Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Coming Soon: More Dorado Travels

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Frankfurt Airport

*****Last Post from Camping Trip! Go ahead scroll back and start at the beginning! It'll be fun!*****


It's a big world out there and given time and luck we hope to see a good chunk of it. Part of the joys of travel for us is the planning.  Researching the history, reading about the customs, figuring out what to see, where to stay, what to eat.  Then every day is like getting a new toy...is it really what you wanted, dreamed about and and expected?  There is a satisfaction in forming opinions based on actual experience. There are always surprises.  Some good, some sad, but all interesting and isn't that all you can hope for?  May you live in interesting times. 

Our "vacation" portion of our time away is over.  What remains is the "transportation".  We tried to hold on to the remaining bits by taking the Romantic Road to Frankfurt from Rothenburg.  It's tiny roads with scenic towns.  What we soon realize is that unless you are stopping to explore, shop or eat in these towns, one is like any other.  After about an hour we abandon our drive and head for the autobahn.  When it's moving, the autobahn is a thrill.  Someday we'll have to rent a car worthy of Top Gear and enjoy the sport of driving. Today we have our Ford Wagon, petal to the metal, cruising at 90 MPH.   We approach the Frankfurt airport, looking for the Sheraton Airport Hotel. We can see it, but we can't get to it. After 20 minutes we finally locate the right parking lot.  It's a beautiful spacious hotel. The service is top notch.  We had reserved a double, but they were out so we were upgraded to JR suite. No complaints there. Even though we were right at the airport, we could hear no planes flying overhead. 

Alex is old enough now that we can leave him in a hotel room by himself, however there is still a little trepidation.  I always think Madeleine McCann's family thought it was safe as well. We had to return the rental car and Alex just wanted to hang out and enjoy the speedy wifi.  The rental car return was right next to the hotel, a very short walk we are told. We find it easily and pull into the directed spot....CRAP, we forgot to get gas.  It will cost us 100euros to walk away, so reluctantly we ask for the location of the nearest gas station and pull away. We'll as we have learned in this airport, we can't find anything,  We try to follow the directions and find we are back on the autobahn heading east. This isn't going to work. We also realize we haven't brought our GPS.  No safety net here.   We cleaned out the car, no maps either.  We are going to have to do this on our wits. Ended up on the back side of the airport at a security gate. You never want to be at "checkpoint" in a foreign country. It turned out ok as he was helpful with directions as well.  Eventually we found the gas, found the rental car return and walked back to the hotel.   


Oh and what greeted us, a smell we couldn't identify.  Remember that candy we got in Frankfurt, well it smelled like feet.  It had to go.  We ended up leaving it outside the door, like discarded room service.  It took hours for the smell to leave our luggage. 


Our choices for dinner were fairly limited, so we ended up at the hotel restaurant for what? more breaded and fried meat. We tried to hang on to those few moments of vacation, but eventually sleep takes over.  The next AM we packed things up and headed on home.  We called for the bell hop and to our joy he offered to take all our luggage to the airline check in counter! Yes, this was a hotel attached to the airport, but it wasn't a close haul.  What was most impressive was to see this very tiny man hold up the overladen luggage trolley on the down escalator. We gave him a healthy tip and a round of applause. 


There were a few tense moments while we waited to see if Frederick's upgrade from business to first class would come through (I know, first world problems), but soon we were all settled in our lay flat beds for the ride home. Safe and back in the USA.









Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rothenburg - Last Gasp of Vacation

Friday morning, we got up nice and early so we could have the RV returned by 8AM.

We had one last bottle of wine to give away.  We gave it to our neighbor's next door. In turn they gave us a bag of gummi candy. How nice, we put it in the suitcase to bring back home.  (Yeah, that's kind of a mundane detail for the 2nd paragraph, but it will make more sense when I write the next installment.)

All that is left is to fill up the camper water tanks and we'll be ready to go!

What happens next is another "European Vacation Movie" scene.   As we turn out of the campground on to the main street; it's different than it was yesterday.  Cars are parked all along one side of the street.  With 2 lanes of opposing traffic and a solid row of parked cars, there is just no room for the RV to fit.  We have turned on to and committed to this street and there is no way to turn back.  We couldn't see how narrow it was until we made the turn. I look ahead and cars keep coming towards us.  It's about 1/4 mile till we can turn off this street. I'm sure there were some Germans in their cars that morning dropping more Fbombs than Tony in Scarface.

When you are in impossible situations, it's amazing the guts you find. Frederick stayed put (having no where to go), I hopped out of the RV, walked down the street to the next intersection and stood in the middle of the road, stopping traffic, just like the cops do in front of my son's school. Really, I just stood there and prevented people from heading down the road.  Frederick then made his way in the RV up the path I'd cleared.  I ran and caught up with the camper and we were on our way.  Oh another scene we've caused! It's funny now!  On we go to return the camper.

I can tell you that this did not go smoothly.  I'm still hoping for a positive resolution to my the whole debacle, so I'm going to refrain from detailing how that went.  Suffice to say, they don't have much time before I use my tiny pulpit here to rationally explain the shenanigans.  Something is rotten in the city of Offenbach!

With the RV returned, and Lola and Lolo safely off in a cab to the airport for the next leg of their vacation, Frederick, Alex and I were now looking forward to experiencing Europe in our downsized mode. We had our "little" station wagon, still packed tightly with our bags for 3 weeks, but we were free to maneuver any street without concern.

About 2 hours southwest of Frankfurt, down the "Romantic Road" is a walled medieval city named Rothenburg.  The Romantic Road, isn't necessarily "romantic" in the Virginia is for Lovers way, it's the path the Romans used to spread their world view north.  Along the road are many picturesque towns and villages. Some time in the early 20th century the German's decided a bit of marketing would bring travelers to their corner of the world. So they hyped up how "romantic" it was, printed some maps and lured the tourists. It worked.

On the trek down to Rothenburg, we decided to check out the Autobahn with our new found freedom.  As we headed west, we were cruising along quite nicely.  We were doing about 90 and cars were zipping past us.  It's truly a treat for any driver. As fast as we were zipping along is as fast as we came to a halt.  No where else but Germany did we experience the madness of the "come to a dead stop" traffic jam.  What's the point of being able to drive 90MPH, if at some point you have to drive 2 MPH for 2 miles? The average really gets you. We were stuck in a traffic jam that delayed us for almost 2 hours.  It took everything we had to be in zen and vacationlike.

