So here we are, on our 3rd Euro Delivery and my friend Nik's first one. I'll be posting official 12 hour attestations for both of us - he's the silent type.
It's been a successful trip so far and despite some minor annoyances (like United), the Welt experience has made up for it all, and then some.
Rolf and Peter picked up both our families at the airport with their usual effectiveness and charm and after a brief stop in the gardens (lots of police and secret service people, Medvedev was visting later in the day) delivered us to the Welt just in time for our 9AM appointment.
As for the Welt, it was an absolutely outstanding experience. We felt that BMW has gone to great lengths to make it as painless, special and exciting as possible - and it worked. We weren't exactly rushed for time but didn't really have the luxury to explore everything. After the excellent breakfast our energy level soared and we were ready to ... wait, what was that? We can sneak a peek at the cars before the official delivery.
As I was saying, for the official delivery of the cars. I had Christian as the delivery specialist and he sold the whole experience with a touch of flair and perfect timing. The moment I started the beast up I must have shed a tear.
After 1 victory lap we emerged outside and parked the cars underground. NikD with his family and mine (sans moi) went on to the factory tour, while I went out to put some miles on the beast. I have an appointment with a certain Nurburgring this Sunday so the break in must be completed until Saturday. (Yeah, I know).
I must report that my car came with the cigarette lighter in the ashtray (smoker's package) and under the dash to the left of the glovebox is just a big empty hole (doesn't seem to have power
connected to it). And as others have reported, there is no gray band on top of the windshield. Also perhaps I hadn't read all the materials carefully, but I was surprised to find the lumbar support on my car (no Tech package, no leather, no Premium etc).
I didn't put as many miles as I had wanted, mainly because it took me a big detour to find some gas (don't ask) and my GPS
kept crashing. Fortunately I brought a backup unit and will be using the old but trusty Nuvi 350 from now on.
Anyway, tonight we're headed to HB where we hope to down as many beers as we can (after the warm weather and rooms with no A/C at the Renaissance). And please don't expect any reports tomorrow, I have 1000 miles to drive...
What a day!
1. Kids, start your engines
2. A forbidden glimpse through glass only inflames the passion
3. Names are coming up, not long now
4. Another glimpse from the Premium Lounge balcony.
5. Gorgeous Welt architecture. (Bottom left is Dino's SG M3).
6. First on the spinning platter.
7. Gestures help express the emotion
8. Baby's got butt
9. Systems check
10. Both cars outside
11. Complex tones of Interlagos Blue
12. NickD's official 12 hour compliance photo.
13. Short rest in the Welt underground parking, before hitting the Autobahn.
Ah, where to start...
Perhaps with the desperate lunge to put 1200 miles on my car in one day - yeah, that would make a good beginning. I knew I wasn't going to finish all of them, but in preparation for the Ring I needed every single one I could get.
So, at 6:30 AM I set off from Munich going towards Italy, with the intention to do a few passes to cross into Switzerland, then drive North and cross Austria again, back into Germany in one big clockwise loop.
The car makes you giddy with the response and sound from the engine, so varying the RPMs as required was not a chore - I couldn't stop doing it.
So after the Europa Brucke I exited the autostrada to fill her up, only to see a black 599 at the same gas station. Only in Italy I guess... A few miles later I allowed him to pass me just to snap a pic of that nice rump.
At Vipiteno I started my Alpine passes cure for the overworked, with the Giovo (Jaufen Pass). It was absolutely fabulous on the ascent (East) side, less so on the descent. Recent rainstorms had left landslides in many places, with the requisite road crews cleaning them up. Then there were the 10 minutes lost as 3 herders tried to get their cows off the road and down the (steep) hill. As I said, only in Italy. I could see my schedule was already slipping, but I was commited at this point.
Next, onto the Stelvio. This was my second time, and I did it even faster than the first time. For one, the car has massively better traction than the 335, both because of the tires
and the limited slip. Also, mrs. adc was not in the car to become sick at the driving antics.
More on this in the Ring chapter...
At the top it was very windy (and cold), but I needed some refreshments. Once that was done, I went down as fast as I could - and on the other side of the Stelvio, that can be pretty quick. The car gained my increased respect with every difficult mile that passed.
So what better to end the Stelvio with, than the Fluella. I mean they're so close they're practically one pass.
