Thursday, June 5, 2008

Trip Blog 16

Letter No. 16

Hello everyone,

No photos with this letter. Just some musings.

We are now entering the penultimate week of our European tours (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence – and I don’t even care if I used it correctly. Adelle). That’s quite a frightening thought for two people who have become so used to long trips in Europe!

But we realize that we can’t properly take care of a vehicle 3,000 miles from home – and we’re not even sure if we’ll be physically able to continue traveling this way in future years. We can see the difference in our attitudes. When we are trying to think about a “new” place to visit, we frequently find that we can’t think of where else to go. We’ve been to an awful lot of places – and although we certainly have missed entire countries (i.e. Austria, Spain, Portugal and all the eastern European lands), we aren’t sure that we have the correct vehicle for those visits. Perhaps we’ll have to ship our car next time. In any case, we are ready to say a very fond goodbye to our European home away from home.

We came back to The Netherlands to show it to several possible buyers and we aren’t anxious to go far afield before we leave for home. So we are back in Amsterdam. On Thursday we are going to visit Leiden but we are going by train. We’re hoping that Maartje and Cees will be here on Saturday and we will certainly go to the GIGANTIC OUTDOOR FLEAMARKET advertised on billboards around the city (in Dutch of course). On Monday and Tuesday, June 2 and 3 we will be cleaning out the RV, getting it ready for eventual possible sale by the owners of the greenhouses where we store it. And on Wednesday, we leave for Boston.

In the meantime, we are getting ourselves emotionally ready. Today we did our usual Amsterdam “thing” – we visited our favorite street market. Want to know how differently Ron and I look at the shopping? Today at the market we bought a quart of strawberries, two pounds of grapes, three mangos and a pound of cherries to add to the apples and oranges we have on hand. Ron was upset that we didn’t buy more grapes because they are delicious and were very inexpensive. I’m worried about eating all this!

We hadn’t been at this particular campground this year, and we suddenly realized that when we first began our adventures, the walk from the campground to the metro seemed very long indeed. That was in the days before we began to walk even when we are in America, just to keep in shape. Now it seems so short—just a cake walk. And we are six years older than the first time we walked that route!

The high cost of food and fuel is causing a lot of unrest in Europe. The bus drivers in The Netherlands have been out on some kind of strike (we see them at rush hours!). Last week, there was a strike in Belgium and there is an ongoing battle in France. So far we’ve been lucky and haven’t been kept from doing what we wanted to do because of these strikes.

The strikes going on this week here reminds us that when we were in France a couple of weeks ago, the French train workers were on strike. Why? Because the government wanted them to work one extra year and retire at age 51 instead of 50!!!!!!! That would help the bottom line. But they say they can’t do that because they work odd hours, sometimes at night, and that takes so great a toll on their ( unspecified) well-being that they need to retire at 50. And if they give in at age 51, in a few years the government will ask for another extension to 52 and so on and so forth. It matters not at all to them that the Swiss train drivers, right next door, have 65 as their retirement age. And, of course, they work at night also. Please understand, we are not knocking this. Indeed we admire it. The French way of life is lovely. It certainly is not anything like what Americans of two-weeks-a-year-vacation are used to! And their economy is better than ours is right now. How do they do it? How long can they keep it up?

We hope that over the next week we’ll still see some things that might be interesting to everyone. But this letter – or the next – will be it for 2008. We’re ready to return to chores, real cooking, gardens (even those with four legged predators called “deer”), etc.

Our best to all.

Adelle & Ron

Trip Blog 15




Letter No. 15

A Day in The Hague

Hello All,

First thing we have to comment on is the weather. Adelle remembers that on our first trip to The Netherlands she wrote home that “you needn’t bring sun screen to a country that has stores that sell only umbrellas”. In fact, we think we put it into our book as one of the laws of traveling!

Our day in The Hague is a good example of why. It didn’t just rain, it poured. For hours. In great volume. But Adelle cleaned out the closet and found our umbrellas and we persevered. A walk to the main street, a bus ride to the tram to the central station and then a short ride on a different tram to the Mauritshuis Museum, also known as the Royal Portrait Collection because the original collector was a prince. The beautiful building itself was originally designed and built by a Count of Nassau whose family name was Maurits. We want to point that out especially to our friends in Nassau County on Long Island, who may never have realized that Nassau is a Dutch name.

