ED 2014 - Split & Dubrovnik, Croatia; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Munich Oktoberfest: Nurburgring and the Rhine

Trying to find time has been difficult. We have stayed busy since my last post, most nights when we come back to our room writing is not the first thing that I want to do. It has been about a week since our last post and we are now back in Munich for Oktoberfest, but more on that later.

My last post ended the evening before we left Rovinj for Split. That day we left Istira for north eastern Croatia to stop first at Plitvice National Park. Plitvice is near the border with Bosina ad after spending a couple hours on the Croatia freeways we left for small back roads. We drove through small villages that still show significant damage from the Serbian attacks.

In 1991 Slovenia first and Croatia second voted for independence from Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was the creation of Joseph Tito, who was a partisan in WWII who first fought the Nazis and later formed Yugoslavia from a number of regions that had several different ethnic groups and regions that had been the part of different empires up until the last couple of hundred years. Rovnij was a part of the Ventian Empire, Bosnia was a part of the Ottoman Empire, Slovenia the Austro-Hungarian empire and Dubrovnik bought their independence from the Ottoman empire until Napoleon invaded.

A decent size of the population in the Ottoman empire adopted Islam, Serbians became Eastern Orthodox and the rest are Catholic. They all speak the same or similar language but are separate groups with issues going back hundreds of years. The Croat dictator who was a Nazi puppet during WWII killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, which was a perceived issue by the Serbians when Croatia voted for independence.

Shortly after Croatian independence, the Serbs in Croatia backed by the Yugoslav military attacked, and the first place they attacked and held was the area near Plitvice. There are villages that still have bombed out houses and churches, the houses in many cases belonging to Serbs who never returned.

The national park itself is beautiful. It is in the mountains, surrounded by forest. The park is a series of lakes in the hills. There are some larger lakes that they use electric boats to shuttle tourists around and then there are boardwalks for you to walk by lakes and the hundreds of waterfalls. The stone in the area is limestone that is dissolved by water and then those particles build up to form new natural dams, so you end up with a number of small pools. There are both very large and very small falls. The only problem is the number of tourists; it was a lot of people for very small paths and everyone (including us) want to take a large number of pictures.

Plitvice National Park

After a couple of hour drive after leaving the park we arrived in Split. Split is a large, modern Croatian city. After coming from Rovinj it was a little bit of shock to be around so many people. Split is a major transportation hub, from/to Italy, through Croatia and to the Croatian islands, like Hvar which we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit.

Our hotel was near the waterfront and the GPS wanted us to drive down very small alleys that only pedestrians or scooters could fit down. We found somewhere to stop and find the hotel and ended up giving the car to the hotel owners son to take home since there was no where around we could safely park it. We then went out to explore.

The main draw to tourists to Split is that it the Roman Emperor Diocletian built a palace to retire to. After Rome fell, people moved in. It is several hundred meters on each side and there are now restaurants, apartments, stores and hotels all built within the palace. 

It had multiple floors, on side facing the ocean was his families residence and the back half housed staff and the military garrison. There is a grand entry way, the peristyle that had a temple for Jupiter and Diocletian’s mausoleum which is now a church. Its decoration included numerous Egyptian sphinxes, three of which remain. It took 11 years to build and took the lives of 2,000 slaves.

Diocletian's Palace Peristyle

One of the remaining Egyptian Sphinxes in Diocletian's Palace

We explored it and the walkway in front of it the evening after arriving. The next morning it was pouring rain, while the weather hadn’t been perfect, it hadn’t rained yet. Both Shannon and I brought small umbrellas, not good, large ones. It is days like this that make me remember that it is worth a little extra space in luggage for a good umbrella. We wondered around and ended up getting a sim card for Shannon’s phone. One week of service and 1 Gb of data ended up costing $4. While I brought a rain jacket, Shannon didn’t and we spent some time looking for one.

We had lunch at a little hole in the wall that Rick Steve’s recommended in his guidebook and had a local dish that is like pizza but with a top crust kind of like a very thin stuffed pizza that had spinach, onions and garlic and was covered in olive oil. It was delicious.

We went into part of the substructure of the palace that they excavated and explored. Part of it has been used for filming Game of Thrones. During this my camera broke. I have traditionally used a digital SLR on my trips that is now 10 years old. While it still take great pictures I get tired of taking it around everywhere I go on these trips and they have now come out with small digital super zooms that have optical zoom lenses that are the equivalent of 600-800 mm in 35mm lingo so I bought one of these for the trip.

I got a lens error on it and the camera locked up. The lens couldn’t close or move out. I went back to the room to mess with it and Shannon went shopping. I ended up trying all of the troubleshooting tips I could find on line but none of them worked. The camera is garbage and fortunately by the time that I write this, American Express has refunded me for the cost of the camera (first time I have used their purchase protection coverage). So all of the pictures I take the remainder of the trip will be on my iPhone. 

That evening we went to dinner at one of the cafes with tables outside on the main promenade in front of the palace. It was a nice night, the rain was gone and it was warm. We ended up being seated near a woman from Boston who just finished a bike tour of Croatia, we probably talked with her for about an hour. The dinner was great, the food in Croatia overall is very good, but in tourist areas the prices are about the same as they are in the US.

