Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back in the US...

A regular scene in the Netherlands where bicycle lanes are separated from auto traffic.

Greetings from along the Colorado River, Ft. Mojave/BullheadCity, AZ

Well folks, its hard to believe we're back in the sunshine and dry warmth of the desert southwest. Methinks we've been in a bit of post travel fog now as we realize it's been nearly 3 weeks since flying into Phoenix on 6 November. That morning we'd walked to the central train station in Amsterdam amidst clouds, mist but hints of blue skies and sunshine. Tom had managed to fall head over heels walking backwards off a curb taking the last of pictures in "really neat light" of downtown Amsterdam. He managed to rip out the pants and bloodied up the knee pretty badly, but, we had to get to the airport. Actually it was a pretty easy trip of about 1/2 hour with our 4 bags stacked in front. We arrived at the airport, loaded our bags on one of the free luggage carts and found the airport first aid office. After a quick look, the nurse cleaned out the cut, placed a bandage on it and wished us a good fllight. That's it, no name, record or payment!

The flight was wonderfully uneventful and the scenery as we flew out over the Netherlands impressive: the variegated fields of crops and flowers right up to the edge of the towns and cities, as we climbed through the clouds. Upon arrival in Philadelphia 9 hours later we were greeted by the new American welcomers, shaved-headed police ordering us to stay in a single file as we deplaned through the jetway, making room for the drug dog and handler to "greet" the new arrivals. We were run through customs where we reunited with our checked luggage and passed before the customs agents who asked what we had to declare and decided whether or not to believe us or check our luggage. We must have looked suitably respectable, or not nervous and were waved on through, only to have to again remove shoes and items from pockets, take laptop out of case etc and go through airport screening all over. Not once was anybody able to say to the many international travelers from Europe, "Welcome" or anything of the sort. We saw an elderly Dutch couple with a mentally challenged daughter trying to negotiate the security screening again, and to understand why we were again going through this after having undergone security in Amsterdam and not been out of a secure area since. We looked at each other incredulously, we smiled and asked if they needed any help, and they returned the smile, thanked us and said they were ok. It was quite an embarassing spectacle, and largely poorly executed. We heard some Americans commenting that although it was uncomfortable but at "least we feel safe". We spoke with a woman from England who simply smiled and offered that "you Americans are still new at this and are doing it rather awkwardly, like adolescents". She went on to note that the Americans appeared afraid of everything, bordering on hysteria, while in Britain they had adjusted to life with threats of terrorism, and life just went on. Due diligence and care, yes, but the fear and anxiety she saw was way out of proportion. It certainly was a day of contrasts from each side of the Atlantic. We arrived in Phoenix a little later than scheduled but our wonderful friends, Al and Donna, were there to greet us and wisk us back to their house for much needed sleep. They had been to Europe years earlier so we stayed up a bit to share stories, but soon the most comfortable sleep in many weeks was ours.

The next afternoon we returned to our motorhome and little truck, parked in our friends, Mike and Lori's, side yard. It was wonderful to be "home" again. But before we could move back in we needed to clean and sweep 2 months of Scottsdale, desert dust off all surfaces. It was also a time to look at all the "stuff" we had brought back along with that which we found waiting for us, and we knew then, what would be our focus this winter season... lightening up the load again by getting rid of the stuff we just don't use or need. But, that will have to wait. We needed to restock our food pantry with first a stop at Trader Joe's in Scottsdale, and later that next week at New Frontiers Natural Foods in Prescott. Our bulk foods restored and the organics, wine and other staples loaded up it was time to head to Prescott AZ. We enjoyed the many visits with friends and checking in on a few of our favorite restaurants, but we had work to here we are, in Ft. Mohave, along the Colorado River. Nancy is busy going through the files for her annual "paper purge", Tom is going through boxes in the "basement" and "attic", along with readying traditional Christmas-gift calendars, notecards etc. We'll be here another week before heading out across the Mojave Desert, with hopefully a few stops along the way, to Tom's sister Mary's, his mother's (to help her move to new apartment) and Christmas in the Redlands/Yucaipa area of southern California.

We'll continue to post to the blog from time to time updates on our life and travels. We always appreciate your feedback and updates from your life as well, so please don't be bashful. And, if you've had enough, you can just delete us. It's just that easy! Be well and keep in touch. Hope the Thanksgiving holiday was an enjoyable one...Happy trails from way out west...tom and nancy

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Netherlands and time to go...

tom ready to ride Bike trails and lights

Wind turbines along roadside
Ms.Nancy does the internet at home.

Well folks, it's hard to believe that we're only a few kilometers away and a couple of days until we board US Airways for Phoenix. It certainly has been a wonderful gift to travel as we have. Our last major road days took us from along the Rhine in Bingen on to Koln (Cologne) Germany and then to here near the North Sea at Delft. Our itinerary was decided primarily because of availability of campgrounds, as most are closed this time of year. The weather is damp and much warmer than we'd expected, positively balmy in the high 50's with a bit of blue above the clouds/fog. Our current campground is in a nature park 200 yards from a major freeway at the edge of the city of Delft, near the Hague, and home of the painter Vermeer and the famous blue Delft ceramics. It is also only the second campground in our entire trip that has unlimited & free WiFi internet connection available in our camping spot! Nancy has been busy catching up on the news and like, while Tom took advantage of the bicycle rentals, the flat terrain and the incredibly extensive biking roadways in the area. He spent the day riding in the mist all over town, discovering solar PV installations, wind turbines, a nature center, the old central Markt Plaza with cafes and lots of souvenir shops with Delft pottery, windmills and wooden shoes. All around are canals, small cars, people biking and walking. In front of our campground, cows are grazing in lush green grass with no fencing within site of high rise apartments and the freeway...the land is reclaimed and surrounded by small canals so no fences are needed. One common theme throughout our European travels has been how close agriculture is to daily life here. Cities and towns are clearly defined, bordered by agricultural fields right up to the edge. Houses and lots are smaller here, apartments more plentiful, afterall, land is at a premium and populations large. There is an intense pride in the quality of the food and it's nearness to the consumers. Daily markets are common throughout Europe, not just the Netherlands or France. The custom of small, close together homes may date back to medieval Europe and the era of walled cities. But its implications for living, food production and consumer patterns (how much stuff can you stuff into a small living space...and no off site storage units) is profound.

Nancy says it's time to go...we're traveling to Amsterdam today to return the van and enjoy the last of our European adventure. A museum, a meal and a cafe or 2 await. Nancy says we need to return to the Red Light district as well, to see if her favorite zaftig brunette is still pulling in more customers than the slim blonde next door...(I suspect the interest may have something to do with zaftig vs. slim) Unsure whether we'll have an internet connection before departure so I'll send this along now. Hopefully our next communication will be from the Phoenix area, land of sunshine and warmth. It's goodby to the cool, damp and cloudy for awhile, but it's still amazing that we're at 52N latitude and it's this mild at this time of year. Maybe the Europeans have reason to worry if part of the changing global climate includes cessation or modification of the Gulf Stream. They appear to take renewable alternatives in energy, efficiency and carbon reduction more seriously here, perhaps because they are more likely to suffer adversely from the projected changes. All in all, it's been a wonderful opportunity to observe and learn, enjoy and wonder at the predominant cultural influence this place has and has had on the US, ourselves and the world.

Happy trails from the Netherlands...ciao for now, tom and nancy

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Along the Rhine

Our boat returns to pick us up at St. Goar
Just across river from Bingen
We're now in Bingen, Germany, along the Rhine River, after a long drive much of it on autobahn, most of it in traffic around Frankfurt am Main. Today, we spent a beautiful day on a riverboat along the Rhine River, up and back, along a really beautiful section of the Rhine, from Bingen (home of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12 century Abbess, saint, mystice &seer, healer and outspoken woman for her day) to St. Goar and the Rheinfels Castle. This whole section of the Rhine dotted with castles, some dating from well before `1000 AD, and little towns dating back to before the Roman times. Most began with the true "robber Barons" who found good spots along the very busy Middle Age trading route, built "customs houses" to collect "tolls" and the castles to ensure that tolls were paid. A large chain was used to persuade ships to stop and pay up, otherwise, the chain would rip the wooden boats apart in the strong river current. It appears to have been quite a profitable enterprise. Many of the castles were property of various Archbishops and other well-connected individuals and were often the sight of many a siege or assault. Vineyards have been here since the Romans came here before the Current Era. We were also lucky to have a break in the otherwise dreary, cold fall weather with partial sunshine for much of the trip. Beautiful fall colors of the deciduous trees along the river added to the specialness of the day. The day topped off with a wonderful meal on the boat, some local wine and a coffee with local brandy. Tom even managed to get in a visit to local museum for the last 1/2 hour which had an exhibit on the writings of Hildegard. Tomorrow we head toward Cologne, and then on to Amsterdam, arriving on Friday. We want to have a few last days in Amsterdam for sights missed in the earlier visit. We saved a few museums until this last week. It doesn't seem possible that this wonderful trip is almost over, but it will feel really good to get back to the motor home, our friends and family, our comfortable bed, and the recliners and the internet. We've about run ourselves into the ground.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Munich and a happy reunion!

