My summer 2008 travels in Europe – Part 1

This blog post was written while I was in transit in Europe but I couldn’t post it to my site until now.  After being overdue for both a new car and a long vacation, I decided summer 2008 would be my time to take European Delivery of a new BMW 335i hard-top convertible.

I arrived in Munich and headed to my hotel which was located in Munich’s Olympic Park, just next to BMW Welt – BMW’s new center for visitors and new car pick-up.  The building was incredible though somewhat out of place with the largely 70s Olympics development nearby.

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I explored the area a bit and visited the new BMW Museum but due to jet lag I didn’t have a very big day.  After all, the next morning I had to pick up my new car first thing.

Friday morning I awoke bright and early, had breakfast, and headed to BMW Welt.  I arrived, got signed in to go to the new owners lounge on the top floor and after a short wait I was briefed on my car.  I took care of some paperwork and then enjoyed some of the yummy snacks they had up in the lounge.  That’s one benefit of Euro delivery – free BMW food (with purchase of expensive car).

After some more wifi time and snacks, I headed out to an overlook to check out the building.  Just before my scheduled pick up time, I finally saw it – my new car!!

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I met my BMW rep and we went through a detailed introduction to the car’s features which included driving in a simulator.  It’s a good thing the simulator wasn’t very accurate because I managed to crash the car several times.

After the orientation, we went down to the big turntable to get the car.  We spent time in the car going over the features some more and then I finally got the keys.  With that, I was told I could drive off.  It’s a little weird driving a car around in a big open building but I think I could get the hang of it after a few times.

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With that, I drove out through the garage and was on my way . . to a parking lot nearby so I could load in my luggage and go out and drive . . . to the BMW Welt parking lot so I could do my factory tour.  After the tour, I was finally ready to head out of Munich.  Unfortunately, it was drizzly that day so there was no convertible time on the maiden voyage.

I didn’t really have a particular destination in mind so I checked the weather and decided I needed to head towards sun so that meant France.  However, I wanted to go by (Lake) Bodensee and Constance.  Unfortunately, it was still raining so I didn’t get any photos of the incredible scenery.  On my way from Constance to Geneva it got dark and I saw a sudden flash from a box in the median.  One thing about Switzerland is that their speed limits are slow (120 kph) and they have speed cameras everywhere.  So I thought I might have had a souvenir photo taken on the first day driving my car.  Fortunately, I haven’t (yet) received the printed version of that photo if that’s indeed what it was.

After spending the night in Geneva, it was off to France for a short stay in Lyon where I had a friend.  After Lyon, I was off to explore southern France.  The great thing about having GPS in the car is that I could just find little towns on the map or “wander” in search of something interesting and then simply navigate back to a hotel or highway.  One revealing thing about food in France vs. the US is the portion size.  In the US, we have “Big Mac,” “Grand Slam,” “Whopper,” etc.  We love our food for its size and low cost more so than its taste.  In France, breakfast is a “petit dejeuner.”  Can you imagine anything in a US restaurant with “small” in its name?

After France, it was off to Barcelona, one of my favorite cities in the world.  I stayed at the Barcelona Princess hotel which is a fairly new, very modern design hotel near the waterfront in a newly-developed area at the end of Diagonal Mar.  In addition to the excellent decor and swanky pool, the Princess had a Bat Cave-like parking entrance/exit underneath, a free mini-bar, free Internet and a great view. Below are two photos from my hotel window.

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After hitting the beach for the few remaining hours of sunlight, I grabbed a great dinner in a small cafe in an older neighborhood not far from the beach.  I explored the city in my car that night and retired to my bed early for Barcelona standards since I was still fighting jetlag.

The next morning, I was greeted by a wakeup call from a woman who sounded remarkably similar to Penelope Cruz.  I really need to see if I can get her to call me here at home though I’d probably dream more if she did.  After a small breakfast I was off to explore the neighborhood some more and then the beach at the Olympic Port.

The beach in Barcelona has an excellent clientele and little bars/cafes along the rim so you can not only work on your tan but do so with a cocktail, a live DJ and beautiful people all around you.  I was in heaven and managed to play my “I’m a slightly buzzed American trying to speak Spanish” card a few times.

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After a jog and a shower, it was time to catch up on email and investigate my next port of call online.  I hit up a great place for paella that night, walked around the Ramblas a bit and then went for another cruise around the city and up to Mirablau – a cool little lounge at the top of the Tibidabo mountain.  I made the big mistake of forgetting my camera.

The next morning I explored the gothic quarter, got my Gaudi fix and headed up to the Costa Brava for a more natural beach scene.

The weather was sunny on the drive up but after I grabbed lunch and some sangria near the beach the clouds started rolling in and I only got a little beach time before it started raining.  That was my hint that it was time to go back to the south of France.  I stopped off in a little town near the coast there for the night, got up early, hit a cafe for breakfast and was on the road so I could spend the day in St. Tropez.

I arrived in St. Tropez early enough to get parking, which I didn’t fully appreciate until later.  I grabbed a coffee and tried to figure out where the famous beach was.  After all, I had to find Brigitte Bardot.  It turns out the major beaches are actually in a small town next to St. Tropez called Pampellone.  The beaches there each had their sections that were run by a bar/restaurant and had chairs and umbrellas to rent.  I decided I deserved another beach day with food and drinks served to me and soaked it up.

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I took a shower and then headed back to St. Tropez to explore some more and get dinner.  Once in the city limits I drove around to look for a parking space.  I checked the parking lots . . . full . . . and the on-street parking . . . full on every street . . . and circled around again . . . and again.  For a while the traffic just stopped and there was some commotion ahead.  I suddenly saw a bunch of camera flashes and figured I’d whip out my camera in case there was a celebrity walking by.  The crowd starting coming closer and the celeb starlet walked right by my car where I got a quick photo of her walking by.  I’ll bet that’s the first time she was accosted by an amateur paparazzo in a convertible.

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After about an hour trying to find parking and my token celebrity sighting I decided I would cut my losses and head out of town to try and find dinner.  I found a wonderful windy road up into the mountains as the dusk set in.  Towards the top of the mountain I found La Garde-Freinet, a small town with a bunch of restaurants just off the main square.  I had a great dinner, a glass of champagne to top it off and some interesting conversation with a bunch of drunk UK girls who were staying at one of the girls’ parents’ house there.

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After dinner I found a hotel not far from the highway and spent the night.  The next morning, I was off to Annecy to meet up with Ralph, Peter and Michael – colleagues of mine from Microsoft who worked in Frankfurt.

More to come…

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