My Navigation Tools
The traffic jam behind us, we sped south to Rothenburg.  We had booked a hotel inside the city walls, right near the main square. The approach to Rothenburg from the autobahn was fairly standard, a mix of local houses, local shops and hotels.  Then we approached the actual walled city center.  Here the GPS and the directions diverged.  I couldn't find the landmarks that the directions said would lead us to the right gate. We ended up circling the city, looking for some way to get in.  We finally found a gate that looked like it might be big enough for our car to get through.  We are  now in the maze of cobblestone streets that is Rothenburg.  We thanked God we weren't trying to do this in the RV.  The GPS led us within 100 yards of our hotel, but it was down a pedestrian only street.  Thwarted, I tossed the GPS and worked our way round using the city map.  Ah the good ole days of navigation and the sheer joy of the moment when you say, "There it is, I found it!".  Columbus has nothing on me.

We pulled up in front of the Romantik Hotel Markusturm.  It's the number one hotel in Rothenburg on Trip Advisor for a reason. Instantly, someone was there to help lug all of our bags into the lobby and whisk our car away to private parking.  What a joy, as parking is truly at premium inside this walled city.  Of course, now we had to endure the obvious stares that come when you unload 4 hockey bags and 4 other bags and backpacks into the relatively small lobby.  Yes, we are just staying for the night, we explain, but we've been here for 3 weeks.  Yes, we are hording Texas Americans that can't travel without our "stuff".  It makes us happy, doesn't hurt anyone else, so leave us be!

The Berger family has been running this hotel for years and let me tell you they couldn't have been nicer. They helped us get our bags up to our third floor room.  Once we opened the door to our room we were gobsmacked. It was huge and beautiful! It had a balcony, a large sitting area, 2 huge wardrobes and a bathroom that blew away the Four Seasons and the Ritz back home.  All this for $200 a night. For the location, size of the room, large even in US scale and the service, it's quite a steal.

After spending the last 3 weeks in our "tiny" camper, we danced around the hotel room with abandon.  It was the most beautiful sight we had seen in weeks.  Of course there is no air conditioning, as it's hardly needed in this part of the world and of course was needed today.  The Berger's had already planned for that and had a stand fan in the room, circulating when we arrived. It was actually quite pleasant. We unpacked and reveled in our space for about an hour. Then it was time to take to the streets and experience the quaintness of this beautiful city.

If you ever go to Rothenburg, I can't recommend this hotel highly enough. 

http://www.markusturm.de/?cid=43&language=en


Our Beautiful Room
Frederick on the Balcony

What a historical and beautiful city. Everything you'd want in a weekend get away. Founded in 1170 Rothenburg grew over 400 years to a town of 600, a free imperial city. It was wealthy due to textiles and it's location at the crossroads of east/west and north/south trade routes.


It still stands today because for 400 more years it was a very poor city. Sacked and sieged in the Thirty Years War, it lost all of it's wealth.  Time stood still. Funny, like another city of the middle ages, Brugge, Belgium, it lives today as a  tourist attraction because it was poor for so long. So, 400 years from now, will Detroit be a tourist attraction?  If no money is invested to upgrade and change the landscape, at what point do you be come history?

Dinnertime and more schnitzel for Alex.  The boy has survived on pizza, pasta and schnitzel.  Did I tell you he carries his own ketchup bottle? He'd double the price of dinner if we had to pay for the all the ketchup packets he needs to finish schnitzel and frites. Just one packet of ketchup comes with your meal.  You have to buy the rest.

After dinner, we walked around exploring the town and the shops. It was very hot and very humid. Rain was in the air.

What I did next I'm not proud of, but when you are desperate, you do desperate things. As we walked around, the heat really got to me. My hair was sticking to my face and neck. The heat seemed unbearable. I needed to put my hair up, but I could find no hair band in my pockets or purse. We didn't have time to go back to the hotel to pick one up and the shops that might carry such a thing were now all closed.  Then my son pointed out there was a hair band on the ground.  I looked down and there it was, a bit dirty and wet, but a hair band none the less.  I thought of the man in the flood who curses God for not saving him...and God says I sent you a warning, a boat and helicopter, what more do you want?  In my moment of need, God sent me a hair band.  I picked it up...a nice dark brown fat one.  I dusted it off on my pants, took a deep breath and put it in my hair. Ok, I threw up in my mouth a bit, but damn it I was less hot. A lifesaver.  I kept it and now it's one of my most treasured souvenirs. (after I soaked it in hot soapy water over night)




It began to rain, but this only made our next adventure even more enjoyable.  Tonight we met the man with the 2nd best job in the world.  Our friends Jon and Tracy have the best job in the world. They travel the world on cruise ships giving historical talks to passengers about the ports they will be visiting next. If you want to know more about their fabulous life, read their blog here. Gee, I wonder where they got the name for the their blog?

http://wherearejandt.blogspot.com/


The 2nd best job goes to Hans Georg Baumgartner.

The Night Watchman of Rothenburg.

http://www.nightwatchman.de/index.php?&sprache=ENG

Every night 8PM (in English and 9:30 in German), Hans dresses up as the nightwatchman and gives a 1 hour walking tour on the history of Rothenburg. It's interesting and hysterical. The man has "it" whatever it is. This was one of the highlights of our whole tour. For $6 euros ($4 for students) you get your euros worth. There must have been 100 people following him around like the pied piper. Not bad wages for 1 hours work.  6 days a week...7 months a year..hum!

Here's a bit of his story from the webpage.

"In the years before the dawn of the 20th century, the night watchman was one of many citizens of Rothenburg responsible for the safety of the inhabitants of this walled, fortified city. Even though the citizens who slept soundly at night in their beds trusted him to keep the streets inside the high stone walls safe, his status was less than honorable. His pay was low and his job was a dishonorable one. Only the gravedigger and the executioner were lower. His job was dangerous, because he had to guard the city at night like a policeman.


The good citizens went to bed early. The people that he met on the streets were the drunks and the thieves. To protect himself and to show his authority he carried an intimidating weapon called a hellebarde.


The Night Watchman gathers his followers in the Market Square in the heart of historic Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with the Councilor's Tavern in the background.
The night watchman made his rounds from nine in the evening until three in the morning, relying on the town hall clock to tell him when to sing his "Hour Song," which reminded the people who slumbered safe in their houses that he was still alive and taking care of them.

The night watchman's horn, carried on a chain around his neck, warned the citizens of fire--the worst possible disaster that could strike a city in the days before fire hydrants. Keeping watch over the streets of the inner city, lighting the lanterns and announcing the hours in the still of the night were the duties of Rothenburg's night watchman. There were six of these men patrolling the city up to the year 1920. "

If you ever get to Rothenburg, don't miss this tour.  We bought the DVD and have enjoyed the tour again after we were home. We learned that you can thank an American for saving Rothenburg.  In WWII, Nazi generals hid out in Rothenburg.  The US was about to demo the city, when one of the US undersecretaries of war remembered his Mom had a painting of Rothenburg in his house growing up. He asked that they offer the town the chance to surrender.  The German in charge ignored Hitler's orders to fight till the end and surrendered, thus saving the town.  Some of the town was damaged from the initial bombs.  After the war the town basically did a press release asking for money..selling the right to have your name on their city wall.  It worked and the town was rebuilt.  After the tour we headed back to our hotel for another yummy German beer and some Internet time. Alas, the Internet was not working in our room.  Normally hotel operators just shrug this off, like it's an unneeded extra service...sorry.  Not Frau Berger, she was on the phone and had IT staff over to make repairs. It turned out to be weather related and unfixable on a Friday night, but the effort was appreciated.  We could get signal in the lobby, so we sat at a booth, with 3 laptops, 2 beers and a sprite to catch up on the intraweb.