The entry gate at Dachau Concentration Camp, "Work makes (you) free"

10-30-07 Update from along the Rhine in Bingen...Finally found an internet connection so will send this along...more to come on our last week's trip from here on to Amsterdam. BTW, spent day on a boat cruise along the Rhine leaf peepin' at fall color and castles. Incredible, too, that we saw first blue sky in over a week today.

Written: 10-28-07
We just left Munich, Germany, where it's still cold and drizzly, well, cold and damp at least, not too much drizzle today. It's beginning to feel a lot like winter, no snow here; but the raw damp is palpable, like it was in our Pennsylvania winters. Can't complain, though; we've had wonderful weather for most all of this trip, and we knew when we started back north toward Amsterdam the last week or two we might run into some bad weather. Like we gambled on a mild fall, and lost. Hasn't dampened our spirits, although it is taking its' toll on creaky joints and summer-oriented wardrobe.

Munich, of course, has had a long, colorful and prosperous history since it started as a monastery in the 12th century. It's the home of BMW and Siemens, the Octoberfest and so many other monuments, galleries and Royal Residences. More recently it's where Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party really got their start and became powerful. The Munchen Stadtmuseum (City Museum) had a wonderful exhibits about the history of Munich with a special section devoted to how the National Socialists came to power. We tend to forget that Hitler and the Nazis were freely elected, which should be a lesson for all democracies. The exhibit did a wonderful job of showing how conditions after the first World War, plus the Depression caused severe economic conditions in Germany creating lots of uncertainity in the population. More interesting was how the Nazis used these events, along with zealous nationalism and patriotism to establish an atmosphere of fear and distrust among the general populaton. The would then exploit these fears and prejudices against any perceived enemy of the party and the Fatherland which included the Jews, Jehovah'sWitnesses, homosexuals, political liberals, oppostion newspapers and anyone who stood to challenge or even question them. They created these scapegoats, and set about to establish a government where 'law and order' and safety were of highest priority. Tolerance was perceived as weakness. It was noted that minor city clerks were soon promoted to high city and later national posts because of their loyal membership in the National Sociatist Party. Competence and qualifications for a position gave way to loyalty and party activity and was first demonstrated in Munich.

We had lunch at the Hofbrau, a Munich beer hall where Adolph Hitler made many of his impassioned speeches. Just realizing that you were in the same room looking at the same walls, walking on the same floor, where Hitler and the Nazis drummed up support for their ideas, was sobering. I think this has impressed us both on this trip, being places where historical figures and happenings were, some from so long ago, like the Pantheon and Colesseum in Rome, and some recent like this. Makes them into real people in your mind somehow, whether it's Galileo, Hitler, Michelangelo or Julius Caesar.
We spent another day touring Dachau concentration camp and the accompanying museum. Such a sobering reminder of man's capacity for evil. It didn't help that the day was glowering, grey and bone chilling cold. To see the place and to see all the photos and a documentary film about it, and to realize that it wasn't even the worst of the camps was a wringing emotional experience. But, somehow, it didn't seem right to come here without acknowledging it, and bearing witness to all that was done there.

We also did a bus tour around Munich, saw the City Hall (Rathaus) with its incredible clock with two sets of animated figures move about, one set of lifesize dolls that dances in comemoration of the end of the Plague in the 16th century, and the other a full joust on horseback to comemorate a wedding where one of the principals from Austria was hit by the lance. The glockenspiel is being repaired, so while the figures dance, there is no music at the moment to accompany them, alas. Interesting, historical, free but still very cold! It's not that it is so incredible in this modern world of Walt Disney animations, but when you realize they are hundreds of years old, and represent a master's clockmaking art, it's pretty neat.

We've certainly come away from this trip with an appreciation of really good mass transit systems, that's for sure. While we haven't had opportunity to travel on one of the 'fast trains', we have seen several of them, and the local trains we have taken have been convenient, clean and easy to use. I can only imagine how much more liveable our US cities would be with more. You never have to wait more than a few minutes for a train or bus, and you can get absolutely anywhere easily on them. We had been going to drive out to Dachau, when we realized that we could get public transportation right from the corner down from the campground to the door of the camp, easily and quickly, for a few Euros, so we took the train and enjoyed a nice ride through the suburbs and out into the countryside outside Munich.

Also while in Munich, on a whim and a hunch Tom was able to find and make contact with his German "sisters and mother" from the time he lived with the family when he was an exchange student in Bolivia some 40 years ago. It was the greatest moment to meet up again after contact had been lost over 10 years ago. We visited, talked and remembered life and friends in SantaCruz, Bolivia so long ago, and what our lives were today. It was the first of hopefully many visits.

And now the time is getting short as are the days. We haven't seen the sun in over a week and must start the trip north to Amsterdam. Today we drove to the walled city of Rothenburg On Der Tauber, near Wurzburg in northern Bavaria. This was where not much ever happened, so nobody stormed the city walls or destroyed much, to the benefit of tourists today. The Reformation did happen here, as it was started not to far to the west in the early 16th century. The central cathedral here is Evangelical Lutheran today and has been since 1527 even though the rest of the Bayern State (Bavaria and Munich) are predominantly Roman Catholic. The city was beautiful to walk through, first the gate, then the narrow streets to the Market Platz, City Hall and public fountains, and later passed many small shops with art work, clothes, foods and gifts all with the tourist in mind. However, the majority of tourists here are German out for a Sunday drive. The campgrounds are nearly empty and the temperatures are near freezing nightly. What are we doing here???
That's it for now, on to the Rhine and then the Nederlands.

Happy trails from along the road.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Tyrolian Alps

Nancy and new friend at Piazza San Marcos

Tom and Nancy enjoying favorite pastime, sidewalk cafe people research, cappucino and tea optional.

Sunday morning in the Dolomites

Sunday early afternoon along Italian alps

Sunday late afternoon at Brennen Pass

Sunday 10/21/07: Greetings from Innsbruck, Austria
Though they were cold but gorgeous blue skies this morning, we gambled and drove on north to Austria crossing the Brennen pass in light and blowing snow/rain. Arrived late afternoon after dawdling about in the Alps with occasional stops by streams and ruins for pictures and snacks. We tend to drive slowly, even in our regular on the road lifestyle, so for us a long day can be 200kilometers/140 miles. Have internet connection via the campground wifi network so will catch up on news and emails. More rain/snow tomorrow so will probably stay put before moving up to Munich. Guess I'll never wear those shirt sleeve shirts now:)

10/20/07: from Cortina D'Ampezzo, IT Writing this missive with a cup of hot chocolate while the north winds blow and the temperature drops below freezing...a very cold first for us in many years! We are in the Dolomites or the Italian Alps near the Austrian border at 1200 meters (and 46Nlatitude) near an upscale Italian ski resort, before the snow but after the summer fun. Not many of us here. On the map it looked like a shorter route from our last venue, Venice to Munchen (Munich) Germany. Very scenic, but...

What can we say about Venice except that we loved it even more than Rome and Florence.......this city, which has never known the automobile, was just so beautiful and alive that it's hard to find words to describe it. So many of the buildings have an arabesque influence with vaulted windows, latticework, etc from years as a Byzantine vassal state and as an active trading republic with the Levant and China. (remember Marco Polo?) Of course, the incredible network of canals and watching how the transport of goods and people and the daily business of a city was conducted without the use of busses, trucks or cars was really interesting. We toured the Doge's Palace (the titular head of the Venetian Republic) which, while it didn't rival Versailles, was really beautiful in its' own right. There was also an exhibit of ancient Islamic art there, and seeing the intricate metalwork, gold jewelry, hand illuminated Korans, paintings and rugs, some of which was thousands of years old, up until almost modern times made you realize how young our country really is. This trip has really makes you rethink ideas of what constitutes an 'antique', that's for sure.

