Pneumonia

Well it’s all happening around here, isn’t it.

Zosia was put in hospital this evening to treat her for pneumonia. She’s been coughing for a couple of weeks. Nothing obviously nasty but it wasn’t going away. Roughly half way through she seemed to be getting better but I took her to the quack anyway who prescribed what another doctor has now told us is a completely useless syrup. Well, it was useless because she started getting worse so we took her again today, to our normal pediatrician (also Medicover like the first one) who immediately diagnosed pneumonia, backed up by an X-ray.

He showed us the X-ray and it was clearly quite a bad infection in the right lung. No fluid yet though so it seems we have caught it at the right time.

Immediate hospitalization, a little OTT to be honest but ever since I got this VIP tag they have always erred on the safe side. I just spoke to Marta and they are already in action with the treatment. So mum and Zosia are sleeping in the hospital tonight and hopefully will get them home in a few days. I will of course be visiting!

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Nissan Qashqai 2010 clutch failure

We got Marta’s Qashqai in mid 2010 and generally speaking it’s been a good car. Has to be said though that since the guarantee ran out, about a year ago, it has needed more attention than I expected. Whether this is just coincidence or they built the car with a three year lifespan I don’t know but either way it is annoying.

As the reliability, or lack of, of the Nissan drops off the cost of having work done at the official dealer (in our case, Odyssey) rises. One also begins to question whether their attitude to what work is required changes once the three year clock has ticked. Thankfully, after the guarantee runs out there is less, or even no need to use the dealer and after the latest episode that’s what we’ve decided to do.

The primary point of this post is to put something out there for people searching for clutch problems with a Nissan Qashqai because I’m convinced Nissan are behaving badly here. Also perhaps a warning about the dealer Odyssey. From day one the gear change in the Qashqai was the worst part of the car. There was nothing actually wrong with it but it was a long way from the crispness you might expect from a German car, or the Toyota, or a Ford or just about any other car. It had that air of stirring porridge and hoping for the best. Slight exaggeration but makes the point. Early on this was mentioned to Odyssey who basically said they are all like that so…that’s it.

Over time it slowly got worse but throughout the guarantee period there was never a mention that something should be done about it. At the last service, the first one out of guarantee, suddenly Odyssey were full of great advice about all the things that needed to be done – primarily the clutch and the brakes (discs). They quoted 4,500 PLN with a caveat that it depended what they found when they opened up. We declined their generous offer.

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Fast forward a couple of months and Marta is involved in a non-injurious head-on with a batty woman who said she had the sun in her eyes, but kept pulling out into the main street anyway! The Qashqai went into the garage for a fair bit of front body work. This was kind of good news because it meant we got a dent in the front wing repaired for free. Hurrah for small mercies. The work was organised by Odyssey.

When the car was returned the clutch problem had significantly worsened to the point it was hard to drive the car at all. I think the best description is that it was slipping badly as there seemed no relation between engine speed and car speed. My wife mentioned this but again nobody was prepared to take ownership. The car was moving and that’s good enough. Presumably the front end shunt has just made an existing problem worse. Pre-existing condition = our problem.

Prior to the smash, we had been talking with the in-laws about the work that needed doing and they mentioned they had a great mechanic down in the woods south of Warsaw where their cottage is. We asked what his price might be for the things Odyssey wanted 4,500 for and his price was 1,500. With the car now largely useless we took it down immediately so the mechanic in the woods could get it fixed.

The Qashqai comes home tomorrow after having all manner of work done and a total bill of 5,400! The in-laws are distraught that they appear to have been responsible for more than trebling the cost and are going out of their way to make up for it. They even went as far as checking with Odyssey what their price was for the work the guy in the woods has done. Their price was 11,000! The main problem seems to be the flywheel, which comes as a combo with some other part and that part alone costs 6,000 from Odyssey or 4,000 in the woods. Add to that the brake discs and a long list of other stuff (won’t know exactly until tomorrow) and you get a significantly larger job and bill than expected.

We do not blame the in-laws in any way, all they have done is be extremely helpful. Both my father in law and his mate Janusz are better mechanics than I will ever be so I trust their judgement implicitly. Interestingly, mechanic in the woods feels as I do, and as I mentioned more than once to Marta, that this was a problem right from the beginning.

