Monday, October 27, 2008

Done, de done, done done!

I'm finally done with the blog, er ah, WE are done.

Terry had the pleasure of uploading the 3,000 photos to photobucket. Not a task I, yes I meaning ME, want to soon repeat, hearing all his #$&@*&^ blipity-blips as photobucket misbehaved. Needless to say, he was happy when HE was done. All the while I tried to keep updating the blog with the fresh, new links and adding a few photos and slideshows of my own to the blog itself. The graphic designer in me will not allow a photo-less page - how boring!!!

Anyway, I've flipped all the days in chronological order, day by day, for easier readability, from beginning to end.

We set up this blog mostly for our own journal and to remember our trip in a permanent setting.

Now all 3 of you people (hehe) who have been following along, thanks!

Hope you enjoyed it!

2008 France, Belgium and Netherlands Trip

Bonjour et bienvenue!

Yeah, another trip planned soon to be scratched off the bucket list!

Terry & I have always wanted to wander around the French countrysides. Seeing so many wonderful sights while watching the Tour de France for years has cemented our desires. Our meandering on our 2004 Germany, Austria, Switzerland countrysides trip far exceeded our expectations, so France it is. We also decided to include a few days in both Belgium and the Netherlands, extending the trip a few more days, but we feel it will be worth it.

After many months of reading, internet surfing, researching, and lots of give and take negotiations, we agreed upon a route we can live with. A lot of the sights are centered around WW2 sights, because yeah, the German’s bombed the heck out of France. So many memorials, towns, and museums still reflect that sad time in France’s history.

The Plan:
Travel September 15th to October 8th.
Fly in and out of Paris.
Map itinerary of where we plan to go:


Getting around:
Whenever we drive in Europe, we have discovered leasing a new car is the way to go. Short term, guaranteed buy back leasing is a tax free French program through either Peugeot or Renault designed specifically for non European members traveling more than 17 days in Europe. Yes, we technically own the car while there.

The price is usually cheaper than renting, you get a brand spanking new car waiting at the airport, no 21% VAT tax added, 24/7 roadside assitance, and 100%, 0 deductible insurance included in the price. We chose car leasing over rental on our last driving trip and WOW, were we happy! We loved our little car so much the last time, that we reserved the same exact car - a Peugeot 207 Diesel.

We are cheating this time, not using road atlas maps, but rather our hand held GPS. We bought a program that covers all of Europe, and have plugged in all of the B&B addresses, sights, towns, etc. We hope it will work as well as when we used it to drive across our country in 2005. It is definitely a time saver not getting lost in the sometimes confusing European cities.

Day to day plans:
Sept. 15 - Sept. 16 - Overnight flight from LAX to Paris
We land in Paris, pick up our car at Charles de Gaulle airport. Leave the Paris suburbs, head NW towards Normandy and the D-Day beaches. Stop in Caen along the way to visit the Caen Memorial Museum with a special exhibit honoring 9-11.
We’re staying at Ferme de la Rosiere  B&B just outside the small town of Bayeux. I’m sure we will be exhausted, but we may stroll around the town for a bit to shake off the jet lag until bed time.

Sept. 17th - night in Bayeux, Normandy
We have an all day ‘American Highlights D-Day tour’ reserved through Battlebus.
There is no better way to grasp an understanding of what really happened on those terrible days than to have a first hand, visual account explained in a private tour.

Sept. 18 - night in Bayeux, Normandy
Free day to explore the whole Normandy area, Arromanches Beach and museum, and anything we missed on the tour. Visit more of Bayeux.

Sept 19 - night near Mt. St. Michel
Leave early to drive to Mt. St. Michel, the medieval Benedictine Abbey perched on a rocky island. We will spend all day exploring the Abbey, narrow streets and buildings.
We are staying at the beautiful, rural Les Vieilles Digues B&B, a few miles up the road from Mt. St. Michel.

