matilda

 
This is an electronic reprint of the book I wrote in 1991, following our journey from London
to Sydney, as part of a 'Vintage Car Endurance Trial'.  After many frustrations we successfully
reached the finish. Being gluttons for punishment Ann (my wife) and I shipped Matilda to the
west coast of the USA and drove it across the continent to the east coast. Making the total
journey, probably the only circumnation of the world in a Vintage Car.
 
 
I will provide a sample of the story and
 
 
if you wish to read the rest, please read the instructions at the end. It will entail making a small
voluntary donation to a wonderful charity which does so much good work for deprived children
in India. 'The Joe Homan Charity'   http://www.joehoman.org.uk  Ann & I have since been to
 India and have witnessed and been impressd with the work they do to help and educate poor
Indian children. An extra link to the charity will be provided at the end. 
 
 
 
 
 
***************
 

 

 
 

AROUND THE WORLD IN MATILDA

by Michael Edwards

INTRODUCTION

I have always had a great love for travel, and over the last 20 years an interest in vintage vehicles. For several years I have had vague ideas of travelling the world by vintage car. The main stumbling block was to actually have the guts to commit myself to such an adventure. Particularly because I ran my own photographic studio and, like so many people who have their own business felt, that it could not survive without me. During December 1985 I saw an advertisement in a vintage car magazine for pre 1930 cars to attempt an overland trip from London to Sydney. This was to take place as part of the Australian Bi-Centenary celebrations. I immediately decided that this was for me, and then I thought that it might be a good idea to discuss it with my with my wife Ann. Naturally she would have liked to come with me, but felt that she could not leave her mother for the five or six months necessary. Ann had no objection to me doing the trip, being very supportive both before and during the journey. Originally about 25 entrants from around the world expressed interest in the venture, but during the two year run up to the event most had to drop out. This left six entrants who all completed successfully. I will list at this stage the other entrants, their cars and rough routes.

1. Paul Davies and James Heildon of Romsey, Hampshire who drove a 1930 Talbot 75. Their route took them through France, Spain, Algeria, through central Africa via the Sahara Desert to Mombassa. They shipped to Perth, Australia and then drove to Sydney. A truly remarkable journey, which required a real pioneering spirit and entailed a high degree of danger. Unfortunately they claimed to have won the event. The rules stated that entrants had the whole of 1988 to complete and it was clearly was not a race

2. Bevan Sharp and Geoff McEwan of Perth, Australia, in a 1930 Model A Ford. They drove to the South of France, and then shipped to the East Coast of America. They drove straight across and shipped from the West Coast to Sydney. Because of the shortness of this route they had to make a complete circuit of Australia, some 10,000 miles. They had an extremely cold journey across America..

3. Peter Furlong and Chris Macnee of Castlemaine, Australia drove a 1928 Lancia Lambda. They took almost the same route as Bevan Sharp, although they extended the Australian content at the top end by going completely bush and driving up to Cape York.

4. Mike Perkins and Brian Mullineaux of Hayling Island, in a 1924 Vauxhall M Type. They drove through France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They took a ship to India which they drove across, and then crossed the Arabian Sea to Penang. From here they took the short drive through Malaysia to Singapore where they shipped again, this time to Darwin. They drove to Sydney via Northern Territory and Queensland.

5. Donald Saunders and Cathy Tidwell from Seattle in a 1930 Model A Ford. They drove through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Egypt and Jordan. From there they shipped to Bombay and drove across India to Madras. They shipped to Darwin and drove to Sydney via Perth which entailed a 7,000 mile drive two thirds the way round Australia. Apart from the fact that we drove in Malaysia and Thailand our two routes were quite similar and we met up with Don and Cathy several times.

DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to Noreen Chanter who encouraged me to keep a diary and was going to write the book for me. Sadly she died of cancer before being able to start.

The original book published and printed by D.G.Stone in 1991

Updated and converted to an E Book by Michael Edwards in 2010.

