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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Met with Wine-O and spouse at a Biergarten last night and took delivery of this nice Le Mans Blue E93 M3 this morning. Almost a disaster but narrowly averted. More to follow. Keri-Lynne Shaw made a special trip to meet us and Bernard Hausmaninger was very helpful. Stay tuned for more.

Photo key:

Karen and I, Mike (Wine-O) and Maureen at the biggest biergarten you've ever seen.

Former BMW ED Manager for North America Keri-Lynne Shaw joins us pre-delivery for a real full-circle moment.

Bernard Hausmaninger is a legend among Welt Delivery Specialists.

The top is down, but what's that red light blinking for?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Okay, it's now nine hours later after the original post above, and we're ensconced in a terrific little hotel at the foot of the Stelvio Pass after a nice dinner and a coupla glasses of some good local Lagrein. The M3 is outside resting up for the 40-something hairpins on the way up to the summit of the Passo dello Stelvio tomorrow, so let me try to fill in the blanks in the rushed message above.

First off, I hope you noticed that I saved my 1,000th post here on the 'Fest for my delivery post. It's not like I'm a B-Fest addict or anything...

Very nice flight from LA to London in Business Class on British Airways. We both slept for something like six hours, which is really saying something, since my previous record for sleeping on an airplane, including 17-hour flights to the Orient, was maybe 15 minutes. Let's hear it for true lie-flat beds, although I was not too thrilled with them initially.

Arrived in Munich without incident and Rolf whisked us to the Hotel Laimer Hof, which is out of the way on a quiet back street near Nymphenburg Palace. We had made prior arrangements to meet Wine-O, (Mike and Maureen from New Jersey in real life), at the Hirschgarten for dinner (picture above) which was very enjoyable. And this morning, they were about half an hour behind us in the process, and we actually took delivery of our cars (theirs a nice 535xi) almost simultaneously, on platforms about 60 feet apart.

A special treat was having Keri-Lynne Shaw walk across the street and visit with us prior to our delivery. We had gotten acquainted three years ago in the course of resolving the problems on our first ED Adventure and she had also helped secure our dates for this trip. It was great of her to afford us the time from her busy schedule. She's the kind of extraordinary person that brings the clammy concept of customer service to life.

Was delighted to have Bernard Hausmaninger as our delivery specialist, and he seemed genuinely tickled to learn he's so well known here on the ED Forum. One curious note is that owners of the M3s do not get the computer orientation or the simulator drive. According to Bernard, it's because the M Division guys said no; some combination of the dollars required and the special nature of the M cars being more suited for a completely hands-on demonstration. You decide.

Everything was going along just fine until we decided to put our stuff in the trunk via Comfort Access. First hitch was that the two rollaboards that had traveled there in my '08 335 E93 just plain wouldn't fit in the same space in the M3. Apparently the tire goo and compressor add just enough of a height change in the trunk floor that the cargo cover won't close over the bags. Hmm. Didn't anyone in the Engineering Department think to maybe put that stuff somewhere else so luggage would fit? Future E93 M3 potential buyers, consider yourselves warned.

Anyhow, the top went into it's spot okay, but the decklid didn't want to close. Bernard got it to close a time or two by using the key in the door lock, but when trying it again, the top would cycle open and then retract, but the decklid would still stay in the open position. Bernard was able to coax it closed a couple of times with some magical combination of keypresses on the remote and/or the key in the door lock, but it but it finally quit cooperating altogether. There we sat, open-mouthed, with the decklid pointed at the sky as we tried to figure what the frack was happening. Visions of our lost two-and-a-half days from three years ago started pirouetting through our heads as Bernard's expression went from puzzled to stumped to perplexed. We both confessed to thinking, "..please, not again***8230;......"

We went back upstairs to the Premium lounge where at least the food was good, the drinks were cold and it was all free. Meanwhile, the car went to "the workshop" for further attention.