Later back in our room, we kicked back and watched some German TV.  It was the local version of "Househunters".  What made it so special is that the host was a forty something transvestite in a leather mini.  Hysterical!

So nice to be in a bed! Tomorrow morning it's souvenir shopping.  I look forward to waking up and lingering in the gorgeous bathroom.  No tokens for the shower, no pressing buttons, just white marble, silver fixtures and powerful unlimited hot water. I swear I could hear the hallelujah chorus.

We took advantage of the comfort and slept in. Breakfast had past us by.  Due to the late hour, we needed to check out and eat some lunch.  The Berger's were nice enough to bring our car around, load the bags up and then stash the car in their private parking till we were ready to go. When it was time to leave they even gave us a ride in their personal car to the lot and showed us the right way out of the walled city. Perfect hosts.
We headed out and got Alex his tshirt. He gets one from every city.  We multitask...vacation and school clothes shopping at the same time. I got my beer stein.  I'd been wanted to get another one since the 2004 earthquake in Northridge, CA broke mine. I'd had it since the 5th grade. My childhood friend Nancy Hewitt, (where the heck are you Nancy? I've seemingly found just about about every person I knew growing up, but you elude me!) (Update 2012, I found her!) Her Mom was from Germany and she went there over the summer and brought me back a beer stein from Stuttgart, along with some chocolate candy with liquor in them, very progressive for 5th grade. Since that time I always wanted to go the Germany, and now I have my replacement stein. They also had beautiful coo coo clocks, but they are so expensive! In my grandmother's hallway was a coo coo clock.  I would stare at the photos my great grandmothers as young women that hung on the wall and wait for the coo coo clock to chime. I always wanted that clock, but alas, it went missing in their move from Connecticut to Florida. Someday, I hope it turns up and makes it's way to me.

We had lunch at this great fresh pasta restaurant and drove back on the Romantic Road to Frankfurt.  We have one last night at the Frankfurt Hotel Sheraton. That went quite smooth, until we got to the airport, it was quite the feat to locate the hotel.

Next up...our final night in Germany.

Here's some photos of the city.

See the gate you have to get your car through!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Lost Day - Frankfurt

Morning in Bacarach still finds us overrun by the gnat! We all manage to sleep in and before we know it, it's close to 11AM.  It's Thursday morning and the camper is due back on Friday by noon. Our plan for today was to get to the Frankfurt campground, clean the camper and just take it from there.

Frederick checked the next campground and learned that reception was closed between 2 and 4PM.  If we stayed here in Bacarach and waited for everyone to take showers we'd get to the Frankfurt camp around 2:30.  That would really bite, as we weren't the most mobile group and there wasn't much to do in this part of town.  We decided for forgo our showers and get on the road straight away. We could shower when we got to Frankfurt.

It was a beautiful ride down the Rhine as we eased our way back into modern society. Yes I made the drive in my PJs, ponytail and bare face.  We crossed the river and headed to Frankfurt. Once off the freeway we dodged our way through the city streets to the campsite. It was your typical city campsite. It sort reminded  me of a abandoned drive in movie theater.  We found a spot near the showers and set up shop.

Today we had the task of cleaning the camper after 3 weeks of 5 people mulling about. It wasn't a total disaster, but we had read posts about what a stickler they were about it being spotless when you returned it. We had planned accordingly and bought cleaning supplies along the way. Slovakia makes great microfiber cloths (I brought them home ...quite the useful souvenir.)  We wiped, cleaned and swept.  Frederick and his Dad took the subway into town to pick up the rental car Frederick and I would use on the weekend. We spend the day trying to give away the food we couldn't finish.  The wine, cheese and condiments went well as did the dishwashing soap and the laundry soap.  We bought the Slovakian version of Febreeze, which came in handy as we freshened up lightly worn garments.  But..good luck giving it away in Germany!!! No one would take it...we couldn't even get our camper neighbors to understand what it was. Hum! And trust  me some of them could have used it.

We also learned more about the famous 50%+ recycling rates in Germany.  (The US is around 11%).  When it came time to empty the trash there was a wall with about 8 different holes to put your garbage. It was like a giant shape sorter for adults.  There were 3 different bins for glass alone, depending on the color. There was a whole sheet of instructions that is given to you when you check in, just telling you how to dispose of your trash and listing the fines if you fail.

Frederick and his Dad came back with the rental car...a Ford wagon, a model we hadn't seen before.  It was evident that we weren't all going to fit in the car with all our bags. We'd need another solution. We also were in need of some glue.  The latch on one of the cubbies had come unscrewed and the hole was now stripped.  We didn't want to get charged for the damage...even thought we could see that it had been repaired before.  Not taking any chances.  So this requires a trip to the store.  And guess what? We can just hop in the car and go...... wooo hooo!

By this time it was getting late and we were up against the notorious 7PM store closing time.  We stopped at the first store we saw...an Aldi.  They just put a bunch of these discount groceries in the DFW area, but I hadn't been to one.  I'm not sure I will now. It's really bare. We searched the whole store looking for a little white bottle of "Elmers" style glue. In a bin, adorned in a language we don't understand is a giant bottle of what looks like glue.  It's white with an orange twist up top.  It has to glue, except it's giant. We couldn't stop laughing.  We spent 3 weeks lamenting how small everything was in European stores. Heck, we have 7-11's with larger sizes and more variety.  Now here, the one thing tiny thing we need and it's Costco size. Hilarious! Check it out next to normal size glue!



It was only 3 Euros so we bought it.  In fact I had to bring it home.  We'll have enough glue for school projects for the remainder of Alex's High School years and perhaps for his future children as well.

We had a supper of all the leftovers we could manage and turned in for the night. Tomorrow the camping adventure ends!  I must say for the first time ever, I have been on vacation long enough and I'm ready to go home.  Imagine that?  One last night to go in the medieval walled city of Rothenburg and then home sweet home!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remagen and the Rhine River

The Bridge at Remagen



This is back anchor of the bridge behind the tower.


This bridge was built during WWI to be a lifeline for German troops fighting on the Western Front. Originally it was rail bridge with a path for pedestrians.  In WWII, it was planked over to allow for vehicles to traverse across the Rhine.