The next morning we left for Dubrovnik. The route took us inland onto the freeway. The Croatians have built new freeways within the last 10 years and still aren’t done, the last hour or so into Dubrovnik went along the coast because the freeway hasn’t been completed. The freeways are nice, at this point they are the best driving in Europe, there is a speed limit of 130 KPH or about 85 MPH, the same as most of Europe. There are almost no police though. We saw very few police at all in Croatia (although Shannon did see someone arrested in Split) because there is almost no crime. Everyone leaves there houses unlocked and I felt the safest I have anywhere in the world – similar to being in Japan.

The freeways have very little traffic on them (they are toll roads and driving the entire length of the county cost about $65) but Croatia is mountainous and there are a lot of tunnels, between Split and Dubrovnik I think we drove through 15. The last hour drive to Dubrovnik along the coast was beautiful but slow. There are a number of small towns along the coast that are just beautiful. On the way we had to pass through Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dubrovnik was independent and had given the Ottoman empire a short 5 mile stretch to serve as a buffer zone between Dubrovnik and the Venetian empire, after the breakup of Yugoslavia that was Bosnian and they still have access. We had to enter Bosnia and had our passports stamped. It was odd because in total we ended up going through there a total of four times and this was the only time they did that. The other times they would just look at our passports and let us go through.

We got into Dubrovnik early afternoon after some difficulty finding our apartment. It was high on the hill overlooking Dubrovnik on the main road. I called the guy who runs the hotel and he shuffled cars to make space for us to park along the road. This was the start to the most interesting check-in I have ever had.

I ended up booking this place because of the trip advisor reviews of the guy who owns it (Ivo). He is the best host you could ever ask for. When we got there we went out onto a patio and we gave us each a beer and we talked. He is a very genuine, very funny man who is truly interested in making everyone stay as enjoyable as possible. The place is nice but not five star but it came up in conversation that both Rhianna and Pink stayed there this year. We ended up finding Pink’s review on trip advisor a few days later. Check-in ended up taking four hours. We sat and talked and different guests stopped by; a mother and daughter from Florida, two couples from Sweden. They would come in and grab a drink and sit down for a while. In the gaps between drop ins we talked about what his recommendations where, what to see and do and where to eat.

Pinks Review of Apartment Baltazar

The old town in Dubrovnik is a walled city. It is used (and was being used while we were there) for filming Game of Thrones. It has been referred to as the Pearl of the Adriatic, the only issue is cruise ships. The old town is rather small and during the summer months cruise ships descend. Ivo’s recommendation was that we not go to old town until after 4:00 in the afternoon, by then most of the cruise ship day trippers have departed and you see the locals start to come out. We wondered down for dinner. It is truly a beautiful town. There was an earthquake that destroyed most of the city in the late 1600’s and it was rebuilt in a very similar style but there are a couple of buildings that survived and that are older.

It is a beautiful city, surrounded by high thick walls. There is a main promenade running down one side of the city, the rest is a connection of narrow alley ways. Cars aren’t able to get in. During the evenings when there aren’t a ridiculous number of tourists it is very nice.

View of Dubrovnik from the Wall

Dubrovnik City Wall

The next morning we went down town and spent the day surrounded by peope from the cruise ships. Not quite as enjoyable wondering around town but they really didn’t go into the sites. We went in and toured one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, in operation for more than 500 years, their rectors palace (which did survive the earthquake). They were concerned with anyone becoming too powerful and the rector (leader of the city) only served for 30 days. We went into a Serbian Orthodox church that doesn’t have pews, and went into their cathedral and saw the treasury, with three locks on the doors because they didn’t trust anyone person to have a key. The treasury was filled with relics, basically body parts, like a silver leg that would have a piece of leg bone supposedly from a saint (sorry they wouldn’t let us take pictures).

We walked back to our hotel, Shannon wasn’t happy. It was about 500 steps up the hillside, but it was good for us, especially since while we have done a lot of walking, I haven’t worked out since we left for vacation.

Our second day in Dubrovnik we took a day tour to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was one of the most devastated cities during the war. Basically the city had Bosniaks, the muslim minority, Croats and Serbians. When the Serbs started fighting the Bosniaks and Croats teamed up but there was basically negotiation between Croatia and Serbia that determined which county got particular areas and it was decided that Mostar would become Croatian. The Serbs kind of stepped back and then it was the Croatians fighting the Bosniaks with the Mostar old city in the middle.

The ottoman empire 400 years ago built, what was then, the worlds longest single span bridge. It was a strong symbol and meant a lot to the Bosniaks so the Croatians destroyed it. It was rebuilt 10 years ago and it is one of the main things that I remember of the war and the fighting. It is one of the things that I have wanted to see for sometime and only when I started planning this trip did I learn that it was close to Dubrovnik.

We can only take our car through countries that are members of the EU as only these nations recognize the German export license plates (or Zoll plates) that we have on the car while it is in Europe. The car is also only ensured in these countries. Bosnia is not yet a member of the EU. There was a chance that they wouldn’t let the car through the 5 mile section along the coast but I thought the chance was slim, I also thought that the chance of an incident occurring that would require insurance was slim. Actually driving elsewhere into Bosnia is a different matter.

