see a single twin in over 3000 miles. Not one. Closest I came was to a red 1989 MX5 parked round the corner from my digs in London. And that was Car of the Year back then too. Synchronicity. Perfect.

What have we learned?

That driving France and Spain is eminently doable. The tunneltrain is quick and simple. The destinations are really worthwhile for the scenery, the architecture, the quality of the light. You can really get into the drive, or you can tootle and stop and see fascinating stuff whenever and wherever you are. You can mix it up and do both.

Driving those zones in a reliable sporty car that is not too big is definitely the way to go. In Oz there is so much room, so much space. But the continent - tiny carparking spaces; eleventeen point turns to change directions; squeeezing into spaces, into streets. "Phew", is a common sentiment. Because man, oh man, the carparks, the lanes, they are all just a bit too tight, relative to Oz, say. And the lanes on roads are real tight too.

There are many many trucks that one has to share the roads with - I never did understand why I was always - and I do mean always - getting lights flashed at me after overtaking a truck. Any truck. I was not speeding (..... not always) I was not lurching out from hiding behind the truck, or anything untoward. I understood the flashing lights coming the other way - that is a freindly French habit to warn oncoming drivers of the presence of roadcoppers round the bend/over the rise etc.

But the flashing once I have gone past - were they being friendly? I figured so, so made it a habit to wave. Either they appreciated that or thought me out of my gourd.

Did not see too many police. There were definitely speed radars, but always sign posted in advance.

Spaniards are lead footed but the French mostly tootle. They - the French (and the Spanish a bit too) have fallen utterly in love with the Renault Megane. Ubiquitous. And often a kind of dirty cream colour. A bit off, really. Only saw one Citroen DS - the Charles de Gaulle hydrolics special.

Friendliness is definitely a terrific characteristic of both folks. Had beers with French folks, talking all Segolene Royale and Nicolas Sarkozy - smart money is on Sarko according to my "sources". And for the Spaniards? The big issue she is the immigrations, oh yes.

All the good hotels are in the centre of town. So just go there and drive round. You will be fine. I have not made a single booking on this trip. Not one. Only missed a spot one night at Amiens and took it as a sign to get the heck outta there and move on to the next town, Abbeville. My criteria for a hostelry - check that they have internet and parking and you know you have decent joint. One only of those things, and the odds are it ain't so good.

Make an effort with language if you want to, but most of the folks I came across spoke English so there was not a moment of feeling isolated or uncomfortable.

If any of youse feel encouraged to do a drive like this, or like last year's LEJOGLE escapade performed in a little green Morgan 4/4, consider it highly recommended. In fact, it might be appropriate, albeit a bit sombre, to think that these sorts of drives might start to not be so much fun in future. So now or never, eh?

I mean, who among us can imagine feeling any joy at all at driving over 3000 miles in a car that does not operate using a 100% combustion engine.

I mean, what would be the point?

Really, what is the point of moving about in a vehicle that is designed with its focus entirely on the bloody tank at the rear of the car, instead of the motor up the front where all the fun happens?

And plus too, as places like the UK and France and Spain just get too durned filled up with people, people everywhere, and stuff that people need everywhere as well, you have to wonder where the wild wilderness, dare I say it, the "environment" in which to perform some A-grade distance driving is all gonna go.

...

O. Mo. Go.

I just said "environment" and not in a bad way.

Am I going green? Well, only if "green" can mean protecting roads and roadside stuff so it can enjoyed by roadenthusiasts. Yeah, that is better. That I can live with. I reckon that if we all, youse all and me, we want to have drivey fun we have to use roads for good stuff - enthusiastically, yeah? - not just that whole boring [pinched nose voice]: "cars are just for getting me from a to b". Because from that empty headed bollocks comes [that voice again]: "car theft is a victimless crime. Insurance you know".

Zif.

See, the Mazda is a little mechanical person made by loads of actual folks and designed with mucho care and attention and, likely as not, affection. He has feelings. He does not want to live his life on motorways or doing a school run. He wants forests, and mountains, and all his gears given a good old workout. He wants the novente-ocho perciento unleaded stuff. Oh he can tolerate the blistering heat of a Madrid traffic jam and the howling wind and torrential rainyrain of a French motorway. But he stays in the relationship for the good stuff. The fast hairpins turns, high revs and loud music. Good living.