The collection includes samples of all the most famous Flemish and Dutch painters – and a lot of work done by not so well known but seemingly (to untrained eyes like ours) equally talented others. There can be none among you who hasn’t seen a picture of the Vermeer painting called “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”…but that’s just one of the gems in this museum. There were pictures by Hals, Rembrandt, Memling, van Dyck, Rubens, Breugal and everyone else. A special exhibit showed the work of a painter named Coorte who painted only fruits and vegetables on tiny, exquisite canvasses. It was wonderful.

At the door of the museum were two huge racks full of umbrellas, and when we arrived, we added ours, but by the time we finally left about one thirty or so, we didn’t need it because it was no longer raining. Just a sky totally covered with clouds threatening to pour any minute. But we walked around a bit. We walked through the Netherlands Parliament building complex and were duly impressed. Then we stopped at the tourist office, learned that there was an old part of town nearby, and The Hague’s largest church, and decided to go there. But the “old city” was not very impressive. Some old buildings but mostly very commercial new retail stores like there are in any downtown. And the church had a sign that reported it was open only for public occasions! Religion is not big here. So we called a halt to the walking around, and, as agreed, we called our friend Dick to tell him that we were about to get onto the tram going into the eastern part of the city—a direction further away from the campground. The plan was for him to meet us at the tram stop, and he did. Just as we got off the tram, he appeared across the street.

We enjoyed our afternoon with Dick, his friend and her 14 week old miniature Doberman puppy. Talk about cute! Ron was able to post blog 13 from Dick’s computer, we drank coffee and caught up on the news. We decided on an earlier than usual dinner so that we could make the long journey back to the campground before it got dark, and Dick made and served dinner at six. Delicious, of course. It is one of our core beliefs that all the van den Berg “boys” of a certain generation are wonderful cooks.

In fact, the main ingredient in both dinner at Maartje’s and dinner at Dick’s was something very special….white asparagus served with chopped hard boiled eggs, ham and smoked salmon. No green taste at all to these asperges, just slightly sweet and delicious. There is an “asperge” season and we were lucky enough to be here for it! Actually, it’s been new herring, white asparagus and strawberry season, and we have taken advantage of it all. We’d need more time to do it justice though. Two people just can’t try everything…we can’t eat as fast as we can buy!

We were surprised and pleased to find that Dick lived on the same tram line that we needed to take to get back to the campground. So, after dinner, we walked back to the tram and began the journey back to the beach. Got back to a very different scene. It was Sunday, and most of the campers had gone back to work. There was no rain that night, but the wind was very strong. It howled all night – and in the morning we were back to cold pouring rain! We moved the thirty miles or so back to Amsterdam, because we have another person coming to look at the RV. We’ll see what this brings.

Stay tuned. Till then, bye.

Adelle & Ron

EuropeTripBlog14






Letter No. 14

Monster, The Netherlands

Hello again.

Intriguing place name isn’t it? When we heard it spoken, we pictured all kinds of exotic spelling, but we were wrong. It is spelled as it sounds – and it has a campground right behind the dunes of the beach on the North Sea, just west of The Hague. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a campground that put campers so close together, but we’ve never been in a campground that is a beach resort. There are people everywhere – in vehicles like ours, in caravans (trailers) that are pretty stationary, in various kinds of rentals (trekkerhuts, regular trailers, mobile homes, and who knows what). There are tents and motor homes and people everywhere. The number of dogs is staggering – from mutts to Westies and our current favorite, a Swiss White Shepherd – much larger than a German Shepherd, with long white hair. This one is young – and he’s already the biggest shepherd we’ve ever seen.

We’ve had several out-of-the-ordinary days. Maartje, our friend in Tilburg, put our RV on the local internet marketplace, and got several bids. So, when we left Aachen, we headed for Tilburg so we could show the bidders our rig. We returned on Thursday to the campground near her home that we had used in the beginning of the trip, and called Maartje to see what arrangements she had made. Of course, we couldn’t use the cell phone to call (although there was still 2euros more credit and the company advertises .20 euros a minute in The Netherlands). We are not too pleased with the service we got – and they will hear from us when we get home. But the lady who runs the campground was kind enough to let us call – and we arranged to meet Maartje the next afternoon. Then we did the one thing we rarely used to do….we became campers! We hung around and read, listening to the birds calling and resting our weary bones!