A couple of tense hours passed, and it turned out to be a simple, flukey mistake. When Bernard was answering my question about the missing trunk space, he had put the USA front license plate holder, which is not installed on the car but rather left in the trunk, in the Forbidden Zone where the top mechanism has to live when it's in the closed position, and left it there. The license plate holder is just thin enough that the top could be persuaded to close by someone as experienced as Bernard, but after a few tries, got tired of our chicanery and refused to close altogether. Relocate the license plate holder, and the top works just fine. Large sigh of relief.

I had to dash off the initial message above because Bernard was by now way behind schedule and had little patience for me screwing around on the 'Fest. We rushed through the rest of the demo, spent our cash on food and a BMW logo shirt so Bee doesn't yell at me for sporting my Ferrari gear again, and headed for the northern end of the Stelvio Pass, where we sit at this very moment.

Some Dutch bikers relaxing on the terrace of the hotel restaurant here wanted to know all about the car before we even had the luggage out of the trunk, so I gave them a guided tour, complete with them sitting in the driver's seat and blipping the throttle. Fun for all.

The Spousal Unit says for me to have all the fun I want driving to the top of the pass by myself in the morning, and then come back and get her and the luggage so we can drive it at a more civilized pace that doesn't involve her swearing and grabbing for handholds on every other corner. Sounds like a plan.

Key to today's pics:
Bernard says "..a rock and roll car needs a rock and roll picture". Seems pointless to disagree.

No matter what else is happening, things always start to feel better when we see one of these little beauties.

These three Dutch biker buds ride these mountain passes every year, and were shocked that the odo read just 165 miles. I had to explain why.

After the car inspection, we had Hermann, Martyn and Erich join for us for pre-dinner drinks. Road to the top of the Stelvio leads away there in the distance. Zoom-Zoom.

Finally got this to upload after almost three hours of trying. The Ambien is kicking my head in - gotta go...
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Just got back from driving it solo - all 49 hairpin turns from here to the summit. And then back again. Assuming you have good brakes and tires, the biggest hazard seems to be the Italian road maintenance guys in little trucks and a few great big ones who, typically Italian, take their half of the extremely narrow road out of the middle. We'll get some pictures on the return trip with the photographer in the car.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
A rainy day on Lake Como has us cooped up in the hotel (not really a bad thing ***8211; it's Lake Como after all), and I'm reflecting on the experience of having driven the Stelvio Pass 1½ times yesterday.

First off, I'm glad The Spousal Unit told me to go have fun by myself while she slept in. It gave me the chance to drive it aggressively since I did it early, without other traffic on the road. When we drove it again later, it was loaded with motorcycles, bicyclists (full admiration) and even a few campers, which made driving aggressively pretty much out of the question.

It's an epic road with amazing scenery, but "best driving road in the world" according to Top Gear? Wouldn't get my vote. It's certainly daunting, because it's very narrow, not in the best state of repair, and completely unforgiving of mistakes. But it's more a tires-and-brakes road than it is handling and balance.

Sure, it's an interesting experience to be accelerating down a narrow lane with a high rock wall on one side and some granite blocks separating you and the hereafter on the other, and with another rock wall the only thing visible in front of you, and thinking, "okay, the road's gonna turn sharply, get on the binders and downshift..". Repeat that 49 times on the way up and a whole bunch more, just not quite as tightly on the way down, and that's the Stelvio Pass.

But the hairpins are so extreme that you're really taking half of them at about 3 mph and the other half at maybe 10mph. So it's hard to carry any speed or rhythm or generate much excitement.

That's just me.

Maybe the issue is that the M3 is so competent that it takes a lot of the risk out of doing a drive like this one and kind of dampens the fear-fueled adrenalin rush that would probably be there in a car with less power, dodgy brakes, fewer gears and squirrelly tires.

As always, YMMV.

Key to today's pictures:
There's very little room for error on the north climb up the Stelvio.

Karen's question: "..we're going up there?"

You can see why the hairpins are best taken at about walking speed.

Le Mans Blue from above.