Sept 20, Sept 21, Sept 22 - nights in Amboise, Loire Valley
Drive SE to the Loire Valley, famed for the noble, aristocratic, elaborate chateaus that grace the rivers and valleys. Our home base for the next 3 days & nights will be in the picturesque town of Amboise .
Our B&B, Chez Briault B&B is just outside of town in a rural neighborhood.
The next 3 days we will wander the Loire Valley region, hoping to visit the following chateaus:
Chateau d’Amboise

Château de Chenonceau

Château de Montsoreau

Château de Chambord

Château de la Belle au bois dormant

Château de Cheverny

Chaumont sur Loire

Chateau de Chinon

Sept 23 - night in Sarlat
Leave early in the morning, head south into the Dordogne region of France to visit the town of Oradour-sur-Glane.
This town was completely destroyed by the Germans, looted, burned and all the town folk killed. The French govenment have left the town as is since that fateful day, preserving it as a National Monument Memorial and a very sober reminder of war. Every French school age child visits this town on field trips.
Continue south to Sarlat, a well restored town a few kilometres north of the River Dordogne. The old town, famed for it’s outdoor markets and cafes, dates from both medieval and renaissance times.
Staying at the tranquil home B&B CHAMBRES-D’HÔTES-SARLAT just outside of town.

Sept 24 - night in Carcassonne
Head SE to visit Rocamadour, a hill top sacred, ancient town situated atop a rocky plateau overlooking the Alzou Valley.
Continue S, visiting all the rural small towns along the beautiful valleys and rivers ending in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Carcassone. Carcassone is a completely walled, preserved medievel town that was an important stop along the Roman trade routes. Staying at Hôtel Astoria located just outside one of the wall gates.

Sept 25 – night in Arles
Leave early traveling SE to the Provence Region, skirting the Mediterranean along the way. Stop in the historical Roman town of Nimes for lunch and a look at the few Roman ruins still remaining, the Colloseum and pantheon styled Maison Carré. On further W, to medieval Arles, another UNESCO World Heritage Roman ancient city along The Rhône river. The city center boasts an amphitheater arena, a Roman theater and many standing roman ruins around town. There are many sights and museums dedicated to Van Gogh. It is here he lived out his prolific art life creating most of his most famous works.
We are staying at Hôtel Regence, right by the Rhone River on the edge of town.

Sept 26 – night in Avignon
Leave early to visit Pont du Gard, a Roman Empire three level aqueduct.
Spend time in and around all the Provencal villages on our way to Avignon, the cultural capital of the Provence. It is famous for the 14th century Popes Palace. This old city is one of the most important gothic ensembles in Europe, thanks to its architectural and artistic heritage.
Staying in the 18th century Hotel Medieval in the middle of old town.

It’s right about here in our trip that we had to make some big decisions. Do we now head north or go south to the Mediterranean coast of Marsallies, Saint Tropez, Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. After researching those areas, there is really nothing to see but beaches, rich people and their homes and celebrities. No thanks, we prefer the historic towns of significance with sights to actually see. We decided instead to add a few days in Belgium and the Netherlands. It turned out to be a no brainer after all - go North.

Sept 27 – night in Dijon
Head north and as time permits, we hope to visit the Roman town of Orange, lunch in Lyon, visit Beanne and end in Dijon. Dijon is the capital city of the Burgundy wine region and home to what else . . . dijon mustard. We will wander the medieval city center and Cathedral in the evening and rest a bit.
Staying at Hotel Thurot, just outside the old town walls.

Sept 28 – night in Verdun
Leave early into the Lorraine région to visit Verdun, the site of the Battle of Verdun in 1916 during World War I. The area is filled with memorials, battlefields, and forts left from that time period.
Staying at Les Charmilles B&B in the small village of Charny, near Verdun.

Sept 29 – night in Arnhem, Netherlands
We leave early heading N to visit the Belgian town of Bastogne, sight of the WW2 Battle of the Bulge. The movie ‘Band of Brothers’ was based on the battles fought in this area. Arrive in Arnhem, Netherlands late in the afternoon.
Staying at Sonsbeek B&B

Sept 30, Oct 1, Oct 2 – nights in Haarlem, Netherlands
This morning we travel 2 km to spend most of the day at Netherlands Open Air Museum. It is a huge, beautiful, wooded museumpark on the outskirts of Arnhem, depicting life through the ages, complete with actual buildings and demonstations of life and occupations of a bygone era.

Leave late in the afternoon, for the 1 1/2 hour trip to Haarlem. Along the way we hope to stop and see Muiderslot Castle.
And if time permits, the Vestingvaart Naarden star fort, the walled city built to protect Amsterdam during the 1500s. Staying at Canalhouse B&B

The next 3 days, our time will be split between Amsterdam and Haarlem. Amsterdam is a short 30 min train ride right into the city center. Not only do we not want to drive into Amsterdam, but there is virtually no parking with all the canals. Our car will stay safely parked at the B&B in Haarlem.