On Friday, we drove to meet Maartje, and the first man who had expressed an interest viewed the RV. After that, the three of us went through some second-hand stores and a supermarket. We drove home, and Maartje had started making dinner when the doorbell rang with the second caller. Frankly, neither of them was very enthusiastic. But there are still a few more interested parties and we’ll see what happens. We had a lovely dinner, laughed a lot and then headed back to the campground. We drove back very proud of ourselves that we hadn’t gotten lost! Shows you how confident we are!

After dinner, we had arranged to visit another friend in The Hague – and he recommended one campground whose name he knew and one town we might try. We headed for the campground he had recommended but before we got there, found Monster and the Molenslag campground. We were really pleased to find it because the other facilities in the area cost nearly double! The staff turned out to be very nice and helpful. The street, the campground and many of the other streets in the area all have the name Molen (Mill) in them, because of the beautiful old windmill just down the hill. Just watching the arms turn in the winds is fun!

This campground had very clean sanitary facilities, i.e., toilets and showers and dish washing area, close to where we were parked. And it was convenient to everything we needed—three supermarkets and a small downtown area. The walks to these places were longish but went by an ice-cream store and a visshandel ( a street stall that sells fresh and fresh fried, pickled and smoked fish), one of the great attractions of being in the Netherlands for Ron. The bus stop for a bus and tram to The Hague was pretty close. As far as we are concerned, this campsite was about as good as they get.

Ron noticed that young woman in the office had a Polish accent. Then we read the sign that said that there are Polish products in the store. Kind of odd.

After due consideration, we asked our friend if we could postpone our dinner engagement from Saturday until Sunday, when we’ll already be in the city. He agreed, and we had enough time to walk to a nearby market and stock up (maybe a mile between going and coming). Then we came back, put everything away and walked another mile or so, past some very nice home front gardens, to the center of town where we could buy more pre-paid time for the recalcitrant cell phone. When we got back, Adelle tried, unsuccessfully, to add the 20 euros we had just purchased to the cell phone pre-paid chip. It was the same old problem. You can get the menu that gives you instructions to do this in English – only the computer voice tells you how to change to English in Dutch, which Adelle doesn’t understand. So she went into the office and asked the young lady if she would add the money to the phone. She spoke Dutch, so she understood the message and successfully added the money. But this brought up the subject of language. The upshot was that Adelle was told that there are a lot of German and a lot of Polish campers, but they are on separate sides of the camp, and the office staff swore that the Germans seemed to be a little afraid of the Poles. Seems unlikely to us, but who knows?

Another period of “rest” and we were off to visit the really beautiful, sandy beach behind the dunes. We had to wait a while because there are about 50 steps up to the top of the dunes…and some of us were kind of tired. Only because this is The Netherlands, we did ask about the dunes and the sandy beach, and according to our sources, this is a natural beach. We are always aware of the Dutch saying that we quoted in our book: God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.

So, we sit in our RV behind the dunes and the North Sea writing a letter to keep you up to date.

Tomorrow we plan to visit The Hague and one of the best art museums anywhere, the Mauritshuis, which has several Vermeers, , including “The Lady with the Pearl Earing”, Rembrandts, Hals, Jordaans, Ter Borch’s, Van Dycks among other Dutch and Flemish artist’s works. That should be a treat.

On that note, we’ll leave this letter. More soon.

Adelle & Ron

Sunday, May 25, 2008

2008TripBlog13






Letter No. 13

Aachen, Germany

Guten Morgen (or something like that),

We waffled for a long time, but finally decided to make Aachen our next stop. There was loose talk about going to visit Antwerp again, but Adelle wasn’t enthusiastic, so we just drove past on our way to Aachen. We were very sad to leave the campground in Bruges since we are now going to have to take the computer to the WI FI instead of sitting in comfort in our own “home” and using the internet.

It is worth noting that we spent five days in that campground, and the bill was 112euros or about $170-$175 in total.

So we were off this morning with the following information: follow Maldegem, then Antwerp. At Antwerp’s Ring Road, we would look for signs to Liege (Luik). We managed the first part very well. But the Ring Road got us. We wanted R1 and the Kennedy Tunnel (which is free), going south around the city. We turned off accordingly, only to find ourselves on R2, going north and using the tunnel that requires a 5 euro payment. It may be our inability to read signs easily contributed to this problem, but we don’t think so. The signs were just confusing.

