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The challenge was set, I had the critics who said it couldn’t be done, but hell to them, I proved them all wrong and in dazzling style too. In that once-in-a-lifetime and couldn’t-believe-this-actually-happens scenario, I came into a windfall of 80,000€ that I was tasked to spend within 10 days in a journey from Munich to Florence. At first blush that doesn’t seem too hard, I mean this neck of the European woods is afterall not known for its humble and meagre lifestyle. But then on second glance when you consider that a 5 star hotel booking in Munich is only at best 1,000€ a night you quickly realise how this may become a considerable challenge with 80K to expire over 800km of highway.
What’s more my acceptance of the challenge pinged on several conditions:
In a rare twist in life, the only strength working in my favour was my admittedly expensive sense of taste. A secret weapon stashed away, my unabashed sense of epicureanism, is never normally given the chance to find full expression and although requiring a bit of a “dusting off”, it could finally be put to work.
I knew luck was on my side as I arrived in Munich. City of heavy beer and meaty bratwurst, you either go hard in Munich or you don’t go at all. My flight into Munich was via a private jet, while it was a mighty force of luck that I was able to organise this jet in time, thankfully I was permitted to include the cost of the Swarovski-champagne-glass-serving-flight into my budget. With better internet connection at 20, 000 feet above the air, then what I get in my cramped Manchester, 2nd floor apartment, I was able to make an online booking for the car I was going to drive - the McLaren 570 S hire. Futuristic and hyper aerodynamic, my bias and first choice for supercar went to this morphine riddled motorised beast.
My first port of destination in Munich was the National theater where that night it hosted a Wagner classic, the Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. With prime balcony seats i was finally able to realise my appreciation for Wagner that previously I didn’t know I had. For my lodgings I went with the glamorous globe trotter’s favourite of the Mandarin Oriental Munich. One of their available rooms for the night was the Tower suite which amongst its curved windows, floor to ceiling silk curtains, chinese artwork and delicate artifacts on display, also offered “A Taste of Matsuhisa”. A culinary experience of Japanese fusion food with a South American twist. Maybe ‘Matsuhisa’ is Japanese for “kill me now, i’ve done it all”, and if it’s not, it should be.
With nothing to wear but literally the clothes on my back, the next obvious expense was apparel. One call to reception and this concern was addressed with surprising speed. In just a matter of moments a concierge was knocking at my hotel door with an enormous trolley parked up behind him. Unlocked, unzipped and unveiled there was a boutique collection of top tier brand clothing, shoes and accessories to choose from. My selection of an entirely new wardrobe now included a pair of Ralph Lauren chinos, a pair of Armani Jeans, a Calvin Klein blazer, a few French Connection polo shirts, a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo leather shoes and ASOS slim suit. Perhaps these clothes might not be mine forever, they were still mine… today!
Feeling rather dapper and dressed to impress, I was ready to set out and feel some action. So back in the McLaren I headed towards Munich’s Allianz Arena and scored a VIP Platinum ticket to watch FC Bayern München play off against Hanover! The VIP ticket opened doors to the dugout with amazing views over the stadium, on tap sparkling Riesling wine and a chance to meet some of the players after the game. I think I might have made a real connection with Thomas Muller, he’s such a nice guy.
Before I left Munich one tradition that I just couldn’t miss was sharing a beer at the Hofbrauhaus. At this classic quintessential Munich pub i ordered my first Weissbier and while not costing the pretty penny that I was hoping it would, it was still a mighty satisfying draught. The evening turned out be rather enjoyable as not before long I was chatting with a few local students in my broken German and their much better English about the day’s football match. As we got talking I had an idea to invite them all to come along and be my entourage. Obviously they didn’t believe me and politely declined thinking I was downright crazy, but eventually I was able to demonstrate the honest challenge of my situation by ordering the most expensive bottle of Cognac in the house. Drop-jawed, they all agreed to come along except for Hans, who explained that it was his grandmother’s 90th birthday that weekend. Truthfully, I admired his resolve, but the poor guy, he looked most heartbroken.
