Friday, July 6, 2007

Turin 06 July 2007

I have had difficulty keeping up with our reports while we have been
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
business society.

Today we are heading off to Garlenda and very much looking forward to more
Italian festivities.