In March of 1945 the Germans were retreating. The US army was heading toward Berlin.  The Rhine river serves as a practical western border with Belgium and other countries to the east. As the Americans advanced, all the bridges on the Rhine were blown up by the Germans.  Imagine the Americans surprise when they made it to Remagen and found the bridge still standing! Not for lack of trying, the Germans had been trying for days to blow it up...it wouldn't go.  So for 10 days we crossed the Rhine into Germany. Hitler was so furious that he executed 4 officers for their lack of success. On th 10th day the bridge finally gave way, killing 28 US soldiers in the fall.  We crossed over quite a few units in those 10 days. The collapse didn't deter us as the army engineers built a pontoon floating bridge and we kept on coming.

The Western Towers, the remains
of the bridge at Remagen
Today all that stands are the 2 towers that anchored the bridges on land. Inside the western tower is the Remagen Peace Museum. Outside the tower is a seemingly endless bike path that runs down the Rhine.  It's a very wide river, clear and peaceful. Not a hint of the history made 65 years ago.  Inside is a very interesting little museum.  History written by the losers, not something you often get to see. There were the typical war left overs we'd seen in other museums, guns, helmets, canteens, even an unexploded 3000lb bomb found nearby. What was interesting was the lamenting of civilians who lost their lives in the bombing of the town. The placard indicated that 65 citizens were killed as well as some "forced laborers from the east" (their quotations). Holy Euphemism Batman.  I just spent time in Mauthausen and Terezin; you are not going to be able to sell me on "forced laborers from the east".  

Forced Labors from the East?
At the top of the tower was a room dedicated to the US POW camp that was set up in Remagen.  Every placard lamented the "horrible" conditions for the German soldiers.

"Camp was miserable, they lacked all necessities" They also lacked gas chambers.
They had little food and didn't have adequate shelter.  There was nothing to do all day.  They showed pictures of lean soldiers with their shirts off, I guess expecting pity for their treatment.  They looked a hell of a lot better than the walking skeletons and piles of corpses I saw in the concentration camp photos.  I didn't see any gas chambers or mass murder in this camp.  Please understand that Germany today is a far different country than the country that committed those atrocities. However if they were up before a parole board looking for someone had accepted responsibility for their crimes, they do themselves a huge disservice seeking pity for resort like conditions when compared to how the German's treated those millions of civilians it chose to imprison and murder. I walked out of the museum extremely angry.

Alex picked up few crumbling pieces of the the bridge towers to add to his collection artifacts. Fittingly this will go between the sands from Omaha beach and the wood from the USS Constitution.

All that was left for the day was to make the short 1 hour drive down the Rhine to our camp in Bacharach. We could take the long way around, head down the freeway, past the hills above the Rhine and come back up the ground level road that runs along the Rhine. Nope. Not Frederick...he was feeling quite confident in his driving skills.  Lets shave an hour off the drive and take the "grey" (color of the smaller road on the map and GPS, we like yellow and blue) road straight into Bacharach.   How can I describe this road? It 15 miles of narrowness...really just wide enough for 1 car.  There were 3 small towns we had to negotiate through, but the best was saved for last.

This is a picture someone else took of
one of the easier switchbacks



















Words cannot paint the picture of the vertical switchbacks that we traversed to get down to the river. I wish I took pictures or video of the drop down, but frankly I was too busying trying not to soil myself. I've found these pictures online hoping you can get a feel for the many hairpin turns we took in this motorhome, with no place to go but off the cliff. Again my husband was on top of it and got us down safely.  When we finally parked, he began to discuss the brakes he was smelling on the way down. Too close for comfort.


See the River in the back.  We came down these hills in the camper


Our campground was right here on the river.


Our Campground
Our campground was literally on a beach on the banks of the river. You can see a boat there on the Rhine.

We picked this town as it was one of the stops for the many Rhine day cruises that head up and down the river. The dock was just a 1/2 mile down the beach.  It was around 3PM and we learned we could catch the boat down river, but it was the last one, so we didn't have a way to get back. I thought, didn't I just see a train go by?  Can we take that back?  Frederick went up to reception and they gave us all the info we needed to take the river cruise up to Koblenz and then take the train back to the campsite. The campsite was just across the street from the train station.

We have a plan.  We walk down to the dock along the river. It's a beautiful scene.  One you can see in any travel show on Germany.  Except for 1 thing. The gnat. GNATS. EVERYWHERE. You couldn't open your mouth diving inside.  There was a visible haze in the air.  I couldn't wait for the boat to arrive! Alex grabbed some more frites while we waited.




Our river cruise ship, Goethe


The famous Loreley, a rock formation that caused
many shipwrecks before motored ship travel. This is the narrowest part of the river
and there are swift currents.It's a difficult turn in you are sailing. 
Once on board, life got much better. Originally we bypassed the main dining room, seeking a good viewing platform on the top of the boat. It turned out to hot and uncomfortable inside and there was no room to stand.  I decided to go check out the dining room downstairs at the bow of the boat, just inside the "king of the world" spot.

As I entered the room to ask for a menu, I spied him. A Filipino waiter, perhaps?  If so, it would be the hookup.  Gotta go for it.   I grabbed the family and lured them downstairs with the promise of a menu with a wider variety. As Frederick's parents entered the dining room, I crossed my fingers.  Yup, soon they were conversing in Taglog with the waiter. JACKPOT! True service was ours! He directed us to a table at the front of the room with a 180 degree view of the river from the bow. It was air conditioned, they brought me beer (very interesting Beck's Lime) and served me food. We watched the castles along the river as we made the 3 hour trip on the K-D Line Paddlewheel river cruiser. We saw all the castles we'd seen on Rick Steves and in "Above the Rhine".This bit of luxury at the end of our Spartan 3 weeks was so welcome.




The only "castle" in the middle of the Rhine,
basically a medieval toll booth.  "Lords" would stretch chains across the river and demand
payment to complete your journey down the river.


Toward the end of the cruise, it started to rain.  We asked about how long the walk was to the train station in Koblenz from the ship dock.  Turns out it is about a 20+ minute walk.  Normally we wouldn't blink, but we'd been walking everywhere, it was late and raining.  No worries, our waiter called ahead and had a cab waiting for us when we got off the boat. Service! It's a good thing as it was pouring rain and as we drove through the streets of Koblenz we marveled at how long a walk it really would have been and not exactly a straight shot.  We would have never made the train in time. Interestingly enough, this German train did not leave on time!  It was about 10 minutes late.  Shocking! So much for stereotypes! A half hour train ride later and a quick walk across the street and we were back at our campsite. Decent wifi and some nice dunkel beer and were were in for night of catching up on the blog and the cyberworld.

But Hagen had another plan for us.