We had one other option for a day tour and that is going south into Montenegro. You couldn’t drive there either but there are also day long tours that go to a historic, picturesque town in a fjord like setting that sounded very appealing. Ivo recommended that since we were Americans that we not go there. Montenegro was a part of Serbia until 2006. We bombed Serbia in 1999 over Kosovo and we are apparently still despised in Montenegro. It is also becoming a Russian hotspot and place to the rich and famous from Russia to go to. Including the Russian mob. He recommended that if we did go to wear stuff from Canada or the UK. We decided it probably wasn’t a good idea.

For these reason we took a tour to Mostar. We woke up to very strong winds and whitecaps on the Adriatic. They get a wind from the north in Dalmatia called the Bora during the fall and winter and it signaled the end of summer. When we got on the van were the youngest couple by probably 15 years of about the 10 or so tourists. There were Swedes, a British couple and two couples from Wales. We had to cross into and then back out of that same stretch of Bosnia on the coast to get to the road that heads inland (it leaves from the northern part of Croatia for some reason). We had a short stop in Plocitelj, a very small town with a ruined tower on top of the hill that overlooks a small mosque and the valley. I had to run up to it on our short stop but got some great photos.

Plocitelj

After about 3 hours driving we arrived in Mostar. Much of the damage has been eliminated, buildings either repaired or replaced but there area still signs of damage on some buildings.  We had about an hour tour with a local guide who really didn’t go beyond what we learned from the guidebooks.

There were more tourists here than we expected, most on day trips like us so for much of the time we were in crowds too big for the small streets. There are number of mosques, at one point you can see 5 minarets, We toured one of them, had a nice traditional Bosian meal composed of meat at one of the local restaurants and bought a few souvenirs. Then we had to be back on the van for the ride back. We would have been better off driving ourselves but I think it was worth it not to take the risk with the car. Sometimes tours and guides are well worth it, other times not so much. Someone who can really bring a place and its history to life is invaluable, someone who just regurgitates the information not so much.

Mostar Old Bridge

Because we had such a large lunch neither of us was really hungry but for the second night in a row we did have to get gelato from the best place in town. It was some of the best I have ever had.

The next day we had to leave. I really want to go back and Ivo’s recommendation was during the winter. It is still normally sunny and about 50 degrees, but no cruise ships. There were a number of things that we didn’t do that we still want to do, and without the cruise ships it would be a nice place to go and just relax. At our departure we got a gift bag containing a bottle of the local cherry brandy and several other things. Ivo was the best host we have ever had and I want to stay with him again.

The one thing that I found shopping in Dubrovnik that I really wanted to buy was s tone carving. The stone used to build the city is the same stone that was used to build the White House. There is local stone carving school that has basically a gift shop and there was one carving I really wanted but each time we went back to buy it the shop was closed. Parking is very difficult down around old town and we ended up parking in the basement of the Hilton that is located near old town. I had seen pictures and video of car elevators but never had an opportunity until using that hotel. It works just like a normal elevator but you drive in, the doors close and it moves you to another floor. We went to the shop but it was closed. The parking cost at the Hilton was a four hour minimum so we ended up paying $35 for about 15 minutes parking which is the most I have ever paid. That was also the same price as the carving I wanted so I am disappointed that I spent the money that I was planning on for the carving instead on riding a car elevator.

We did get to see them film a scene from Game of Thrones though.

Game of Thrones Actors and Crew

We then ended up driving to the top of the hill. They have a cable car that runs up the several thousand feet to a Napoleonic era fortress that was instrumental in the defense of Dubrovnik in the war against the Serbs.  It also has a museum devoted to the war and the siege of Dubrovnik that we wanted to see. We hadn’t had the chance to either take the cable car or visit the museum and didn’t have the time then but we wanted to at least see the view. In one direction you look down over Dubrovnik, in another you look south to Montenegro and then in the other is Bosnia.

Dubrovnik from mount Srd

We had along drive ahead of us across all of Croatia and into Slovenia.  The BMW has a 1200-mile break-in period that ended shortly into the drive. For the most part I behaved my self and kept within about 10 (maybe 20) MPH of the posted 130 KPH speed limit. There was one stretch that was clear and straight and I did hit 142-143 though. Because it is a toll road they have rest areas with gas stations and cafes every 30 miles or so. We stopped at one for lunch I while I thought I ordered a hamburger on a bun, what I ended up getting was 2 plain hamburger patties.

We were going to try and stop in Trieste, Italy on the way but didn’t end up bring able to do it. Around 6:00 that night we got into Ljubljana. The hotel was in a pedestrian zone so after we parked, walked to find it and ended up getting our car into the pedestrian zone to drop off luggage and then parked in the hotels parking lot that they share with a few local businesses.

The hotel desk clerk recommended a restaurant a few blocks away for dinner, so we started wondering in that direction. It was quite a change from Croatia, there were no overwhelming throngs of tourists. Ljubljana is a very nice city in what looks like a very neat country. It is very similar to the Willamette valley in appearance, lots of green with plenty of trees, mountains and rolling hills.

