Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spittal Pond

I meant this blog to be about travels outside Bermuda but today Viv and I enjoyed a fabulous walk around one of Bermuda's few nature parks, Spittal Pond, in the company of an extraordinary Bermudian naturalist, David Wingate, and some friends.

I'd not been to Spittal Pond for at least 10 years, maybe more.  It is a small lake (OK pond) with what looks like scrubby surrounds.  That's what a wilderness looks like apparently and which is what Spittal Pond is all about.  David Wingate said he didn't really know how large the park is -- "between 40 and 60 acres, its a bit difficult to estimate" -- but he did know the pond is "about 9 acres" in size.  It doesn't take that long to walk around but if you are in David's presence and keep asking him questions, any questions, you could be there forever.  Being a financial person, I am eternally grateful that there are people like David around for if everyone was like me, well ...

As we are in an inter-glacial period the water levels apparently are high and steadily rising.  100,000 years ago water levels were lower and that meant Bermuda ended without sandy beaches beyond the reef system currently surrounding the island at which point there were cliffs all round and very deep water, this being the Bermuda volcano.  This would have meant the island would have been about 400 square miles in size, plenty of room in fact for everyone to own a piece of the rock.  However with a flurry of risings and fallings of water in between, the most recent being 10,000 or so years ago, the current Bermuda was formed along with the beaches.

Rushing forward about 9,600 years, first a marooned Portuguese sailor defaced Bermuda with the first graffiti and about 50-60 years later Admiral Sir George Somers destroyed a large chunk of reef in the process "discovering" Bermuda for England.  Shortly after, Bermuda was deliberately settled and Royal Navy Cartographer Norwood decided to measure and re-organise the island in sections (the big sections are called "parishes" and the original sub-divisions "tribes").  The tribes were for some reason laid out in a simple north/south pattern completely ignoring the contours and features of the land so Spittal Pond is in 10 lots of land.  Scroll forward to the 1920's when government decided on a nature park, they had to buy these lots from the then current owners.  9 of the 10 were paid between £800 and £1,000 per lot but the 10th was a realtor who fully understood the value of sea front land in a growing Bermuda and held out for a "special" deal.  And so the Spittal Pond nature park came into being.

Just after WWII the endemic Bermuda cedar population was wiped out by insect infestation and naturalists decided on replanting with casuarinas.  Without a serious hurricane for several decades, many of the casuarinas grew to as much as 100 feet tall (particularly around Spittal Pond where the soil is incredibly rich in nutrients) so that when Hurricane Emily and its associated tornadoes came ploughing through the island in September 1987, they were flattened pretty much all over the island.  These days you can actually see the pond from South Shore road when you drive by.

As this was a bird themed walk David frequently broke off his discourse to point out an American cuckoo and then 5 or 6 greves paddling by (both migratory).  However he cautioned that the world currently is in Extinction Phase 5 -- with respect to birds, this is very serious as many species are declining massively in numbers.  David said 30 years ago, the pond would have been covered in migratory birds.  Today we saw no more than a dozen.

It has to be immensely frustrating to be a naturalist.  You operate in an industry (if it can be called that) where few understand why conservation is important and what the cause and effect of even casual actions may be.  Fewer even care.  So you have to be grateful that voices in the wilderness like David Wingate are content to devote their entire lives to something so worthwhile for so apparently little reward.  However David has succeeded wonderfully well in recovering the endemic cahow (a marine bird) from total extinction by the creation of the natural haven on Nonsuch Island.  He says there could be as many as 100 breeding pairs now.

David Wingate and a Bermuda longtail next.  Being low and open, the biggest danger to the longtail are cats, dogs and rats.
However Spittal Pond is alive and well for now and ready to be visited.  If you can have David Wingate with you, so much the better.  You'd better go soon as apparently this is a really exciting transitional period (geologically speaking) with sea levels rising, mangroves moving in and general salination levels off the scale.  You probably have a couple of thousand years before things really change.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New York New York

... so good they named it twice.  That's a great line for a song and for some reason I always think of it when I go through NYC.  It could of course be the immigration forms you have to fill in even if in transit which is often the case when flying into JFK airport.  However this time I had an address as Vivien and I would be here a couple of days, mainly to allow me to attend board meetings.  We would be staying for one day at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South.