PREPARATION AND PLANNING

This started in January 1986, as soon as I had decided to take part. I wrote straight away to the organiser in Australia, a little concerned that there was only a box number. I was not too worried because having decided to go, I planned to take part even if not officially. I was even more concerned when I did eventually receive a reply from the organiser, to still not have a name or proper address. What was more he wanted a £50 deposit straight away and a further payment of £450 by January 1987. The fee was to cover administration at the start and finish and to purchase a solid silver award which we would receive at the finish. The rules at this stage were that the car had to be genuine vintage, which meant pre 1931, with age related engine, gearbox and back axle. It must also fairly obviously travel under its own power.

The route had to be travelled in a south easterly direction with one major sea crossing, starting no higher than 10 degrees north of the Equator. Because of the various problems in the Middle East these rules were subsequently relaxed, hence the two teams going via the U.S.A.

Before sending my deposit I wrote to my son Dave, who lived in Sydney, to ask him to try to find the organiser to check out his authenticity. This action was to eventually have a profound significance upon the trip.

In the meantime I had to find a suitable car and decide what to do about my business. Finding a car came first, being an easier problem to solve. First of all I spoke to some of my more experienced vintage car friends to try to decide which make and model to choose. The names of two cars kept cropping up, a Morris Cowley or Model A Ford. After much debating I decided on the Morris Cowley, my choice being swayed by the fact that it would be more economical on fuel. Quite a normal consideration, bearing in mind that I am not a rich man, and unless I could get sponsorship I would have to try to do things on a shoestring.

My spies were out and I discovered that a very original Morris Cowley was coming up for sale in May at an auction in Bridport, Devon. The day dawned, and I arrived at the sale early with a pocketful of money. When I first saw her my heart sank, she looked so neglected. How could I possibly expect to travel to Australia in this heap of rust? I then had a good look at her, and found that she really was quite sound and that the rust was mainly on her outer structure. Welding in new pieces of metal was within my capabilities. I was not too worried about the mechanical parts because I was prepared to rebuild these if necessary. Two members of my vintage vehicle club, The South Hants Vehicle Preservation Society, came along to give me moral support. They were Denis Anley and Brian Boarer. Denis was one of my earlier advisers and he was pleased that I had decided on the Morris. Brian lived close to the sale and had a low loader. If I had a successful purchase he was prepared to deliver it for me. Bearing in mind the condition of the car I decided that my strict limit would be £2500. Soon my lot came up and the bidding started at £ 1000 and went up in bids of £100. I came in at £1500 and there was a rival bid of £1600. My hand went up for £1700 and there was silence. Going, Going, Gone said the auctioneer and the car was mine. My elation was removed when I had another look at what I had bought and someone passing said, "Fancy anyone buying that."

The very next day Brian delivered the car, and work commenced immediately. I decided that I wanted to be able to use the car during the whole of 1987, so that everything would be thoroughly tested by the 1st January 1988 for the start of the journey. This only gave me about six months for restoration. I still had to work full time in my business, so had to burn the candle at both ends. A friend of mine in our club, Brian Doughty, was prepared to give me some paid help which made a great difference to progress. We found that the engine was not too good and Denis Anley managed to find an Oxford engine. This was a better basis for restoration, and being slightly larger, was going to be more suitable. As with all my estimates the job took longer and cost rather more but the car was all together and running by February 1987. Needless to say during the trials I still found lots of further work to do, and even a couple of weeks from the start I decided to get the front springs set.

When I first decided to participate I felt that a crew of two would be ideal. My son Kevin asked if he could be one. I was delighted although a little worried, bearing in mind that he was fairly newly married with one small son and a baby on the way. He assured me that he would be O.K. and his wife Julie did not seem to object.

During the spring of 1987 Dave phoned from Sydney to tell me that he had checked on the organiser. He had not succeeded in finding his name or address but had spoken to the solicitors and all appeared above board. Dave then went on to ask if he could drive with us across Australia. I had to tell him that this was not possible because with a crew of two there would not be room. A rather disappointed Dave rang off. Two or three days later he phoned again and this time he asked whether could he join us for the whole trip. I immediately agreed and it was soon arranged that he would give up his job in a years time, and come over in the spring to spend the summer and autumn in England, helping me to prepare.

