Highlights from my BMW delivery in Munich in May 2008. The below are emails to friends...
It's a girl! a 3792 pound girl...
And I've decided to name her Hannah Belle. Can you guess why? (For the first person who guesses correctly - I'll send an 8 x 10 of any photo I've taken on this trip that you like...)
Here are two photos:
This was a first class experience all the way. The new BMW Welt (google it for photos, it's amazing) was just opened in October and it's quite an experience. It's a huge building and the Premium Lounge (where you check in, and wait for your time slot) is on the third floor, but it's likely higher than 30 feet up. The cars are brought out into the showroom below and when you go down to see it for the first time, you watch it from the viewing platform while it rotates on its own platform. Each buyer has his own attendant and there is a 40 minute overview (video, and simulator) of the car beforehand. After that is over they take you to your car and spend another hour learning about all of the car's features. It was like taking flying lessons for the first time - there is a LOT of stuff in the cockpit of this car! I synched up blue tooth and called my Dad from the car itself - I heard him talking through the speakers of the car.
After that is all done they load your luggage into it (believe me - the trunk space on Miss Hannah Belle is pretty darn small...) and then you can do a victory lap around the showroom before taking it outdoors and then into the garage.
After parking we spent another 2.5 hours on a factory tour which was VERY interesting. (Loud, but interesting...). The robots build the cars in a very elaborate dance - it was fascinating and frightening both, watching them operate. (and dance is the only way to put it - ballet even....) I think the person who dreamed up The Terminator must have been inspired by a trip to a car factory. The coolest part was watching the robots paint - it's as if they were alive, the way they handled the car. (opening doors, the trunk, the hood, etc...)
In a few minutes Mom and I are taking off to Austria, our first stop on the adventure. Enjoy the holiday!
We have a winnah!
I can't stay on long, as Mom and I are heading out on a hike. I just wanted to pop in, say hello (on an Italian keyboard, so please excuse any typos) and say that Mellen immediately emailed me with the correct reason behind the car's name! She emailed me back within hours. JOdy also guessed it right but I think her email was a day or two later. Great minds think alike!
Hannibal crossed the Alps, only he had elephants. He most likely did not have a laptop, blackberry, camera gear, nor a BMW. I think I have the better end of that deal!
It's been just wonderful. Highlights include the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (High Alpine Road which cuts through a park with a view of Austria's highest mountain) and we arrived Tues night in northern Italy, in the Dolomites. We are staying in a hotel perched on the side of a mountain, called the Uhrherhof Deur. From here, all you can hear are the tinkle of cowbells and the roar of the river down below.
I can't post photos yet because I haven't found wifi since I left Munich. Maybe on Lake Como (Anne and Kirk, did you find wifi there?)
Brodie, you should have gotten the email about the Welt since I cc'd you, if I don't hear back I will assume they are not going through and I'll forward them to you.
I have many more things to tell but we are heading out now. I'll be in touch later and it is so nice to hear from everyone too! I hope you are enjoying the late May weather.
Ofenpass: Ja. Stelvio: Nein. Boohoo
Logging in from cloudy Guarda Switzerland. What a week this has been - it's Friday night already! Today was the day we left the Dolomites in Italy to go to Switzerland, and in order to go from Italy to Switzerland you must cross some mountain pass (take your pick of several, depending on your location).
I had been hoping for the Stelvio Pass, which is the second highest pass in the entire Alps. It has over 60 switchbacks and is supposed to be just amazing. As the week grew to a close it was clear that it wasn't going to be fully open (one side only) and when we woke to cloud cover in Bulla, I knew it would have been pointless anyway. Not to mention the Umbrail Pass (other side of the Stelvio) is the last unpaved pass in the Alps and would have been a mudfest. Not the kind of fun I want in a new car. Plus, at the top of the Ofenpass it was 39 degrees F and that is quite a bit lower in altitude than the Stelvio. Rain, freezing, mud - not a good combo even if open! Instead of the Great Alpine Adventure it would have been the Bataan Death March through the Alps.
