Ruf Driving School at the Sachsenring Race Track
Germany - August 2, 1999
Doug, Wayne, and Dagmar's European Vacation
"Faster! Faster! Until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of Death" - Hunter S. Thompson
Conquering Europe in front of the "Winged Victory" statue that the French stole
Remember the story from last year about when Wayne, Dagmar and I went to Brainerd, Minnesota for the World of Ruf Track Event? Luis Ruf and Frank Beddor raffled off a total of 12 round trip tickets to go to Germany and attend the Ruf Driving School, all expenses paid. Six of the tickets were for a two day class at Hockenheim, and the other six tickets were for a one day class at Sachsenring. There were only about 60 drivers eligible for the drawing, so you had a 1 in 5 chance of getting a free trip. Wayne was lucky enough to win the one day driving school with round trip ticket. As for planning the trip, we didn't plan well, as Wayne was real busy at work, and so was Dagmar. At the last minute, Wayne said he was committed to going, and then I asked Dagmar if she wanted to go to Germany with us for the weekend. Wayne and I figured that we would fly over there, take the racing school, and then fly right back. This way, we also dont miss the first KRC Kart Race of the season, and thus wont lose any points to Jeff and Mike. However, Dagmar said there was no way she was flying to Europe unless she and I stayed a MINIMUM of two weeks. Two weeks for me in Third World countries? I would miss the KRC race, I would miss two weeks of summer in beautiful Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, and I could not supervise the mods that were going on with my NSX to get it ready for the LA Street Race. Dagmar said that if I only wanted to go for the weekend, then I should just go with Wayne, and not to worry about her. The only problem is that Wayne and I cant find our way out of a paper bag in a foreign country. A week prior to us leaving, Wayne still didnt have his passport yet(Hes never been out of the U.S.). Neither Wayne nor I can speak any foreign languages, but Dagmar can speak a couple. We would end up lost in Germany for months if we didnt take Dagmar with us. So in the end, I agreed with the wife to go for two weeks, and Wayne said he would go for one week. So heres the story of what happened on our summer vacation .
Amsterdam airport terminal sign. CASINO IN THE AIRPORT!
We fly out of LAX Airport, then to Amsterdam, and then catch a plane to Dresden. The plan is that I would pay my way into the Ruf Driving school, the only problem is that I would have to find a place to rent a car for the school. Since it was a Ruf school, I figured I would try to rent a 911 somewhere. (Technically, a Ruf is not a Porsche. Ruf manufactures their own cars). I tried various places on the Internet, and about the only place that I would find was SIXT rental cars in Europe. Only problem is that to rent a 996 from them was a four day minimum, at $1500 a day. So a minimum of $6000 bucks to rent a car for a one day track event. Hummm I think I will pass on that. So then I figured I would try to rent a BMW M5 or a BMW 7 series, and use that as a rental car for driving around as well as for the one day track event. But that was $700 a day. Ouch. In the end, I was able to get a BMW 523I with a five speed manual transmission for the amazing price of $450 for an entire week from Europcar.
Great looking Ruf CTR2. Can you say 520 HP?
Before we get on the plane at LAX, I attach a piece of red duct tape to the handles of all of our luggage. Wayne asks me what I was doing, and I told him this would make it easier to identify our luggage at the baggage claim, as well as help us identify our luggage if anyone tried to rip off our stuff. We fly into Amsterdam, and have to wait to board the connecting flight to take us into Dresden. As we are strolling through the terminal, there is a CASINO sign. A casino right in the terminal, and we have an hour to catch our next flight. What luck! Dagmar rolls her eyes and goes off shopping. Wayne and I cash in about $100 each to see how they play blackjack here in Holland. We are getting are ass kicked quickly. Turns out the automatic shuffler they use shuffles cards AFTER EVERY HAND. So there is no way you can even get a feel for the percentage of 10's to non 10's in the deck. (Theory being that if there are more tens than normal in the deck, it is to your advantage, so bet more.). We lose $100 in about ten minutes. Cheating bastards. We leave disgusted that they have taken our money with their "fixed game" that robs travelers of their right to a proper game of blackjack. Right before we are to lift off, the airline cargo guy takes some luggage out of the luggage compartment, and Wayne swears that he saw his bag with the little piece of red duct tape on it being REMOVED from the plane. I tell him he is on drugs. We fly into Dresden, and guess what? No luggage for Wayne. Apparently there was too much weight on the plane, so they arbitrarily grabbed some luggage off the plane for the next flight into Dresden. Meaning the next flight tomorrow .bummer for Wayne
The sign on the building at the historic Sachsenring track. Try pronouncing the the first part of the name.