About five months before we were due to start Kevin realised that it would not be possible to leave his business for the required length of time so he had to pull out. I advertised for a crew in several car magazines, and had several enquiries but none from anyone prepared to pay their way. During the whole time of planning Dave and I tried very hard to get sponsorship for the event. We wrote many letters and made many calls, but they were all to no avail. Fair enough, we were doing the trip for our own fun, but this meant that we would have to be very careful on costs.

Twelve months into the planning and I hadn't solved the biggest problem, which was what to do with the business. I decided that the best bet was to sell it as a 'going concern'. A good friend of mine who was also one of my principal wedding photographers, asked to be considered. We spent many long hours deciding the best way to do things and worked out a formula. We agreed a take-over date of 1st October 1987, and Keith McClelland came to work full time for me on the 1st June. This part went well and I was happy to let him take over at the given date. Looking back, it seems rather extreme to sell a business so that I would be able to take part in the trip but this was a once in a lifetime chance.

Now followed a very busy time. Doing further work on the car, making final route planning and by far the hardest task, trying to get the visas. Our main problem was trying to get a visa to travel through Iran. This proved impossible on a British Passport. I tried very hard to get an Australian or Irish one, either of which would merit a visa, but I failed in my efforts. Dave had an Australian one, but it did not seem practical for him to do this part on his own. Our next problem was trying to get a Syrian visa but despite The Visa Shop making applications in Brussels and Paris this failed. We were told that we might get one in Geneva, so we decided to leave this one and call in en route. At the same time we were trying to get one for Saudi Arabia. Their Embassy in London told us that we would only be able to get it from a bordering country such as Jordan or Egypt. We got visas for Jordan, Egypt, India, and I got one for Australia. We were told that we did not need them for Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore.

Dave was used to driving a car with automatic gears and had never driven a vintage car. He had driving lessons with me and soon got the hang of it. During the summer he came out on several runs with me to get further practice. During this time I spent a lot of effort trying to acquire spare parts. These took up a lot of space and added quite a lot of weight. I fitted a shelf under the car for spares and some were tied under the running boards. We had a trial pack two days before going and got quite worried to see how low the car was on the springs. We removed quite a lot of our personal gear but it did not make much difference. The spares made up most of the weight and we dare not leave any out.

Of course we had to have masses of jabs including anti Rabies. We were advised to get an 'Aids Free' certificate, and letters from our local Vicar to say we were Christians. We never needed to show these but were asked in most third world countries our religion. Even in non Christian countries people had great respect for the fact that we had a faith.

We had a pleasant task just prior to leaving, when we called at our Council Chamber to see our local Mayor, Cllr. T .Dryer. He gave us a plaque and letter to give to the Shire President of the Sydney suburb where Dave lived. At the same time he formally christened our car Matilda, the name that she has proudly carried around the world.

We were now ready to go and I feel it appropriate to quote a few lines from my diary.31/12/87 I have decided to start my diary one day early to try to sum up my feelings prior to the start.

(It is difficult to believe that it was exactly two years ago that I first heard of the trip, and mad fool that I am, I decided to take part. I have spent most of my time since then planning and looking forward to the journey. This last summer I have done quite a few hundred miles in Matilda so that I could iron out the bugs. I did my last job on her today 31/12/87. The last three months have been spent almost entirely on planning but even tomorrow when we start we will not have a definite route. I will not go into all the permutations of the routes that we could take but all will be revealed as time goes by. My intention is to send my diary pages to Ann periodically with my letters. Why have I waffled on so much when I said at the beginning that I was only going to sum up my feelings? I will tell you why -1 am bloody nervous. Suddenly I have realised what we are trying to do. 12,000 miles plus, half way round the world, no back up vehicle, and everything down to us. I won't be able to phone Clive, Denis or Sid if anything goes wrong. I really have every confidence in Matilda, but we will be asking rather a lot of her. Also I am going to find the parting from Ann very difficult. During the time we have been married we have never been apart for more than a few days. No diary could really show my true feelings, a mixture of excitement and fear).