So we pressed on and opted for the Ofenpass, which is a pretty gentle pass, as passes go. We made it to our destination at 4 PM - Guarda itself is fairly high up and we have an impressive view of the mountain range across the river Inn (being on a mountain ourselves...).
Oh yeah, did I mention it rained all day, too? Considering all we did today was drive, not a big deal - except at the Swiss border where we had to produce our passports - which were buried in the suitcases. Did I mention the only way you can easily get the suitcases out of the backseat is to put the top down? Well, you can "not easily" root through your luggage in the backseat with the top up. Finally success! and we produced our passports and went on our merry and wet way. By the time we got here however, the sun was trying to peep out and we went for a nice walk before dinner. I do have a lot of photos by now but haven't posted them on flickr yet.
Some quick notes from the week:
Munich: Paige - I think we missed the boat on the olive oil soap. The Viktualienmarkt is not open on Sunday and by the time we got in Saturday and dragged our jet-lagged selves around, all we did was have a snack there and then we wandered to the English Garden (where we saw examples of what it is famous for - let's just say, how do they put sunscreen on the private places in public?) and then the Ratskeller for dinner (and REALLY GOOD BEER) and then snooooooooze. Didn't we eat there when I met up with you guys in Munich 6 years ago? Anyway, we wil be back in Munich next Saturday but I think it will be after 4 PM when it will be closed.
Also Munich - on Sunday we visited Dachau which was thoroughly depressing. I really don't have adequate words for it. The Museum and its stories and photos - well let's just say a little goes a long way. After 30 minutes you want to get outside and get some air. I last visited there about 15 years ago, but Mom had never been. That afternoon we went on a 3 hour walking tour which was about the Third Reich and Hitler's rise to power. What one person can do with the proper thugs behind him and a culture of fear.
Monday we picked up the car and ya'll know about that! Having driven it all week I can say it's a spectacular car. It's climbed mountains (7 passes so far and counting) with two people and with the boot and back seat full of luggage (and I do mean - full of luggage) with nary a whimper, and the doodads on it are fun to play with (and use) and already I feel like I wouldn't want to be without them.
Monday night we stayed in Zell am See, Austria. I'd love to come back and spend more time - it is a beautiful village and a great base for day trips and hiking and biking and you name it. "See" means lake...
to be continued...
Sul Lago di Como
We made it to my favorite part of the itinerary - Lake Como. Last night we stayed in Lenno, on the west side of the Lake, and this morning we will visit Villa Balbianello, which has been used for several movie sets (among them A Month at the Lake, and at least one Star Wars..) This afternoon we will put Miss Belle on the ferry and cross the Lake to Varenna, where we will stay at the Eremo Gaudio for 3 nights (same place as last year...).
I think the idea of a Month by the Lake is really attractive... heck even a week or two each year would be nice.. sigh.
More later! Have a great weekend everyone...
Changing course in midstream (following the sun...)
We are still on Lago di Como and the day dawned bright and sunny - nary a cloud in the sky and it is maybe 65 degrees out right now.
Many of you have emailed me to ask me if we were affected by the huge rains here in middle Europe. We actually did not know it was a system passing through, we have been very lucky with the weather. Other than the rain we experienced on the drive from the Dolomites to Guarda Switzerland (Engadin region), and, a brief bout of spitting yesterday, we have been rain free. We have had some overcast weather, but even that has been in the minority.
That said... I noticed with some alarm that the 3 days in Grindelwald (Berner Oberland) was forecast to be not only 3 days straight of rain, but cold (high of 50). That just will not do. We would not be able to see the mountains and forget about spending 3 days outside in rain and cold. The things I had hoped to do there just would not be very enjoyable. It is not an ,indoors, place to visit!