I was returning from my typical visit to check out the shower scene.  Ahead Frederick is chatting with someone I don't recognize.  As I approach I hear him asking Frederick if we have brought our camper from America.  He had noticed our TX sticker on the rear of the camper.  We explained that we rented the camper, but thought it might be nice touch of home.

We had met our character of the trip.  Hagen was about mid forties, typical blond German.  He was a former Harley rider who traded in his bikes for a family and a camper. He began to proclaim us to be "rich Americans" because we brought our laptops and rented this giant camper. He quized us on where we had been and began to offer suggestions of where we should go next. He mentioned we should go to a town across the river, Rudesheim, that had the narrowest street, where you could touch both sides at once. All of this to be topped with more drinking during their wine festival.

He sat down at our table with his beer and asked us about what bands we liked. Alex came out of the camper to work on his German skills. Hagen said Alex was doing well for just one year of instruction. He approved of Alex's music choices, such as Metallica and indroduced Alex to a few new bands that he should listen to.  He was impressed that Alex had Rammstein on his MP3 player.  He then sat upon giving Alex some career advice, he said he'd be set for life if he could get a job with Swatch and told us in his drunken way about the benefits of working for this watch maker.

It was very interesting cultural exchange. Yes, we may have more stuff, but if you judge life solely by how happy you are, Hagen is having a pretty great life.

We are coming near the very end of our grand adventure. Tomorrow we travel to Frankfurt, to camp for 1 last night. We have to clean the camper from tip to toe.



A church on the Rhine

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Van Gogh, Russian Tanks and the Lost Boy. More Netherlands: Otterlo and Eindhoven

Kroller Muller Museum

As I said before our last trip to Amsterdam was done mainly for me to go to the Van Gogh Museum. We also paid homage to one of our other favorite historical figures, John Adams and stopped by the home he occupied when when he was the Ambassador from the US to Holland. This was in 05, long before people started to take notice of Adam's singular contributions to the founding of our country. Mozart, Van Gogh and Adams would be my dream dinner.

The beauty of Mozart's work is that I can experience it today, just about anywhere. The same with John Adams, as he left behind countless letters and documents which allow me first hand access to his thoughts. These touchstones are not limited by space, I can have the same experience regardless of where I am. It's only my Taurus earth sign nature that requires me to be near places they lived and died.

Art is different. I can access high resolution images of all of Vincent's paintings and I have large book of his complete works. They are poor substitutes. Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of a Van Gogh painting seen with your own eyes. Even a hundred years later, the magic of his genius leaps off the canvas when you are inches from the exact spot where he choose to deposit that specific drop of paint. It's a physical experience. I'm not one for bucket lists, but I do have a goal of seeing every Van Gogh in person, in my lifetime. Now that may not be possible as some are missing and some are in the hands of private collectors. Elizabeth Taylor has one hanging in her living room and I'm thinking she's not going to have me over anytime soon. Maybe, if I'm near the end of my quest and I figure out how to publicize my request.

Whenever I travel, I check the city and see if there is a Van Gogh that I haven't seen. The Dallas Museum of Art and the Kimball in Fort Worth have been very accommodating as they have had several Van Gogh solo or Impressionist centric exhibitions. Vincent comes to see me!

There are 3 main concentrations of Van Gogh's....Musee D'orsay in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I've been to both. The next largest concentration is at the Kroller Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. It's a museum in the middle of a national park about 45 minutes east of Amsterdam. Without your own transportation, its a tricky one to visit. I was so close, I couldn't let this opportunity go by.

Helene Kroller Muller was the daughter of a German industrialist. An extremely wealthy woman, she and her husband ran her father's business. She was also a great art scholar and collector. She amassed hundreds of paintings in her lifetime, including over 20 Van Gogh's. She was one of the first to recognize his genius. During the depression of the 1930's, her company came into hard times and it was likely she would lose her collection. She made a deal with the Dutch government in 1935. She would donate her collection and her estate, if the state agreed to open a museum and park on the lands. Kroller Muller was the director of the museum till she died in 1939.

So, now the government has a beautiful national park and a first class art museum pretty much in the middle of nowhere....well as middle of nowhere as you can get in Europe. The Van Gogh's were there and I needed to see them.

Off we went to Otterlo. We paid our admission to the national park, which unfortunately included an additional 28 Euro's for bus parking! At least there was an easy spot to park the camper.

The museum was nicely laid out and not extremely crowded. I had I all the time I cared for to indulge my passion. All I can say, is if you haven't had the chance to see a Van Gogh in person, please find a way. Even if you are not an art lover, I can tell you that it will amaze you.

The museum also had it's share of modern art. You know the giant 8X8 canvas painted completely white, or a room with Christmas lights and sticks laid out on the floor in a permanent installation. It's so entertaining to take my extremely practical son to see modern art. His indignation at the fact that someone could possibly make money from such seemly simple creations is something to behold.








Eindhoven – The Netherlands

Our original plans had us heading down the Mosel river and into Rhine river country. Alex was still on a history high from his visit to Bastogne. He knew he was in the belly of he WWII beast and wanted more. We told him to peruse the WWII sites book and let us know if he found something else and we'd try to fit it in. He found the Wings of Freedom Museum http://www.wingsofliberation.nl/ just north of Eindhoven in Best.
Band of Brothers has made him also partial to the 101st Airborne and this museum was on the site of their drop into Holland in 1944 for the Market Garden offensive. The museum was about an hour south of Otterlo. We picked out a campground nearby and headed that way.

When you first pull into the parking lot, you see what looks like a restaurant and banquet hall. Yup that's what it is...but walk through the restaurant and you find a huge museum. There are 8 buildings (6 are open) that tell the story of WWII from the Dutch perspective. Nice life size dioramas, lots of vehicles and weapons. More eye candy for Alex. The Dutch perspective was one I hadn't much contemplated. This was an occupied country. One day, there is a new Nazi sheriff in town. Your neighbors might decide it's best to bat for the other team. Odd dynamic. Handsome, Kind German soldier wants to court you....West Side Story? He's just a cog in the wheel? Then the Handsome German soldier and his buddies lose the war and your neighbors cut off your hair for sympathizing with the enemy.  Do you continue to go to work everyday? How  much does your life change? So many questions. Ponder this sometime.



I know the knock on Americans are that they are immersed in their own culture and only speak one language. Our experience is so different then those who live in Europe. I can imagine it's hard to grasp the distances.  At the 10,000 ft level America is very similar. You don't live in close proximity to potential enemies or very diverse cultures. Believe me if they spoke a different language in Louisiana, I'd be able to speak it. (wait a minute....maybe that's a bad example). OK, if they spoke a different language in Oklahoma..on never mind! You get the point. I can't imagine a world where Arkansas takes up arms and invades Kansas. In Europe, historically speaking, it happens all the time. Here...just once and that was to keep us together.. not to invade.

