Lovely as she is, our silky smooth Volvo is not blessed with much in the way of kit, particularly if you are used to more modern machinery.

For a start, there is no CD player. It has a Philips radio cassette with FM, AM and LW but CDs are off limits. That leaves us with a pretty old collection of tapes, which reflect both my and Mrs Donnelly’s listening tastes about 10 years ago.

Lovely as she is, our silky smooth Volvo is not blessed with much in the way of kit, particularly if you are used to more modern machinery.

 

For a start, there is no CD player. It has a Philips radio cassette with FM, AM and LW but CDs are off limits. That leaves us with a pretty old collection of tapes, which reflect both my and Mrs Donnelly’s listening tastes about 10 years ago.

 

Our route through the Alps onward into Slovenia from Salzburg took in a lot of tunnels. We’d actually quite enjoyed listening to foreign radio over the first few days, but with several tunnels of several kilometres in length, radio would be patchy. It was time to dust off the tape collection. First out was an Beatles compilation tape called ‘Rock and Roll Music - Vol. 2’. We popped into the tape deck and shocked that it actually sounded alright, in that soft, slightly muffled way that audio cassettes often did. It was better than intermittent silence.

 

Another thing missing from the option list was air-conditioning. Gently mooching around suburban London, this is scarcely an issue but getting further and further south into Europe, time spent in the car was getting noticeably sticky. And it was nothing to do with the bottle of Orangina spilled on day two. Driving with the windows open on the motorway creates such a noise and vortex that you expect oxygen masks to drop, so careful pointing of the dash vents and the meticulous sunroof management are all the ventilation you get.

 

The final thing our Swede lacks is the power overtake with confidence. Officially, it had 126bhp when it rolled out of the Volvo factory, but with 189k miles on it, no-one is really sure how many of them are left. It is a capable towcar, but one of the bigger-engined versions might have been handy on this trip for taking on the huge continental trucks. It’s not as if low-power equals good economy either. You’re constantly dropping to third gear on inclines to muster a bit of enthusiasm from the two-litre, five-cylinder lump, and the MPG heads south accordingly.

Volvo 850 SE in Slovenia

Missing a few toys, for sure but the big 850 isn't scared of hard work

 

Tough as teeth

What it lacks in finesse however, the 850 more than makes up for it in feist and it set about dragging the Sprite into Slovenia admirably. The route we took, following the A10 (E66/E55) to Villach, A11(E61) south then dropping down on the A2 (E61) was pretty easy on the car, although less so on the wallet.

 

Bearing in mind we had already bought a €7.90 vignette to let us use the Austrian motorways, we were a touch disappointed to pay €9.50 to enter the first tunnel on our route. Imagine our further disappointment when we were then charged another €6.50 to use the Karawanken tunnel and were then relieved of a further €15 for a vignette for the Slovenian motorways.

 

At least the inclines were manageable and on several very exciting occasions, we were able to snick down to third gear and savour the waft as the Volvo hitched up her skirt and swept majestically past the heavy-breathing trucks in the crawler lane.

 

Eastern Exposure

Leaving Austria we weren’t sure what to expect of the Slovenian roads but it is evident that they are having money lavished on them. There is a lot of new road building and re-engineering going on and it made for very rapid progress to our first stop in Slovenia.

 

We reached the town of Bled around half-an-hour after crossing the border and our first glimpse of the stunning lake left us both gobsmacked. The rich turquoise lake was like a millpond and we turned left along its bank to reach Camping Bled, our site for the next two nights.

 

The light was bleeding away as we circled the site to choose a spot that suited us but we perched ourselves at the top of the site, near an UK motorcaravan and not far from a UK-registered Coachman towed by a Ford Terrano. Safely on pitch, we switched off the engine and the gentle hiss of the Beatles ‘Rock and Roll Music’ which by now, was on about it’s tenth reverse as all the other tapes were in the boot.


Old or not, our £480 Volvo had dragged itself and the Sprite to Slovenia without missing a beat. As I peeled myself off the seat, I gave her a little pat on roof with a sweaty hand as I went to unhitch. Air-con or not, it felt pretty cool to be south of the Alps in our bargain-basement outfit.

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