Here's a recommendation for frequent travelers:  join a club with accomodation that has club affiliations all over the world.  I joined the University Club of Toronto as they were having a membership drive (a common worldwide affliction currently is that most clubs are financially strained and keen to take in new members) and they have 300+ club affiliations worldwide.  I had stayed at one in London in the summer and had for ages wanted to do the same in New York.  The room rate is pretty much the same as a hotel rate so there's no advantage there but that wasn't the reason for staying there.   The location itself is sensational adjoining Central Park on 58/59th Street and we'd walked past the street level cocktail bar window during a previous trip and I'd promised myself a cocktail from that bar.  OK, pretty spurious I know but there had to be a reason.  Vivien used the club's magnificent sporting facilities, something I have promised myself I will do in the future.

View over Central Park from our room at NYAC.  Pretty nice.

So why clubs over perfectly good hotels?  Most clubs have club rules, many dress code related (NYAC does) but the reason for staying is the basic premise.  Most clubs are not for profit organisations so they don't need to make 15% ROE every year.  My Toronto club targets covering costs less depreciation as its goal -- i.e. staying cash flow positive.  They also tend to be located in lovely downtown locations.  This stems from the days before highways and commuter trains when the family stayed in the country whilst the meal ticket headed for the big smoke to earn the daily crust.  So comfortable but reasonably basic rooms, good bar and dining options and sporting facilities are the order of the day.

Where you get sent if you don't follow the dress code.  Mind you, we did know the rules.

New York has a great buzz to it, possibly more than any other city I have visited.  I love Toronto but it is waaaay more relaxed.  New York just seems to be a very big mish mash of residential, shopping, schools, big business and neon all traveling at 900 miles an hour.  Neon looks tacky elsewhere but in New York it fits right in.  I've always thought I wouldn't much want to live there all the time, great though to visit.  But why?  Not sure now.

Vivien and I had decided we'd make ourselves familiar with public transport instead of simply jumping in a taxi.  While I won't pretend to be an expert, the subway is a good system and understandable.  It is grubby though.  We'd decided we needed to eat at Katz's world famous deli on East Houston Street in the Lower East Side so became familiar with the F Train.  What you forget though when you look at the subway/street map is that Manhattan whilst a great walking city is huge.  Everything is crammed up against one another but that is irrelevant when you have to walk it and don't really know where you are or where you are going (we had approximate details) but ultimately we did find Katz's and it was worth it.

The Food Channel has done much to elevate the art of eating and culinary arts to superstar status, some times I feel pointlessly, but in Katz's case it was definitely worth it.  Outside looks 1920's tacky and inside is pretty much the same which is part of its charm if you can call an aircraft hanger sized diner with old furniture and bits of paper tacked up everywhere (you can hardly call them menus) charming.  Cash only and you have to line up to pay.  If you lose the ticket someone gives you as you walk in (evidencing your entry) you pay $50 penalty.  They also had the "When Harry met Sally" sign up.  I thought it was great.  Trouble was we couldn't eat everything.

Next was the pursuit of culture and in New York it is everywhere.  Museums, theatre, art galleries, cinema, music ... you name it, New York has the best on display every day.  You just have to find it.  I relied on Time Out which was pretty OK but I guess with a city that size you cannot cover everything and then typically only the new stuff that's on that week.  It doesn't help much trying to find out what is there all the time.  For that you need a (gulp) guide book or local knowledge.  We settled for film and tickets for the following night's theatre visit and slowly digested Katz's mixed meat plate most agreeably.