By now I was getting a little antsy about the time and the slowly increasing miles, so I took less pictures and pressed on. Fluella at the top has a very otherworldly and surreal appearance. You would not want to be caught there in a snowstorm I imagine...
One thing to note is that at the swiss border I was pulled out of the line and they checked the car's paperwork. No problems and all very polite, but in contrast the Italian border guys just wanted me to GO GO GO and were listening for the engine sounds.
The less I tell you about the ensuing 8 hours or so, the better. It rained all the time, I got caught in an hour long Stau somewhere near Bregenz, I was tired and in the end just barely broke the 1000 km limit, far from the 2000 required for the break-in.
The next morning I woke up early and dashed on an emoty Autobahn to Regensburg and back, just to add a few hundred kms to the tally. Then I practically opened the BMW Niederlassung Filliale Frottmaning, which is positively huge. My car was serviced in 2 hours - and yes, I know it didn't have all the miles. But I had run her well and didn't want the same dirty oils in there for the Ring. (Besides, by the time I arrived at the Ring Sunday, I was comfortably past the 2000 km limit).
Right now, writing this from Hotel Wilhelmshohe near the Ring, I'm dog-tired and want to go to sleep. Hopefully by the next time I post, I'll catch up to the latest reports. You can look forward to pictures from the Porsche Museum, Triberg the cuckoo clock capital and the Nurburgring.
1. On my way to put 1000 miles on the car...
2. After the Europa bridge I let him pass me
3. It definitely is possible to get 20 mpg
in an M3 - during break-in at least
4. At Vipiteno, I exited towards the Jaufen Pass (Giovo)
5. Where views like these were on offer
6. And roads like these
7. More views
8. More views
9. The car, the road, and me
10. Small meant something entirely different 50 years ago
11. The ascent in Stelvio
12. Midway up
13. Towards the top. Narrow and bumpy, just the way I like it.
14. Quick snap of the panoramic view, the clouds are moving in
15. ...moving in really fast
16. Car in the clouds
17. Spinning propeller in the roundel belongs in the sky
18. After Stelvio, en route to Fluella
19. Waiting for a green light to the tunnel
20. On the other side, free at last
21. Not sure what town
22. In Switzerland, cows mark the apex of a hairpin, naturally.
23. Fluella towards the top
24. Tired and elated, into some tunnel
After the car was serviced, we looked at the sky and decided to skip Lindau altogether, it was raining buckets. So while driving on the Autobahn towards Stuttgart, I came up with this beautiful change of plans - why don't we stop at the Porsche Museum, since we need an indoor activity for the little one, plus we might enjoy it too.
Plan approved and new destination entered into the Nuvi, we were soon parking underground the beautiful Porsche Museum. It's a slick modern building, all angular in complete opposition to their sensual car shapes. I wanted to do a burn-out in the parking garage but mrs. adc thought it wouldn't be good form. Other than that, nobody batted an eye at an M car visiting their arch-rivals hometown.
I'll let the pictures do most of the talking, but the museum was fascinating and I would recommend it as must-see stop for all car nuts. Very enlightening for me were the several modern 911's slliced up for all to see how they are built. Only after seeing the compact engine down low in the chassis did it become apparent to me how they could keep the weight down over the years.
After seeing all these racecars it was impossible not to stop for a small toy at the shop, after which we set off towards Triberg. We arrived relatively late and were pretty tired so decided to eat early, go for a walk and then retire early. We had a wonderful dinner at the (fill in the blank) restaurant and I probably fell asleep on the way back to the hotel, because I cannot remember anything else.
Next day - the big one, the Ring experience.
We arrived later than anticipated (I sense a trend forming) but it turned out it didn't matter. There was a race in the morning and the public session opened late, around 4:30PM. After the initial feeding frenzy at the gates subsided, I went out for an exploratory lap which turned out really well. Those many late night sessions on GT4 were defintely worth something, as I could remember most of the circuit by now. Of course, nothing can prepare you for the sheer size, elevation changes and brutality of the real thing. The M3 in Sport/Power mode on the Ring is absolutely amazing - I did not come even close to maxing it out, meaning this is a machine that without being intimidating, will reveal its secrets in time and hopefully provide many years of interesting ownership.