What a strange New Year's Eve we had. Dave and his girl friend spent the night with us. He admitted to me that the day he phoned me from Australia to say that he would like to crew, he was at a party. It was a case of being fortified with alcohol when he phoned, but neither of us have any regrets. It seemed odd to go to bed at 10.45 with the entire world awake, but we had to be up at 5am. “Happy New Year!"

   THE JOURNEY: LONDON TO ATHENS

The alarm woke me up at 5am, and my first thought for 1988 was that I wished that I was a normal person without such idiotic ideas! As soon as I had dressed I felt better and we were soon on our way. I must explain why we started so early. Our official start was to be at Marble Arch at 10am, but we were asked to be there for 8.30 for the press. We had not loaded Matilda at this stage so that Ann and Dave's girlfriend Gaile will have plenty of room in the back of the car. We passed Frank and Vera Hazel's house on the way, so wished them a silent Happy New Year, (car club friends). We made Marble Arch in good time and were invited into a nearby hotel for tea and coffee. Soon all the cars were lined up, and they made a grand sight together. It was interesting to see the different ways the cars had been prepared and this added an individuality to each entry. I was rather pleased to see that from the six cars world wide, three were from Hampshire. Brian Mullineaux's and mine were from the same club, The South Hants Vehicle Preservation Society. Some of our friends had come to the start including John and Francis Humphries, S.H.V.P.S. members. John was largely responsible for me taking part, because it was he who drew my attention to the advertisement. In the earlier stages John was going to enter but he could not get away because of business commitments.

It was not too long before we were on our way, with the television cameras rolling. Our next port of call was to be the United Services Garage in Portsmouth where Douglas Sharp, the owner, also a club member, was to give us all a reception. While driving through Liss Matilda suddenly turned into a tractor. To be more correct she sounded like one, oh what a noise! I realised immediately that it was only the manifold gasket so we could carefully continue on our way. We called at home on the way so that we could drop off Gaile, which gave me a chance to check the gasket. I decided that it would hold out until after the reception, so we went on.

They laid on a very good show for us with many club members and friends. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth was there and also the press. Going back to when we arrived at U.S.G., just outside we ran out of petrol. We pushed Matilda to the pump, and one of the other entrants who was watching commented in a loud voice. "You had better do better than that in the middle of the bush."

We returned home and repaired the manifold gasket. Guess what! I broke a stud, but luck was with me because it came out easily. I must admit that we broke off work to watch the start on television, where the cars all showed up well. Shortly afterwards we set out for the ferry. (Portsmouth to Le Havre). We drove alone in a very heavy Matilda with Ann and Gaile as passengers in Ann's son's car. By the time we had loaded everything there was no spare room in the back. At the port we could not believe our eyes because there were so many friends, family and club members. Eileen, my ex wife and Dave's mother were there with a banner, (Good Luck Michael and Dave). We were both feeling very emotional. Dave was saying goodbye to his mother, auntie, sister, brother and family, of whom he has seen so little in the last 16 years, and will not see again for a long time. To Gaile, who had been his constant companion for the last six months and would probably never see again. As for me I was almost speechless, overwhelmed by the number of friends and family who had come to see us off. How could I say goodbye to my wife who has been my constant companion! Suddenly we were asked to board and we had to bid our final farewells, it actually made things a little easier being rushed. A good job no one could see our eyes! I did learn later that a lot of people missed seeing us off because of the early loading. We were given several gifts, spares by Denis Anley, Mike Petty and Brian Doughty. Jim Clarke gave us a bottle of bubbly, which we decided to save until the finish. His wife Jo gave a "Brownie be prepared kit", which we used almost straight away.

Dave told me on the ship of his feelings on leaving England. Earlier in the week he had said goodbye to his father, whom he will never see again as he is dying of cancer. (I adopted Dave as a small boy and have always been Dad to him).

Despite the gale force winds we had a fair crossing, and managed a few hours sleep in the Cafeteria. Once this had closed it was fairly quiet, and as I have learnt from past experience, I do not suffer too badly from the motion of the sea.

