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Destination Nürburgring (Part Two)

Part two of my road-trip travelogue... Read More...
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Destination Nürburgring (Part One)

At the beginning of this year, I went on a 2,000 mile road-trip across Europe in my Smart Roadster. Since my trip to the U.S. back in 2008, I'd discovered that I quite like road-trip holidays and decided to do a European version. What you'll be reading here is part one from the first week, which I composed on the road at the end of each day via Blogger (Google). To cut a long story short, I've transferred all the posts onto my own site for your reading pleasure.

Be warned, this is quite a long document with a fair amount of pictures in it. If you have a slow connection then it may take a while to download. Additionally, instead of merely regurgitating what I'd already written back then, I've added a few more pictures and words - so even if you've read it before you might find something new, although you may not see some of the original pictures (yet), as I'll be publishing a gallery with all those in quite soon.

Enjoy reading. Read More...
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Preparation

As the new year arrives, it’s time to make the final preparations before I commence my road-trip and head to Denmark - I leave the UK on Sunday.

Since I booked the ferry crossing back in October, a lot has changed - most importantly the pound is now worth nothing on the international currency market, so I’m going to have to perform the trip on a very tight shoestring - so I’ll be taking the following steps to stretch my pound whilst I’m away:

1) I will be making use of Europe’s extensive youth-hostel network in conjunction with another jolly useful website that allows me to hunt down cheap bed’n’breakfast accommodation. I shouldn’t have to pay more than £25/night for a bed and a meal, plus youth-hostels allow me to mingle and get a bit of social interaction whilst I’m travelling. YHA membership, along with the power of word-of-mouth should help in getting some discounts whilst I travel.

2) As the whole point of the journey is to explore, I can’t say I’m really that fussed about gastronomic experiences in über-expensive restaurants, so I’ll be doing a lot of self-catering - Lidl, here we come!

3) I’ve scaled down the distance that I’ll be driving over the fortnight, from 2,500+ miles to little more than 1,500. This’ll save on fuel costs. I wanted to go to Liechtenstein, but this probably isn’t a realistic option now.

I’ve got loads more ideas for money-saving up my sleeve, but I’ll leave those for you to read about when I commence my travelogue. No doubt my tightwad antics will keep you entertained.

As you’ll have seen from my previous paragraph, I shall be writing a travelogue whilst I’m away. With my trusty eee netbook and a USB broadband-dongle, I should be able to keep you suitably updated on my progress. If there’s one thing I learnt from the U.S. trip, it’s that you can’t expect to write up your adventures after the event and still expect it to be a good-read (hence, the reason why you’ve not seen a summary from that trip).

Before I leave on Sunday morning I’ll post the travelogue address for you to follow - in the meantime, have a Happy New Year.
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Road Trip, Part 2

Once Christmas is out of the way (in fifty-three days time, if you didn’t know), the job market will probably be non-existent - so it seems fitting to take a couple of weeks out. With the wonder of the internet, I can pretty much make my job applications from anywhere (made easy by acquiring some very cheap mobile-broadband), so I may as well take a trip and enjoy my time off.

Having taken a road-trip back in May (a thoroughly enjoyable experience), I feel it’s time for another, albeit on a significantly tighter budget. I’ll be taking my own car and having a long plod around Europe. Again, the intended distance is likely to be about 2,000 miles.

I’m getting a plan together. As you might have gathered from my previous trip, one must always have a plan. Plans are good and fun to make - even if you toss them out of the window on arrival. So, here’s mine so far:

1) I’ll start by taking the Harwich to Esbjerg (Denmark) ferry and do a near-circular route through Denmark, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Luxembourg - probably coming back via the chunnel in France, although I’ve not booked a return journey yet - just in case I get a prompt interview.
2) I’ll head down through the fjord region of south-east Denmark. Are Danish fjords like Norwegian ones?
3) I’ll find an autobahn in Germany that’ll let me legally drive my roadster to its speed-limit (about 120mph).
4) I intend to do a circuit of the Nurburgring, although possibly not at the speed that many others do.
5) I’d like to see the snowy mountain ranges of Interlaken (Switzerland). A quick search on google-images brings up some amazing views.

I’d also like to pay a visit to some of the smaller, lesser-visited areas of Europe - in particular, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Some of the photography of Liechtenstein that I’ve seen looks amazing. Maybe I just like snow-capped mountains.

Stopping along supermarkets along the way and staying in youth-hostels, I believe I can do the entire trip on a shoestring. It’ll be a good challenge, anyway. Job-hunting never seemed so civilised...
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Smarty Pants

Whilst away in the U.S., I did a lot of driving - over two thousand miles of it. When the opportunity allows, I enjoy driving for pleasure. Whilst we all have to perform the perfunctory daily commute, there's nothing more enjoyable than just going wherever the hell you like. There's much to be said for having complete freedom and the experiences from that fortnight reminded me that I'll definitely have to do it again. When I go on holiday, freedom, independence and solitude are what I seek, unsociable bugger that I am.