In Amsterdam, we hope to visit:
Anne Frank House & Museum,

Rijksmuseum Museum
Van Gogh Museum

the outdoor flower markets, take a canal boat ride and stroll the many squares filled with cafes.
And lastly . . . visit the infamous and interesting Red Light district.
And no, we don't plan on visiting a "coffee shop", code words for a legal MJ smoking shop. I may peek in a window though if my curiosity gets the best of me.

Our time in Haarlem will be spent wandering the beautiful town streets, canals, catching up on some much needed rest. We'd like to visit the Corrie ten Boom house,
The Ten Boom home became a refuge for fugitives hunted by the Nazis during WW2.

Oct 3, Oct 4 – nights in Bruges, Belgium.
Up early to make our way SW to end in Bruge. Along the way we may stop in Delft, and the Dutch village Kinderdijk, home to a large windmill park. We will drive the scenic route along the coast, with many small villages, under canal car tunnels, and bridges - should make for an interesting drive. Arrive late afternoon in Bruge also known as ‘the Venice of the North’. Staying at Hobo B&B.

Our 2 Bruge days are complete relax and wander, gearing up for our last days in Paris. No museums, but plenty of BELGIAN CHOCOLATE SHOPS! And boy do we plan on our share of sampling.

Oct 5, Oct 6, Oct 7 – nights in Paris
Oooooo, la la, Paris! Our 3 hour drive on the toll highway should go fast. We’ll drop the car off at Charles de Gualle airport, buy a 4 day metro pass and train into the city. We are staying at Hotel Royal Phare, just blocks from the Eiffel tower and right around the corner from one of our favorite neighborhoods, Rue Cler. Plus it is right across the street from a metro station to wisk us anywhere in the city.

The Rue Cler is a gourmet delight for the mouth and eyes, chock full of open markets, cafes, patisseries, cheese shops, wine shops, flowers - you name it - anything you need to make a picnic lunch to sit by the Eiffel tower. It is the typical Parisian village in the center of Paris.

We plan to visit a few museums we’ve never seen before. Today, the first Sunday of the month, all museums are free admission. We have already spent 3 days in the Louvre on prior trips, so we will skip it this time.
We’ll visit: Pompidou Center, Musée national d’Art moderne, Musée national Picasso. We’d love to again ascend to the top of Arc de Triomphe and see Sainte-Chapelle again, but there may not be time. We’ll either take a Seine River cruise tonight or on Tuesday evening.

Yeah, just gotta get our Disney fix. We’ve visited this park 2 other times and just LOVE it! It has all the European charm and architecture of a real village. Not to mention, we ALWAYS have a great time on the rides and seeing the shows. Nothing like hearing Buzz Lightyear speak French!

We’ll hop on the RER train for the 40 min train ride through Paris to the countryside where the parks are located. Yes, parks. They opened the new Walt Disney Studios Park a couple of years ago. In fact, it was open our last visit in 10-06, but we couldn’t justify the price with very little open yet. But now, they’ve opened quite a few attractions, so we will have a bunch of new things to see. We’re buying a park hopper ticket, that includes admission to both parks. It will be a fun filled, long day, from open to close, ending with the train ride back to our hotel. Bliss!

Oct 7 - Our last full day in Paris, a walking day, exploring the Parisian neighborhoods we’ve not visited before. Paris has very distinct areas, or in Paris-speak, arrondissements, filled with beautiful churches, buildings, memorials and museums. We plan starting the day at the Rue Mouffetard outdoor market for breakfast and buy fixins for a picnic lunch.
On to walk Les Halles, Le Marais, Trocadero. And some repeats, Ile de la Cité/Ile St-Louis & Notre-Dame, Jardin des Tuileries. If time, more of the Latin Quarter, St. Germain-des-Pres. The Seine river cruise if we haven't done it yet.

Oct 8 - We have the morning free to laze around the Rue Cler until check out time. Our plane leaves Paris at 1:30 pm and we arrive LAX 9:30 pm.

Whew - so there you have it!
We hope to have a fantastic vacation, looking forward to lots of adventure and hopefully all will go as planned without a hitch. We will try to update the blog and photos along the way whenever we have access. If you'd like to follow along with us on our trip, be sure to subscribe for updates.

