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 café 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

Friday, May 16, 2008

2008TripBlog9






Letter No. 9

Tuesday
Bonjour from Troyes,

We had heard from several sources that Troyes is worth seeing. After spending the first half day here—we drove from Langres in the morning-- we have to agree. The inner city is old – medieval to Renaissance – and although an interesting city, it’s not a real tourist trap. People live here in these ancient buildings. The shops that are on the first floor are real shops – clothing, beauty parlors, shoes, etc. as well as cafes, bistros, restaurants, etc.

We’re planning to stay at least two nights. On our first day, we oriented ourselves, visited two of the ten ancient churches in this town and then returned to the campground, in the usual state of exhaustion!

Every one of these churches apparently has its own wonders. Today we visited St. Madeleine’s to see the 14th century building and it’s beautiful stained glass windows. Apparently, medieval Troyes was noted for its windows – and rightly so. They are truly stunning. And the amazing stone curtain, known as a jube (raredos in England???). It looks for all the world like a fringed piece of fabric! It’s a definite Wow!

Equally interesting, though, is how the glass survived two world wars. Adelle made an attempt to ask about that, in French, of the only person in the church besides the tourists. Wonder of wonders, she spoke English, and she told us that they had removed all the glass panels and packed them away for the duration of the war. These are the originals and they date from the 13th century.

She also said that all the churches in France took their stained glass down – a statement that we believe is true because we’ve asked at other churches and got the same answer. She wanted to know which of the other churches we’ve seen, and when we said this was the first, she suggested St. Pantaleon so off we went. This church is “new” – 16th century. During the Revolution, when the Republic’s troops were busy tearing down statues and churches, many 16th century statues were hidden here - and they have remained. Its glass is a form we’d never seen before. Instead of bright colors, it uses a subdued brown outline of its subjects. This “grisaille” stained glass was very popular in the 16th century.

Tomorrow we’ll see the Cathedral. We also planned to visit the Vauluisant Museum, which concentrates on the Troyes school of stained glass and a long history of fabric manufacture. It is housed in a Renaissance building. However, two German fellows notice our license plate and we had a great conversation for about 20 minutes, mostly in French about all sorts of things but especially about how interesting Troyes is. They recommended a different museum specializing in handicrafts which they said was superb and unique in all the world. With a recommendation like that we probably will go to that, and see if we feel up to two small museums and a cathedral in one day.

As an aside, when Adelle originally wrote Take Your RV to Europe, she wrote that “no one knows what is in an andouille”. In the booklet that the Tourist Office gave us about Troyes, we found out what is in an andouille – and it is much better that you don’t know!

On our way back to the campground, we were waiting for the bus when a little French boy heard us. He asked if we were English and was very excited to hear that we come from Les Etats Unis. His school had just begun to teach the children English this year, and he says he loves it. All the time we were at the bus stop and all the way until we got off the bus, he questioned us carefully about our life in America. We were both impressed by his command of English – and when we left, we told him to try to e-mail us. How wonderful to be speaking another language while you still have the facility of youth.







` Wednesday

First “job” this morning was to use the WI FI facility at a hamburger chain named “Quick” since the McDonalds in town didn’t offer this service. We got there earlier than they opened, and the staff told us to use the WI FI on the picnic tables outside. Which we did. We were there a long time – and Adelle suggested we buy our lunch there…so Ron went in to check it out. A plain hamburger was 4 euros 50 - which at the current rate of exchange was approximately $7.00. That is much too much for a fast food hamburger in a world of delicious baguettes.

We had walked the few blocks to this place, so we retraced our steps, ate lunch in the RV, and went into town. First stop was the cathedral – a beauty, of course. We didn’t stay too long because they were closing the building (from 12 to 2, n’est-ce pas? We walked to the one museum that didn’t close for lunch. It was quite a long way, but it gave us the chance to see more of the old buildings.

