Get A Free Ride With Your New Car: European Delivery Programs

Like many longtime New Yorkers, I don’t own a car and know little about the finer points of purchasing or owning a vehicle. A recent Volvo ad caught my eye in an airline in-flight magazine: If you purchase your car and pick it up in Sweden, they’ll pick up the tab on your trip. A new car and free travel? This was something I could get behind! Doing some research, I discovered quite a few of the top European car makers offer an overseas delivery program.

While you’ll have to plan in advance (generally 3-4 months) to get your car and your trip, you’ll save on the vehicle cost, plus get to pick it up hot off the presses and drive it around European roads. Once you have it shipped to the U.S., you will wait another 8-10 weeks or so to be reunited stateside. Some programs include free airfare and hotel nights, most include factory tours, European road insurance and import/export fees.

Here’s a look at the most popular programs, including travel costs and savings.Audi (Germany)
Travel perks: European Delivery customers get 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa, chauffeured pick up from the Munich airport and a free night at a 4- or 5-star hotel near the factory. On the day you get your keys, you’ll visit the Audi museum and factory, with free meals and snacks all day. You then have two weeks to tool around Europe, with free drop off (by advance arrangement) at any one of 16 locations in Germany and western Europe.
Extra options: Serious Audi fans might consider an additional driving or race “experience” in summer or early fall (many of the winter events require special experience like driving in Scandinavia), where you can learn to drive like a pro, take on a racing circuit, or tour Europe in a luxury vehicle. It’ll cost extra, of course, from a few hundred euro per person. Note that all vehicles ready between November 1-April 15 must have winter tires installed at the factory, but that may be included in the cost of the car.
Car pricing: Audis are priced from $33,800, before the discount up to 5 percent off MSRP, except for the highest end models such as the R8 Spyder.

BMW (Germany)
Travel perks: You can get to Bavaria with 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa. At the BMW Welt facility, you’ll get free museum and factory tours, and refreshments at the cafe. They’ll cover European road insurance for up to 14 days, then you can drop off your vehicle at one of 12 locations free, except Italy which has a supplement of up to 850 euro (must be those Italian drivers!).
Extra options: In addition to airfare, you’ll pay to get to the factory from Munich airport, as well as any hotels on your trip. As befitting a luxury automobile, BMW offers a range of luxury add-on trips designed to make the most of driving the Autobahn in the ultimate driving machine. (The “optional” note indicates they aren’t included free in the deal, but they are specially designed for BMW customers.) Winter deliveries will also require seasonal tires in Germany; it is possible to rent the winter tires if you don’t have them factory-installed.
U.S. pick up: Another option entirely is the Performance Center Delivery Program in Spartanburg, South Carolina. If you travel down south for your car, BMW will pay for your hotel and meals, plus a tour of its U.S. factory and museum, and best of all, professional driving instruction. You won’t get the savings you’d get on a European delivery, but the travel costs are much lower.
Car pricing: From $29,065 with savings, up to 7 percent on MSRP. See all models here.

Mercedes-Benz (Germany)
Travel perks: While airfare discounts aren’t included, you’ll get Mercedes’ travel assistance for booking your trip, airport transfers and one night hotel accommodations. When you pick up your car, you’ll have a tour of the factory and museums, meals at the delivery center, 15 days road insurance and a tank of gas to get you on your way.
Extra options: You can add a self-guided tour of the Black Forest or Alps at additional cost. Drop offs in Italy, England or Spain are additional (Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands are covered at no cost), and you’ll have to arrange for winter tires as with the other programs.
Car pricing: Vehicles from $35,800, with a 7 percent discount on MSRP.

Volvo (Sweden)
Travel perks: The best “deal” of the European Delivery programs, Volvo will include two round-trip plane tickets from the U.S. to Scandinavia (we’d assume Stockholm, but it’s 4-5 hours from the Volvo factory), one night in a hotel in Gothenburg, as well as the usual factory tour and road insurance.
Extra options: You will have to pay if you drop off or pick up anywhere other than the factory location, several hundred dollars or more, but it makes sense given the location of Volvo in Sweden as opposed to more central Germany. You may also see some seasonal charges: $150 per passenger supplement for summer flights, and the rental costs of snow tires between December and April. Volvo offers a variety of trips for more Scandinavian travel if you’d like to extend your trip.
Car pricing: Eligible Volvo models are from $31,420 after savings up to 7 percent on MSRP. See available models.

