Tag Archives: Miss Daisy

(Here are Part 2 “Impatient to Run Free” and Part 3 “I know one when I see one” of this trilogy.)

“You’ve got a dream job. You’re always on holiday, aren’t you?” is what we at On the Road hear all the time. I love what I do, but one long holiday it is not. So what is it like when we’re on the road? 

Take one day earlier this summer, June 23, as an example. Pei Fen and I were in Slovenia researching our new European itinerary. We left Ljubljana, the country’s capital, at 8am. Our first stop was at the Postonja Caves, although we just had enough time to make a GPS waypoint – the trip down into the cave was squeezed in later in our trip. Our next stop was an hour’s drive away in Lipica, the stud farm for the famous Lipizzaner horses. From there we drove an hour out of our way for lunch in a restaurant recommended by Slovenian friends.

Spot the Ferrari...

Spot the Ferrari…

After an excellent lunch (more on which later), we had a long drive south and into Croatia for a 3pm appointment with Istria’s regional Director of Tourism. By then the temperature had reached 37°C, although we kept the air-conditioning turned off in our car, relishing the dry heat after weeks of wet weather. After the meeting (held in a darkened room with no air-con and cups of room-temperature water, transforming our relish for the heat into a strong desire for a/c), we revved up Little Red – the colour of our VW Up! was a shade of red that made it look as though it was trying to impersonate a Ferrari – and headed farther south to visit one of our selected hotels for an update on the progress of their renovations and a detailed discussion of the arrangements for our first group of guests.

Even the ice cream was salty...

Even the ice cream was salty…

By this time it was 7pm, but we weren’t finished yet! Pei Fen and I went to find the team hotel we had researched and booked. But after bouncing along a pot-holed dirt road, turning left, right, back, and forward again, we just weren’t able to find it. So, to Plan B! “I know of another place, it’s a bit more expensive, but never mind, let’s call them. I hope they’ve got rooms…” We shamelessly name-dropped the Director of Tourism, finagling their last two rooms, drove there***

Miss Daisy's sister in Istria?

Miss Daisy’s sister in Istria?

, checked in, and headed out again, at 8pm, on another 45min drive to a restaurant I had tried before and wanted Pei Fen to experience: “Believe me, it’s awesome…and totally worth the drive!” In the event, though, the dinner took two-and-a-half-hours, because the chef wanted to showcase her best, and each dish was too salty – even the ice cream. By the time we returned to our hotel it was after midnight, and we had to be up by 5:45am for another, even longer day.

What a day! Does it still sound like a dream job? More like a nightmare perhaps. And yet this day was great because, amidst all the busyness, two experiences made it as special as any I can recall in a long, long time. One was seeing the majestic Lipizzaner horses; the other was the trip to find our lunch restaurant. Stay tuned for the stories of each of these magical experiences.





Miss Daisy in China

Miss Daisy in China…

*** Believe it or not, on the way to our hotel we came across a gleaming yellow Caterham Super 7, exactly like Little Yellow (小黄) which I drove 21,000km across China in 2007.

The Istrian countryside...a small corner of paradise...as Italy used to be...

The Istrian countryside…a small corner of paradise…as Italy used to be…

Interested in our new itinerary?  Please see here the Journey Dossier for Austrian-Hungarian Lands I: Vienna, the Adriatic, the Alps and Prague (12, 10 or 8 Days)

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The first car I ever drove in China was one I owned. This was bug-eyed Miss Daisy (or 小黄 in Chinese). A Caterham Super 7 R300, she was the granddaughter of Colin Chapman’s Lotus 7, a car meant for the track that had somehow finagled a public road worthiness certificate. The R300 was sold as a kit you could assemble yourself; for less mechanically minded drivers, Caterham also sold a fully assembled version.

Miss Daisy in Beijing

Miss Daisy in Beijing

Getting this car into China and equipping it with a proper (no-funny-money) Beijing license plate took a year. When the customs official laid eyes on her at the port in Tianjin, he laughed, saying, “That’s not a car, that’s a toy!” (这不是个车,这是个玩具). It took six months to convince him otherwise.