Our German informant had said this was a unique place, and he was correct. A local priest had spent his life collecting an cataloguing tools, mostly from the 17th and 18th century, many from professions which have mostly disappeared. The displays were, as Ron said, “artful” as well as interesting, and they gave us an explanation of the exhibits in English to take along. This was a huge collection – numbing, exhausting and extensive. When we finished, we were both tired. But we pushed on.

The other museum turned out to be much less exhausting. In the first place, they had a movie about the bonnetiers of Troyes, all in French. Didn’t matter to us. We needed to rest and we got the sense of most of the film. Incidentally, bonnetiers don’t make hats, they make socks and other kinds of things that require machines that make circular cloths. There were all kinds of old machines on exhibit, as well as a collection of socks and stockings, mostly dating from the last ten years of the 1800’s up to 1910. It was interesting.

Their 16th century statue collection was less so, and the promised stained glass window section was closed. Didn’t matter. We’d had enough. A cup of coffee to revive us and we’d go on home.

The sky looked like it was going to rain…so we walked back to the bus stop and were lucky enough to get on a bus and return to our home-away-from-home before the deluge. We still have a problem with a leaky roof (no air conditioner, you see), but there was very little leaking because Ron noticed that if we moved two feet forward, we would be on an angle and no water would puddle up. Let’s hear a cheer for a good idea!

We spent the evening debating whether to drive all the way to Bruges in one day – 246.7 miles – or drive even longer and break our journey with a stop in Verdun. The final decision was a practical one. If it looked as if it would be a rainy day, we’d spend the day driving. Otherwise, we’d stop at Verdun.

We’ll let you know how it turned out.

Au revoir.

Adelle & Ron

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

2008TripBlog8






Letter No. 8

Bonjour, mes amis,

We’ve been in France now for a week. We’re working at understanding what people say to us in French, but it isn’t easy. In the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent in Belgium, you can speak English to nearly everyone. But the French are as insular as we are. It’s French or nothing most of the time.

We drove to Besancon – a very long way. It took about four hours to get there from Colmar. We pulled into the campground, but the reception area was closed. Remember lunch time? Found a pitch, plugged in and were all set, but we had to wait until the office opened at 3 p.m. By that time, it was so hot out that Adelle decided to stay in the campground and not try to see Besancon. There wasn’t much time, and she needed a break. So on this particular day, we weren’t tourists, just campers!

One of our favorite supermarkets was just down the road a piece, so in the morning we went to the Carrefour to buy groceries. Ron took a lot of pictures, including one showing the 36 cashier stations, not all of which were open, and several of the huge showcases of various kinds of food. He was hoping to get a picture of one of the people who put things away in the store. They rollerskate from place to place as directed by walkie talkies or something like them. But he never got a chance to do so because we were stopped by the security men. Apparently taking pictures in a Carrefour is not allowed!

After due consideration, they allowed us to keep the pictures he had already taken, and we were out of there by about 10 a.m. Then came the big problem of the day. We followed the signs for the town we thought we’d want – but we kept going north and we thought we should be going west. There was a tense period until we saw the name of a town we knew was on the correct road and shortly thereafter, the number of the correct road appeared.

We had decided to make the trip to Troyes a two-day affair so we needn’t travel so long at one time. That’s why we stopped in Langres – an ancient city that has two claims to fame. One is the ramparts all around the city, which are very old and still intact. The other is that it is the birthplace of Denis Diderot, a leading figure in the French Enlightenment.

It’s quite a small place, but it has a terrific municipal campground right next to one of the towers of the ramparts. We walked just about all the three kilometers of the ramparts and loved it. (It was just about as long a walk as Ron’s usual 2-mile walk in Florida, but the scenery was sure different.) The town itself is not spectacular, but the view from the ramparts certainly was.

France is really beautiful. The fields are huge and multi-colored. The towns when seen from a distance are all pretty red roofs clustered around lovely old churches. Driving through towns usually means buildings of indeterminate age, almost all aged grey stucco, no front yards and few people. As you get closer to Germany, you do get nice stucco buildings, and in the south, many are Mediterranean pinks and yellows. But around here, it’s just old, unpainted stucco.