We stayed in a campground across the lagoon from the city of Venice, at Punta Sabbioni on the Adriatic Sea. They have a great deal for tourists where you can buy a pass for the ferryboats for periods of 24 or 36 hours or more, and can then just ride all the ferryboats you want, as well as the canal water buses. And did we get our money's worth! We rode the ferry to the neighboring islands of Burano noted for Venetian lace and Murano noted for Venetian glassware and beads. We rode the canal boat through the Grand Canal which runs the length of the main city area of Venice. We watched folks being ferried around in gondolas, but at about $140 a pop realized that we could enjoy watching them every bit as much as riding in one ourselves, looking as silly as the people in them did to us. We spent the difference eating seafood in little sidewalk cafes along a canal watching the world go by.
You just don't realize how much noise and pollution cars and busses cause in a city until you find yourself in somewhere like Venice, where it's quiet, even with the bustle of people and commerce going on about you. It's also clear that global warming and sea level changes have made quite an impact on the folks here, too. All around is evidence of an incredible construction effort to build up a seawall for the lagoon in which the 118 islands which constitute the "city" of Venice occupy. There will also be a raisable seawall like in the Netherlands which can be deployed to protect the city from tidal surges during storms, which have become more of a problem in recent years. Venetian citizens are being asked to reduce their energy use by 30% to do their part as well. A very interesting project operating in the background of region that makes its living from nearly 20 million visitors a year!

At any rate, it was hard to drag ourselves away, but the clock is ticking, the road is long heading northward and we have a plane to catch in a few weeks. It was much more scenic coming this way north, through the Italian Alps, than it was coming through the Alps southward through Switzerland because not so much of the road is in tunnels (although there are still plenty). Although there are a lot of hairpin turns and steep drops, at least you can see some spectacular scenery. In Switzerland, it was almost all tunnels, with the road just emerging from one tunnel for a few hundred meters only to plunge into yet another. This was much more scenic, and more hair raising, too!

Some observations from our travels thus far: every country we have been in, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy has had much more serious recycling programs than we usually find in the states. In the campgrounds, so much is separated for recycling (including all your organic waste, banana peels, veggie trimmings, etc, for compost), that hardly anything is left to be landfilled. There is much less excess packaging on things such as foodstuffs and household supplies in the stores as well, and you just don't seem to produce even a fraction of the trash that we do in the U.S. We first noticed this in the fact that the trashcans are really small, and then we realized that you recycle so much, there just isn't much left. Here in Italy, you can even take your glass wine bottles to a faucet in the grocery store and fill them with your choice of wines for everyday use, using the same containers over and over. In many stores you are charged for a grocery bag(s) to carry home you purchases if you don't bring one of your own. It makes SO much sense.

The food is really high quality with much less prepared and junk foods than we're used to, even in highway quickie-type markets. Europe allows no genetically modified foods, no growth hormones in dairy business, much of the agriculture is organic, and the small farmer and livestock raiser appears king rather than huge agribusiness corporations. Yet food does not seem to be a bit more expensive than at home, and often is even cheaper. Eating out in restaurants is expensive, but buying food in the market and stores and cooking your own is inexpensive, yet quality is amazing. People tend to buy food more often, in smaller amounts and the food must be fresh. The consumer probably won't stand for red rock tomatoes and tasteless peaches, and what is offered reflects that. It's just a pleasure to go into a market, a real feast for the eyes and as well for the palate. We've also noticed how present agriculture is in village and city life here. We were surprised to see crops growing within 10 kms of downtown Rome! All the cities and villages are abutted by fields of cereal crops or vegetables, and in dairy areas, cows are in pastures.

Another thing is litter. While we have seen quite a bit of litter in Italy, especially in the big cities, compared to the rest of Europe, even in Italy, the litter and graffiti is much less than we've observed in the States. In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, we seen none at all. Also, the almost complete absence of billboards on the highways makes a pleasant relief from the constant bombardment of advertising we get at home. There are signs, yes, and advertising, but it is much less obtrusive than here, and the highways are mostly blessedly free of signage other than the road signs.

It's hard not to form the opinion that, I hate to say it, but it just seems more civilized somehow. It's an older, more "mature" region in many ways. People seem to have more of a great sense of community responsibility and of taking responsibility personally for maintaining a clean and wholesome space, and yet a very open and tolerant attitude to differences. There is a huge diversity, with lots of new people from North and West Africa, the former Eastern European nations, India, etc. coming into the European Union; unfortunately, too, there is a growing nationalist backlash in some areas, just take a look at the outcome of todays vote in Switzerland.
And, of course, there are public transporation systems everywhere, even in Italy, which is a relatively poorer country compared with much of the rest of Western Europe. Practically anywhere, you can stand on the street corner and within a very few minutes, a bus, tram or train will appear to take you wherever you want to go. In Italy, the trains may be older but the system is still worlds better than most anywhere in the U.S. with the possible exception of New York, etc. (Although France has been having it's problems the last day or so with a transportation workers strike....SO glad that wasn't going on when we were in Paris).
That's it for this update. Let us know what you think and any suggestions of places or spaces always appreciated.
Happy trails from the tom and nancy roadshow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Firenze, Italy (Florence)

Greetings from along the Adriatic across the lagoon from Venice. Just arrived and settling in before we cross into the island city by passenger ferry in the morning. A big high point these last few days, hanging out with Galileo and Michelangelo, in Florence. We arrived here late this afternoon from Florence or Firenze as it's really named in Italy.

What can you say about the three days we spent in Florence other than that it was wonderful. We stayed at Camping Michelangelo up on a hill overlooking the city of Florence and the River beautiful. A campground among the olive trees just a short bus ride down the hill into downtown Florence. That is the neat thing about campgrounds here in Europe. They are right in or extremely close to all the cities, unlike in the U.S. where they would be miles and miles away. A bus or tram usually comes right by the entrance of the campground every fifteen minutes or so, ready to whisk you wherever you want to go in the city....SO civilized. Sometimes you can even walk from the campground right into whatever city you're located in. The campground in Paris was right along the Seine, for example, right in the city.

At any rate, was awed into silence by seeing both Galileo's house, and by paying homage at his tomb in Florence. To actually realize and feel the fact that these were real people, who lived, worked and walked around in these places, such as Galileo just humbles me, somehow. Tom went to the Museum of Science one morning and was able to see two of the telescopes actually used by Galileo, as well as his finger, carefully preserved (the one he used to polish the lenses of his telescopes, and which was cut from his body when he died, and saved). (Nancy's had to miss a few things such as that due to just pooping out, exhausted, while Tom still had some energy, so she didn't get to see that). His tomb is in the Basilica of Santa Croce (Holy Cross) in Florence, which is kind of funny in the extreme, him being entombed in a church, when at the time of his death, he was considered a heretic, excommunicated and not even allowed to be buried in any "holy" place. However,the story is that the Franciscan monks hid his body for a number of years,in defiance of the Pope and the Church in Rome, it is believed they kept it in the sacristy of this Franciscan church, Santa Croce, and some many decades later, built the tomb in the church where his remains now lie. Of course, it took the Church in Rome another five hundred years to admit that he was right and they were wrong. The earth really DID revolve around the sun!

He shares his place of burial with some other personages of note, and we paid homage to them as well, Michelangelo, Dante, Rossini and Machiavelli, among others. Just so amazing to realize that you're standing right next to the bones of these people.

We went to see Michelangelo's statue of David.......absolutely incredible.......the genius that could take a block of marble so huge (5 meters long) and end up with that work where David virtually lives and breathes was amazing. I sat there nearly a half hour just looking at him. How marble can convey such fluid grace, vulnerability and beauty and bring David literally alive before your eyes. So beautiful........Michelangelo did this work when he was young, also, which makes it even more amazing.

We have discovered Italian gelato, (ice cream), which has to be the most delectable ice cream in the world, sold everywhere, and which has spoiled us forever in the ice cream department. The ingredients were universally much the same: cream, milk, sugar, and whatever flavoring. Yesterday Nancy had coconut and I had pine nut and amaretto. These delicacies are not large servings, but are incredibly satisfying and oh so tasty.

Lots of tourists in Florence, just like in Rome, and we anticipate that Venice will be the same. Every tourist presently touring in the world must be in one of these few cities. They certainly weren't in any other of the cities we visited. Even in Paris, we were able to walk right into the Louvre, no lines, no waiting, but in Rome and Florence, tourists were running out of the woodwork. To get into the museum where Michelangelo's David was took an hour or more of waiting in line just to get in. Although taking photos was not allowed, and there were stentorian women guards louding proclaiming, NO PHOTOS, Tom managed to snap a couple and he was not alone as most people were sneaking photos themselves. They want you to buy the photos they have for sale, because it isn't that photos are going to damage a marble statue.

We of course visited several other churches and a cathedral of note, toured the town's tourist and historical sites, enjoyed (Tom) a stop into a hardware store and food market and enjoyed a capuccino (decaf, of course) and pizza at several of the many trattorias and ristorantes.

We are heading north after this, through the Alps and up into Germany. Not looking forward to the colder weather we'll find up there. This time in Italy in the warmth and sunshine has been wonderful. In three weeks or so, we'll be back in the desert southwest. For Nancy somehow, finding herself right next to Galileo was a real high spot and there's still more to go. Perhaps we'll get to meet Otzi in Bolzano, IT...remember he's the 5000 year old "iceman" found in the Alps a few years ago.........but all in all we have to say that we're looking forward to getting back to bore all of you with countless photos.....Happy trails and much love, tom and nancy

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ciao Roma!

