Day 2 started as per the rest of the trip with the view out of the hotel window being foggy and particularly damp. Not a good omen indeed. So yet again we hit the road and headed off in the general direction of the low clouds.

It didn’t take long for a card to be shown from the window of the Polo needing another stop for a technical problem, this time being the tyre pressure sensors causing a light on the dash. We had a short stop whilst Ed sorted it out and checked everything was OK and then carried on down the motorway to our first location in search of breakfast / lunch.

In the town of St Die des Vosges we parked up, scavenged a Euro from a friendly Dacia driver to pay for our parking (since the machine wouldn’t take our 2 Euro coin!) and wandered down into the town to the nearest patisserie. The vanilla eclairs there are very good!

Once fed, we wasted no time and got back on the road, now away from the motorways and upwards into the Vosges mountains. Very briefly it dried up and the gaps in the cloud gave us wonderful views up and down our ascent onto the ‘Route des Cretes’ - the road along the summits.

However, once we reached our first summit at the Col du Bonhomme at ‘only’ 949m we hit the cloud and visibility went down to nearly zero. The chance of any scenery was off. We continued onwards anyway, soon catching up a bus that served a good purpose being something to follow so we didn’t drive off the side of a mountain. Once it pulled in we were on our own again until we happened across the tail lights of a Volvo which we followed for a couple of miles before realising we couldn’t actually match his pace as he disappeared into the mist.

After an age of unspectacular roads (which should have been everything but) we arrived at our next point for a driver change - the Col du Grand Ballon. I’d seen this one previously though only managed to do one half due to snow at the top, about six years ago in my first 106. So at least I could now tick it off as fully done, even if it was nothing to write home about.

At this point both me and Steff decided the foggy cloud we were driving through was the best opportunity to drop the roofs. Well, if they were being stupid enough, I was going to be to… After they’d hidden under my tonneau cover (which they are carrying as it doesn’t fit in my boot…) we cracked on and made our descent. And to our surprise, it actually dried up a little. We even had our first bit of sun come out. Hooray!

We soon hit the motorway again, back on covering the mileage to get us further south again. As we crossed into Switzerland we had flashing blue lights from the Gendarmerie behind us, who luckily passed us by and pulled in the Mini that we were following. Preparation being key, we all had our vignettes stuck to the windscreens to allow us to use the Swiss motorways and we were waved through into the maze that is the Basel ring road. We somehow managed to make it through all together and pulled into the services on the other side to refuel, make more car sandwiches and contemplate whether a 4.5kg 119 Franc Toblerone would fit in the boot of the S2000. Erm, no.

After getting back on the road we arrived at our hotel in the daylight where we found little in the way of parking until we realised it had a hidden underground car park. Nevertheless, Steff made his own space on the grass…

The Ibis was by far the nicest hotel we’d stayed in so far, especially the lovely comfy beds. Though the view of the building site wasn’t quite ideal. Never mind, we only wanted it to sleep in.

A short drive down the road and after a few laps of Fribourg town centre guided by Ed in the Polo we all managed to get parked at opposite ends of the town and after finding the other group we then had to find a suitable restaurant that wasn’t going to cost a fortune. We eventually settled on a posh looking Italian which as it happened served a beautiful pizza, even if the extreme temperature inside nearly made me keel over and faint.

From there it was back to our hotel and some more shut eye ready for a day in the mountains, this time hopefully not as wet as the week had started...
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Top of the Col du Bonhomme
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Corvette making the S2000 look a little small
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Follow that bus... because we can't see anything else!
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The car sandwich chef at work
 