We moved hotels the following day to where my meetings would be held and decided we'd head out for more film before the show we'd bought tickets for but this time of a more offbeat nature and found oursleves at the Lincoln Centre.  We'd checked out tickets for a John Williams concert and other things going on at one of their 10 (at least) different auditoriums but settled on a movie about the sub-prime melt down and in particular the actions of one specific investment bank no longer around.  I tend to be cynical about films about business matters (I include the movie "Wall Street" here too) as while entertaining they are usually superficial and simplistically demonise the bad uber wealthy capitalists at the top.  Things are never as black and white as they are made out on the movies but that I suppose is because the movie makers only have 90 minutes to set the scene, define the plot and then work it all out with a happy ending.  Well this movie set all that on its head as I think it did a good job of explaining things (OK you need some basics in this environment as they talked about the bank's VAR in the first 3 minutes without explaining what that was and why it was important to banks' solvency calculations) and actually just stopped.  No heroes, no happy ending.  The movie is called "Margin Call" and is well worth watching.

But I was going to talk about the Lincoln Centre and how impressive it is.  It is VERY.

Its difficult to assess how well a city/country is doing just by being in that country's most vibrant city as it is always seemingly busy so I don't have any insights into how well the US is faring.  An ex-colleague said to me once when we were discussing the US experience during the Depression of the 1930's that people tend to forget that however bad things were (and they were) 91% of the population still had jobs throughout this period.  That is the same as now and given that we've seen some months of positive (albeit sluggish) US growth, I believe that things are getting better although more slowly than people hope/want.

Just from a brief visit to New York, it is pretty hopeless to assess how well things are going as its always busy with people spending left, right and centre.  If obtaining a theatre ticket is any bellwether, we were lucky enough to buy some of the last $100 (cheapest) tickets so things must be just fine.

And that was pretty much the outcome of my business meetings too: things are getting slowly better in the US but "you gotta watch out for those Yuro-peens".

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where on earth is Sooke?

A tennis buddy of mine, Gary, invited the tennis regulars to his daughter Eden's bat mitzvah, a big coming of age thing in the Jewish faith, the only proviso being that it would be in Vancouver, BC.  Only Viv and I could make it so we added some time to make it a proper trip and take in Vancouver Island too.  Just as it happened I read about a website that showed deals for the day called, I took a look at it, added Vancouver as my favourite city and forgot about it.  Two days later the deal of the day was a 3-night stay at a seaside lodge/B&B on Vancouver Island.  "Great" we thought and took a look at the island, the place and the lodge/B&B.  All seemed pretty good and the deal was 40% off regular prices so all seemed just fine ... and that's how we found Sooke Harbour House.

Totem pole outside window - Yikes!!

Phew, that's better.  No fog now and the view from our bedroom.

Now Vancouver Island looks pretty much like a big lump of land but in reality there's not much land that sticks together in nice big lumps, its all riven with inlets, bays, harbours, rivers and other assorted water related things.  At the bottom right of the island is Victoria (its capital) and to the left along the one road in and out is Sooke (or T'Souk according to the first nation board hanging off a tree along the road).

We'd spent a few days in Toronto en route with our son, Ali, and took a direct flight to Victoria to pick up a car (with GPS this time, I remembered the occasional agony in Europe a few weeks back and didn't want to replicate that this time -- ha! Just put in Butchart Gardens and wait for fireworks.  More of that later) and headed down to the B&B just in time for a nice log fire and the sound of water over St Jean de Fuca Strait -- the thread of water separating Vancouver Island, BC, Canada from Washington State, USA.

Mt Ranier in Washington State, amazing view.

The first day we'd organised a whale watching tour which turned out to be great fun.  The weather was fabulous after the morning fog had burned off and the sea glassy. The boat was called an apache and was a very fast inflatable holding 12 or so people.  After 50 or so minutes with the mountain range getting no closer at all (shows that the strait wasn't so much of a thread as it appears) we passed a lighthouse at Race Rocks (see for the webcam) and after a further 5 or so minutes joined a small group of other whale watchers to check out the J-pod of killer whales that were bimbling around.