View out the hotel side window. Lake Como's the real deal.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
As a matter of fact, downshifting the S65 when being driven aggressively on the Stelvio was pretty cool. It's almost like BMW miniaturized a racing driver and put him in the computer for those folks who never learned how to heel-and-toe a manual transmission, just so they could have the experience. I wouldn't mind standing by the side of the road to hear it from outside. I may do just that when the car gets back to SoCal. Therre's a well-known run up a certain mountain in San Diego County that would provide an ideal venue...
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 · (Edited)
Tom nailed the Mt. Palomar drive I was talking about. I did the I-15-to-Julian routing with a group of my Vintage Ferrari buds last August with me in my 335 cabrio since my F-car is still in pieces - come sempre. Chased a 550 Maranello up and led a F430 Scuderia down. Funny thing was that when we started out, they were treating my 335 kinda like it was invisible. But every time we stopped, whomever had been running near me would come over and look at the car like they were seeing it for the first time and say something along the lines of, "#@$% - that thing is quick!".
 

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Discussion Starter · #23 · (Edited)
So after not laying eyes on the M3 for three days, since travel around Lake Como is primarily by passenger ferry, I was happy to see it right where I left it, with no other cars anywhere near ***8211; an unusual circumstance in parking-challenged Italian towns.

A quick trip down the Autostrada gets us to the Langhe part of the Piemonte region ***8211; home of some of Italy's best red wines: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Barbaresco and the king of them all, Barolo.

The hilltop towns that produce these wonderful beverages are largely unchanged by time and really tiny (under a thousand inhabitants), and also not very far apart. Which means not too much time on the narrow, twisty roads between wine tastings ***8211; ordinarily a bad thing. But since pouring this stuff into a dump bucket seems so sacrilegious, it's good that the drives are shorter right now.

It's been raining off and on, which means the Le Mans Blue is showing the dirt. But I'm really liking the current-generation NAV, and the I-Drive is way better than on my '08 335 E93 as well. The non-runflat Michelin Pilot Sports are compliant but plenty grippy and the DCT gearbox is really dual purpose. Let it shift on its own, and it's almost imperceptible in its smoothness. But in spirited driving and using the paddles, it's lightning-quick and extremely direct. Wow.

They're introdcing the 2007 vintage in Barolo tomorrow and all the producers will be there pouring. We'll see if we can elbow our way into the town, which seems to have parking for about 50 cars total.

Key to today's pictures:
Lake Como ferries stop at picturesque towns large and small.

We waved to George Clooney, but he didn't wave back ***8211; the snob. He's OFF the Christmas card list for this.

Less than a week and the M3's already pretty dirty. Energetic lady in the picture restored this villa above Alba and turned it into a seven-room B&B, and it's even nicer than this picture can depict.

View from last night's restaurant toward Barbaresco (with the tower), and all those Nebbiolo grapes in between, just waiting their turn to become wine.

Wine tasting with a view ***8211; Barbaresco.

Wine tasting with producer Giuseppe Grasso in his cellar at Cascina del Monastero. Good Barolo is astronomically expensive in the States, but here, 25Euro gets you a really nice bottle of wine. And this was REALLY nice.

A couple of Swiss families were tasting at Cascina Del Monastero with us, and took home at least six cases of wine, all crammed into the back of his 3er wagon. I asked the driver here in the pic where the luggage was going to fit, and he said, ".. the wine is more important". A man after my own heart.

Giuseppe left us on our own in the cantina with 12 bottles of wine. Luckily, moderation won the day ***8211; otherwise we'd have been sleeping there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 · (Edited)
Hey Stuart:

I tried to get you and Beth to overlap with us for at least part of this trip, but you both demurred. So don't come cryin' to me now that you're seeing all the fun stuff.

Driving just one of these passes was a big deal for me; don't I remember you did like four?
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 · (Edited)
Here's a postscript to the Barolo visit. As previously mentioned, they made the official introduction of the 2007 vintage of this renowned wine on Sunday. We made the trek and arrived in light rain to the media-attended announcement, which was held outside under a big canopy. We stood on the fringes like the tourists we were, but still got a glass of wine to sample just like the rest of the folks.