Bottom line: If you’re buying a new luxury vehicle, you likely aren’t a budget traveler. The savings even with free airfare, road insurance and a night at a nice hotel won’t likely offset what you’ll spend on the rest of your trip, let alone a car. However, if you are in the market for a slick new ride, driving it home on the Autobahn after seeing how it’s made is likely to be an unforgettable trip.

My Own Personal Krampus

I have a photo, printed from film, old school … my husband and I are standing in a snowstorm in the Austrian alps. The flash from the camera reflects off giant fluffy flakes. The sky behind us is black – it’s early evening, but an alpine evening, so it is dark. We are wearing big coats and big hats and big snow boots. We are surrounded by a group of Krampus, the alpine monster of the season, big shaggy horned devils who strike fear into the hearts of small children, who chase taunting teenagers down the streets of snow-globe villages, who torment tourists and locals alike.

Only we don’t look the least bit rattled. We are smiling big holiday smiles. It looks like a family portrait with our pets.

The Krampusspiel – or, as I like to call it, The Running of the Krampus – takes place every year on December 6. It’s part of a series of deep winter alpine traditions around Christmas and the solstice that acknowledge the change of the season. Three Kings come to your house and chalk your doorways, and there are little sprites that rattle around in your fireplace until you give them candy to go away, and there are runners in all white who carry beautiful lanterns and ring bells to scare away the bad spirits of the previous year.

But the Krampus has taken the spotlight. His shaggy coat, his massive size, his devil’s face, and his swinging broomstick, have captured the collective imagination, perhaps targeting the same people that like slasher movies. Krampus parades take over the streets of popular ski villages in Austria (and some parts of Bavaria) in a pageant of Alien meets Satan. Removed from the context of all those winter traditions, the Krampus is now the star in a winter nightmare of swinging chains, of orcs set free from Middle Earth, of underworld creatures released from the pits of hell.Every year we read at least one story of a tourist absolutely terrorized by an out of control Krampus at a Krampusspiel. And every year we have to wade through a swamp of nostalgia and annoyance. These are not our Krampus’, they are not the Krampus my Austrian husband grew up with, they are not the Krampus he dressed up as when he was in his twenties. They are not the Krampus in our family portrait.

I was utterly enchanted with the Krampus the first time I saw him. He was in the hallway of our apartment building. I heard him before I saw him; he wore giant cowbells and rattled through the streets in the dark. I opened the door and he was standing there, filling the stairwell, while the neighbor’s kids stood silent, wide eyed in wonder. They looked tiny, awestruck, but not afraid. I’m quite sure if they’d looked up, past the shaggy monster’s waist, they’d have seen their expressions reflected on my own wondering face.

While locals line the sidewalks and await his (pre-scheduled) arrival at their homes, the Krampus runs through town, shaking his bells, swinging his broomstick, and admonishing the little ones about their behavior throughout the year. He’s got friends with him who carry baskets of treats for kids – peanuts and tangerines and maybe little chocolates. Sometimes, St. Nikolaus is there too, giving stern but affectionate lectures, asking the children to recite rhymes about Christmas.

The story of the Krampus is scary. He will beat you with his broomstick, stuff you in his sack, drag you back to his lair if you’ve been bad. He’s a terror. There’s no denying it. But our Krampus, the one that runs the streets of my husband’s tiny village, he’s more “Where the Wild Things Are” than hatched from James Cameron’s green glowing alien planet. His face is a carved wooden mask, not shiny resin and plastic. He carries a bundle of twigs bound into an old fashioned broom, not a length of chain or a whip. He will raise his hands over head and roar at the cocky teenager who taunts him with the traditional Krampus rhyme, but he will not chase a tourist four blocks in an act of aggression. He is campfire ghost-story scary, not “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” scary.

It is strange that I have affection for this alpine myth, for this black devil from places unknown, but each winter I find myself an unlikely defender of the Krampus. People send me videos of vicious looking beasts running rampant through snow covered hamlets and I think, “No, no, no. You don’t understand, this is not what the Krampus is.” My memory will not be ruined by this. I hold the picture in my hand and think, “Ah, there you are! This is the Krampus I know, the one my husband grew up with!” I stand in the snow surrounded by creatures imagined. There are big snowflakes and the sound of bells and eyes big with wonder and I am not even a little bit afraid.