As you might have seen from my previous posts, I drove a convertible vehicle. Initially, I did this because it was recommended to me as the only way to see America. However, whilst driving through the Blue Ridge mountains, I had something of an epiphany, a moment of clarity. This was because it wasn't the first time I'd driven a soft-top vehicle and was finally experiencing driving euphoria again.

Shag...

My first car - a rusty black Citroen Dyane.

In the twelve months that I owned this vehicle, I drove 24,000 miles - and it taught me how to really drive. I drove without brakes, I drove without a handbrake. Hell, even the steering failed. In the event of a mechanical failure, me or my father would usually get the thing going again by randomly smacking it with a wrench. It's uncomplicated - there isn't an intelligent driving system in sight. I've often thought they should be brought back into production for newly-qualified drivers to cut their driving-teeth with. Once you've done 0 - 60 in 33 seconds a few times, you'll truly appreciate the power under the bonnet of your new-fangled ride when you finally have it. With a retractable roof it was cheap, fun driving.

After my Saxo had been broken into last-year, I'd already made a conscious decision to change my car soon. Whilst the damaged bodywork was repaired, it was only a matter of time before evidence of the break-in showed again and corrosion started around the door. Combined with the bodywork repairs needed after the accident just two weeks into my poor VTR's tenure and I really was starting to think that the car was a bit doomed. Oh and did I mention the leak, problems with the wheel-arches and head-gasket issues?

When I got back from my holiday, I decided it was time to trade in my poor old VTR. Potential issues and large repair-bills loomed on the horizon. I do a round trip of about 200 miles per week just commuting and whilst public transport continues to be a joke in my area, I really can't afford to have an unreliable vehicle.

This led me to start narrowing down my shortlist for my next ride. My criteria were:

  • Economical.
  • Fun to drive.
  • Cheap to insure/tax.
  • Enough boot-space to put the shopping in...

...and finally, something I could put the roof down on. I wanted to get back to fun driving again.

This led me off into a distinct vehicle category - two seater roadsters, although many vehicles were eliminated from consideration:

- The Toyota MR2 has no boot-space whatsoever.
- Neither the Mazda MX-5, 206cc or Beetle have particularly good fuel economy.

This narrowed my list down to the Daihatsu Copen or the Smart Roadster, with me eventually deciding on the Roadster. What swung me were the rave reviews from other owners and almost cult-like fanaticism with which their owners love them.

Here's mine.



Response so far have been mixed...

"It's a bit gay, isn't it?"
"Really cool."
"Snazzy."
"A bit plasticy."
"The front looks like a Lotus Elise"
"Different."

...a bit like asking people opinions on Marmite. One thing's for sure, though - kids seem to love it. I've lost count of the amount of children who have pointed from a distance, or who have shouted, "cool car!".

Without a doubt, the Roadster is distinctive - there's not many on the roads (production was ceased in 2006). Just like the Toyota MR2, they're now an endangered species.

When you mention the specs of the vehicle to people who inevitably ask, they raise their eyebrows and question your sanity. 698cc Hardly sounds like the stuff of sports-cars - I'm about 96cc away from my Citroen Dyane days again. However, with a turbo fitted, 0 - 60 in just under eleven seconds seems a lot more reasonable. In reality it doesn't really matter, because when you're driving it just feels fast - I guess that the close proximity to the road probably has something to do with it. With the roof back and the paddle-shift gear-change,it's all the more fun - I'm continually driving with a big grin on my face.



More importantly though, I'm getting at least 50 to the gallon. Naturally, you'll get less if you drive it like a go-cart, but as petrol prices increase, demand for small cars such as this will too. After having the vehicle for three weeks, I've now sussed out how to use the boost-gauge to better manage my fuel economy - I'm up to 53mpg so far - and that's hardly driving at a crawl. I'm aiming for sixty - and with a six-speed gearbox such as this, I think it's possible.

Whilst I've rambled on about advantages, there's a few disadvantages. With a small vehicle such as this, that's low to the ground, many people don't see you - or pretend they don't. It's interesting how road users will bully smaller vehicles to get where they want, cut you off or pull-out straight in front of you. To get around this, I drive quite aggressively and with my headlights permanently on - this further removes the excuses for not seeing me. You also get attitude from other drivers because you're driving a soft-top, something that other drivers traditionally hate - especially in good weather. "Everyone hates you so much, that it's like you eat babies and still have a half-chewed leg stuck in your teeth.", said a recent passenger. Indeed.

I learnt this that after an idiot reversed into me, having only had the car for two hours - a good start.

Whilst many have cited leaks as a problem (common amongst all Roadsters, not just the Smart), mine has (thankfully) stayed completely dry in the wet. That's probably not going to stop me considering some sort of weather cover for the winter months as extra insurance, though. A slow gearbox has been mentioned too, but I'm figuring that my engine management system has been upgraded, because I don't seem to have any trouble.

As a semi-automatic, my left leg has now been made redundant, but I'm sure it'll live.

In summary, like many others may have said, if you want cheap, fun driving - with a tiny hint of practicality (the boot in the front adequately carries my groceries), then I can only recommend it - unless you've got a family of four and a dog, of course

If you want to see what it's like, click here....
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