After checking out the Corkscrew Museum (I swear) and getting some lunch which for me was a nice risotto made with Barolo wine, we went back to the regional wine tasting room where every one of the 115 Barolo producers had offered some of their product for tasting (and sale, if you wanted). A 15 Euro fee bought you a glass and an open playing field for the next three hours. Taste all 115 if you could, or just try a couple and call it a day.

But by this time the weather had deteriorated further and our previous plan to drive around to some nice villages in the area went out the window about an hour into the tasting session. The weather was too bad, the tasting room was nice and warm, and the wine was Barolo, after all.

By the end of the allotted three hours, we had actually shared 35 tastes between us, which felt like a pretty valiant effort given the circumstances. I suppose we could have gone for all 115 if we had stood at each of the three tasting tables in succession, each of which carried Barolo from a different part of the production zone, and gone swirl-sniff-sip-spit. But I just can't bring myself to be that disrespectful to the product of so much hard work.

It's said that the professional wine experts taste a hundred wines a day. If true, my hat's off to them. I felt sure that my taste buds were saturated by Hour Two, but surprisingly was still differentiating wines #33, 34 and 35.

Not having dropped breadcrumbs from the parking lot on the way to the big event, we got a little turned around (blame it on the wine) and got pretty wet in the heavy rain on the way back to the car. But it was a really unique, totally worthwhile experience.

We drove the 7½ hours from Alba to the town of Velletri just south of Rome today to visit some friends who have a house here and are staying for a month. The M3's seats are definitely way more comfy than the rest of the 3er line. A drive that long in my '08 E93 would have been tough for me and really uncomfortable for Karen, whose limit in the '08 was about two hours. But there's a big difference in the gas mileage as well; that 90 Euro fillup on the Autostrada was pretty sobering, considering there was still a quarter-tank left.

We had home-made pizza with the family of the folks we're visiting, and with four bottles of wine open, were glad the walk home was only about a hundred feet. I've heard that at an Italian dinner table, everyone talks at once. Seems to be only a slight exaggeration.

Key to today's photos:
A little rain in your Barolo doesn't hurt a thing.

Barolo as far as the eye can see.

One of the 115, served by actual sommeliers.

Homemade pizza with sliced potatoes, rosemary and cheese. Oh, yeah…......
 

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Discussion Starter · #33 ·
The two sides of the pass are significantly different. It's possible to carry more speed on the south (Bormio) side of the summit. The hairpins on the north (Stilfs/Gomagoi/Davos) side are so tight and the climb so steep that you'd be going slowly if you were doing it on foot; let alone piloting an M3. If you want to drive it aggressively, do it really early in the morning. I did it before 0800 and had the road almost to myself.

Congratulations on your discerning choice of vehicle, and let us see/hear how it goes.
 

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Discussion Starter · #34 · (Edited)
We’re now happily ensconced in the heart of Tuscany: Chianti Classico country. Specifically, Panzano in Chianti - a little south of Firenze. Drove here today on the first completely sunny, no-windshield-wipers day since probably Munich, 11 days ago. But before I get started on detailing the wretched excess that the next three days is likely to entail, let’s first get caught up on the past three.

The balance of our two days with our California friends currently staying in Velletri just kept getting better and better before we headed out to Castel Gandalfo – the summer residence of the Pope.

Surprisingly, Castel and the surrounding area is dotted with lakes formed in the craters of extinct volcanos. The deep waters provide a cooling breeze that people sweltering in Rome’s summer heat and humidity have been drawn to for centuries. Pope Benedict apparently wasn’t at home, since no one answered when we rattled the gates. But a nice lunch of Porchetta in nearby Ariccia was a carnivore’s dream. To make it, a whole pig is stuffed with rosemary, salt and other seasonings and then consigned to an oven for hours. Our Porchetta lunch consisted of a pile of pork served on a double sheet of paper, with some bread and fresh Mozzarella on the side. The crackling skin on the outside and the rosemary, salt and other spices on the inside of virtually each slice were delicious.