We set out from Le Havre in the dark at 7.30am. after bidding our goodbyes and wishing good luck to all the other crews. We wondered if we would meet up with any on the journey. We crossed the Tankerville Bridge just as it was getting light. The AA had supplied us with a route to Turkey and for convenience we intended using it as much as possible. We obviously had back up maps, which was just as well because we strayed accidentally soon after the bridge. We re-routed by map and were soon back on course having saved, we believe, a few miles. We made fair time in dull conditions through not too interesting countryside. After a stop for provisions, bread, cheese, lemonade and cider we had an early lunch by the roadside. We decided to leave the cider until the evening, because we are not going to drink and drive. After lunch it started to rain. It always seems to rain when I go to France, but to be honest it always seems to rain wherever I go.

Our day finished in a small town just south of Auxerre, having covered just over 260 miles. We had passed several hotels but decided to continue and stop in Auxerre. You may well guess the rest, two very tired tourists could not find anywhere to stay. In desperation we decided to press on and fortunately soon came to a Motel. This was very suitable because we could park Matilda by our chalet for her daily check over. As there was no restaurant in the town and we were too tired to drive back to Auxerre we set our stove up outside the chalet and cooked our own supper. Dave made a meal of tinned meat, instant potatoes and peas. This was good and sustaining and as a result I promoted Dave to Chief Chef. The day had been especially tiring, having driven across very open country with strong cross winds, and finishing in the rain and dark and with heavy traffic. We decided to try to stop earlier in future.

The next day (Sunday 3rd), was a good one. We had slept for a solid nine hours and felt so much better. Our car was greatly improved by a good sort out of all our gear. We had our lunch in the sunshine and generally found the countryside more interesting, particularly when we got into the French Alps. At the end of the day it was raining again so we decided to stop in Mantura. We really fancied a good French meal but most places were closed so in the end we had to settle for a pizza. The next morning it was raining again and we went down to the bar for breakfast. The whole hotel was in darkness with no one around. Soon another guest came down and we were puzzling where everyone was. We had the answer when the owner came back loaded with bread. After breakfast we were soon on our way to Geneva. We had hardly started when our car alarm started sounding. A quick stop in the nearest layby and I had to disconnect the power. With the continual wet conditions the solenoid was soaking and had shorted the contacts. Later when all was dry I covered the solenoid with insulation tape and we had no more trouble. We reached Geneva by mid morning but it took ages to find the Syrian Embassy. We were disappointed to be told that it would take several months to get a visa.

This ruined our route around the Mediterranean because it was dependant on going through Syria. The alternative would be shipping from Athens to Egypt. We visited Thomas Cook in an unsuccessful attempt to find out shipping details. In the end we decided to hit the road, and soon were on the 4500 ft climb of Mont Blanc. The last few miles were fairly steep, in snow and with poor visibility. We drove Matilda hard in second gear and at the top found that she was boiling merrily. After a pause to cool the engine and an attempt to view the scenery through the mist we set off into the tunnel. This was a real eye opener to us, 12km long and surprisingly warm inside. At the exit it was raining instead of snowing and despite the mist we were obviously in a lovely area. We passed Customs just outside so we were now in Italy. After 20 miles or so we had dropped down to about 1000ft, the rain had stopped and it was a lot warmer. The thought went through my head that I could probably discard my thermals tomorrow. It may sound 'soft' to be wearing thermals but bear in mind that it was January, and not only are vintage cars without heaters but doors and floors let in a lot of draughts. We stopped for the night at a nice little hotel in the town of Chatillion. We walked into the town centre for a meal and were surprised to see the streets illuminated with Christmas lights. It seemed strange because Christmas appeared to have been ages ago. The local people were very interested in the car and what we were doing, much more than the French had been. Dave had his best nights sleep so far on a good firm mattress, he had a problem with his back which the cramped position in Matilda did not help. He needed a good firm mattress, and if it was too soft he preferred to make a bed up on the floor. I would always let Dave have first choice of the bed but during most of the trip he used the floor.