The next day, we are at the Sachsenring race track for the one day driving school. This is a track that the Formula One cars used to race at in the 1930s and 1940s. Today it is used quite a bit for motorcycles as well as car racing. There are quite a few Rufs present, as well as a bunch of other Porsches. Wayne is given a Carrera 4 to drive. We are divided up into five groups, two English speaking and three German speaking groups. The schedule for the group is to each do about five "exercises", and then some open track time at the end of the day.
The car was was loaned to Wayne to use at the driving school
Exercise 1 practice taking correct line through two turns, and testing out ABS/threshold braking
Exercise 2 high speed line through one of the Sachsenrings turns.
Exercise 3 skid pad
Exercise 4 hydroplaning test
Exercise 5 correcting for understeer/oversteer with obstacles
Exercises 1, 2, and 3 are pretty basic for anyone who has been doing a lot of track events. I almost had the the BMW 523I going in opposite lock around the skid pad for about half a turn.
Exercise 4 was interesting. The Sachsenring track has a spot on the track where driver can drive at speed on dry concrete and then go into an narrow area that has about 2 inches of water in it for a probably 300-400 feet.. The instructor first takes you into the pit at about 120 kilometers(72 mph) with three students in it. Then, after you go through the pit, he asks you, "Do you feel that I was hydroplaning or not hydroplaning." We all answered he was not hydroplaning. Then, he goes through the exercise again at the same speed, and he then turns the steering wheel full opposite lock both directions while still going completely straight ahead, demonstrating very effectively that he is indeed hydroplaning and has no control with the steering wheel.. He then takes us through the exercise again and shows us that if you are hydroplaning, and you have to make a correction by turning the wheel and nothing happens, but then you suddenly come upon some dry ground that gives you grip while you have the steering wheel turned, how violently the car will spin. And he then executes a perfect 180 degree Rockford Files turn after he gets into the spin. The main idea behind the exercise was to understand that dont be an idiot and speed while under wet conditions.
Exercise 5, the correcting for understeering and oversteer with obstacles was pretty cool. You are driving about 30 mph into a large area that is wet with water and some other slippery liquid. As soon as you enter the area, your rear wheels pass over a device that looks like a big doormat that violently pulls either left or right, and induces the beginning of a spin. The instructor is at a console, and he can vary which direction the car is jerked, and how hard the car is jerked. So now, once you are in the spin, you have to try to counter the spin by turning the wheel the opposite way. To make it even tougher, the instructor can control about six "water fountains" that shoot water about four feet wide and eight feet high out of the ground. So you drive into this area, the instructor induces a spin, you try to correct it, and then as you are trying to correct, the instructor puts up these impromptu water obstacles, which makes you try to counter steer the opposite way, and when you do that, he throws up another obstacle to make you counter steer the opposite way. You get the picture. Pretty cool how they do that.
Van on the track has a satellite dish on it, so we could watch the F1 race live. Awesome!
Anyways, we are done with all the exercises by lunch. For lunch, we have a great German meal, kinda like pasta. And, Dagmar goes, "Dont freak out, but the German drivers will drink beer and wine at lunch." Wayne and I are say, "Get out of here, they wont allow that". But sure enough, they pickup mugs of beer at the bar, and these arent little 12 oz. mugs, they are bigger than that. Dagmar says that beer is like a normal drink for Germans. I figure that if I drank beer at lunch at a track event, I would either turn the fastest lap that I have ever turn in my life, or I would roll the car.