(l: Nancy at Trevi fountain, r: Nancy looking longingly through a store window at a "real bed"...remember the van bed and the torture bar!)

It's a beautiful Saturday morning here in Rome, and we are taking the morning off for daily life, washing hair, doing laundry, etc. After two hard days of sightseeing in Rome, we deserve it! Then, this afternoon, we'll take the computer with us on the train into town and try to find a place to send this. They have computers at the campground, but our computer won't connect with their wireless system, somehow. We've tried everything, even emails to HP from their computer, and stopping into a computer store yesterday to ask for advice. The computer says we are connected, it accepts the password, but the darned thing just won't work on the system. Very frustrating, because otherwise, we could just sit here in the rig and surf like in Freiburg, Germany.

We finally tore ourselves away from the Mediterranean in Levanto, and made our way across part of Tuscany, toward Rome, last Wednesday. It was our intent to stop and visit the walled city of Volterra and then to stay a night in Siena before getting to Rome, but the gods had other plans for us. When we got to Volterra, where you have to park outside the city walls, we could NOT find a single parking place, although we drove round and round and through every parking lot. Not tourists, but the cars of the local people who work in Volterra and drive in from outside the city, so there wasn't any movement in the parking lots. Every car in there was in there for the we finally gave up and headed toward Siena through the beautiful Tuscany countryside, stopping on the side of the road for a picnic at a spot overlooking small villages and vineyards, a beautiful day. However, when we got to Siena, the campground, which was listed in the book as being open until October 31 was closed up, padlocked and empty.

By now, the weather had changed, and it was starting to rain, that had been the only campground in Siena, so nothing to do but we slogged on toward Rome. It rained and it poured, the traffic got heavier and heavier and we found ourselves in rush hour traffic, excuse me, rush hour traffic JAM on the autoroute leading to the ring road, in the pouring down rain, then trying to find the campground from the directions in the book, despite the exit being closed due to construction, etc.etc.etc. It was a good thing that our comfort zones have been greatly expanded on this trip, because we needed everything we had to pilot our little craft into the calm waters of the Camping Tiber campground, here in Rome that night.

But, all's well that ends well, because the campground is beautiful, just outside central Rome off the ring road, right along the Tiber River, which I am gazing at through the windshield as I type this, with a free campground bus that runs every half hour to the train station, then a short fifteen minute train ride into the heart of Rome, which we have been exploring practically nonstop for two days now.

For all of this trip, we have wondered where all the tourists were. All through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, there haven't been that many tourists, (except at the Mediterranean), and only a tiny handful of Americans or British. Almost all the tourists we saw were Germans, French, Dutch, Italian, etc. we know where all the Americans were. They were here in Rome! Rome is chock full of tour groups, each with a leader holding up an umbrella or a sign like a mama duck with ducklings, and many of them American, as well as practically every other nationality you could name. Can't even imagine how sightseeing in Rome might be during the height of the season in the summer, as even now, at the very tail end of the season, they are everywhere. Up until now, it has been very rare to hear English spoken on the street, or in trains and buses, etc. No more........they (us) are everywhere!!!!!

We did another of those city wide double decker bus tours like we did in Paris. It's neat because you can get on the bus and ride up on the top, out in the open, all around, listening to an audio tour of the various stuff you are passing, and at various stops, if you want to get off and explore, you can, and then just hop on another of the doubledecker buses of the company, which come by regularly, and go on to the next place.

We've been to the Piazza del Popolo, walked over more cobblestone streets than I can count, and have been overwhelmed with ancient architecture. It is so humbling, just as it has been in seeing some of the great cathedrals, to see the magnificant buildings created by people with no modern tools and equipment. We visited the Pantheon and marveled at the intricate marblework and soaring ceiling, created at about the time of Christ. Walking in buildings that you know such people as Caesar walked is just amazing. They are so beautiful. It's hard to think what we are creating in our modern world that will wear so well and last so long as thousands of years to be admired by those who come after. It was also interesting to note the passing of culture as in the Pantheon where it was originally populated by statues of Roman gods, with Jove at the central "altar" where the Christian altar now stands and all the saints and the Blessed Virgin in the other niches.

Just going by the Coliseum and the Forum, you had to pinch yourself that you were really here. Just thinking of the history that this city has seen and lived through, seeing paintings by Rafael and Michaelangelo and beautiful sculptures.....what a city.

Rome is just Rome, I guess. In comparison to the other cities we have traveled in through Europe, it's dirty, with lots of litter, lots of graffiti, and the first homeless people we've seen, complete with 'hobo jungles' along the train right of way and under bridges. But also, alive in a way different from the others as well.
Drivers here are a different breed with a devil may care attitude, yet with great skill. Collisions are avoided moment by moment by graceful maneuvers. Crosswalks become a duel between pedestrians and motorists. The pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way, but it becomes a game of chicken, with the most macho winning out. It's fun to see the hordes of tourists, clustering like frightened chickens at the edges of the crosswalks as the cars speed by, then to see an Italian nonchalantly launch himself into the crosswalk, as into facing certain death, only to have all the cars come obediently to a stop, however unwillingly, and in the case of mopeds and motorcycles, while gunning their motors menacingly. We've learned to pull off the Italian way, although with an eye out as well.

Yesterday, we were in a crosswalk, and a car came on through anyway, upon which an Italian promptly kicked the guy's fender violently, the car stopped, the driver got out, gesticulations abounded, we scampered on across the street and left them to it. Such fun.......You can spend absolutely HOURS just peoplewatching here. And we have spent a few hours at sidewalk cafes, watching the world go by, when footsore and weary, we just couldn't look at one more beautiful building or one more painting or sculpture.

And of course, the food is SO good. Pizza fifty different ways, spaghetti as many, gelato (ice cream) to die for. The only hope we have for not gaining weight on this trip is the tremendous physical exertion we are expending, walking five or six miles a day on hard pavements and cobblestones, up and down untold flights of steps,etc. Hopefully, they are balancing each other out.

We spent much of one day at the Vatican, touring the museum and seeing the Sistine Chapel, with Michaelangelo's famous frescos on the ceiling. We were overwelmed with the beauty.

We visited the Trevi Fountain, made famous in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, with Anita Ekberg's famous scene of bathing in it. I had visions of tossing in my coin....a la "Three Coins in the Fountain", but alas, it was so awash with tourists that you couldn't get near enough to the fountain to toss in a coin. In pictures, you always see it photographed at night, lighted, and of course, no people. Tom says they must have photographed it at 3 a.m. and even then they probably had to shoo tourists away to click the shutter.

Well, that's about all the news. Rome is our most southerly point, and from here, we start the long trek back to Amsterdam in November. We plan to go from here to Florence, then on to Venice, and into Austria and Germany. Having a wonderful time, of course. That goes without saying.