Next came the ordeal of going through what in the UK is called “single vehicle approval”, that is, the procedure of registering an unusual car. (At the time there was only one Caterham in China, mine.) I was prepared to hear many official reasons why Miss Daisy might not be licensed, except for the one that I was given: that she did not meet the city’s emissions standards. Yes, Beijing, one of the world’s more polluted capitals, has stringent emissions standards in place. It took another six months for her to pass the test. (You can read about my journey through China with Miss Daisy here.)

As a result of this prolonged and stressful experience, I concluded that renting cars – even though they might not be as special as Miss Daisy – was the way to go.

In Daocheng Yading - without 4WD

In Daocheng Yading – without 4WD

And so when I had the opportunity to drive in Sichuan, my friends and I rented a car in Chengdu. Back in 2005, this was my first lesson in renting cars in China. I got myself in trouble on day one when I found myself being pulled out of some mud by a tractor. There are many reasons – including my own stupidity – why this happened, but the main reason, to my mind, was that the letters “4WD” were emblazoned on the rear door of the SUV. Surely a four-wheel drive could tackle a bit of mud? Perhaps, were it not for the fact that the “4WD” was an expression of the carmaker’s aspiration – mere decoration, rather than a statement of fact.

No comment

No comment

Not long after this I rented another SUV in Chengdu. I had arrived a day earlier to take care of some business, then the following day I picked up the car and raced to the airport to meet my wife. The car ground to a halt shortly after the tollbooth on Chengdu’s airport expressway. “What the hell?” I grumbled, “How on earth can I be out of petrol after less than 15km?”

After a kind gentleman helped me fetch a canister of petrol, I picked up my wife – who was fuming – and drove straight back to the rental car company to complain. The store manager looked at me as if I came from another planet. “You pick it up empty, and you return it empty, that’s how it works,” he explained.  “Not where I come from!  You pick it up full and return it full!” He looked at me with an expression that said “Well, you’re in China, not wherever it is that you come from…” and was about to move on from the incident when he decided that I needed an explanation. “We can’t do it like that, Sir. Actually, we tried. But it didn’t work. Many cars would be returned with the fuel gauge needle showing that the tank was ‘full’.” I smiled, thinking smugly, “See, it works!”, but he continued: “Yes, the tank was fuel, but what was in it wasn’t petrol!”

A Borrow Car

A Borrow Car

For our first few journeys with customers, we used “rental SUVs” we had procured for our guests. The trouble was, I later discovered, that the “rental SUVs” where, in fact, not rental cars, but private cars that the owners had made available to the “rental car company” to be let to customers. Luckily, we were never stopped by the police to check, and we didn’t have any accidents – the insurance would promptly have refused to pay, I was told.

Avis Prado great...but long-term lease not viable

Avis Prado great…but long-term lease not viable

How do you start a driving holiday business in an environment like this? In 2008 we decided that we needed good, properly licensed cars: it was the beginning of our good relationship with Avis China. We got what we wanted – new Toyota Prado 4.0ls, rental license and all. But there was one snag: we had to lease them for five years. This was good for our guests and good for our reputation, but bad for the company’s pocketbook as we didn’t have enough business to utilize these gems fully.

By 2013 Hertz (but sadly not Avis) began to purchase Toyota Highlanders for their short-term rental fleet in Kunming. We have been using these ever since, but now there is another snag: while overseas rental car fleets are frequently renewed (usually in less than six months, in some cases in as little as three), the Hertz Highlanders from two years ago are still in the fleet, and they show it. Everywhere in the world we humans has been equipped with a mental switch that flicks between two positions; “I own it, I care”, and “It’s a rental, for Christ’s sake, who cares?” In China the two switch positions – while gradually approaching each other – are still very far apart.

Audi Q5s...yeah!

Audi Q5s…yeah!