Be that as it may, we had no trouble getting to a campground in a village called Vaals in The Netherlands, close to Aachen. We asked at the desk about a place to park the RV so we could catch the bus to the city. She said there was nowhere to park and we should just walk to the roundabout to get the bus. So Ron took an experimental walk. No way Adelle could make it up the hill to the road. That’s right. We find there are hills in this part of The Netherlands. He left the RV at 2:30 and didn’t return until 4:30! On his travels, he found that there is a Park & Ride up the road in Germany, where we can indeed park and catch the bus without this difficult walk. We can’t believe that the lady in the reception area didn’t know this!

So on Wednesday, we did just that and visited Aachen for the day. We’d been there before, but although we did remember some things, we really hadn’t concentrated on the surroundings. So, although Adelle was sure we had visited the Cathedral, she didn’t remember what it looked like. Ron did remember that we had also visited the Town Hall and the “Treasury” of the cathedral, and so we retraced our steps at least partially. What we did remember vividly were the beautiful bakery windows. The Germans really know how to tempt anyone who likes bread or any kind of cake!

The first thing we noticed on our way in was a statue of a horse. Not a person on a horse. Just a horse. So when we went into Tourist Information, we asked about it. Turns out that Aachen is ver proud of its position in Europe as a horse city. Apparently it hosts a big dressage event that is attended by people all over the world. We found some funny statues of horses as well as the beautiful one in front of the big theatre.

On our way to the Cathedral, we met some old “friends”. These statues at the fountain near the Market Square were among our memories of the last time we were here. We’ve seen similar statues in other places in Europe. “People” waiting on balconies, talking around the fountain – they definitely come under the heading of fun.

We decided not to return to see the “Treasury”, but walked around the area, waiting until the service in the Cathedral was over and we could go in. We restrained ourselves from buying things at the outdoor market, thinking we’d be back after visiting the Cathedral. But we didn’t go back and as a result, Ron didn’t get the fried fish and Adelle doesn’t have 30 stuk of flowers for 3 euros.

The Cathedral is amazing. In the 800’s, Charlemagne built an octagonal cathedral. It is still there and still beautiful. You step down onto the original floor and the original church is intact. In later centuries, a building was built around the original octagon to make it bigger. The decoration is spectacular. There is a 15th century bas-relief in the nave – and a 12th century candelabra of gold made to celebrate the coronation of Frederick Barbarossa in 1125. The 9th century doors have been taken away for some reason, and we didn’t get to see Charlemagne’s throne or the side chapels which were closed, because they only allow tourists in with a guide. Neither of us felt like touring the cathedral with a German speaking guide!

We did return to the City Hall to see the room where the powers that be greet distinguished visitors. The room is white and gold and gorgeous. Then we went upstairs to the enormous coronation room. Very Gothic with white paint between the stone pieces that hold up the ceiling. And very nice flowers and other decorations on the white. When we left, we asked when those panels were painted and were told 1951, after the repairs were made to the building after the war. The stained glass in the Cathedral, too, dates from after World War II. But they are still works of art. It’s just that we know when they were designed and who did them!

After lunch, we walked around again. In our wanderings, we saw a beautiful old church. We walked in and found it has been taken over by a Greek Orthodox congregation. We walked through just to see the way it was decorated. Then we continued until we found a shopping street that we had been on in 2002. Ron remembered that there had been a Woolworth store there – long after those stores had disappeared everywhere else – and we looked for it. Of course it is gone now too – but Ron took a picture of the stores that he thought were the replacements for it, and he found a picture showing the same rocks and the same markings on the ground.

Aachen is a very nice little city. There’s a very small area that is old. We’re amazed that anything survived the beating the city took in 1945 when it was the first German city to be occupied! We enjoyed our day there. Now we’re debating our next stop. You’ll find out in our next letter.

Auf wieder sehn.

Adelle & Ron

Monday, May 19, 2008

Trip Blog 12






Letter NO. 12

Bonjour !