Switch to Google and searches for “Qashqai clutch” and there is no shortage of people with similar problems to ourselves. Clutches that fail far earlier than you expect. No action being taken by Nissan or dealers. Get out of jail free cards being thrown around like “it’s the way you drive” or “it’s normal wear and tear” which are actually pretty hard to argue against no matter how much bullshit you know them to be.

So. We shall see how the new improved Qashqai drives tomorrow. If everything has been properly fixed it should be a damned fine car. I also expect our fuel bill will be noticeably lower as we won’t be wasting engine power anymore.

Here are the conclusions I have come to:
1/ Nissan are hiding something. These clutches were a problem and they knew it. A recall would have been nice but no doubt the cost or replacing millions of clutches (the Qashqai is a best seller) was something they decided to avoid, mainly because pinning the blame on them was not going to be easy.
2/ The dealer was hiding something.
3/ Nissan can go screw themselves when we come to replace the car.
4/ Odyssey can screw themselves too.
5/ (assuming a good job has been done) the mechanic in the woods is now our go-to car repair guy.

The journey home

Praise where it is due, this is the first year I can say that the Polish roads were NOT the worst of the holiday. In the past, the difference between highway heaven Czech, Austria and Italy and medieval horse and cart Poland was striking but those days are gone (depending on your destination and route).

The worst driving this year on a country level was in Czech and on a local level the E45 in Italy. In terms of a fully joined up highway system Poland is still the loser but now they have finally completed what was the biggest problem, the highway connection between Ostrava in Czech and Poland (A1), there are only a couple of pieces missing now:

> final improvements (turning S1 into A1) between Katowice Airport, through Czestochowa and up to Piotrkow Tribunalski
> connecting the A1 to the A2 around Lodz.

Despite this, the roads in their current state are an extremely significant improvement on what they used to be and I can honestly say the drive from Ostrava to Warsaw was a pleasure. Must be said we were lucky with Czestochowa though. This could be a major spanner in your works, as it was with us on the way down. Mind you, the old McDonalds at the traffic lights junction in Czestochowa will be missed as a convenient point for a break.

Let us all pray to the Gods of the EU for proving the funds to do this and also give thanks that nasty encounters with Chinese or otherwise contractors were no worse than they were!

I predict, or perhaps repeat what I have said earlier, that building highways with only two lanes will quickly become a very obvious mistake. This is the golden period for driving in Poland – highways are pretty much built but are not clogged with traffic. Make the most of it.

The Czech Republic got off to a bad start by taking three hours or more to clear an accident in Brno on our way down. On the way back there was no repeat but they had decided to do roadworks to every stretch of motorway near to big cities – Brno, Olomouc, Ostrava – which wasted at least an hour. They then brought on the remnants hurricane Bertha with such downpours of rain that driving was almost impossible. Add to this the psychopathic and apparently inexhaustible army of lunatic Skoda drivers and Czech takes the prize, by a long way.

Italy was okay. It can get very sticky around Bologna and they have the never ending roadworks between Venice and Palmanova but neither of these held us up. It was interesting watching the clouds and the temperature as we rose from Palmanova through Udine and up into the Alps.

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The clouds got blacker and more menacing, as you can see, and the temperature dropped from what had been a steady 30C down to 18C at times. The holiday was definitely over!

Driving in Austria was fine apart from all the limits of 100 or 80 km/hr for tunnels and mountain bends, of which there are many, and the fact that everyone follows the rules. The only thing to annoy us in Austria was my car, again!

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This warning had come on a couple of times on the drive but only momentarily when navigating twisty entrances and exits from the highway. On the flat it went off again and stayed off so I ignored it. After we checked out of the hotel in Vienna….

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….and started the car in their car park the warning light was immediately on. Just for kicks I called Arval Nonsistance who assured me they would call their Austrian people who would come and recover my car. I explained that all I needed was some coolant liquid and didn’t have time to bugger around. They said they would get right on it.

An hour later I had found a garage open on what was an Austrian Bank Holiday, taken a taxi there and come back with a liter of coolant, filled the thing, eliminated the warning light and was ready to go. I called them again to see how they were getting on. They were getting nowhere. We left.

