smart Upgrade

November 16 2004

Ha - and you thought that this was about a Notes feature...
A busy 24 hours in Düsseldorf and Köln.  Yesterday morning's plan worked perfectly.  Arriving on schedule, I made my way to the DUS airport's "sky train" -- kind of a different design in that the train cars are suspended, rather than riding on rails.  I wonder why they did that (assumption: "hey, we could make the trains run on a suspended track!  Yeah, that would be cool!").  This connected to the regional express to Cologne, where I arrived 40 minutes later.  As promised, Felix Binsack met me at the Hauptbahnof (main train station) and kindly took me for a tour.  
The Kölner Dom (Cologne cathedral) was quiet and dark at 8 AM, and we nearly had the place to ourselves.  It is a huge church, with towers more than 150 500 feet high!  With the fog and clouds, it was nearly impossible to see the top.  Following the church, we walked the Altstadt (old city) and had a nice breakfast at the Dom Hotel (on vowe's recommendation).  I had planned on a museum or two, but all the museums in Cologne (as well as Dusseldorf) are closed on Monday.  Oops.  Thus, another train, and I was back at DUS airport and ready for transportation phase two.
I didn't really need a rental car for this trip, but it was a "nice to have", considering that the Radisson Hotel is a bit aways from the center of town.  IBM rents from Hertz, who was offering a decent rate -- 25 Euro/day -- for a smart cabrio.  A convertible, in November?  Not likely to be dropping the top, but it didn't really matter.  Little did I know that I'd be driving a rolling billboard -- "Hey, look, Gerhard, it's a tourist!"

Image:smart Upgrade

The smart was fun to drive, though.  It has a tiptronic transmission -- no clutch, but the driver generally controls the gears.  If you are really stupid or not paying attention, it will shift for you, and you don't have to worry about slapping it into neutral all the time.  The transmission itself is really slow, unfortunately ("oh, you want me to shift?  Hmm, I was thinking about shifting...ah, here we go, there's your new gear, ok?").  And there is something a little disconcerting about driving a car whose top speed is barely above the national speed limit -- the speedometer only goes to 140 kph (87 mph), while the typical Autobahn speed limit is 130 (81 mph).  Still, a good practice system for someone like me who doesn't get to drive stick shift all that often.
Hertz did actually upgrade me -- they gave me a smart with a navigation system!  It didn't have a visual route display, rather it used the radio display as the input and a voice (male or female, in 12 languages) as output.  Too bad I wasn't really driving anywhere complicated; that would have been real helpful on a longer drive.
As for the hotel, their wifi and phone systems are both having bad days.  The wifi is completely down; the phones require you to ask an operator for an outside line.  Both were blamed on Swisscom -- the problem with not having system diversity or a proper backup plan.
Shortly, my colleague Hardy Köhler and I will be driving off to the Netherlands... more on that later.

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