Our European delivery did not come to a conclusion with the pickup of our car in Germany. In fact, you could argue that it was just the beginning. While most deliveries would be a onetime trip including a 2-3 week tour around Europe, we however knew we would return to Germany just a few months later for a business trip. So, after an initial 1000km break-in period and quick love affair, we left the car in storage with a friend in Germany (BTW, European residents are not legally allowed to drive the car for instance and tax reasons) and eagerly anticipated our return in August.

When we returned, the car I was ready to tango. With the official break in period behind us I could finally stretch the GLA’s legs on tour to Dresden for my Conference.

An Autobahn network to and from the former East Germany was virtually nonexistent until the reunification. However, a huge building program was initiated in the 90s to remedy this and today the best built Autobahns in Germany are pointing East/West. Combined with relative sparse traffic allows high speed runs of many km at the rev limiter or in my case the Mercedes-Benz imposed 250km/h. You see, German manufacturers adhere to the unofficial gentlemen’s agreement to limit their cars to 250km/h but this limit can be increased or even completely eliminated by a dealer installed software upgrade. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to schedule such upgrade (yet).

So I did the 400km to Dresden in a leisurely 2¾h including a stop for gas.

While Dresden is an extremely interesting town in and of itself, you can read about its rich history, architectural and cultural highlights elsewhere and I will limit my description to the driving aspects of our trip. So after a week of conferencing, we briefly returned to the Black Forest only to continue on through Switzerland, Italy and France to finally drop off the car for shipment out of Nice on the French Riviera. I had chosen the tour based on two sometimes hard to combine propositions: keeping my wife happy and comfortable and finding the curviest and most challenging roads to cross the Alps.

Here is what I came up with:

  • Drive from Rastatt to Zurich in about 3 ½ hours with the promise of a great dinner at Lake Zurich.
  • Spend the next day sightseeing.
  • Then continue south and cover 6 major Alpine passes in 10 hours.
    • Gotthard Pass
    • Susten Pass
    • Grimsel Pass
    • Furka Pass
    • Tremola Pass
    • Nufenen Pass
  • Driven in the right order these form an almost perfect figure 8, right in the heart of Switzerland. All of the passes are closed during fall – spring. We barely got past the snow line. Traffic was rather spares as is was off season and no police was present. Driving was relaxed and fluent. Around every corner you could see and feel the majesty but also solitude of this mountain region. It must have been not easy to live here over the past centuries. Not everything was Heidi folklore.
  • Continue through and past Chamonix we stopped along the route at nightfall for a quaint little hotel in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains in the French Alps. Being so high in the mountains and passing numerous milk farms along the way, we were ready for a cheese fondue which we were guaranteed would be much better than the lesser Swizz version. Well, we leave the final verdict open but the dinner certainly was memorable.

The next day, we had a rather early start and entered the fairly unknown (I hope it will stay this way) Route des Grandes Alpes. This is not one single road but a string interconnected, often very narrow Alpine paths starting at Lake Geneva and ending at Nice in the French Riviera. If you ever want to test your car, your driving skills, your forearms and the patience of your co-driver this is the route to take. Needless to say the visuals were spectacular.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to drive the Route des Grandes Alpes all the way to Nice and finished with a quick shortcut through Italy. At 6PM sharp we arrived at our meeting point, Monaco. Here, we united up with my cousin Daniel who is a Neurosurgeon at a local hospital.

Nice is only 15 min away, so he and his kids came by train. Public transport is the preferred choice for locals which we soon learned.

What can I say about Monaco? Well, it is 3.3 km wide and 1 km deep. That is less than the distance from Ontario Place to Young St. and King St. to Lakeshore. Now double the number of high-rises and cars and shrink all roads to half the size with the same amount of people and vehicles. So now we’ve been there, done that and had a great glass of Champagne at the Café Americaine in the Hotel De Paris next to the beautiful Casino.

The next few days we spent in Nice and the gorgeous French Riviera aka Cote d’Azur. We had a memorable drive all the way to St. Tropez, passing Cap Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cannes and Antibes. Again, historic and cultural highlights are well described elsewhere (Rick Steves’ travel shows come to mind). Driving wise, however let me tell you, in the tiny streets and alleys, Mercedes’ smallest SUV often still felt like a monster truck. Except it did not get any respect from the suicidal scooter, Vespa, Renault and Fiat drivers. Luckily, at stop signs and winding sections of the Route Grand Corniche I could stretch the AMG’s legs and loose those pesky critters – at least until the next stoplight.

Eventually, our European tour came to an end with the drop-off at the shipping company. To the entertainment of my wife, I gave our GLA 45 AMG a final hot pressure wash to jettison the exoskeleton remains that had collected on the front fascia during our 3000km trip. Then we drove to the drop-off station close to the airport.

Well, what Mercedes gained in esteem during the initial pick-up in Stuttgart and Rastatt they almost lost during the drop-off. The location was a tiny, container office next to the airport, with some unmotivated, untrained, uncaring employees. The whole ordeal took us over 1 ½ hours and cost an unexpected $1000 administration fee. Interestingly, a BMW driver also dropped off his vehicle and was in and out in 10 min., free of charge (apparently the place handles all European exports for German manufacturers). The only comment I received was ‘Mercedes is different and always takes longer’. Mercedes-Benz Germany may want to look into streamlining the drop-off a bit, at least at their Nice location.

Nevertheless, those last 90min really are not that important and I consider the whole European Delivery Program a wonderful experience. So good in fact that we already consider our next purchase to be again picked up in Stuttgart.

In the final Part 5 of this series, I will report on the delivery experience of my GLA45 AMG once it reaches Canada.

Part 3

Part 2

Part 1

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