Sunday, November 25, 2007

Performance Center Delivery

We picked up our X3 at the Performance Center Friday November 16th. Performance Center Delivery (PCD) is a mini vacation, courtsy of BMW North America.

PCD includes a dinner at the Greenville Marriott, a night in the hotel and breakfast the next morning. The hotel dinner was better than we expected as the food at some Marriott restaurants can be dreadful. BMW customers order from a 3-course 'performance' menu. Steak, chicken, fish or vegetarian main dish, salad and dessert. Breakfast is the normal Marriott buffet. Not worth what the hotel charges, but fine when BMW is paying.

We couldn't sleep in. The delivery day starts at 8:00 sharp and the hotel is about 15 minutes away. We went out to the Miata at 7:40 and found it covered in ice. I started the car and scraped off as much ice as I could with a credit card. With the de-icing delay, we arrived at the Performance Center a few minutes late.

We found the Performance Center lobby just about empty. There was our X3, another customer car and a couple of BMW employees. One set of guests, The Slows, were holding up the hotel shuttle. We were the first to arrive.

Performance Delivery includes a few hours of driving instruction and demonstrations and a 2 hour delivery of your car. They kept us busy, but we did manage to take a few pictures.

Debbie on the skid pad in the middle of a 720 spin. We each got a turn spinning out a 335i sedan. I nearly blacked out. Debbie had a blast. You have to turn the stability control completely off to get the car to spin. With DSC on, the car will not spin. It hardly even slides.

After the skid pad we switched to a school X3 for panic stop training. On the way over I spotted a new 135i sedan and a 128i convertible. These cars won't be at dealers for a few more months. They were at the Performance Center as part of a CA and Service Technician training programs. I snapped a few quick photos. The car on the left is a beautiful and rare 1974 2002tii.

The panic stop training was quite good. We made progressive runs starting at 0-20-0 and ending with 0-60-0. The course had a turn in it so we both got a good feel for how the X3 handles with the brake pedal down as far as it will go. True to form, The Slows never made it to 60mph.

After the panic stop training we got some time on an autocross circuit. This was the first time we'd autocrossed an X3 without the sport package. It was a blast although we both wanted more time on course. I wasn't going that fast but I kept running up on the car in front of me. It would have been nice to have some time on the track with fewer cars.

Lunch was on BMW at the center cafe. It was food. During lunch we talked with the other guests and the staff. One of the instructors had just come back from 2 weeks at the Nürburgring with the new M3.

Wanting to keep lunch down, I declined a post-lunch hot lap in a 500HP M5. Debbie went out. I took photos.

Drifting in the M5.
Powering out of a wild slide.
Full throttle reverse. Note the backup lights. Driver did a 180 and then coasted into the parking area like nothing had happened. Debbie came out all grins.

Factory tours are closed until the X6 is released sometime this spring. In lieu of the factory tour, we took an X3 on the off road demonstration course. I wanted to hop out and take pictures while Debbie was driving, but she needed a second set of eyes to help keep the car out of the fence rails. BMW's off road course takes an X3 just a little short of the design limits. The course starts out easy, with some little hills that balance the car up on 2 wheels. After that we drove through a water trough. The water just covered the exhaust pipes on the X3 in front of us. That's about an inch short of the 20" maximum. Way more than I'll ever put our car through. The next bit was a little unnerving. We drove up a very steep hill. So steep you couldn't see anything but sky. Debbie watched one edge of the road out the passenger window and I watched out mine. Just past the crest of the hill, they dug a pit under the left track so that the car would fall in and pitch over at a 40 degree lean. YIKES. Perfectly safe, but unlike anything else we did that day it was a bit scary. Your mind is telling you the car is going to roll over. It has to roll. But it doesn't. I wish had a photo or a movie clip.

The Performance Center closed off the lobby during our delivery presentation. A delivery specialist spent over an hour going over every feature of our new X3.

There is a full service department at the Performance Center. The main function is to provide maintenance and service for the local fleet. They told me BMW NA has about 4000 cars between company owned and employee leases. I'd guess the techs there are among the best in North America. The Performance Center provides training for other BMW technicians. They also get an early look at cars coming over. Besides the 1series I saw, there were also some other cars hidden away in tents. My best guess is 5-series diesels and an X6 or two.

The PC techs perform the pre-delivery inspection on Performance Center Delivery cars. If you buy any dealer installed accessories, they install it. The service is first rate. Somehow my car key memory form never made it there. I asked, and we filled out a new form in the lobby. I asked for several things not on the standard form. A tech appeared out of nowhere, pulled our car around to the shop and put in the changes in about 10 minutes. Not even a word about my hand written requests. He just did it.