Evening again (or early morning)! Tonight's episode of the Italian Job Tour comes from Luxembourg where we've reached the end of our first day of European driving. And what a day it's been.
What was intended as five hours driving with a couple of hours of breaks to simply get us down the motorway to the interesting parts of the continent ended up being a long hard slog.
A WhatsApp message at 8am told us that we had our first car problem. Not the £400 306, not the 13 year old S2000 and not Lee's incident prone Clio, but the nice reliable VW which had a nail stuck in the tyre.
But first things first, shopping. We're now seasoned veterans at this and as a way round paying stupid motorway services prices we now have fridges. Well except in the S2000 of course. No chance of that fitting in the boot... So we did the cheap thing and bought rolls, butter and jambon et fromage to make our own. I'd even bought a knife to cut the rolls, which I'd been brandishing in front of the hotel CCTV the night before. Oops.
With our food now in Lee's fridge and the tonneau cover in the 306 the next mission was to find a garage to fix the tyre. First one had no idea and directed us in a way down the road to another. Another we'd found on the sat nav also couldn't do repairs. Eventually we found one we'd driven past about half an hour previously and the Polo was sat being fixed whilst the rest of us were busy trying not to be run over by crazy locals.
Now two hours behind schedule we made for the rather boring E42 to make some progress in the direction of Liege and were almost immediately held up for 15 minutes by a lorry that had hit a dear and presumably it's driver sweeping the entrails off the road. Nice. The weather was 'changeable' resulting in my first attempt to raise the roof on a motorway (at around 30 mph) and the entire interior of the Honda getting a thorough drenching. You know things are bad when the wipers are on but they're not clearing the screen because the water's on the inside...
The visibility was almost zero at some points and then eventually we hit serious traffic around Mons with only 13 miles to our planned stop. The next hour of crawling, which included some pretty good order shuffling through the traffic and at one point three lanes being made into four left us now three hours behind the plan but we were still on track to reach the hotel at 8pm so we stuck with it.
The stop eventually came outside a small town calld Thieu, where rather than simply pulling into a layby for a driver change we paid a visit to the world's second highest boat lift -  an ingenius contraption designed to carry canal boats from one level to another about 100m higher. It also gave us a quick opportunity to make the now patented 'car sandwiches' and for Jez to take the wheel for the next stint to Spa.
We did a little more roof up driving until we were sure the weather had made up it's mind, at which point we did a drive through a services to put it down, at which point the 306 also did likewise. We carried on without anything more of note as I took many photos of my head and the other cars, until we reached our turn off for Francorchamps.
We were greeted with what appeared to be people leaving an Aston Martin track day, with several V12 Vantages and a Rapide heading the other way, also followed by a McLaren 12C. The planned petrol stop was closed so we parked up and did the usual wander into the always open grandstands and took the usual photos of Eau Rouge.
Three miles down the road following a trip down the old Spa circuit to Stavelot we found another petrol station, and it was also closed. Luckily they had a pay at pump system and the 306 that had spent the last half hour on the fuel light was refilled. Meanwhile, I hedged my bets on my quarter of a tank as we carried on into Luxembourg, looking to get the maximum range possible for the more uneconomical car for the next day.
And 300 miles after filling up in Kent, I found the Shell I'd planned to visit, open and serving up 98 RON V Power for just 1.42 Euros, cheaper than it would be in pounds in the UK. Now that's why I came to Luxembourg!
Now half an hour from the hotel everything was going well until we had a road closed and with a quick manouvre to take in a diversion we spent the final 15 minutes of driving taking in a windy hilltop road with a gorgeous red sunset. We rejoined the motorway and quickly found ourselves at our final destination. The Ibis Budget.

It's pleasant. It does have a shower more or less in the middle of the room, but it's pleasant. And the wifi 'sort of' works. 

After unpacking and checking out the menu for the restaurant in the lobby we decided to pay Luxembourg city centre a visit and piled into the Polo and cab for the short trip in. Ed first took us on a few cruising laps before deciding on an underground car park. Evening meal was served in a Mexican restaurant and was decent and reasonably priced. It even included free nachos. Lots of free nachos!