Next day, our friends Angela and Romolo took us to Artena – the steepest hilltown I’ve ever seen, for a nice lunch. The hill that the town is built upon is so steep, that the house behind is almost completely visible above the house in front; at your front door, you’d be literally looking out well above your neighbor’s chimney. The place is so steep that they employ a squad of mules to pack out the day’s trash.

Lunch was in a little osteria that had been hacked out of the rock of the hill. Like us, the diggers had run out of energy as they went further into the rock, because where we sat in the grotto, maybe 25 feet from the door, we had to bend over to get to our seats against the rock wall.

Here's the key to today’s pictures:

Nobody home at the Pope’s summer cottage.

Pile of Porchetta with Mozzarella and bread.

Mules still have jobs in the steep streets of Artena.

Restaurant dining area was chiseled out of the rock.
 

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Discussion Starter · #36 · (Edited)
So, while visiting our new/old friends in their home-for-a-year in Spoleto, I realized that while it's nice to have surprise, unplanned experiences while visiting a new place, it's REALLY good to experience it with someone who knows it well. And thus it was with Spoleto. Let me explain.

We had been trying to meet with fellow Italian students and wine-lovers Steve and Denise face-to-face in SoCal for nearly three years (they lived in nearby Temecula) and had failed every time. But it took us traveling halfway around the world to where they are now staying in Spoleto, Umbria, Italy for a year, to finally look them in the eye for the first time. And it turned out really well.

They're empty-nesters and Steve's work allows him to do it from wherever there's an Internet connection. So being the adventuresome type(s), they decided to live in Italy (specifically Spoleto) for a year ***8211; just for the experience. Points to them already, just for this.

They invited all sorts of folks who might be traveling their direction to visit, and we actually took them up on it. They welcomed us into their comfy apartment inside the old walled city and we proceeded to enjoy some wine we brought, plus some they offered, over a nice lasagna they made just because we were coming. Then, we took the first of a series of walks with them around Spoleto, with them pointing out some of their favorite spots and generally giving us the insider's view of their adopted town.

Next day, they also took us to a real Italian pranzo: a three-hour lunch that was technically four courses but in actuality offered something like eleven or twelve different dishes (if you count the five different pizzas on their own). Not being satisfied to sit inside on a beautiful sunny day, we hauled a table outdoors and were having a great time until the first fat drops of an eventual torrential downpour chased us indoors for dessert.

Next morning, I discovered that a local cat had used the BMW's hood as a bridge the previous day. A nice set of muddy, meandering paw prints made for a nice contrast on the hood, all dried to a crusty finish.

Key to today's pictures:
Lasagna and wine with Steve and Denise on their Spoleto terrace.

Halfway up to the top of Spoleto's walled town, with some sunshine between the rain clouds.

Local shoe repair man is always ready for a short break for a chat.

Excavated Roman amphitheater is still used for performances.

Oldest church I've ever seen at just about 1,500 years.

Muddy cat took a shortcut over the hoof of the car. That's okay, it's already really dirty.
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 · (Edited)
After the sensory and gustatory overload of Piemonte ***8211; Barolo in particular - Chianti Classico country in the heart of Tuscany actually turned out to be a nice, relaxing three days.

On our way from Spoleto, we took Steve and Denise's advice and stopped for a while in Assisi. We walked around the fringes of a First Communion ceremony where proud parents were snapping pictures and exchanging the latest news ***8211; a nice slice of small-town life.

Once in green, hilly Chianti country, we stayed in a wonderful converted villa called Relais Fattoria Valle outside of Panzano in Chianti, where I had the best two dinners of the trip thus far. We also managed to destroy an artfully prepared dessert in less time than it takes you to read this passage.

