Sometimes dreams do come true. Mine certainly has. I have just finalized my purchase of a 2010 335i Coupe scheduled for European Delivery. I ordered it with M-Sport in Le Mans Blue, with Saddle Brown interior and most of the options on the list outside of the AT, Cold Weather and a few others I deemed not necessary (not much use for heated seats in Texas
It's not too often that one gets to go on a European driving vacation with a nice car waiting for you, so, I decided to forgo the packaged BMW travel plans and make my own. Throughout my journey I will be visiting Munich (of course), Berlin, Frankfurt, the Rhine river valley, the Kaiserslautern area, Prague, Vienna, Innsbruck, Zurich, Geneva, Interlaken, Liechtenstein, parts of Luxembourg, and Belgium, ending off with a few days in Amsterdam for Queen's Day. If you've not heard of Queen's Day in Holland, it's a two day city/country wide party celebrating the birthday of the last queen of Holland.
During all this time, I will be making two separate trips to Nurburgring, and attempt a run at the Stelvio Pass (Top Gears former 'Best Driving Road') assuming the pass isn't closed. Unfortunately, from the looks of the web cams they have posted at the top, it may still be closed by the time I get there. Here's hoping.
All told I will be driving over 3,500 miles through 12 different countries for 28 days. I plan on documenting the whole thing in photo and video, and keeping updates posted as often as I can. I can't think of a better way to break in a new car!
Update: 27 March
"When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
I'm sure you've all heard that expression before, and that's exactly what I did. Recently my brother lost his job. So, I've decided, with all his new found 'off time' to treat him to a European vacation. I bought him a plane ticket, and booked the hotels so he can join me on this little adventure. When I told him about it, he said he felt like he'd just won the lottery!
07 April - Munich
Made it to Germany without a hitch. Met up with my brother in Frankfurt International before going on to Munich. They are giving away 135i race cars at the Frankfurt airport. Not quite M3 GT2 quality, but nicely built none the less. Already enjoying everything Munich has to offer. Ate at the famous Hofbrauhous, complete with the 1L beer mugs.
Walked through Olympia park on the way over to BMW Welt and enjoyed the scenery on the way. BMW Welt is amazing to say the least. Included in the Euro Delivery package are full explanation of all your cars systems, Museum and Plant tour, 25 Euro worth of discounts between the restaurant and the gift shop, and a free custom engraved key chain. It turns out that the information posted on BMW's website about the plant being closed was wrong, and I was able to take the plant tour. Unfortunately there are no cameras allowed in the plant, trade secrets and all. After taking delivery of my car, I took it out for a spin around Munich before coming back to check out the Museum. It came as a bit of a surprise, but even in Munich, home of BMW, my car was still turning heads and getting stares.
The view from the Premier lounge:
My new car:
Me with the new car:
The new M6:
Sunset at Olympia Park
08 April - Southern Bavaria
After having wandered through most of downtown Munich, and enjoying the sights and food it had to offer, I decided to take a trip down to the Zugspits and Neuschwnastein Castle. Ran into a little trouble on the way though. No more than two blocks from my hotel, I got pulled over by the Polizi for a DUI stop. Mind you, it's 10am on a Thursday morning. Of course, I blew an 0.0. I think they just wanted to check out the nice car with the tourist plates. I've seen quite a few R8's and Lambo's around here, and still my car is getting stares and comments, and apparently traffic stops. I love this thing!!
My car at the Zugspits. Can't see the mountains because of the trees, but trust me it's there.
The view from the top:
At Neuschwanstein Castle:
The Alpin See. How would you like to have this for your backyard?
09 April - Dachau, Lego Land, and K-Town
No issues with the Police this time, just lots of construction and traffic on my way to Dachau, Legoland, and onward to Kaiserslautern. The memorial sight at Dachau is something to behold. The atrocities that the Nazis committed there are put on display so that the world will not forget, and with all hope, will not repeat what happened there. Legoland is quite the opposite. A fun filled amusement park with Lego recreations of famous buildings and cities.
The living conditions at Dachau. Near the wars end, there were over 30,000 people crammed in to the camp designed for only 6,000.
The main gate and fences that surrounded the camp:
The crematoriums at Dachau. They also housed the gas chambers here.