I've been on whale watching boats before and seen precisely zero, possibly due to sea sickness, but also due to not finding any.  However these orcas lived here so seeing them was pretty well guaranteed but we could only stay nearby for 30 minutes by law but it was really neat seeing these marvellous huge creatures even if it was mostly the dorsal fin, tail and occasionally their backs when they came up for air.

This guy's name apparently is J22

Whale watching boat, the apache

Returning we took a closer look at the seals around Race Rocks and then headed back to Sooke where Viv and I had an appointment with the world-renowned Butchart Gardens.

You would have thought that a GPS with a guide that seeks out major nearby attractions would be able to find them.  You would also have thought that there would be dozens of road signs helping you find this most wonderful of attractions.  I certainly would but that I suppose is me so following the single road sign into Victoria town centre was almost entirely the wrong thing to do.  However all in good time we found Butchart Gardens and entered a dream world of beauty.

The Sunken Gardens.  This is a disused quarry planted mainly by Mrs B herself.

Now Vancouver Island was discovered by James Cook in 1778 on his 3rd major voyage, this time looking for the north west passage, as he ploughed ashore and was pretty much immediately killed by the locals.  With him was William Bligh (of HMS Bounty fame, himself an amazing mariner which fact has been conveniently forgotten courtesy of the Hollywood movies) and a Lieutenant Vancouver.  This last liked it so much (maybe because of the wonderful harbour in Victoria) he began to survey the island and before the first nation folks could do much about it, the British had landed to stay.  Those early days were all about fishing and whaling and then there was gold and a massive population influx.  Once that was over there remained even so a decent sized population and one thing they needed was cement to build stuff.  And that's where Mr. Butchart came in.

Mr B was from Toronto where he was in the building trade.  A 3rd generation Scot and doubtless a formidable Presbytarian, Mr B was a toughie.  What Victoria needed was cement and the new fangled stuff called Portland Cement too, none of that wishy washy stuff.  So he bought land outside the town where all the raw materials were easy to come by, only trouble being that the heat needed to make the stuff was too great for the chimneys he built.  So he went to England to play golf (really, I read this in the family story!) and ran into a long lost cousin living in Kent who turned out also to be in the building trade.  And he knew how to make Portland Cement.  So Mr B and the other Mr B headed back to Victoria and made it work.

Mrs B from the pictures looks one formidable woman.  The type of person that built an empire in fact (her name was Jennie by the way).  Jennie's parents died when she was young so she was made a ward of the court.  This is in the 1850's in Toronto.  Somehow in a land and world not known for kindness and generosity, Jennie managed to earn an arts scholarship to study in Paris but along the way met Mr B who popped the question and took her off on honeymoon to 'this cute place called Victoria'.  It all sounded good to Jennie who raised a big family (of course) and decided that what she wanted to do with her artistic talents was to take gardening to an all new level.  So she began, small at first and then on an industrial scale.

These flowers are called "Dusty Miller"

Right next door is Mr B's cement factory with all the chimneys bar one now gone.  Jennie planted huge trees to mask the sight and sound of this eyesore and then started to lay out the gardens.  The first formal garden was the Japanese Garden in 1908 with others coming along thick and fast when Mr B turned over more and more of the used up quarries.

Viv's peonies ...

The family home these days is testament to her skill and devotion.  The gardens are still owned and run by the family and are truly lovely.  Viv went mad about the peonies and dahlias!

... and Dahlias
Next day we went zip lining!  This is simply an adrenaline rush thing where you jump off a balcony on top of a tree in a forest and on a line hurtle towards another tree/balcony/forest combo and stop.  Great fun too.  I'd been in Alaska and had been the white knuckle idiot on that occasion but this time I was able to sit back and enjoy it more.  So did Viv.  We ran into the same family from whale watching the day before, it really is that small of a place.