Happy Trails from tom and nancy

Monday, October 8, 2007

Levanto and the Cinque Terre, Italy

All is fine here. Drove Friday the 3rd from the Swiss border to just north of the Cinque Terre, at Levanto, Italy, right on the Mediterranean. About 300 kilometers/180 miles. Too tired when we got here to sightsee. Road down here was pretty hairy. Lots of tunnels, but old toll roads, like some of the old California freeways before they knew more about how much distance was needed for access ramps, etc., and awfully curvy....tunnels after tunnels again today, some several miles long, but none like the Swiss one that was 17 kilometers long. Our hats are off to the engineers who managed to build these roads and tunnels through Switzerland, and here on the west coast of Italy. Absolutely amazing work, as the roads either cling to the sides of steep, steep mountains, or burrow right through them.
All in all a very tiring day, challenging road, lots of traffic, and a more aggressive type of driver....I'm glad our comfort zone has greatly enlarged. We had trouble at first navigating in Amsterdam, and now Amsterdam looks like a quiet easy to travel in place next to what we are dealing with now. And of course, Rome is yet to come, the ultimate drive:( We do have lots of experience with Mexican drivers in Mexico, who see medians as excellent shortcuts through and past traffic, and drive like they all have frustrated race car driver instincts, and these Italian ones seem little different. The moped riders swoop through traffic at great speeds. We watched one out on the toll road at about sixty miles per hour, threading his way through a jam of big trucks.....just amazing. Tom was incredibly glad to finally find and arrive at the campground safe and sound, however. He still has his edge, and can drive like an Italian (sort of, but a VW Campervan is no match for a moped or a fast Fiat sedan) when necessary, but it does take a lot out of him these days.
We are now in Levanto, east of Genoa along the Mediterranean in an area called the Cinque Terre (ching-kway ter-ri). There are five villages that cling to the cliffs over the Mediterranean, and a train links them, and the "auto strade" road above them. They are also linked by traditional and now much upgraded foot trails. Saturday we took the train to the southermost one, Riomaggiore and walked about 1.5 km west to Manarola, which is a flat and easy trail. We spent the day sightseeing, walking around observing and enjoying local life and enjoying stops on benches and at sidewalk cafes. The train pops out of a tunnel right at the station, then plunges back into the mountain until the next village. The whole area is terraced with hand laid stone terraces where the houses, the vineyards, gardens and olive groves cling to the mountain sides from the sea upward several thousand feet. The entire area is designated a national park and protected.
This area and much of the province Liguria was a source of early 19th and 20th century emmigration from Italy to the US when blights, fungus and insect attacks destroyed much of the vineyard culture. Today so much is as it always has been, and life goes on in the villages; anchovy fishing was also a traditional staple for several of the villages here in the Cinque Terre and today fishing for the tourists is a good complement.
Everywhere you look is another postcard view. Sunday was spent in much the same manner picking up in another village and walking on to the next and taking the train back to Levanto. Only Sunday, we had lots of company! Not only had some other tourists arrived, but the traditional Sunday "go for a ride" traffic from Genoa and other metro areas brought hundreds of additional walkers and diners. Here in Italy, Sunday meals with family are a real tradition and an all day affair. It was wonderful with lots of music, chatter and laughter in all the seaside village restaurants.
Monday we spent relaxing, catching up on some laundry and taking a nice afternoon swim in the Mediterranean. The water was a bit "refreshing" at probably 75F, and very salty. All around us the only language we heard was German, as they were the only other folks in the water. Many Italians were sunbathing on the beach, but only a few entered the water.
Earlier on the weekend Tom scored an International Herald Tribune and Nancy a Newsweek International Edition, so at breaktime we had a nice pot of tea and a cappucino and a dish of gelato accompanied the reading of the paper in a sidewalk cafes as we made the walks. It also helped a bit with the beginning twinges of those homesick feelings. We both find ourselves thinking of our little home with quite a nice feeling, and the comfortable bed and recliner. Our old 1981 VW Van had a comfortable bed, but this one was designed by torturers! We both wakeup with the creaks and groans from sleeping around the bar and gap in this 45 inch wide bed. Next time we check the bed first before agreeing to long term rental. But mileage wise, this VW van does pretty well with a 4 cylinder turbo diesel that averages about 30 mpg. And at average $6.30/gallon of diesel, that's very important.
That's it for now. Tomorrow we head off for Pisa and Siena before making the final approach to Rome.
Happy trails from Levanto... tom and nancy

Photo 1: View of old Levanto near campground, 13th century church and tower in view; photo 2: Laundry day in campground by our little house of wheels; tom and nancy with Manarola, Liguria, IT, in background.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lugano, Switzerland

Last time we wrote we had arrived in Freiburg, Germany. We stayed there several days, and took a day trip up into the Black Forest through some beautiful little villages. Forest, vineyards, apple orchards, and a wonderful outdoor living museum of Black Forest life for the past 400 years, the Swarzwalder Freilichtmuseum in Gutach. They took a traditional farm and then moved other authentic buildings from elsewhere in the Black Forest, and created a village and several farmsteads of authentic buildings with furnishings, etc. Kind of like our Williamsburg, Virginia, but of life from a period before Williamsburg to almost the present. Several of the houses had been lived in as late as the 1970s, complete with furnishings, etc. It was really interesting, and we spent the whole afternoon there. We also enjoyed a very beautiful, winding and twisting drive through the Black Forest, too. Reminded us much of NE PA, except the hilltops were higher and the valleys deeper, but just as forested and with fields and those special breeds of cows that have one set of legs longer than the other to walk on the hillsides:)
Rather than stay in Germany, we decided to start south toward Rome, to avoid a frantic last minute return to Amsterdam. This way we will begin returning north after Rome next week through Austria and Germany and hopefully enjoy some time in Munich and along the road of castles and the Rhine waterway.
So, we headed from Freiburg down into Switzerland, and drove through Switzerland to where we are now, Lugano, still in Switzerland, but right at the Italian border. Other than the fact that you are physically in Switzerland, and the official money is Swiss Francs, in actuality, you are in Italy and all signs are in Italian, the people speak Italian, etc. Switzerland wasn't willing to adopt the Euro due to requirements that they change their banking laws to confirm to the European Union banking regulations which would disadvantage their secretive bank accounts, so they still use the Swiss franc, although it is kind of like border Mexico in that prices are quoted in Swiss Francs, but every business and waiter has a little calculator and the latest exchange figures, so they all take Euros in payment. That was nice, so that we didn't have to change money into Swiss francs when we wouldn't be here long.
And when I say we drove 'through' Switzerland, we mean that this country of mountains, lakes and TUNNELS. All day we drove in and out of tunnels, which when you look at the mountain in front of you, snow capped and almost straight up, you are very grateful for the Swiss engineers which did such a good job of tunneling under them instead. Don't even want to think of the hairpin turns and dizzying heights you must have had to negotiate the roads before the tunnels. The longest one was 17 kilometers/10.5 miles long! And there were literally dozens of them, although most only a few hundred meters long other than about half a dozen that were several kilometers to ten kilometers long. Plus snow sheds after snow sheds, which they call 'gallerias', which are effectively tunnels along the sides of the mountains, with tops, but with one open side to the downward side, protecting the road from avalanches and being closed by snow in the winters. When you look at the size of the woodpiles everywhere, you KNOW what kind of winter is coming in this part of the world.
While driving through Switzerland, we noticed a funny noise in our right back wheel. It kept getting louder, so today, we located a VW dealer and had it looked at and the disc brake was bad and some other stuff. After a call to the van rental people to get authorization to repair (we had to pay, a little over $500 for the repairs, but they will reimburse us when we get back to Amsterdam), all is fine now, and the little van is ready to go.
Talk about falling into a mud puddle and coming up with roses, however........the garage gave us a new VW Jetta to drive for the day while the van was being fixed and sent us off to sightsee in Lugano, free of charge. We got into Lugano and promptly got lost in a maze of one way streets, mad moped drivers, and Italian drivers that live by leaning on their horns at the first second of a light change if you don't move out smartly enough. We went round and round trying to find the center of town, and a place to park. Traffic was incredible and no parking places could be found. We ended up going down this one way street, and lo and behold, the gods led us to a dead end, at a PARKING GARAGE......we found a place up on the sixth level, figured out how to work the machine that we would pay to get our ticket validated to get out, found out that even the machine would take Euros......we were set! AND the parking garage turned out to be right at the center of town, just where we wanted to be. We walked along the lakeside (Lugano is on Lake Lugano, one of the seveeral in the Italian "Lake District" and all over the downtown, had our first authentic Italian pizza, and a wonderful time. Oh, and ice cream (gelato) and apple tart.... Then we went back to pick up the van in the late afternoon, getting lost several more times in the process of getting back to the garage, in rush hour yet, not to be believed......can't wait for Rome, as Lugano reminded us of Mexico City, with drivers who have a very loose idea of the traffic regulations, and moped drivers hellbent on destruction as they weave in and out of traffic.......but we made it back just fine, and our little home on wheels is feeling much better and his brakes no longer make that ominous noise when applied. All is well.
Some vignettes from Camping La Piodella, here in Lugano..... something funny happened to Nancy this morning. You know, the campgrounds are almost totally Europeans, no Americans and few Brits or Australians, so you get used to nobody speaking in English, and much of the time you have to muddle through with broken phrases and charades to communicate. France was the worst, but still, people speaking English are few and far between. Anyway, this morning she was on my way into the bathroom when she encountered a handsome young man about twenty-five years old walking into the women's bathroom. She must have looked at him with a question on my face, or he was unsure of whether or not he was in the right place, because the following 'conversation' took place.....
Nancy: questioning look
Him: Here?
Nancy: No.
Him: Where?
Nancy: Otro lado (somehow you know that a foreign language is expected, and your brain only knows Spanish, so Spanish comes out.
Him: questioning look....blank look....obviously didn't understand Spanish
Nancy: large sweeping motion....charades.....showing that the men's room was on the other side of the building.
Him: o.k., thanks
We go on our separate ways....she go in the bathroom and then it hits her..... HE WAS SPEAKING IN ENGLISH!!!! She laughed so hard, anyone else in the bathroom must have thought she was nuts. It is just so unusual to have anyone speak English to you that your brain just didn't register it and went into its' usual pattern of using a few words and charades to communicate. It was so funny.
There are a lot of kids in this campground. It's right on the lake, and apparently this week is traditionally the autumn vacation period for German families, so the campground is crowded with German families, and lots and lots of little kids. Watching them has been so much fun. The van is kind of like a duck blind in that you can sit in it relatively unobserved and watch them. This morning, Tom was sitting drinking his tea and watching this little girl, about five years old, who was riding a little scooter up and down the road outside (kids are definitely allowed to do stuff that U.S. parents would shudder at, riding bikes at age five, unsupervised, climbing to the top of the jungle gym when they're about two or three....just like kids did in the old days before 'parent paranoia' took over in the U.S., and we've only seen one kid with a broken arm, and only one overweight kid so far in Europe, and she was only a little bit pudgy, so they must be doing something right) any rate, she had her mouth open, and was chewing gum and her chewing gum fell out. She stopped, very gravely looked around to make sure nobody was watching, leaned down and picked it up off the road, licked it carefully and then popped it back into her mouth! It was so funny. It was tempting to let her know that she was observed, but it seemed heartless, so we didn't....just had fun thinking about it.
As you can see, we find enjoyment in some strange We do note that these last few days, we've had a few lingering thoughts about our little home on wheels back in the States....our comfortable Queen sized bed (this one is 45 inches wide and has a 'torture' bar that you have to position your hips above or below in order to sleep), and our comfortable recliner chairs.......a tiny touch of homesickness for home comforts.....but it passes in a few minutes and we go on to further adventures. That's when we think of the cafes and afternoon tea and coffee stops, the many magical sites and of course, the food
We head from here down the western coast of Italy to the villages of the Cinque Terre, perched on the hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean, then on to Rome, magical Rome.
Happy trails from tom and nancy

