PART 2: NURBURGRING AND IMOLA GRAND PRIX 1996
THE FIRST ADVENTURE ACROSS EUROPE WITH THE KIDS: "BUTTERFLIES & NAPPIES"
Our anguish of the blown oil cap was soon behind us as we neared Luxembourg it became obvious the nappy was doing it's job, and the van was running sweet as a nut. It became an ongoing joke with the kids as after every 150 miles or so the nappy would start to perish, and "Would need it's Nappy changed". I was feeling much more confident which made the journey all the more enjoyable.
We had been advised to go through Luxembourg to fill up with cheap fuel but on arrival at the unmanned border we were really shocked by the massive number of petrol stations on both sides of the road. We were all really fascinated by our third country on the trip, it was just so different. We purchased fuel and oil for the van and we marvelled at the huge array of coffee and cigarettes for sale. This really was big business with at least a dozen garages at both borders in and out. Not only were there lots of them they were all really busy.
Eager to put some miles on I drove for hours and stopped only for toilet breaks. We crossed the mighty Rhine river and Lisa learnt that it waters were from the Alpine mountains that we would see in the next few days. We explored the beautiful modern service stations on the Autobahn and kids bought treats. With everything still new and fascinating the journey quickly went by.
Once we were deep into the Black Forest it started to rain quite hard. The roads were quite treacherous and sometimes very narrow as we threaded our way through dark gorges with waterfalls issuing from the dark rock faces. A few hours after dark I was exhausted and needed to stop for the night. With no campsites on the map we decided to stop at a roadside take away called an Imbis in German. We would get some chips and burgers and then find a lay-by to sleep in. To our relief the owners of the Imbis were really welcoming and saw we looked a bit lost. The lady made a fuss of Charlie and smiled at Lisa before suggesting that once we had eaten it would be fine to park up and sleep the night in their carpark. What a relief this was! It was good to feel the kids would be safe.
We picked a whole array of snacks from the glass display cabinet that the lady cooked to order in hot oil. It was all very alien to us but looked very appetising. Lisa had now discovered meat croquettes (Horse meat" and I now had a taste for bratwurst. Accompanied by frites and covered in mayonnaise it was simply delicious.
Filled to the brim we thanked the cook and returned outside to park the van in a quite corner of her carpark.
We decided to have a half hour walk in the rain around the pretty but very quite village. The kids ran off some energy and played in the rain as Wendy and I just walked together contented. Down one of the immaculate little side streets Lisa had found something interesting to show her little brother. On one of the houses was a large copper gutter collecting the rain from the roof, but instead of a down pipe at one end it had a thick metal chain that dropped into a barrel. It was really fascinating watching the water cling to the twisted chain and silently ran down. The little things that make up memories hey!
Back at the van it was wet wipe washing for all of us, kids into pyjamas and time to tuck up. We had never considered the prospect of all of us needing to bed down in the tiny van, so my five foot area inside the back doors at the family's feet was a not ideal. But as I lay there listening to the rain on the roof I still managed to dose off comforted by our closeness and being safe and sound.
The next day was dull and overcast but nothing could take away the beauty of the very southernmost Black Forest. It was a wonderful place to drive through on our way to the Swiss border. We were all in good spirits as we were desperately looking forward to seeing the mountains. I had not seen the Alps since childhood and I tried my best to convey their majestic aura to my young Daughter. I was so excited for her to witness their beauty.
The Swiss border was quite a surprise as it was a quick check of the passport and they waved us on. No checking in the back or questions just a friendly smile. Almost immediately we started to climb. Right up into the low clouds, then down long passes to valley floors before climbing again. It was only after three of four climbs the sky cleared a little and we saw the peaks on the mountain top. Much to all of our delights. At lunch time we stopped in a small town with a little lake in the centre. Wendy and the children were keen to experience Swiss shops so bought some food using their small amount of Swiss Francs? The picnic was brilliant and was shared by Charlie and Lisa with a massive trout! Wendy and I sat beside the water and scoured the map checking our slow progress and trying to work out how far over the mountains it was! The computer route from the father in law was taking us along pass after pass away from the main roads and the dreaded vignette. How I would loved a vignette and a motorway now! Never would I take travel advice from the father in law!