I only managed to put in 4 laps (Ring was closed 1 hour for an accident) and in the last one, anticipating an early closure (by 7:09PM the gates were closed), I decided to take mrs adc and my son for their first Ring outing. My son whoopped and hollered the entire lap. Mrs. adc valiantly tried to film something, but thenn gave up and held on for dear life. This was her first outing on a track driven at moderately high speed, so after some 6-7 minutes she was ready to call it quits. Of course, the Ring doesn't have any exits...
After the Ring, we stopped for the glamour shots in front of the BMW M Center in Nurburg - and the official Fahrer Training M3 coupes in full M livery slowly drove by, smiling at the silly guy taking a picture of his car.
To end this day, I could not see anything more fit than to stop at the Pistenklause, where we had a wonderful dinner - good food, good service, reasonable prices
and cool ambience.
Next stop, Barcelona. (Written in the car, while mrs. adc is taking us at a good clip across France).
1. Triberg center
2. View from our room
3. Impossibly scenic view
3. Our restaurant
4. Painted ceiling
1. Ready to rumble
2. One down, three to go
3. I'll have one more of those, thank you
4. And another one, thanks
5. The entire family earned their Ring wings
6. In front of the M Center in Nurburg
7. When driving by, the car said it wanted to park at the Pistenklause, so we obliged
8. Interior ambience at the Pistenklause
9. Done for the day, car is resting at the Wilhelmshohe
10. And a perfect ending to a busy day, a crisp lager in the cool Eifel evening
Oops, almost forgot... Courtesy of mrs. adc, some Ring delicatessen for you to enjoy.
And one more story to share - there were 2 cars of young French gearheads (modified E30 325i's) there. They ran all day but at the end one of their cars wouldn't start anymore - so out of nostalgy for the E30 I have at home (and the miriad of problems it displays), I helped push it out of the secured parking lot before it close, so they could have it looked at the next morning. Worked a good appetite.
1. Assorted line at the entrance
2. The silver GTR and it's black brother both passed me on the Ring and they were *freakishly* fast. Absolutely mind-bending.
3. Blue rivals.
4. Close cousins.
5. Trackday weapon.
6. Oldie but goodie.
I just came back from exploring Barcelona,, where we didn't cover as much ground as we had planned. Travelling with 3 kids tends to do that to your plans... anyway, I only have a few pics to show for.
1. Kids are having some fun
2. Cool building along Las Rambla
3 - 4. Details on the building
5. Typical busy Ramblas scene
7. Detail at the Sagrada Familia (we arrived after closing)
8. Side details at the cathedral
I hope you're hungry, because we stopped at the La Boqueria market.
9. here comes the jamon
10. and candied fruit
11. more meats
12. freshly packaged fruit
14. more nuts
15. various eggs
16. and finally mushrooms
17. Fisherman's paella at dinner, to end the report for today.
We're on our way to Ronda now and the sun takes no pity on the landscape. A casual glance at the temp gauge reveals 43 Celsius outside, so I put my hand out through the window and encounter hot soup. Now the whole car is hot.
We try to gas and eat in a small town just a few km off the highway - only to encounter a ghost town. Everything is closed and the two heat-stifled pedestrian we encouter are the only signs of life. Back to the higway, hoping to find a more cheerful place.
I'm receiving a bunch of half-hearted challenges from various cars on the highway, but we're here just to swallow miles. Averaging 18.3 mpg
over the past 3000km.
Ah, finally Ronda. After the bleached and tortured landscape we've driven through for the past several hours, the crisp coolness of its white walls is almost shocking - and shockingly beautiful too.
Our hotel, en Frente Arte, is a very unique place. You learn to navigate its many passages, stairs, shortcuts and byways the way you do on a track - a bunch of kids who've been here for a few days are working it like pros. As I've said before, it's all about the driver.
It's colorful here, with eclectic decorations and a completely unique feel to each room. There's something for everyone (check out the pictures), but one of the most outstanding features is the 24h free drinks bar, featuring a beer tap, three types of sherry barrels and numerous wines. For breakfast, we're treated to quail eggs with bacon, a variety of cold cuts, made to order crepes, pastries, you name it. Together with the free wifi it makes for a very good travel deal - I for one would not hesitate to come back.