[Photo credit: Pam Mandel]

What You Need To Know About Oktoberfest 2012

I love Oktoberfest season. Just as the summer heat disappears, men in lederhosen with feathered hats take to the streets, and I can sample all the Oktoberfest beers that arrive in my favorite beer stores. (This year my favorite is the Otter Creek Oktoberfest, which is brewed with real Vermont maple syrup.) Munich’s Oktoberfest starts on Saturday and in the coming weeks, there will be Oktoberfest celebrations in cities and towns all over the U.S. and wherever there are ethnic German communities around the world.

But none are quite like the original Oktoberfest in Munich, which hosted nearly 7 million visitors last year with nary a Budweiser or Miler Lite in sight. To get a better idea of what the original Oktoberfest in Munich is all about, we talked to Isabella Schopp, from the City of Munich Tourism Bureau.

Why is it called Oktoberfest if it starts in September?

It used to be in October in the first years but as the weather was always very rainy, grey and sometimes there was even snow, some of the Munich caterers decided that the Oktoberfest should already end on the first weekend of October. It has started in September since 1872.

The Oktoberfest celebration in Munich is the most famous one but are there others all over Germany?

Almost every city and village in Germany has its own folk festival with beer tents and fun rides, which takes one to two weeks each year. They are not called “Oktoberfest” but have their own names and cannot be compared to the Oktoberfest, as they are much smaller and less well known.

What are the origins of the celebration in Munich?

The Munich Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world, has its origin in the wedding ceremony of Crown Prince Ludwig – later King Ludwig I. of Bavaria – with Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen in the year 1810.

How has the celebration changed over the years?

The Oktoberfest still remains the traditional Munich funfair with Munich hospitality and Munich beer. There still are many traditional parts like the parades on the first weekend and some nostalgic rides. However, it has also grown a lot. In the meantime there are 14 large festival halls (“beer tents”), many more rides and games (130 altogether) and the number of visitors has grown a lot.

Tell us a bit about the special Oktoberfest beers that are available during the celebration?

Only those breweries that brew within the city limits are allowed to sell their beer at Oktoberfest. There are, at the moment, six different breweries that provide their own Oktoberfest beers. Only Munich beer from the proven traditional Munich breweries – Augustinerbrauerei, Hacker-Pschorrbrauerei, Löwenbrauerei, Paulanerbrauerei, Spatenbrauerei and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus – which satisfy the Munich purity standards of 1487 and the German purity standards of 1906 may be served.

What does a liter of beer cost?

The price of beer in 2012 is €9.10 – €9.50 per liter.

Other than pretzels what other kind of food is traditionally eaten at Oktoberfest?

The beer is best accompanied by Bavarian delicacies such as radishes, obatzda (specially garnished cream cheese), sausages and roast chicken or spicy fish grilled on a skewer. Another Wiesn specialty is the ox roasted on a spit at the Ochsenbraterei. (The Wiesn is the festival area.)

I know it can be difficult to find a room in Munich during Oktoberfest, any advice for travelers who need a place to stay?

It is advisable to reserve rooms as early as possible. Rooms can be booked via München Tourismus: phone +49 89 23396550 or email
There are also some camping sites in and around Munich where visitors with a small budget can stay.

How many people take part in Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich each year?

In 2011, 6.9 million people took part in Oktoberfest celebrations. The number of visitors has risen every year.

Other than drinking beer and oom-pah bands, what else happens during the course of the celebration?

The Oktoberfest is much more than drinking beer.
The festive setting for the opening of the Oktoberfest is the entry of the festival hosts and breweries, which has been the same since 1887. During the ceremonial opening of the fest, the families of the festival arrive in coaches adorned with flowers, along with the bands, waitresses on decorated carriages and magnificent horse drawn carts from the Munich breweries. This procession is led off by the “Münchner Kindl” – Munich’s symbolic figure – on horseback, followed by the festival coach of the Lord Mayor.

The procession of folklore and marksmen groups takes place on the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest. Some 9,000 persons from Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Norway, Poland and Switzerland participate in this seven-kilometer long parade. There are people in historical uniforms, marksmen, folklore groups, local bands and thoroughbred horses. This procession was held for the first time in 1835 on the occasion of the silver wedding anniversary of Ludwig I. and Therese of Bavaria.

A big band open-air concert of all Oktoberfest bands with some 300 musicians takes place on the second Sunday of the festival. For the grand finale of the Oktoberfest on the last Sunday, some 60 marksmen give a farewell salute.

Do locals take off from work to take part in this, or do they show up for work hung over the next morning?

Some locals take off from work to take part in the Oktoberfest but usually locals go to work the next morning, some probably a bit later than usual!

