BIGGSY TRAVELS

unique travel experiences

Driving a classic MGB around Silverstone

What’s it like to drive a classic MGB around the legendary racetrack at Silverstone?

Having grown up hearing about my dad’s various MGB GTs back in the 60s and then having had the pleasure to hire a lovely red 1969 model for his 60th birthday, I thought I’d ticked all the MGB boxes, apart from possibly owning an MGB in the future that is. But then along came the opportunity to be driven around Silverstone in one as part of MG car club’s MGLive! meeting. Helped by the fact that my girlfriend is an MG Car Club Member.

Heading under one of the many Silverstone bridges

Heading under one of the many Silverstone bridges

This was back in the Summer of 2016 and was made even more special as Rory from Top Gear was filming there on the same day, and on the track at the same time, albeit sufficiently far in front of us that we didn’t appear in any of the subsequent ‘Extra Gear’ footage! Here you can see them prepping the £95k MG Abingdon with its swift 0-60 in 3.8 seconds offering!

Extra Gear preparing the MG Abingdon for its circuit tour

Extra Gear preparing the MG Abingdon for its circuit tour

So what’s it all about? Well MGLive! is the biggest gathering of MGs in the world and even though my knowledge of MGs only really stretched to MGBs there were of course older MGAs, newer MGCs and many MG Rovers and MG Maestros as well. There were also many old men with beards but this didn’t appear to be a prerequisite for attending.

Check out our YouTube video below

Visiting the event myself and perusing the various trade stands, aisles of display cars and watching the racing out on the track would have been perfectly sufficient but we’d already booked a few laps on the track in our own MBG! (well my girlfriend’s parent’s MG). Her dad had explained it was a little bit different in previous years, whereby you could pretty much fly around the track as quick as you liked, so I was pleased that the circuit tours driver briefing dictated a 50mph maximum, no overtaking, and leaving plenty of room between cars. All fine by me.

The circuit tour driver's briefing

The circuit tour driver’s briefing

During the racing lunchtime break we assembled in a car park near Brooklands Corner where you could sense the excitement in the air. There was time to check out the row of waiting cars but we were told not to stray too far away as they wanted everyone to drive around the track in their allocated order. After about 20 minutes we were giving the nod to “start your engines”, although by the time the snake of cars actually gets going there’s plenty of time to switch on the ignition. However not wanting any awkward, embarrassing moments we made sure we started up along with everybody else. We didn’t want to blow our big moment!

Waiting near Brooklands Corner waiting for our circuit tour to start

Near Brooklands Corner waiting for our circuit tour to start

So following the queue of cars in front of us we went out onto the track and commenced the first of our two 3.66 mile long laps. Rather than finding the list of rules restricting it actually meant we could enjoy it more as we never felt anybody was going to be up our bum! In fact we never did get up to 50. Maybe 40 was our top speed. It was quite the thrill driving under the Silverstone banner on one of the long straights, and even though we were hardly speeding along, you lose all sense of speed on such wide, sweeping tracks anyway. There was no opportunity to swap drivers on the 2-lap procession and anyhow, I haven’t yet been signed off to drive the dad’s pride and joy. I’ll keep working on that 🙂

Acting as co-pilot to my driver as we set out onto the track

Acting as co-pilot to my driver as we set out onto the track

Keeping an eye on the MGF behind us

Keeping an eye on the MGF behind us

So after maybe 10/15 minutes we were all done and dusted and after passing the “chequered flag” along the ‘International Pits Straight’ we headed back to the communal car park to meet up with the parents. So no incidents. No dramas. A nice little spin for our M-reg Citroen yellow MGB GT and the bonus of seeing Extra Gear filmed, which did lead to my girlfriend’s dad making a small cameo appearance – I’m fairly sure chiefly due to his signature MGB owner’s beard 😉

Check out our experience watching our first Silverstone MotoGP race too.

