Take Your Car on Vacation

Some people use their car only as an appliance.  It is strictly a conveyance to get them from A to B, and they don't get any more emotionally attached to their cars than they would to their vacuum cleaner, blender or garbage disposal.  But then there are those of us who do get emotionally attached to our cars.  We bond with our vehicles, and they, for all intents and purposes, become members of our families.  They serve us faithfully and go with us to important functions.  They are with us when memories are being made -- occasions like family vacations, for example.

In our considered opinion, many Volvo drivers are in the second category.  They not only appreciate the functional aspects of their sedans, wagons or SUVs, they also become emotionally invested in their cars.  And for them there is no better way to start that relationship than with the Volvo Overseas Delivery Experience (OSD)  It allows them to not only take delivery of their Volvo right at its Gothenburg factory birthing point, but also to build their relationship with their vehicle on a splendid European vacation.

How do I know this?  Because my lovely wife Sandi and I got the opportunity to experience Volvo Overseas Delivery for ourselves on a late-summer trip that took us from our Los Angeles area home to Gothenburg and thence through the charming Swedish countryside to Stockholm.  It was an utterly idyllic way to begin a long-term relationship with a vehicle. 

Like all participants in the Volvo Overseas Delivery program, we were the recipients of two Scandinavian Air Service round trip tickets from our home to Volvo's home city of Gothenburg.  Though we left from a big city airport -- Los Angeles International -- this involved a series of flights: United to Chicago, SAS to Copenhagen and a short SAS flight to Gothenburg.  One might have expected to arrive exhausted after nearly a day in transit, but after a limousine ride from the airport (courtesy of Volvo) and an efficient check-in at the SAS Radisson Hotel (the host hotel for OSD), we were refreshed and ready to explore the city.

An hour-long walking tour confirmed our first impression -- the city, which, interestingly enough, was built in part by 17th Century English merchants, is charming and sparkling clean.  A series of waterways and canals interlace the area, and one of the best ways to experience the allure of the place is to take an open boat ride.  That's exactly what we did, and our tour of the canals quickly segued into a journey across the wide estuary that is Gothenburg's main harbor.  There small pleasure craft mingle with huge ferries that transport passengers and their cars to Kiel, Germany, and other European ports.  Our destination was far simpler -- the restaurant Sjomagasinet, overlooking the bay -- where we had the chance to immerse ourselves in Swedish cuisine.  Think fish, and more fish, and then some more fish.  Though it might seem one-note, each of our courses was sumptuous, and the festivities were made yet more festive by the beer and/or wine that accompanied each course.  Luckily, we were transported back to our hotel, rather than driving.

The following morning in our sparkling Scandinavian-modern hotel suite, we peeked out the curtains to see dark skies and sprinkles.  "Uh-oh, here it comes," we thought, fearing that our late-summer Northern Europe day would translate into pouring rain, but by the time we were transported to the Volvo headquarters to begin the process of taking delivery of our pre-ordered Volvo XC90 V-8 sport utility vehicle, the skies were already beginning to clear.

At Volvo, typical participants in OSD take a factory tour, marveling at the clean and quiet way their vehicles have been constructed, have a lunch of Swedish meatballs and actually take possession of their vehicles from well-trained, courteous Volvo personnel.  Our group deviated from this scenario a bit, by getting a visit with some of Volvo top designers at the Volvo Design Center located on the company campus.  Then we took the keys to our green XC90 V-8 from our uniformed guide, pulled out the route map and embarked on our adventure.

First stop was less than two hours away by a meandering, enchantingly scenic route to the vacation island of Marstrand, which is kind of Balboa, Mackinac and Nantucket all rolled into one.  But not only is Marstrand a sailing center opening onto the North Sea; it also has a rich and colorful history that we began to dive into immediately upon arrival. We had a sumptuous crayfish lunch at the Grand Hotell(sic), which in the late 1890s served as the summer residence for King Oscar I.  A true Swede, the king had the mansion equipped with two staircases -- one for the Queen and one for his mistress.

Towering above the Grand Hotell, the island is dominated by Carlstens Fastning, a truly imposing fortress that was built over the course of 200 years largely by convict labor.  Of the convicts, the most colorful was Lasse Maja, who often dressed in women's clothing during his criminal career not unlike Michael Jackson.  Finally caught and thrown into the prison-fortress he proved that capitalism is unstoppable by persuading a Gothenburg passenger-ship concern to begin sending regular excursions to Marstrand to view and feed the convicts.  Another prisoner in the fortress fared less well.  When prison administrators decided to experiment with solitary confinement, this unnamed soul was singled out.  He was only allowed to talk to humans once a year -- to a pastor at Christmas -- and this quickly drove him mad.  His cell is still decorated with the paintings he created out of his own blood and the stone windowsill is etched with the finger and thumbprints he created by scratching them there every waking hour.

On that happy note, we left the cell and climbed the tower to the walls of the fortress.  The 360-degree views of the archipelago were absolutely spectacular -- sailboats dotting the whitecaps to the seaward side while red-roofed cottages highlighted the village to the east.  It was with reluctance that we pulled ourselves back down from the height in time to catch a quick pedestrian ferry to the mainland.  Then it was off in our XC90 on another sublime country drive to our lodgings for the night, Bjertorp Slott.

Set amidst yellowing grain fields, the manor home is one of several on the OSD "Castles and Manor Homes" tour.  Built by a Swedish tycoon who made millions in the first years of the 20th Century bartering oil for the Russian Czar, the mansion was a comfortable place to while away the hour or so before the next lavish meal, this time featuring reindeer and venison.  Sandi and I turned in for the night eager to try our skills on the adjacent golf links. 

We'll tell you about that (mis)adventure and others next week in this space as we continue our feature on the Volvo Overseas Delivery process.