You know, the renty place where I found him is just going to sell him off.

Turnover turnover for those guys. It is all about the residual and the insurance. Do not get me wrong, that is fair enuff - it is business. Really, no offense. It is a big world and we cannot all be overly emotional wogs about cars.

But Jeez. Swear to God, I got so sad there were tears welling. I mean, that car has taken me places I have never seen before. He has made me a better person. And he kept me safe. When I see a real good car I see every person who ever worked to make it. I see its previous models and its history. The folks for my MX5 should all take a bow. I do think that if you are the sort of person who alls you can see when you see a car is an inamimate thing, you should have another look and see a bit more of it. There is a an awful lot to like. And if you cannae bring yourself to really like 'em, at least respect them. Things - cars a heap - absolutely reflect the people who design and make them. And sports cars absolutely reflect history, innovation, engineering, design, art, passion, psychology, religion - the lot of life. And what is not to like about all that?

In London after dropping off the car I needed something to lift my spirits. So I stopped by the Victoria & Albert museum for the Leonardo Da Vinci notebooks exhibition. All his scribbles showing how stuff worked. You know he even had an amoured car thing in mind.

I reckon Leonardo, with his passion for things that go, he would have loved the Mazda.

Would he have loved a hybrid car?

Gi. Fa.

Thanks for reading, all. Out.
:: WB 8:55 a.m. [link+] ::
:: Thursday, 28 September 2006 ::
WOGFROG 06 DAY 14 PART 2 ABBEVILLE TO LONDON

I like getting around Englerland by car cos the visual cliches of red phone boxes
and
absurdly narrow and green country roads
is all 100% true and you do not even have to be careful about trying to find this stuff. The oppsite, I reckon. You would have to do so some serious motorway hugging to avoid the fun in the Engerland and particularly in Kent, the Garden of Englerland.

Reminds me, my Pa Gino never took Australian citizenship because he maintained he would never ever pledge allegiance to "the English Queen and her bunch of Germans family" or words to that effect. And he loathed old Oz Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who he used to mock terribly cos menzies was a Queen worshipper and an Engerland snob to boot. "I did but see her passing by" said Menzies of ol' Queenie, and "Heaven is a cottage in Kent".

Let us just note that Gino found neither statement, nor their respective concepts, ....how to say, impressive.

So, drivey drivey and the laneways and loveliness are all terrific. iPod powering, and then
Chubby Brown.

Perfect. But things got weird after that.

Nice car Wog.

You're not too bad yourself, you know.

Lordy, those guys were absolutely unafraid. I revved that Mazda but good. And they seemed to like it. Get those guys a flat on Conrod Straight, eh?

Anyhoo, mucho more
super narrow lanesways went by, as I pondered the English sheep.

Why do they all look so ... alarmed and alarming?

A question for the ages, eh readers? Well, enuff of a question to keep my drivey mind occupied as I kept driving.

I decided Canterbury would do the trick for a Cathedral fix so tried to work out where the sun was under the thick English clouds. And I went driving on.

And with no effort at all, I came upon some of Englands finest mad cows.
The Kentish Black Spazz.

And the little seen Long Haired Red Dorset Nutter.

And then I went on to
Canterbury Cathedral - this is a lovely open quadrangle.

Beautiful but quite a lot of work is being done in it and around it right now which I did feel detracted from the place. It is also right touristy around the Cathedral and not car friendly, which, natch, offended both me and the Mazda.

Anhoo, after lighting some candles - what the heck, it is Anglican, right? CofE, right? But candles are nice anyways - I hooned it up to London, ignoring Red Ken Livingstone's anti-driving congestion nonsense for the city. I was all over the shop, lane changing late, figuring if I could just get to the Amercian Embassy area in Mayfair, there I would be bound to see 'Sheratons' and Intercontinentals' and such hotels. Never driven in London before. Do not know the town well.

The plan worked fine.

Tomorrow, last post on this journey, as part 3 sees me part with the Mazda.

...

I think I might be getting the blues about it.

Out.
:: WB 4:11 p.m. [link+] ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 14 PART 1 ABBEVILLE TO LONDON

Time to head Mazda back to his home in Londinium so it was

bye bye Abbeville Cathedral
last of my Cathedral visits in France.