The city is small, with just over a quarter of a million people.  The symbol of the city is the dragon as the town is supposedly on the sight where either Jason, from Jason and the Argonauts or St George killed the dragon. There is a castle that over looks the town and after an earthquake in 1895 destroyed large parts of the town, it was rebuilt in Viennese style to accompany the buildings that survived that are in a Baroque style that are the result of rebuilding after a 1511 earthquake. Got it?

The Slovenians are nice and very proud of their small country and city. It is a mix between feeling Germanic and felling Mediterranean (Croatian/Italian) so it was great place to visit, as it is a cross between the two destinations on this part of the trip. After wondering around for a while we came back and had dinner at the recommended restaurant (Julija, or Juliet in Serb-Croatian as it is across the street from Café Romeo) that was wonderful. We ate at one of the sidewalk tables and we enjoyed traditional Slovenia food. I ate too much while Shannon finished her meal with Apple Strudel that was incredible (I did have to try a bite).

Ljubljana, Slovenia

The next morning we woke up and happened to see out our window that someone parked behind our car. A common enough occurrence but we needed to leave by noon so I was a little concerned. We went down stairs for breakfast and the desk clerk said she would call the businesses they share the lot with and get the car moved. While it was cool and over cast the weather wasn’t bad. I could tell though that the great weather of Croatia was gone.

After exploring for a while it started to sprinkle. I hadn’t warn my rain jacket, Shannon didn’t have one and neither of us grabbed our umbrellas but it was ok it was only sprinkling. We visited a market, a few small stores and a department store where e looked at Armani and Ermenegildo Zegna clothes, that comparatively speaking were well priced. After wondering around some more it just started to pour. Both of us were pretty wet and fortunately we were going through a market with cheap clothing when we ran into a vendor with umbrellas, we bought a larger one that gave both of us at least some coverage. We got back to the hotel, the car blocking us in had been moved and we packed up our luggage and were off to Munich.

We drove the same route from Ljubljana to Munich that we had taken on our way to Croatia. The same spectacular drive through the alps with several tunnels, some 7-8 miles long. Part way along the drive the rains subsided and we started to see some blue sky.

Our route took us near Salzburg which is right next to the German border. Just outside of Salzburg is Berchtesgaden, which has been a German resort town since the early 1800’s. On our previous European Delivery trip in 2008 we had wanted to stop by Berchtesgaden and go to the Eagle’s Nest a gift to Hitler on his 50th birthday that is one of the few remaining buildings from the Nazi era but where there in April and it was too early in the season prior to it opening. This time we stopped by and while it is still open, we arrived too late in the day. It will have to wait for a future trip.

Munich becomes a little crazy during Oktoberfest. Hotel room pricing at least doubles if not tripling. For this reason we ended up booking a room at  Comfort Inn a ways out from downtown. Overall not a bad hotel. It is one of the few chain hotels we booked during this trip and the room was nice and big and the breakfast they provide was really good. It was close to a bus stop and we would catch the bus to a U-Bahn or subway station and then take the U-Bahn to the Theresienwiese or the grounds on which the Oktoberfest are held. In Bavaria you will occasionally see men wearing Lederhosen or women wearing Dirndls but during Oktoberfest almost everyone is wearing it. Both can be expensive. We saw a window display at a high end store and they had dirndls that were as much as $1500. You see people everywhere wearing them and it becomes even more common the closer you get to the Oktoberfest grounds. Parking is difficult in Munich other times and becomes crazy during Oktoberfest and the subway goes right to it so the subway is kind of insane. You see incredibly drunk people leaving and very excited and sometimes obnoxious teens and young adults on their way there.

Slutty Dirndl Girls

The first night we were there was Thursday that was busy but not ridiculous. They grounds are rather large – several hundred acres. There are all sorts of the normal amusement park rides, an incredible number of food stands and then the beer tents. The word tent is interesting because these are full on buildings but they are erected only for Oktoberfest and then torn down afterward. There are 12 large ones that hold 6,000 or so people inside and then 2,000 outside each. You reserve spots a year ahead of time to sit at one of the tables and without a reservation it is next to impossible to get in to a tent. You will walk buy and the doors will be closed and there will groups of people waiting outside trying to get in.

There are smaller beer tents that are closer to what we would envision as a beer garden at an event in the US at which you can get a beer. There are also stands that serve mixed drinks and shots. Shannon and I had a beer at one of the stands and wondered around for a while. While walking by one of the tents (Pschorr-Braurosl), the doors were opening so we went it. It was pretty insane. Nearly everyone was standing on the tables singing along with the oompah band that was playing. Everyone holding their one liter steins of beer, waitresses walking by one of whom I think was holding 8 or so of these steins (the beer only comes in the one liter steins in the beer tents). We walked by massive kitchens and through massive crowds in the aisles. We made a couple of circles but couldn’t find anyway to get beer.

Inside the Pschorr-Braurosl Oktoberfest Tent

After spending sometime inside we decided to leave and went out the back. Shannon was waiting outside for me as I used the bathroom and when I came out she was talking to a stereotypical little Bavarian blond in a dirndl. We probably talked with her for about 20 minutes. Her name was Andi and she lives for Oktoberfest. She goes every year and not every night but many during the week. She doesn’t drink every night she goes as it sounds like work kind of interferes with Oktoberfest but she did say that there are people who take the 2 weeks of and spend every time there. As we stood there we saw a woman crying, couple making out and she talked about how many Oktoberfest babies there must be and that some of the relationships are for one night or two weeks. It was obvious that this is big part of her life and the lives of many people in Bavaria.