My girlfriend's dad (white shirt) making an appearance on Extra Gear

My girlfriend’s dad (white shirt) making an appearance on Extra Gear

 

Getting pickpocketed in Bangkok

If I had to choose out of the two I’d probably prefer to be pickpocketed rather than mugged, but that didn’t lessen the initial shock when the former happened to me in Bangkok a few years back. It took just 30 seconds for me to notice what had happened as I did that reassuring pat of the trouser pocket “thing” that we do, but in doing so realised that the rectangular protrusion of my wallet wasn’t where it should be.

Soi Cowboy District in Bangkok

Soi Cowboy District in Bangkok. Source

Part of me felt violated, part of me felt stupid, a small part of me felt upset, part of me even felt guilty! After all it was 1am, I was in the less than salubrious district of Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, and I’d been ticking off that unique experience of watching live “ping pong ball” shows. Although to be honest I’d been more impressed by the entertainer firing out paper darts and popping balloons attached to the ceiling! Anyway I digress. How can a fairly savvy traveller like myself put myself in a position to be pickpocketed, and worse of all the pickpocket had been talking to me quite openly beforehand?

It all happened back in October 2009 when I left a bar at the end of the night and started to make my way home. A hispanic guy in the street started chatting to me, correctly guessing I was English and walked with me all of 10 yards down the road. My “spidey” senses were on full alert so I was fully aware of my surroundings and his reasonably close proximity to me, although the street was fairly busy and it wasn’t just me and him standing there so I didn’t particularly feel in any danger. Within seconds he was initiating a half-hearted football tackle on me with an imaginary football while smiling and cheering “Ronaldo, Rooney!” I went along with it, while still continuing in the same direction. In hindsight I can now see why he went in for a second fake tackle. He hadn’t been able to get at my wallet the first time round!

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney - not that I blame them!

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney – not that I blame them of course Source

Looking back, what had given me a slight false sense of security was that the trousers I was wearing were of the cotton “backpacker” variety and had zipped front pockets. If my wallet had been in my back jeans pocket, poking its head out, looking back down the street I can understand how it could have easily been swiped. But this one was safely “locked” away. So the first pretend tackle was to undo the zip (something that no doubt happens to Western tourists for a completely different reason in this part of town) and the second tackle was to take the wallet out.

Zipped trouser pockets - not pickpocket proof though

Zipped trouser pockets – not pickpocket proof though. Source

It was at this point I was getting slightly uneasy with the unwanted attention and made it clear I wasn’t playing any more football and headed off on my way, but not before my new friend had the audacity to shout back saying that he and his friends were meeting for a drink in the bar down the road in 20 minutes and that I should join them. “I don’t think so” I thought. Then just 20 strides away I pattered my left pocket out oh habit and realised my wallet wasn’t there. I turned round in panic (not quite in blind panic, but panic all the same) scouting out the groups of people in the near vacinity but nothing. I moved back to where the game of football had taken place but nobody I recognised was there either. At this point I just wanted to get the hell out of there. However it was least a 1h45 minute walk back my hostel in Khaosan Road and how was I going to manage that without any money? And that’s when beautifully I reached into the zipped rear pocket of my trousers and pulled out a small wad of 100 Baht notes (about £10 total), easily enough to get me back home in a Tuk-Tuk.

Heading back home in my Tuk Tuk

Heading back home in my Tuk Tuk. Source

I was still slightly shocked by the sad end to the night but flying along the streets back to the relative sanctuary of Khaosan Road, a wry smile came across my face as I pictured the culprit opening up my cheap, blue “freebie” Fosters wallet in the shadows to disappointly find out it contained NO cards, NO notes,  just 2-3 coins worth about 20p in total and a solditary PADI divers card I’d got back in Australia a few years earlier. So essentially he would have opened it up and seen a picture of me inside giving him a big “two fingers” and a “**** YOU!” Now that was totally satisfying, made up for any intial upset and most importantly made be much more aware of looking after my belongings in the future. Now this could have happened anywhere. It just happened to take place in Bangkok! I’d certainly go back to this beautful city again.

Anybody else been pickpocketed on their travels? Or worse still mugged?