We were in the middle of nowhere so had no choice but to press on, up and up we went. Eventually we reached the snow line! I didn't know wether to laugh or cry as we played snowballs before packing snow around the engine to cool it down on the relentless climb! By late afternoon the thrill of mountains was wearing thin as we found ourselves at the ski resort of San Moritz. By this point we were all a little nervous as it was pretty cold, spitting with sleet and basically lost on top of the world. Again and again I tried to find the roads on the map and did not want to panic myself into a bad decision but I was at my wits end. Just outside San Moritz I saw a sign post which matched a route on the map. Within a few miles it seemed there was a winding road down to Italy and a large main road along a massive lake. A gut wrenching ten minutes and the road did appear to my relief but I had reached the St Julian Pass. A staggering descent of turn after turn with massive drops. Although a little worried by our stinking hot brakes I fanned laughter and said it would be lots of fun! Slowly but surely we made it down the mile after mile of Sacrey descents. We took breaks at every view point to cool the brakes and to get breath before the next few terrifying switchbacks. Just as the route started to flatten out the evening sun broke through the sky and lit the valley sides of a beautiful lake. As if by magic there was a sign for camping. I immediately pulled in tired, relieved and so happy to have my family down safe and sound!
We were all keen to exit the van after such a long day and as soon as we were in the open air it was amazingly warm. It was like a milestone, we had crossed all of the cool northern Europe and suddenly here we were in the warm south. The camping ground El Rancho was in a simply stunning location on the edge of lake Mezzola a small lake connected to the bigger Lake Como. Lisa took Charlie off to explore the beautiful manicured grounds which went right down to the edge of the lake. There was a little bench looking down the flooded valley where they sat and talked.
Once we had set up our little camp and rested we chose to try out our new portable camping gas BarBeQue. We had some amazing marinated meat from Germany and fresh bread from reception. I put the various grill parts together and connected the gas but had difficulty lighting it with the sparking switch. I pressed the button repeatedly and then whoosh a wall of flame exploded from the grill! The flash went right across my face as I lurched backward. I could see still which was a blessing but had lost my eyebrows and a little hair on my head was burned away! And boy what a horrible smell burnt hair has! Being young I was not to perturbed and made a note of being more careful when lighting in the future.
We had our tea that evening under the setting sun and were in awe of our surroundings. The vertical sides of the Italian mountains were so much less foreboding than the ones we had crossed, and with their stunning lush green sides they were more like a protection around us. Although the children were young they seemed to know we were somewhere very special indeed.
With the children happily cuddled up in the tent Wendy and I reflected on our day. It had been an adventure but we both agreed it was worth the effort to show not only our children these wonderful sights but ourselves as well.
The following morning was warm bright and sunny and we had high hopes for a more relaxed day in country number five. It certainly started well as we left the beautiful village of Mezzola and made our way down the edge of the lake and onto the larger Lake Como. The ride along the waters edge was out of this world. Lisa and Wendy craned there necks at every turn trying desperately to see from the windowless rear of the van. Only Charlie had the luxury of just lying back and taking it all in, and even he seemed to appreciate the beauty even at such a young age.
The staggering beauty of shimmering Lake Como lasted a full fifty miles as we threaded in and out of the tunnels alongside the lake. Once past the busy town of Como we headed away from the mountains and onto the flat roads south.
Soon we reached the Italian motorway called the autostrada where we were confronted by row after row of barriers. We guessed it must be for a toll but noticed one of the barrier arms was permanently open. What the heck I thought and I just drove through.
The Italian driving had a bit to be desired as three lanes were treated as four, speed limits were blatantly ignored and we even witnessed a car on its roof!
After a good hours driving we reached another set of barriers, this time they were manned. I pulled up with no ticket and was rebuked by the lady in the cash desk. I pleaded ignorance but there was no way she was going to let me through. Even with queues of irate Italian motorists behind me with horns blaring I had to wait. After an anxious wait of about five minutes a policeman opened the barrier, pulled me over to the side of the road and demanded I leave the car and follow him. I always think the best thing in situations like this is to smile and be very friendly, so I was playing happy to be escorted down some concrete steps, and then through a massive steel door. Underneath the motorway was a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms like something from the Cold War! I was constantly ushered ahead along a very long corridor lit by faint lights. The cold and damp was eery and my cheerfulness was soon extinguished, I was scarred stiff! I presumed the tunnel had led us right from one side of the Autostrada to the other. It was here where we turned a corner that revealed a set of cells and a collection of offices. I was put on a bench outside a cell and left in silence! It seemed like an age before a seemingly superior officer came up to me and spoke in English. He told me to stand in front of a high desk, one that he proceeded to sit behind like a judge and demanded I explain myself. It was no good making up stories this was serious so I told the truth. He understood a little English and was surprised by my honesty, in fact I think he was puzzled by my decision to tell the truth. He became quite vocal in Italian and bits of English stating that I had committed a serious crime! He took his gun waved it around pointed at the cells and scared the **** out of me! Once he had calmed down he became quite friendly and explained I would be released with some paperwork. I had to pay the toll and no more but had a court date in four weeks if I committed another crime in Italy! I was to have the paperwork on me at all times in the country of Italy and as long as I left without getting in more trouble I would hear nothing more!
