EuroTrip 2014

Since I’ve owned a fast car, not just the GT-R, I’ve always wanted to take it down the Autobahn and into the Swiss Alps. Luckily, an opportunity came up for me to go. Ana was going to Paris with her mother and sister and I had no plans for 5 days. Perfect. I phoned my best mate and asked if he’d ride shotgun with me, naturally, being a fellow petrol-head he didn’t need asking twice. I barely had the chance to ask once!

So, Wednesday, September 10th, 2014. We departed Liverpool and headed down to Folkestone, in anticipation of the greatest motorways, leading to the greatest driving roads in Europe. Cruising down the motorways of the UK, we eventually reached our overnight stop at the Holiday Inn Express, Folkestone. A decent hotel, if a little expensive for what it is; you’re simply paying for the privilege of being right on the door-step of the EuroTunnel. We arrived, quickly got to the room and into the two single beds provided. Sleep, wake, shower and out. A process that was to be repeated many times in the coming days. Eat, sleep, race, repeat?

Before we knew it, morning had risen, the alarms had gone off and we were making our way to the EuroTunnel terminal in Folkestone. What a slick operation that is. Arrive, give your boarding details and then follow the signs that subtly state “France” and an arrow. After going through the UK Border Crossing, we were presented with the French one, about 50 yards down the road. A man, the spitting image of Olivier Panis looks at our Passports for at least seven tenths of a second before looking at the car and saying (please do this in Inspector Clouseau’s voice) “So, can you do ze acceleration?”, to which I said “What? Here? Now?”, “Oui, yes, here”. “Hmm. OK.” – the process of R – R – R is known to all, full attack mode. Launch control out of French Border Crossing towards the train.

Hilarious start to the day’s frolics!

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We parked up, got a small breakfast because I only had £40 on me, toilet break and then off to the train which looked like something out of i-Robot. 35 minutes after departure, we arrived in Coquelles, just outside Calais with all of the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey’s having a good look. Unlike most tourists heading to Germany/Switzerland, we decided to avoid France and the Gendarmerie as much as possible, and immediately headed due east towards Belgium, cueing a lot of Del-Boy style phraseology throughout the journey: Fabrique Belgique as they say.

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Through France, speed limit was strictly adhered to, as were the requisite lane and safety laws. Including our customised “Keith Lard” Hi-Viz jackets with “Is He Drawing a Dog” and “Laugh or Burn, Take Ye Pick” on the back, a throwback to Phoenix Nights. It was easy to adjust to right-hand drive on the right, but wrong, side of the road. Into Belgium: two of the three things we’d adhered to were still being adhered too, the other, not so much. Looking around at the scenery, Belgium even from the motorways looks a lovely place; well it is. I’ve been before. Enough of that! Into Germany. That one rule that was partially adhered to, well that went out of the window before my rear wheels had crossed the German border. Wide. Open. Throttle. Cruising down the autobahn towards Baden-Baden for the Route 500, we were setting a nice pace of 175km/h, which is circa 110mph. Gently rising to 180, 190 and then before we knew it, we’d stabilised at 220km/h (circa 135mph). The car was incredible; absolutely rock solid, the Litchfield Suspension was absolutely lapping it up. Nearing Baden-Baden, we hit some drizzle and saw a notification on the autobahn to tell us that Route 500 was closed. Nightmare! So we had no choice and had to proceed to our overnight stop at Bad Krozingen, a very quiet, typically Germanic village where not much happens until two idiots in a GT-R come in and upset the order.

The lady in the hotel was lovely, spoke good English and advised us to put the car in the car park, which I almost did. Well, I put it in A car park, not THE car park. But it was safe and sound, tucked away for the night. A quick unpack, change of clothes and out for a steak to Steakhaus Becker, who I don’t think had ever seen tourists before. A patron asked how we’d found it? Trip Advisor. It had great ratings, was 15 minute walk from the hotel, served steak, chips and beer. What more could two clowns from the UK on a road trip want? Great meal, good price and back to the hotel. No English TV channels, but we saw a German comedy, which was still funnier than Lee Nelson.