The East Side Gallery in Berlin

Berlin is a city I’ve visited twice now. Once on a school A-level trip back in 1992 and once just last month as we watched the Berlin Marathon. It was on day 1 of our sightseeing that we introduced ourselves to the city with a 35 minutes walk from the Brandenburg Gate down to “Checkpoint Charlie” but I really wanted to see more of the infamous Berlin wall.

Berlin Wall - East Side Gallery

Berlin Wall – East Side Gallery

Stumbling across many billboards dotted across the city describing ‘Der Berliner Mauer’ made we want to see an original stretch of it even more, and where better to see it than the ‘East Side Gallery’, SE of the city centre on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (Google link here). It’s the longest art gallery in the world with a length of 1,316 meters.

There are many other isolated pockets of the wall with the ‘Berlin Wall Memorial‘ on Bernauer Str and the Topography of Terror on Niederkirchnerstraße 8 being two great locations. However on this occasion the 4 of us wanted to visit this graffitted section with its famous artworks of Honecker, a Trabi car and various other thought-provoking pieces of artwork.

The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery from across the road

The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery from across the road

The East Side Gallery is over 1km long!

The East Side Gallery is over 1km long!

Take the S-Bahn to Berlin Warschauer Straße station (or Berlin Ostbahnhof which is slightly closer at its western end) and stroll all of 600m downhill to the eastern tip of it. It’s pretty obvious when you get there. At this point you are still in old East Berlin, with the “death strip” lying behind the wall, followed by the River Spree and then the sanctuary of old West Berlin. Make sure you look behind the wall too as there’s information on the hidden side of the wall, a view of the river, plus the knowledge that you’re stood slap bang in the middle of the “death strip” and just 29 years ago you’d have been shot for being there!

It was fitting that it was a dreary day when we went as this added a slightly fitting sombre atmosphere to where we were walking. After all, the imposing wall was an ideologically as well as a physically barrier separating loved ones from one another for many years. In our group of 4 we stopped at each and every piece of artwork, sometimes in silence, sometimes in shared amusement, sometimes falling back individually to contemplate a certain piece … or just in the vain attempt to take a photo of the artwork without anybody other people bring in it!

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - the "death strip" behind the wall

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – the “death strip” behind the wall

Some East Side Gallery facts

  1. Building of the wall (Errichting der Mauer) = 1961
  2. Fall of the wall (Mauerfall) = 9th November 1989
  3. Painting of the wall (Bemalung) = February to September 1990
  4. Repair work (Instandsetzung) = 2009
  5. Length = 1,316m
  6. Cost to visit = free 🙂

My favourite pieces of artwork along the wall …

The great thing about the wall is that everybody’s going to have their favourites. Mine were probably influenced by them being the most famous, or of late of course the most Instagrammed!

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - Trabi! Birgit Kinder: Test the Rest

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – Trabi! Birgit Kinder: Test the Rest

Honecker and Brezhnev - that famous kiss. Dmitri Wrubel: Mein Gott hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben

Honecker and Brezhnev – that famous kiss. Dmitri Wrubel: Mein Gott hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - funny heads by Thierry Noir

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – funny heads by Thierry Noir

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery Group Shot by Gamil Gimajew

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery Group Shot by Gamil Gimajew

… and some thought-provoking ones!

Many of the pieces had a simple message that no doubt go in and out of fashion dependent on what political factors are taking place in the world at the time. This one below was getting a lot of interest due to Trump’s plans to build his ‘Mexican wall’ and translates as “There are many walls to be dismantled”. It was going down very well with the American tourists we encountered!

One for Donald Trump.

One for Donald Trump. “There are many walls to be dismantled” – Ines Bayer, Raik Hönemann

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - Afrikaniche Weisheit by Nette

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – Afrikaniche Weisheit by Nette

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek: Curriculum Vitae Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - death count

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek: Curriculum Vitae

So get down to the East Side Gallery. Take your time walking backwards and forwards and make sure to step around the back to look at the other side. If you like souvenirs check out the small shop at the very eastern end where you can still buy a “genuine” piece of the wall. It’s now 28 years since the Berlin wall came down so do you think these souvenirs are genuine? It was 96 miles long so probably? Either way most gift shops around town are selling them as well. Tschüß.

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