Road trip

September. 2017. 

The planning for a road trip was well under way. We’re going on an almost three weak long journey.  The road will lead across the lands of the former republic of Yugoslavia. We’d be just a few kilometers short of Greece when we’re furthest from Slovenia. We’ll cross Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia. And we’d spend the vast majority of the time in Albania.  

And while I was in full preparation mode, Mateja sends me a link to an article on the SiolNET portal. It was about three student on their way into the heart of Asia. And they were already traveling for 70 days. My tingly bits told me they were on a serious, interesting and quite challenging adventure. But I immediately dismissed the idea thinking “Students…” with an obligatory eye roll. 

But while I dismissed the idea the article had some effect on me. I started to think we could do something to make our journey to Albania more interesting. That meant buying a strange/crappy car (for the vast majority of the population) and driving around with as little planning as possible. Driving on some weird roads with strange drivers was guaranteed in any case. 

We jumped on a mission “Buy an interesting car”. And as I really enjoy fast sportier cars with nice body panels we found the perfect vehicle. Alfa Romeo 156 V6. An impressive car, at least on the paper.  It’s fast, it’s nice to look at. And a quick look at the Youtube showed me, it also sounds spectacular. It also had leather interior and bucket seats for extra grip in the corners. I immediately jumped on the phone and have arranged a meeting with the seller. I gave him another call when we arrived on a prearranged location. “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes” he said.  

It only took him a couple of minutes indeed. The first thing we noticed was the sound of Alfa Romeo’s V6 engine. It was so nice I started to smile. The noise was getting louder still. I was almost grinning. I heard the tires rolling on the gravel. An then it came around the corner. What we saw was approx. 1500kg of pure disappointment. I must admit the car was extremely cheap. And I certainly wasn’t expecting a perfect car. But there was something wrong with every panel. And the interior was really neglected. It was falling apart. I wanted it not to be in such a bad state. I really did. But it wasn’t. We gave it a quick once-over and fled the scene. 

The mood in the car on our way back was solemn. The music was met with deafness. We were feeling defeated. But the silence was soon disturbed with a sentence, with a question: “What about the Land Rover?”. You must think there’s something wrong with it. Land Rover aren’t that sporty and not very pretty. You are correct, but this is a story for some other time, maybe. Mateja called the owner and after a weird conversation she gave me the recap. The Land Rover Discovery was serviced so good in bordered on an obsession. But the owner was servicing it. At home. It was regularly driver, but was not registered. It was technically perfect, but it didn’t have an MOT. The decision making took us what seemed a couple of minutes. And in reality it also took us a couple of minutes to decide not to buy it. At least we were of a sound mind on that occasion. We went home defeated. But not broken. There were still a lot of cars on the list. But none of them was right.  

After some deliberation we chose an existing car 🙂 : My Ford Fiesta Mk6 1.6 16V. It wasn’t the fastest car, nor was it the most reliable. Be we liked it. But I took some precaution in the form of some on road assistance plans. Two to be precise. Just to be sure 😉. 

If you’ve never seen my Fiesta Mk6 you might want to know it had a low ground clearance making it perfectly unsuitable for bad roads. I therefore decided to install some upgrades: 

  • Fiesta ST150 seats 
  • Federal 595RS-R semi-slick tyres 
  • Brighter lightbulbs 

Did any of the modifications help with the low ride height? No. 

The tires were a gamble. With the winter fast approaching I was just hoping not to get caught out by the snow. But, being semi-slick, they helped with the additional grip in the corners. And the seats were a great help by hugging us in the said corners.  

And we’ve all survived with only minor issues. The journey was really exciting as we never really knew whether we’d be able to driver on a given road or not. And we only encountered one road that was too demanding. Oh, and the navigation tried to murder us on a few occasions. It once tried to convince us to join the “highway” in the wrong direction… 

We were driving on the snow, we were driving on a flooded roads. The water level was almost hitting the headlamps. We’ve made repairs with duct tape and zip ties. The road trip was a success. It was a real adventure. 

But then I found myself thinking about the three students traveling into the heart of Asia. 

Water level.
Expert hose repair.

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