Nearly forty minutes later I was escorted back to the van and my waiting family. I calmly got in the van bid farewell and drove back onto the Autostrada. The next hour of the journey was about the drama of it all, not only me but Wendy and Lisa were left wondering if I was ever coming back. During the next week I paid all the road tolls and was of good moral character.
With fast roads we made it all the way to Imola by afternoon. Unlike Germany we had arrived early for the Grand Prix and the route to the circuit was fairly quite but still alive with the buzz of a GP. Ferrari certainly dominated the small medieval town not only with advertising but every house seem to have a flag hanging from Windows and balconies. The shops, petrol stations and restaurants all blazoned their love for Ferrari. It was incredibly exciting for us, four new avid Ferrari fans in paradise! Charlie's vocabulary was increasing each day with words like racing car, Shuey and with a pointed hand would shout "Fewawwi". Incredibly he could now recognise the famous marque from other cars! Although Lisa appeared to be a fan of the scarlet cars there was no way she was removing her beloved Jaguar cap!
The Circuit Dino Ferrari was literally just off the main road into the old town. At the main entrance a park ran along the banks of a small river that acted almost like a moat between the circuit and the outside. Among the trees a few tents and campers were parked up and the further you went into the park the more it thinned out. This was obviously a make do camping area for the GP, so we found a spot about halfway along and fortunately only really put up the tent for the night and nothing more. We explored the town on foot and discovered the beauty of Italian architecture. We all fell in love with the narrow lanes and cobbled alleys which opened up into fantastic sunny plazas. Food was cheap in the restraints and when we went for Pizza and Pasta we were received like Royalty because we had our children with us. Everyone was so welcoming and made eating out very special for us.
We all slept well that night but as we emerged from our slumber the next morning we had been joined by a large group of young Germans. Almost immediately they were blasting out heavy rock on massive speakers while they erected what looked like a mobile pub! Clearly staying here with the children was going to be a bad idea. We were not perturbed as it takes all sorts to make an event. We just packed up and moved as far as we could along the park. Our thinking was that this would be the last area to fill up so we would at least get a couple of nights peace.
This time we really did set up camp and how lovely it was! The sun was glorious and being next to the river was idilic. We had a large storage box which Lisa filled with river water to make a paddling pool for her little brother who winged every time she picked him up and dumped him in the icy cold water. Eventually he liked the idea and had a great time in the improvised pool. It was so relaxing after our adventures and we were honestly so happy and proud of what we were doing. The children were contented too as they played with toys together and Lisa had spells at our camping table with pens and books.
Later in the day we visited Tourist Information and enquired about tickets for the race. We learned that they had sold out of all the normal tickets but once the lady saw we were English it was no problem. She had remembered us phoning from the UK to make enquires about the race! Funny how things suddenly happen in Italy. They were so much cheaper in Italy than in Germany and we guessed two adult passes would suffice as the Italians would not stop the kids from coming in, especially two cute ones and one with ginger hair!
Once again we ate out but visited the supermarket to stock up for the rest of our stay. Wendy and I found our favourite Prosecco Sparkling Wine at a fraction of the normal cost, so we stocked up on giggle juice as well. We went a bit overboard and realised outside the shop we had bought more than we could carry. It was no good we would have to borrow the shopping trolley. So off we went through park taking it in turns to push Charlie in the stollen chariot. Lisa of course pushed very fast until her brother screamed which was her job as a big sister.
After another night under canvas we awoke to yet another sunny day beside the river but now we had company. In fact we had lots of company as the Grand Prix atmosphere had racked up to a whole new level. There were people everywhere and apart from campers we were now surrounded by cars parking for the first day of qualifying. In the night metal fencing had gone up around the section of park we were in and there was now a charge for parking or camping. Seeing we were already inside no one bothered us for payment. To the right of us was the famous Tosa hill a massive natural vantage point for viewing inside the circuit. It was filling up from early morning with streams of Ferrari flag waving fans entering at a gate near us. Soon enough we were joining them making our way over a bridge across the river and showing our tickets at the gate. To our surprise were almost immediately ushered in after a few words in English about kids for free. Wendy pushed Charlie in his pushchair and I held Lisa's hand pulling her in quickly just in case.