The day started well with lovely warm sunshine. I gave Matilda a good check over whilst Dave cleaned her. The wheel nuts were a little loose so we decided that these must be checked every day. This made our start later, so we saved time by using the motorway. Although this was quicker, they did eat up money with the tolls. I also wondered if they were within the spirit of the event, so we decided to avoid them where possible. We found a travel agent in Brescia where we asked about the timing of the ship from Greece to Egypt. We learnt that the last car ferry of the winter was due to leave Athens in four days time. A quick check of the map and we realised that we could not make the distance in the time. In retrospect I feel that had we really set our minds to the task we could have made it. We would have had to use the motorway through the centre of Yugoslavia instead of the winding costal route that we took. However, this would have been irrelevant because when we reached Athens we learned that the ship had sailed a week early, and at the time of our enquiry in Brescia was actually sailing. We were told of a ship from Venice to Alexandra the next day but felt that this would cut out too many miles and would not be within the spirit of the event. The day continued fine but the lovely sunshine at the start of the day became obscured by smog from the industrial pollution. We finished the day in a fairly expensive plush hotel near Verona. None of the cheaper hotels would take our credit cards or US dollar travellers cheques, so we learnt another lesson, we must have cash available. We were running through our money like mad, but we saved some that night by having a picnic in our room - bread, cheese, cider and tinned kippers.

The next morning, Wednesday 6th, we set off early after a few minor jobs on Matilda, into quite thick fog. Fortunately the sun came out before lunch and we stopped for a picnic by a river. We brought out our petrol stove and Dave soon cooked a hot lunch. Once again instant potatoes, dried peas and tinned meat. With different permutations of tinned meat this was to be the basic meal that we would cook. It was sustaining but neither of us ever want to see instant potatoes or dried peas again. The countryside was flat and not very beautiful. It was a mixture of agricultural, industrial and residential but we found it interesting. As we got closer to Trieste it became more varied and hilly. The road curved round the coast and took us through numerous small tunnels. Soon after Trieste we passed the Yugoslavian customs. We had been warned that we would not enjoy Yugoslavia, with poor roads, austerity and sullen unfriendly people. They were wrong. We got an immediate good impression of the people which continued throughout. We stopped soon after customs to purchase some food, and two school teachers pulled us into a bar and insisted on buying us beers. They were interested in what we were doing and told us a lot about their country. We stopped for the night a little further on in a small town called Honguna. We had already found that living was much cheaper here which would help with our budget. Our hotel was quite plush, with a balcony giving a view of the sea, separate bedroom and lounge, bath and loo, and including breakfast for the two for £ 18.50. I must say that it gave us a great ego trip when people come up to us, patted us on the back, shook our hands and said how they admired what we were doing.

We made a bad start the next day when we took a wrong turning and went about 20 miles out of our way. Fortunately we could cut across to our route which took us down the Adriatic coast. What a day it was. We met up with torrential rain, thunder storms, flooded roads and it was very cold. The roads were hilly and bumpy and it was difficult to keep up a 25mph average. Poor Matilda must have taken quite a pounding but she stood up well. When it got dark Dave and I had our first disagreement. Dave wanted us to stop early, feeling worried driving along sheer cliffs with no crash barriers in the severe storm. At this stage I was driving and felt that we were safe, and I was taking things carefully, I have experienced worse conditions, and knew that although they appeared frightening we were in no real danger. I did stop early about an hour later when I saw a sobe, (cheap accommodation). We were well out of the area of plush hotels, and this was clean, basic and very cold. However it had to be much better than camping, and incidentally cost us the princely sum of £6.50. We had to make do for food but fortunately had eaten a good lunch earlier in a roadside fish cafe. Here we had met a German couple who were heading for Split, and two Dutch lads driving to Turkey. We had an early night and the storm grew very intense, one of the worst storms we have known, but by dawn it had blown itself out.

