Day 33: Troyes – Paris ( 190 km )

Setting off from the hotel this morning was a rather bitter-sweet moment. On the one hand we were excited to have made it this far, but on the other it was also the last day of what has been an absolutely amazing rally! Usually handing in our card at the morning time check was a moment of nerves, worried that you were accidentally checking in at the wrong time however today we were trying to make the moment last as long as possible.
The drive was not particularly unique with us spending a decent amount of it on the motorway, but it was a rather special moment driving into Paris, seeing the Eiffel Tower in the distance yet sitting in a car still covered in Mongolian dust. Right before the Arc de Triomphe we gathered and waited to be released into the Champs Elysées traffic in small groups. From here we drove the final stretch to the finish line located at the Place Vendome. As we were roughly in the middle of the pack many of the competitors and especially the pre war cars had already arrived at the finish. This made for a great atmosphere with everyone cheering for the cars!
We arrived around 13:30 but spent another three hours on the square, talking to the others, taking photos and reminiscing about the past five weeks. It really is a shame that the rally has come to an end and we both wish it would continue!! We aren’t ready yet for this experience, this trip that will forever be one of our highlights, to come to an end. Although it wasn’t always easy, and there were some rather tough moments we are both very happy that we decided to take part in the rally. We both can’t stop smiling and have most certainly aged a little as a result of it!
In the evening we had the closing, gala dinner where prizes were given and the 400 official photos viewed. Most competitors had their families join them for their arrival in Paris and we too had Catherine with us. The photos and the video of the rally helped to give her a sense of our journey but there is no way to adequately put into words the experiences that we have made along the way.
Our overall position is 14th, which is a little disappointing but it just means that we have to compete again in the next Peking Paris!! At the gala dinner Mario said that this will not be our last rally which I most certainly will be holding him to!!

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Day 32: Gstaad – Troyes ( 453 km )

The drive to Troyes took us over the Chasseral mountain and via the Jura region. Driving through Switzerland so quickly really makes the different linguistic regions apparent. One valley may be German speaking but the adjacent one will be French and the one following that back to German.
Surprisingly the roads that we drove on today weren’t too great, with some having a number of potholes. There were also instances of cows on the roads, so we were very much reminded of the conditions in Mongolia although it wasn’t quite that extreme.
The navigating has been far more complex in Europe than in Asia. There seems to be at least one instruction every 3 km and sometimes many more. This is quite a change from Russia where it was even possible to have short naps on the long stretches we would drive on the same road. In general napping is only possible if you are following a good navigator, however this is not recommended! We made a couple of navigating mistakes by following people who didn’t quite know where they were going. Similarly whenever we would make mistakes it was almost certain that the car behind us would join us on our excursion.
Although we were all tired, we stayed up late to reminisce about the amazing experience that we have had! As most people have their families joining them in Paris this is the last night where it is just the competitors. Everyone has become very close and almost become a second family so it is a shame to think that we may not see many of the people again!

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Day 31: Davos – Gstaad ( 325 km )

Looking at the roadbook this morning we saw that the route took us through Obersaxen which is the area where Mario’s 93 year old mother lives. We called to tell her that we would be driving through and she managed to get a ride to the exact spot that our cars were passing. She was very surprised to see how dirty our car is, which is still covered in Mongolian dust!
The route to Gstaad took us through some of Switzerland’s most beautiful scenery including Oberalp, Airolo and Verbier. We also had a time trial up Tremola which is a very old, cobblestoned road that consists of one hairpin turn after another. Although we had to go out of our way in order to be able to drive up it, doing the time trial downhill would have been too dangerous with the old cars in case someone’s brakes failed.
For a large portion of today’s route we had friends drive with us in their own Traction Avant that they recently completed the Mille Migila in. Driving though one of the check points the marshals commented that it was great that our friends were with us because if we broke down we had a full set of spares! Luckily we didn’t have to make use of them.
Although the weather was overcast when we set off from Davos, we most certainly weren’t expecting the variance that we experienced. Driving over one of the passes, what had started off as rain had closer to the top become snow. Although it gathered on our windscreen we were glad that it didn’t settle on the ground as we had sent the snow chains home with our family the previous night.
There was a champagne reception in Gataad for the competitors followed by a delicious meal which we agreed was the best that we had so far. This trip had really seen us sample a whole range of accommodation from camping in Mongolia, Soviet era hotels and now the luxury of the Palace.