We spent about 2 hours at this museum. They had a unique building dedicated to the Russian military. Weapons, uniforms and tanks you don't typically see. A great and unexpected find.  Just the kind of thing you can do when your can make your own schedule. 

By the time we were done with the museum, it was close to 3:30 PM and we were starving, we had forgotten to eat! Wait, didn't we have to walk through a restaurant to get to the museum....yes! Perfect. We sat outside and had a lovely meal. The menu was all in Dutch, but our server was so kind, she went through and described everything on the menu. Later when dinner was brought over, the other server chatted us up for a good 15 minutes. We learned all about the town and about their lives. The guy had worked for an American company and had been to Amarillo, TX. He liked it..OK whew. We had good laugh as they were a bit embarrassed by Amsterdam as well. Such a pleasant experience. Again all the Dutch we met were happy as clams. Dessert in our bellies it was time to check out our new campground. Our server was nice enough to ask us if we needed directions to our campsite. We said we were OK, we had our “SatNav”. It had been fairly good to us so far. Luckily he asked us about this, as he warned us that locally they are told to ignore the GPS, as the freeways are too new and not listed in most GPS'. He sure was right. We made it through with our maps, but the GPS thought we were "baja"ing through the tundra. If we didn't know what to expect, we would have surely been lost and confused when the GPS just lost it's way. Thank you!!!!

This campsite might have been the cream of the crop.

http://www.campingsoerendonk.nl/

 We had a huge space, right near the showers. The campground had an indoor and and outdoor pool. It had awesome WIFI that we could used to our heart's content. It had tennis courts and all manner of recreation. A great restaurant and a snack shack. Frederick, Alex and I headed up to the outdoor pool to cool off. That we did. It was quite cold! Frederick couldn't hang so we decided to head to the indoor pool. It had a slide. A long snakey tube slide like a mini Wet n' Wild. The boys had a great time. (yes that's Frederick and Alex). Frederick's parents came up and Alex talked his Lolo into going down the slide with him..he wasn't so successful with this Lola. It was a really nice relaxing time.

Hours had gone by and we found we were getting hungry again. We decided to finish off the spaghetti.
It just cried out for bread. Frederick and I went up to the reception, intending to hit the little grocery for bread. Alas it was already closed. We wandered into the snack shack, hoping perhaps they had some sandwich rolls or something. To our amazement they freshly baked up 2 baguettes for us...wow yummy  fresh hot bread. Later that night we went back and ordered 3 more loaves. While we were waiting the 6 or 7 minutes for the bread to finish, this little boy comes wandering into the snack stand. He walks up to the adult, shoulder high deli counter and offers up his tiny hand, palm up with few sweaty coins laying on top. The counter lady doesn't see him. We point him out to her. He's a tiny 2 or 3 year old boy. He seems too small to be out on his own. We look around and see his family outside on the patio. The he utters a few words in dutch and the lady smiles and exchanges his coins for different coins. The little boy then runs to the vending machine and smiles widely as he buys his new super ball! A few minutes later he's back for more. Very cute! Little kids are bit more independent and trusting here. We will learn more about this tomorrow morning.

This was the camp of little cute little boys. The next morning, I'm outside getting ready, curlers in my hair, when a little blonde haired boy comes running up to me, walking his bike, speaking to me in Dutch. He's about 5 or 6. OK, no chance he speaks English and he doesn't have enough experience to understand I don't understand him. He opens up his hand and gives me a piece of paper. It has a word on it and a #. Oh, he's lost. My mom instincts finally kick in! I assumed it was his last name and his camp site. This is a big camp site, so kudos to his parents for giving him a way to get home. I was in my robe, curlers and such and not in any condition to go walking around the camp. I didn't think he wanted to wait for me to get dressed, so Lolo (Lolo and Lola are Grandpa and Grandma in the Filipino language Tagalog) to the rescue. Armed with a camp map, the little boy and Lolo went off in search of his camp site. They were gone for quite a while. It turns out it wasn't a last name on the paper, it was a section name for the campground and the #'s repeat in different sections. They went to the closest site 174 to our section and that turned out to be wrong. They had to find the right section first. Lolo said the little boy kept talking to him the whole way and he talked back to him, neither one of them understanding a thing they said to each other. I guess we all expected that Lolo would have the chance to do this good deed and the boy's parents would be so happy someone returned their boy. Well this story ended abruptly. As soon as the boy recognized his campsite, he smiled and took off. Before Lolo knew it, the boy disappeared into his camper. Ah well, just glad we got him home safely. It was pretty early in the morning, his parents might not have even noticed the boy had left their site.

We wished we could have spent another night in this campground. It was really enjoyable, but there wasn't much else to do in Eindhoven. We were off to our next stop the site of the former bridge at Remagen and the Rhine river.

Monday, August 2, 2010

And Now a Word From Our Driver...Guest Post by Frederick

Observations from the Cockpit

Some stats:
• Drove approximately 4000 km (a little less than 2500 miles or roundtrip from Dallas to LA)
• Visited eight countries
• Stayed in thirteen campsites over 18 days.
Here are the specs of our camper (Dethleffs I 7870-2)
• Length - 27.16'
• Width - 7.64'
• Height - 9.61'
• Weight - 11000 pounds
• Six speed manual transmission


Resources:
• Europe by Van and Motorhome by David Shore and Patty Campbell - Invaluable source for planning and knowing what to expect.
• ACSI Camp Site Guide for Europe DVD - Allowed us to lookup campsites while offline; a must have.
• Rick Steves' Germany - Mostly designed for people who are travelling by train but still very detailed information on the cities he covers. It came in especially useful in Rothenburg o.b.t.


Thoughts
• Long distance travel by camper is very comfortable. There's plenty of room to move around when moving. You can sit at the dining table and watch a movie or eat something or even take a nap on the bed. Unfortunately, the *driver* doesn't get to enjoy the same amenities. However, the driver (and copilot) have AC, which is a good thing since the front of the camper is a giant fishbowl of untinted glass.

• When driving, I still think in "miles"; I would convert kilometers to miles then figure out how long it was going to take to get to a waypoint. I really didn't have a good idea of how long it would take to go xxx km without converting to miles, which is pretty silly since the speedometer was in km/hr.

• Driving on the German Autobahn is truly awesome. The roads are so smooth that you don't even feel like you're going that fast. Long stretches had no speed limit at all. When there is traffic, it really stops. There was a lot more construction than I expected. The freeways in other countries weren't nearly as smooth, which encouraged you to keep to the posted 120 km/hr speed limit.

• German drivers, when passing, don't leave a lot of room (often less than 10 feet at 80+ mph) when changing back to the right lane in front of you. It's very unnerving at first but they're very good drivers and they're going much faster than you.

