Friday, July 27, 2007
The Bambino and a Citroen tried to occupy the same point on the face of the earth at the same time in Reims. Nothing structural and it can be pushed out in a few minutes once the car gets to USA next week.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
somewhere on its way across the Atlantic Ocean.
On Monday last week we drove out of Paris and headed east into the French
Champagne country. There at the village of Cumieres we met up with Tolly
and Jasmine Neil , who come from Brisbane, and at present are relocating
an 80ft barge from the Netherlands, for the owner, an Australian friend of
The 105 year old barge has been extensively renovated and is very roomy
and comfortable. For years Lang and I have talked about buying a barge and
spending time in France on the canals, so our two days aboard were
something of a recce, and I must admit it's the type of boat and boating I
could get very used to - unlike sailing!
We were lucky enough to have beautiful sunny weather during the period on
board. Each day we did legs of only about 15 km, and had the thrill of
passing through six locks, on the canal beside the River Marne. Lang
followed along in the Fiat, stocking up on food and wine at the little
villages, then meeting us to hand it across to the boat while we rose
slowly in the filling lock. Unfortunately duty called and we then had to
part company in the very pretty town of Chalons en Champagne.
Again in the Bambino, we headed for Zeebrugge, Belgium where the car was
delivered to the dock, for shipping across the Atlantic. During this trip
we had our first flat tyre of the whole journey. The speedo has just
clicked over 15,000 km from Vladivostok so we thought it had been a pretty
good run of luck. We had to strip everything out, clean the car totally,
give away our camping equipment and then struggle onto the train to
Brussels with all our bags of gear.
We spent one night in this vibrant city, among the hordes of tourists,
enjoying the beautiful ancient buildings and the wonderful food for which
Belgium is famous.
While in Brussels, Lang managed to source some reasonable airfares, and we
booked to fly out of Brussels to Boston. For some reason it was cheaper to
fly to Boston changing planes in New York than a direct flight to NY.
This was not without a few glitches. Firstly arriving at the airport we
were told we could not enter the USA without proof that we would leave
in 90 days. After trying to argue our case we had no alternative but to
buy some on-going tickets, fortunately we were able to purchase some
Next, our flight was late and it took hours to clear customs in New York
so we, along with many irate travelers missed connecting flights (not
because of security but because US Customs saw fit to only have two
officers dealing with ever increasing lines of hundreds of people as more
747's arrived). This actually suited us fine and we just tore up our
Boston tickets and walked out of the airport, with all our gear.
We will spend the time until the car arrives, doing some touring and
planning our 3000mile (we are now in miles) across the USA heading for San
Francisco. There will be week or so gap until my next report which will
describe our reunion with the 500 on the 3rd of August.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
IDPhoto s.p.r.l. Belgium (+32 496 551 666). We thought they were a good
indication of the fun we had during our stay in Belgium.
A few people do not realise all the photos, both on the "Latest News" and
on the main web site can be clicked on to come up full size. These are a
combination of quality, depending on our camera setting at the time, but
many of them are high resolution magazine standard.
There are also some comments on getting photos out of the archives. If you
just click on "Previous Posts" on the right of the blogs (scroll up and down
until you see it) you will only get the last written information and possibly
no photos from before.
The best way is to click the Archives (on the right side of our written
reports) month name and everything we sent during that month, including
all photos will pop up in order.
Monday, July 16, 2007
companies regarding sponsorship. We put back our USA shipping date and
returned for four extra nights in the nicely situated Hotel Villa Gualino
with its very friendly and helpful Director, Claudio Gilli. Lang took
advantage of the considerable spare time to purchase new front tyres ready
for the little Fiat's USA leg while I packed two large boxes of equipment
(and gifts) that were no longer required and shipped them home.
