Road Trip: Bavaria and the BMW Museum
by Sarah Forst
It's 8am Munich time which makes it just north of last call in my home time zone. I'm feeling every bit as tired. Renting a car online is easy- even from across the pond- but attempting to decipher which models a rental agency will permit you to drive into the former Eastern bloc is tougher than locating a vacuum leak; something about them ending up in Russia or on a ship to Africa… Numerous calls to rental agencies proved fruitless. One finally said it'd be “no problem getting a Mercedes Benz A class,” the best I figured I could do. But at the Hertz counter at Munich airport, “You're driving where???? NEIN!”
|Contrary to popular belief, there are some speed limits on the Autobahn. They are clearly marked and usually found near cities, in inclement weather, or in construction zones. If the sign isn't lit, full throttle permitted.|
|Hablo español and I can get by in French, but I wouldn't attempt to converse in whatever those two languages are on the left. My International Driver's Permit will hopefully keep me from visiting some foreign jail cell over a miscommunication.|
If you plan to drive a lot in other countries, I'd suggest picking up the International Drivers Permit. This is different than the International Driver's License. It requires no testing and is basically just a translation of your own license into 10 different languages. If something happens in another country (valid in more than 150 countries around the world) and you're not quadlingual, chances are this permit will help negotiate an otherwise tricky situation. It'll cost around $15 and can be picked up at any AAA office and is good for a year as long as your license is still valid that entire time.
|The Volvo V60 isn't quite the high performance sports car I had planned to test on the Autobahn, but it is one of the few cars allowed behind the former Iron Curtain. I guess Swedish cars aren't in high demand at Czech chop shops.|
So a Volvo V60 D3 it is, a diesel sport-wagon at least. The D3 has an aluminum 2.0L 5 cylinder turbo with 136 horsepower but 258 ft lbs of torque. And luckily a six speed manual gearbox after convincing the lady at the counter that some Americans actually can drive a stick shift… It also has that fuel efficient technology that shuts the engine off when idling at lights, which is a little disconcerting the first time, at least to someone who spent the red-eye flight taking advantage of the inflight entertainment rather than sleeping.
Adding the GPS option would have cost about as much as a first class upgrade on the plane. Besides, I had a fistful of paper maps and directions printed up. An hour later of sign here, initial here, give blood and urine samples- you know- typical German introductions- and a rousing game of find the car in the parking lot and I'm finally ready to go. And look- the car has a GPS! After a few minutes of browsing, I find “Spracht”. “English.” Ha! I drive off half asleep muttering something about that's why the Germans lost the war…
|You weren't going to find luxury cars in Prague up until about two decades ago. Now, expensive cars are as abundant as peddlers on the Charles Bridge.|
|Flat black Bentley Continental GT: “I'm too sexy for some gloss… too sexy for some gloss; I'm the boss, watch me floss…”|
The hills are alive with the sounds of a 2.0L turbo V60. My first day's itinerary is to book it to Austria. 183km in 73 minutes; you do the math. The autobahn is a driver's paradise: stay on the right, pass on the left. The V60 is not a sports car. It has great torque but falls flat on its face past 5000 rpm. It gets a little shaky around 200kph and feels ready for liftoff a few ticks higher. Right around topping out, I swear a wheel or two levitated. And there's little clutch feel- you can barely feel the ever changing engagement point. It's great watching the gas gauge as well. In the entire 10 day trip, I logged about 1200 kilometers on the car filling up just twice- once just to top off before returning it. But the “kilometers to empty” indicator cut itself in half in less than a minute of 200+ kph speeds. Overall impression- it's a fine car for commuting; the hatchback has decent storage space and adults can mostly sit comfortably in the back seat, but not the whip I had hoped to flog on the Autobahn.
|Our American contributions to the Czech car culture…||Apparently, we only export in yellow!|