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Day 30: Schladming – Davos ( 428 km )

Today was well and truly a roller coaster of a day!! This morning at our scheduled departure time Mario had still not yet arrived at the hotel. Although the new gearbox had been built into the car by 04:30, turning on the car revealed that it didn’t work. To our great frustration it turned out that the gearbox had been wrongly assembled, meaning that the fork for first and second gear wasn’t engaged. Along with the Swiss specialist, Mario carried on working straight through to 10:00 in order to find and then correct the problem.
This delayed start meant that we weren’t able to complete the time trial that was scheduled for this morning and thus we received a hefty time penalty. We also lost our gold medal standing which signifies the completion of all the time trials and passage controls along the way from Peking to Paris. It is a shame that this happened so close to the end, but at least we were able to get back on the road!
Although we ended up leaving the hotel over three hours after the others we took a short cut by going down the motorway and were able to catch up with the group by 14:00. As Mario had not slept since 05:30 the previous morning, Noele did most of the driving and the tomtom the navigating.
The official route, which we joined in the afternoon, took us over one mountain pass after the next. Luckily Mario had also been able to switch the brakes during the night, but the extensive downhill stretches still led to our new ones overheating.
Arriving in Davos late afternoon we were in for a fabulous surprise! Some of our friends were standing right at the entrance to congratulate us for having made it so far, with a huge poster! We had no idea that this was going to happen but it was most certainly one of the highlights from our whole journey. Once we arrived at the hotel we found out that our family and more friends had also decided to travel to greet us. Even though we were both lacking in sleep, we were too excited to get an early night!

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Day 29: Bratislava – Schladming ( 442 km )

Today we woke up to the same weather that we went to sleep to, overcast skies and drizzle. Although we hoped that this would clear up over the course of the day, the same conditions ended up following us all the way to Schladming.
Just before leaving Slovakia we decided to take advantage of the cheaper fuel price and fill up our tank, however we appear to have filled up on dirty fuel! This led to our engine constantly misfiring which became an issue while driving uphill as stretches that could before be completed in third gear now required second.
The final time trial of the day required us to drive up the Stoderzinken in the quickest time possible. We have driven up this hill a number of times before as part of the Ennstal Classic but never in such foggy conditions! Although we made it to the top we were far slower than we would have been if our engine wasn’t misfiring. Going downhill was also problematic because of the issues we have been having with our gearbox. We werent able to drive down in first and thus had to use second gear with our foot constantly on the brakes. Luckily they held until the bottom, but it was close and we could certainly smell them!
As soon as we dropped off our bags at the hotel Mario headed to the garage with the car. The traction avant had a makeover instore for it, with a new gearbox and brakes having arrived from Zurich. Along with the specialist who prepared our car, Mario got to work on completing the required changes before the morning.

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Day 28: Kosice – Bratislava ( 491 km )

Today turned out to be the toughest driving day so far with 5 time trials and tight times to keep within. Even though we were driving hard, we almost didn’t make our designated control slot. We didn’t make any stops along the way other than to get fuel, but lost a lot of time waiting in line to complete the trials. Although we just about made it with minutes to spare, many of our competitors received penalties.
Most of the time trials took place on forest roads that were closed especially for the rally. The last of the stages took place on the Slovakia ring and consisted of a 9 km lap, but not all on the track. Rather bizarrely we found ourselves alternating between the circuit and the service roads.
We had quite a lot of traffic driving into Bratislava which was fine for us, but frustrating for those in open cars as it also started to pour down with rain. To have a change from the usual hotel buffet dinner we later decided to head into town for some traditional Slovak food with another Swiss father-daughter team.

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Day 27: Lviv – Kosice ( 368 km )