For the journey down to Friedrichshafen, I was able to exchange the McLaren for the LaFerrari. Love her or hate her, she’s a rare species of automotive excellence that is by far out of the grasp of most of us. A mid-engine, plug-in electric, hybrid, sports car, convertible, she truly has it all. And with a purchase cost just shy of a million US dollars, I rented her on this occasion for the highly befitting price of 11,000€ per day. Racing out of Munich in the LaFerrari on the Autobahn was nothing short of sensational. Spirits high, me and my guys were off to a riveting start as we arrived in Friedrichshafen. As a quiet industrial German town on the coast of the Bodensee, Friedrichshafen perhaps wasn’t a great location for our journey of spending big, but then we were still able to hire out a private beach for ourselves and whiled away our time in Friedrichshafen drinking beers and cocktails. The best we could do for accommodation was the Ringhotel Krone Schnetzenhausen, that was set in a family mansion on the edge of town. While it was nice enough, the decor was way too nana-ish for my taste. Aiming for homely and missing that target by about the width of commission block, the wallpaper, couches, carpet and curtains all shared the same floral themed arrangement. Apple pie, anyone?
On our new day on the road, this time we had to change cars in the realisation that we couldn’t actually afford the LaFerrari everyday of our journey. So bidding adieu to that beautiful beast, we exchanged her for a home spun German Porsche 911 Carrera S, which cost us a much more affordable 895€ per day. Our next port of destination was the tiny Vaduz, the capital of the tiny state of Liechtenstein. Cradled between the Rhine and the Alps, Vaduz has its charms with its postcard-perfect scenery filling every backdrop, no matter where you’re standing. After several hours on the motorways, our appetites were now demanding our attention so lunch was at a restaurant located just at the head of the prince’s royal vineyards. Torkel is a regal ivy-clad restaurant that offers the delights of fine dining, views of Liechtenstein's castle and an interior that is filled with deep grained wood furnishings. My order was a veal filet with chanterelles and ravioli, but Albie, one of my new travelling buddies, ordered the Atlantic turbot Thai curry and he looked pretty plushed with that.
Afterwards we thought a private tour of the Hofkellerei winery and cellars would be nice, so we went down to inquire and they advised that bookings had to be made in advance. However on the promise that we intended to purchase several bottles of plonk, the staff warmed up to the idea of our impromptu visit. Without question the prince’s wine cellar was the highlight, with an enormous range of vintages, brewed under varying conditions, the variety was excellent. I started with a white Pinot Noir and that was very good, before moving on to the Federweiss and then an Austrian Riesling. A few more bank notes spread out on the counter eschewed the uncorking of a number of premium bottles that we were free to sample. Afterwards, none of us felt confident driving the Porsche to our nearby hotel at the Sonnenhof, as the bartender was the only sober one amongst us, he kindly offered to give us a ride, grinning from ear to ear the whole way there.
Out of Liechtenstein the drive through Switzerland was nothing short of remarkable as the surrounding forests totally encapsulated us. In this remote but exceptionally beautiful center of Europe, you can’t help but feel that the road is yours! Eventually we arrived in Lugano and decided to take on some adventure sports. We started with white river rafting along the Lido Riva Caccia and then paragliding over blooming alpine pastures and wooded hills. Between all that we satisfied our voracious appetites with lunch at the Michelin starred Art’e al Lugano where we enjoyed the delicious variety of seafood. Exhausted and literally able to drop our heads into our dinner plates, dinner was at our hotel. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we ordered, only the effort of trying to keep my head up.
Ahh, well in Milan there was no concern that we were going to be able to live things up here, especially with our new rental, a Rolls Royce Wraith! Roderich, one of my travelling buddies thought it was possible to get a behind the scenes tour of Milan’s prime landmarks, where we would have access to unveiled archeological pieces and artwork that are never on display to the public. As incredibly intriguing as this sounds, he also didn’t seem quite sure as to how he was going to ring it. After spending the entire drive from Lugano to Milan making one call after the next, amazingly he was able to font the opportunity. His exact words were “brace yourself” and indeed the next 24 hours unfolded like the pages of the Da Vinci Code.