Panzano is also where Dario Cecchini, the world's most famous butcher, has his shop ***8211; just a stone's throw from where we were staying. We walked over Sunday morning and the shop's renowned hospitality was flowing freely ***8211; I had barely stepped inside the shop when a nice girl offered us a couple of glasses of wine, and there was a table overflowing with bread and oil, salumi, cheese and other good stuff, while a guitarist played in the background. All this in a space that barely accommodates six people and to accompany the slicing of some of the world's finest beef ***8211; the local Chianina.

Sampling the local wines was simplified in nearby Greve in Chianti, where the regional wine cellar has 150 wines available on a pay-as-you-go system. Everything from a .60 Euro taste of a D.O.C. Chianti, up to an 8.40 Euro taste of a bottle of Marchesi Antinori Solaia that sells for 190 Euro or $265. First reaction was that the Solaia was pretty good, but not something we'd pay that much for. But with the really fine wines, we're finding that the finish is what makes the difference. So on the subsequent tastes, we started to re-think our decision. We finally left with a really nice bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva, for considerably less than $265.

The Saturday market was in full swing in Greve as well. Each of the specialty merchants has all their wares packed inside trucks and go from town-to-town on their individual market days. They all specialize, so while one may have salumi and cheeses, another might have shoes, purses or textiles and sewing needs.

We were also able to visit and taste at Castello Brolio, which has been in the same family for 32 generations. Our Wines of the World Professor, Dick Colangelo, knew Baron Ricasoli (whose family owns the castle, the vineyards and winery) quite well, and we tried a little subtle name-dropping, but to no avail. No matter, though ***8211; we really enjoyed the wines and walked out with a couple more purchases.

Not far away, the BMW got its picture taken in front of the modern portion of Villa Vignamaggio, where the Gherardini's family's daughter, Lisa was born in 1479, married a local silk merchant named Giacondo, and later posed for the world's most famous portrait. Five points and a really nice glass of wine to the first person who can name the portrait.

We also relaxed our no-big-cities rule to visit Siena ***8211; which really isn't a big city ***8211; but it's still packed with way more tourists than we want to be around. It was worth it to see the piazza where the famous Palio is run (I'm a Tartuca fan) and to visit the cathedral, which was built primarily to impress outsiders.

Key to today's pictures:
First Communion day in Assisi ***8211; proud papas are the same the world around.

Tuscany's rolling hills in some welcome sunshine.

This terrific dessert was gone in the blink of an eye.

World's Most Famous Butcher Dario Cecchini in his element in Panzano.

Self service wine tasting in Greve - when else are we gonna try some $265-a-bottle wine?

Market day in Greve ***8211; all this sewing stuff goes back in the merchant's truck at the end of the day.

The BMW gets its picture taken in front of a famous lady's house.

Siena's famous Campo in a panoramic shot.

Siena's duomo was built to impress visitors ***8211; us included.
 

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Discussion Starter · #41 · (Edited)
Thanks for the kind words and congrats on your own 1,000th post, Nate. When I told The Spousal Unit that I had saved my post count so that Delivery Day was #1,000, there was the typical eye-rolling and muttered comments about misplaced priorities.

Everyone above scored correctly that Lisa Gherardini, later Mrs. Francesco del Giacondo, sat for the portrait the world knows today as The Mona Lisa. It was pretty cool to take the BMW's picture in front of her ancestral home in Chianti country. Unfortunately for the posters above, our own skywalkerbeth answered me correctly via direct e-mail within a few minutes of the original posting. There must be some correlation between being a corporate attorney and the amount of free time one has on their hands to surf the interweb. Maybe a topic for a different thread.
 