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Rhine Valley and Freiburg DE

It seems like a long way from Versailles and my rant on American attitudes towards the French, especially as we find ourselves in the southwest corner of Germany on the edge of the Schwarzwald, Black Forest and near the Rhine. We spent a wonderful few days of cold and rain driving southeast through the red wine district of Burgundy where we stayed a couple of days in Beaune, FR very near Dijon (and the mustards). There we enjoyed a small museum of Wine. BTW, they've been growing grapes and producing wines here since the 5th century and the Romans! Then we drove east northeast through Jara Province and on into the Haut Rhin district into the white wine areas of the Rhine Valley. There we stayed a few days in the medieval town of Colmar and on Sunday toured the old town and many miles if vineyards and small villages around the city in glorious sunshine. Again, if you haven't noticed, we are travelers who without any other hobbies or vices do enjoy our touristing with a few museums, old country places and downtown plazas, outdoor cafes and good, locally grown foods. That we've found in all of our European journey to date.
Now we are here in Freiburg, Baden Wurzemburg state and the eco-capital of Germany, or so one person noted it. We crossed the border and almost instantly began seeing signs of a solar world different than we'd seen to date. Solar electric modules on some rooftops, solar hotwater panels on many others and even sign for "biodiesel", the first we've seen in all Europe. All this in space of about 40km! Today Tom spent day running around the city looking for some of the many solar rooftops and projects, and getting royally lost several times. Again, a stop at a cafe, a coffee or glass of wine and review of maps and phrasebooks, and off again. You'd almost think that he gets lost on purpose! He did find several of the many noted in the city's own guide to solar projects and sites around town. They take a top down approach from the local government dating back years to a loud, local rejection of a proposed nuclear power station in the area. The local farmers, vitners and students at the University wanted to explore an alternative. Today nearly 15% of local power is generated by renewable means. A lot of emphasis, too, has been placed on energy efficiency, retro construction on many of the older structures and passive solar designs for new construction. Tom's pedometer at the end of the day logged over 13000 steps, or over 6 miles walking.
Nancy enjoyed the day with Tom out of house, with our second WiFi campground connection and a good book. We're both beginning to feel some travel fatigue, some more than others. As well, Nancy's back has begun to be a problem and cause concern. This may have us reconsidering the many long drives ahead of us if we want to make it to Rome, and then back again to Amsterdam. (FLASH: We were unable to post this last night due to wifi connection/bandwith load here at campground, but at 5am, we're up and running WiFi very fast AND we've had a course correction: Auf Wierdesehn Deutchland, ciao Roma!) Now back to the Black Forest, tomorrow southbound to Switzerland and on to Rome.
Happy trails from tom and nancy
(BTW, the photo is of us in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles...finally figured out how to add the photos:)
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Paris on to Versailles

Sitting in the clubhouse of a busy campground on a cold and rainy night here in Versailles France, but they have WiFi here, our first campground with it!
Paris was wonderful. We saw and did more than we thought any two people could do in two days....of course, starting early in the morning and going nonstop until late evening helped! Why 2 days? Looking at calendar AND how long it's taken us to just get to Paris...we've got a lot of travel ahead and the weather is getting colder and damper. We've had to keep saying...this is our first visit, an overview visit to Europe, and hopefully not the last.
We spent the better part of a day at the Louvre. Yep, we saw the Mona Lisa, up close and personal, as well as some incredible Vermeers, Rubens, and thousands of other wonderful paintings, sculptures and the most amazing collection of Islamic art from about 4,000 B.C. onwards. (Nancy finally folded at the Louvre, and let Tom wheel her around in a wheelchair as the back, legs and feet just couldn't stand the strain). And the size of the Louvre is so immense, with literally miles of corridors, that it was just impossible to do it otherwise. It made a great difference, as she was actually able to enjoy the exhibits without being in such pain that she could hardly enjoy them. But it felt like she was really giving in, which was very hard on her.
But other than that, we walked our legs off, and took one of those open double decker bus tours that have four different routes all over the city. You can get on and off at any stop you like to explore something, then just catch the next bus and go on. We saw the Place de Concorde (site of where Marie Antoinette and many others were made a foot shorter, from the top), the Champs d'Elysees, the Arc de Triompe, (please excuse if some is spelled wrong, I don't have the guidebook with correct spellings with me), the Left Bank, site of the Bastille, innumerable little shops and markets, wonderful street scenes and people watching, and some of the most memorable food we've ever eaten.
It was not only the most memorable food we've ever eaten. It was the most expensive to date. Poor Tom.......the first night in Paris, we had the only dinner in our lifetime that topped $ quite a little bit. But every mouthful wonderful. I had creme caramel for dessert that literally brought tears to my eyes, it was so good.
And the second day, an escalloped salmon with pureed fall vegetables, and chocolate mousse, layers of white chocolate mousse and brown chocolate mousse with whipped cream and little shavings of chocolate on top, and the best bread in the world.......thank God we're walking miles every day or I know we would come back even heavier than when we left. We're trying at least to hold our own......
We rode the Paris Metro all over the city. What a great system. You'd never need to have a car at all. You can go anywhere, at any hour of the day or night in this city that never sleeps.
We stayed at a campground right inside Paris, along the Seine. You just hopped on the bus right at the entrance of the campground, rode a few miles to the Metro, and then were whisked into central Paris in a jiffy, no muss, no fuss. McDonalds and free WiFi (or WeeFee in French) was just a quick mile walk across the bridge.
Of course, you could spend a year in Paris and never see everything you wanted to see, but we gave it our best shot in the couple days we had, and had a wonderful time. It's sad to say goodbye to the city. BTW, we found the Parisians to be courteous, friendly and very helpful. Somehow, I expect one sees what one expects to see whenever traveling, contrary to all the negative stereotypes. In fact, with regard the French, it just might be that the American dislike for the French may be nothing more than that we see ourselves, a nationalistic, proud, at times arrogant, and self-centerd people reflected too much in the French. Something like what happens when you find yourself particularly put off by someone; often when you look a bit deeper, you see elements of yourself reflected. Just a thought.
Today we came to Versailles, and toured the Chateau and the many acres of formal gardens. Really beautiful, but when you looked at all that wretched excess, you didn't wonder one bit why the ordinary people rebelled and made the Revolution. The excesses and complete detachment of the aristocracy from daily peasant life evidenced in the luxury here were enough to turn anyone (?) into a revolutionary. I wonder what kind of mansions our heirs will tour in a hundred years or so? Funny, too, I asked many of the guides if they knew of any museums about the history of the Revolution, what brought it on, about the Paris Commune and great social upheavals of the 19th century, and no one could point out any. BTW, we were NOT alone today, with tour buses and school groups and thousands on a normal off season midweek day. Somehow, the excesses and actions of the rich and famous hold a perennial fascination for us humans. Paris Hilton, et al?
We're just about touristed out for the moment, so came in early tonight to the campground and are doing laundry, emails, and just heating up soup in the camper for dinner. It's really nice with the little stove and refrigerator, because in between the fabulous restaurant meals, we can have ham and cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup (tonight's offering), and get back to normal.
We were going to the Loire Valley for a day or so, but it turned cold and rainy this evening, and the weather report doesn't look good for the next few days, not to mention that time is slipping by and we have a lot more ground to cover, and Germany and Italy are waiting, so we're just going to skip the Loire Valley this time and head east toward Germany. The weather is supposed to be awful for a couple of days, so we might as well be driving rather than touristing. We've spent quite a bit of time wandering around in the French countryside in Normandy, and Versailles was plenty to fill up my desire to look at big, expensive castles for the moment, one of the big draws of the Loire, so we'll just be moving along, and will save the Loire for the next time through, si Dios quiere.
Everything else is fine here. We were blessed with great weather for our two days in Paris, mostly sunny, with a few scattered light showers, so are fine if the weather is bad for the next few days as we'll be pretty much just traveling. When we started planning this trip, two months seemed like SUCH a long time, but now that we are here, it's easy to see that you could be here six months or a year and that still wouldn't be enough time. Sights, sounds and experiences coming at you with a fire hose, and trying to just sip a few is difficult. Tom would have us sleeping only a few hours per night and ramming all the rest of the time if he could, but I just poop out on him. He's like the Energizer Bunny, but patient with his lady who tires so much faster than he does...but he does sleep VERY quickly and soundly.
That's about all the news in the travelogue....all is well in our little world. The van is cozy and dry despite the cold rain outside, so will turn in early and be ready to move along tomorrow morning. Did complete laundry tonite for first time in trip...15Euro/$19 for 2 loads! Expensive even here, but...The dollar's slide in value has other significant consequences for us EuroTravelers!
Happy trails.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Paris, along the Seine