The next morning we set off in lovely sunny weather down the coast road and soon came to Tribay Kruscia the nearest town. The countryside was great, rather wild and remote between the few towns. We ran down the Dalmation coastline seeing the sea in many different shades of blue or green, and stopped for lunch in the town of Split. For food we went to a state run self service restaurant which reminded me of the British restaurants of the last war. The meal was good and substantial but, as always in this area, hot food served cold. We bought a few cards, posted letters at the post office, and went to the bank where we got a good rate of exchange. In the towns the locals looked very drab and unhappy, but they would respond quickly to a smile and were really rather friendly. In the country the people looked rather peasant like, with the women usually in black. Bars, shops and petrol stations all looked very dull and drab, and after dark one could drive through villages almost in total darkness. This reminded me very much of England during the war. When we were in the bank I was surprised to find no security glass, and huge piles of money everywhere. Mind you, it was Micky Mouse money, my £100 purchased 225000 dinahs and with inflation at 200% I wonder what it is now worth? In the afternoon it started to rain again which was a great pity because we were in very lovely country. The speedometer cable broke so for a time we had to work out our distances from the map. That night we stopped fairly early at a sobe in Kardeljevo, because we found night driving very tiring. The winding wet roads, with no cats eyes or white lines coupled with sheer drops with no crash barriers were difficult. We also lost some of the power of our lights as they had to pass through the stone guards. The sobe owner, Ante Radal Jac and family were very interested in Matilda, and after we had settled into our room he invited us to join the family for tea. We went upstairs to the living quarters where the family were sitting at a long table. They offered us seats and soon a large bottle of wine was being passed around. Animated conversation followed in their language and English, with translations being offered by a German relative and the eldest son. He had learnt English at school and welcomed the chance to practice. A memorable evening followed with us all learning about each others countries. After chatting we could well understand why they look so unhappy, which is sad because they are such lovely people. We retired late not quite sober, having had one of the best evenings of the trip. In the morning the whole family came down to see us off, and I wanted to photograph them with Matilda. We realised that father was missing, and then we saw him walking down the garden path with a large smile on his face carrying two bottles of wine. He had been to his store to get these bottles to help us on our way and insisted on not taking any payment for our board and lodgings, saying that we were his guests.

There were many contrasts this day with lovely seascapes. I did not take many photographs because the light was not good, what a shame it had to be January. I must confess to being puzzled because we were about 10° latitude south of the start and yet it was so cold. It really does bring it home, just how much we gain from the Gulf Stream. We had only covered about 170 miles today when we reached Titograd. It was prudent not to go any further because the next town was a considerable distance and there were two mountain passes on the way. We did not know if these were snow covered and didn't fancy them in the dark.

The next day, Sunday 10th was lovely and sunny and we were soon heading inland and starting on the Crkvina pass. This took us up to about 3400 ft and well into the snowline. We had several stops on the way up to cool the engine which gave a good opportunity to admire the views. The road dropped down again only to have another climb, this time up the 3200 ft Kristac pass. Once again in the snow, but the road was not difficult being slushy. Soon after this we had the first puncture of the trip. The wheel was soon changed and we were on our way again. We were dreading another one because there was only one made-up spare and being Sunday all garage services excepting for petrol were closed. After the passes which were breathtaking we ran into an area of ‘Grotville’. This was extremely dirty with terrible shanty homes, and garbage tips which really stank. One of these was spilling out into a river and I wondered if the local population took their water from it. We decided not to stop in this area but I imagine the people were probably friendly.

Earlier in the day on the mountain we had seen a sledge being drawn by oxen, a truly lovely sight. Matilda was going well although I had turned off the oil pressure gauge due to an oil leak. This left us with only an amp-meter left working on the dash board. The car was incredibly dirty due to the continually wet and dirty roads, but cleaning could wait until we reached Athens.

We stopped for the night in a impressive, but again inexpensive hotel in Pristina. First of all we did our jobs on Matilda, put a new tube in the spare wheel, gave a general grease up and repaired the pipe to the oil gauge. For the second night running we watched the locals set out on their promenade. Everyone seems to join in and in this town they even closed the main street to traffic. Mainly young men, some of whom had obviously been drinking, young ladies occasionally alone but usually in pairs, couples, whole young families, old ladies in shawls and older men. All had the same purpose in mind which was to walk slowly to the end of the street, turn round and walk back, and then do it all over again. I walked freely with them for a time and did not feel at all strange. I felt safer than I would have been at home, but mind you there were a couple of mean looking armed police keeping vigil.

