Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stars smile on me

As I travel alone most of the time I learned a few tricks along the way. One of them is that staying in a chateau it's a bit of a gambling. It's great, quiet and relaxing only if your castle doesn't host some over talkative newly weds or, even worse, the teambuilding for the sales department of some bank in Bulgaria.
The family and staff at Château des Monthairons is quite intent on treating each guest as someone special. (Look for Château des Monthairons in the Michelin Hotel and Restaurant Red Guide for France.) A beautiful 19th century château with fairytale turrets, Monthairons has much to offer visitors -- from a private beach on the River Meuse to an elegant restaurant serving such delights as Homard rôti et servi dans un coeur d'artichauts breton et pointes d'asperges vertes (roasted lobster served with hearts of Breton artichokes and green asparagus tips). And there are no less than 11 choices on the dessert menu! I pay €180 for my room wich was more an apartment. For €90 you could have a smaler but equally charming room.
This time I get lucky. There were only 6 other guests. 2 couples from Paris and my new best frient lady Sonia and her traveling companion miss Claire. At 65 lday Sonia is younger at heart than most of my 30ish friends. Like any old lady she is quite a bridge player. I didn't play bridge since colege but with these 2 ladies, Catherine (the owner) and a few glases of Maison Laroppe I had quite a wonderfull evening. Lady Sonia is a astrologist. I have to admit I gasp a little when I found out fearing she will try to read my future and nag me "Piscies this, and Virgo that..". I was thinking this serves me right allready for diching my aunt. But lady Sonia didn't even ask my sign.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Psichology... (2)

Actually I don't really know if I am where I am now (Clastres, France) due to psychology, social sciences or engineering. I almost made peace with myself yesterday and hit the highway to Paris to see my dear old Miss Cecilia (this is no joke, it's my aunt name so imagine the state of blessing I felt contemplating 3 hours of "My dear nephew I missed you so much. Are you sure your not hungry?"). Luckily, using the nav in the Merc CL500 I'm driving it's a real challenge so, I fiddled with it trying set the (otherwise obvious) course to Paris. I was 100Km from Calais when I catch on the nav screen a glimpse of some place named "Clastres". The name ringed a bell but wasn't sure why. I remembered just in time to "miss" the exit for Paris:
Pierre Clastres was a French anthropologist and ethnographer. He is known for his theory on stateless societies. Some people regard him as giving scientific validity to certain anarchist perspectives. I know this from college or my days as socialist revolutionary not sure which.
Also Clastres it a village where, a year ago, I went to the opening of "Le circuit de Clastres" the newest (I think) in France.And here I am, last year at the opening in the little Lotus of Mike L, my musical friend (he is a drummer :) )

Psichology is your friend

Last week, I left London for Paris to meet an aunt I manage to avoid for the last 10 years. You know, the type that ask you "when are you going to settle down". This time it seemed I would have no escape so I borrow a CL500 from D (tnx mate) and head for the e-Tunnel. As I was aproaching the end of M20, my dear friend Sigmund Freud whispered in my ear "Don't take tunnel, try ferry and hopefully you'll board the wrong one or the ship will sink or the martians will kidnap you". So, as I push on to Dover (wich is still ungly and full of lories as the last time) a new found fear of tunnels taked hold of me. I set the navigation for the port, get lost as usual, bougth a tiket for next morning and find a place to stay. The part with the place to stay was easy because I staid before at the Lighthouse witch is half way between Dover and Folkestone. I love this little inn. It's for some, the perfect place for souls searching with it's stunning views of the channel, for other the start of constant pickering about the trip they are about to embark (I heard people complaining the railway it's to close - never a problem for me). I staied there 3 different times allready and the only introspective attempt I had was the promise some day I'll take the path from the clifs and walk down to the sea. It never happened, it never will. The thought of climbing back or the shame of calling a cab to take me back it's to much for me :)
The next morning I boarded the ferry. It's a 2 hours trip filed with smels and sights of the transport factory that this kind of ship is.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Auto Union at half the price

This unique racecar was built by the order of Adolf Hitler before the World War 2. He offered 500,000 Marks in 1933 to build the fastest and most powerful racecar ever, to show the whole world that Germany is the most advanced country. Auto Union was an amalgamation of four German automobile manufacturers (Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer), established in 1932. The company has evolved into present day Audi, as an subsidiary of Volkswagen Group.
The Auto Union D Type won several Grand Prix races, but after the war most of the cars were destroyed or lost. In the 1980's an American D Type fan, Paul Karassik, found the only 2 remaining car in the Soviet Union. One of these is the 1938 pre-model, and the other is the 1939 improved model. The 1939 model was auctioned in Paris on 2007 for €11.5 million. Now, the car will be put under hammer at Bonhams & Butterfields sale at Quail Lodge in California on August 14 and is expected to raise €6milion.