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Discussion Starter · #44 ·
The e-mail went out perhaps five minutes before the question was posted here on the Fest, and Beth beat the first responder here by something like 3 1/2 hours. No shenanigans here...
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
Two peas from the same pod, huh? If it was incredibly filthy, despite the heavy rain in Munich the night before, it was undoubtedly mine. Stessed a little because the Log-In-Out staff forgot they had agreed to be there at 0900 Saturday to accommodate my flight schedule, but the actual turn-in process took seven minutes start-to-finish. I guess it can be accelerated a bit when the customer is standing there with steam coming out of his ears. Made the BA flight with time to spare.
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 · (Edited)
I don't anticipate a fee since they blew the appointment time. Congratulations on your discerning choice of vehicle and exterior color. What color interior and trim?
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 · (Edited)
Driving the short hour or so across the Val di Chiana from Siena to Cortona was a little like going home: familiar surroundings, friends happy to see us, and things we already know are going to be fun.

This is the fourth time we've visited Cortona, in the southeastern part of Tuscany near the border with Umbria and on a high hill that looks out over the valley and with Lake Trasimeno in the distance. Which means we've been here every time we've visited Italy. It's actually my favorite place in the whole country. It just has that "at-home" feeling about it.

Our headquarters is the wonderful Hotel Villa Marsili, just outside the walled part of the town. Hotel Director Stefano and front desk staffers Iulia and Luanna were all on hand to greet us and Iulia had stayed after the end of her shift for a special hello/goodbye because she was leaving on a vacation of her own the next day. We shared a bottle of the Chianti we had brought from Greve and spent a nice couple of hours catching up.

People have been coveting this hilltop since the Etruscans first pushed the Umbrians off it nearly 3,000 years ago. In fact, the stones in the lower part of the city wall were put there by the Etruscans. But it was author Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun that originally brought us here back in 2000, and has since turned the place into a real tourist mecca - something we're not exactly thrilled about.

The place seems full of Brits and Americans, which makes the process of interacting with the locals harder. But the good news is that as a hilltown, it's not getting any bigger and there's no chance of a Walmart opening nearby.

It's also a great base for driving the open, rolling Tuscan hills that a trip here at this time of year is all about. And with the weather finally fully cooperating and the top town, cruises to Montalcino and Montepulciano were every bit as tasty as the wine we sampled both places. Maybe moreso.

The Brunello that comes from the fully 140 producers that surround the tiny town is at the top of the ladder of Italian wines, right up there with Barolo. We were lucky enough to taste with a producer at Villa dei Barbi and although he let us know that the bottle of '03 vintage we bought would be even better in five years, it didn't even survive another five days before the cork got pulled. It really epitomized the term "elegant" you often hear ascribed to other reds. Wow.

After a drive to the outskirts of town to re-visit Frances Mayes's Bramasole which we'd first seen 11 years ago, on impulse I turned through the old wall at Porta Colonia, intending to drive the maybe ¼ mile through town. A local waved me down before I made a complete fool of myself by driving through the "vehicle restricted" part of town. But that meant I had to negotiate the residential part of town high up the hill, which we're not too familiar with, in a 414-horsepower highway-shredder, on stone-paved streets really made for pedestrians and the occasional donkey. Pretty, um…...... exciting.

Want to go for a drive?
http://youtu.be/LHaUzG_S7hY
http://youtu.be/tmAEHR6okrI

The key to today's pictures:
Cortona, on her hill.

Karen and I share some Chianti with Villa Marsili's Iulia and Stefano, who Karen calls "my Italian husband". He's happily married, with a little girl 18 months, so I'm not too threatened.

As the M3 gets dirtier, the pictures need to be taken from farther and farther away. This is in our traditional photo spot in front of Villa Marsili.

Karen needed this "Amazing Race" moment with a giant hay bale.

Moments like this are what I signed-on for.

T U S C A N Y…......

Sumptuous breakfast spread at Villa Marsili.

Frances Mayes's Bramasole, and the story that surrounds it, have turned Cortona into a tourist destination.

View from Cortona into the Val di Chiana with Lake Trasimeno in the distance.