Tomorrow we are off to Troyes and we expect to spend several days there. Then we’ll be on our way back to Belgium to meet friends.

Au revoir. A bien tot.

Adelle and Ron

2008TripBlog7






Letter No 7

Hello from Colmar.

It’s only 49 miles or so between Strasbourg and Colmar – and you just follow the signs for Colmar that begin as you drive out of the campground. That’s one of the reasons we love camping in Europe. Can you think of any big city in the U.S. that is only 49 miles from another big city? In the U.S., you need to drive very long distances.

We went to the same campground we stopped at in 2002. We remember that it was raining then and we were not allowed to pick a site at the lower level, which was at river’s edge. The next morning we saw why. Swans were swimming over those sites. The river flooded in the night. The remarkable thing, for us, is that we do not remember how we found this campground the first time. We did not have the books we have now, which list many, many campgrounds and how to get to them. But we remembered it was on a river near Colmar. This year, we found one that was on the river, decided on it, and it was the same one.

When Adelle wrote Take Your RV to Europe in 2003-4, there wasn’t much doing in the way of WIFI. Boy, have things changed. We noticed a WI FI sign on a rest stop on the highway! Our blood pressure stays low when we can use our own computer because we don’t have to use a French keyboard, which is very different from what we know.

There was no problem getting to Colmar or to the campground. We wanted to do two things in town: walk around and just see the old architecture (which is justly famous) and to go to the Bartholdi Museum. Remember him? He designed and built the Statue of Liberty! But the museum is open from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm. Lunch time, you know. No point in going right away.

So we had a leisurely lunch and walked to the bus stop across the street. We had time to let Ron take a picture of something many of us have never seen – a blooming chestnut tree. Many years ago a deadly blight began to kill all the chestnut trees in America so only those of us who were around when Ron and Adelle were teenagers have ever seen them. When we were kids, everyone learned the poem “Under the spreading chestnut tree…” I guess that doesn’t happen any more. Anyway, we took the bus that stops at the entrance to the campground. In 15 minutes we were in the middle of the old town. Us and about a million other tourists!

Ron was really taken with the bus service. You stand at the stop and an electronic sign tells you that the bus is 3 minutes away, then 2 minutes, and then finally, ARRIVE. You look up and there it is, just coming into the stop. It really is a marvel.

We walked around until just before 2 pm, then got a cup of espresso to wake us up, and went into the museum. Bartholdi was truly a remarkable sculptor. Apparently he was born into a wealthy family—in 1822-- but he certainly had enough commissions from all over the world to keep him busy and wealthy. After his death, his widow gave the house he was born in, including the furniture that was in it when she died and a great number of small studies for larger works as well as some work that hadn’t been sold. Other work he had done was given to the museum in the intervening years. It was a great collection.

Of course we were most interested in the studies that scholars have linked to Miss Liberty. We learned in the museum that they were originally done for a project in Egypt! That was supposed to be called something like: “Egypt lights the way for Asia (to enlightenment—hence the torch). But it was all interesting. We’ve seen some of his work besides Miss Liberty. There is a statue in Washington Square in NYC of Washington & Lafayette that is Bartholdi’s work, for example. And the statue of Columbus that stands at the head of the harbor in Barcelona is hard to miss. In general he was a member of a school of art that dwelt on the patriotic and the love of homeland, and veneration of the military and political heroes of the day, i.e., those whose deeds preserved or protected the motherland or its culture. You know, things that we tend to think of as corny, today. He worked mostly in plaster that became molds, and then bronzes.

Incidentally, you know the beautiful folds in Miss Liberty’s gown? They were designed by an engineer Bartholdi worked with as a way of strengthening the structure. Isn’t that interesting? Well, Ron thinks it is.