We made our way up the steep grassy Tossa bank, a place I had dreamed of visiting after seeing it in numerous racing books. The biggest shock was to see fans known locally as the Tifosi we're carrying spades, wood and various building tools. They were then setting about digging into the steep sides of the hill and building their own makeshift stands. Some even had roofs and clearly there was provision for staying overnight in some of them. It was quite simply fascinating to see and be part of the Tossa community as we settled on our own vantage point halfway up.
First practice was about nine thirty so we hadn't long to wait before we saw the cars. Excitedly we looked toward Tambarello chicane the scene of Sennas sad death a couple of years before. We could hear the cars leave the pits and would see them for the first time approaching this chicane. They headed from there directly toward us and to the sharp corner at the bottom of our vantage point. From there they accelerated hard up a steep hill in front of us and then out of sight. The sound was just extraordinary and the ground really did shake. Soon the first Ferrari was out on track and the now crowded Tossa went wild with delight. Charlie pointed, Lisa blew her new air horn and Wendy and I smiled with pride. What a wonderful time we were having.
All to soon first practise was over so instead of going out we headed to the inside of the track to explore. We found the bronze statue of Ayrton Senna which was draped in flowers and had messages and thoughts left from around the world. We gave one of the greatest drivers ever our thoughts and continued to explore. Just a little way in from the track is a lovely children's park with roundabouts and slides. A perfect place for the kids to let of steam for a while.
We found our way to the main start line area with its large grandstands and bought a few drinks and snacks from the numerous venders. Everything was really affordable and it seemed there was lots of competition because many of the sellers were in private residential gardens within the race track. We watched second qualifying from the very last corner on another really good spot way up high looking down. To everyone's delight Michael Schumacher unexpectedly put his Ferrari on pole. To say Imola had gone wild with delight was an understatement! The place went crazy!
All to soon the racing was over for the day so we made our way out of the main entrance and into the busy streets of Imola. Sitting at the side of a busy road we bought some ice creams and Lisa a had Callipo ice lolly. As if from nowhere she moodily announced that she wanted to go to the beach and I had promised to take her. As far as I remember I had viewed the map earlier in our journey and noticed the Adriatic Sea was near and you never know we may see it I had said.
I quickly explained the sea was further away than I thought and we couldn't go. She looked at me like only a daughter can and went into a serious sulk.
As if from nowhere I burst into tears and turned away. It was like an emotional time bomb had gone off in Imola. I sat there thinking that after all we had done surely it was enough! All the anguish and pressure of keeping them both safe was totally all consuming. But that was the point I guess, I had not considered her plan . Me and Wendy had made every single decision and had seen both our kids have the time of their life. To go to the beach was what she wanted to do, her input, her decision, her dream! And she was a child how then, could she know how I felt! All the trip I had acted strong and blasé so the kids didn't worry. Lisa's dream to see the beach was important not only to her but it should have been to me as well. It was a lesson to me as a parent, maybe not one I completely understood until a long while after. You do not do things rightly or wrongly you just learn along the way.
Well I love my little girl so I manned up, bit my lip and we went back to the van and headed out of Imola and I drove over fifty mile to the seaside!
My thinking up to this point had been just get the van to Imola and every mile after was one nearer home and here I was running around the small lanes of Italy looking for the sea! The van was not in the best of health and if we broke down now we would be in a real pickle as all our camping things were still at the circuit. It was a good hour of butterfly's in the tummy as I became a bit paranoid listening to very Rev of the engine.
We struggled with the map but somehow we found the Adriatic Sea and it was perfect. Beautiful White sandy beach and a warm early evening sun made it a wonderful few hours as the kids played in the sand, then skimmed stones and collected shells. We all let off steam and soon the upset was forgotten. I am so glad we went there as it is another memory to savour. As we headed back to Imola the worn out children slept and when we returned to camp we were easily able to park by our tent again to our relief.
Race day morning was simply awesome as we awoke to the sound of thousands of people noisily making their way to the track. Right through the night there was a steady stream of fans filling the Tossa bank but by day break it was almost at biblical proportions. The road over the bridge was jammed packed with a seething mass. All around us every inch of space was taken with cars parked for the day. Most of the occupants had to walk through our little camp and took a double take at the odd English family tenting in the middle of the grassy carpark. Lisa was sat with Charlie making a flag from two Ferrari posters, some sticky tape and a stick. It turned out really quite good as well.