So, I extended our stay here on Lake Como. How can we leave blue skies and sun? We are spending one more night (beyond tonight, which was already reserved) in the Eremo Gaudio, perched up on the mountain... and another night across the lake in Lenno, in the hotel where we stayed on Saturday night. It is in a perfect location, the balcony overlooks the ferry stop and just meters up the (quiet, one-way) lane are several restaurants with terrace views on the lake. I am taking a hit for the cancellation, since I have to pay 100% of the room fee for the hotel we are cancelling, but, it is a small price to pay to be able to stay where it is warm and sunny.
So, instead of leaving here tomorrow morning, we are leaving Friday morning to make our way back to Munich for the weekend - which is also one day early, so we will just pick a place to stop for the night Friday and thus split up the driving. I think tomorrow we will go to Milan to wander (and shop!) and perhaps get lucky and see Leonardo da Vinci,s Last Supper. (reservations required). Today we are going to have a seaplane ride over Lake Como so I will have some fabulous photos to share!
Some highlights from the past few days:
We have wandered through several lakeside villas. The amount of money that landed here (now and in the past) is staggering. Villa Balbianello was spectacular (as expected) and I also found out that Casino Royale had scenes filmed there. The owner.s story was really fascinating - has anyone here ever heard of Guido Monzino? He was the last owner of the villa, and gave it to FAI (the Italian version of the National Trust) upon his death. He was the son of a very wealthy Milanese businessman and he neither worked nor had a family, but he devoted his life to exploration, being the first Italian to scale Mount Everest and he also was the first Italian to reach the North Pole. The villa has a massive library and map room (and much of the villa is underground, it looks large but not hugely so, from the outside...) and to sum up looks like THE ultimate bachelor pad from the 50s (and I do not mean that in a Hugh Hefner kind of way... think more of a James Bond kind of way...)
There is a huge lakeside villa in Varenna which apparently was a monastery a long time ago (those poor Catholics!) and after the last owner died became a center of scientific study.... while on the topic of the impoverished Catholic church, the Villa Balbienello had as its first owner a Cardinal from the 1700s... (I am Catholic, so I can say this!)
We also wandered around Bellagio yesterday. Mom and I are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, in case that is not evident!
Amy, you would appreciate this - in the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday, we sat very near a young-Colin Firth lookalike. (men, you can avert your eyes now...) You know how he looked in Pride and Prejudice? All the way to the curly, foppish hair, long side burns, and white button down shirt with the top two buttons undone? Yeah, that Colin Firth. hubba hubba. It clearly was not he, since he was a good ten years younger and spoke perfect Italian, but hoo baby.
I forgot to tell everyone also - a fillup on the car is 115 bucks! yipes.
OK, we are heading out now. Have a great day everyone!
Spargel-bargle and back in Munich
Apparently it is Spargel season. (asparagus, and I think specifically white asparagus). We got back to Munich Friday night and I've seen entire menu pages devoted to them, as well as seeing them in every food stall in the Viktualienmarkt. It's also the weekend for kickoff of Euro-cup so we saw a lot of flag waving yesterday and huge lines to get into the Hofbrauhaus and other pubs.
Friday was a loooooooong day of driving - overcast when it wasn't rainy, mountain passes shrouded in clouds, and "only" 300 miles on the odometer but until we hit Germany it was entirely slow going. Naturally once we were on the autobahn all bets were off (but for the limits on the new engine) but the lead up to that was relatively slow. I dropped off the car with 971 miles on the odo, in part because once we got to Lake Como it stayed put for the week. I think the break in period is 1200 miles or so, so I had to keep it around 100 once we finally got to Germany. Sooooooooo smooth. It's quite an experience to be in the left lane, passing someone at 105 mph and have a speck in your mirror turn into a big BMW very, very quickly. You move over immediately after passing and the 740 rockets by... (I'd say it's a thing of beauty but some might disagree...)