We head out for dinner just as the sun paints the lanscape in soft purples and oranges and end up at a very good restaurant in the middle of a placa where our children can make sure we won't be welcomed back anytime soon. But our table has an amazing view of the city walls on one side and the open plaza on the other, the food is delicious and the company pleasant. Life is good.
Back at the hotel, I pour myself a generous portion of olorosa sherry and head out towards the secluded patio at the end of the property. With a starry sky above, some dogs barking in the distance and not another event in the cool evening, all is well with the world.
Good night, bimmerfesters (written last night, posted today).
1. It's getting a little hot out there on the arid plain. Oil temp higher than Nurburgring (230) despite moderate cruising speed.
2. Heading towards one of the many tunnels.
3. Arid landscape
4. Dead Andalusian little town - siesta time
5. And more arid landscape
6. Waiting patiently under the fierce sun
7. Our room at Enfrente Arte
8. Funky stairway
9. Reception area
10. Self-serve area. 24h free drinks, I feel my vacation has truly started.
11. Breakfast area
12. Zen garden with huge fishtank
13. Nik, an avid fishtank enthusiast, is checking the works
14. Game room
15. Barbecue area
16. Quiet terrace with a view. I like to take my sherry here.
17. Vespa at the end of its life, bamboo garden in the background
18. This way to the pool
19. Swimming pool - small but refreshing
20. Through an open gate, you can barely make out the horses grazing on the hill
21. Ramparts of Ronda
23. Gate after the old bridge
24. Rooftop view
25. White Andalusian town
26. Orange trees basking in the warm evening glow
27. Tropical flower garden in plaza
28. With the last rays of the sun hitting it just so, a church glows in the background
29. Amazing hued hills at dusk
30. Flowery bush vivid
32. Evening scene
33. Too crowded, let's try someplace else
34 - 35. Views of the city walls early in the evening
36. Kids roam free in this huge fountained plaza
37 - 39 Views of the city walls later in the evening
40. On tonight's menu, hearty and savory Gazpacho.
Ronda, by day
What can I say, Ronda stole my heart.
With its twisting narrow streets going this way and that, entrance doors enticingly left ajar so you can peek inside, animated locals chatting the days ennuy away, all under a hot hard sun that will make you seek the most twisted path just to keep in the shade. Yep, I love it all - and should the stars align the right way, I'll be back someday.
After a few hours of exploration the only thing I could still do was crawl to out funky hotel and take a dip in the pool. Then have a few beers. Then dip again - you get the idea...
1. Don't back up that car
2. Old 2CV at home in old Ronda
3 - 6. Ronda gorge and new bridge
8. Through the door, the hallway and the terrace you can glimpse the gorge beyond
9. Typical house entrance
10. House through tropical flowers
11. Local deli
12. Local restaurant
13. Arena entrance
14. Through the merciless sun, an old gentleman slowly makes his way home
The road through Grazalema
In the evening, we set out to explore by car and catch dinner in a neighboring hill town, Arcos de la Frontera. Only some 60km away said the map, less than an hour said our host.
So why not take the scenic way then, that goes through Grazalema, and perhaps see Zahara too? Here's why: we arrived in Arcos just in time to eat dinner, and then come back. And no, there was no time to see Zahara.
But what a road! What views! Had we not witnessed the majesty of those views, the different vegetation and colors, the other small townd splattered with white on the hill sides, we would have forever thought of Andalusia as parched earth, in various shades of baked.
And we would have not driven that magic road, at sunset, in the cool and fragrant air. Yep, it was all worth it, not really seeing Arcos...
1. Cleaned up and fueled, ready for action
2 - 3. Action on these narrow roads
4. In front of a white house
5 - 6. Views of Grazalema, enchanting hill town
7. At the top of the world in Sierra Grazalema, you can see for miles and miles of amazing mountainous terrain
8. King of the world, for a few pecious moments. Then a little Fiat passed us.
9 - 11. Into the sunset, pressing on towards Arcos de la Frontera
Granada, monument to the art of stone carving
From Ronda, we regretfully left our hotel (I get a feeling the best one on our trip) and headed towards Roquetas de Mar, near Almeria.
On the way, we stopped to see the Alhambra. (In the high heat of the day, naturally). It was definitely hot but with good food/water management we did ok, kids included. They had a blast walking all the twisted paths of the palace and seeing the wonderful inner gardens, ponds and views.