We went back on Friday night at it was insane. Whereas you could wonder around on Thursday, on Friday it was just massive crowds. There was no chance of getting into a tent and after a little while we left. We went to the Hofbrauhaus that is the most touristy of the Munich beer halls. It was also really busy and of all things we ended up finding seats at the same table in the garden courtyard that we has 6 years ago. We had a beer and then headed back to the hotel.

Friday Night at Oktoberfest

Saturday we drove about 6 hours across Germany to Nurburg. Driving on the Autobahns is frequently not fun because there is so much construction. In a number of the construction zones they take the lanes down to 2-2.2 meters (6.5-7’) and with some of the tractor-trailer rigs and concrete barriers it is somewhat unnerving. Unlimited speed zones become rarer once you leave southern Germany but we did have a chance to drive fast a few times. At one point we were following an Audi R8 ($120k sports car) doing about 140 mph.

That evening we arrived in Nurburg. Nurburg is home to the Nurburg ring that is probably the greatest racetrack in the world. It was finished in 1927 and was used for a number of races on the Nordschliefe (North Loop) including F1 up until shortly after the Niki Lauda accident that is featured in the movie ‘Rush’ – F1 cars were just getting too fast for the Nordschliefe. In 1984 they built a grand prix track for F1 and other races.

Today the Nordschliefe is still used for races, just not F1. They have a 24-hour race. It is also a major proving ground for all of the major car manufactures that are building any sort of sporty car will test it on the Nordschliefe. As you drive around you will see the complexes the car companies own. Finally the Nordschliefe is open for ‘Touristenfahrten’ . On days there aren’t races or car company testing it is an open public one-way toll road. Normal driving rules apply (there are even speed limits in one place) especially including no passing the right (that is a big no-no in Europe unlike Oregon where it is legal based on weather and traffic conditions).

Several years ago an investor thought it would be a good idea to turn the Nurburgring into an amusement park. They invested a ridiculous amount of money and built a new hotel (which we stayed at), casino, roller coaster and other things. Fortunately this failed and they had to declare bankruptcy. The hotel was quite, we had a dinner in the hotel restaurant with a few other diners and went to bed.

The next morning we woke to heavy fog. The weather conditions at Nurburgring can be challenging. It is large enough that it can be foggy or raining in one part of the track and sunny in another. We enjoyed the hotels wonderful breakfast buffet and went and explored. They did have a couple of gift shops where we had to buy a few souvenirs (Shannon finally got a raincoat). After a while the fog started to clear. We checked out of the hotel and left our baggage at the front desk. We then drove over to the start line.

It is unlike anything you can see in the US. The weather forecast for the day was good and it very well could be the last Touristenfahrten day with good weather of the year. There are thousands of people, motorcyclists (more Ducati’s than I could every imagine but at a Motto Guzzzi and at least one Triumph). Cars – as one person we overheard said when we drove by, more BMWs (M3s/M4s/M6s and 1Ms)and Porsches (mainly GT3s – track cars with factory roll cages) than you could ever imagine seeing in one place. Ferraris, Audi R8s, Aston Martins, Caterhams, Corvettes, Nissan GTRs. My car stood out. Which is kind of odd but it is new, has a great reputation and there just aren’t many of them yet. It is kind of odd to draw more attention than a Ferrari but after seeing a dozen Ferraris they aren’t so unique anymore. I paid my 27 Euros and got an entrance ticket. We got our car in line and were off.

Nurburgring Start Line

I have done a few track days but cannot by any means be considered an expert. I know enough about the Nordschliefe to know that it is an incredibly difficult track to drive and also very dangerous. Somewhere close to 200 people have died on it over the years. It is now 12.9 miles long with 73 corners and over 1000 feet in elevation changes. While my car is insured to do this, the last thing I wanted was an accident.

So I drove at about 80% over what the car and I where both capable of.

Man, what an experience it was. First the track. It is incredible. It throws so much stuff at you, none of the corners are the same. The camber is different, decreasing radius, increasing radius. Some are smooth, some are rough. Some are totally blind.

The car was spectacular. There were 2 or 3 corners I didn’t expect, when I was coming into a corner way to fast, sometimes at bad angles and the car handles it like to problem. I drove it in sport mode and let the transmission do its thing. The transmission was superb, down shifting 2 or 3 gears when I asked it for more. There was always as much power as I needed. I was giddy during the whole drive.

Then we come around the corner and there were a couple of cars stopped. We see straight ahead a car flipped over on its roof, smoking. It looks like the driver got out just before we got there. We waited for a few minutes and I got out of my car. The last thing I expected was to ever be able to stand on the Nurburgring. One of the passengers of one of the cars cleared some debris off the track and we were off.

We were nearing the end of the course and by the time we came to main straight where the start/finish is, a lot of cars were backed up. By the time we got moving we were able to see that this delay was do to a car that caught fire and was off the side of the track.