But first, a quick stop to the south, only half an hour or so, to Le Chateaux de Rambure.

I had no idea when it might be open but figured on 10, as much of France seems to funciton on that rather civilised hour as a start time. I got there a bit before but there was a fab girlie in the booth, and I asked her if I could entrez with the Mazda pour make le photo, yeah? S'il vous plait?

And she said "oui".

So kind.

It is such a charming and exquisite medieval brick building, beautifully preserved, and excellently presented too - I went on the tour and the guide spoke French and kindly did so slowly enuff for me to comprehend as well as occasionally in English. It contains an 18thC billiard table that is so cleverly designed that mechanical catches open up in the wood to reveal the sunk balls. Plus a wooden spinning top game table with all sorts of obstructions on it - the unmechanised precursor to the pinball machine. Noice.

So, finally heeding Ol' Billy-Bin-Laded I headed north to Calais and the train tunnel. All very diligent about getting the Mazda home, right? Imagine my concern when another
Talibanny Goat
appeared demanding an end to the FranceFun of 06.

So, back on the tunnellytrain me and Mazda duly went.

No problems at all, except for a hugely long queue caused by an English family in a weirdo cheapo looking Mercedes wagon thing, who apparently were insisting on bringing 3 "animales" (that is all the toll operator would tell me) onto the train without the right money to cover them....their fare, presumably. Who knows. Whatever. No problemo for the Mazda getting on the train, enuff time for me to scarf some quick foie gras and apple tart tartine, then a pleasant nap on the crossover and then into Englerland.

Kent, atchally, cos it is an easy kind of 'go right off the train' sort of direction according to my map. And plus cos I gained an hour on the cross-over I figured I could have some jolly English driving fun before getting to wherever I felt like getting to for the night, bearing in mind the need to deliver car with fuel tank o' gas to Kensington by 1 p.m on the morrow.

A couple hours of fun English driving in a fun car - perfect.
:: WB 3:38 p.m. [link+] ::
:: Wednesday, 27 September 2006 ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 13 DIJON TO ABBEVILLE

Another stupendously gorgeous day's drive today.

A forest for hours.

Hours I tell you, of fourth gear fun driving.

And then you come out of the forest and you get
into high up country, all rolling hills,
the land of Julius Caesar as he crushed the Gauls, who were led by

Vercincetorice.

A stunning and huge statue, really quite moving.

But I had to get moving on and I did. Me and Mazda, zoom zoom.

And then.

...

Then this.

Followed by the baleful stare.

Get the Hell outta France, Wog.

I hear ya my climby mountain pal. I am gone tomorrow, to Ol' Blightey.

Out.
:: WB 1:13 p.m. [link+] ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 12 CLERMONT-FERRAND TO DIJON

Okay. Outta Clermont-Ferrand and O. Mo. Go.

Chateaux Billy.

I shit you not.

Chateaux Frickin' Billy.

Closed Mardi, natch. But that's okeedoke with me. I know a Good Doctor who makes a wee table wine called "Good Morning Billy". Apparently undrinkable. I believe the Chateaux is prolly unliveable. Synchronicity, n'est pas?

Another terrific day of driving, and finally some
saw some A-grade French Beef.

Everywhere that beef is on the menu the French go to great pains to declare that the beef is French, and local and the abbattoir is local and French and all that.

You can see why they are so particular about it.

So Dijon for the Mustard.

Regrettably, unlike the Americains, they do not make their mustard available in superparge jug sizes. I had really wanted to buy a superhuge jug of the stuff to use as a kind of scale against the mazda, but sadly not to be.

What Dijon does have is dogs and dog shit by the kilogramoko.
Utilise the Sac, Peoples!

It also has lovely coloured rooftops.

A very pretty town, the capital of Burgundy, or the Bourgogne, as the French are want to call it 9with their different words for everything, hat tip Steve Martin).

Plus it has the Rampant Coloured Cockerell of the Poste & telegraph & Phones.

I always celebrate communication technology with big proud chickens. Nice to others do so too.

So, tomorrow, orf thru' a forest. Do check in.

Out.
:: WB 12:18 p.m. [link+] ::
:: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 11 PART 3 ALBI TO CLERMONT-FERRAND VIA MILLAU

The holy Millau Viaduct
complete with celestial sudden ray of sunshine.