The Ruf research and development department came up with carbon brake rotors for the street
Anyways, after lunch, we are finally let loose on the Sachsenring. No passing except for the straights. Our first session out there is a blast. The Sachsenring track has a lot of hills with a lot of turns. We are not able to use the full track, as part of the track is still used by the local residents as their regular street for commuting. But we probably are using 80% or so of the track. Wayne is having a good time in the Carrera 4. He said that it handles good, but it has no power. Wayne lets a guy in a Ruf pass him on the straight, as the Ruf has 200 more HP than the Carrera 4, but then in the turns Wayne gets right on his butt, and starts to pressure him. Anyways, Wayne maybe pressures him a little too much, and the Ruf spins off into the gravel pit. More like a rock pit, as the gravel bits are big. Oh great, now we have to wait for 30 minutes or so while they find the sweeper truck, get some brooms, etc. You can't take Wayne anywhere. They finally clean up the mess, and we run a couple more runs on the track. (note: no helmet, no fire extinguisher, no five point harness is required. You are responsible for your own stupidity if you go too fast and wreck, instead of trying to sue people like in the U.S.) After the event, there is an mini-awards ceremony, and Wayne got the 1st place trophy(English group) for "Aggressive Driving", probably because he was dogging one of the instructors in the turns who was driving a Ruf. Which Wayne constantly bragged about the rest of the trip. "Yeah, I was pressuring the instructor, and he had 200 more HP than I did". But the instructor was driving a customer's car, and probably didn't want to push it to the limit, it my opinion. And I got the 2nd place trophy, "For aggressive driving with a good line driving a BMW".
All track events have at least one wreck. Here's the wreck for the driving school. Driver and passenger were fine!
After the track event, we elect to follow Luis and Estonia Ruf back to there hometown via the Autobahn, so they can give us a tour of the Ruf factory in the morning. We are in a caravan with three Rufs, driving our lowly BMW 523i. The Autobahn is the greatest concept in the world. There are speed limits by the construction areas, areas where there are on ramps, and areas where you are in a sweeping turn and can't see what is around the bend at high speed. But other than that, THERE IS NO SPEED LIMIT. I always thought the Autobahn was just some relatively small stretch of highway. But I was totally wrong, the Autobahn criss crosses most of Germany, kinda like the freeway system in the U.S. Some memorable moments:
1. Following the Ruf caravan, and cruising at 125 mph in the fast lane.
Whenever we caught up to anyone else in the fast lane, they immediately pulled over.
What a concept, drivers on the freeway that will pull over if you coming up from behind on
them at a rapid rate of speed.
2. Following the Ruf caravan, and having to pull over to a guy on a motorcycle that was doing about 150 mph!
3. Following the Ruf caravan, going on a slight down hill straightaway. The BMW speedometer is pegged at 245 Kilometers(148 mph). People are moving out the way. The Rufs are probably hitting 170+ mph on this part of the road, and are quickly pulling away from us.
4. One of the Ruf owners was from Chile, and he told Luis Ruf that he wanted to drive 300 kilometers an hour before he shipped his Ruf back to Chile. Luis said that the best time would be around midnight, when there isn't much traffic on the Autobahn. These guys were talking about going 180+ mph on the freeway at NIGHT!
5. Later in the week, in a pretty strong rain(we were cruising at 60 mph in the rain after our hydroplaning exercise), the big Mercedes, Audi's, and BMW sedans were crusing along at 100+ mph.
6. The BMW 523i just purred when it was going 125 mph. Like it was built to do it all day long. The brakes on the car where great, real progressive.
7. The Autobahn is the Eighth Wonder of the World. Can you imagine if we had this in the U.S?
The Ruf showroom and part of their factory. Also their gas station.
I got a plan, let's see if you can follow my logic:
Guns are dangerous. Look at all the recent shootings.
Many Republican elected officials at one time or another(and probably still do) passed laws that:
1. Allowed assault weapons to be purchased by the general public
2. Allowed armor piercing bullets to be purchased by the general public
3. Allowed guns to be bought at swap meets and guns shows without checking if buyer was a felon
4. Allowed people under the age of 18 to shoot guns
And the Republicans allowed all of this insanity to happen? Why? It was the money, the bribery money,(otherwise known as campaign contributions.) I maintain because the NRA helped fund a lot of these politicians political campaigns, the politicians kept(keep?) pushing for laws allowing access to dangerous weapons. It was the cash. Gun owners gave the NRA cash so that gun owners can keep buying guns to kill animals, shoot at targets, "protect" their homes, and allow thousands of innocent people each year to have their bodies shattered like clay pigeons by psycho gun owners.