• At the eastern European border crossings, there are signs to slow down to 30 km/hr (about 20 mph), even though there weren't border controls, per se. The reason why is there there are very large, long trenches at the borders where the retractable gates were. If you hit them at much more than 25 mph, it's like hitting a reverse speed bump and is pretty jarring, even in something as massive as the camper. I really slowed down at the next ones.


• The daily care of the camper wasn't really too bad. The worst part was emptying the chemical toilet cartridge. It needed to be emptied every few days. Fortunately, it pops out and seals well and had an extendible handle that let you roll it on the ground like a really stinky, sloshy roll aboard. The dump sites all had hoses to rinse out the empty cartridge. (Not all nearby bathrooms had soap and hot water so I would usually empty the cartridge before my morning shower.)


• When filling the camper with diesel fuel, do NOT attempt to top off the tank. When the pump stops, the fuel tank is full. The diesel will still overflow a little. Fuel ranged from 1.08 to 1.40 euros per liter so you could dump a euro's worth of fuel without trying if you top off. (Full means full!!)


• Filling out forms in Slavic languages is not fun. Better to copy what someone before has written.


• It's good to have someone help when pulling into and out of campsites. There aren't a lot of "pull through" spots in Europe.


• When driving in non-English speaking countries, it really helps to have multiple sets of eyes to look for signs, even when using a GPS. Mickie is an excellent navigator, as long as the GPS thinks we were driving a bus. She did a great job of letting me know well in advance what was coming up.


• Even if you're using a GPS system, it's important for the navigator to do a "reality check" using a hard copy map so you don't get led to some tiny country road, even if it's a shorter driving distance.


• Grocery stores with big parking lots are your friend.


• Grey roads are NOT your friend. Red roads are. GPS not always right.


• When putting up your awning, make sure you deploy it at an angle so it doesn't fill with water.


• Filling the fresh water tank is a two person job when using a short hose and high water pressure.


• If you want any kind of additional services (like Internet access or shower tokens), it's important to arrive before the main reception office closes. The after hours reception basically consists of getting your contact information and getting some kind of deposit from you.


• When driving a camper this big, you feel like a rock star. Or at least, everybody stares at you when you drive through small villages (or in the Mala Strana in Prague). Also, Europeans took a double take when trying to figure out what country TX is.


• It's no wonder Europeans drink so much beer; you can get a .5 liter glass for 1.50 euros; a .33 liter bottle of Coke is 2 euros and a liter bottle of mineral water is 4 euros. I can easily nurse a glass of beer to last thru a meal.


• We never ran into another American in any of the thirteen camp sites we stayed in. We rarely ran into anyone who's primary language was English. The Dutch, however, are nuts about camping.


• There's nothing better than coming back to a camper that's had the AC running all day after spending the day wandering cities with no air conditioning.


• Passing in a five ton camper is very exciting, as are hairpin turns on mountain roads. It's hard to pass in 6th gear.


• Crocs make good shower shoes. They provide a nice, wide, high platform in a flooded shower.

• Four minutes of hot water lasts a lot longer than you'd think.


• You don't appreciate the toilet seat until you find a public toilet without one. YUCK!


• When the campsite lists a time during the day that the showers/bathrooms are closed for cleaning, they're not kidding. At one campsite, I was in the bathroom when I heard a woman screaming something in German in the shower area. Shortly after, I heard high pressure water being blasted and a man apologizing profusely about being in the shower.


• It's hard to give away the European version of Frebreeze. They don't understand what it is.


• Two fans (one large stand up and one small table top) = one mirror cover


• It takes some getting used to not having a functional rearview mirror. Apparently, there's a requirement to have a mirror of some sort even if there's not a rear window. And the backup camera only works when backing up.


• Even when travelling by camper, "sea days" are nice every once in a while.


• It's a luxury (especially for the driver) to stay more than one night at a campsite. Driving 100+ miles every day takes its toll after a couple of weeks.


• One bottle of cheap German Riesiling = 1 bag of very stinky German Candy


• Don't forget the spin cycle, especially when there aren't clothes dryers.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is another place we went to briefly in 2005. We spent most of our time at the Van Gogh museum and didn't get to see much of the city. We put it on the agenda to get a better flavor for the city. As it turns out Frederick's parents were with us and we got to spend some time in the city with a local.

Frederick's Mom's first cousin lives in Amsterdam. They moved there in the 70's with their family to escape the Marcos era of in the Philippines. The Netherlands was a very hospitable country for them and they made a new life for themselves.





We intended to meet her fairly early in the AM, but as we were up so late the night before we didn't end up getting to Amsterdam till 1PM and after walking to the tram station and taking the 1 hour tram into town, we didn't make it to the main station on time. Instead we met Lola Yvonne and took a short walk around the city. We were all quite hungry and we went to the food court at the local “Macy's” type store to get a bite to eat. It was quite good, with lots of variety. I ended up succumbing to the calls of a giant cheeseburger. I had a nice chat with the chef while he cooked the burger. We talked about my Dutch ancestors who came to Nieuw Amsterdam in the 1600's. Gosh this burger was good. I hadn't had a burger in weeks. Once everyone had refueled, we spent a bit of time walking around the city and then took the train and a bus out to Amersfoort to spend some time with Lola Yvonne and her husband.

It took over an hour and half to get out there. The next day we drove that same route and it took about 20 minutes. How long on a bicycle? There are almost more bicycle's than people in this country.

We had a nice dinner, mostly traditional Philippine dishes. They were kind enough to make Spaghetti for Alex. The dutch are such nice people over all, at least in my experience. Everyone we met was very kind and they were all so happy. A recent poll indicated that The Netherlands is one of the happiest countries. They are willing to give the government more than half of their income and let them dole it back out to them. For example, I learned the government takes 8% of your paycheck in a deduction and then gives it back to you in May so you can go on vacation. Plus you get 4 weeks of paid vacation. Really? You want the government making money off your money for 11 months? Some people get a lot for free, but I have to believe someone is paying for all this. The Dutch government isn't just printing more $$ to pay for these benefits. I'll never be able to accept that is the way to do things, but I have to admit it appears to work for them. Everyone there seems to pitch in, but it seems like it would be too easy to scam the system and get quite a bit for doing nothing. They have a saying, “just be normal”. They also say, “Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.” Or in plain English “If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.” I could never live like that. What if you want to be a quarter? That seems soul crushing to me. I'll take my 40+ hour weeks and save up for 3 years for my once in a life time, 3 week vacation. I know I did it. I think is a difficult society for the entrepreneur or someone with ambition. They are happy with their lot, and feel like it's good enough. I have no safety net, but I feel I have achieved a lot more than I would have been able to in a society that babysits you from cradle to grave. Would I accept a lot less, to know I'll always have a minimum standard of living? Hard to say. I could write paragraphs about my conceptual differences, but this is travel blog, not political commentary.