The only annoyance between there and what I’ve written above was that bloody silly missing bit of highway between Mistelbach in Austria and Pohorelice in Czech. One lane, pretty much zero overtaking opportunity and enough trucks to cause a problem. It was actually on this stretch that the Czechs played their trump card. A section of roadworks just by Aqualand Moravia where they had removed the tarmac and then cut a series of deep grooves into the road meaning anyone not driving a hovercraft had to go very slowly so as not to break something. This led to at least a 5km tailback in the direction we were going and at least 45 mins delay. There was nobody actually working on the road. Looking at the map now it was pretty easy to avoid this by taking a different route – bad SatNav lady!

The final tally for the holiday was 4,500 km (2,800 miles), roughly the same as driving from New York to San Francisco.

Bye-bye Italia

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Enjoying our last macchiato before hitting the road for Vienna, 8.5 hours and 847km away. We don’t want to leave. Already talking about coming for the third time next year.

Stefano was crazy enough to call our restaurant last night and pay for our meal. A more generous host is hard to find.

The weather has turned sticky, as well as hot, so looking forward in some ways to the cooler air further north.

Google maps shows eleven traffic incidents or roadworks along our route. Hopefully a few of those will evaporate before we get there!

Okay. Here goes. See you in Wien!

Bathing, pottery and music

On Sunday we took the last of our trips, at least the last long trip, that covered three regions of Italy; Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria. We headed towards Rome again and first stop was Bagno di Romagna which is a nice small town famous since Roman times for its thermal baths. Like last year we headed straight for the Roseo Hotel Euroterme which has an excellent indoor-outdoor thermal pool that visitors can use. We paid €15 each for two hours (which includes the time you spend changing before and after) and had a very enjoyable time floating around in the warm mineral rich waters.

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A sandwich and drink at the local cafe, a failed attempt to get cash from the towns only ATM and we were on our way to Deruta, another hour or so down the E45 just past Perugia.

Deruta is famous for one thing, maiolica (majolica) ceramics and the shops line both sides of the high street. We wanted to take something home this year and a pretty serving dish for our dining table was on the list. We’ve recently changed our crockery (dinnerware / tableware) from the patterned set we got for our wedding 16 years ago (which refused to break no matter how much we tried!) to a plain white Alessi All-Time collection. The idea now being to fill the middle of the table with a mix of colorful stuff.

We could have spent hours checking out different shops, hearing their stories, negotiating prices, but life is too short. In the first shop was an old man and a lot of pots. The shop went back three or four sections and the further back you went the more expensive things looked. I have trouble making decisions on things like this unless I can get a handle on costs and nothing had a price tag, no doubt because they vary so much depending on the customer. You know you’re in trouble when the owner sidesteps the cost question and gives you tales of how his forefathers have slaved over hot potters wheels since the Middle Ages. By the end we were talking to the whole family; the daughter who spoke English, the old man and his batty wife who smelled like she’d been out back smoking hash and was so unstable that it was only a matter of time before stuff was going to get broken. The daughter’s mobile phone was the only casualty while we were there.

It quickly became clear that the one-off very fancy stuff was more than we wanted to pay at about €120 for one small bowl when a bigger simpler bowl was anywhere between €50-80. The good stuff was also more for collecting and displaying than serving up meat and veg. After a while my wife’s eyes settled on a large long serving plate and two matching smaller ones in a reproduction of a 13th century design, primarily white with blue flowers. The guy suggested a price and then told us his “special price” of €140 for the lot. No doubt we could have got it for less but given the family effort over the centuries we shook hands and walked out with the dishes. Job done.

The pots join the 12 bottles of wine and 4 bottles of olive oil bought from the next door farm and the special pasta from Arezzo as our trophies from this holiday. All we need to find now is the stinky cheese and the fig jam that goes with it and we are done.

From Deruta we went to visit Perugia, the capital of Umbria and strong in culture and education. We like it.

As usual it is on top of a hill. The roads were hard to navigate and parking hard to find. After accidentally driving through the old town, nearly killing half the town or getting the Volvo stuck in a road too thin we finally found a parking space and fired up Mrs Google maps to see how far away from the action we were. As it turns out we were a short walk away but a lovely walk along a path that used to be an ancient aqueduct and cut across the town at first or second floor level before delivering us to the old town and the cathedral.