Au revoir et merci pour la lecture ainsi.
(Bye for now, and thanks for reading along.)

Packing Light

We learned the hard way . . .

When Terry & I went on our 11 day cruise to Alaska in 1999, we each packed a ginormous suitcase along with a garment bag for our formal night attire. I swear my suitcase was almost as tall as me and much wider. We trudged to the airline check-in counter and the lady informs us, "Your bags are too heavy and considered oversized, $80 please. "HUH?? Boy, were we in shock having to shell out extra $$ for our clothes!

After that incident, we decided to learn how to pack light. Every article and book we read reiterated limiting each person to one carry-on bag. Oh right, says I - no way, it can't be done.

At this point we were planning our first European road trip to England, Scotland, Wales, and Paris in 2001. Not only did we certainly not want to repeat our last luggage faux paux, but we would be on the move constantly for 30 days. Juggling luggage is NOT our idea of fun. We knew we would have to pack X amount of days and spend time in the laundromats. We decided a week's worth sounded about right.

Next, we went out and bought the largest carry-on size backpacks we could find. Came home, only to find, 7 days of clothes won't fit, plus we still had maps, books, power adapters, toiletries, meds and all the incidentals yet to pack. Back to square one. 5 Days? Still not enough room. We came to the conclusion that we could take our large backpacks each and in addition carry the other stuff in a purse/messenger bag sized allowed carry-on. Done deal.

Our trip came and went, and we learned a lot more than we realized as we traveled.
1. I can't do a back pack, it was way too big, too heavy on my back and too long for my 5' frame. I switched to the max size roller bag and still use it. Terry still loves and uses his backpack.

2. The type of clothes we packed were not suitable for washing and drying quickly. Although, we met a lot nice people and had some very interesting conversations while waiting for the spin cycle. It also gave us some much needed downtime to sit, relax and regroup. But still, cutting our time in the laundromat, would be next on our to-do list.

3. Ziploc bags & plastic grocery bags are your friends. We carried many new empties with us and wish we had packed more. They weigh nothing, pack flat and we used them for everything.

4. Take ONE pair of very worn in, comfortable shoes, that is all you'll need.

As we planned for our 2004 Germany, Austria, Switzerland trip, we took what we learned and applied it.

1. We bought quick dry, travel clothing, head to toe. Plus being lighter in weight, they take up 1/2 the space of normal clothes. Everything we bought was similar color and mix & match, If needed, we were able to wash in the bathroom sink and hang overnight. The beauty of quick dry clothes.

2. Waterproof. lightweight, jackets with hoods rather than cart an umbrella, a waterproof sling purse or messenger bag for books and maps, and sprayed our shoes with waterproofing.

3. Toiletries - take the bare minimum to get by a few days, you can buy whatever you need over there or the B&B/hotel supply them.

4. Wear layers if it's cold, I wear a fleece vest when needed. I wear my heaviest clothes and carry my jacket on the plane.

5. Always wear a money belt or hidden, zippered pocket for money, credit cards and passport.

6. Souvenirs are space hogs. If you must, buy and ship home. I carried the cuckoo clock on the plane from Germany, I'll never do that again. Now I stick to postcards, small trinkets to make photo frames. My memories and photos are good enough for us. Terry LOVES that I'm not a big shopper.

By 2006, when we planned our London, Paris, Italy trip by train, we had it down to a science. I even had room to pack my nebulizer, and meds in the roller, leaving my carry-on purse for actual purse things. We're getting it now.

Planning for this upcoming trip, I will resort back to a larger hand carry-on in addition to my roller. My health needs require more to tote around and they will definitely fill it. Since I have it marked 'Medical Supplies', it doesn't count as an extra carry-on. Kudos to the airlines recognizing this need for the disabled. But I still get the third degree at security, bomb sniffing my electronics and inspecting my refrigerated liquid meds and syringes.

I can honestly say, that since I've learned to pack light , I wouldn't travel any other way. In fact, now I'm always trying to see what I can eliminate. Even when we take a week or two week trip, our luggage remains the same. It's very 'freeing' not to have to hassle and juggle luggage.

I suppose I can tell myself I told you so, it can be done.

Speaking of packing . . . I better get to it!