A memorial to those lost and oppressed at the Dachau Concentration camp:
Just a few of the Lego recreations:
Update: 12 April
You guy's asked for it, and here it is. More scenic shots.
Some nice shots from from the Zugspits:
And here's one more from Neuschwanstien's back yard:
14 April - Nurburg Ring Trip #1
Trip number one to the ring was a great success. I was able to do two laps before they closed up for the evening. Light traffic of the obligatory Caterhams and GT3-RS's was about all that was out there. It has to be the fastest few minutes of your life. Everything just racing by, adrenaline pumping, and exhaust roaring. There is nothing else like it.
15 April - Berlin
So turns out I was staying on Embassy row in Berlin just south of the main park in down town, which is huge. So much of downtown Berlin is brand new (i.e. <10-15 years old) It's amazing the growth that has happened in this city since WWII and the fall of the wall. Entire sections of urban waste were leveled and made anew into upscale shopping districts. It really is a great city to visit, or live in. There are bike trails everywhere, and parks scattered all over the place. If you a fitness nut, and hate treadmills, Berlin is for you. Everyone runs, or rides a bike there. There are however still reminders of what Germany has gone through to get to this stage. In a few scattered parts of the city, (oddly enough in West Berlin) there are still some run down Ghettos, and there are memorials everywhere, for just about everything.
Berlin TV Tower:
Berlin city hall:
The Holocaust Memorial:
The Main Park in Downtown Berlin:
An old Church in Berlin:
17 April - Prague
It's such an amazing city. Clean, beautiful, old, and new. everything for everyone. Just don't forget to tip your waitress. Unlike most European cities, it is very much the custom to tip the wait staff in Prague. I found this out the hard way by getting the cold shoulder from a few waitresses at one restaurant. Other than that Prague is a wonderful city that you all should visit if you get the chance. It's not that expensive, and the people and sights are beautiful. I was also lucky enough to pull off about $5 for 2 days of parking in down town. Good luck trying that anywhere else. If you do manage to make it down to that part of Europe though, make sure to buy your highway toll tags. It's a 5,000 Czech Krown ticket (apx $250) if your caught without one. They only cost about $20, so it's worth avoiding the hassle.
Prague Castle at sunset:
At the main square in downtown Prague:
More of Prague:
My car in Prague:
Prague at night:
And a GT-R I saw while wandering the streets:
19 April - Vienna
Drove through Bratislava and a small corner of Hungary on the way into Vienna, just to say I've been. From the highway at least, Bratislava looks just like the movies and stereotypes make it out to be. Think concrete project block housing, and lots of it. Vienna, on the other hand is a beautiful city nestled in the foot hills of the alps with a HUGE museum district. Almost half of the downtown area is museums or galleries. Everyone of them an old building from back in the days of the Austrian empire. There are so many of these buildings filling up the downtown area that the National Library is an old palace. Then there's Scloss Schonbrunn, the imperial palace, and it's expansive grounds which contain 3 hedge mazes, at least a dozen fountains, and a zoo, just to name a few. I'm not talking a little petting zoo either. It's the city zoo. For breakfast each morning in Vienna I had probably the best breakfast item ever. It's Bacon, wrapped in cheese, wrapped in croissant pastry, made into twisty bread sticks. Take that Eggo waffles!
Here are just a few of the museums:
And the grounds at Schloss Schonbrunn:
21 April - Innsbruck
Off to Innsbruck today, but not before making a detour in the tiny Austrian village of Fucking. Fucking is a tiny farming village of about 10 houses in North central Austria near the German border. The most exciting thing to happen there in recent memory is someone stole all of their city limit signs in one night. After that little stop, and some more construction, I made it to Innsbruck. Innsbruck is for the most part an unremarkable city situated in a beautiful mountain valley with ski runs on both sides, in the right season of course. But, that's not why I'm here. This is the starting point for my drive up and down as many alpine mountains as one day will allow. More on that in the next installment.