Perhaps I read it, and must have soon forgotten it - I don't know exactly how long it took the artisans to carve all the walls in the palace - but I do know it was a very long time. The patience and precision required are truly a thing to behold. If this palace was bult to delight and impress, it was a total success.
It's tough to get ensemble views unless you know the surrounding hills or have the use of a helicopter - so I brought you more detail shots, little nuggets of whatever caught my eye.
If you ever do find your way to southern Spain, don't miss the Alhambra. It's all it's cracked up to be, and more.
1. Through a topiary arrangement
2. Inner court
3 - 4. Amazing wood inlay ceilings. Few people ever gaze up...
5. Incredible sculptured arch and ceiling
6. Glazed tile and stone carving detail. The carvings cover many walls and must have taken decades - or centuries - to complete. It just boggles the mind.
7. Water courtyard
8. Walls and ceiling detail
9. The families are resting - it's very hot
10 - 11. Two sides of the same portico
12. Centuries old tile
13. Tile detail
14. Inner garden through an arch
15. A place to rest and view the garden
16. Through a wall, and then another, and then another...
17. Stone floor detail
18. View into Granada
19 - 22. Peaceful outer gardens
23. Tree and wall inextricably linked in time
Going to bed, hope to post some more in the coming days...
The main reason why you haven't heard from Nik more is that I'm the only one with a laptop and only one child. Anyone who tries to post a running commentry during their ED can attest to how challenging it can sometimes be - during the day we are with our families and can only post at strange hours in the night after everyone went to bed, or in the morning before they woke up. If it weren't for mrs. adc lending me a helping hand with our child duties, I'd never would have been able to post this far.
With 2 kids, it's harder still. Anyway, looking back at the posts I realized I haven't posted many pictures of us - so the next ones will attempt to rectify this in a small measure, by answering the question: what have NikD, his family and adc's family been up to during this trip?
1. Nick signing the paperwork
2. Then it's my turn
3. Enjoying a fruit salad before pickup
4. Kids checking out the vert
6. No, we didn't order beer for the kids
7. I told Nick the custom is bottoms-up for the first one (he didn't buy it)
8. Taking a picture of the kids taking a picture
9. Examining a strange tree with cotton-like flowers/fruit
10. Enjoying a cold glass of Sangria in Barcelona
11. In front of Casa Milla
12. Boys have discovered the subway car articulation
13. NikD having his morning therapy at our hotel in Barcelona
14. Enjoying a good meal in a beautiful setting in Ronda
15. Resting in the Alhambra
16. Posing - the forbidding stance is hard to muster in that heat
17. Families together in the gardens at Alhambra
Have you been to Spain? Prior to coming here, I probably would have thought similarly - what would you want with a hot, dusty, huge are of land populated by complicated people?
All of my preconceptions have been shattered - well except the heat and dusty part. If you don't like hot weather, Spain will not work for you.
But coming here I've discovered that under that thin veneer of odl fashioned courtesy, the Spaniards are warm, welcoming and fun - every single one I have met. Despite not knowing the language, I've never had problems communicating, joking and have always felt quite at home everywhere I went.
I'll use the most recent example - just last night after spotting some camouflaged SUV's from Germany in our parking lot, I went to check them out and met with a guy and his wife. In a mix of 3 different languges we hypothesized about the SUV models, he complimented the M, I explained about the Euro Delivery process, we discussed the car market in Europe and the US, told about our likes and dislikes when travelling, etc.
That to me is the salt and spice of travelling. And Spain delivers in spades.
In terms of landscaping, I guess it's the contrast between the arid plains and your final destinations which usually aren'y arid, the whiteness of the houses in the Andalusian villages contrasted with the brown earth tones, the simply marvelous architecture of Barcelona...
When you superimpose your visit with a little historical knowledge about the place, it just enhances the experience, at least for me - and Spain has lots of history to account for. Then there's the food, absolutely wonderful. Yes, there are plenty of things to like about Spain.
Thinking about it some more, your question is extremely valid - about any country we visit. Why go there, wandering lust aside? In a couple of days after our ED experience is over, I'll have time to organize my thoughts and post what I liked and disliked about my trip. Stay tuned...
