Lufthansa A330 Old First Class DFW-FRA
Driving the Nurburgring Nordschleife
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Oslo to celebrate Chris Guillebeau
Singapore A380 Suites Class FRA-SIN
Singapore Airlines Private Room and Singapore 777-300ER First Class SIN-HKG
Hong Kong and the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui
Cathay Pacific’s The Wing Lounge and 747 First Class HKG-SFO
Well hey there. Last time we spoke, you learned all about a fun and happy adventure I had on a really nice Lufthansa flight from Dallas to Frankfurt. The seat was nice, food was excellent, and service was very punctual and genuine. It set a very good benchmark for me, because the astute reader will remember I’m going to be comparing this to Suites Class on Singapore Airlines, First Class on Singapore Airlines, First Class on Cathay Pacific, and, the one you’re most excited about, Domestic First Class on American Airlines (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNSZgbJsSxU).
The one critique I have of the Lufthansa flight is the scheduling. The flight leaves DFW at 4pm, which makes it hard to get more than 3-4 hours of sleep. Or, in my case, an hour and a half. The temperature of the cabin (which I forgot to mention in my last post) was set to Scald, which for this cold sleeper didn’t lead to a wonderful sleep experience. Now, you might think it’s hard to complain about a flight in international First Class, but I’m a Top Gun Complainer, so there.
Face-melting temperatures aside, I arrived in Frankfurt on a very cold and very snow flurryish Saturday morning. The re-routing of my trip through Frankfurt was for a few reasons, but the main reason was I wanted to drive the Nurburgring Nordschleife, which is about two hours from Frankfurt. If I can say this without sounding un-‘Merican, I LOVE driving in Germany. It is a place for the driving purist to enjoy all that driving was meant to be. The driving laws make sense, and most people generally follow them, unlike ‘Merica, where people pretty much do whatever they want as long as a certain finger is extended and their horn is honking. Not in Germany though. Everyone drives fast, well, and all while listening to heavy metal (my imagination).
Now here’s some actual consumer advice for the Frankfurt Airport if you ever would like to rent a car: DO NOT FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER USE THRIFTY/DOLLAR RENT-A-CAR. When you search for pricing, they’ll always be the cheapest. But they require people to purchase insurance at about a EUR20/day rate. Have rental car coverage through a credit card? Great, that’s fine, as long as it’s Mastercard (for those of us living in the States) and you have a LETTER from them describing the coverage. Even when you bring all of this it is still a beating to get a car from them at the price to which you agreed. I’ve even brought the letter they requested, but since it was from Visa they would not honor it.
I went to Sixt this time and picked up a BMW 318d diesel sedan.
The conversation went like this:
“Hi, here to pick up my rental [hands over reservation documents]”
“Ok, your car is ready, could I see your card?”
“Sure, here [hands over card and driver’s license]”
“Thank you. Would you like to purchase additional insurance?”
“No, I’m covered by American Express.”
“Good! Enjoy your trip!”
Now, compare this to my experience at Thrifty (it was 2009, so my memory of the exact events may have faded a bit)
“Hi, here to pick up my rental [hands over reservation documents]”
“Ok, your car is ready, here, meet Gunter [points at big guy wielding a bat]”
“Why do I need to OW, GUNTER, STOP BEATING ME, QUIT IT, OW! I HAVE A LETTER FROM VISA! WHY DID YOU BURN THE LETTER AND LAUGH AT THE ASHES?!”
[some time passes]
[Andy, bloodied and mostly lifeless, gives in and signs the insurance agreement for EUR20 more/day]
In summary, I couldn’t recommend Sixt more strongly. It was a pleasant experience, they were ready for me, and the car was in pristine condition.