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Friday, D Day, THE day. The Alps. We left Bad Krozingen and headed straight towards Wassen and Andermatt and the start of the Alps. Thursday was the Labour Pains. Friday was having the baby. Wow. Simply, and utterly, wow. The Alps are stunning, absolutely stunning. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe them AND do it justice. The combination of Nissan GT-R, Litchfield suspension, 640bhp, incredible scenery and the finest road surfaces I’ve ever driven on were sublime. The car sounded evil as the noise of a 3.8 litre v6, with twin turbos revving to 7000rpm out of a 4″ exhaust rebounding off the cliff faces. Raspy, loud and for the first time in my GT-R experience, aurally stimulating. The one issue I’ve always had on the GT-R has been the engine note on the induction side, not the exhaust. However, full load, high revs, short runs through 1-2-3rd, it was stunning. What a Ferrari V8 or V12 would sound like through there I can only dream of. I was in heaven, completely petrol-head heaven. I was going for it, watching the map, watching the road, Liam reigning me in and telling me when to overtake, nothing could stay with us. Other cars? No. Bikes? No. Not a chance, we were on it. We stopped, for a photo break, to get some shots and let the brakes cool, and I was yet again, blown away by the scenery. I’ll forever remember the view from a hairpin, over the edge looking down at the tunnels with a faint whiff of brakes in the clear mountain air.

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We spoke to fellow Englishman on the hairpin parking, who had just collected a rather stunning 911 Turbo and driven it out with his wife. Nicely played, Sir.

The edited video (playlist):

Carrying on through Grimsel, Nufenen, St Gotthard and Furka, we were just taken aback by the sheer rise and fall that we’re going on. One minute its 18 degrees and we’re on the ground, 10 minutes later, we’re 2000m up and in the clouds with 3 degrees outside. Andermatt, I’ll be seeing you again, one day.

Leaving The Alps and heading out to Basel, we arrived at the Best Western in Stuecki, right on the Swiss side of the German Border, parking the car up and still waxing lyrical about what a day. It’s something I’ll never forget, nor Liam. We went to the Block House Restaurant adjacent to the hotel for a steak and chips meal – again, with some beers and still into the night, we were talking about it. Everything, the view, the car, the noise, the roads. Everything. The car, though, I couldn’t think of anything else I’d do it in for an experience like that. If it was just noise? A Ferrari. If it was an ego-trip? A Lamborghini. But, for a sheer grip, grunt and practicality, the GT-R is unbeatable.

Saturday, another relatively early start, and out of Basel, heading north east to Stuttgart and our second part of automotive heaven: The Porsche Museum. Google Maps said three hours, we did it in two. Because GT-R. Because autobahn. And to add to my facility of understatement and mastery lack of articulation, the Porsche Museum was like everything I’ve wanted since I was a child. A 930, a flat nose, a 964, 911 Turbo of all generations, a Carrera GT, all of the Le Mans cars, the outright record holder at the Nurburgring, everything. It was a cacophony of history, power and performance in one place; all for €6 plus parking. Astonishing value. I’d highly recommend anyone go and look around. Allow 2 hours and make sure you get a piece of apple cake on the way out, it’s lovely.

So, destination: Eindhoven. 300 miles, our last on the autobahns. 220km/h, two blasts to 280km/h (175mph), leaving some bikes in our wake and Shell very happy with the 12 tanks of fuel we’d used from Door-to-Door.

On a side note, Shell, if you’re listening: Please sort out your goddamn awful iOS app. It’s inaccurate, slow and hard to follow.

On arrival at the Dutch Border, brakes applied, speed halved and a little more – oops. We were cruising at 120mk/h, 75 mph, people looking over smiling and nodding, apart from one woman, miserable mare. We arrived at the Van Der Valk Hotel. Nice, very nice and even nicer was the complimentary upgrade to a junior suite. Small problem, though, Liam and I are straight, we are only friends, I’m way out of his league, and we were offered a double bed. So we had to politely decline the upgrade and go back to the room we’d booked. Off to De Bierprofessor and their 330ml stubby bottles of nitro glycerine. 16.5% beer was the strongest, 12.5% the norm and 6.5% the weakest. We had the equivalent of 6 pints and bounced off walls here, there and everywhere. What a night in Eindhoven, a perfect alternative to the cliché that is Amsterdam these days. Lads weekend there? Maybe.

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On waking up, we realised it was all over. The road trip so long in the planning had a simple step of Eindhoven to Calais and that was it, finished.  Done.

It was a pleasant, easy trip across Holland to France and on to Calais, save for the rude French people. However, one thing that wasn’t pleasant was the whole operation at EuroTunnel Calais, awful! What a difference to the UK side. Over in Calais, it was rude, ignorant and chaotic, we arrived at the gate a couple of seconds late it was still boarding, and we were waved down a road, then they put the barrier down just before we arrived there and made us wait until every other lane had cleared. It was a little worrying that we might not get on, but we did. Some advice would be to make sure you’re at the gate to board as soon as possible. The whole area, though, is dirty and in need of a thorough going over. It really couldn’t be further from the UK side.

In summary….

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