We met a nice Dutch couple who had bought this great wine estate near Cortona and drove out to see it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #53 ·
A couple of things that the video doesn't really convey are firstly, how steep the streets are. The spot where I followed the white mini-pickup down the street was like driving out of my bedroom window. Secondly, Karen had the camera on its widest setting, about equivalent to 25mm in a 35mm camera format, meaning those walls were really close. When we got into the unfamiliar part of town, I started the NAV for directional help, and followed the Uscita Citta (city exit) signs when the NAV wanted me to turn through a solid stone wall. Quite an experience.
 

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Discussion Starter · #55 · (Edited)
We said goodbye to our friends at the Villa Marsili and left Cortona heading north through Arezzo and onto the A-1 Autostrada, past Florence and Bologna, stopping one night in Sirmione: a tiny town at the end of a long skinny neck of land that juts a couple of miles out into the waters at the southern end of Lake Garda, Italy's largest lake.

We stayed here three years ago and this time picked a little place in the old town, about a block from Scaliger castle with its Ghibbeline battlements on top. This is an unusual port fortification dating from the 13th century. We had time for a nice dinner at an outdoor place while throngs of tourists, mostly Dutch and German in this part of Italy, strolled by. A stroll out to the very tip of the peninsula revealed a 2,000 year old Roman villa ruin, just maybe once the home of the poet Catullus, who wrote about this place two millennia ago, proving that people are drawn to nice places forever.

Our turn-in date for the car in Munich was looming, so next day, we headed for the Alps, stopping for lunch with a favorite client in Bolzano. Crossing the mountains this time was a lot less dramatic than the Stelvio and Innsbruck was soon in the mirrors.

There's only a short stretch of unrestricted Autobahn between the Austrian border and the slow traffic of Munich, meaning it was my last chance to let the M3 stretch its legs. Unfortunately, a guy in a Mercedes wagon was stuck in the fast lane like a tick on a hound, and wouldn't move over to let me past, no matter what I or a local driver in another Mercedes wagon did. I saw a solid 120 mph, but had been hoping for considerably more.

It being our last afternoon, we decided to spend a little time in the heart of old Munich, so turned off the guidance and just followed the map to the middle of town. This is the historic Marienplatz, and we got to watch the antique mechanical marvel of the clock tower strike five with its jousting knights on horseback and dancing burghers - all mechanical animations. Way too many people for our liking, though, so two hours here was plenty. We spent our last evening in a nice hotel not far from the airport where the barman was Italian and was delighted to have a chance to speak some to us strangers. It was a nice last touch of Italy.

Everything got re-packed in our two rollaboard bags and we sweated out a missed appointment next morning at LogInOut at the airport. When the apologetic staff finally did show up, the turn-in process took about seven minutes instead of the normal thirty, and the easy walk to the terminal got us to the BA lounge in plenty of time to make the flight.

We both managed a few hours of sleep on the return direct flight from London to San Diego where we were met by our nine-year***8211;old niece, who was every bit as glad to see us as we were to see her.

The BMW is consigned on a ship sailing July 2 from Bemerhaven, that's due in Port Hueneme on July 27, meaning I may get it back in time for my annual blast up Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey for the big classic car weekend in mid-August. That would be a really nice cap to a great trip.

This whole European Delivery thing is pretty addictive, as the manufacturers meant it to be. I'm already hoping the economy improves enough to do another one sooner than three years from now ***8211; Karen's Volvo S80T6 could stand replacement***8230;...

Today's pictures:
Not a picture on the wall, but rather, the view out the window in Sirmione, looking toward the castle.

Purple bougainvillea have taken over this shop wall in Sirmione.

Through the looking, err, water glass at dinner in Sirmione.

Visiting American service families needed a photog for an action portrait near the Roman ruin.

Client Claudia joined us for lunch in Bolzano.

The back-breaking work of harvesting grapes on these steep slopes in Italy's mountainous Alto-Adige make the wine even more special.

The gothic architecture of Munich's Marienplatz was nice to see - once.

Was this really three weeks ago?

The papers and one key was all we had to leave with the shipping agent to get the car home. A total of 2,052 miles, a lot of dirt and dead bugs, but otherwise, not a mark on the car.
 

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