This is day two in Bruges, Sunday. We met, as planned, at 10 a.m. at the Groeninge Museum that houses mostly Flemish paintings. We knew from a conversation with a campground owner in Arles a while ago that the bus schedule on Sundays is “not very interesting”, by which he meant that they don’t come along very often. We were annoyed when we got to the bus stop at 8:45 for what the campground had told us was the only bus of the hour at 9 a.m. Having walked there, we stayed until the only bus of the hour really came, which was at 9:22 as it specified on the bus stop sign!

Sunday had dawned with that most elusive element – the sun. It was shining and there was no rain for the first time in five days. So when Peter and Valori turned up at 10 a.m. and encountered us waiting, they suggested we change our plans and go on a canal boat ride first. Good idea! At 10, there was no line, the sun was shining and all was right with the world of Bruges.

The man who ran the boat was able to give his spiel in Flemish, French, Spanish and English, throwing in a few words for the benefit of the Japanese aboard, without skipping a beat. By the time we were out on the canals, we saw lots of boats full of tourists on the water, and long lines waiting to get into boats. There are a lot of tourists in Bruges! It was a very entertaining boat tour. We went past beautiful old brick houses, with the tour guide pointing out the interesting and rare sights, among which was a dog, nicknamed Romeo looking out of a second story building, and a Japanese man in the boat with us who did not have a camera!

Then it was into the museum – which had only about ten rooms, at least one of which was closed. Frankly, we were a little disappointed. Not only that they wouldn’t allow picture taking (that goes for all Bruges museums), but that they had no Memlings, and only a few Van Eycks. They did have a very dandy Hironymous Bosch which you could get very, very close to, and which was very nice. That is to say, gruesome, but nice. But the rest were not very interesting Flemish “primitives”—which in Belgium means 14th and 15th century painters, not paintings from unschooled painters. But we marched our way through and when we left it was time for lunch.

Being sensible types, we returned to the scene of yesterday’s light lunch. Some of us ate waffles again but some of us opted for a sandwich. After lunch and a suitable period of rest, we were off again to yet another museum – one that was supposed to have things that people used through the ages, but which was mostly an exhibit of Bruges in Paintings. Quite interesting, because a lot of the paintings were done long ago – and Bruges still looks pretty much the same!

Now we were off to see the Cathedral. Lovely building, mostly “new” stained glass (which translates to 18th and 19th century), beautiful tapestries, etc. Right under the pulpit there was a statue in marble looking upward and holding something up to show someone, presumably God. Upon closer inspection, that something was the plans for the Cathedral. The architect was showing God what he planned to build for him. But not in an arrogant, see what I can do for you kind of way. More like he was hoping against hope that God would approve. It is a very beautiful statue. We include a photo.

Now some of us were getting tired, so we walked to a sidewalk cafĂ© for a cuppa (tea for those of us of the English persuasion, coffee for others). Now what? Peter wanted to climb the tower and see the town from on high. Valori and Ron opted to join him – on the walk to the tower, but not up its stairs. Adelle knew she wouldn’t want to climb any towers, and she went to rest in the Menneer’s hotel room.

When the others finally showed up, they had walked for ages after finding the tower closed and they were suitably tired. So we finished the bottle of wine, and talked and laughed until it was time to leave for dinner. Dinner was absolutely spectacular – and we enjoyed it all. Then Peter and Valori walked us to the bus (which came promptly on time) and we said good-bye.

During dinner, Peter had asked about the next day. When would we decide where and when to go? What were our plans now? We had none. But we knew that we had to go grocery shopping. This is our last chance to shop at a huge Carrefour supermarket, which is one of our favorite places. And that’s what we did on our last day in Bruges. We took advantage of the WI FI to get out our letters, went shopping and lazed about. We’ll be off in the morning to spend a day or so in Antwerp – and then return to The Netherlands.

Although we do have two more weeks to go, we’ve got some things that need to be done. We’d had a great weekend. The company was wonderful, the city beautiful, the food excellent. Now it is time to get back to traveling and tend to the disagreeable chore of finding someone who will trade a little money for the privilege of owning this motorhome that has been so good to us.

Adelle & Ron

2008TripBlog11






Letter No. 11

Hello everyone from Bruges in the pouring rain,

Having driven all the way here on Thursday, we were hoping that Friday would be a day of sunshine, but that didn’t happen. We are expecting to have a very active weekend, so we’d like to be a bit less busy today! There was a lot to do.