When we last wrote, we were in Bayeux, France, getting ready to do the D-Day beaches. What a powerful experience. We went to the visitor's center at Omaha Beach, the main American invasion site, and the American cemetery there, nearly 10,000 graves of the young men who died on Omaha Beach during the invasion and in the weeks that followed as they battled the Germans to Paris. So peaceful now. At the visitors center and museum, they had actual film footage of the invasion, and lots of profiles of many who had died there, and videos of remembrances of survivors. It was incredibly moving, as it made so many of those young Marines, soldiers and sailors into individual people for you. We hiked down to the beach (I picked up a small shell to save for you). We ended up spending much of the day there.
Then the next day, we drove the back roads through the countryside where the Allied Forces fought the Germans from 6 June 1944 to 25 July 1944, village to village. 18,000 civilians were killed, and untold thousands of military. Those little villages look today just as they looked then, old stone and brick houses, hundreds and hundreds of years old, and we stopped at several German machine gun emplacements still there, along the roadside, and other spots of interest and historical note. Just as with Omaha Beach, it is so peaceful and beautiful now, it is hard to picture it torn apart by war, although the film clips were there in the museum to prove it.
We came on to Chartres, just outside Paris Friday, the 21st. What a beautiful place. There is a famous cathedral here, one of the major ones in France, built about 1200 a.d., and famous for its' elaborate stained glass windows, which were pretty spectacular. Not only did we get to tour it, but it happened that there was a wedding there today, so we witnessed Cecile and Cedric begin their married life. At first we thought their names were Giselle and Jean, which seems much more romantic, but when the priest pronounced them man and wife, it was clearly Cecile and Cedric, alas. We had dinner at a North African restaurant, lots of those around, as well as Lebanese, and from anywhere the French had a presence in the past as French speaking immigrants from those areas abound. Last night was the last of the Fest de Luminaires, a city-wide light show using the historic cathedral and other buildings of Chartres as backdrop for incredible lights and sound with an historic focus. Also noted the continental style of late evening dinners and promenades,(9-10pm).
We haven't encountered many Americans (US) on this trip at all, well, except for the other morning in a McDonalds in Bayeux while we took advantage of free WiFi and an egg mcmuffin. Not sure if it's the $US dollar problem, if it's France or if it's our travel style. As for " Micky D's" it seems they are the only reliable sites for WiFi. The few cyber cafes we've found are ok, but there is no wireless access, and it's back to "hunt and peck" typing because of a different keyboard configuration. We've also encountered our first "Continental" toilets on this leg of the trip, a hole in the floor, two footprints to place your feet and if you're lucky, a hand bar to hang on to. Good for the lower colon!
Arrived in Paris this afternoon on our first journey without actually getting lost! Straight in and around the "ring" to the campground. Will eat, rest up and venture out to "McDonah" to see if WiFi is alive here, too. They put us in campsites adjoining a lot of Irish Rugby fans and with the championships this week in Paris, we hope to get some good sleep(haha) along with some good stories from the new neighbors.
Happy trails from along the Seine River, tom and nancy

Thursday, September 20, 2007

From Brussels to Bayeux, Normandy

Let's see....when we wrote last, we were just leaving for Belgium. We had a great day with an old friend from college, who is now the Deputy Secretary to NATO for the U.S. He travels a lot, but we were able to connect with him by being in Brussels on Sunday when he was off, so he spent the day showing us around Brussels. He took us out to a wonderful restaurant for lunch, big leather armchairs and very elegant surroundings. Nancy had a rack of lamb, and Tom had some Belgian specialty of chicken, waterzoi de polei(?). It was lucious, let me tell you. Then we went to the main plaza and the cathedral and we walked around all the shops and street performers, and we had the famous Belgian waffles they sell on the street (I got mine dripping with chocolate), then he drove us all over sightseeing.
We left the next day toward France, and spent much of the day getting royally lost. In southern Belgium, there were almost no signs, and although we had a map, none of the roads seemed to bear any resemblance to what the map showed, so we spent much of the day going round and round the roundabouts, and playing charades with the locals trying to figure out where we were since no one spoke English. the process, it started raining, and we were hungry, so we stopped in this little bistro and had a most memorable meal (won't have many of them as the bill was $60, but almost worth it. Mostly we are buying food in the market and cooking ourselves). Tom had a filet with a berenaise sauce with melted gorgonzola cheese and I had a skewer of huge shrimp and vegetables. The shrimp were the biggest I had ever seen, and were whole, with their heads on, and their little eyes on stalks, looking at me. Since no one in the restaurant spoke English and we couldn't understand the menu, we were reduced to looking at what people around us were eating. They were helpful in pointing out on the menu what was on their plate, so all turned out well. French fries here are so wonderful, they bear little resemblance to those at home, and these were super as well. Tom had French fries (pommes frite), and I had little tiny new potatoes, with garlic sauce, to die for.
When we crossed the border into France, road signs appeared, and also looked like what the map showed, which was a big relief. We spent the night in a camping municipal in a tiny village (that's what they call campgrounds in France, and every town and village seems to have one), and were on our way early the next morning to Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and where there is a famous cathedral, built in, I think 1066.
We drove on back roads to Rouen, through these incredible little villages, with old brick and stone houses, some nearly a thousand years old. Such beautiful country, and virtually everywhere you look it's a photo opportunity. It nearly drove Tom crazy. But the roads were narrow with no shoulders so there are few photos from this part of the journey. It's the harvest season and the farmers were harvesting potatoes, and was so picturesque, it was like a movie set.
We went to the spot where Joan of Arc met her end, and toured the cathedral which was already nearly 400 years old when she was killed in 1431. The cathedral, which was built before 1100 a.d. was incredible. The younger brother of Richard the Lion Hearted is buried there among others, and to look at the soaring stonework hundreds of feet high, and intricately carved, and realize that all that was done when they had no power equipment, no cranes, etc., just seems an impossible job, but it is beautiful in the extreme.
Today, we went on to Bayeux (all this is in northwest France, in Normandy). The big draw here is the Bayeux tapestry, detailing the invasion of England by William the Conqueror of Normandy. It was embroidered shortly after 1066, and is 70 meters long, telling the story of the invasion of England by the Normans in 1066 and the triumph of William. Just so amazing that it is nearly a thousand years old, yet the natural dyes of the woolen thread that makes up the embroidery is still bright and beautiful. It was really neat. Kind of the world's first comic strip, so to speak, although on linen with beautifully embroidered woolen thread rather than ink and paper, but was intended to tell the story of William's triumph to an illiterate population.
Tomorrow we are going out to tour the beaches of the D-Day invasion, Utah and Omaha beaches, and the museums about them. On the way down through northern France on our way to Rouen, we passed through the Somme battlefields of WW I, and several pleasant, quiet cemeteries of the war dead from that war. You could still see the trenches along the roadside where the battle of the Somme was fought, and every mile or so there was another little cemetery where the dead were buried. We stopped at the British one and took some pictures. Even today, the French maintain those little cemeteries lovingly, and they are beautiful and peaceful and full of flowers.
We just wasn't prepared for just how beautiful the French countryside is, and everytime I think things can't get more beautiful, or the food can't taste any better, we're surprised to find that it can.
All is well. We are getting settled into our little living quarters and have a good system going now. Nancy's back is holding up well, but not the same for the knees and hips; arthritis and injury show their stuff from time to time. It is humid, and damp, most days are at least partly cloudy and we have had some showers which might be contributing. She's not willing to admit anything about age.
We have to say that the food is amazing. In the countryside, the cows are standing in lucious green grass, there are green fields with free range chickens, and it is no wonder that the eggs, butter, cheese and meat is so much better than in the U.S. Not much agribusiness food here, just little shops and bakeries and wonderful, wonderful food. The fruits and vegetables are incredible as well. Lots and lots of organic food, although even the regular stuff seems to be grown more or less organically. If you haven't noticed by now, we do enjoy eating. Seems like every time we get lost, it's time to stop, eat and think it over!
Although France is certainly expensive, more than the Netherlands, the municipal campgrounds are very reasonable, and as long as you stay out of restaurants, the food in the markets is quite reasonable. Today we brought home a baguette, and a roasted chicken and stuff for salad, and although it was much better tasting than what we would have gotten at home, price was comparable. Eating out in restaurants is ruinous, but really worth it occasionally because the food is so incredibly good. (Although that $60 lunch almost had Nancy having to give Tom artificial respiration for a minute there......I'm glad he didn't have to see what the bill added up to at the place where his friend Bob took us in Brussels).
Happy trails the solarnomads...tom and nancy

