Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Berlin to Paris to London to Berlin

Winning an auction for a 27 year old mini: 1100 Euro
Last second ticket from Berlin to Paris, where the mini is: 125 Euro
insurance, and registration in France: 281 Euro
car repairs, spare parts and supplies: expensive
A beautiful 27-year old mini to drive from London to Mongolia and beyond: priceless!

And so this is how it all begins - I arrived in Berlin from Moscow on July 2nd, won an eBay auction for the car on the 4th, and on the 5th, I was in Paris to get the first look at our new and not-so-trusty steed:

The next week in Paris was spent doing battle with the French authorities to get the car properly registered in my name, insured, and ready to run (and to also recover from a bit of a diesel misunderstanding. The french word for diesel is 'gazoline'? I mean, gazoline? really?)

And a week later I had my proudest accomplishment:

A french 'Carte grise,' or an official French car registration in my name! And this only took four separate trips to La Prefecture, 131 Euro, a fair amount of stretching of my barely existent French, and just one fake document! Acquiring an insurance policy was trivial in comparison - just visit five different insurance agencies until you find one that'll insure someone without a French driver's license. To celebrate all this, Jake, whom I had previously met in Russia and had by now convinced to do the London to Prague leg of the Mongol Rally with me, set off for a mini test-run to Belgium and Amsterdam.

Ironically enough, the exact same gas station where I had previously filled up with diesel, but this time just petrol!

We don't have a functioning hand brake currently, but there is a really convenient hole in the ground if you want to see what the ground looks like!

Sunset in the French countryside

In Belgium, we stayed with Nathalie, whom we had also met in Siberia, and her family who were amazingly hospitable (and willing to put up with our limited French). Everybody continues to like the car, in spite of the color

On the way back, we finally see another old mini on the highway!

And with the test run successful (the car behaved admirably throughout), registration all sorted out, and even a brand new Uzbekistan visa in my passport, courtesy of the embassy in Paris, it was time to set off for London, as the rally launch was a mere four days away by now.

Over the course of a week in Paris, I did manage to do a bit of sightseeing:

Notre Dame de Paris

Versailles - opulence, French style

Nearby Cathedral of Chartres

Famous for its amazing stained glass windows

And a nightclub in Paris

On the way to London, as on all the highways, the mini was drawing plenty of attention... from the cars flying past it. We are capable of passing trucks, however. The only way to avoid being the biggest spectacle on the road was to be next to an even more obnoxious vehicle, like this 1930's beast that was immediately behind me in the line for the ferry across the English channel:

In London, stayed with Jamie, famous for rolling vehicles in both the 2006 Mongol Rally and the 2008 Rickshaw Run, but seems none the worse off for it. On the very first morning after my arrival, the car wouldn't start, of course... So, we got to meet Zoran, a mechanic in London that Jamie knows, and who was able to turn the mini into the [relatively] well-running beast that it is today (in spite of some severe initial reservations about the worthiness of the vehicle upon first meeting it, hearing where I was planning to take it, and how soon I was leaving...)

Zoran has things well under control... and I've since decided it would be a good idea to bring a voltmeter along to Mongolia

Also in London, was Cyrus, who will be driving our escort vehicle to Mongolia - the comparatively ultra-modern 1992 Fiat Panda... Except that the mini actually has a bigger engine, and Cyrus won't get into Russia due to not having papers for the car in his name, but we have faith that he'll somehow make it all work!

On Saturday, the 19th of July, it was off to the Mongol Rally launch in Hyde Park, London:

The mini, in a line of other crappy cars heading to Mongolia, and with Jake, sprawled out on the hood of it

Another mini in the rally... creatively decorated. Odds of the phone booth making it past Prague? Zero!

A couple of overly well-prepared teams, who forgot to choose a better car than the fairly awful Suzuki SJ!

For some amusement for all of us - a Volvo stretch limo in the rally... I think the long wheel base may be a bit of a problem

And from the hilarious to the sublime: a double decker bus is heading to Mongolia too!

At this point, most teams actually set off on the rally and headed East towards Mongolia... We drove out of the park along with everyone else, then met up with a few friends that we had met in Baku on the last rally and spent the rest of the afternoon in London, eventuall heading west... to Jamie's flat, for a spectacular barbeque. The next afternoon, team Safety Third also finally took off towards Mongolia, with the car properly decorated now, and the beginnins of a roof rack (the cargo capacity in the 'trunk' is laughable):

The beauty has been turned into the Beast!

Off we go - Safety Third!

The route for the first two days has been London - Dover - Calais by ferry - Binche, Belgium, where we stayed with Nathalie one more time - Berlin.

Passing another antique on the road - they seemed just as excited to see us, as we were to see them

And now, we're in Berlin - the Berlin Wall, crossing into Eastern Europe!

The Brandenburger Gate (very big) and the mini (very tiny)

The car is still running as well as I could've hoped for, even though my blinkers have now completely stopped working... Off to Prague from Berlin tomorrow, where Cyrus currently is, then down to Croatia via Slovenia, before making it over to Istanbul before the end of the month, where I'll pick up Lott (and the blog will have a common theme once more... except for Cyrus who may or may not be anywhere near us)

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