On this note, I'll post a few pictures from Tortosa, where we stayed at the wonderful Parador - and for incredibly reasonable prices
1. Leaving our hotel in Roquetas de Mar
2. Half panoramic view from the Parador at Tortosa
3. ... and the other half
4. NikD in the parking lot. We discovered someone had absconded with his radio antena (plus one of his valve stem caps and 2 of mine).
5. Interior at the Parador
6. Bar area
7. Our room
8. I'm demonstrating some fine swimming techniques to my son
9. Amazing setting for the pool, and just the thing to do after a 5 hour drive
10. This way down the hill
11. Secret prototypes caught testing. No, I don't know what they were but my guess, based on the long front overhangs and rounded shapes, is something from the VAG group. Nik thought they were BMW's.
12. Parador at night
13 - 14. Views from the ramparts at night. The big building at the forefront is the church.
Nice, then home
Our all too short sejour Provencal was rapidly coming to an end so the next day we started driving towards our last European destination Ė Nice. We would drop the families at the hotel, then drop the cars and head out for a stroll afterwards.
Driving towards Nice I was able to run with an F430 for a short while, to top out my car at 160 on a completely empty stretch of 3 lane road, and to meet at a rest area with another bimmer guy (and bimmerfest member?) who had taken delivery the same day as us but had 5 more days on his vacation. I mean, is this a small world or what??? I spotted his Space Grey E90 335i MSport from far away and found him very easily in the restaurant (requisite BMW hat helped). After a short chat, we went our separate ways.
What can I tell you about Nice? Well, from a driving perspective it was almost as bad as Florence, with tight lanes, confusing exits and lanes, aggressive drivers and lots of traffic. Architecturally the Promenade des Anglais and old town are beautiful, and it was fun to watch the people going about their evening stroll. We managed to drop off the cars with a little time to spare, noting the various battle scars and hitching a cab ride to the hotel.
Battle scars? Oops yes, I forgot to tell about those. Well on my car, there was that time I parallel-parked in Triberg and had a disagreement with the sharp granite curb (wheel and front bumper). On NikD's car, someone stole his radio antenna and then the idiot with the blue bimmer in front ran over a heavy piece of rubber which then ended up denting his hood. And on both our cars, someone stole some of our valve stem caps.
So cars safely in the hands of TT Car Transit, we decided to reward ourselves with beers and the children with gelatos. We then walked around, did a little shopping
, checked out the merry go round and finally ended up eating dinner at one of the innumerable pizzerias on Rue Masena Ėwith our hotel conveniently located on the same street.
After dinner we walked about the Promenade a little, dipped out feet in the clear cool water and turned in for the night. And that was pretty much the end of our European adventure, unless you think the Zurich airport has some special appeal.
I'm now in the initial stages of severe M3 withdrawal, my 325i finally has a functional steering rack (I think) and I'm done driving my friend's Buick Century Limited. The higher we soar, the harder we fallÖ.
And now, for the pictures...
1. San Fancisco loved orange, Spain stick with their blues for bridge paint
2. Convertible moment
3. Evening paints the ochre cliffs in unearthly tones, while people enjoy a nearby cafe
4. Hmmm, a wine store... should we step in?
5 - 6. Cool colored orbs in our hotel garden
7. Lil' garden up in the sky
8. Typical French market atmosphere
9. Savons de Provence
11. Twisted vines
12. Saturated landscape
13. From high above, a road through the fields
14 - 15. Rooftop landscapes
16 - 17. Pretty colored houses
18. Restaurant menu, in appropriate colors
19. Menu looks good, should we go up?
20. Cafe terrace
21. Road narrows in deference to the old trees
22. Downwards street view in Lacoste
23. Street without parking
24. Cat on a hot tin roof
25. Road becons through vivid summer light
26. Rue Massena in Nice - time to pacify the kids
27. Cafe interior
28. No idea why, but the car is cute
29 - 30. Park in Nice
31. View from the Promenade des Anglais, incredibly blue sea
32. The sun sets on the Promenade
So why Spain?
So why pick Spain? What did we like, what annoyed us, what made us scratch our heads?