Last year, the boss of Avis China moved from Avis to DCH (大昌行) Motor Leasing, a subsidiary of one of China’s largest listed companies. He called us and said “I’ve got news for you!” As a result of his move and our long relationship with Avis, we’re now able to offer our clients the option to upgrade to brand new Audi Q5s.  一步一步 (“one step at a time”) things are getting better indeed!


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I want to write about Tibet, but I’m struggling with where to start. Should I begin by describing the raw beauty of the Himalayas? Maybe with the profound way that Buddhism permeates the Tibetans’ daily lives? Or perhaps I should start with the rigours that are inevitably involved in a journey on the Tibetan Plateau?

Miss Daisy in Tibet

Miss Daisy in Tibet

This forbidding region draws me to it in many ways, but it boils down to the following; the pursuit of adventure, a love of mountains, the challenge of overcoming adversity, and witnessing the Tibetan people’s devotion.

Above all, to me Tibet stands for adventure. In exchange for moving myself out of my comfort zone, I know that I will come home with unforgettable memories.

The photo shown here is from one of many such adventures, and taken on my 21,000km journey through China in a Caterham Super 7.

It was July 2007 and early rains had swollen a nameless river in eastern Tibet, sending it gushing across the road. Attracted by the odd sight of a yellow sportscar on this remote stretch of road, three passersby rolled up their sleeves and volunteered to help Miss Daisy (the Caterham) and I through the water. When you scream ‘push’ and three kind volunteers heave you through an icy cold river, you won’t forget it!

Beyond the thrill of adventure, there is the magnetic pull of the mountains. I grew up in the Austrian Alps and thought them magnificent – until I went to Tibet, that is. In Austria you reach sky at 2,000 metres above sea level. In Tibet there are cities with airports and golf courses at that altitude. The Tibetan highlands start where the Alps end, more or less. The plateau is, almost literally, quite out of this world.

But while Tibet’s mountains – from Mount Everest on down – lend the landscape an unparalleled drama and beauty, the region’s high altitudes also make plateau life and travel uniquely challenging. Lhasa’s iconic Potala Palace may seem an appealing place to visit on your first day in the Tibetan capital, but climbing the staircases to the entrance is best left until the end of your trip when you are properly acclimated.

Mt. Everest at dawn

Mt. Everest at dawn

Pilgrims on the way to Lhasa

Pilgrims on the way to Lhasa

Perhaps the Tibetans’ profound Buddhist faith is related to the challenges of living at such altitudes. Almost every time I find myself in the Tibetan world, sooner or later I encounter people making the arduous pilgrimage to Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple. Each pilgrim will prostrate themselves, get up, walk three steps, and prostrate again (in Chinese this is called 磕长头). This slow progress continues, not for a hundred meters, not for one kilometer, but for hundreds – if not thousands – of kilometers.

Weatherbeaten, dirty, exhausted, and yet with their broad smiles hinting at inner bliss, the pilgrims have retained a depth of faith that many of us have long since lost. I’m not a religious man, but I never fail to be moved by others’ devotion. Add to this the outer trappings of Tibetan Buddhist ritual – monks chanting by flickering lamplight, prayer flags snapping from mountain passes and timeless festivals – and this is clearly one of Tibet’s many attrations for me and many others.

Some places offer one of these drawcards, perhaps one destination offers mountain adventure, while another posseses a unique culture, say, but few offer such a beguiling combination as the Tibetan Plateau. It is small wonder that this special place has attracted generations of adventurers and romantics…

What is it that draws you to Tibet?





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If you agree with me about Tibet’s many and varied attractions, you might like to read more about our upcoming Tibetan journeys.

Mountain-lovers will be interested in Roads on the Roof of the World, a fantastic 8-day itinerary that runs from the Tibetan heartland to Mount Everest Base Camp. The 11-day Tibetan Highlands is an epic journey from Kunming to Lhasa overland across the beautiful and rugged eastern foothills of the Himalayas. Both will have departures in spring 2016.

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