Designed by genuis architect Norman Foster of Engerland, made entirely with private money, brought in early and under budget and paid for by affordable tolls. It is a shiny capitalistic success.

And it is just magically high and slender and crosses the Tarn.

Of course, down Tarn-side you can drive right under it.

And, being such an icon, there is a viewing joint with an information spot
where I got a jigsaw puzzle, cos I used to love doing those as a kid - old maps a real preference - and I wonder if you become dumberer with age so that they take longer? Hope so.

Then it was orf south to get on the thing by getting on to the big autoroute, of which it now forms a part, so the Mazda and I could power north.

Getting on it.

Overtook the slowpoke and kept on hooning.

And clicking, natch.

Me and Mazda had it all to ourselves. Song of choice on iPod? Air's "Femme d'Argent". French. Modern. Fitting.

It is sure windy up there, and those barriers at the side prevent the driver from seeing the humongous drop that would happen if you just let yourself and your car go and stopped concentrating. Sometimes, it is higher than the clouds. Imagine that. Driving above clouds.

It is such a beautiful design that you feel the same sort of joy on it and you feel inside a fabulous cathedral.

It's a Church in the Sky, I reckon.

Every driver, every petrolhead, should make a pilgrimage.
:: WB 11:09 p.m. [link+] ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 11 PART 2 ALBI TO CLERMONT-FERRAND VIA MILLAU

Thankyou Jeebus.

Now, the Tarn, she stays always strong.

She is all red and that, I guess, must be the clay from which all the red brick of Albi cathedral came. Yeah?

And the Tarn has some hydrodamming action on it too, which makes the air all round feel fresh and nice.

But the Tarn has some odd ol' bridges.

I mean, do consider this. It is sweet but one car wide and made of wood, and while the 2006 Mazda MX5 is as light as ever, the 2006 Wog is carrying extra weight so I decided against crossing this in the car. But isn't it ridiculously lovely? Gotta cross it sometime. Hmmmm, maybe in a MiniMoke.

So, driving on, all really quite hypnotic and spiritual.

Then, it suddenly appears.

The Grail.
:: WB 10:48 p.m. [link+] ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 11 PART 1 ALBI TO CLERMONT-FERRAND VIA MILLAU VIADUCT

The main aim of the whole driveydrive was to get to Millau.

But first, a vist to
the Toulouse-lautrec museum
in Albi to see the artist's sensational painting/study of the head of a grey horse. An absolute favorite work of the little man for mine and if you scroll down the link you'll see it has made a stamp in Mali. Only image I can locate on the innernut. Durn my basic skillz.

Filled up the Mazda, got some Euros outta a hole in the wall - fabulous how my Sydney pin works just like at home, pas de probleme, at an Albigensian ATM. I love the 21st Century - and set off to follow the river Tarn outta town and all the way to Millau.

This drive is quite simply the Best. Drive. Ever.

Ever.

Took me and the Mazda about 4 hours, cos it is all winding seriously around and second and third gear always with the river on one side, plus sights along the way. It is lush and green and the roads are a bit bumpy and barely wide enuff for the Mazda much less the other cars coming the other way - very very occasionally but - this is not a popular drive, I guess, except for those who have to do it to get from teeny village to teeny village, cos it is so time consuming.

The sights along the way are just lovely.

Some of them were worrying.

That tunnel is one car wide and black as night. It is gorgeously curved and I figured "the sound of the Mazda in there would be tops". But it is one car wide and black as night.

Hmmmm. Could I sucessfully back out of it - Lordy only knows how long it is - if I met a car coming the other way?

Good luck Wog.
:: WB 11:27 a.m. [link+] ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 10 TARRAGONA TO ALBI

A big drive from Spain, just south of Barcelona, to France, just North East of Toulouse. Major highway action, except for the bit out of Tarragona where I went past a totally oddball bar in the middle of a blasted nowhere zone, called, get this, "Bar Betty Boop" with BB all done in huge neon. Going too fast and with traffic both ways so no shots taken cos the dang joint just appeared outta nowhere and I was hardly expecting a Betty Boop bar on my trip.

First stop out the hotel was to the
Dali Museumin Figueres right up in Northern Spain and it was wonderful. I am a huge fan of Dali's paintings and drawings. Not the rubbish sculpture and wankery.

Isn't this wonderful? The man was a genius.