For me, it was mainly because of other peopleís recommendations - and because Iíd never been there before, an alluring terra incognita for adc and his family. I did go in with a few preconceived notions which were promptly blown out the window right in our first day in Spain, in the wonderful city of Barcelona. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the architecture (which I was expecting, and is really fantastic), but also the people. Warm, noisy and gregarious but at the same time able to keep some distance if the situation warrants it. Barcelona most of all places I visited, was a city of young and energetic people, fresh and sparkly yet with a rooted sense of history that somehow didnít drag it down into stuffy irrelevance.
I was also surprised to see how orderly highway traffic was flowing, how calm the drivers were given the tight surroundings and congested roads Ė in stark contrast to Italy. The other noteworthy aspect was that I didnít encounter any negativity or hostility, directed at us either as tourists or more specifically, as American tourists with noisy kids. Not even the local equivalent of a Gallic shrug.
In terms of landscape, the part of Spain we saw was vast and hot and it can probably overwhelm someone who is not familiar with the American Southwest. As we were driving south towards famed Andalusia, we passed Valencia and itís immense orange groves and then entered a majestic (yet empty) landscape shimmering in the heat, mile after mile of nothing peppered with the occasional business under the oppressing sun. By the time we reached the hilly countryside of Southern Spain, our eyes were thoroughly keyed into the various shades of brown encountered thus far and when we first saw the first white hill towns, the contrast Ė and our viewing pleasure - couldnít be greater. Crispy white and spotless, improbably huddled on hill tops or mountain sides, with narrow winding alleys and mysterious views of inner courtyards stolen though formal doorways.
Itís safe to say we loved Andalusia and weíll go back someday to hopefully enjoy it for a longer time.
And what about the food? I had heard reports from other travelers that they didnít enjoy the food, but I didnít worry too much Ė somehow, good food tends to find me in all my trips and I never suffer from the away-from-home syndrome. Letís just say, if you like seafood and ham, youíll be fine and most likely wonít have a bad meal. Sumptuous paellas, simple tapas bursting with flavor, unusual dishes of rabbit or exotic fish, rich desserts and wonderful wines conspired to entertain us at dinnertime day after day.
I think the only negative aspect was the midday heat. If you can't stand it, go during the winter. Perhaps the second half of July wasn't the best choice on our part, but at least we chose hotels with swimming
pools and decided to follow the locals and simply not do much during the siesta time.
Also, being a country of Southern persuasion, it's quite possible that certain things won't work quite as expected (such as the A/C the first night in Roquetas de Mar). These types of incidents happened to us in all our Euro travels (but with increasing probability the farther south in Europe we went) and we simply chose to view them as minor irritants and tried to not let them spoil our mood.
On balance, I can't wait to go back...
Almost forgot we're on a car forum - what was the M3 like?
I absolutely loved it. I thought it still has the ferociously hard charging capability of the previous version but without the harsh suspension. I also loved the sound when getting on it and the rock-solid structure. There was very little understeer, mostly experienced on tight Alpine switchbacks - but then again, what cars wouldn't do that over there?
The steering IMO continues the E46 streak of being overboosted and a touch sensitive (perhaps due to the lack of effort) and it's the only negative I can come up with right now - certainly not a deal breaker but still a little annoying. The other thing that doesn't quite measure up are the brake pads - and this will be the first thing I'll change when the car makes it home.
I found the EDC suspension to be brilliant - it had a setting for each occasion: smooth for gnarly city streets, medium for highway crusing without any float and hard for those special moments when you absolutely want to wring it (or for the track).
Speaking about the track, this year's laps on the Nordschleife were quite different that my first time there 2 years ago. In 2007 I was wide eyed with enthusiasm and every lap left me totally drained.
In contrast, this time I knew most of the track layout (thank you Gran Turismo
!) and I was also driving a faster car. Things were happening much faster, corners arrived sooner and I had to carefully plan the breaking and downshifting. And since of course Playstation only takes you so far, I found some sections of the track very hard to figure out - things were happening to the car that I had no explanation for, the traction control was flickering when I didn't really think it should, etc. So the next time around - whenever that may be - I will definitely need some human instruction.
Because I'm pretty sure there will be a next time in the future - I'm utterly and totally hooked on the Ring. Perhaps the August BMW school is the way to go...
Just don't ask me about my fuel bills, suffice to say it was eye-opening.
Last pic - 6682 km and 7 countries - see you in a few weeks M3.