On Thursday we went to Modena where we joined an interesting hour tour of
the Maserati factory, they produce about 35 cars a week in a very hands-on
operation. After the tour, their semi-retired historic collection
"curator" Ermanno Cozza, who has a lifetime at Maserati and restored many
of their historic cars, took us to see the private collection of Umberto
Pannini. This is situated at the farm, Hombre, where the cheese of the
same name is produced for which Umberto is famous. He has an impressive
collection of Maseratis as well as many other makes and a large range of
motorbikes and tractors. In his workshop he is at present building replica
From there we went to the Ferrari Museum. This is a very slick commercial
operation, well set out and full of beautiful bright red racing cars and
different model Ferrari's as well as a couple of their parent company
Fiats. Not far out of town was another private and very impressive
collection belonging to Mario Righini. This was a unique collection as the
majority of the of the cars were in original condition and consisted of
Italas, De Dions, Alfas and many other European brand names, dating back
more than a century. Mario is a very friendly fellow and we were invited
to join a busload of visiting Japanese car enthusiasts to sample the local
During the few days in Torino we met up again with Antonio Carella who is
a president and very enthusiastic member of the RACI – the Italian Vintage
car club. He has worked with Fiat all his life and is a wonderful fund of
knowledge on the history of the car and its manufacturing.
Mario Vannozzi, who has also spent his working life with Fiat, lives in
Torino and has an amazing driving history. In 1989 he drove the original
Itala from Peking to Paris, Paris to Dakar rallies, and a trip to the
Arctic just to name a few of his accomplishments. Mario accompanied us on
our 3 hour drive to Modena and also had to wait at a wayside restaurant
with us after a large truck and Paolo's VW Golf had a coming together at
a roundabout. Fortunately nobody was hurt but the VW has gone to the big
car yard in the sky. Paulo called Claudio Gilli at the Villa Gualino
hotel who dispatched his night porter with Paolo's other car. We
eventually got home at 3.00am!
Prior to our trip, the French Fiat 500 Club had contacted us to attend a
day of celebration of FIAT France's launch of the new 500 here in Paris in
the Place Vendome. While we were in Garlenda they met up with us and
personally renewed the request. On Friday and Saturday we traveled mainly
on the very expensive motorways to Paris. The trip over the mountains and
through tunnels many kilometres long was absolutely spectacular. Mont
Blanc reared up beside us, still covered in snow.
After spending the night in a small village hotel on the Bourgnone Canal
we booked into a Paris hotel in the La Defense area which is a very modern
business district with glass-walled skyscrapers, so unlike the rest of the
city. Although it sits right on the water on the Seine, weekend rates
(like most Paris hotels) make it cheaper than the village pub we stayed
in. Of course once Monday comes prices double and even triple and it is
time to move out of Paris!
Just 3kms away is the Place Vendome, a large square surrounded by ancient
buildings housing designer label shops and featuring a central Napoleonic
obelisk monument. This was where 100 French Club Fiat 500's of varying
colours and styles were displayed along with a number of new release 500s.
Fiat were offering test drives, so I took one for a spin around Paris, and
am seriously thinking of a swap for the rest of the trip, not sure if Fiat
will come to the party.
We were treated to morning tea and lunch and then at 2pm we did a
one-hour parade around Paris. It included a drive up the Champs Elysees
around the Arc De Triomphe Etoile, past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame,
a very pleasant sunny Sunday drive (apart from the ten thousand tour
buses). I had a great camera outing and spent much time at each
significant point photographing people, photographing people,
photographing something over the head of the crowd.
We then returned to Place Vendome to sing Happy Birthday and cut the huge
Fiat 500 fiftieth birthday cake.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
been a great lead-in to what was a high point of our trip and a party
worthy of the 50th anniversary of the Cinquecento. (Italian for 500). It
was interesting watching Martin and Anke Stein coping with the disasters,
complaints and plain hard work of leading a large group. We have so often
been in their position that we sympathized with them and the calm way they
kept the show on the road (while rebuilding their own engine at midnight
and chasing the world's most energetic two-year old) was outstanding.