Finally we did a little sight seeing before returning to the car park, breaking the ticket machine and then lapping the town and driving back to the hotel four up with the roof down. Epic :-D 

We'll aim for another 9am start in the morning, hopefully nobody's got nails in their tyres tomorrow...
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Unscheduled pit stop in Dunkerque
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Gulf elephant in Luxembourg City
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The colossal boat lift at Thieu
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Cruising the city in style
 
Bonjour! You are receiving this communication from the Colditz-like fortress that is the F1 hotel in Dunkerque centre. And this means only one thing, it's the start of another roadtrip.

So first things first, let's get a blog on the go. I would say this is so we can share our adventures from each day, but it's really only so my mum will know I'm still alive once every 24 hours (hello Mum!)

After over two year of planning, the day finally came today and for day zero (as I like to call it) we set off from the dry and almost sunny Somerset headed for the far south east and a big boat over to the continent. Once we'd spent an hour raiding Asda for a hard drive and sweets and filled ourselves with McDonalds that is, already leaving us on the back foot about 15 minutes behind schedule. And I'm supposed to be the organised one...

We carried on down the A303 with little traffic to cause any trouble and had an uneventful but pleasant trip down through Wiltshire and Hampshire. The end of the A303 saw a very quick driver change and Jez took the wheel for the next stint. At which point the sky darkened and we headed into a monsoon along the M3. Fleet services came just in time with a quick drive through to raise the lid (yes, I know, but trust me, this was heavy!)

As we reached the M25 nothing changed, the heavy rain affecting the visibility badly, combined with the usual slow M25 pace eventually putting us nearly half an hour behind our deadline and at 2:30 we eventually met the others at Maidstone services, Zoe and Ed in the Polo, Lee and Sean in the Clio and Steff and Davo in the 306 Cabrio with a soaked roof that blatantly hadn't been down all day. Poor show boys...

After already holding everyone up and quickly running out of time to get the ferry, we pressed on. No sooner had we got onto the M20 than we found a pretty bad accident which we later learned had closed the motorway, in the opposite direction at least. Four Ariel Atoms parked on the hard shoulder, followed by two parked in the main carriageway, and finally a rather mangled one stuck to a generic hatchback of some sort. Not good :-(

Still incredibly damp (although with the roof back down now) we calmed our pace for the conditions and only minutes later, a second casualty, this time in our direction and this time a new Maserati which had taken an expensive excursion into the central reservation.  Also not good.

Nevertheless, we got to Dover problem free. The (obviously suspicious looking) Polo was pulled in for a customs check and as is always the way we were bundled onto the ferry in a completely random order. 

There was nothing to see on the ferry. My wifi decided to work as we pulled into the port (#winning), the fog and drizzle meant there was no chance to even see the coast. The highlight was probably five minutes in the wind and general murkyness of the outside deck.

Once docked, the roof was lowered again, the rain having mostly dried up and it as time for the usual trip around the Total oil refinery and into Dunkerque centre to find our home for the night. The ferry shuffle had left the cab in front with the Clio close behind. I was last off and shortly found the Polo for a short mini convoy. On reaching the hotel we were glad to see the others had already made it there. It was time to unpack quickly and meet in the lobby to get some food.

A ten minute journey to the beach front found us outside a favourite pizzeria, usually the source of much fun ordering from a man who speaks not a word of english... Yet today the shutters were down so we settled for a wander along the beach for five minutes before returning on the route we came looking for somewhere to serve us food of some description.

Success! Head towards the lights (especially the Brasserie sign that was only illuminated as 'BRAS') and you're sure to find something. In this case, an empty looking shopping mall and a decent Italian style restaurant. 

Suitably fed, final effort of the day was the make our way back to the hotel, agree on a plan of action for the morning and settle in for the night. And in my case, write the blog out. With that done, I'm about to get to bed, just hoping for a little more blue sky tomorrow as we're bound for Spa and Luxembourg. Til then, au revoir!
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Packed!
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Jez and Steff reenact Titanic
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Lovely English weather
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Dunkerque sea front. Dead on a Monday evening it seems