The village of Fucking, Austria:
And the scenery that surrounds Innsbruck:
22 April - The Alps, Liechtenstein, and Zurich
I finally get a chance to tackle some real mountain roads. Unfortunately, as I had come to expect, Stelvio Pass was still under 3 feet of snow, and as such, closed. That's okay though, I had a backup plan, and it included many more passes than just Stelvio. This car can pound up and down the mountains without an issue. BMW's altitude compensation calculations make it so that you never notice a drop in power due to the thinner air at high altitudes. Along the drive I came upon a local driver, and elderly man, driving a Subaru Justy GX. This guy really knew the roads in the area and was taking them as fast or faster than I felt safe, in his little tiny econo-box car. He vary well could have been a rally driver in a past life. It's not as fun when you get stuck behind a big truck or an RV. At one of points I stopped to take picture I fell through a snow drift into waist deep snow.
Made things a little damp for the next hour or so. On the map below the roads marked in red are passes that were closed, making my driving time a little longer than expected. The one on the right is Stelvio. I knew it was closed before getting to it. Both the one on the left, my original plan to get to Zurich, and the pass in the center were closed too. So, rather than drive almost all the way back to Innsbruck to catch the next pass, I took a train through a tunnel bored through the mountains. Right around sunset, I made it to Liechtenstein. As many of you already know, and have pointed out, the tourist plates that BMW sets you up with are not recognized as legal in Liechtenstein. It probably wouldn't have been an issue as there is no real border to speak of, just a bridge with signs on either side announcing which country you are in. I didn't want to push my luck too far, so I drove in, took a few pictures, and turned right back around. I made it to Zurich by about 9 PM, grabbed some dinner, and slept. Didn't really get to see what the sights were around the town.
Alpine driving map:
This is a Subaru Justy:
The road leading to Stelvio Pass:
My car in the Alps:
And some Alpine scenery:
And this is Liechtenstein:
23 April - Interlaken
Interlaken is just a short drive southwest of Zurich. It's surrounded by mountains to the north and south, and two of the clearest blue lakes to the east and west. It is defiantly a tourist town. That being said, there is so much to do, even in the off ski seasons. I decided to give paragliding a go. It's really easy, all you have to do is run off the side of a mountain! It's a great way to see the sights of the area, and soar around like a bird through the sky. Unfortunately, the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud made for some bad views from my hotel room. On a clearer day, this place would be absolutely gorgeous.
This is the best shot of the view from my hotel. Any further to the left, and it's just haze, any further to the right and it's a wall.
The canals that run through the city connecting the two lakes. The water in the lakes is just as blue.
And the cliffs I jumped off of (far background) and soared over.
A few shots from paragliding:
24 April - Geneva
From Interlaken I decided to take the long way to Geneva in order to drive a few more mountain roads and drive through a bit of France. Geneva may as well be in France. It's way out on the tip of Switzerland completely surrounded by France, and everyone speaks french. It's a nice city to visit, but everything is VERY expensive. If I hadn't had a voucher from my hotel, parking would have been about 85 Franc ($1 is apx 1 Franc) for just the one night. Again, the volcanic ash was hindering the view a bit, although not as bad as in Interlaken. I didn't have the time, but I would have liked to have gone and visited CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider (I know my nerd is showing) Outside of the massive fountain on the lake, there is nothing too remarkable about Geneva if you've been to many European cities. It's a nice mix of old and new with the usual European flare. The fountain though is huge. To give you an idea, the picture looking over the city is from the 8th floor window of my hotel room which sits upon a hill. That thing shoots up at least 100m!!
25 April - Frankfurt
On the way up to Frankfurt I hit the first stretch of clear, traffic free, unrestricted German autobahn since the initial breakin period. I decided to open it up and see what this thing is made of. I cruised up to 150mph with ease, it even had some room to go faster, but knowing how BMW is about codes I didn't want to bounce the 155 limiter, just in case. Acceleration to speed was smooth and effortless, and once at speed, it rode like it was on rails. If I wasn't looking at the speedo, I would have thought I was only doing 100. It is far too easy to speed in these things. That out of the way, I made it to Frankfurt without any more excitement. Frankfurt is a big city just like any other big city, and one I've been to many times. As you'll see below, it can bee very beautiful at night.
