Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Lousy mechanics & breakdown perks

Wednesday 18th September 2013

It's been nearly two weeks since we left that perfect sparkly beach at the bottom of the cliff and we haven't moved very far along the French coast as we've had a few problems with our van, as well as a slightly grumpy English mechanic! Driving along the coastal roads Adam started to hear clunking sounds coming from under the van and not wanting the steering, brakes or anything to start failing whilst we're veering round these cliff corners overhanging the sea we hit up the trusty free McDonald's wifi to try and find a reasonably priced English speaking mechanic. Not being far from Cannes, where a lot of well tanned Brits now live, it was easy to find someone so we pulled into their garage for them to have a look at old Mildred and try and help us out. 

It did go a little bit downhill from there, but luckily there were some perks to the breakdown as well. After spending a Sunday in a tiny lay by round the corner from the garage (we didn't want to risk driving too far away in case we broke down completely), waiting for it to open, we rocked up Monday morning for a quick undercarriage inspection, much to Mildred's embarrassment. With our good friend Mia still traveling with us, we do get a raised eyebrow or two when one guy and two laydaays step out of the van (we're good friends but not like thaat!), so after a few jokes and a fiddle under the van we're advised to wait a few minutes for his French colleague to start tightening some bolts or something underneath the van. (I left the technical bits to Adam of course). We pay a small fee and off we go thinking we'd got away with something as that was a lot easier than we were expecting it to be.

Maybe because it wasn't meant to be that easy. We get half a mile away and the van starts making all the same clunking noises but seemingly louder and more often. Another inspection from the, this time not so jokey, mechanic and it appears we need a new steering rack. The French guy who can't speak a word of English gets the blame from his boss as he did the work and obviously cannot understand a word of the blame being directed at him. Not his wrong diagnosis then?

Perk number one, we get to stay at a quiet little campsite not far away that is being run by giant rabbits whilst we wait for the new steering rack to be delivered. The rabbits are all over the place and chill in the sun or wait for some lettucey treats from us. There's also a pool and nice showers and as it's the end of the season we get the whole place nearl
y to ourselves, apart from a young Italian couple who sweat it out in a tiny little tent opposite us, must have been roasting in there.

A few days later the steering rack is swiftly delivered all the way from the UK and they set to work replacing it. By the afternoon all the work is complete and we do a test drive down the road to make sure those pesky clunks have gone. All seems good, we pay and leave, deciding to head towards Cagnes sur Mer as we are making our way towards Genoa in Italy to get the ferry down to Sicily soon. Mia will be heading back to England before we leave for Sicily so we want to get a few more beaches in on our way. Unfortunately about 20 miles down the road it's very clear that Mildred is not well, we pull over and Adam finds that the bolt holding the new steering rack on has sheered and we can no longer really steer the van properly. 

Perk number two is that thanks to our super cheap but really great European breakdown cover, (German company ADAC if you're interested), we're covered to be rescued (yay), and taken back to the garage, we can stay in a hotel for a few days whilst the repairs are being carried out and we can get a hire car! The scariest part was when the recovery vehicle turned up, Mia and I went to get in the cab of the truck but found a tiny puppy yapping away on one of his two spare seats, there was no room for the three of us so we had to sit in our own van, on the bed of the truck, putting us about 8 feet off the ground, speeding and swaying down the motorway with only a few straps to hold us down. It was actually pretty fun though. 

After thinking we had our van troubles behind us, Mia had booked her ticket home and we had booked our ferry crossing to Sicily. We could move our ferry booking whilst we had to wait for a new bolt to come in for the steering rack but Mia couldn't rearrange her flight so had one night in the hotel with us, separate rooms and everything! We didn't mind hanging around a free hotel for a few days with some cheap wine and a pool and when the van was fixed we had a few days to spare before we had to be in Genoa for the ferry so we took it slow enjoyed our last few days in France.

This was all well and good until we actually found out that the steering rack didn't need changing at all, the clunking noises were coming from the shock absorbers! Onto Sicily we go with all the same clunks and bangs...

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