The next day was destined to take us well into Greece and it was sunny all day. The countryside was a mixture of hills and flat agricultural plains. We felt that we should reach Athens the next day because the roads were now much better and quicker. Whilst we were having our usual lunch-time brew up a German gentleman travelling in a Mercedes camper stopped for a chat. He told us about a ferry from Athens to Israel which he was taking, and he said that if we told the Israeli immigration that we wanted to go onto an Arab country they would not mark our passports. We decided that this might be the answer if there were no other boats to Egypt. We noticed a blister on one of the rear tyres, so that evening we had another tyre change to do. The night was spent in Larisa after doing nearly 300 miles. There was an underground car park at the hotel and I must say it was a novelty taking Matilda into a lift.

We certainly saw a great change crossing from Yugoslavia to Greece where everything was bright again. We had gradually got used to the drabness and it did not really register until we were in Greece. Everything in Yugoslavia seemed to be so far behind the times, and the shops were very dull and had very few consumer goods. No wonder everyone looked so sad, and yet they were such lovely people. We did notice that on every major road junction there was a police car, and it crossed our minds that our progress may well have been noted. We got the impression that the hotels were mainly used by tourists, service chiefs and party officials. The border towns were rather brighter which would give a better impression to visitors arriving and leaving. Despite this however, we passed through a road tunnel on our way out and two thirds of the lamps were not working. We had very mixed feelings about leaving. What a lovely but sad country!

(Looking at this in 2010, so much has happened to the country. Then it was the united country of Jugoslavia or Yugoslavia under Communist rule. After the civil war the various states all formed separate countries and Yugoslavia no longer exists. We have recently visited Croatia and it is now a country of plenty as are most of the former states. Unfortunately there is quite a degree of bad feeling and mistrust between the countries.)

Our last day on the road in Europe was brilliantly sunny and sufficiently warm for us to take our top coats off for the first time. We cut inland on minor roads and took in two mountain passes. Once again our auxiliary electric fan which was one of my modifications came into its own. The other one had been to fit a modern windscreen wiper, and with all the wet weather we suffered it was worth its weight in gold. We arrived in Athens at 5.00pm and spent the next hour and a half trying to find a contact given to us in England. Eventually we found the house by following a taxi who had been given directions in Greek. The man was away but his parents who lived next door gave us a phone number to try later. We found a good little taverna where we met an American family who were very interested in our trip. We learnt that the man was a wild life photographer, who led a very interesting life travelling around the world. During the chat we sipped a few glasses of vino which included the local plonk made from a form of resin. The latter I could have easily given up, but we were told that it was an acquired taste!

The next morning was spent cleaning and servicing Matilda and Dave made several phone calls and found a helpful travel agent. He told us that going via Israel was the only way and that there was a ship sailing the following day. He checked with the various embassies and told us that we could definitely travel from Israel to Egypt. We decided to go, so had to arrange a quick currency change to pay the fares. On our way back, we were waiting at some traffic lights when a taxi driver told us that he had seen an old yellow car. This had to be Brian and Mike and as they had been given the same contact, we unsuccessfully tried to locate them by leaving a message with the parents. We imagined that Don and Cathy were here at the same time and speculated that we would all be on the same boat to Haifa.

What a hotel we were in! Very reasonable, clean and bright and with a good parking space to work on Matilda. The whole time couples were arriving by car, going straight to their rooms and then leaving shortly afterwards. What could possibly be going on? In the morning the hotel was full again but we were the only ones having breakfast! We drove into Athens centre and risked our lives double parking Matilda and photographing her with the Acropolis as a backdrop. On our way to the port of Pireas we took a wrong turning and got lost in a one way system where we could only make right turns. Eventually we found our way, and after having to pass five different controls finally boarded our ship. Driving had been hairy in Athens, and the only defence seemed to be to drive fast with one hand on the horn. We both wondered how we would cope with three days on board, feeling certain that we would be bored. We were also disappointed not to have either of the other crews aboard. They took container ships across to Egypt and had great delays, as we were to learn later. This completed the first stage of the journey, having driven 2385 miles in 12 days. We were under no illusions about the rest of the journey, realising that this has to be the easiest stage.

 

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