The detail work was first rate too. Our car was quite dirty at drop off. I'm sure it got even dirtier on the trip over. As you can see from the photo, they did an excellent job cleaning it up.

We had some time while we were waiting for the car/key memory programming. I asked if they would open up the 1 series car for us to look at. Much to my surprise they said yes.

First time I've sat in a pre-production BMW. I liked the 128i convertible. It is a much better looking car than the 3 series. BMW has gone back to a cleaner design with simpler smoother lines. Front seat was great. The back seat is a bit cramped.

We took a short stop at the Zentrum accross the street. They let delivery customers park on the lawn. I wish I'd taken a photo of our two cars there. It was a nice day, so I drove the miata back with the top down. Debbie drove the X3.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Trip Report -- Day 9

Tuesday was a travel day. We ordered a room service breakfast. We split breakfast for one. It was more then enough food. The Dutch breakfast was much like the food we'd been having in Germany. The biggest difference was a small box of shaved chocolate to have on top of toast. I liked that.

After breakfast, we took a taxi to Schipol airport and headed home. I missed my connecting flight in Newark.

We dropped the car October 1. Redelivery is scheduled for November 16.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Trip Report -- Day 8.1

After doing paper work at the USA office, we drove the X3 into a parking area inside the fence. I removed the front plate, the first aid kit and the warning triangle. Those items are for Europe only. If they go missing during shipment they are gone for good. BMW North America will replace anything else stolen from the car during shipment. We said good bye to the car, and took a taxi back to our Hotel. From there we took a bus into the city center.

Photo of me taking a picture.

Picture I took.
Debbie's photo of Canals.
More canals.
We went to the Van Gogh Museum. We cruised the canals. We ate Greek food for dinner. We walked. Miles.

Amsterdam was my favorite city of the trip. Really it was the only city. We didn't spend much time in Munich.

Historic Amsterdam doesn't have much room for cars. The streets are narrow and parking is difficult. The way the city is built, I'm not sure if it would be possible to build an underground parking garage. An above ground garage would be ugly and require removing historic buildings. In any case there aren't any. Most of the locals walk, use public transportation and ride bicycles. It seemed to us that there are more bicycles than residents. Near the central train station there is a multi-story parking deck crammed full of bicycles. There are bicycles locked to just about everything and parked just about everywhere. Going back through our photos of Amsterdam I was only able to find one or two that didn't have a bicycle in them.

In a wealthy city where bicycles are the main transportation, you'd expect to find the newest, coolest high tech bikes in existence. Well you won't. A typical Dutch bike is a heavy, low tech, rusty thing kinda like a 1950's English lightweight. Rock solid, dependable and kinda boring really. A few uniquely Dutch bikes caught my eye.

A bakfiets is just what the Dutch name implies, a box bike. I didn't get any decent photos, but there are plenty on the web. Have a look: here or here or here. I saw several in use transporting children, groceries, pets, whatever. A bakfiets is Amsterdam's SUV. I'm sure they weigh a ton with that wooden box. Bakfiets are expensive at just over €1,500. I've looked and there are a few Americans selling them here in the US. Prices are close to $3000. Still if we ever live in a bike friendly city I'm getting one.

Trip Report -- Day 8

Monday morning we hopped in the X3 and headed for United Stevedores Amsterdam. It wasn't far, so I plugged the address into the Nuvi and let it guide us there. Bad idea. There is a lot of road construction in the area. Some of the roads the Nuvi wanted to take us on were just plain gone.

I had looked at the area on Google Earth a few days earlier, so I had a rough idea of where we needed to be. I wandered around a bit annoying Debbie to no end. Eventually I got us to about the correct place. The Nuvi kept trying to take us down the wrong pier. Any readers planning to drop a car in Amsterdam: Email USA and get directions. Don't try and use GPS.

For fellow EDer's planning an Amsterdam drop off:

View Larger Map

The correct building is highlighted in blue.

Drive up this street.

Turn right at this building.

Park here, outside the gates.

Go inside this small red building. This is the one highlighted in the Google map.

Enter through this door.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trip Report -- Day 7

Sunday breakfast was the now familiar bread, cheese, cold cuts and assorted extras. The Berghotel provided ample portions served at our table instead of a buffet.