The house was a very upper class but not ostentatiously rich mansion, and the paintings on the walls and the décor was interesting. But the piece de resistance of the décor came in a room that utilized fine china plates and pitchers in a most unusual way.

One room had been dedicated to house a collection of objects owned by the Jews of Strasbourg. It included a time line of events from the 4th century to the 20th, a Torah, an Ark from a now destroyed synagogue, a table set for Sabbath dinner in the early 20th century, and a number of paintings. We shudder to think how Mr. Katz, who donated them to the museum, got them.

Colmar is a really lovely city with a great many ancient and beautiful buildings. A great number of half timbered houses, many with multicolor tile roofs and ornately carved wood exteriors, often even including wooden sculptures. The symbol for Alsace seemed to be a stork, according to the souvenirs we saw in the shops. Then, when we looked up at one building, there was a nest with a stork in it. We walked for a long time just looking at those buildings before heading home.

Tomorrow will include a high tension ride to a city called Besancon – a very long way from here. Driving 107 miles to get to another city is too long for us. We’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Adelle & Ron

2008TripBlog6






Letter No. 6

Hello again.

From Nancy the capital of Lorraine we drove to Strasbourg, in Alsace, which bills itself as the capitol of Europe. And a nicer capitol can’t be imagined.

Getting to the city was easy, although a little odd. We looked at the map and decided on Route N4. This was shown on the map as going directly to Strasbourg. Not a big highway but a decent road. The big highway was a “peage” – that is a toll road. The tolls on French roads were very high in 2001, and very aggravating because they not only charged a toll but a 19% Value Added Tax on the toll! Now that the euro is worth $1.54 and the French government (we think) has sold the “peage” system to a profit making organization, we don’t want to think about using those roads.

We’ve used “N” roads before. They are slower because they go through the towns on their way—a plus --, but you have to slow down in town and frequently have to go through a round-about on either side of town. Most of the time, though, they are fine for us. The map turned out to be slightly in error. Instead of N4, a great deal of the way was on third rate roads with large numbers, like D502. That’s a narrow two-lane road and might be okay in some circumstances, but these tend to go all the way through town, often making five or six turns and changes in the road. To complicate the matter, we had to go through mountainous areas. There were a lot of Frenchmen swearing at us along the way since we certainly slow everyone down!

We got through the maze and drove into town only to find that there were no signs for the campground on the road we took into town. This was a problem because the directions to the campground were to take N4 and follow the signs indicating the campground. We persevered, and drove into the city. After a couple of blocks, the signs for another road that was reported in our book to have signs for the campground appeared and we turned onto a highway. Almost immediately we saw an exit for Montagne Verte which is where the campground is located. We got off the highway and immediate found a sign for the campground. We followed it to the next, but when we got to the main drag, there were no other signs. We drove too far in one direction, turned and drove too far in another. Finally we decided to follow a sign for a different campground and made the turn its sign indicated. We drove about 400 meters down that road, and the campground we had originally been looking for appeared without warning. A very odd case of “The Last Sign is Missing”.

After checking in and eating lunch, we left for center city via bus and tram. The whole journey took 20 minutes and we got off and walked toward the Cathedral. It was after 2 p.m. and all the stores still seemed to be closed, which is a bit much even for a French city. We saw the very nice Place Kleber (named for the hero of a war) to the equally lovely Place Gutenburg (named for the inventor of moveable type who lived here while developing it). Then we reached Place Cathedral – which was stunning. Even to people like us, who always visit the big churches and cathedrals, this was an amazing building which we would characterize as aggressively gothic. Not like the other cathedrals in France. It had the feel of a Germanic building. No surprise since this city went from being under the rule of a bishop to being a free city licensed to make its own coinage, have markets and fairs and run its own affairs, within the organization of the Holy Roman Empire before it joined France. The cathedral had several treasures inside, one of which is a huge astronomical clock. If you are there at noon, you pay 2 Euros to see it work. We missed that.