Friday night we didn't have hotel plans (heck, Friday morning we were still debating whether to go to Fussen or Garmisch for that night, until deciding to just plow through to Munich) so I decided to drive straight to the airport Sheraton where I was stranded in January after my Italy New-Years trip. A few clicks of the Nav system, pulled up the hotel directions and off we went. I knew the hotel had a good restaurant and Paulaner Weissbier (nectar!) and that once we parked we would have a good place to eat and it was very modern and comfortable too. It was the cheapest hotel on the trip, too. So, now the car is at the shipping agency (boo hoo) and I have the German license plate in my luggage as well as the loose odds and ends in the car. (manual, first aid kit, triangle, yada yada). It was already initiated - someone swiped the rear bumper, I suspect while it was parked in the garage at the hotel in Lenno. It's just a scuff with some paint missing, not a dent or anything. Roads and garage space in Italy are so narrow!
The first week of our trip was pretty much full sun with a little overcast here and there. The second week of the trip (Lake Como included) was pretty much full overcast with a little sun here and there and a little rain too. On the Lake, Tuesday was the last sun we saw (the day we decided to stay put) but it stayed warm the whole time. We made it to Milan for four hours but after a trek from the Duomo to the Last Supper, we found that it was sold out (as expected, you need to reserve well in advance). We did visit the Duomo and were robbed of 100 bucks at lunch. By robbed, I mean we plunked down at an "outdoor cafe" in the over-the-top Galleria next to the Duomo and had awful pasta, a glass of wine each, and a stale roll each... for 65 euros. I wouldn't have minded so much BUT the rolls turned out to be 5 euros, each. 16 bucks, for two stale rolls. Try not to eat near the Duomo.
Let's see... we visited several villas right on the lakefront, I think I told you about one of them. Villa Monastero was very near our hotel and the gardens there were my favorite. (Anne, the drive up the hill to the Eremo Gaudio literally starts at the Villa Monastero entrance). Boats are *the* way to get around (forget about driving, parking isn't easy and the roads are maybe 1.5 lanes, not quite two..) so it was a slow, lazy week on the lake.
I'll fill in some blanks on other experiences later. I think the final tally on mountain pass driving was nine passes - the coolest pass was the Maloja pass which was essentially a step ladder right down the mountain. Gasoline is crazy expensive - more than double that in the US (a fillup is almost 115 bucks...). I put a few more photos online but the majority wil obviously have to wait until I get home. I owe a lot of emails now, too!
Have a great Sunday everyone...
Monday, December 8, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
More hints you say?
What do Casino Royale, Star Wars, Ocean's Twelve and A Month by the Lake have in common?
More hints you say?
How about "What was revered by a Cardinal in the beginning and loved by an international man of mystery to the end?"
If you thought "Villa Balbianello on Lake Como", you're right!
Lake Como has long been a playground for the wealthy. Its beauty and serenity has also been attractive to the Catholic church which snapped up some prime locations; to-wit, Villa Monastero in Varenna (once a monastery) and Villa Balbianello, once the site of a Franciscan monastery. Villa Balbianello itself was built by Cardinal Durini in 1787 after he discovered its beautiful locale (a promontory jutting out just south of present-day Lenno) and decided its solitude would be a perfect place to escape the world.
Almost 200 years later, in 1974, Villa Balbianello would be bought by its last private owner, Guido Monzino, the son of a wealthy Milanese businessman. Guido was quite a character: he climbed the Matterhorn, he was the first Italian to scale Mount Everest and he led an expedition to the North Pole. Sadly he died a young 60 years old in 1988 and his resting place is his beloved Villa. He willed it to FAI, the Italian National Trust, and it is now a museum to his adventurous life (with a strong James Bond aura!). When you visit his smoking room, filled with leather chairs and maps and globes and books you can imagine that he only just nipped out for a bottle of Scotch and would be right back.
Finally, the glamorous movie connection of this fabulous Villa: it has played a starring role in the various movies listed above and it's no surprise at all that one of them was a James Bond film. Before you visit this spectacular villa you simply must watch the Vanessa Redgrave/Uma Thurman movie, A Month by the Lake. You will find yourself seeking your own Month by this wondrous Lake too.