Anyhoo, after the art stop was drive drive time and the drive up into France on the east bit of the joining borders is really delightful, the highways winding around alot, good real good quality tarmac and happy French folks taking tolls on the other side.

And when you get into France, you get to see these
fabulous free Michelin Man air stops at each toll
so you can top up your tyres if you wish. Neato. No needo for the MX5, but, which is running on Yokohamas and they seem to be holding up quite well, thanks all the same Frenchie.

The oddball thing of the day, appart from Betty Boop, was having the iPod, which lives on shuffle function, suddenly come round to a song I did not even know I owned. "Jungle Love" is one the dumbest songest ever recorded and it was made known to me via "Everybody Loves Raymond" because Ray's brother, whatsisname, played by that tall guy, really loves the song and cannot resist dancing like a spazz to it. Made me laff up a storm when I saw that episode and alls I have ever known about the song was the lyric "Jungle Love, it's driving mad it's making me craazy". Turns out it is a Steve Miller song, and it's so dumb it's deeply deeply catchy.

Arrived into Albi about 5 in the p.m and it is without doubt my favorite spot of the trip so far, a gorgeous university town on The Tarn river, beautifully kept and intimate while still feeling spacious and happening.

And why Albi? Because it is the home town of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and I adore his horse paintings plus I have always secretly wanted to go to a French hotel and say, in a Peter-Sellers-Revenge-of-the-Pink-Panther accent, "I want a rreum". [Cannae find a pic on the innernut of Sellers in his Toulouse-Lautrec get up. Dang. A fave movie scene for me.]

So, Albi Cathedral is simply wonderful. Turns out Albigensians derives from the town, meaning Cathars, meaning folks who thought they were ver so much closer to God than the Roman Catholic folks.

...

Needless to say, Rome won.

But Albi Cathedral is a sensation and winner all its own.
Its exterior
is all red brick and kind of impenetrable looking, but
its interior is such a surprising jewel,
every surface painted, and so many chapels. It is an absolute wonder and worth visiting. I made it, in the rain, to the last of mass, so it was filled with people and priests and beautiful music. Fabulous. Photos cannae do it justice, and certainly not my shaky stuff.

Here is a bit of the organ and the column beside it all painted
with folks in hell and those above. So detailed. Incroyable.

So, hotel fabulouse, right on the water, terrific restaurant, much cheese enjoyed. I am loving the Languedoc. Tomorrow awaits, though, the biggest big day of the whole trip. The point, actually.

Out til then.
:: WB 9:50 a.m. [link+] ::
:: Monday, 25 September 2006 ::
WOGFROG06 DAY 9 MURCIA TO TARRAGONA

Major motorway action today, trying to make up ground into my last Spanish stop, the Roman town of Tarragona on the Mediterranean coast. And in driving rain to boot. Whoo-hoo. The iPod certainly got its workout today cos it was the only entertainment - I could not face any more Spanish madness on the radio and the landscape up out of the south and up the coast northwards changes a little but not a heap.

Landed at Tarragona late afternoon and checked into a casino hotel to be told "it may be a little noisy tonight because there is a festa going on". No problemo Juan", thought I. I like a festa as much as the next guy.

Checked in to find
a very well preserved Roman amphitheatre within spitting distance.

Dropped the bags and headed orf following crowds to find myself in the middle of a truy weirdo bit of celebration.

Strangely dressed young folks danced
to the tunes of very old, medieval instruments played by other young people and

crazy animal puppets covered in firecrackers

made their way through the crowds.

Super fun and an occupational health and safety nightmare that would never pass muster in Oz.

I copped a full on firecracker into the lense of the glasses I thankfully was wearing that afternoon. And my perfectly natural inclination to yell "merda" (in English of course) got the man next to me all laughing and happy. So we got chatting as much as my very basic Spanish would allow. And he gave me some sweeties.

Then the rain came down. Loads of it. So, back to the casino hotel to watch some teevee and check out the fireworks that went off. Not a patch on Sydney, I am afraid. But being a Sydneysider nowadays, I cannae resist the lure of colourful harmless explosives in the sky.

It would have been restful, but it was "Los Simpsons".

There are simply no words.

Tomorrow, yet more driving, back to Frogland. For now, out.
:: WB 12:20 a.m. [link+] ::

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