Now let's apply this logic to you and me, meaning people that like to drive fast(but safely), and have cars that are capable of being safe at speeds well above 65 mph. Why is there is stupid speed limit on highways in the U.S, but on the other hand there are laws that say that anyone can go to a swap meet and buy a Saturday night special for $50? Because no one is paying off the politicians to get rid of the stupid speed limit! We need a National Autobahn Association(NAA), that's what we need. Ferrari ships 800+ cars a year into the U.S. Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, ship hundreds of thousands of cars into the U.S. every year. There's the NSX Club of America, the Porsche Club of America, BMW Club, Ferrari Club of America. etc. I figure there must be at least two million imported, high performance cars in America. If everyone one of us donated $500 to the NAA, that is one billion dollars that we have available to bribe government officials to get rid of the stupid speed limit on highways. Then, we could be like the Germans, and be able to cruise at 125-180 mph on the freeways, so we can get more stuff done in a day. Don't vote for a presidential candidate until we know how they will support a nation-wide Autobahn!
What the U.S. needs now is someone to get off their ass and organize a National Autobahn Association. (It ain't gonna be me.....I gotta lot of track events coming up.) Maybe Jessie Ventura could us this to ignite his presidential campaign. Maybe some people from Ferrari/BMW/Porsche/Mercedes can get the ball rolling. They would then sell a hell of a lot more performance oriented cars if there were no speed limits.
Before you say this is totally ridiculous, I offer these additional thoughts:
1. Car deaths in Germany vs. car deaths in the U.S. Yeah, I know, I read the Economist Magazine, last week, and it seems that German drivers are about 80% more likely to die per 100,000 drivers than drivers in the U.S. But the tradeoff is that we can increase the speed to what our cars are capable of crusing at by almost 250%. 80% more deaths vs. 250% more efficiency, if you ask me, the 250% more efficient argument wins. (Note, Italy was extremely high on the death list. High speed, curvy roads in Italy combined with only 20% of the Italians wear seat belts, and many Italian motorcyclist/bicyclist don't wear helmets. I think 500% higher death rate than the US, if I remember correctly)
2. Germans get 6 weeks of vacation. Which I thought was ridiculous, and they would never have the economic influence of the U.S. BUT, if they can cruise at 140+ mph on the autobahn, and you figure the average US person speeds at least an hour a day on the freeway, you figure that the Germans have much more time than US workers to get stuff done. Germany can become the #1 economic power in the world, as they are much more efficient. We have 100+ million drivers tooling around at 55-65 mph on the freeway, which means 50 million hours of labor/family time is wasted a day.
3. Yeah, I know lawyers would have a field day suing people for "wrongful death due to careless and excessive speed". Screw the lawyers, the NAA has a billion dollars, we help draft a bill saying that no lawsuits can be made due to accidents involved with high speed driving(unless it was a DUI, of course). Remember, the NAA can now BUY their laws like the NRA.
4. Think of all the money we will save by not having any CHP, Sheriffs, and other law enforcement agents standing on the side of the road with radar guns trying to pop you for going 75 mph on the highway in your car, in the very same car the Germans drive 150+ mph on the Autobahn.
5. You could drive to your favorite vacation spot in HALF the time or less. Wayne and I could get to Vegas in two hours instead of four.
6. The National Autobahn Association could give the economy a big jump in productivity, and drive the NASDAQ and DOW up higher.
7. If the Germans can make it work, we certainly can make it work.
So how about it? Will one of your NSX-Files readers become the head of the NAA?? Just think of the seven figure salary you could give yourself, especially after you collect a billion dollars in campaign money!
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The next morning, we had a great breakfast and lunch with Luis, his wife Estonia, and Willem(customer who wanted to go 300+kilometers with his Ruf). Luis told us some great stories about Germany, integrating Eastern and Western Germany, and how his company originally started as a gas station many years ago by his father. Luis and Estonia are great hosts, and we had a lot of fun with them in Germany and at their track event.
Hanging out with Estonia on the Ruf racing seat table. Powered car seats for reclining/height adjustments!