The whole weekend was well organized by the Fiat 500 Club of Italy in a
small village 10 kilometres up the Lerrone Valley, which runs down to the
Italian Riviera seaside resort of Albenga on the Mediterranean coast. The
sun shone brightly for the whole time and the Northern Europeans wore
minimum clothing attempting to get a tan in 3 days – there were many
bright red lobsters in the crowd!
The entire village supports an event that was started 24 years ago by
Domenico Romano, as a small gathering of Cinquecento owners, which has
grown to the 1,400 Fiat 500s that were in the town over this weekend.
Garlenda is only tiny, and situated on steep ground with a shallow stony
stream running through. Because of the hilly ground there were several
small camping areas. Along side the stream there was a car parts and flea
market and a food area run by local volunteers with the best of Italian
fare, with tables and chairs for hundreds of people under cover. Each
night there was first class entertainment on an open-air stage.
Plenty of parking was available in a few small areas close at hand below
the ancient church so all the cars could be easily displayed. It is
amazing how you can cram a couple of hundred Bambinos into an area that
would only hold 50 normal size cars. All other car types were banned from
the central area and had to park further away.
On Saturday there were several runs of varying lengths to see the local
area. We opted for the 60 km scenic tour of the Ligurian area passing
through medieval hamlets, with romantic small churches and ancient castles
dating back hundreds of years. At Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, half way
through the trip, we were welcomed by the local mayor, all given goody
bags and had a tasting of the local products.
From there the 160 Fiats in the convoy wound down through the narrow lane ways of Toirano, another
small hamlet, where we were stopped for over an hour because a funeral was
in progress. We had no room to go forward or back but when we were on the
move again the gelati shop owner was beaming, I think we had given him
more business in an hour, than he had all year.
On Sunday all cars were assembled on the local horse racetrack according
to alphabetic order of their countries and just like the Olympics,
Australia was out in front. We were represented by three Fiat 500s, the
one Damon and Rachael had shipped from Melbourne, a borrowed Dutch one
driven by two members of the South Australian 500 Club, Athos and Tony,
and of course ours. There were 24 countries represented and well over
1,000 Cinquecentos, which made for a spectacular sight.
Prior to the grand parade a helicopter flew over with the new Fiat 500
slung from a cable and placed it in the middle of the oval. Then, with the
grand stands packed, we paraded country by country while our national
anthems were played. Most cars had their sunroofs open with their
passengers standing. Damon and Rachael had a blow up kangaroo, Athos and
Tony had the Australian sign and we sported a large Australian flag. I
found the whole thing very moving and must admit to shedding a tear.
We then stayed to watch all the other countries come through in large
numbers - 84 from Germany, 89 from France, 52 from Netherlands down to
smaller countries represented by just one or two cars. There were 680
Bambinos from Italy and they paraded region by region, each with their
provincial folk tune. As can be imagined these tunes were bright catchy
numbers and the crowd was clapping and swaying in time with the music.
The prize-giving ceremony started at Parco Villafranca (the main activity
area) late in the afternoon. We came away with the large trophy for the
longest distance traveled plus a gold-trimmed silver plate and bottles of
During the weekend Domenico Romano who has been the mayor of Garlenda many
times, made sure we were well looked after and we stayed with his
co-organiser of the event, Sandro Scarpa and his wife Wilmy. They were
kind enough to accommodate us in a little self-contained cottage, part of
their 500 year old home on the side of the hill overlooking the whole
By the end of the weekend everyone was exhausted, but it was a wonderful
feeling to be part of the camaraderie of so many people from so many
nations coming together with just the smallest, sexiest car the common
From Garlenda we are now back in Torino to organise the shipping of the
car across the Atlantic. From here now, we must focus on completing our
round the world trip with the smallest car ever.
Friday, July 6, 2007
camping, during the tour.
We arrived in Reinach, Switzerland on Monday, having come from Belgium via
Luxemburg and France. It was a 498 kms leg, which was the longest of the
10 day Tour Europa.
The few days in Chevetogne, Belgium was enjoyable. It was nice to stay put
for three nights, even though the weather was not the best, we managed one
fine day, everyone stayed cheerful.