We met our “tour guide”, more accurately the head historian and archeologist of the Royal Palace at the gates of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leading us away from the crowds he took us through a side entrance into the historic cathedral, where after passing the Last Supper we were shown other secreted away pieces by the legendary Leonardo da Vinci. In a tour that included secret tunnels, vaults and back door entrances we were led to the Royal Palace of Milan, the Duomo di Milano (Milan’s Cathedral) and finally resurfaced to the sun’s pouring rays in the Piazza del Duomo. In this tour we saw Michelangelo's last sculpture, column after column of egyptian and prehistoric archaeological remains, realms of ancient art and rooms of antique furniture that was said to once belong to the Royal Visconti family, a dynasty of the Middle Ages.
After what was unquestionably the most elaborate breakfast I am ever going to eat in the course of my life at Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle, we then continued our dalliance in the world of the upper crust with a morning matinee at Teatro alla Scala. A musical performance that we all agreed was profoundly boring, we unanimously agreed that we’re probably better off spending our big bucks amidst the plebs. We swapped cars to the Lamborghini Huracan and ate up the kilometers that led us to Modena, the legendary home of Italy’s love of food. We ate all we possibly could of flavour filled tortellini, Prosciutto, Pesto Modenese and a finely cooked Bollito Misto, all of course with a perpetually filled glass of Lambrusco wine. Well, admittedly my heart rate may not be better off for it, and I’m now at least 5kg heavier, but I have no regrets, no regrets at all.
“Land of the Engines” Modena is famous for its motoring past and its enterprising spirit that has left an indelible mark on the automotive industry. It is home to no less than Ferrari, Maserati, Pagani Automobili, B.G.Engineering, De Tomaso and Bugatti. We therefore grabbed the chance to discover this legendary world of the motor vehicle in and around Modena with a guided tour. This tour took us through galleries and collections where we saw a collection of custom-built cars, legendary vintage cars, races and championship winners. Each revered for their speed and emotion.
For the last leg of our journey, aboard the Lamborghini Huracan, there was a distinct bitter sweet feeling amongst us. Together we decided to make our final day as powerful as possible and cram in as much activity as we possibly could. Therefore we left Modena early in the morning and arrived in Florence with the sun still rising over the domed top of the Duomo. Our day started with a Visit to the Uffizi Gallery where we attempted to take mug shots of ourselves kissing the Venus De Milo. We then sat down for a bite to eat at the Loggia dei Lanzi and watched the art and crowds that fills the historic spaces of the Piazza della Signoria.
We then took a walk through the historic San Lorenzo market to see the trinkets and treasures that were being sold. Deciding we had had enough of gastronomic fine dining, we sorted ourselves out with a Panino con Lampredotto. A sandwich delicacy unique to Florence it was simply, hardy and just what we were craving. Recharged, we visited the Duomo and with a guided tour, we climbed to the top of the Cupolone where we enjoyed breathtaking views over the city of Florence. Giving ourselves the chance to catch our breath we took a more relaxed afternoon aperitif in the regal rooms of the Biblioteca delle Oblate. We set out again as the sun began to fall, letting our curiosity lead us in a walk along the Arno River where we crossed the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. As the skyline was full of pink, orange and golden hues, we took it all in from the look out of Piazzale Michelangelo. Darkness finally descended and we were left to wonder through the nightlife of Oltrarno, an older neighborhood of Florence, where we quickly found ourselves lost amidst the neighborhood’s lively cultural scene. Hopping from one venue to the next we enjoyed the live jazz music, wine bars, and techno music that was all on offer. Yet eventually we were forced to bid the night adieu as the rays of a new day crept through.
Our journey complete we found ourselves just under budget by an incredibly slim 5€. After some deliberation as to what we could now afford with our last remaining euros, we realised that from where we were standing in the Piazza Signoria, right across from us was a Gelato stand. Four orders for a double scoop of chocolate hazelnut, pistachio, tiramisu and mint chocolate officially marked the end of escapades. Albie, Roderich, Brent and I, all made our goodbyes and promised to stay in touch with one another. After all, if anyone of them comes into a windfall of 80,000€ they’re really duty bound to make a call!
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