We went to ask the Tourist Office about something, and mentioned that the shops seemed to be closed longer than usual (12 to 2 is “normal”), and were told that this was a holiday. On May 8, 1945 American troops liberated the city. That explained the closed stores. We did not get any information about the Nazi occupation in Alsace, or how the people reacted to it, but we will look that up when we get home.

On our map was the indication of another ancient church, this one named as a Protestant church. We found this a bit odd because France is a Catholic country and an old church would have been treated badly by the king. It turned out to be a medieval church that began life as a Catholic church, and was turned into a Protestant one during the Reformation. Not a scenario common in France, but as the docent told us, Alsace was a special case. Even the Sun King (Louis XIV) allowed the Protestants to worship as they pleased once he took over the city. So both forms of Christianity flourished in the city. The Jews who lived here at the time, however, were allowed only certain forms of work and had to leave the city by nightfall. We will be interested in anything we learn about the treatment of Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Next stop was yet another McDonalds. Apparently all in this area have WI FI – so we had our obligatory cup of coffee and used the internet service to get our blog posting straight once and for all. We hope we accomplished that, but we will hear from some of you this afternoon when we post this blog from Colmar. On our way home, we found the only genuine bargain in Strasbourg. A one-scoop ice cream cone for 70 cents. Delicious.

On Thursday we decided we would only walk around the area known as Petite France, which was reported to be beautiful. So we used the Lavage (washing machine) and hung out the clothes before we left. Got downtown to find a busy shopping day. It was quite a long walk to Petite France, an area that can only be classified as gorgeous, full of old half-timbered buildings. We walked around until it was time for lunch. Then we made an unusual decision. Adelle wanted to have a real French lunch instead of our usual sandwich in a fast food shop. We had almost decided on one upstairs café, when an American-sized (extra large) man came out and indicated that the food was good. So in we went.

The walls and the stairs were covered with wall paper with old fashioned writing on it. The same paper was on the railings and the bannister…and when we got up the antique stairs, the entire room was covered in it – as were the six or seven tables and chairs. The ceiling had the same paper with pictures printed over some of the writing. No other customers were there. Just two women, piles of philosophy magazines and books and us. Lunch was delicious and the entire experience was oddly French.

There were still hours left – so we decided to go to the Museum of History. It was a very long walk – and we had to ask directions of the women in the café and then a woman on the street, but we were able to follow them without trouble. The best guide was to look for La Femme Alsatian. Once we saw this huge statue, we understood why it can be used as a landmark.

Were we glad we decided to go the History Museum. This was one of the most modern museums we’ve ever been to. Their audio guide was wonderful, the signs were in French, German and English, and there was a tremendous amount of information about Alsace. There were interactive games, an amazing, huge 18th century diorama of the city. We learned a lot.

Now was time to begin the long walk to the bus station. First, we had a “cup of coffee” in a café, sitting and looking out at the world in a peculiarly French way. The coffee consisted of two tiny cups containing only about a half inch of very black coffee, which cost 3.40 Euros—about $5.00. But it was as close as we have ever come to injesting a very potent drug, and it fixed us up fine. Then there was a walk around two separate food markets, neither of which was as good as the big chains. An ice cream along on the way and another day was over.

Today we are in Colmar. We’ve been here before, but it was pouring rain and we would like to see it again. We’ll enjoy the Hansel & Gretel architecture and we’ll get to see the Bartholdi museum. This is where he came from. You remember him. The Statue of Liberty guy!

Adelle & Ron

Thursday, May 8, 2008

2008TripBlog5






Letter No. 5

Hello everyone.

Getting to Nancy turned out to be an adventure. We had come into the campground in Metz over several bridges and many turns. Our instructions were to get off at a particular exit, cross the highway and then to follow the signs for “Autres Directions”. We followed these “Other Directions” signs for quite a while before we saw the signpost for the campground. As a result, we were sure we’d be lost when we left.

