A known fault with Ford Galaxy mk II's was a tendency for the windscreen wiper spindles to seize up. A poorly designed steel to phosphor-bronze bush with no greasing points and no maintenance schedule pretty much guaranteed that if left unused the wipers were going to die on you. It first happened to our Galaxy after I left it standing in our driveway for 3 months one winter. I managed to free up the spindles and get the unit going again, thus avoiding a £500 bill ( yes you read it right ).
I drove our Galaxy down to Greece a while back and left the car in the Marina, partly as a storage shed and partly as a runabout when we were in the marina and doing work on our boat. The car has 100 000 miles on it and being a 2.3l petrol version it’s value in the UK is certainly under the £1000 mark in spite of it still driving well, having tons of space, getting 30 mpg on the open road and having 4 new tyres on it that cost around £125 each, a tow bar and the ghia spec add ons! The car is affectionately known as ‘The Starship Enterprise’ because of it being white, a ‘galaxy’ and having an ET registration plate. After being in Greece for a *little* longer than the 6 month allowance I was faced with what to do with the vehicle. Some contributors on YBW suggested simply abandoning her without the number plates off the main road somewhere in Greece. Being something of a chicken the prospect of getting a bill from the Greek authorities for repatriating the hulk in 5 years time scared me. To be honest I’d be livid if some Greek chap abandoned his vehicle at the bottom of my estate so I couldn’t see the justification in doing the same! Torching the vehicle to get it scrapped could be construed as fraud even if an insurance claim was not made and scrapping a car in Greece is not guaranteed to even be compatible with the DVLA requirements! Simply giving it to a local was equally unworkable! There was nothing for it but to repatriate the car and that would mean it was going to have to be driven back!
Reconnecting the battery and trying the ignition got a slow and strained turnover but the car started after about 5 seconds. The omens were good! 2 tyres were completely flat and half the dashboard was hanging down following a replacement of the tank side fuel pump and associated relay on our last trip down ( didn’t mention that did I! ) I took the wheels off and drove them to the garage for new valves using the van I’d driven down in. A couple of days of use of the Galaxy cleaned off the rusty sections on the brake disks and a quick brush out removed most of the ‘Gadaffi dust’ that had managed to coat everything. We were ready to attempt our bash across Europe. We loaded the car with a few things from the boat that we wanted at home. We were working on the principle that if we had to walk away from the car we shouldn’t have anything along for the ride that was irreplaceable or too valuable. We wanted to get across Europe at an easy pace giving the old girl an easy run and keep costs to a minimum. Tolls in France can set you back €150 depending on the route you follow. An annual motorway Vignette for Switzerland is £16 and the Italian tolls as far as Venice are about €50. I got out the satnav and plotted a course, off the toll roads, around Switzerland and via Austria, Germany and Belgium rather than France. The difference in distance was about 15% so well worth giving It a try. This trip would echo the Star Trek movie. The Enterprise valiantly making the journey ‘home’.
The discussion amongst friends at Panos’ over dinner a few nights before the trip was planned had us in stitches as we discussed our plans for handling the lack of windscreen wipers and any potential rain. My mother was along for the trip and my first suggestion was that she walks in front of the car with a red flag so that I could see where I was going. ( You understand this had to be the way it was done since mom does not have a valid driver’s licence ) We developed this idea somewhat with the red house wine contributing greatly to the contributions. The galaxy has roof bars fitted as standard so it didn’t take long for someone to suggest lashing mom to the roof bars and giving her a window squeegee to wipe the screen with. Without access to a squeegee we decided that a pair of moms trademark yellow marigolds would suffice and would provide adequate ‘wiping’ power. We would of course top up the washer bottle with boiling water, not for the screen you understand but to keep the marigold operator on the roof at a comfortable temperature. A flask of hot tea would supplement this heating system. In the end we decided that simply stopping for rain was going to be the best approach. We couldn’t see any of the European countries seeing the practical side of up with a 77 year old woman strapped to the roof of a fast moving vehicle, waving yellow rubber gloves and being yelled at by a car driver.
We set off from Preveza at 1 am on Friday morning. The 80km drive to Igounomitsa would take about an hour but rain was predicted beginning at about 03:00 so we wanted to get to Igo’ before that. The rain started as we parked up at the ferry office in Igo! We slept in the car and bought a ticket on the 7:00 ferry to Venice. 26 hours later we rolled off the ferry ready for the 1450 km drive to Calais. Heading East out of Venice we left the A4 just before Vicenza and headed via Deuville on the A31. Getting this far cost us €7.40 in tolls but we were now off the toll system. We drove on to Arsiero. The climb up to Arsiero and descent into Trento was spectacular, some really beautiful mountain views ( Toned and supremely fit cyclists everywhere, we checked out directions with a
bloke who must have been 50 and was about 1500m above sea level on a little mountain road and cranking up the hill. He was fitter at 50 than I was at 16 I reckon! ) On to Bolzano via the Brenner pass using the 'via Brannero' which runs parallel to the toll highway. The weather ahead looked fine but I logged in to an app called ‘rain alert’ on my mobile phone. This gives a up-to-date snapshot of precipitation radars across Europe and would give us warning, we hoped, of bad weather ahead. A few km from Bolzano we used the toll highway for a couple of km into the town - €2. Due north out of Bolzano ( Where we saw a lovely little farmers market ) via a hamlet called Sarentino. We missed the tolls from Bolzano to Innsbruck but at the snow line at 1500m there were barriers across the road and signs to say the pass was closed due to snow. The rain alert app looked reasonably clear of any precipitation so being the adventurous type I decided to push on but only as far as the blockage to see how bad it was. We topped the pass at 2211m amsl with wind drifting snow across the road which was restricted to 1 small lane but clear and ice free! We have video! On to Innsbruck then Kempten via the Fernn pass ( road 189 off the E60 out of Innsbruck ), Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Luxembourg ( fill up with petrol €1.35 / l ). Now within striking distance of the channel we phoned ahead and booked a ferry ticket. Rain alert looked bad! A big cumulonimbus was hanging over the Calais to Dunkirk area and threatened to stop play. We pulled in to a coffee shop to consider options and as we drank coffee an avenue opened up that was clear of rain. A dash to Mons, Dunkirk and the ferry home. ( copy of this route is on google maps at http://g.co/maps/fnacj ) Total distance 1400 km total tolls €9. Left Venice at 10am on Saturday and made the 14:00 DFDS ferry at Dunkirk on Sunday. About 8 hours stopped for coffee, naps, petrol and a 1 hour stop at 1am in the middle of Germany while a crane hoisted a new bridge span over the highway!
The old Seafrance ferries have been totally refurbished and now operate as DFDS ferries out of Dunkirk, Fare £39 one way but book the day before at least. They operate a nice scheme that you can check in to the ferry before or the one after your booked one and avoid ticket change costs. Anything else and it’s €25 to change your ticket.
It's good to be home!
PS The ‘Enterprise’ is docked in her home driveway and I managed to fix the wipers once I was home and had access to my workshop. We may actually keep her as a runabout. Damned good car!