For those of you that don't know anything about Ruf, they manufacture about 25 cars a year, custom built for the owner. It is based on a Porsche chassis (chassis is bought from Porsche), and the put in a fully integrated roll bar (you can barely tell there is a full cage in the car, is is covered by leather), big Ruf brakes, equip it with 520+ horsepower, you choose your paint color, your interior leather, etc. etc. etc. They have held records for having some of the fastest cars ever built for the street (211 mph at the Nardo racetrack in 1987 with their "Yellow Bird" CTR). All with full leather, air, heater, stereo, etc. Luis was telling us that he was in California, and a customer of his also bought an F50 to complement the Ruf CTR2. The customer had another driver run the Ruf CTR2 next to the F50, to see which was faster. The Ruf was faster. So Luis told his customer......so you paid $250,000 more for an F50 to go SLOWER than my cars??? Also mentioned that he modified one of Dr. Porsche's own personal cars. So if you want to go REAL fast in a streetable car safely......call Mr. Ruf, and let him build you a true supercar.
Later in the week, we cruised over to the Nurburgring. And if you thought the Autobahn was cool............
Disneyland for car geeks! 22 kilometers of adrenaline!
I checked the Nurburgring website before we left the U.S. Found out that during the weekdays, it looks like they are open from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. I could not read any of the German on the website, so we just went and showed up in the 523i.
Update: August 18th. Martin V. at the Nurburgring sent me the update schedule as to when the track is open.
We cruise up, and it is just like in the Porsche commercial. You know, the one where the Porsche driver goes to the ATM to get more money to drive more on the Nurburgring? That is just what it is like. We cruised up to the track, and there is this little information office there.
The info booth with the automatic ticket dispenser machine
We go in and Wayne starts talking to the guy. Basically, all you gotta do is go out to the vending machine, put in the equivalent of 10 bucks per lap, get a ticket, and then insert that ticket into the toll gate. There is no speed limit. No helmets required. You don't even have to empty the luggage out of your car. Just watch out for cars and bikes come up from behind you.
Lambo roadster getting ready to do battle against the bikes at the 'Ring
Only real rules are that you have to wear a seatbelt, and you can't stop on the track to take pictures. We even saw a car with about four people and a dog taking a leisurely cruise around the track. Germany treats their track events as events were people take personal responsibility for their actions, as opposed to the US where you have to be protected by some idiot lawyer who will sue everyone in sight because you were stupid enough to exceed your driving skill and crash your car.
The entrance to the Nurburgring. Just stick your ticket in the gate, and off you go!
So we put the suction cup camera mount on the passenger side window, point the camera out the window, and let 'er rip. I drive the first lap. It is about 22 kilometers long, or about a 12 mile lap. And what a nice lap! Wayne and I are giggling like Beavis and Butthead, "Heh heh....heh heh....wow...this is cool...heh heh!". Lot of rolling hills, sweeper turns, elevation changes, and all apexes are nicely marked with candystriping. About 70% of the vehicles on the track are motorcycles, and they are just ripping through the track. While we were there, we saw a Diablo roadster and a 550 Maranello, as well as assorted Porsches, BMWs. So after my first lap of pure fun, we pull off the track into the parking lot, and proceed to dump ALL of our luggage out of the car. Our new plan is that Wayne will drive with me a passenger, and Dagmar will watch the luggage at the snackbar. Then I will drive with Dagmar as a passenger, and Wayne will watch the luggage. Wayne and I proceed to beat the crap out of our 523i rental car, squealing the car around every turn, abusing the brakes, etc. Damn, we shoulda brought the hot lap timing system! We each are able to take 3 laps around the track before it closes. I have to check the video tape later to see what our lap times were, and who was faster around the track. Take note, this is probably the BEST track that we have ever driven on, you must make it a priority to drive here when you go to Europe.
We take the BMW to the Frankfurt airport rental car drop off, and we then see that Europcar has a Ferrari 550 Maranello in the lot. I ask the clerk there about the pricing, and it came out to $300 a day! (not sure about mileage). Unfortunately, we couldn't stay, we had to catch a train to Paris in 10 minutes, so we couldn't stay another day to try out the Ferrari at the Nurburgring.