The previous night I had carefully checked the Nuvi's route from Holzerath to Amsterdam. The route took us back on the one-lane road we came in on and eventually north east on the A1. We were only on the A1 a short distance. At first I thought this was another Nuvi error, but the maps showed a large section of the A1 is still unfinished. Instead we cut north west on the A60 towards Belgium. Traffic on the A60 was very light and I set the cruise control at 150km/h. I don't remember passing a single car. As we approached the border, the speed limit dropped to 80 or 60 and the Autobahn narrowed to 1 lane each way. Possibly this was a choke point at the old border crossing. The Schengen Treaty ended border controls between a dozen and a half European countries. Driving from Germany to Belgium is like Driving from Georgia to Alabama. There is a sign, the football team changes and a few of the traffic laws are different.

We stopped in Belgium for fuel at one of the ubiquitous rest stops. After filling up, I was going to use the restroom but Debbie warned me off. She said she'd seen about 15 men go in but none of them had come out. One woman ventured in but ran right back out and grabbed her husbands arm. They both left quickly. I decided that my bladder could wait for The Netherlands. Belgium was just a drive-through.

The national speed limit in Belgium and The Netherlands is 120km/h. After the Autobahn, driving at 75mph felt terribly slow. Traffic as we approached Amsterdam dragged us down to 40km/h or so.

We stayed at the Golden Tulip Amsterdam Art, a modern 4-star just outside central Amsterdam. The hotel has secure underground parking for 14Euros per night. In Amsterdam, finding a hotel with parking is essential. The hotel room was quite nice, if a bit strange. Think stereotypic gay. We unpacked quickly and headed out into the city.

The front of Amsterdam houses and building lean out into the street. I suppose this was done to give the upper stories a bit more room. It may also have something to do with the Nuvi's total failure to work. I had set the Nuvi to give us a walking route to the Anne Frank house. As soon as we got into historic Amsterdam, the Nuvi turned into an evil box. It did things like put us 2 or 3 blocks from our actual location and gave directions that made no sense. I finally turned the navigation off, and used the Nuvi as a dumb map.

We queued for the Anne Frank House a little before closing. That is the best time to go as the crowd is much smaller. The museum consists of the building her family hid in as well as the adjacent house. The Nazis took the furniture, but much of the rest remains. The book case concealing the entrance to the secret rooms, the wall paper, even the magazine pages that Anne used to decorate her room are all still there. It was quite a contrast to Dachau. This was home to several families. No one was murdered here. But it was equally haunting.

That night we had Indian food at a restaurant somewhere between the Anne Frank House and our hotel. After a week of German food, something else, anything else was a welcome change.

Back at the hotel we watched a little Dutch TV. Dutch programming is an intersection of Dutch and American culture. We watched the Blues Brothers Movie in English, with no subtitles. The commercials were very Dutch. The next channel over had music videos. Dutch rap seemed very odd.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Trip Report -- Day 6

Saturday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel buffet. Food was quite good. Cheese, cold cuts, bread, fresh pastries, and other assorted goodies. A large Japanese tour group decimated the buffet right as we sat down. The staff apologized and put out fresh food for us. We stayed at the Prinz Hotel Rothenburg. Good location right inside the town wall. Tourists walking the wall had a wonderful view of our room. Room was fine, the curtains worked and the price was reasonable. Staff was a bit cold but not too bad.

After breakfast we walked the town wall. Worth doing if you are there. We went to the market set up in the town square. Most of the shoppers looked like locals, not tourists. We bought bread, fruit and cheese that became our lunches for the next few days. I don't remember what kind of cheese we got. Wish I had, it was really good. Debbie bought chocolate from one of Rothenburg's many shops. I also stopped in a at a book store and got paper maps for Germany, Belgium and the The Netherlands.

We set the Nuvi to Trier, and then checked the route against the maps I'd bought. The route to Trier was mostly Autobahn. There were long stretches on the A6 with no limit. Debbie and I took turns running the X3 up to the 100mph break in maximum. The car was smooth, quiet and comfortable at 100mph and clearly would have had no trouble going even faster. There was a lot of construction and the speed limits constantly changed. We had to keep a careful watch for limit signs. None would suddenly become 120km/h and that could change to 100, 70 or even 60 with little notice. 60km/h is darn slow after you've been running at 160.

Driving the Autobahn requires constant attention. Even at 160km/h one is expected to drive in the slow lane. The left lane is for passing only and must be used with care. Cars in the left lane might be going warp 9. More then once, I had cars run up behind us in the left lane. With the break in speed limit, I couldn't go faster. My only choice was to get back into the right lane as soon as possible. Most of the time we were under no speed limit, I set the cruise control for 140km/h which kept my time in the left lane down to a minimum.

