An epic journey from Atlanta, Georgia to Genova, Italy – by way of Paris, London, Dover, Reims, Champagne, Lyon, Sansicario, and Asti.
7,500 km flying
100 km in trains
1,486 km driving
The mission – to bring my little Caterham 7 140 Roadsport from Sevens & Classics at Brands Hatch in the UK, home to Genova, Italy.
I started the journey after a trip for work to the US. Thursday was a digitalisation workshop with 24 executives at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta, followed by a couple of hours of track fun in 911s and Caymans.
The flight was at 8pm – a relatively short hop to Paris CDG where I grabbed a shower and caught a second flight to London Heathrow.
Four train rides and 90 minutes later I met my father at Victoria station. One more train and an Uber later we arrived at Brands Hatch where the car was waiting.
The mechanics had her running so she’d be warm and ready. We substituted the UK number plates to Italian ones, strapped our gear to the roll cage, and hit the road.
The initial run down to Dover was terrifying – in the semi-dark, just a few centimetres from the tarmac, surrounded by lorries, wind whistling through our hair, and the side-exit exhaust growling in our ears.
The ferry from Dover to Calais was a breeze and we made it down to Noeux-les-Mines by midnight without encountering any rain.
The next two days would either be wonderful or nightmarish depending on the weather. This journey was supposed to take place in late July, but trouble registering the car in Italy had delayed us until this weekend right at the end of October, facing thunderstorm warnings, possible snow in the Alps and floods in northern Italy.
As it happened, we were remarkably lucky – moving at about the same speed as the cold front as it swept across Europe. Indeed we only saw rain twice – the first time on that Saturday morning as we set out for Reims, and the second as we exited the Frejus tunnel that links France to Italy.
If it’s difficult getting into a Seven in normal conditions, you should try it with the roof up – especially if your 74 with dodgy knees. Dad was a complete trouper though, and folded himself in and out at each pit stop.
Dealing with the tickets and payment at the frequent toll booths was my job however, and that meant rolling awkwardly out of the car, palms on the wet, oily road, running round to stuff notes into the just-too-high-for-a-caterham machine, shrugging apologetically to the queue of cars forming behind us before squeezing back in an roaring off to the next one.
Really we shouldn’t have worried about the cars forced to wait for us. Everyone help up during our payment antics, seeing us refuelling, or watching us whizz past on the motorway greeted us with thumbs-up, smiles, and sometimes exuberant cheers and pumped fists!
We came to expect car windows to be filled with iPhones recording our progress, and we never got tired of the “woooooow”s from kids and adults alike. The Seven gets a lot of attention for the money 🙂
A quick detour in the sunshine to see the Reims cathedral turned out to be a mistake as it pushed our arrival in Chalons-en-Champagne back to 1:30 when all the restaurants close. What – is this Germany??
Dreams of Dom Perignon and Fois Gras quickly became a beer and a sandwich, but it was pleasant enough. By 2:30 we were on our way to Macon – just north of Lyon.
If you ever have the chance to visit this small french town huddled charmingly along the Saone-te-Loire river then don’t hesitate – unless you’re in a Caterham with lowered floors and 13″ track wheels. I will never know what possessed this lunatic little town to install hundreds of giant speed bumps (mountains) at every roundabout, and along every road. We scraped agonisingly across each one – holding up traffic as we used the opposite carriageway to find the lowest point, and so it was a huge relief when we made it to the charming Moulin di Gastronome hotel and restaurant where we finally got our fois gras, Charolais filets, and a selection of cheeses from a cart that was at least 5 feet long – all washed down with lashings of local Pinot Noir.
Day three was the longest. We covered 320 km in the morning before meeting Benedetta in Cesana for lunch, and another 310 in the afternoon, getting home around 7:30pm with only a detour to see my friend Andrea in Asti to break up the monotony of the autostrada.
The whole trip from Atlanta was 67 hours. I put about 200 euros of petrol in the car, and about the same in the toll booths.
The excited kids helped dad and me to clean 1489 km of grime off the car, and tuck her away until we next see the sun.
That night Genova was struck by a massive storm. Our garage flooded (fortunately the Seven was at my parents-in-law’s house), the garden was turned upside-down, the sea wall was breached and the family’s boat was destroyed alongside hundreds of others moored in the Rapallo harbour.
In total 9 people lost their lives, and the cleanup will take months. The airport was closed for 2 days while dad sat patiently in the British Airways lounge, and they finally bussed him and his fellow passengers to Turin. He arrived back in Dorset at midnight on Wednesday – about 55 hours late. Sorry dad!!
Many have asked why I didn’t ship the car. Wouldn’t it have been easier? Well yes, of course, but a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. I learned a lot about the car, saw new places, and shared an unforgettable experience with my dad. That was priceless.