The track was closed for a while after this. After a short wait we then were able to partake in our second experience of the day. It took me about a month to book prior to the trip but I was finally able to book a ride in a BMW ‘Ring taxi. BMW runs a service using one of their professional drivers (in our case among other things he is one of their performance driving instructors) around the track in an M5. This is a 4 door 550 horsepower car. I have read the BMW loses several hundred dollars on each ride but they do it as showcase for the performance capabilities of their cars.

Shannon rode in the front seat and I was in back. It was an awesome experience to see what someone who really knows what they are doing can do on that track. When I drove we had a perfect experience, almost no traffic. I was passed by much better cars than mine (Porsche GT3 and a Caterham, and if you aren’t familiar with Caterham you should look them up – they are perfect cars for the Nordschliefe), and had to pass several average road cars. On our ‘Ring taxi ride there was a lot of traffic and it was amazing to see him take this big, heavy car in and out, how far he could push it in the corners (the biggest mistake I repeatedly made was not diving far enough into a corner on the outside and braking harder rather than the sooner I was doing– but that is the 20% safety margin I wanted).

After the ride we went to one of the viewing points. There were several hundred people there watching cars go by. We saw a SmartCar, minivan with its flashers on and a number of sedans plus all of the cars designed to actually do this sort of thing.

Nurburgring Spectators

It was a great day at the Nurburgring.

We then had about an hour and a half drive to Bacharach. Bacharach is a small town of a couple of thousand people on the Rhine. The Rhine used to come right up to the town, now there is a park, road and train tracks between the river and town. This used to be the major place for wine shipping in the region and our hotel is in the 400 year old crane tower that was used to load barrels of wine onto boats. Compared to the Columbia the Rhine is actually a small river but has been a major transportation route for centuries. Even today in addition to all of the boats carrying tourists there are also barges carrying cargo.

Bacharach Houses

Our Hotel in Bacharach. Our room was in the tower above the tunnel

Back in the day, Germany wasn’t a single kingdom but composed of a number of different aristocrats who all built there own castle on the river and taxed ships going up and down the river. Now you can go from small town to small town on the train or boat tours and see the castles lining the banks of the river.

On Monday we did just this. We took a train for 10 minutes a couple of towns downstream to St Goar and visited Rheifels castle. It used to be the biggest castle around but then just prior to 1800 the French took it over without a fight and the blew it up. Now it offered the best castle ruins to visit in the areas. Then later that afternoon we took a river cruise back to Bacharach and viewed half a dozen castles from the river in the hour minute ride.

Castle in the Middle of the Rhine

Today (Tuesday) we checked out and drove to the Mosel river which is a smaller river that joins the Rhine in Koblenz. We went to one of the best castles in the area, Burg Eltz. It is pretty original, never having been destroyed or restored. It is still owned by the same family that has had it for 33 generations. The tour includes room that still has the painting on the walls and furniture from the 15th or 16th century. We couldn’t take pictures inside, I would love to show everyone what it looked like. It is the best preserved old building I have ever seen.

Burg Eltz

Tonight we are in Trier which is the oldest city in Germany. It was the Roman capital and has another amphitheater, Roman gate and basilica that is the oldest church in Germany. Haven’t taken pictures yet but I will post them later one I have some. 

2014 European Delivery - Part 1: Arrival and Trip to Croatia

I wrote this yesterday and thought I would be able to get it poseted yesterday but the wifi at our appartment went down so I wasn't able to post it until now. We arrived in Split, but more on that in the next post.

Today is Thursday, we took off from Portland last Saturday. I have meant to sit down and write about our trip so far but we have been quite busy and today is the first chance I have had to sit down and write.

Going back to Saturday and our flight to Amsterdam, the flight was uneventful, other than the fact that we took off an hour late. We have now taken this flight a couple of times. Portland has a flight direct to Amsterdam and it is nice to be able to be on a single plane for a 10 hour flight instead of flying to the east coast, having a layover and then and then another 5 hour or so flight.

The plane has nice in-seat entertainment system with a nice selection of movies and TV shows. If you combine this with Ambien part way through the flight and it isn’t bad. About 2 hours into the flight Shannon and I both took Ambien. I think we both only slept for about 3-4 hours which wasn’t the 6 I was hoping for but we at least got some sleep.

The problem ended up being the fact that we only had a 55 minute layover in Amsterdam before our flight to Munich. We landed about 5 minutes before our Munich flight took off. We ended up waiting in line for about 30 minutes to get rebooked and they gave us tickets on a 3:00 flight. At this point in was about 9:00 on Sunday morning so we had a while to wait. While spending that long in an airport isn’t much fun, Amsterdam Schipol is one of the world’s largest and it didn’t end up being too bad.

We went to get on our 3:00 flight and when they scanned my boarding pass it buzzed, and not the good ok sound. After the gate agent spent a couple of minutes looking he found that the ticket was for the 3:00 flight on Monday, not today. The flight that we were trying to get on was also oversold and the gate agent told us, after everyone else boarded, that even if people didn’t show up it was too late to get on the flight so we had to go back to another service counter.

When we got to the service counter, I tried hard not to be too angry but it still came across. The woman who was directing people acted like it was no big deal, told us there was nothing she could do and sent us over to someone else. Neither the gate agents or her seemed to really care, and so I was even more angry when I went to the woman who apparently was going to do whatever could be done.