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Perugia looks like someone took a collection of those wooden kids play blocks that have squares, rectangles and arches and just threw them in a jumbled heap. Ancient brickwork bumping into itself at all kinds of strange angles and heights. Hard to navigate but very enchanting.

As this was the night of San Lorenzo’s tears there was plenty of action with music playing in everywhere. As we wandered we caught parts of a classical concert with piano and orchestra, a mainstream band called Chris & Moira and a more edgy group trying to sound like a cross between Nirvana and Kings of Leon but not quite managing either.

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Apparently Perugia has a micro-climate and it certainly seemed more pleasant than the stifling heat of, for example, Florence. A lovely breeze blew down the main street making it a comfortable city to wander around after 30C+ daytime temperatures.

We left Perugia around 22:30 and got back to Roncofreddo a couple of hours later.

Today is a relaxing day by the pool, thank goodness!

Great steak!

If you’re in the area and like red meat La Capannina is the place to go.

From our experience last year and this we suggest you don’t muck around with appetizers or anything else, just order a steak, potatoes and salad. To keep it super simple just order either a Fiorentina (gigantic Porterhouse steak with bone and fat), Filetto (super sized fillet steak), or Tagliata (steak served in slices).

I don’t think we will ever be hungry enough to do justice to a Fiorentina unless we shared it between the three of us but it is very popular, which means there is a constant background sound track of chef with chopper. Marta and I both had a Filetto that was roughly triple the size of the fillet steak you might expect to get elsewhere but were so tender you could cut them with a spoon and were perfectly cooked to our taste, medium for me, well done for Marta which was achieved by butterflying a normal steak so it was thinner. Despite being well done, they timed Marta’s steak to perfection meaning no blood but still edible.

All the steaks are cooked on an open charcoal grill. I went over to watch the process but forgot to take a picture, sorry!

I’m tempted to say this is the best steak I’ve ever head but I don’t think that would be true. I remember once or twice having stupendously overpriced Argentinian beef that was just as well cooked but with marginally better flavour, a restaurant in Moscow comes to mind where I was thankful not to be paying the bill. What would be true is to say that for €18 this is definitely the best value steak I’ve ever had and second or third best overall.

It’s easy to see why this place is so busy that the car park is always full and overflow cars are lined up down either side of the narrow street.

Faenza, Imola, Brisighella, Cervia

Busy day yesterday. Our first stop was the International Ceramic Museum in Faenza. Verdict – generally pretty good and a must if you enjoy European ceramic art. They have an extensive historical and modern collection including, as a name people will know, a plate presented to the museum by Picasso. We did not hang around the town but it looked nice.

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From there we went to Imola, specifically the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari where the San Marino Formula 1 Grand Prix races were held between 1981 and 2006. Imola is no longer on the F1 calendar. I attended a lot of Grand Prix races back in the days when Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna were battling and through to the early years of Michael Schumacher’s domination. I think Schumacher’s win in a Benetton at Hockenheim in 1995 was the last race I attended and so the tragic events at Imola the previous year were as memorable and shocking for me as the death of Princess Diana or I suppose for another generation, Elvis.

The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix held at Imola was the worst weekend of F1 since the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix. It saw two deaths, Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying and Ayrton Senna on lap seven as well as injuries to Rubens Barrichello and numerous spectators and officials. Both Ratzenberger and Senna left the track at over 300km/hr, hit concrete walls and died of head injuries. There has been plenty of speculation about the cause of Senna’s death but no widely accepted conclusion has been drawn.

Schumacher proved himself to be the better driver but I prefer charismatic and naturally talented sportsmen (sports people) to mechanical ones so I preferred Senna to Schumacher in the same way I preferred McEnroe to Connors.

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If you do visit Imola there’s a pretty good American Diner there. Our timing was wrong for lunch but we did get chips and donuts!

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From Imola we went to Brisighella a cute town where we intended to check out the donkey street, a walkway at first floor level (the arched holes in the photo) that was used for donkey traffic as well as for defending the town.

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This plan was cut short by hearing that my car was fixed and ready for collection so rather than be stuck with a Fiat 500L for the weekend we left immediately and raced down to Rimini.

After a paddle in the Adriatic and a beachside cruise we headed up the coast to Cervia to seek out one of our fave restaurants from last year. After a long day the food and drink was very welcome.

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