Paris - A lot of Paris was closed. Which is fine for me, but Dagmar said that normally this is a hopping town, but all the supermodels and clothes shop owners head down to the south of France or something like that for the month of August. We went to the Louvre, the big museum there. Dagmar was amazed that Wayne and I only could think of the name of two pieces of art there, the Mona Lisa and the Venus di Milo.
Wayne in front of the French "Penis" symbol
Dagmar said that with her schooling in Canada, she used to be able to identify paintings, who painted them, what year they where painted, and what style, and so what the heck do we learn in American schools? My reply? "So what, there are car guys that can identify older classic Ferraris by their serial number, and tell you what year the car is and what person bought them!". Not that I could, but hey, identifying art ain't no big skill...if you ask me. For a car geek, the Louvre is pretty cool.....for about 90 minutes, and then after you seen one picture or statue, you feel like you seen them all......
Anyways, in the cab in France we sign an advertisement for CASINO. We check into the hotel, and immediately get ready to take off to the casino. We are dressed in our usual shorts and t-shirt, and the doorman at the hotel laughs at us and says, "No no no. You can't go to Casino like that!". We look at him strangely, and he says you must have slacks, tie, and jacket. "WHAT?". Yup, apparently in France they make you dress up to gamble. I tell Wayne I only have one pair of decent long pants, and they are Dockers, and I don't have any shirts that you can put a tie on. Wayne scrounges up a couple of shirts, and gives me one. Now we look really dorky. The doorman says that you can buy a tie and rent a jacket at the casino.
Dagmar says we look really dorky when we dress up for the casino
So we dress up, get to the casino after a 30 minute cab ride. We have to buy a tie for about $20, rent a coat for $20, and pay a $20 entrance fee. We are down $60 bucks before we even bet. We walk into the casino, and those French rip off artists advertise 18 tables for blackjack, but they only have two open. With about 10 people fighting to get a seat at these two tables. We can't really complain, and Wayne can't be obnoxious to anyone at the casino, because we can't speak the language. We only allocated 40 minutes to gamble, as we had to get back and meet Dagmar for dinner. We never get a chance to play, because the casino never opened up any other tables. We would have loved to kick their ass for big bucks at the table...but it wasn't going to happen today. We leave without playing a hand.......and take a stupid looking tie home with us.
We go to dinner, and Wayne and I don't have the best table manners in the world. The restaurants there were giving us about 3 forks, 3 knifes, 4 glasses, etc., to eat with, and it was obvious that we don't have a clue. It was to the point where one Wayne grabbed a fork that he used for his first course to violently stab the food on the second course, and the waitress GRABBED the fork out of his hand before he could do the "offensive" maneuver. Dagmar has impeccable table manners, but also came down with a bad hacking cough that would not stop, so every 60 seconds during the meal, she would hack four times, throughout the entire 2 hour meal. So you can imagine what the rest of the people thought of us, as two Barbarians stuffing our mouths with the wrong utensils, sitting with Typhoid Mary spreading a hacking cough. In general, all the locals were pretty polite to us, but that maybe because Dagmar could at least speak a little bit of their language to start off the conversation, and once they realized that she could speak a little of their language, then they started speaking English back to us. At many of the restaurants we went to, everyone was wearing slacks and a jacket except for us, and we were wearing shorts and a "Pulp Racing" t-shirt. But we figure, so what, they are all poseurs, they can't race wheel-to-wheel........they may look fancy-schmanzy, but we are positive that they are slow..........and we would lap their asses around the Nurburgring or Sachsenring....
Sleeper car in train with three beds in a 6 x 8 compartment.
We take a sleeper train from Paris to Italy. Wayne insists on
playing Gin Rummy, but I need to read up on the solar eclipse. He convinces Dagmar
to play. Dagmar promptly wins 9 out of 9 hands. I tell Wayne that if he was
playing double or nothing starting with $5, he would now be down
$5-$10-$20-$40-$80-$160-$320-$640-$1280. Wayne gives up after the 9th loss, and
sulks off to go to sleep on the top bunk.