Alone with the beast

Ms M went back to Monte Carlo so I'm left alone in London with a TVR Tuscan on my hands. What better choice of restaurant to go to than Galileo's, on Haymarket st, across the Royal Theatre Haymarket. Tuscan car, tuscan food right?!
I parked at Leicester Square Masterpark witch is 2 mins away. I don't know much about tuscan cuisine. I know about Caccuccio witch is a rich soup made from a tomato and fish base. The secret is to use many different types of fish, pureed bones and all directly into the base of the soup. They don't had any in the menu so I went for the carpaccio and grilled lamb. And of course the usual suspects, pecorino cheese and pastry everything floated in olive oil and herbs. By the time I was finished it was 10pm and I was to tired do something else so I went to bed to see more news about Susan Boyle on tv. Come on people! do we really need to know every move of that poor creature?!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

John Lenon grandmother

Small enough to explore easily on foot, but big enough to be wonderfully cosmopolitan. Walk around the traffic free heart of Chester city centre and it is impossible not to fall under the spell of a city buzzing with real, vibrant 21st century life.
I arrived in Chester at 1pm and grab a late lunch at The Bear and Billet. The restaurant is housed in one of Chester's more beautiful buildings and, after more than 200 years in business, this pub seems to have the basics down pretty well. I had a quite decent salad and a pepper steak sandwich with chips and a pint of Guiness for around 7 british pounds. And I found out this: "Enthusiasts of obscure Beatles information may be interested to know that John Lennon's grandmother, Annie Jane Milward, was born in the Bear and Billet in 1873"

I phoned the owner of the Tuscan and he came to take me from city center to his home to show me the beauty. At 4pm I was comfortably seated in a 380hp sport car speeding back to London.

And if at the end of the day you'll get to drive all the way back to London a TVR Tuscan life is really wonderful.

Now, the car...

Too raw for some, scary for others due to the temperamental reputation or by the troubles the company is going through. Bought by Abramovitch's 24 years friend, Nicolay Smolensky in 2004, TVR is now, after several attempts to change ownership again, going as slow as melases in january.

Still the car I drove to London was anything but slow. It's... loud. It's a raging bull this car. You feel the power of the 6 inline engine straight to your lungs. The sering is heavy and the brakes feel like your actualy put your foot on the pavement to slow down. At slow pace it's manageable but as I pick up speed I get scared senceless. I actualy don't know exactly how fast it is because for 300Km Chester to London I had only one thought: "Phone mother. Say I love you one last time".

Another job (almost) well done

Last weekend I saw ms M in London and manage to finalize the list for their move to UK in September. The initial budget was €200.000 but I think we can go well below that. With this kind of job I have a rule of thumb that say the purchase price should be around 60% of budget. The rest is for repairs, cosmetics, papers, taxes, insurance, transport and the rest. So we had €120.000 to buy our 5 cars.
And the winers are:

Land Rover Defender2001

Land Rover Discovery

Jaguar XJS1991

TVR Tuscan2000

Mini Clubmannew



We are well under budget witch is not bad since the XJS will probably need a lot of (well deserved) attention. Those wonderful cars were designed to be "the quietest, most comfortable and luxurious high performance car on the market” according to the press release from 1975.
Meant to be the replacement for the legendary E-type, XJS was not so much a sport car but a grand tourer. The car’s shape was created by Malcolm Sayer (also responsible for the E-type), who worked closely with company founder Sir William Lyons. The V12 engine catered for an exclusive market. Direct competition were the Mercedes 450SLC, Maseratti Indy, Lamborghiny Espada, Ferrari 365GTB or Aston DB6, ranging respectively from 20% to 90% more expensive.
Maintenance on the V12 is more costly than on a 6 cylinder car, not only because there are twice as many plugs, wires, injectors, etc... but because with such a big engine access is limited; this is the price to pay for the V12 badge.
Rust is a problem and can be very costly to fix.
With any luck and some €15.000 for a complete overhaul, I'll be able to deliver to my dear M's a glamorous V12 cabrio.
I love the others to but XJS and the Tuscan are clearly the jewels of the collection. The Defender is for hunting, the Clubman is a perfect city dweller with plenty of room in the back for Lassie (yeah, I know, such an "original" name for a collie) and the Discovery for everything else.
The Tuscan I didn't saw yet. I'm to go in Chester near Liverpool to see it.