Each day, there was an organised trip you could participate in, or elect
to do your own sightseeing. On Saturday we headed for Bouillon a very
pretty town we stayed in during the Peking Paris trip, and somewhere we
were keen to see again. We made it our lunch stop so we could we could
enjoy the Belgium specialty of large bowls of delicious mussels.
On Sunday we did the organised trip to the "Musee Monopoli" where we were
greeted by the local mayor in full regalia. The museum was full of
restored carriages, beautiful sailing boat models and every conceivable
mechanical organ playing in turn. Figures were everywhere and most of them
animated, dancing to the music. On the round trip we drove through some
very picturesque villages.
Each night in a large tent we had an evening meal and then there was
entertainment and dancing. On Sunday afternoon all the cars were on show
and we won the prize for the furthest travelled (a presentation box of Belgian Beer with glasses).
A lot of locals came with their Fiats just for the weekend, so it is
really hard to judge how many are making their way to Torino and Galenda.
Our next night was spent on the south side of Switzerland at Maroggia, a
campsite on the banks of the Lake Como. During the day the people on the
convoy had the choice of either travelling over the highest peak via a 26
km tunnel or go up over the the Gotthard Pass. We, along with 45 other
cars, did the scenic route and marvelled at the magnificent vista of the
Swiss alpine region At the top of the pass we all stopped and watched the
cloud roll in and cover the mountain. Coming down the switch back
cobblestone road on the other side was done in thick fog.
Again that night we had very heavy rain, something we had hoped we had
left behind on the other side of the alps.
We arrived in Torino early afternoon on Wednesday, in a convoy of about
160 Fiats. This was the start of the most exceptional few days for Lang
and I. While on the tour we had been contacted by Gemma Green our PR lady
who owns for A Passion for Italy - a Brisbane based business. She had made
contact with Paolo Codo who has a Travel Events business here in Torino
called Trawell and they had set up some promotional activities for us
while we were in Torino.
On entering the town we peeled away from the convoy and went to meet our
team at the assembly point for the display of the cars in the Piazza
Vittorio Veneto, a square right in the centre of the city. Here we met
also Domenico Romano who is the president of the Italian 500 group and
also one of the founding members of the Garlenda meeting.
From this point Lang and I were hijacked and taken over completely by
Italian fervour. We suddenly found ourselves driving behind Domenico with
a full-on police escort - one motor cycle out in front, one blocking the
flow of traffic and one bringing up the rear for the few kms to the
Piazza. There we found our little Bambino in a prime position with about
600 other Fiat 500's. The cars remained there until midnight and there
were all sorts of festivities and the purpose of the occasion for Fiat was
the launching of the new Fiat 500, along with fireworks, singing and
dancing, all of which the Italians do so well.
The highlight for us and our team was when the president of Fiat Ferrari,
Luca Cordero Di Montezzemolo arrived with a herd of papparazzi, body guards
and crowds rushing to see him. He spotted our car and came over and for a
few minutes, asking about our trip, and commenting that his personal car
was also the same colour, but of course not a Fiat 500 but a Ferrari.
Following this we decided to go to the hotel that Paolo had organised for
our stay in Torino, and freshen up, ready for the night activities. Lang
and I were trying to organise our bags in this very public place and both
had our head in the car and our bums in the air arguing about what or what
not to take. Suddenly I heard Gemma telling me to get out. I only managed
to stand upright as the crush of people descended around us with national
TV cameras to do an interview with Luca Cordero Di Montezzemolo who had
come back to use our car as a backdrop.
Lang was further into the car and had not seen the crush arriving and
ignored Gemma's warning and continued to delve into the bags. So great was
the press of cameramen, reporters and massing crowds who were flocking to
see what amounts to Italian Royalty that Lang found the President of Fiat
Ferrari pushing against his backside forcing him further into the car.
Valiantly fighting back he squeezed out of the car and Luca Cordero Di
Montezzemolo was rolled down the side of the Bambino to a comparatively
open spot at the rear bumper to complete his interview.