Ron went to the supermarket—a Carrefour, hurray, hurray-- and returned with lots of goodies. Adelle did a lot of minor work around the RV. Then we decided to go into town. Started out and then thought about the fact that the four tickets would cost nearly $10 and neither of us felt like going into town. Instead, we took a long walk to another supermarket where we could buy special bus cards that would give us a 20% discount. As long as we didn’t just sit all day, we were content. We’d done “enough” walking for one day.

Saturday morning we waited for a call from Peter and Valori to say that they were ready to roll. When the call came at 10 a.m., we arranged to meet them at their hotel in the old city within the hour. We had no memory of how long it took to get from the campground into town. We were a bit early and joined them for coffee in the dining room of their very posh, brand new (open two weeks, but renovated from a palace built in the early 1400’s) hotel. We then all set off, in pouring rain and quite cold weather to see what we could see.

We walked to the Gothic Hall where the councilmen once sat to make laws for the prosperous seaport of Bruges. There was a huge crowd outside and we weren’t sure why, but it all became evident when the wedding party was picked up in front in seven antique Jaguars – two people to each car! Then their guest left and we went into the municipal building. The Gothic Hall didn’t open for another fifteen minutes so we joined the milling crowd in the open part of the building. When the fifteen minutes were up, Peter & Ron joined a somewhat smaller milling crowd – not a line – of people trying to get the harassed man behind the counter to take their money and let them go up to see the hall. It was drop-dead gorgeous in a 15th century sort of way, as you can see from a photo. Lots of gilt, beautiful woodwork, hanging vaults, 19th century paintings on the walls depicting historical events that had shaped the city.

By the time we left this building, we were cold, wet and hungry, so we walked a little out of the tourist area to find a place to eat. The first place we chose turned out to be a bad choice. We only wanted a little lunch and they only served full meals until 3 p.m. We left and found a place that was glad to see us even if we only wanted a light lunch. Waffles/and/pancakes with coffee was just right for us all.

When we left there, we went to the Memling Museum, housed in what was a hospital in medieval times. It really is thrree different museums. The first was a fascinating discussion, illustrated with artifacts and paintings, of medical practice and the social organization of health care in the medieval world and its changes through the 19th century. The second was a small collection of Flemish paintings, the core of which was those by Hans Memling. All of his were quite satisfying, as were many of the rest. The third was the attic of the building where you could examine the huge wood beam construction under the peaked roof, which dated from the early 1400’s!

By the time we left there, it was too late to try for another museum – so we opted to see several churches. The first was, of course, beautiful. It had the only Michaelangelo sculpture not in Italy (or so they said). The other consisted of two chapels, each with a specific relic of worship. The first was ancient, possibly Gallo-Roman. Granite stones, rounded arches, plain, extremely well and lovingly cared for. The second one had what purports to be a vial of Christ’s blood behind a tabernacle. Brought back from 11th century crusade. Amazing, n’est pas? The tabernacle itself was extremely interesting with lots of silver and the most tranquil rendition of a Christ we all had ever seen—a sleeping lamb nestled in front of a couple of silver animals. This Church of the Blood was otherwise not as beautiful as other churches we have seen, but out of the rain and very interesting.

By this time, we were all exhausted. We had walked for miles, looked into lots of stores and been on our feet a long time. We went back to their hotel, ordered tea from room service and relaxed. After that, we realized that the sun was over the yardarm, so it was time for the wine we had purchased. Then on to a restaurant.

We headed for a place recommended by a guide book. It was called “The Stove” and we found it easily. They were fully booked, so we made a reservation for the next night and walked until we found a similarly small establishment named “Beethoven’ of all things. Had a lovely dinner—beautifully presented, delicious, great conversation, long, relaxed-- and walked quite late to what we remembered as the bus stop to catch what we hoped was a night bus back to our campground. We were not disappointed. Close to the appointed hour a bus appeared and took two tired people close enough to the campground to walk home.

Sounds very quiet, doesn’t it. But it wasn’t so quiet. We have not yet mentioned that spending time with these two, Peter and Valori, somehow is accompanied by almost non stop laughter of the stitch-in-your-side variety. God knows it’s not we who cause it. Must be them. It was a great day!

We expect the laughter to continue tomorrow. We’ll be meeting at a museum at 10 a.m. In the meantime,

Good night.

