Wanderlust (/’wändərˌləst/) — A strong desire to travel.
In my 24 years of life, I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled a lot, both with family and friends. However, I’ve never travelled outside of North America, and I’ve never taken a vacation by myself. Yet this recently changed. I guess you can say my wanderlust kicked in, and I rather impulsively took a solo trip to Europe to clear my head of my busy work and personal life, take in new cultures, journey back to my ancestral roots in Alsace and Bavaria, and fulfill my nearly lifelong dream of visiting BMW Welt.
Though just a quick jaunt, lasting only four days, it was filled with sights and activities, and in the end I visited four countries (including my layover in the Netherlands and run into Austria) drove some 1,000 kilometers, mostly all Autobahn in my rental, and left with a lifetime of memories and numerous personal feats.
My journey started off on a Wednesday evening with an overnight flight to Amsterdam on Delta Airlines. I’m by no means a fan of flying, finding it more of a headache than anything, but I’ve always had better luck with Delta than any other airline and this was no exception. In fact, the two transatlantic flights were the best flying experiences I’ve ever had. Paying an extra $100 each way to upgrade to Delta Comfort+ (better seats, priority boarding, more legroom, complimentary alcoholic beverages) was definitely worth it. I also had no one sitting next to me on either flight! But I digress…
My departing flight was followed by a brief layover in Amsterdam, and then an hour flight to the tiny Strasbourg airport, where I picked up my rental. Turo isn’t active in the Strasbourg area, so I went with a traditional rental agency. Having heard nothing but good things via word of mouth, I went with Sixt and reserved a “BMW 3 Series Touring or similar” (with the “similar” listed as the C-Class or V60 Estates) back in June.
Much to my dismay, despite my “reservation”, when I arrived on time, Sixt did not have a car in the class that I reserved. I was immediately reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry encounters a similar situation:
You see, you know how to ‘take’ the reservation, you just don’t know how to ‘hold’ the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.
Despite my well in advance reservation, I was offered a choice of three cars: a “large car” Renault Talisman, an “SUV” Renault Kadjar, or a stick-shift VW Beetle cabriolet. Having driven current generation Beetles on multiple occasions, I knew to stay clear. I certainly didn’t want what is essentially a Nissan Rogue CUV to drive on the Autobahn, so that left me with the Talisman. I had no idea what to expect, having the slightest idea of what a Talisman even looked like. In fact, my only association with the word “Talisman” was of the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman of the 1970s.
Walking out to the
parking lot carpark, I was greeted with a vaguely Hyundai Azera-looking midsize car with an obviously French face. Though highly disappointed that I would not get to experience the handling of a rear-wheel drive German car on the Autobahn, at least this car was well equipped to modern “Talisman” levels of expected luxury.
This Talisman happened to be a top trim “Initiale Paris” version, including features such as supple Nappa leather seats with heating/cooling/massage function, open pore wood trim, a Tesla-like vertically-oriented 8.7-inch touch screen, ambient lighting, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and navigation with real-time traffic and speed limit alerts.
Simply being in Europe was something of a surreal experience for me, having dreamed of travelling there nearly my entire lifetime. Strasbourg, where I was based, was simply beautiful and full of old world charm, its combination of multiple century old buildings, French and German-influenced architecture, cobblestone streets, numerous sidewalk cafes, rivers, and so much more.
As for accommodations in Strasbourg, I chose the Hotel Cour du Courbeau for this same level of charm and character. Located in a building dating back to the 16th century, it was by far one of the best and most interesting hotels I’ve ever had to fortune of staying at.
Despite being very jet lagged, the last thing I was going to do was waste time indoors on a beautiful day in an entirely new land to me. I set out exploring the very pedestrian-friendly city, wandering up the various side streets, checking out some of the shops, and enjoyed a small lunch and a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe while people watching.
In the morning I got up early to go for my very first run on the European continent, then proceeded on the day tour I had booked of Alsace through Ophorus tour groups, which I highly recommend to anyone if they have a spare day in Alsace.
Traveling with a group of seven other tourists hailing from the U.S., Australia, and India, our Alsatian guide, Florence, took us on a nine-hour excursion that included Alsace’s second-largest city of Colmar…
as well as the picturesque villages of Eguisheim…
a tasting at a designated Alsace Grand Cru winery…
and a tour of Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, a medieval castle fully rebuilt and restored under the direction of Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately prior to World War I, when Alsace was part of the German Empire.
My next day commenced with a quick run and breakfast, then I fired up the Renault and set out east, crossing the Rhine into Germany en route to the small Bavarian town of Füssen (above) right on the border with Austria, where I’d be staying that night before heading to Munich the following morning for BMW Welt.