Unfortunately, most of Italy is shut down in the month of August for vacation, including the Ferrari factory. Which is a bummer, as Jeff was there last month, and he got to see a group of Ferrari 360 Modena's coming off the assembly line and then going onto the Fiorano track for final shakedown and testing before shipping. Now that would have been cool........anyways, we roamed around a bit, saw a church or two....ate some good food.......Wayne took off for home from Italy, and then we rented an Alfa 166 to drive from Italy to Lucerne, Switzerland. Lo and behold, right outside our hotel, is a CASINO. I drag Dagmar to the casino, but unfortunately they only had slot machines. Casinos in Europe suck. They are truly third world casinos.
We then drove through Austria and down to Munich. We tried to swap our Alfa 166 for a high performance vehicle, but got stuck with an Opel Vectra, as all the cars were sold out for the total eclipse of the sun. Next day, we went to the Munich Olympic Stadium for the eclipse festivities. Unfortunately, it was cloudly, with only brief glimpses of sunlight. And when it was cloudy, it was cloudy with rain clouds.
People watching part of the total eclipse
Ooooops.....now it starts raining of and on right before totality
And at totality, it is a torrential downpour. Notice how dark the stadium was for 2.5 minutes!
We then took off for Frankfurt, home of the Ferrari 550 Maranello that I wanted to rent from Europcar. Unfortunately, it was not available, and they said you must tell them four days in advance before you rent it, probably to check on your credit rating and your deposit. Bummer, here we are about 45 minutes from the Nurburgring, and we have a stupid Opel Vectra. Oh well....I guess it wasn't meant to happen. Next morning, take a train to Amsterdam, spend the night, and then back home.
So what was my overall impression of Europe? It is pretty awesome. I no longer consider it to be a collection of third world countries. As a matter of fact, I now consider the U.S. to be a third world country when it comes to freeway speeds, lawyers, gun control, and car manufacturers. We should send all the U.S. politicians over to Europe, along with CEOs of the big three automakers over to Europe for two weeks to see how to properly drive, litigate(or not litigate), not shoot people, and build fast cars. I do want to go to Europe again. For any of you contemplating a trip, I would do the following:
1. Check the schedule for the Nurburgring.
See when it is open. Then plan your trip. There are some days where it looks like they are open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
2. One month before you go, try to reserve a Porsche or Ferrari or BMW at a decent rate. I think it is possible to get one for $300-$400 a day. Don't try to reserve over there. Try to reserve it for pickup at the Frankfurt airport, which is relatively close to the Nurburgring. Then take it to the Nurburgring and beat the living shit out of the car.
3. Before you go to Europe, get some foreign currency. Meaning get a $100 or so BEFORE you to the various countries, so you don't have to wait in the stupid change lines at the airports/train stations. Since you at least have $100, you can get a cab to the hotel and have the hotel change the rest for you, or find an ATM leisurely and get more foreign currency. Too many times we were stuck in line getting German, French, Italian, Swiss, and Amsterdam currency, and it was a pain in the ass.
4. Buy lots of water at the airport when you land, as it is somewhat hard to find non-carbonated water.
5. Take an ISDN modem, most of the business hotels there have ISDN support.
6. If you have MSN, get an AOL account also. (I hate to say that, given that AOL won't allow Microsoft to interface their instant messaging product to AOL's product). I thought MSN had support for Europe. It shows it in the dialog boxes, but when you actually click on say "Germany", it tells you, "No access numbers". So I had to dial into MSN in the US, paying a fortune for long distance calls. If I had an AOL account, I could have dialed into AOL locally, and then used that connection to pickup my MSN mail.
7. Take a 220-110 power converter, so you can plug in all your gizmos safely. Wayne carries around this portable fan (I am not sure why), and got a plug converter from the hotel. But it wasn't a power converter, it was just a plug converter if you laptop also supported 220v. Anyways, he plugs his fan in, figuring that since the local power source is 220v, but his fan is 110v, maybe his fan will spin at twice the RPMs that it does in the U.S. Wrong.....he shorted out most of the sockets in his room.
8. Buy your maps in the U.S. You get there in Europe, and all the maps are in different languages, which is a pain in the ass.
9. If you rent a car from Europcar, verify the price. I got the bill verification, and I think they are trying to pop me for $423 a DAY instead of for a week. Uh oh...