Today is Trial Pack Day

Only one more week until we leave - YAY!
It still seems so surreal after all the planning, that the day is almost here. I don't actually begin to think it's truly a go until we board the plane. Then it is hand sweat time. Yeah, I still hate to fly.

BTW ~ My name is Jodi and I'm an anal-list-o-holic!!

I've got lists coming out my ears. I have one master vacation list on my computer, but it never fails, that each trip we take, I add to it. My list of things to take and things to do before we leave is a full 3 pages @ 12 pt type.

Lists of clothes, toiletries, meds, electronics, travel documents, flights, emergency info, medical info, doctor info, scans of passports & driver licenses, maps, books, hotel info, yada yada yada and boo-koo MB files on the computer needed for a successful trip. I'm always so afraid I'll forget something important, especially health related.

When you leave for almost a month, there is a lot to think about that needs done while gone, like paying bills. Although this chore has been mostly taken care of by automatic bill pay. This has been a god send for travelers. The painful part? Juggling money to make sure there is enough in the accounts to pay all those bills when they come due-UGH! The rest I'll pay on the road, online. What did we do before computers anywho??

Thank goodness, Josh house and Bucky sits for us when we travel. I don't know what I would do if he couldn't do this for us. Bucky is diabetic and requires 2 shots a day, morning and evening, and Josh is great about giving him his shots. Plus Bucky loves having Josh home, Josh has the magic 'cat hands' that require lap, pet, and purr time. Me thinks Josh enjoys it just as much, since he suffers from cat withdrawls not having a cat at home anymore.

I know if I had to board Bucky, he wouldn't eat or survive. As it is, when we leave for that long, he must think we died. A month is a loooooong period in a no-concept-of-time cat's mind. I just know he is very chilly towards us and snubs us every time we return. He'll give us a sideways glance, as if to say, "Oh, it's just you, you're home again." HA HA!

The second day, a lightbulb goes off and he realizes we ARE home and didn't abandon him after all. He then becomes my shadow for a couple more days until he sees we are home and back in routine.

Today is the day.
My lists start to become physical reality.
Everything that needs washed, is washed.
The crap comes out of the wood work and is piled on the guest bed for inspection.
Check, check and recheck.
The lists are dotted with highlighter swipes until the whole page appears to glow in the dark.

The dryer is buzzing, the lists and highlighter are screaming.
TIme to trial pack - ZOOM!

Mr. Dollar, you can keep on going up

Woo hoo!

The Dollar - Euro exchange hit the .70 mark today, the best it's been in a looooong time.
One of our dollars = about 70 cents in Euro. When we made the final decision to seriously plan this trip in April, the exchange was .60. That number alone was almost the deciding factor if we could afford to take this trip. The way the dollar has been heading down, we assumed it would only get worse. Then our thinking was, well since it will only get worse, we better go now before it becomes unattainable.

So you think the 10% doesn't make much difference? Well it does, in big ways. First you figure the basic exchange you are already losing 30% of your spending ability (40% @ .60). Plus less high Europe VAT taxes not added in, their MUCH higher fuel prices and taxes since we will be driving, accomodations and the high taxes -- it all adds up quick when you're lopping off 10%.

Who knew that the good ole $$ would rebound up, especially with the economy in the crapper.
Whatever the reason, we'll take it.
Way to go, Mr. Dollar.

: )

The Airport Blues

So tomorrow is the day - Yipppeee!
I'm nervous, excited, and sick to my stomach all at once.
Normal before-we-leave-jitters.

I hate flying, period. I break out in a cold hand sweat every take off and landing. Once we're up and going smoothly, I'm fine. But if we hit turbulence, uh oh, let the sweating begin again. You'd think as many times as I've flown, it wouldn't bother me, but it does.

The whole airport, check in, security routine is usually nightmarish for me. I'm always put through the ringer because of all my med schtuff, especially flying international. I've been bomb sniffed, scrutinized, analyzed, patted down, asked 50 questions, given the stink eye and even humiliated, having my underwear and every piece of clothing in my luggage turned inside out, searched and touched in front of other passing travelers. Arg!

Ha, ha - the last few paragraphs sound like I'm being arrested or something bad.

Really, I am looking forward to going, these are my tomorrow concerns only. From then on, I'm going to have a wonderful time.

Well, at least until we go to the airport to return home. ; )

See y'all when we return.