Autobahnen have many opportunities for a break from driving. A typical Rastof has a Tankstellung (gas station),clean restrooms, parking, and a restaurant or two. There is usually a 50 cent charge for the restrooms. In between the Rastofs are smaller pullouts marked by a blue and white P sign. Most of these smaller pullouts (we called them P's) are wooded and only have trash cans and parking. We used the occasional P to switch off driving. We would have liked to use one as nice place to eat lunch. However the main use of a P prevented that. Most German males are too cheap to spend 50 cents to use the restroom at a Rasthoff. Instead they take advantage of one of the numerous trees at a P to relive themselves.

Just past Ramstein air base we turned off the A6 onto the A61 and then onto the A1. That part of the route goes through a hilly region with some spectacular high bridges over valleys. Debbie drove part of that segment and I was able to enjoy the view. As we approached Trier I reset the Nuvi to Berghotel Holzerath, our actual destination.

Holzerath is a small vilage about 15km south of Trier. Exiting the autobahn, the Nuvi took us down an ever decreasing set of back roads, ending with a one lane road through a forest. Nice to look at, but it made us wonder about the Nuvi's sanity. Just about the time I was ready to check against a map, we popped out of the forest into the tiny village of Holzerath.
I picked the location mostly because I couldn't find hotel room in Trier. After we saw Trier, I'm glad we stayed out of town. The hotel was solid two star. Nothing fancy at all, but it was clean and comfortable. Inexpensive too. The staff (owners??) speak English and are very friendly. After the 3 and 4 stars we'd be staying at it did feel less luxurious. The bathroom was decidedly cramped and much more like the Europe I remembered.

Trier is home to Dom St. Peter and a holy relic or two. Trier itself was a let down. Maybe we didn't go to the right places, but most of what we saw wasn't worth the trip. The only photo I took was of the inside of the Dom. We ended up eating dinner back at the Hotel. Food at the Berghotel was quite good. Better than we expected. If I had the day to do over, I would have skipped Trier and explored the forest around Holzerath. Even better would have been staying an extra day at any of our other destinations. Amsterdam certainly deserved more time then we gave it.

Trip Report -- Day 5

Friday was a near disaster. Our next scheduled stop was in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. That was a bit far, so I picked a town about half way there and punched it into the Nuvi.

Driving on the Autobahn took considerable concentration. I paid attention to what the Nuvi was telling me but not to where it was taking us. We left Hohenschwangau the way we came, back through the terrible Stau in the Munich area. After a miserable couple of hours we cleared that and were making 150km/h on the Autobahn. Which Autobahn, I had no clue but at least we were getting there fast. After a while we saw signs for Ingolstadt. Ingolstadt is the birthplace of Frankenstien and home to the Audi factory. It was also not anywhere near where we wanted to go. First chance I got, I pulled off the Autobahn and into a Tankstellung. Debbie was upset. I was less then pleased. At least we were still in Bavaria. I fought with the Nuvi for a few minutes and finally convinced it to take a reasonable route to Rothenburg odT. The best route took us back the way we'd come, something that did little to improve things. I made a mental note: always check the Nuvi.

We stopped for fuel and split a miserable sandwich I'd bought at the Tankstellung. 1/2 tank of gas for the X3 cost us about $70.00. The wretched sandwich about $7.00 After that I made the best possible speed. During the break in period, BMW recommends keeping the speed under 100mph. I set the cruise for a little under that. The kilometers flew by. Approaching an interchange, I saw a sign in German saying the ramp was closed and suggesting an alternate. I misunderstood the directions and sent us off in the wrong direction again. Fortunately we caught this almost immediately and only lost a few minutes getting turned around. Did nothing to improve the mood though.

We arrived at Rothenburg odT in the late afternoon. The T and the H are both pronounced. It sounds something like wrote heN berg. The Nuvi and I both did a terrible job navigating inside the city walls but we eventually found the Hotel. I found a safe place to park the car.

We wandered around town a bit and then had dinner at one of the many restaurants. The waitress spoke no English, so we ordered in German. I likely if unwittingly offended her, the town and Bavaria, but they served us anyway. I had wurst, sauerkraut and bread. Debbie had the same. The meal was wonderful and that did a lot to improve our spirits.

After dinner we wandered towards the town square where several crowds were gathering. One was heading to a play. I checked and the performance was in German. The other was crowded around someone talking about the town, in English. That sounded interesting, so we followed along. Just by luck we'd come into Hans Georg Baumgartner's Night Watchman tour. Luckily we'd caught his English performance. The tour is both entertaining and informative. Highly recommended. Having come in just after the start, we didn't realize until the end that he charges for the tour. We were happy to pay as his tour saved the day. We didn't have enough euros, but he happily accepted dollars.

We don't have any decent photos of Rotenburg. We didn't have much time and the town itself is a difficult, if beautiful subject. I put the best I've got at the top of the post. Google or the night watchman's website have more.