May 23, 2012
Hold on. Before you buy a new Audi, Fiat or BMW, take a look at a Volvo. Never mind the style and engineering. They’re giving away vacations.
Sound like one of those annoying TV ads? Hyperbolic. Too good to be true. Appended by fine print that makes the deal a loser.
In this case the offer is as sound as a Volvo, made to safely handle the ice and snow of the homeland.
The carmaker’s Overseas Delivery Program is for people who buy Volvos directly from the factory in Gothenburg, Sweden, where Volvos have been produced since 1927. Along with free shipping of the vehicle to a U.S. dealer, purchasers get two round-trip plane tickets to Sweden on Scandinavian Airlines and a one-night stay at a hotel in Gothenburg, giving them time to tour the Volvo Museum, where visitors learn that the brand’s name means “I roll” in Latin and that since 2010 it’s been owned by Geely Automotive, headquartered—where else?—in China. Gothenburg also has a city museum with Sweden’s only surviving Viking ship and some of the freshest seafood in Europe.
Once you get your car, which comes with European vehicle registration and insurance, you’re free to hit the road along the west coast of Sweden with its fishing villages, traditional folkways and scattering of islands. There’s Marstrand, guarded by 17th-century Carlsten Fortress, black dolomite-fringed Gullholmen and wild Hallo, where people who can tolerate cold water swim and snorkel.
Or you can head south over the Oresund Bridge to Denmark, the gateway to mainland Europe, driving the autobahn to Berlin, back roads in France, even over the Alps to Italy. Great destinations, all of them, especially in a new car. If you return the vehicle when you’re done to the Volvo factory in Gothenburg, shipping back to the U.S. is free, though a fee is charged from Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid and other drop-off points across the continent.
When I heard about the plan, I couldn’t figure out why the company would make such a generous offer. But it turns out to be a good deal for Volvo, too. “Our Overseas Delivery customers are among the best ambassadors we have for the brand,” U.S. manager Anders Robertson told me. Moreover, it saves the company money by not tying up capital while a car sits on the lot waiting for purchasers.
Too bad I’m not in the market for a car. But I may go window-shopping at a Volvo dealership, where I’ll ask a few questions about standard features before taking a seat behind the wheel, not for a test drive, but to fantasize about a trip to Europe.
February 13, 2012
They say that love makes the world go round. I don‘t know if that‘s true, but you sure do find it in surprising places.
For instance, in 1999 when NATO began bombing Belgrade to stop Serbian aggression in Kosovo, the capital rose up in an unusual act of defiance by organizing a mass wedding.
The ensuing years brought peace to Serbia, but that didn’t call a halt to the mass nuptials, now an annual May occasion. Sightseeing in Belgrade a few years ago, I emerged from my hotel to find the wedding procession underway with over 100 couples headed down Prince Mihailo Street on foot and in old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriages to tie the knot at City Hall—some having decided to marry precipitously so they could take part in the celebration. Extended families, witnesses, ring-bearers and flower girls paraded with them. And every bride wore a fancy white gown, though I hoped an ambulance was standing by because bulging stomachs made it abundantly apparent that they weren’t all maidens.
Somewhat more romantic is the Matchmaking Festival held every September in Lisdoonvarna, a village in western Ireland. It grew up the 19th century when local matchmakers gained renown for their skills in marriage arrangement. Women came to the little spa town near the confluence of the Aille and Gowlaun Rivers to take the waters, purportedly a cure for boils, abscesses and rheumatism. In autumn, with the hay in and the turf cut, bachelor-farmers joined them from lonesome country cottages where a woman‘s touch was desperately needed.
There were always more men than women, according to Willie Daly, the last remaining official matchmaker in the county. “All the men are left because all the women have gone off to Dublin or London or America,” he told me. “They’re good-looking, but a little shy. Some of them haven’t put their arms around a woman since their mother died.”
Internet dating sites have lately taken the place of matchmakers. But the festival persists, attracting thousands every year to what is billed as the biggest single’s event in Europe with plenty of Irish music and whisky to make sparks fly.
Another recipe for romance comes from Alaska, where unmarried guys proliferate, originally drawn by construction of the 800-mile oil pipeline in the 1970‘s. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 114 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in America‘s 49th state, way above average.
The statistics weren‘t lost on Susie Carter, who started setting up unattached male friends with women on a casual basis. The need turned out to be so pressing that she launched AlaskaMen magazine, followed by a website, which features candidates with pictures and box numbers so that interested women can write them. To keep things honest, Carter requires the men to inform her when they find matches and updates the list once they’re taken.
It would be just another dating service were it not for the geographical focus. If you’ve ever been to Alaska, you know what I mean. Whales and grizzlies aren’t the only hunks in the Last Frontier. Think fishermen, lumberjacks, dogsled drivers, backcountry homesteaders; even lawyers and accountants have bulging biceps. But a few jaded Alaskan women offered this caveat: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
January 4, 2012
If I’d known that The Trip, released last summer and now available on DVD, was a buddy movie I probably never would have rented it. But, of course, the title snagged me and I’m glad it did because it‘s a classic road flick, with a couple of endearing twists.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom and first released as a BBC2 television series, “The Trip” starts with British funny men Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (as themselves) taking off in a Range Rover for a culinary tour of the North Country. Coogan, who is writing up the excursion for The Times of London, planned to take his beautiful young girlfriend along, but when she cancels he asks his old friend Brydon. Both are actors and compulsive competitors whose dueling Michael Caine impressions and escalating battles for the best bon mot cannot disguise deep insecurities that make them immeasurably more likeable than the pair of losers who embark on a California wine-tasting tour in the 2004 movie Sideways.
As in any good road movie it’s about the journey, not the destination: recitations of Wordsworth and Coleridge in the English Lake District, en route sing-alongs (including a Coogan-Brydon rendition of Burt Bacharach’s vocals from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and strange encounters with small, tall portions of gourmet food. In one sequence especially beloved by fans the guys riff on a line from what could be Shakespeare: “Gentlemen to bed for we rise at daybreak“ becomes “Gentlemen to bed for we leave at 9:30.”
Their routines ensue amid glorious North Country settings. When I wasn’t laughing I was remembering my own trips there, once hiking from barn-to-barn in the Lake District National Park, another time waiting out a downpour on 1,167-foot Honister Pass above Lake Buttermere. But the scenery is secondary in the movie, a world-class backdrop for human chatter and obsession that forms a satirical arch over the proceedings and puts The Trip on my short list of memorable road movies. My all-time favorites?
- Frank Capra‘s 1934 comedy It Happened One Night, starring Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress tailed by reporter Clark Gable. Who could ever forget her teaching him how to thumb a ride?
- Two for the Road, directed by Stanley Donen in 1967, with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn falling in love on a trip through the French countryside and then retracing their steps 10 years later to keep their marriage alive.
- Ridley Scott‘s Thelma and Louise, from 1991, which has Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis headed for oblivion in the Great American Southwest.