Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Garlenda 7 July 2007

Garlenda was everything we had hoped for and more. The Tour Europa had
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
local wine.

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.