Adelle & Ron

2008TripBlog10


Letter No.10

Bruges, Belgium

Hello everyone.

Gotta tell you all about yesterday (Thursday, May 18, 2008) which was quite an unusual day for us.

We needed to be in Bruges by Friday night. The big question was could we get there in our usual 50 miles a day traveling? No, couldn’t be done because we were in Troyes, which is 246.7 miles from Bruges according to our GPS.

Of course, the GPS consistently puts us onto toll roads in France, which we will not take. They are expensive to begin with, and especially steep if you are “more” than a regulation automobile. They are definitely not for us. We mapped out a route using only minor roads until we left France, and we’re not sure exactly how many miles it turned out to be.

Then the problem became where to make a stop. The only interesting place seemed to be Verdun – and that was nearly 100 miles out of our way. But we decided that would be fine. Woke up in the morning to find a dreadful looking sky and realized that Verdun would not be a wonderful experience since it would mean touring somber sites in the pouring rain. So, the decision was made. We’ll drive as long as it takes to go to Bruges.

Doesn’t sound like too bad a trip, does it? In a car, it would be a piece of cake. But in an RV that is decidedly underpowered and on roads that go through high hills (we’re slow), it’s not so easy. Besides that, the roads we were going to use go through every town on their way, which requires slower speeds and frequent detours while you are directed away from Centre Ville on city streets from one side of town to another where you can pick up the highway again.

We left Troyes about 9:40 a.m., stopped for gas, spent some time at a supermarket, and arrived in Bruges about 5:30 p.m. Sometimes we drove through pouring rain, and we could see that we’d be meeting the same storm as it caught up with us later!

Our first problem was getting fuel. In the first place, there are very infrequent gas stations. In the second, a high proportion of these stations require European credit cards which we do not have. We looked into stations on our route, but too often couldn’t buy gas! We even went into a supermarket that also sold gas and asked if we might pay in the market but it was not possible. There is very high priced gas on the autoroutes at regular intervals, but not on the national roads that we use.

As we got to Belgium, it suddenly occurred to us that we had no way of knowing if the campground we were counting on was still open! Since by then it was pouring rain, we needed to know if we had a place to go. Called with our handy-dandy Dutch cell phone (which wouldn’t work in France) but no answer. Tension up!

Got to Bruges, finally, but had very little gas. No gas stations appeared. We drove onto the ring road. Let us explain a bit. Most cities in Europe have a road that goes in a circle (ring) around the city on the outskirts, and allows you to take a route into a particular section or take a road going out without entering the city. Got on the ring and were in the midst of what may be the worst traffic jam we’ve ever seen. We were not moving at all. But the engine was still running and using gas.

We stayed in this situation a good twenty minutes, getting more and more tense. Imagine running out of gas in a strange country in the middle of a traffic jam! And with the prospect of no campground in sight. Then Adelle saw a young policeman trying to help. He was allowing cars that wanted to make a right to use a bus lane that is usually off limits. Adelle showed him the campground listing in our book – and he said we should go straight ahead – although of course, we couldn’t move. Then she told him she was worried about running out of fuel. He said that if we turned off the ring road and made a right, there was a gas station at the second light.

After some deliberation, that is what we did. Turned off and found the station and gassed up—70 Euros, or about $105, for perhaps 11 gallons. The proprietor told us that there are “no” campgrounds left in the city as a result of insurance and land developers. She was sure that our campground was gone, but she did give us direction to get back to the ring road and continue on our way. When we followed her advice, we got back onto the ring road in a different place. Traffic was now moving and we continued on our way – to find the campground open with an excellent spot for us, on asphalt, which is a great boon in pouring rain.

Tension gone! A safe haven and no problems about our weekend.! To add to our feelings of warmth, we parked on just enough of an incline to prevent the pouring rain from pooling on our roof and leaking slowly into the rig. This morning we discovered that this campground has WI FI that can be used in your own vehicle. Completing the feeling of warmth, our next door neighbors turned out to be a New Zealand couple, Tony & and Jane Harrow, who had read our book, took a lot of our advice, and were pleased to meet us! What nicer greeting could there be?

So, here we sit. Warm and fuzzy!. But that was not a day either or us would care to repeat!

One photo--the Dolphin at rest in Memling campground, Bruges, after our long trip from Troyes.

Bye for now.

Adelle & Ron