: )

Finally! Internet access

Almost a week in to the trip and we finally have internet access.
Although it is V-E-R-Y slow, I’ll only add the journal part, photos will have to come later.

We are still having problems with jet lag, eating and sleeping. We wake up at 2-3 am starving, which is our normal dinner time at home. I’m so screwed up time wise, I can’t even read my body when it is hungry or not. I think I’m not but once I start, I scarf. I know with the 9 hour time change, jet lag and tons of walking, neither one of us is eating enough to sustain. Terry is having milk withdrawls, since most of their milk is unpasteurized and sold in boxes, warm on the store shelf. Once in a while, we’ll pop into a store and we’ll find a liter sized bottle of cold milk and between the 2 of us we guzzle it – it tastes so good!

Plus our colds we got just before leaving, have flared up again, “blowing” through a box of Kleenex in no time - LOL! Today seemed to be better, but tonight will tell.

So far this is what I have:

9-15-08 Fly out
We leave for LAX airport at 5:00am to catch our 8:30am flight. We had a stopover in Philadelphia, just enough time to find the right gate and we were off again. I was able to nap about 1 ½ hours, first time ever on a plane, Terry didn’t sleep at all.

9-16-08 Arrive Paris
We arrived 40 minutes early but then ended up standing in customs line for an hour. Found an ATM to get some Euros, and had the information desk phone Autofrance for our shuttle pickup to get our car. The lease couldn’t be any easier, we signed some papers, they gave us the keys with a few quick instructions and we were on our way to the nearest gas station. Our car takes diesel, E1.40 per liter, which translates to about $6 per gallon and with the exchange rate about $8 per gallon – ouch! The gas station also had a small store ala 7-11, so we grabbed some snacks and drinks for the road.

The traffic going from the airport into Paris center is reminiscent of LA traffic – took us forever to get out of dodge. I did get a peek of the Eiffel Tower from afar as we drove the ring road. Once out on the highway, the traffic lifted and the landscape turned to farms and cows pretty quick. We drove to Caen to visit the Caen Memorial Museum which lasted a couple of hours. We probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we should have because the tiredness was setting in, we also grabbed a sandwich in their cafeteria. We left the museum and drove ½ longer to our B&B outside of Bayeux, a very peaceful, old farm with antique furnishings and a big room. There was a note on the door to please come in, everything was unlocked. It is now about 4:00, we unpack and settle in, as we smell heavenly food smells. Turns out, our B&B host also has a small restaurant for dinner only. Too bad we weren’t hungry, just tired! We turned in around 8:00, exhausted.

Battlebus Tour of the Normandy D-Day Beaches

9-17-08 Bayeux

We both slept great until 6:00 am. Got ready and had our breakfast - baguettes, soft cheeses, homemade jams, yogurt, cereals, apple coffee cake, coffee, and OJ. Delicious! Left the B&B to be in Bayeux center to meet our Battle Bus tour guide and the 3 other couples sharing the full day tour. Our tour guide Allan, was a knowledgeable Brit, who has studied the Normandy invasions for 25 years and is a historical writer.

Stop #1- Allan drove us to the small town of St. Mere Eglise, where some of the first airborne paratroopers landed. We visited the Airborne Museum and church square.


Stop #2 - the 11th century Norman church in the tiny village of Angouville-au-plain that became a medic station for injured paratroopers. Two American medics ran the station after parachuting into the area themselves. They treated Americans, French and Germans alike just as long as they checked their weapons at the door. They ran the aid station unassisted for 3 days until help arrived to take the wounded to hospitals, several died in the church. We sat in the old wooden pews, blood stains still visible. The church itself, had many of it’s original windows blown out, the bell tower bombed, and the back door rammed by a tank. The shell that took out the bell tower, landed and cracked the church floor, stayed intact, while one of the medics threw it out the window, never exploding.


Stop #3 – Lunch stop at a small, sandwich shop owned by a British lady. We had a great ham and cheese baguette sandwich, bag of chips, candy bar, piece of fruit and a drink.

Stop #4 – Utah Beach, one of the smaller invasions beaches with the least amount of casualties. Here, there is a museum and lots of weapons and war junk displayed around the dunes.


Stop #5 – Point du Hoc, the main German battery protecting the beaches from invasion. The German guns, armories, buildings, foundations of buildings, or what’s left still stand from that day. The beachy hills and dunes at the top of the cliff are pockmocked with craters from the American ship big guns and aerial bombing. Eliminating the armory would make for a successful invasion on Utah Beach.