Fortunately she was awesome, she apologized and said it must have been a mistake, Munich flights were heavily booked and the previous agent probably just didn’t see that the system put us on a flight the next day. She spent a while doing everything she could to try and find us a flight that would arrive in Munich that day. She ended up finding a flight for us to Hamburg and then a flight on Air Berlin to Munich. It was going to put us into Munich at 8:00 that night. She also worked hard to get one of the tickets confirmed that was on standby. She also made sure that our bags would be on the flight to Munich.

Our flight to Hamburg left at 6:00, so we waited some more, caught that flight and then waited about an hour for our flight to Munich. All of this was uneventful. But when we landed in Munich no bags. We ended up working with a very nice man for the company that handles Air Berlins baggage. The bags were in Munich and he was going to work on getting them sent to Munich and on to our hotel on Monday.

As a part of the BMW European Delivery process, BMW now provides a service to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel. He ended up being a very nice man, who was pretty funny for a German, among other things he had questions about marijuana in Oregon and how police handled it if you drove high. He picked us up in a BMW 7 series long wheel base model. It is basically between a Lincoln Town car and a limo. It is a car that you buy to be driven in, not to drive yourself. It had several feet of leg room, reclining and adjustable rear seats and is something I could get used to, to have my driver pick me up in the morning and take me to work.

I booked our hotel based on it being closed to the BMW Welt (BMW World) where we would pickup the car on Monday. The hotel ended up being on the 13th floor of part of the Olympics complex from the ’72 Olympics. I think our room overlooked the building where the Israeli athletes where murdered.

Monday morning we got up and walked to the Welt. This is now the second time we have been there and it wasn’t until we walked in just before they opened at 8:00 what we were doing. It is quite an experience. BMW has perfected the car delivery process. The service is truly impeccable, from the moment you walk in until when you leave. It is located in an incredible very modern building that was completed just before our last European Delivery (ED) in 2008. The ground floor has most of their car models from all of the BMW family (BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce). They had one of the new BMW electric high-end sports cars, the i8 and I think all of the Rolls Royce models currently available. They also have the BMW motorcycle line, shops and restaurants. It is actually a heavy draw for tourists.

For those of us doing ED, they also have an executive style lounge, with free food and drinks. After a short wait, we met with the man who was going to give us our car. They normally take you through an electronic video game like simulator to walk through car handling but it wasn’t working. We instead walked down the stairs from the third floor to the second floor where they deliver the cars. There were several cars scattered about that were going to be delivered shortly and when we start to walk up to ours, they turn on the turn style the car is on so the car sits there spinning so that you can see it from all angles. They then took our picture with the car and he spent about 15-20 minutes going over all of the cars features. Then we were off. The delivery area is circular and you drive all the way around it like taking a victory lap. 

Our M235i at the BMW Welt

 

When we were in Spain we found the importance of GPS while driving in Europe. Last ED, I had nav on the car so they provided maps of Europe. I use nav so rarely that I didn’t see the value of paying for it on my new car. Garmin came out a short while ago with an offline program for the iPhone that I downloaded because data costs while roaming internationally are expensive and both Shannon and my iPhones were locked (Shannon became available for unlocking on Sunday so we are going through the process now to unlock here iPhone and we will get a Croatian SIM so we can get inexpensive data). The problem came in that I downloaded the new iOS for my phone early and the program would crash. So when once we had the car we went to Germany’s version of Best Buy and bought a new Garmin.

We stopped back by the Welt for a few BMW momentos and then went into downtown Munich. We wondered around, looking at $30,000 and $40,000 watches in the windows and had lunch near Marienplatz. I hadn’t gotten a call on my cell about our luggage so we went back to the hotel. No word there so we went to the airport. We had to get what was basically a boarding pass to get through security and went back down to the baggage area.

There were bags everywhere, as there had been the night before. All around the baggage carousel where stacks of bags, hundreds of bags. We looked through all of them but ours weren’t there. At this point we had been in the same clothes for about 48 hours and it was getting kind of old. We talked to the same very nice man we had worked with before and he sent another message to Hamburg. He realized that we were driving to Croatia the next day and was obviously doing everything he could to try and get us our bags.

We then drove all the way through Munich to Andechs Monastery, the same place we went the night after we picked up our car the last time. They have been brewing beer there since 1455. It is a nice drive about 25 miles southwest of Munich. Located up on a hill with an indoor area and an outdoor area to enjoy their beer and food. Our last time here, when we got food the man who was getting us our food at the counter cafeteria style became incredibly mad when we didn’t want pretzels and after trying to give us one actually threw it back into the bin. We had eaten several pretzels over the last few days and didn’t want another but apparently we insulted him. This time, after having eaten a late lunch we didn’t want much food but we did each have a pretzel, which was very good.

The next morning (Tuesday) we went on to a website that allowed us to track our bags and while the status on mine had been updated to show delivery was underway, the status on Shannon’s stilled showed that they were still trying to find it. We had reservations for an apartment in Rovinj, Croatia for Tuesday night, which was a 6 hour drive away. This left me wondering what to do. Do we try and pickup my bag at the airport? Do we wait around the hotel until the last possible moment? Or do we just leave and wait for the bags to catch-up with us at some point or worst case until we come back to Munich in 10 days?