Our second day here in Torino started out being fairly boring. There was a
gathering of hundreds of Fiat 500's in a park and they intended taking
small groups one at a time to the Mirafiori track which is at the new Fiat
building nearby. We waited in the hot sun all morning with nothing much
happening. Suddenly the groups started to move but, in true Italian style,
it became an uncontrolled flocking of vehicles lined up around the block.
Paolo, though was not idle, and after many phone calls we were given
permission to go, not to the new track but to Lingotto, a few kilometres
away, the legendary roof-top test track used by Fiat from the 1920's. We
had been in touch with Josh Dowling, an Australian journalist with the
Sydney Morning Herald, in Turin for the new 500 release, and arranged for
him to meet us at the track.
Managing to steal a car from the journalist's pool, he rolled up in a brand
new red Fiat 500, and we proceeded up the amazing spiral road inside the
old factory to the rooftop. Up there is the original sloping test track
that Lang was itching to have a go on, but the steep banked turns at each
end are blocked off so we just had to be content with driving on the
straight. The track was closed at the time to public access and it was a
considerable privilege to be allowed to have it all to ourselves. The
famous glass dome where all the board meetings for Fiat Ferrari are held
and a helipad for the management to come and go look down on the track.
Josh did an interview with us and lots of pictures were taken of the two
cars together. He will do an article which should be in the motoring
section of the Sydney Morning Herald next Saturday. Following that we went
and saw the Fiat founders family art gallery also in the Fiat building
that houses a private collection of porcelain and old masters. Going back
to collect the cars we watched first one helicopter land, with the
marketing manager of Fiat who came over and looked at our car and then
after he departed another landed with the boss of Ferrero (the chocolate company) who also
came over to talk to us. It was very much the who's who of Italian
Today we are heading off to Garlenda and very much looking forward to more
Thursday, July 5, 2007
The Tour Europa is well under way. On Friday we arrived at Chevetogne in
Belgium in a convoy of about 40 cars. We are staying here for three nights
and there is a program of activities from breakfast in the morning to
dancing and gala dinners late at night.
There are a couple of hundred Bambinos at this beautiful camp site. Apart
from our group there are other groups and individuals coming in over the
weekend from all parts of Europe, to join in the festivities. The mix of
languages is fantastic.
Everyone though has an interest in or owns a Fiat 500. They come in all
colours, there are station-wagons, hotted up ones called Arbarths,
convertibles and sports models. Some are towing small trailers, some are
towing mini caravans. Some of the less adventurous owners are doing the
trip on trailers behind larger cars and motor-homes.
We drove from Kolding in Denmark to the outskirts of Kiel on the first
day. There we met with the German group who have organized Tour Europa. On
Wednesday, the official start of the tour, we drove 377 kms to
Drensteinfurt still in Germany This campsite was on a farm and all the
residents of the town had been invited to the "party". They had the local
fife and drum band playing, dancers, a fashion show, then during the
evening we all released red and white helium balloons (huge bundles of 100
balloons tied together drifted straight into the approach path of the busy
nearby Munster Airport!). Food and drinks were served in well set up
During the day as we came through the outskirts of Hamburg and fellow
Australians Damon Earwaker and Rachael Mulder blended into our group. They
had shipped their car from Melbourne to Hamburg and after the tour will
remain in Europe for a 5 week holiday. So now in the convoy we have two
The following day with a few more bambinos added we drove 172kms to Roggel
in the Netherlands. Here we stayed in a very well appointed camp site, and
actually saw the sun for the first time on the trip. Again we were very
well looked after by our Dutch hosts.
The convoy is not fast moving as it took 4 hours to cover the 165 kms into
Chevetogne. Obviously as it gets bigger the slower we will be. As it is
not a race we are happy to relax and enjoy the sights and company of the
The European countries we have been through so far are just so clean and
tidy. In Germany in particular they seem to know how to maintain
everything perfectly. Lang has been wondering why they have dining rooms
as it is clean enough to eat off the toilet floors, even at roadside fuel