Instead, as we turned out of the driveway onto the street, there was a sign indicating the road to Nancy. We followed it faithfully, but we’d gone a very long way and there hadn’t been another sign. Nancy is south of Metz and we were going north. It was the correct highway but we certainly weren’t getting closer to Nancy. At one junction, Ron made a managerial decision. He got off A 31 only to find that you couldn’t get back on the road going south, and that no matter which road he chose, he was on a highway going to Metz. Luckily, just as we got on the road Adelle noticed a sign that indicated a detour to Nancy. So we followed that road until the turnpike to Nancy finally appeared. It’s hard to believe that we turned onto several roads we didn’t know and got to the correct one, but even more puzzling is that the road that did take us to the turnpike wasn’t on our maps.

We’ve been in the Nancy campground now for two days. It’s a terrific campground—clean, plenty of hot water for showers AND dishes and shaving. Most important, there is a bus stop just outside that offers a bus going into the center of the city every ten minutes. And you order fresh bread or croissants for the morning. Nancy itself is a lovely city, just big enough to be interesting, with a center area that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But I must digress. We love France. But it is very upsetting to Adelle to find that even first graders (who visit the same museums as we do) can speak French. She can only find words enough to be understood. It’s not fair that those kids can speak it so well!

Nothing in Nancy is really ancient. The center dates from the reign of the last Duc de Lorraine. He was King Stanislas of Poland. Why he left Poland we don’t know, but his son-in-law happened to be the King of France, and he appointed him Duc of Lorraine. He lived in the mid-eighteenth century and things were great at the time. He left a big architectural legacy to the city. The square that is named for him is enclosed by enormous ornamental iron gates festooned with a lot of gold, and statuary to match. Very impressive.

The Cathedral is “new” having been built between 1703 and 1740. The entire feeling of the structure is different. It is much less frantically busy with saints and bible stories in paintings and stained glass. Instead, it was quiet, calm, rational and very plain for a Cathedral.

On our first day we walked – and walked. We began at the bus station. Then to the central indoor market, which, of course, Ron had to walk through, salivating all the way. There were many separate vendors, of meat, fresh and processed, breads and pastry, fish, cheese, fruits and vegetables—all looking fresh and advertising expensive prices. We then walked around the market neighborhood and to the cathedral and to the famous squares. Then we stopped into an internet café that advertised an American-style keyboard, a great help since typing anything with the French keyboard is difficult for us. Although the keyboard did help, we had problems following the French directions.

As we walked, Adelle noticed a sign advertising WI FI – at McDonald’s of all places. That decided us to try it the next day. So in the morning, when we left for the Art Museum, we brought along Ron’s computer in his backpack. After our tour of the museum, we had lunch and then walked to McDonalds. Normally, we wouldn’t even look at a McDonalds but this turned out to be a mistake. This restaurant was built into one of the city’s Art Noveau buildings, and this being France, they weren’t allowed to ruin it. Apparently, Nancy was a hot bed of design in 1900. Prettiest McD’s we’ve ever seen. Just look at the iron grillwork in the photo. And with the purchase of deux cafes, we used the WI FI to correct our blogs. Incidentally, the café was delicious and the menu much more varied than anything we are used to. Busy? It was a madhouse despite having at least ten people up front filling orders! Adelle was tempted to buy one of their very French looking desserts – nothing like the U.S. selection.

We’ve had two lovely days here. Tomorrow we’ll be on our way to Strassbourg in Alsace.

Bye for now.

Adelle & Ron

2008TripBlog4






Letter No. 4

Hello again.

Before we begin with our travels, we think we should tell you a bit about the GPS we got just for our Europe trip. It works with a laptop computer and Microsoft’s Auto Route 2007, which is like Microsoft’s Trips and Streets for the USA.

Of course, the first problems with it were that we’d never used it before. But we figured it out enough to use it. Then we found the hole in the armor! Apparently, no one who coded this program had ever driven in Europe. Otherwise they would not have consistently “routed” us from one highway to another through city streets since every highway has a turn off to the next route. Let us explain.