For our send off the hotel decided to blast traditional Ukrainian music over the loudspeakers in our car park. The volume was so high that we could hardly talk to one another and I’m sure the wedding party with whom we were sharing the hotel weren’t too impressed to be woken up in that manner!
Only a few kilometers after leaving the hotel we were pulled over by a police car. Through the language barrier we discovered that the policeman had seen Mario illegally switch lanes to avoid having to wait in traffic. After hearing about the experiences of the other participants we were expecting to have to pay a fine, but although the policeman wasn’t very happy he let us go.
The drive to the Slovakian border took us away from the main roads and into the rural villages. Whereas in Russia the fields were expansive and would stretch into the horizon, in the Ukraine they were quite a bit smaller and would have a range of things planted in them. Dotted throughout the countryside there were also many dome shaped hay stacks.
Passing out of the Ukraine was once again quick and easy, with some of the guards more interested in conducting a mini photoshoot with the cars than looking at our papers. However, getting into Slovakia was a bit more problematic. We were fortunate enough to be able to cross the border quickly however some of the other cars weren’t that lucky. One of the competitors whose car had broken in Mongolia and thus decided to by a new one, even had to pay 80% of its value in order to get it into the EU.
Once across the border we all had a time control at a Tesco supermarket before moving onto a road that was going to be closed so that we could conduct a time trial. As the police were a little late we had to wait for over an hour, during which time one of the competitors started to make tea for us all. As the majority of the time trial was downhill our brakes were starting to overheat by the end of it. Not great news as there are many more downhill time trials to come!

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Day 26: Kiev – Lviv ( 583 km )

The roads that we took from Kiev to Lviv were completely pothole free as they had been newly built for the European football championships. Every known and then there would however be an ode to the more traditional way of life as we would overtake a horse and carriage plodding down the hard shoulder. Further differences to usual dual carriageways are that in the Ukraine they have zebra crossings stretching across them. It seems very dangerous that people would be crossing the road whilst there are cars traveling at such high speeds, but we saw them being used a number of times during our drive so there does appear to be a demand for them.
Other than pedestrians we also encountered many policemen doing speed checks. We are not sure whether it was because of the rally or if they generally check for speeding a lot but we saw at least 12 different controls taking place today. When we arrived at the hotel we discovered that a number of the competitors had been pulled over for speeding and had to pay fines. There did however appear to be some dodgy dealings going on as the competitors did not receive receipts upon paying and the police also wouldn’t take the money directly but would insist on having it placed under the seats or in the glove compartment.

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Day 25: Kiev ( rest day )

As the competitors under the age of 40 decided to get a taste of Kiev nightlife, Noele got back to the room at the same time as Mario’s alarm clock went off to wake up.
As the problem of not being able to access first, second or reverse gear was not fixed last night, Mario started to work on it this morning. With the help of three of the mechanics the problem could be solved far quicker than if Mario had been working alone. Dropping the gear box revealed that part of a broken plate from the gearbox support had become trapped in the gear linkage.
By 10:00 everything was finished and so we were able to explore Kiev, the first time that we could together see more than the garage on the rest day.
Taking the vernacular to the old part of town we decided to have a walk around. Kiev is extremely beautiful, filled with cobblestone streets and many historic buildings. We climbed one of the bell towers in order to get a view over the whole of the old part of the city. From the top we saw the golden domes of two other churches that we decided to later also have a look at.
The rally marshals had organized an optional bike tour that left our hotel early in the afternoon. We later discovered that the navigator of one of the cars managed to get himself completely lost and his bike stolen whilst on the tour!

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Day 24: Kharkiv – Kiev ( 485 km )

Walking into the car park this morning we were struck by the different appearance of our car. Over the course of the night the large Citroen logo on the grill had been covered in bright pink tape!! We weren’t however the only car to have been pinked, another one had a smiley face taped onto it’s front!
Today the driving was relatively easy, with no time trials but instead four passage controls that we had to check in at. Our route took us through the countryside and as a result we drove through more golden, wheat fields than it is possible to remember. Since our arrival in the Ukraine we have been struck by how welcomed the rally has been. In all the villages that we pass, the roads are lined with people who are waving and seem genuinely enthusiastic about the sight of the cars.
We weren’t having any problems with the car today until the last 100 or so kilometers, when we started having difficulty getting first and second gear. This wasn’t a problem on the motorway but became quite an issue when entering Kiev. With great difficulty we were able to make it to the hotel within our designated time. The motorway leading into Kiev is flanked by one grey housing block after another, however the further into town you get, the more beautiful it becomes.
Once we arrived at the hotel, Mario got straight to work on the car with the aim of having everything finished tonight so that he would for once be able to enjoy the rest day and see something of the city. However, our parking space which was located right next to the hotel entrance meant that a lot of the competitors would stop to chatter on their way past and thus distract Mario. After a few hours he had only managed to check the valve clearance so he decided to work on the rest in the morning while everyone else was still sleeping. 20130625-153117.jpg20130625-153217.jpg

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