After about half an hour, I was officially driving on the Autobahn, à mon Renault, which I found quite slow. Powering non-diesel Talismans (or is it Talismen?) came from a Nissan-sourced 1.6L turbo four-cylinder rated at 200 horsepower and 260 lb-ft torque.
While this might sound like an adequate amount of power, for a 3,600 pound car on the Autobahn, it was no where near so. Never before in a car have I floored the gas pedal so much and been met with such painstakingly slow acceleration.
Top speed is rated at 237 km/hr, but the greatest speed I was able to get it up to was 207 km/hr (128.5 mph). After flooring it for nearly a minute, it simply would not go any faster, and the Audi behind me was flashing their lights for me to allow passing.
Thankfully, the Talisman did not us a CVT, as found in most of Nissan’s cars with the same engine, but instead a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
A manual would’ve been fun, but I’m glad I opted for an automatic as the streets of Strasbourg were stressful enough to navigate with their various one-ways, pedestrian crossings, and bike lanes. Traffic on the Autobahn was actually significant too, making the automatic a better choice.
In any event, driving the some 1,000 kilometers, mostly on the Autobahn was truly an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The scenery was beautiful and the roads brought much driving pleasure. Although much of the Autobahn is 2-3 lane sections of straightaways, just like most U.S. interstates, the Autobahn was originally designed with great emphasis on experiencing the natural landscape, and sections I experienced such as the Drackensteiner Hang were particularly memorable for me for this reason.
Additionally,all the various cars we don’t have in North America which I drove alongside brought little bursts of excitement that only car enthusiasts can relate to. Among those such sights was spotting this loosely camouflaged Bentley sedan near Stuttgart.
I arrived in Füssen late afternoon, hitting a far greater amount of traffic on the Autobahn than I would’ve expected for a Saturday. I explored the town by foot for a brief while, finding most of the businesses closed down for the evening, before getting dinner and then turning in early in preparation of my big day in the morning.
Despite the rainy and rather cold weather, I got up early and went for one of the most scenic runs of my life, along a mountain road which ran parallel to the Lech River which took me into Austria, making it the first run I’ve ever ran through two different countries! Along with the breathtaking natural alpine scenery, it was absolutely one of the most exhilarating and surreal experiences of my life!
After a quick shower and breakfast of eggs and toast (if you are like me and don’t eat red meat or dairy, traditional German food is rather bland and unexciting), I set out on my pilgrimage to the holy land, BMW Welt.
Now I’m not a religious person, so visiting BMW Welt and the museum was truly somewhat of a religious experience for someone who loves BMW as much as I do. Having dreamed of going nearly my whole life, it was truly awe-inspiring finally being there at BMW’s wonderfully curated headquarters in Munich. I felt like a kid being in Disney World for the first time running from one attraction to the next.
The main ultramodern exhibition building is somewhat of a massive permanent auto show, with various new BMWs, MINIs, and Rolls-Royces on display, interactive demonstrations and technology, the massive delivery bay where one can take delivery of their brand new BMW, along with several shops and restaurants.
Walking over the pedestrian bridge took me into the museum, which takes you through the entire history of Bavarian Motor Works, covering over 100 years of innovation with a plethora of historic vehicles on display.
Among highlights for me included seeing this M1…
a 1995 Z3 used in the filming of GoldenEye, my favorite Bond film…
and this Z1, a car that I find is one of BMW’s most intriguing of all time, and a car which a coworker has lovingly dubbed the ultimate embodiment of me as a car.
I truly could have spent multiple days there, but I had a five-hour drive ahead of me to get back to Strasbourg by sunset, as I was leaving for my long journey home in the morning. I did take time for a relaxing light lunch of salmon crudo and a glass of Riesling hailing from the Rheingau region of Germany at BMW’s Bavarie restaurant, before heading back to Alsace for my final night on the European continent.
Though short and sweet, lasting only four days in Europe bookended by one day of travel each way, it was full of sights, experiences, and memories I will have for the rest of my life. On that note, I easily crossed more items off my bucket list during these couple of days than I ever have in such a short period of time. And hey, I even got to drive a Renault for the first time ever, very extensively.
While clearly fast-paced with me always on the go, that’s how I prefer a vacation to be, doing and seeing as much as I can in the allotted time all on my own schedule. I can rest on the sofa watching Netflix when I get home. To anyone who hasn’t tried it or may be skeptical of it, I highly recommend travelling solo at least once. I loved it because I did everything I wanted, when I wanted, at my pace.
There was no one to get on my nerves or argue with, which always seems to happen at least once per vacation, and I can honestly say that my stress level during these couple of days was at its lowest in recent memory. This trip was just what I needed and one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself in my entire life! I can’t wait to go back!