Its impossible to look elegant when zip-lining

So what does Vancouver Island do?  Not sure really but logging and fishing are biggish but the main thing is tourism these days and the services that go along with it.  The weather is supposedly Mediterranean and not the 7 months perma-frost found elsewhere in Canada so its a popular retirement spot too.  Last month BC voted in a referendum to do away with the federal sales tax called HST and revert back to the state run sales tax.  Not sure why but I guess BC is sick of supporting the eastern provinces.  Interestingly too last month the government reinstated the word "Royal" in front of the air force and navy and told all their embassies worldwide to make sure the Queen's picture is placed front and centre as the head of state.  I guess they must have enjoyed Will and Kate's visit here a lot.

Victoria seems a nice city -- 78,000 people supposedly.  Viv and I wanted to go round the BC Museum but after zip lining and the fact it closed at 5, we wouldn't have had the time so settled for the Imax there inside which was terrific.

The B&B provided a 7-course gorging menu for us on the final night and with this and a move to Vancouver proper on the cards, today is likely to be an easy day.  The ferry should be nice though.

Thanks Sooke Harbour and Vancouver Island.  It was really nice.  I hope to be back sometime.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

London Finale

The end to the tour was a couple of days in London with Ali and my mother-in-law (and Ali's grandma), Anna.  The plan was to stay at a club in St James (The East India Club) and using Ali's terminology forage out from there.  Ali had to deal with his Uni accommodation issues so I would organise the itinerary for Anna.

I haven't really complained about much in the blogs to date but must make an exception here as I find it scandalous that public transport in England is soooo expensive.  At a time when economic disarray is the norm, public transport should be cheap. Despite what the spin doctors, talking heads and all around numbskulls in the media say about things, the UK is in a nearly bankrupt mess.  This is courtesy of the former government and stupidity/cupidity of the banks and where real inflation is far higher than the 'normalised core' figures the government uses to set policy.  Now that is something that gets me.  How can you exclude food and energy costs when calculating 'core' inflation?  I know the argument is that it is irrelevant at the macro level but the individual doesn't eat computers and drive their cars using flat screen TV's.  Those are the things that are coming down in price.  The consumer eats food, consumes petrol and gas in driving and heating things, and generally consumes all that stuff which is excluded from the 'core' figures.  The reality is that the UK is getting more expensive, unemployment figures are continuously being tinkered with (downwards) by the statisticians in government and the country is facing a huge debt burden that cannot sensibly be repaid in generations.  That will crimp economic growth in the future and it looks like those numbers are starting to be seen now.  All of the political posturing counts for nothing so long as the reality is as bad as it is.  So why is public transport so wretchedly expensive?  I would have thought that making one small aspect of public life slightly more tolerable would have been a good thing now but clearly having privatised public transport, the new owners want their 15% ROE or they start to cut.  Some things really do need to be nationalised and transport is one of those things.  And that's from a died in the wool capitalist who believes that government should stay out of everything!

So we took the coach and not the train.  The coach was clean, virtually empty and got to Victoria Coach Station in 1 hour 45 minutes -- just about the same time the train/tube combo would have taken.  The coach driver helped with the bags and stowed them in the bus' hold.  On the train nobody would have helped and we'd have had to struggle with them on the train and then the tube.  The East India Club was welcoming and ready too so we just dropped the bags and headed off -- Ali to Uni and his accommodation stuff, Anna and I to paint the town red.

It was nearly 3pm and only 100 yards away from Fortnum & Masons so the immediate question of lunch/tea was simple to navigate after which I proceeded to walk Anna around town.

The Mall on Sunday
It was a beautiful day and really nice to bimble around fairly aimlessly taking in shops, Bond Street, Oxford Street and taking tea in a couple of places for a rest.  London is a really nice city and it came as quite a shock then and in the next couple of days to realise that having driven all over Europe and visited endless world heritage sites and old towns, medieval cities, Roman ruins and all the rest that the best place of all was here.  You name it, London has it.  OK, not the weather and beaches but certainly all the rest.  Maybe no Roman amphitheatres either but more museums of all sorts, more palaces in good condition, more memorials and monuments to people of global importance ... well its a huge cosmopolitan city with millennia of history and most importantly it has never been invaded and had a major competing power take it over although as Wellington after Waterloo in 1815 said there have been some close run things.