I had heard the Italian fans were passionate but this was more like a carnival atmosphere. As air horns blasted and whistles blew it was a brilliant thing to be apart of, in fact we spent most of the morning in our little camp just watching the crowd all around us growing bigger by the hour.
Eventually we decided it was time for us to make our way to the action. We slowly inched across the bridge with Charlie in his buggy. We eventually made it to the gate and were given room so as to stop the children getting crushed in the mad push forward! We made our way around the stands and had to climb up the back of the steep bank. It was a struggle and we could not imagine being able to see a thing as the very edge was now crowded. We made our way the best we could along the top line of spectators. Eventually we gave up the idea of a good view and promised we would lift the kids up the best we could at the start. We need not of worried as once again the Italian love of children had rescued the situation, an impromptu space was created for us a few rows down the hill. Wow what a view we had and what an atmosphere we were now part of.
The four of us had got so lucky because not only could we see the track we had full view of a giant TV screen opposite. We were able to watch all the build up to the race while we pointed out the various sights around us. Some of the structures built into the bank we incredible. There were wooden platforms just a few feet high and there were others much larger constructions built in stages, some even had roofs on. The really big stuff was made of scaffolding and towered above us.
The race finally came and the emotions ran high. As the cars screamed by on the first lap I worried that it would scare the life out of Charlie but he loved it. He screamed and pointed in delight which was quite a relief and made us all laugh! Lisa got her chance to really wave her flag and became a true member of the Tifosi. It was quite simply an outpouring of emotion for the Italian marque. The beloved Ferrari of Michael Schumacher put up a great fight and gave the Tifosi reason to hope a dream win Every lap they were on their feet screaming in delight, but eventually the dream was over as it was quite simply out classed by the Williams of Damon Hill. The race seemed to be all over in no time at all and when the flag dropped we knew we had done something very special as a family. We already kind of knew the adventure was coming to a conclusion and we would be heading home soon!
But for now we had to join the Tifosi fans on the track so we made our way down the banking and through an open gate onto the Tarmac. We walked all the way around the track to the pits. We explored where we could and then we went back out of the main entrance and joined the mass exodus into the town. Soaking up the atmosphere in the main plaza we had drinks. As the crowds gradually dwindled we made our way back towards camp but not before one last visit to our now favourite restaurant. In the crowded Pizzeria an exhausted Charlie slept in his buggy as the waiters cooed over him and the three of us talked about our adventures over our perfect last Italian meal.
We were in no rush to go the next morning but I think we all felt the urge to get straight back home. I think we were just so excited to share our experiences with friends and family. Once we set off I decided it would be a long day driving. We had a picnic and nothing more as I drove and drove right the way through the day and into the night. The family eventually tired and they slept but I just kept on going. I crossed into Switzerland and and not wanting to stop I left the nappy on the engine to long! As I pulled up at the Swiss German border there was plumes of smoke billowing from the engine bay. The customs guards looked astonished at my calmness and waved the lunatic straight through. I changed the vans diaper and set off into the heart of Germany. I eventually stopped exhausted in a lay-by, and by this time it was in the early hours of the next morning. I was so tired I couldn't be bothered to disturb the family and so I just grabbed my sleeping bag and crashed out on the floor outside the back doors of the van! I must have looked like a human guard dog!
Knowing we could not drive so far on our penultimate day I headed to Belgium with the intention of a night somewhere nice. We found ourself a in Brugge by mid afternoon and found an overnight free parking bay. What a great decision this was as Charlie and Lisa both fell in love with Belgium's most stunningly beautiful town. It was not to be our last visit to this Flemish Jewel.
It was just a short drive from Brugge to the ferry port and then of course a few hours to home sweet home. And of course we made it home and our first amazing adventure was over. What a wonderful trip it had been. We had set off so naive and returned with a spirit of adventure we have never lost!
If you have not read part one of this adventure and would like to go to Motoring-man
MOTORING-MAN is my motor racing book, picture and photo shop. I set it up about ten years ago. As an avid collector and enthusiast it is a great way to fuel my passion. I also like to convey my enthusiasm and memories through writing. Hopefully with a bit of luck next year I will publish a fun book on Le Mans. I have been to many Grand Prix over the years but my passion is the 24 Hours of Le Mans and have been 35 times up to now. My son has a Motoring shop and my Daughter is a producer for F1 so it really runs through our veins
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