Daily Brief 5 August 2013

Last updated 20:15 BST.

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in brief:

Channel delays: P&O Calais-Dover 20:35.

Weather: lot of thunder/rain; best in Italy, Scandinavia.

Traffic: See @DE_Traffic.

News: Norway tunnel fireGibraltar roundupCatching up with Team Sparky – Russia-Finland tops 1m/month – 150kmh Moscow ring Road – MB off-roading Austria – TIR suspended Russia.

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Port de Pailheres, Pyrenees

The Pyrenees has an awful lot going for it. Much quieter than the Alps for a start, but with comparable scenery, the Mediterranean on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Brittany Ferries will drop you off in Bilbao or Santander, for some city culture and of course The Guggenheim Museum. Then there’s Cantabria, famous motoring country. The French Atlantic coast, for surfing, and Biarritz. The Pyrenees themselves, great to just explore with lots of little ski resorts, good value out of season. Andorra for Europe’s cheapest fuel. On the other side there’s Perpignan and the Rousillon wine district, roads descending down narrow gorges, castles and monasteries on rocky outcrops. Are we selling this to you? Pic: Port de Pailheres above Ax-les-Thermes (a stage on Tour de France, deserted on this fine September morning).

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WEATHER.

Meteoalarm weather risk alerts – Red alerts for high temperatures in Italy, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro. Amber warnings for high temps in surrounding countries.

Weather – thunder north west, south east and south west. Fine in central Med, south+central France, north Germany, Poland and Scandinavia.

TRAVEL.

@POFerriesUpdate tweeted: ‘Due to earlier operational delays, Calais-Dover 2035 is delayed by up to 45 minutes. All other sailings are on time. Check in as normal.’

No operators currently reporting any delays.

See Traffic/Travel/Weather for more.

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NEWS.

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Norway (updated) – sixty six people were taken to hospital after a fire in the 11km Gudvanga Tunnel this lunchtime. Everybody has been accounted for. One man is in a serious but not critical condition from smoke inhalation. A truck caught fire about 3.5km from the eastern entrance according to reports, with thick smoke causing other vehicles to crash. The tunnel is currently closed and will reopen Tuesday afternoon at the earliest, possibly much longer. Gudvanga, opened in 1991, 90 miles north east of Bergen, beside the noted Naeroey Fjord, is the second longest in Norway, a country noted for long road tunnels. Its Laerdal Tunnel, between Oslo and Bergen, is the world’s longest at 24km. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration website publishes most of its content in English but not the tunnel safety information. See www.vegvesen.no

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Gibraltar – so where are we now? David Cameron says he is ‘seriously concerned’ about the situation. The Daily Telegraph keeps saying Gibraltar stands on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Harry Smith, a reporter for Scottish television tweeted that, ‘Ex Defence Sec tells me Gibraltar is most secure redoubt in the world to defend should it come to that. MOD have ‘Bridge over Tiber’ plan’ (described later as ‘3 GPMGs – general purpose machine guns – pointing away from Gibraltar’.) Prime minister Fabian Picardo tells the Gibraltar Chronicle he wants the Royal Navy to send a frigate. The Daily Express reports that Spain has just sold ten Mirage fighter jets to Argentina. The FT says the British govt is looking at whether it can take any action in the EU courts. The local branch of the governing Popular Party says it wants to see an end to the border delays. Regarding a conversation with Picardo, Foreign Secretary William Hague says, ‘It is important to respond to actions, not rhetoric.’ ITV deputy political editor Chris Ship tweeted at 18:00, ‘Some diplomatic movement in Madrid this afternoon over Gibraltar. Details soon.’

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Catching up with Team Sparky.

The Gotthard Pass, a much, much better alternative to the tunnel (if it's open).

The Gotthard Pass, Switzerland. If it’s open, it’s a much, much better alternative than the tunnel, especially at busy times.

19 days, 3,000 miles: when we last saw them Team Sparky were in Trier, western Germany, via the Spa Francorchamps race track in Belgium. From Trier they headed south to Switzerland, spending the night (right) beside Lake Lucerne. Queues at the Gotthard Tunnel were over 10km on Saturday so they went over the top instead, on the spectacular Gotthard Pass (good move). Next up was Monza, posing beside Fangio’s statue, before a night in Milan. After all those mountains they obviously fancied a bit of sea, taking the A15 Autostrada south west to Genoa – described as ‘one of the best motorways I’ve driven on’ – before cruising along the coast to the classic Italian Riviera resort, Portofino. Lunch today was in Pisa, further south. See more photos on twitter @TeamSparkyCar95.

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Finland – border crossings from Russia topped the one million mark for the first time in July. Overall, numbers were up 6% to 5.8m for the first half of this year. Busiest were Vainikkala and Nuijamaa. 84% of those crossing needed a visa. Increasing trade between Finland and Russia is the rationale for upgrading the E18 ‘Scandinavia Highway’ Helsinki-St Petersburg, and also the new Onega Highway from Karelia.

Separately, transport planners in Finnish towns and cities are abandoning one-way streets in favour of the (apparently slower and safer) two-way variety.

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Russia – the major part of the Moscow Central Ring Road (CRR) project will be accelerated by two years says The Moscow Times. The massive 339km, 4-8 lane, $9bn road was to be finished by 2020 but might now make it in time for the 2018 World Cup. The remaining 182km spur to the north west will be built separately later. More details will be revealed at a meeting with investors, foreign and domestic, chaired by Vladimir Putin, set for mid-August. See the official website, that of state-owned road builder Avtodor, and a map. According to Avtodor the speed limit will be 150kmh.

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Mercedes-Benz fearsome Schokl off-road test track near Graz, Austria.

Mercedes-Benz’ fearsome Schockl off-road test track near Graz, Austria.

Organised Tours. More than most, Mercedes-Benz offers a range of ‘customer engagement programmes’, from driver training, summer or winter, to behind-the-scenes at the Stuttgart Museum. You know the kind of thing. Surprisingly it doesn’t offer organised tours a la Aston Martin or Lamborghini in Europe per se – apart from off-road adventures, car provided, full board. Not cheap. Four days in southern Ireland comes in at €2,581pp. More accessible is three days driving the cult G-Class off-roader in Austria, including rides on the famous Schockl test track near Graz. The €1,095 price includes accommodation, full board, insurance, fuel + drinks. See www.mercedes-benz-events.com for more.

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International Transport – Russia says it will suspend the TIR system from 14 August prompting an impassioned plea from the International Roads Union (IRU). The TIR convention – Transports Internationaux Routiers – governs the transport of goods by road through multiple jurisdictions. Sealed containers carried by authorised operators are inspected at departure and arrival without intermediate checks. Sixty seven countries, and the EU, are party to the treaty. Russia says the national TIR scheme has incurred a 20bn rubles (£400m) debt. The IRU denies there is any debt, calls the move ‘illegitimate’ and says it will have, ‘devastating effects on Russian trade and economic development, as well as on Russia’s trade partners and international transport operators.’

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NOTE:

Crossing the Channel – All operators are warning passengers to leave plenty of time for journeys to the port. With availability often limited at this time of the year, late passengers may have to want considerable time for space, and/or be liable for extra charges.

Bulgaria – anti-govt demonstrations becoming a permanent feature, stepping up a gear on 23 July with a blockade of parliament. The British Embassy says, ‘There is a small risk of violence. Avoid large gatherings in public spaces and follow local media and the advice of the local authorities.’ For the latest FCO travel advice click here. For Bulgarian news in English see www.Novinite.com or @novinite_com on Twitter.

Turkey – after some time without protests the situation is unpredictable again. See latest FCO travel advice.

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