Dinner that night was in my favourite Youngs pub off Bond Street (called 'The Guinea' -- great steak pies) when we caught up with Ali.

The next day being Sunday was quiet in London so simply wonderful to walk around.  The first obstacle was a road race with 20,000 entries running past the club so Anna and I couldn't cross the street for a while but when we did I walked Anna through 3 parks in a couple of hours -- first St James' Park and the Serpentine, then Green Park and finally Hyde Park.  Just wonderful to see so many Londoners out walking, running, biking or just bimbling.  And as for the tourists, well there were too many to count.

You just have to love the guy in the chicken suit!
Anna told me that Chinese people always referred to Buckingham Palace as the 'dog house' because the statues around the place looked like dogs, hence the nickname.  Never knew that.

With Anna outside the "Dog House"
We stopped off here and there for a brief rest and finally ended up in a Chinese restaurant in Baker Street for dim sum before splitting up and going our separate ways.  Ali wanted to check on some shops.  Anna felt like doing the same or having a rest and in everyone's absence I took in a museum and what a museum it was.

Of course Wellington and Waterloo related, it was the Wellesley family's London residence Apsley House which these days is a museum show casing the Iron Duke's china, silver, gold and art work.  Apparently after the Battle of Vittoria in 1813 when Wellington thrashed Boney's brother Jerome, then King of Spain, and finally kicked the French out of the Peninsular, a cavalry charge overtook Jerome's baggage train and captured it all.  The officer in charge brought the carriages back to the duke who was too busy to pay much attention so he said box it up and send it to London and promptly forgot all about it.  After Waterloo the duke was in London and had a bit of time to take a look and to his surprise found hundreds of works of art, gold, silver, etc.  For this was the entire looted treasury of Spain that Jerome was trying to take back with him to France.

It must have been a temptation for Wellington to say thanks very much and get hanging but he wrote to the restored King of Spain and told him where his treasury was and how it got there.  The King of Spain wrote back thanking the duke for his honesty and generosity and said as a small thank you for liberating Spain from the French yoke, keep it.  The duke did just that other than for 6 huge masterworks which celebrated the history of Spain and lineage of its rulers that he had copied (and hung).  He then sent the originals back to the King of Spain.  Clearly the duke had quite a bit of class.

What is the rule about being on a horse?
What remains is magnificent.  In addition, the duke received a lot of presents from grateful European heads of state.  Where you and I may send a card and bottle of wine, the heads of state sent 400 piece dinner sets commemorating the duke's life and battles.  He also acquired booty from France and all manner of other magnificent stuff that really needed a very large house to show off.  Apsley House is where the duke held his annual Waterloo banquets when he hauled all this stuff out but these days it is simply a joy to see it all laid out.  As for the paintings ... I am not a mad art fan and rarely go to art galleries but seeing 300+ 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century old masters in one place hung as they were in a sort of any old how manner put shivers down my spine.  The duke really was quite something and this museum really is quite a place.  And it is not one of the must see sights of London.  You do really have to look for it.

The last night was quiet and we parted, Ali with Anna back to Canterbury, me to Heathrow with sadness knowing the trip was all but over.

Can't wait for what's next though...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ars Longa, Vita Modus

One of the real high points of the tour was the Modus and the arrangement with Renault.  I don't know why it is not more widely advertised but I found out about the scheme when looking to rent a car for 3 weeks via the usual rental firms and was ploughing through endless rules and regulations about where I couldn't drive (anywhere outside western Europe) which was a bit annoying considering where we wanted to go but on the broker website, I entered the dates I wanted and up came a suggestion: "have you thought about leasing?"