We headed back to the campground and reveled in our great broadband connection. The next day we headed back into town (this time taking the bus in front of our campground to forgo the ½ hour walk to the tram station). We hopped on one of those canal tours and got to see the city from that level. Another continuously inhabited ancient city. History is everywhere. Once the tour was over we decided to walk about the city. The highlight was a stop at a cheese shop.





I'm actually kicking myself for not bringing home some of the cheese. They had this old cow cheese that was to die for...I just didn't feel like carrying it around with me. I did buy fleece wooden shoes style slippers, so tacky, I had to have them.



Amsterdam is a pretty liberal and crunchy city. I felt completely out of place. I thought of my Dutch ancestors feeling the same level of discomfort when they left 400 years ago. That puritan DNA still runs in my blood, I can't help it. It's the mecca for debauchery, disguised as normal. No one's getting hurt and they are all happy, so be it.











Here, I think this means me.


Next up, Kroller Muller Museum, the 2nd largest collections of Van Gogh's in the world.

Belgium - Liege & Brugges

You travel to different corners of the world for different reasons. Sometimes its in search of history or beauty. Sometimes it's family or friends. Sometimes it's just for yummy food!

A few months back we caught an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Fly on The Food Network. Bobby challenged a NY food trucking making waffles. As we would learn not just any waffle, but Liege waffles. They are like a dessert pastry. Crunchy with caramelized sugar on the outside, doughy and dense on the inside. They looked amazing. We search in vain to find some place in Dallas that made them. (There is a place now, Fruitelicious in Carrollton). So, you think maybe we'd go to NYC...nah, we were already planning out trip to Europe, so why not put Liege on our map.


We were on our way to a campground that was on the grounds of a 16th century chateau, Domaine du Ch√Ęteau de Dieupart. We decided we needed to locate a supermarket to pick up food for a few more dinners. The GPS said there was a Lidl Market about mile away from our campsite. Unfortunately, one wrong turn had us driving our camper up ridiculous narrow hill. We did find a place to turn around and prayed we would not meet any large vehicle on the way up. We survived and found the supermarket. So incredibly Spartan, but we found the things we needed. We headed back and found the campground, by the side of a brook...hidden behind what....a huge Supermarket! We didn't recognize the name and missed it on the way by. Ah well, we stopped there in the AM on the way out and picked up the few things we were missing. (I needed sewing things to fix a suitcase that broke and Alex was in desperate need of chocolate syrup for his ice cream). The campsite was lovely.





There was only internet at the bar inside the Chateau. We headed up there after dinner and overheard one of the most hysterical exchanges of the trip. A bunch of drunken Irish were outside indulging in the beauty of Belgian ale. One friend spend a good 20 minutes telling the other how he was now dead to him and F U. Literally hundreds of f bombs. Alex, Frederick and I could not stop laughing. Eventually the drunk guy made his way inside and proceeded to ask Frederick why we American's had not cleaned up the mess we made in the Gulf. We decided it was best not to tackle that subject and made our way back to our site. We cooked some dinner and feasted on the ice cream we bought at the supermarket. The next day we were in search on waffles and were on our way to Brugges. The owners of the campsite said we'd have to make our way into Liege to get the waffles. I guess we figured they'd just be hanging from trees. We drove to Liege center, but after several circles around, we determined, there was just no place to park our beast and no sign screamed, WAFFLES HERE!

Thwarted, we drove off to Brugges. Frederick, Alex and I went to Brugges on our first Europe trip in 2005. It was our first stop on the continent, our first exploration of a non English speaking country (well really everyone is Belgium speaks English, but it's not the primary language). Our first train navigation. We we so impressed with the medieval city.




2010



Same spot....2005


To see the city and be entertained, I recommend a Collin Farrell movie, In Brugges. Very, very funny in a very twisted way and a beautiful love letter to the city. We made a point to come here so Frederick's parents could see the city...and Frederick's Dad could see one of the places of his heritage. Yes, perhaps it's just a story, but there is a genealogical reference book on the history of the Fosters/Foresters family that traces their linage to the town of Brugges in the 900's. Anacher the Great had several successors, through to Baldwin the IV. He had a daughter, Matilda of Flanders who was kidnapped by William the Conqueror on his way to England and taken as his bride. Matilda's brother, Richard, came with her to England and fought beside Williams in the Battle of Hastings and crusades to Palestine. William took over England and gave lands on the Scotland border to Richard the “Forester” of Flanders to build Bamborough Castle. The Foresters lived there for many generations. One of the descendents decided to move to the new world. He settled in Ipswich, MA, in a house that still stands today. Frederick's Dad's great grandmother was a Forester, descended from this line. Frederick's great grandfather went to the Philippines in 1901, married and had 2 children. The oldest of these 2 children is Frederick's paternal grandmother.

We did not know this the first time we visited, but now 3 generations of Dorados would soon be standing in front of their ancestral home.


We stayed at another rowdy camp. This one had a “Hard Rock Casino” and all the other craziness of the last campground. I can't believe that can rip off the whole logo, guitar and all and no one seems to care.



We had to walk a mile plus to get to the bus stop to take us into the city of Brugges. Once there, the GPS directed us through the winding streets to the city center. It was acutually chilly, what a nice change. Alex has to have some chicken nuggets from Quick..the Belgian version of Mc Donalds. He ate there on our last trip 5 years ago and was no longer apprehensive about eating in Europe. Since then, we have pics of him in front of McDonald's and the like all over the world. Now, we bring our own ketchup, as you have pay for each pack on this side of the Atlantic.




We went in search of the Belgian delicacy Moulles and Frites. Mussels and French Fries. On the way, we smell it.....smells like yummy...smells like waffles! We found a little shop selling Liege waffles out the window of their store front. Yes, they are as good as promised. I now am on a quest to figure out how to make them at home. We found a small restaurant in 600 year old building. It looked good. We didn't have a reservation, but they told us if we could eat in less than 2 hours, we could have a table, as someone had reserved that table at 8:30PM. Piece of cake!


After dinner we strolled around the streets then made our way to the bus station for the bus back home. We got there just after the bus left, so we had to wait an hour till we could get the next bus. If we had a car, we'd be there in 10 minutes. I just can't love public transportation for this reason. You waste a lot of time! Once we got back to our stop, we still had the mile plus walk back to the camp. Exhausted, we attempted to do some laundry. It was 1 in the morning and the first load wasn't dry and the 2nd load wasn't in the dryer (2 washers, 1 dryer). We decided to bring them back and hang them overnight. No luck with this...as everything was just as wet in the AM. We would just have to dry them at the next spot.










Next up...Amsterdam.