In Europe, as I explained in our book (Take Your RV to Europe), signs show the city names on their route as well as the number of the road. When we left Gent in Belgium, heading to Metz, in France, we made a note of the cities we would pass by on our way. That means that we followed the signs for Brussels until we reached that city; then we followed the signs for Namur in Belgium. By the time we got to Namur, we could follow signs to Metz in France. We never left the highway. We simply took the designated road off each highway for the highway to the next city we would pass.

Our GPS, on the other hand, showed city streets to be the connections to the next highway. It took us a while to figure out what it was doing. Now we just ignore that part. But it is a great pleasure to know where we are on the general route by looking at the arrow that tells you where you really are. It’s also nice to get an idea of how long in miles you have left to go and how long that should take you.

On Sunday our traveling companions left right after breakfast, but we had a few things to do. When we did leave Gent on Sunday, we could have driven directly to Metz, which is southeast of Gent – but Adelle was very tired and wanted to stop early and relax. So we picked a campground in a Belgian town called Arlon and drove there to stay for the night. Much easier. We were surprised to see in the literature the campground owner gave us that their clients are 98% from The Netherlands. That’s a bit odd.

We were around the campground long enough to talk to our neighbor. This Dutch man and his wife have been camping in a small motor home for a lot longer than we have. Not only that, but their motorhome is older than ours by six or seven years. We thought we held that record. But he had a 1979 Ford engine in a European- made motorhome. And he knew where we wanted to go and had recommendations to make about campgrounds.

Our neighbor also told us that the couple who owned this campground were Dutch, of course, but that they are world sailors, in a large cruising sail boat, every winter. They leave a person who lives in a caravan on the grounds to watch over things, and they take off, sailing around the world. They are younger than we are, but certainly in their sixties. We also were told that she is the lover of sailing, and he goes along because of her.

In the morning, we drove a few hours more to get to the city-owned campground in Metz. The campground is right on the Moselle River and very nice. Not that we noticed much. We were off to visit the city as soon as we parked. The warden assured us it was only a five minute walk to the old city. Since we’d already spoken to our Dutch neighbor in Arlon about this, and he said it would only take us 15 minutes or so, we knew the old city really was close.

Of course, the part of the old city that we wanted to see was a bit further on. Let me put it this way. We left our camper at 11:15 or so and returned at 5:45. Except for twenty minutes eating lunch and less than an hour using a computer in an internet café, we walked. To the Cathedral and around it, around the main streets to find a place to eat lunch, an afternoon at the museum, a visit to a downtown mall with a grocery store and then home. Think we were tired at the end? If not, why was the only song that Adelle had in her head on the way back to the campground “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be”?

To get back to our day, the Cathedral was, of course, stunning. It was very tall and had stained glass on at least three levels. Even better, they have begun the process of cleaning the stone, so a lot of the outside looked clean and new, which really does spruce it up.

Then we walked to the Museum de la Cour d’Or. You need a heart of gold to see everything. It is situated in an old Carmelite nunnery – up and down stairs like you wouldn’t believe. But the Gallo-Roman collection of artifacts is among the best in Gaul (France) and includes the Roman baths they found when they were first constructing the museum itself. It has far more than we saw after at least two hours – but by the time we’d seen this huge Gallo-Roman collection, we’d had it. We did not stay for most of the medieval and Renaissance collection. We decided to go to the internet café so we could sit for a while! This museum is the biggest bargain in all France! It only cost 3 euros 50 to get in!

Tomorrow we’ll be off to see Nancy, not Adelle’s sister, but a city that promises to be even more interesting.

Bye for now. Adelle & Ron

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

2008TripBlog3






May 4, 2008

Hello everyone!

This will be a short letter – not because there is so little to say but because we are lucky enough to have access to WI-FI here at the campground in Gent, Belgium.