If we were going to be without bags for sometime we needed to get some essentials so we went to a mall in Munich. Slightly different from American malls with things like butcher shops and locksmiths. A few stores you would recognize, like Crocs but many you wouldn’t. We picked up some essentials like shampoo and socks and underwear.

By the time we left Shannon’s recommendation of going to the airport to see if we could get at least my bag seemed like the best thing to do. While I didn’t want to have my stuff while Shannon didn’t have hers seemed wrong, it did make sense. So went back to the airport, went back through security and went through all the bags around the carousel. Nothing. So we went in the office and there was my bag. We then ended up working with another wonderful woman to get all the details worked out about where we were going and what we could do. She even gave us their direct telephone number that is never supposed to be given to customers. I wanted to use the bathroom before we started our drive to Croatia and Shannon decided to walk around one more time. When I came out of the bathroom there was Shannon with both of our bags! She found it in an area we walked by but she came at it from the opposite direction and the pink lock on it caught her eye.

We went back to the woman we had just been talking to and told her the good news. She was genuinely happy for us. If it hadn’t been for the two people we worked with at the baggage company and the woman who booked are flight through Hamburg the start of our trip would have been miserable.

Off we went to Croatia. It was a nice drive, a little time on the German Autobahn where, since the car is still in the break-in period we had to keep in under 100. Through Austria, where like through most of Europe the speed limit is 130 KPH or about 83 MPH, and around and under the Alps. Some impressive mountains towering above us and about a dozen tunnels, some of which were 6-7 miles long. A couple of times we came around a corner or out a tunnel and there is a castle.

Then through Slovenia, which is about the size of the Willamette valley and also very beautiful. Germany, Austria and Solvenia are all parties to the Schengen agreement which means that their borders are open to one another with no stops just like crossing state lines. Croatia is a member of the EU but not a party to the Schengen agreement so their border is not open. So we stopped at one both and had our passports stamped out of the Schengen zone and then rolled forward 5 feet and has the stamped into Croatia. We entered Croatia right near where Solvenia, Croatia and Italy all meet. A short ways in the distance we could see Trieste, Italy; a town I had hoped to stop at on the way but an idea I had to drop because of retrieving our bags.

After about 1.5-2 hours, we arrived in Rovinj (Ro-Veen), where we would be spending the next three nights. In Croatia you have two choices when it comes to hotels, expensive or Communist era and bad. So a lot of people rent apartments. This is something that I have never done but hear more people talking about and liking. So we are staying at apartments for all three of the cities we are staying in while in Croatia. So after some difficulties with the GPS sending us to the wrong place we met with the guy who manages the property, got slightly situated and then went into town.

We happened to arrive on the day of their Saint, St. Euphemia. She became a martyr in 303 AD when she refused to make a sacrifice to Ares. After torturing her they feed her to lions but supposedly they just locked her wounds. Some of her relics are in a sarcophagus in the cathedral on the top of the hill in Rovinj. I hadn’t known that it was a saint’s day until Shannon noticed it in the guidebook on the way here. Fortunately, we were able to head into town just as the celebration was dying down.

The next day we woke up to the view. Normally I try to book rooms near the center of town for easy access to everything but Rovinj was an island that they connected to the mainland in the 1700s because of over crowding. It was the most populated city in the area during medieval times because it was a walled island. This means there are very narrow alleys in the old city that you can’t drive now and I figured it would be a nice place for something that was waterfront.

Rovinj, Croatia


Rovinj is on Istra, a peninsula that sticks out into the Adriatic near where both Italy and Croatia come off of the mainland. From a cultural perspective it is half Italian and half Croatian. It was part of Italy between WWI and WWII and a lot of the people speak both Italian and Croatian (Hvarska). Rovinj was part of the Venetian empire (Venice is a three hour ferry ride away) and a lot of the architecture is very similar to Venice. There is also a lot of Italian food. There is very good pizza everywhere (I had some for lunch today that included dollops of mozzarella that was the best I have had), gelato and coffee (Shannon is mad because when you get coffee while it is very good it is only a couple of ounces, no 20 ounce lattes here).

Alley in Rovinj

 

We spent time Wednesday morning wondering around town, visited the market (they sell a lot of truffle based oil and spreads, very good but $40 for a jar is a little more than I am willing to pay). In the afternoon we drove to Pula, which is a town that is about 30 miles away. It is a major industrial town and doesn’t have a lot in the way of tourist appeal to the extent that Rovinj does but it has a few things worth seeing. Being this close to Italy, there are some very nice Roman ruins, including the sixth biggest and best-preserved amphitheater. We also saw the Temple of Augustus, Roman floor mosaic and a chapel from the Byzantine Empire (6th-7th century AD).

Temple of Augustus - Pulla, Croatia

 

Roman Mosiac - Pulla, Croatia

 

Byzantine Chapel - Pulla, Croatia

We had a lazy morning today and spent time in a café where I had a macchiato and Shannon had her couple ounce black coffee (it is hard to do much of anything when you can sit with views like the one below). We wondered around town and went to the cathedral.   Not too productive but it was kind of nice to take a little bit of a break.

Tomorrow we drive down the coast to Split.