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Enkhuizen, NL

We finally managed to break free of Amsterdam. What an incredible city! We stayed five days, doing museums and canal trips, the Red Light district, cafes and lots of other stuff. We spent a whole afternoon at the Anne Frank house. We both read The Diary of Anne Frank when young, and it was both powerful and sad to walk in the tiny rooms where the four in her family plus four others hid from the Nazis until they were betrayed and sent to concentration camps where they all died except her father. To stand in her little room and see the pictures she had cut out and pasted on the walls from movie magazines, and to see pages of her actual diary, was just incredible. And so sad that she died in Bergen-Belsen just one month before the camp was liberated.
Took a little detour before heading to Brussels to come up here about twenty miles north of Amsterdam, to Enkhuizer, on the ZuiderZee (now the IJsselmeer). There is an outdoor museum, much like Williamsburg or somewhere similar in the states, of a genuine Dutch fishing village, authentic and just as if the occupants had walked away yesterday from their life fishing for herring. Like at Williamsburg, they had people dressed in period costume, mending nets, cooking food, hanging out clothes, etc., just as the villagers did then. People lived in those little houses until the thirties, just as they had lived since about 1600. I had a whole smoked was SO good. Also a museum of fishing boats which was really interesting as well.
We're leaving for Brussels Saturday morning, the 15th, to connect up with an old college friend. Then we head out toward Paree...or whatever and greater France, the Loire Valley and more.
We're looking at the map, realizing that we have covered only a spot on the map as big as the end of my little finger in a whole week, so recognize that we are going to have to move on at a more brisk pace. There is just so much to see. Tom has been enjoying seeing the wind turbines everywhere, and both of us have been enjoying the wonderful butter, eggs and cheese. After driving out of Amsterdam and seeing the cows, sheep and other animals knee deep in wonderful green grass, no wonder the stuff tastes so good.
We'd love to come back to the Netherlands to stay for a period of time, although not in the middle of the winter, as it's cool and damp now and it's only midSeptember! It looks like home comforts, insulation and energy efficiency in modern Dutch homes and apartments has come a long way from those little houses we saw today in the ZuiderZee Museum village; it sure must have been cold here when when the winter storms came in off the ocean.....brrrrr.....
Well, no more news. We are fine. Enjoying ourselves immensely, and getting used to living in a VW van again. It took a few days, but now we have developed systems for doing stuff and not bumping into each other every minute. The bed in this van is sure not as comfortable as the one in our old one though....but after a day of sightseeing, we could probably bed down on the floor and not notice it.
Happy trails

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Still Amsterdam

Hard to know where to begin, but we did survive our first fast drives through traffic, construction zones and that completely "where are we now?!" feeling. Found the campground but dodging electric trams, cars from roundabouts and anywhere's else and bicycles everywhere was a real challenge, especially on little sleep. Better now, though.

We've enjoyed great food, sites along the old city canals and cobbled and bricked streets. Haven't found it easy to access WiFi as we hoped, so the pictures and more detailed descriptions will have to wait. We've managed visits to a few museums, the infamous "red light" district, along with it's many coffeehouses.

Looking to leave in a few days heading north to a "living history" village where we'll look into the more traditional Dutch life from several hundred years ago.

More later...happy trails from Zeeburg Campground, Amsterdam, NL
tom and nancy

Thursday, September 6, 2007



It’s 36 hours and counting since leaving Phoenix and we’re still going, but not so strong now. Arrived here with the sunrise, after a long and wonderfully none-eventful flight. But we were none to bright for the all nighter & no sleep. Clouds and light rain here, and so much green we observed fields and greenhouses on the approach in from the north. Little issue with immigration and customs folks, collected luggage and stepped aboard the metro train for the15 minute ride to the central rail station downtown. How civilized.

First had to get over the shock that everyone here looked like everyone else we know or see daily in the US except they were talking Netherlander or Dutch. Then we noticed that there were bicycles EVERYWHERE and established lanes separate from car and pedestrians, although there appeared a lot of “overlap” in the small crowded downtown. Bicycles were parked all over and the bikes were, well, just ordinary 1 speed or maybe 3 speed utilitarian bikes. Not fancy and not always well maintained but they were being used! Saw lots of cars with the bikes and vans, but no SUV’s.

Debated the wisdom of a short nap, but decided better to push on to complete exhaustion, then early to bed and hopefully an all night in dreamland, thankful to have crossed the ocean safely and looking forward to tomorrow and picking up our new “home” for the next 2 months.

Can barely see straight so good night

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's about time...

Almost ready now. Bags packed, food stowed and friends updated on our motorhome systems etc. as we're leaving house and pickup with friends in Scottsdale, AZ. Arranged to put cell phone on suspension and same with the internet service. This must mean we're really going to leave. We're both wired ( and I'm a little wine-ed) for a wakeup call of 4:30am for a 9am MST flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia. It's only 101F outside and the A/C is going full tilt on 30amp service. We're about to pull plug on the refrigerator and the bread, snacks, cheese etc. are packed. What else? Sleep, if we're lucky. (That's why the wine, $2Buck Chuck Shiraz) Early to bed because it's a long day to Amsterdam. Arrival 08:05 GMT Thursday, 6 September. Pleasant dreams and good night. tom and nancy

Friday, August 31, 2007

Counting down the hours

Time is moving quickly and we're still packing, unpacking, repacking and it looks like a lot of stuff for only 2 months, and we could probably buy it there but why pay a 40%premium if we (Tom) can carry it as luggage! Trying to get computer setup and all the wires and gadgets ready and not forget whatever that one critical charger, wire or adapter needed to make all these electronics function that are integrated into our "simple"l ifestyle.

Received word yesterday that there is a firm mortgage committment for the family property in PA and that final closing is scheduled for 6 September. What a relief after so much effort and worry. Really excited that a young couple with kid(s) will be making the house a new home. In fact, Sarah is expecting a child due on closing day the 6th. Needless to say they are excited and anxious to get settled ASAP.

Nancy had her last shot in the knees on Wednesday. SHe's feeling well and as ready as can be. We're both anxious in general, but the long flight over will definitely be a concern for her back and knees and mine, too. Enjoyed a visit with friends on Wednesday night along with 112F temps in the Phoenix area. They've set another record with over 30 days consecutive with temps above 100F!

That's it for now...hope to get another update before we leave Tuesday. We're now cleaning out the pantry, cleaning up the house and preparing to leave it for 2 months. Never done this before...Happy trails and keep in touch, tom and nancy

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Two weeks to take off...

Just returned from NE Pennsylvania and a whirlwind visit to prepare our jointly-owned family homestead for sale. It was just 2 weeks from announcement that the house and 4+acres had a buyer and I was able to return. And yet, in just that time the subprime housing market collapse ripples had spread fast with now uncertain effects on the "sure-thing" sale we initially had. The house needed a good cleanup anyway, and enjoyed time with my cousin Bob and brief visits with old friends. It's a little shaky now but we're making ready again for Europe anyway. Nancy made good use of the time and started "practice packing" the suitcases. She also spent time sewing and modifying bed linens and other items for the trip. That's it for now...happy trails from back in Prescott.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A small detour on the way to Europe

Slowly our European travel plans are coming together and an itinerary is taking form. In the meantime, Tom is heading to NE Pennsylvania for a brief and difficult task of cleaning out the family homestead for sale. It's only a few weeks to departure time...are we ready, yet? We're enjoying the monsoon season in Prescott, AZ, although it's taking some getting used to the clouds and occasional rains...better we get used to it before Europe, though. Happy trails!