After our day at the Keukenhof gardens we spent the evening in the small campground nearby. Then we began our first “long” journey. We went from Lisse, near Amsterdam, to Moergestel near Tilburg in the southern part of The Netherlands. It’s about a 50-mile journey. We were booked to stay overnight at the small town where there is a campground and to leave the next morning to go to Belgium with our friends from Tilburg. We talked about where we’d like to go – and decided on Ypres, the Belgium town that was the scene of a horrific battle in World War I. We called the campground there to make a reservation – and were turned down because they were full. We called another. They were also full.

This is, after all, Europe. On Wednesday, in the Netherlands, it was the Queen’s Birthday. Then Thursday, May 1 was Labor Day and Ascension Day, both of which are holidays. Next week there is one of our favorites (because we never heard of it before). Sunday May 11 is Pinksterstag and Monday May 12 is Second Day of Pinksterstag. (We believe that it celebrates the day that the apostles decided that Jesus was an immortal.) Despite the fact that it is a Catholic holy day in non-religious The Netherlands, everything will be closed both days. There are lots of holidays in Europe.

This is one of the big differences between Europe and the U.S. Our friend Maartje has a job that is particularly good in terms of vacations: she gets 13 weeks of paid vacation per year. Most people get “only” six. There are probably those among you who will sputter about productivity and growth – but they should be aware now that Europe is in far better shape than the U.S. is. Their “euro” is worth about $1.60!

But we must get back to our journey. As we sat in the living room in Tilburg, we hit upon a solution to the problem of full campgrounds. We’d call the huge campground in Gent (Blaarmeerson) where they might have room. And they did – although if we had not called ahead, we’d have been out of luck. Big as they are, they were indeed full up for the holiday weekend. To see Ypres, we will drive from Gent to Ypres in Cees’ camper, which is both smaller than ours and much faster. Those of you who have read our letters before or who have read our book (Take Your RV to Europe) know that our 21.5 foot motor home has a teeny four cylinder Toyota engine which needs to drag around a whole house.

We met Cees & Maartje in Gent at the campground, settled our vehicles in and then took the bus to the center of the city. Ron and I have always loved the city of Gent. The center has three or four stunning churches, one of which owns the Van Eyck altar piece called “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. We spent a lovely afternoon just walking around. We enjoyed it, but it resulted in our getting to St. Bavo’s too late to see this masterpiece.

Next morning we left for Ypres. Ypres is beautiful, of course, with architecture dating from the 1300’s through the 18th century, but it was quite clear from the information we gathered from the museum that most of it had been rebuilt after WWI. Ypres was the death ground of 100,000 (!) of its British, Commonwealth & Belgian defenders. The museum that we saw had a huge and very interesting exhibition showing how many countries were involved in that terrible war. Somehow, we had never really understood how universal that war was. It also had a number of permanent exhibits about the war, including one room in which shells went off and there was a tremendous amount of yelling and confusion – to simulate life in the trenches.

There were a tremendous number of tourists in Ypres – including many groups of school children, some from Belgium, but others from Britain and other European countries. They went through the museum as well as the arch which lists 35,000 soldiers from all over the world who were killed but whose bodies were never found. After our visit to the city, we went to find the Yorkshire trenches – which were found not too long ago. The outside trench is all that can be seen, but they found an entire encampment 30 meters under the earth. A large group of school children on bikes was there before us!

We returned to our campsite in Gent for the evening, and the next morning drove to the site of another war in Belgium. We went to Waterloo where Wellington defeated Napoleon. This museum was considerably less informative or interesting, so we do not recommend it. Ron and Cees opted to climb the 225 steps to the top of a huge monument…but they found it uninteresting. There was not enough information about troop positions or anything else for that matter to help you to understand what happened there. Maartje and I went into see a movie that was somewhat better. But it was obvious that there was no big push for education involved with this entire affair. If this had been a British museum, we would have known all about troops, troop movements and why Napoleon lost!

We saw what there was to see and then spent a long time in a huge supermarket. It was a great day.

Now we are sitting in the campground getting this letter ready. Then we are off to France. A bien tot.

Adelle & Ron