Well, no I hadn't actually so I read on a little more.  The contract was set up as a sort of guaranteed sale/buy back of a brand new vehicle.  I didn't really get the details so called the Renault Canada number and talked through it and glory be, it is totally kosher and actually works!  All you have to be is non-EU resident to qualify.  Having a UK passport I had to prove residence outside the EU and go through the shopping list of documents they needed as the deal really was a sale and buy back.  The nice upside was that there was no restriction on where I could drive and the fully comprehensive insurance was included in the price.  AND it was less to rent this way than say through Avis or Hertz.

Its all about the VAT of course which is why if you are UK resident, the whole thing falls down. I don't know if it works for non-UK but EU residents.  We had red number plates that identified us (according to the Renault lady) as tourists and targets!  Thanks.  But it did let us spot other "tax dodgers" as Ali called them.

The pick up points for Renault were all round France and at various other places including London but in these cases with a delivery charge.  As we were heading to Calais anyway and had a hire car in England already, I simply arranged to drop the UK car off in Dover, walked into the ferry terminal and bought a ferry ticket, walked off the ferry in Calais and into the area where the Renault pick up point was.

The new Modus
 It was then I realised that ALL the French manufacturers do this -- i.e. Peugeot and Citroen -- because the Renault lady was also the Peugeot and Citroen lady too.  And Jan later told me that the Germans do it as well.  But out of a cast of thousands I had chosen the Modus as our tour vehicle.  It wasn't the smallest in the fleet, nor the swankiest, but looked a good, solid vehicle that would go from A to B and then C and ... Z.  It would also hold all our stuff and at a pinch we could sleep in it (didn't have to put that one to the test).

It passed with flying colours!

May of the drives were long.  Le Touquet to La Rochelle for example was 750 kms and the Milan to Stuttgart day was 8-9 hours long.  Everything worked beautifully.  Part of this was due to the fact we collected it with only 5 kms on the clock -- the Renault lady recommended we should use a qualified Renault dealer to do its first service at 25,000 kms!  During these journeys Ali and I worked out a sort of lineage for Renault vehicles starting at the bottom: Clio son of Modus

Next was the siblings: Megane brother of Modus and Espace big brother of Modus.

And finally the parents:  Scenic father of Modus.

But of course, there was the black sheep of the family: Kangoo.

The nice thing was that each day I started the car, the comforting message popped up saying that oil, water and all the rest of it was "bon".

Modus out on the town one night in Split
One irritant was that Ali being under 25 wasn't allowed to drive but he navigated well.

A big plus of course was the never ending road photos that Ali took at various places.  Most from the car came with a bit of Modus in them whether screen reflection, door frame or something else like a road sign, road barrier, tree or bush blocking the way to whatever the photo's object was.

One of the many tunnels in Autoroute du Sud in France

Portofino in the background ... honest!

On the road in Croatia towards Rajetka and Split

Heading down to Dubrovnic

15 minutes in Bosnia

The fjord in Montenegro towards Kotor
Lost in Vienna

Raining at last in Austria

Great photo.  This is a chemical plant in Austria normally invisible but because of the black rain clouds the white smoke stands out.  Ali took several of this with the best (!) obscured by a tiny road sign that came out of nowhere at the last moment
We tried to keep up with frontiers and customs posts too.  Some were very substantial and we could easily imagine what life could have been like pre-EU when you had to stop everywhere.

Italy/Slovenia border post

Into Croatia for the first time 

The countries we visited were (in order) France, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia (we think), Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.

Modus in Kotor

Driving in Serbia (maybe) or Bosnia

Bosnian border with someone

Bosnian road engineer on mobile phone ...  it happens there too!
Modus in trouble! Parking ticket in Zadar

Austria for the first time ... one day we criss crossed into Austria,  Switzerland and Germany on many occasions

Trust the Swiss to go over the top with their border post

But we did come up with THE name for Modus:  OPTIMUM MODUS TRANSPORTAE.  Thanks Modus, you were great!