I pulled out of the rental lot and was quickly on the A3 heading north out of Frankfurt. The weather was not very good, which made me very nervous, as I didn’t want to drive 2 hours to a place that was closed. There’s no moose at The Ring to tell me that it’s closed either (6 of you will get this joke) (haha, I know, pretty good right?). I decided to forge a path of manliness, and manliness doesn’t withhold itself for snow: ONWARD TO THE RING.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Nurburgring is an institution in the automotive community. Built over 16 months by brothers Jeff and Frank Nurbur…ok that’s not true. Without getting too much into the history of the Ring, the Nordschleife is a bucket list item for any auto enthusiast. Anyone with a street legal car can race on the Nordschleife (which is German for North Schleife). It’s technically a one-way toll road, so German road law still applies (no passing on the right, no throwing live camels at other cars, etc.). As I pulled into the tiny town of Nurburg (not Nurnberg or Nuremberg), I made my way to the entryway for the track (the red dot below).
Now, the actual course: 12.93 miles, 154 turns. Accidents can be frequent and the track can get crowded. Especially if you don’t know the track.
Uh Oh Number 1: Inexperience
Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive about 8 laps on the Ring, 4 in 2009 and 4 in 2010. 8 laps is awesome, but they say to truly learn the track you need about 50 laps.
Uh Oh Number 2: Slick Roads
The weather was marginal when I arrived. Sleet was falling and the skies were cloudy, the temperature was holding steady just above freezing. One hundred. Fifty. Four. Turns.
Uh Oh Number 3: Wrong Car
Now, the previous two times I’ve driven this track I was in front wheel drive vehicles (in 2010 I actually rented a race-prepped Suzuki Swift from a local outfit), which are great for the inexperienced Ringer, especially if conditions are sketchy. This time, I arrived in a rear-wheel drive BMW with a diesel engine (which was VERY torquey) and pretty narrow tires for a BMW (they may have been low rolling resistance tires, I’m sure someone will chime in and let me know if those were even an option).
I considered the above points very fervently, after which I courageously…went to the bathroom. Once I was done with my business, I perused some of the cars in the parking lot.
But then I thought “hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” and before I could answer myself “you could go full speed into a corner, lose control, crash the BMW, and die horribly, or, even worse, Call Me Maybe could come on the radio during your lap” I insisted it was a rhetorical question, got in my car, and approached the entrance to the track, held my Ringcard (which contained my lap credits) up to a scanner, the tollgate lifted, and it was GO TIME.
The lap got off to a very good start. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but found a pace I was comfortable with, held my lines pretty well, and was actually enjoying myself (read: getting overconfident). All of the corners at the Nordschleife have German names that I’ve mostly forgotten, but I’ll never forget TerrifyingScaryNurburgringKorner. Coming up over a crest at about 100km/hr, I turned hard right. The BMW sportily started to turn to the right, but, almost as if it was in slow motion, the back end started to skid out from me. As an experienced racer, and experienced driver in general, I know that the first thing you need to do in a skid is to steer into the skid and absolutely do not touch the brake. Instead of using that advice, first I screeeeeeeeeeeeamed.
Fortunately, I did the other stuff as well, recovered from the skid and continued my lap, thankful that my pants remained unsoiled since I had used the restroom earlier.
I finished up my lap with my heart rate holding about a steady 300. To calm myself down, I went and got a stupid and wretched-tasting burger from the overpriced diner at the Ring entrance. I was so busy regretting that decision that I wasn’t even nervous as I got out onto the track for my second (and final) lap of the day. As a matter of full disclosure, I will confess that I did something unsafe on this lap: I decided to take pictures while I was driving. The ONLY REASON I did this is because there were almost no other cars on the track that day and I was driving very slowly. Still, what I did was against the rules, and many of you will call me stupid in the comments. You’ll be right.
I was happy that I completed safe laps at the Nordschleife, and, seeing that the sleet was turning into snow, counted the trip as a win and set out on the relatively short trip back to Frankfurt. The turn-in process at Sixt was almost easier than picking it up, and it was back to First Class traveling.
[A side note: The Nurburgring is in danger right now. The victim of a poorly-planned public-private partnership and profiteering, the Ring complex is currently in bankruptcy and is for sale. To find out what you can do to help, please visit www.savethering.org and spread the word. It’s a real shame what happened, and as racing enthusiasts we all need to pitch in to protect a tradition that has been in place since 1927.]
I’ll see everyone in my next post, covering Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal.