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