26 April - Rhine River Valley, and Nurburgring Trip #2!
I decided to take the scenic route up to Nurburg from Frankfurt and drove up the Rhine river to a small town called Bacharach. It's famous for it's wines, in fact the winery I visited (and one I've been to many times before) has won best winery in Germany all but 1 year 2001-2009. Also had some home cooked traditional German food at a little Mom and Pop restaurant just off the main square. Fresh made apple strudel is the best. On the drive to Nurburg from the Rhine, I spotted a couple of 6 series test cars all wrapped up in that black and white swirly vinyl. I thought I wasn't going to get a chance to see them again, let alone take pictures of them. But, when I got to Nurburg there they were at BMW's test center. I'm sure you've all had your fill of spy shots of these things by now, but I'd never seen one in person. As for the 'Ring itself this time, they were running a super bike club day when I got there before the tourist laps opened up. I would hate to be out on the track with that many bikes to have to worry about. Thankfully they all packed up when the club session was over. I bought 4 laps this time since the track was open a little longer. Words cannot describe how fun it is to actually drive this track. The video games don't do it justice. Time just compresses as you fly through the 13 miles of twisty hilly race course. Unfortunately, I only got to use 2 of my laps. Right as I was going out for my 3rd lap they closed the track up for an accident. Usually they only close the track for a few minutes to clear the major debris and then just open it back up with caution sections. But this time they closed the track for the rest of the day, with an hour and a half left of the two and a quarter hour session. I hope who ever was involved in that accident is okay.
6 Series Test cars:
More cars spotted at the 'Ring:
And a shot of the end of the track while it was closed:
27 April - Luxembourg, Chimay Belgium, and Amsterdam
Just drove through Luxembourg because it's on the way really. Chimay is a small, unremarkable town that has a monastery that makes some of the best beer I've ever had, and some darn good cheese as well. The monastery itself, as well as it's brewery are not open for the public, but they do have a restaurant just down the road. I got the sampler platter to try all 4 kinds of beer (one of which is only available on tap there) and 4 of their 5 cheese. Having had the beers before, I kinda knew what to expect. I've done the wine and cheese thing before, but paring the beers with cheese though was something new for me. It was all quite good, but it was time to move on to the main course. A bacon wrapped cheese stuffed wad of meat drenched in a gravy made from the beers. Soooooo gooood.
While we were eating a whirl wind spun up and uprooted one of the patio umbrellas, slamming it into the wall. Thankfully no one was hurt, just kind of odd to see something like that happen on a nice calm sunny day. On the drive to Amsterdam, I got stuck in major traffic through all of Brussels. At one point it took us an hour to go 1/2 a mile. Brussels behind us, we moved on to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam and Queen's Day
Amsterdam, as usual, was a blast. I've been here twice before, but never during Queen's Day. The city is completely different for this the biggest party holiday of the year. Gone are all the normal tourist photo opps in the museum quarter, and Dam square. They are replaced by carnival rides and concert stages. Well over a million people join in the two day party through the streets, squares and canals. Beer is served on every street corner, and there are sights you won't see here any other time of the year, like the seemingly out of place American Indians pictured below. This is such a big party that the main concert stage even saw the likes of DJ Tiesto. Sadly, I let someone else drive my car for the first time. Parking prices in Amsterdam are ridiculously high. As a result, there is a service that you can call upon that is kind of like an anywhere valet. You give them a call, and tell them where to pick up your car, and when you'd like it back. A guy comes by 20 minutes later and takes it to a private parking garage out of the city. All told it cost less than half of parking in town. And, if you'd like, they'll even clean it for you, inside and out. The night after Queen's Day a Gumball Rally came through town. There were Lambo's, SLR's, GT-R's, and even a Smart car. At one point a Beer Bike joined in the run around town. I wished I had my good camera with me, but I was headed to the bars and didn't want to bring an SLR and gear along. The few pics I was able to get were almost too blurry to make out. That said, I included the best of them. You know there has been a big party going on when you can't see the pavement for all the trash covering it. I'll give it to the city clean up crew though. In just a few days they'd cleaned up most of it so you wouldn't even know it was there.
Bikes, bikes, everywhere bikes:
The Heineken Brewery:
And the Gumball Run:
A Beer Bike is a pedal powered bar that moves around the city with a sober guide at the helm, and all the bar patrons pedaling to keep it moving.
After spending 6 days in Amsterdam, it was time to head back to the real world of work and bosses. Sadly this meant turning my car over to the shipping company. After driving around Europe for 3972 miles I was sad to give it up, but this time apart will make it that much better when I do finally get to see my car again. It will also give me time to save up for and plan out the mods that are going into it.