Have there been security issues with people getting too drunk and causing problems in previous years?

The security measures have always been good. But there are always some conflicts between drunken visitors that can be solved quickly by the security people. After some critical reviews of security procedures, the taskforce “Security at the Wiesn,” introduced measures that enabled security at the Wiesn to be steadily increased.

What’s your favorite part about Oktoberfest?

What I like best at the Oktoberfest is the procession of folklore and marksmen groups, which takes place on the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest, as well as the special, happy vibe all over the Oktoberfest grounds, as well as in the beer tents.

[Photos courtesy of The German National Tourist Board]

Explore secret underground tunnels beneath Germany and Austria

A vast network of caves, tunnels, and chambers lie beneath the surface in parts of southern Germany and northern Austria, but not even archeologists know why they exist. Called “erdstalls” or, more colorfully, “goblin holes” (Schrazellöcher), these mysterious labyrinths, estimated to be about 1,000 years old, connect churches, castles, cemeteries, and other landmarks of the Central European landscape. Were they medieval escape routes from castles? Wine cellars? Elfin hollows? Theories on the erdstalls’ utility range from the practical to the fantastical.

Not surprisingly, the entry points to many of these tunnels can also be accessed from the basements of old farmhouses and inns. One such inn is the Gasthöf Wösner in Münzkirchen, Austria, where innkeeper Vinzenz Wösner offers “guided crawls” of the tunnel network below his property. Wösner’s erdstall, which extends for about 25 meters (82 feet) and ranges in height from 3 meters to just 0.7 meters (9 feet to just over 2 feet), is one of approximately 500 erdstalls that have been found in Austria. The German state of Bavaria, which has around 700 erdstalls, “is literally perforated with these underground mazes.”

Have you ever had the chance to crawl through an erdstall? Do you know of any inns, churches, or other sites that allow you to access these odd underground networks? Let us know!

Lost travel friends

Before Facebook–hell, before mobile telephones and email–it wasn’t all that easy to keep in touch with people you might meet on the road.

You could exchange addresses and telephone numbers, of course, but by the time you were in a position to make a call or scribble a letter, the immediacy of the connection you’d shared while staying up all night on that Sardinian beach would probably be gone. Just like that, your travel friends would become lost travel friends.

In some instances, the fact that connections were more difficult to establish was a positive thing. Only connections of consequence would outlast the original encounter. The rest would fade away in a pleasant swirl of nostalgia, and you’d never be confronted by vile comments on your Facebook wall from that faint blast from the past who doesn’t belong in your future.

Nonetheless, there’s a little bit of sadness associated with all those lost travel buddies. The kinds of connections forged on the road are quite special–immediate, often effortless, involving snap decisions to trust, share, and engage.

Here’s my own hall of fame of fascinating people met on my travels over the years with whom I either immediately lost touch or failed to remain in contact.

Elke. I think that was the name of the soft-spoken anarchist who alighted from my Berlin-bound train at the final pre-border station in West Germany in the summer of 1989. We’d talked for hours and shared each other’s food. I think she wanted to write children’s books. She was deeply alienated by consumerism and dressed quite shabbily, yet she seemed cautiously happy. I remember that she waved goodbye as she left the train.

The countess. She had a von in her name and lived in a super rich suburb of Munich, on a lake. I was 17. We took the overnight train from Paris to Munich and stayed up the entire time talking and smoking a million cigarettes. Where are you now, countess? Living with your five children and count husband in a Bavarian castle? Doing drugs with your Romanian bodybuilder boyfriend in Mallorca?

The French couple who drove me and my father from Rijeka to Ljubljana in their miniscule car. We met on the Jadrolinija ferry from Dubrovnik. He was portly; she was tiny. They spoke very little English and our French was execrable but we laughed the entire way.

The East German man. Lars? It was 1992. I was stuck at a hostel in Oostende for a few days waiting for a ferry to England. He was a mad traveler, driving off every few weeks to explore another corner of Europe until recently forbidden to him. He told me how much he wanted to visit Iceland, and several months later I received a postcard from him from Reykjavik. I wonder sometimes if this fellow now works in the travel industry.

Carol Ann, the American nun. She shared a regular train compartment with me and my sister, which we tried to turn into a makeshift couchette by drawing the shades and pretending to be asleep. Whenever someone would open the door looking for a place to sit, my sister, 14 at the time, would sit up in a fake stupor and ask them to be quiet so that we could remain sleeping. Sister Carol Ann giggled each time this happened.

[Image: Flickr | fazen]