Stop #6 – Omaha Beach, the bloodiest battle of the Normandy Invasion. Allan told the stories of individual, first hand accounts from WW2 vets who survived that day. The crescent shaped beach had a battery at each end for flanking fire coming from both sides as well as from the Germans shooting from the top of the cliffs. The road at the top of the beach and barbed wire rolls were never depicted in any movie about The Normandy invasions. The majority of injured and deaths occurred on Omaha Beach.


Stop #7 – The American cemetery, a very beautiful resting place high on the bluff overlooking the ocean, lined with marble crosses, perfectly in rows, in every direction. The trees that circle the graves, all have their tops lopped off straight across, to signify the cutting short of young lives. To see the over 9,000 crosses, of mostly 18-early 20 year olds, was mind boggling, moving, and a powerfully sad experience. Reading the names and hometowns brought a realization of their bravery and of their horrifying ordeal. As we started walking the graves, the color guard began taking our flag down from the flagpole, the bugler playing taps in the background . . . I lost it.

The cemetery is one of the few places outside the US considered US soil. The US Government runs the cemetery and hires the help as US employees even though they are French.


Photo slideshow from Day 2

This ended our tour at 5:30pm, and back to the town of Bayeux. We quickly visited the Tourist Info center for maps and ideas of places to visit on our free day tomorrow. Back to the B&B, to rest.

Exploring the Normandy Coast

9-18-08 Bayeux

This is a free day. We take our time getting ready and eating breakfast round the large table with 3 other French couples, not understanding a word they said, but fun anyway.

We head out to the town of Longes Sur Mer to visit the German battery high above the beaches on the cliffs. The four concrete gun buildings were set in a semi circle for the maximum shooting range. This is the only German battery with the guns still intact, one bombed to bits on the ground. Ahead of the 4 guns was a concrete lookout at the edge of the cliff to give the gunners instructions where to fire along Utah and Omaha beaches.

Terry and one of four big German guns still intact

After roaming the battery, we drive to Arromanches, a small village atop the beach cliff overlooking Gold Beach where the British landed. After Gold beach was secured from the Germans, the allies towed in the mulberries to create an artificial harbor, allowing further supplies and men to be brought to land.

We then drove in to the town of Bayeux, with the town walking tour map in hand. As we started the walk, we noticed several good restaurants and decided to eat lunch at a creperie. We had ham, mushroom and cheese stuffed galettes, similar to a buckwheat pancake/crepe, very good. We continued with the walking tour which highlighted the 11th century Bayeux Cathedral. The cathedral was much bigger and more ornate than we anticipated for the town size of Bayeux. The walking tour also passed by the main shopping area, town park, some very old residential areas with wood timbered houses.

The Bayeux Cathedral

Time for an ice cream cone, and as we savour, we decide to go back to the Pointe du Hoc from our BattleBus tour from yesterday. Terry felt rushed only given a half hour to see all the bombed out areas and wanted to see more. We took the scenic coast road through several small villages and very narrow roads, nearly missing corners of homes as you pass by. We walked around the very cold and windy Point du Hoc, Terry took tons of photos and made sure he saw every little nook and cranny of bombed bits of twisted metal and concrete.

Driving back to B&B, we notice that all the small towns look alike. Every home, building, and wall is built with the identical centuries old white stone, and no other decorations of color on the house itself. The color comes from gardens and flowers. The Norman’s are simple farm people who shun physical wealth and are perfectly happy with their spartan lifestyles. In fact, our tour guide Allan explained that when the Germans took over all the beachside homes along Omaha, blowing some up for artillery areas, the Norman’s welcomed it. Seems the beachfront homes were owned by wealthy Parisians as vacation homes.

Photos from today

Exhausted but happy with our days so far, tomorrow will be another long, good day.

Mont Saint Michel

9-19-08 Bayeux to Mont Saint Michel

Our drive from Bayeux to Mt St Michel was an easy 1 ½ hours , so we take our time packing and leaving at 10am. We arrive at our B&B greeted by a brown tabby named Max who wanted pets every time we saw him, we were happy to obligue. Our B&B is beautiful, just 1 mile from Mt St Michel in the little town of Bouviere. We settle in and decide to hit lunch before venturing to the 2-3 hour visit of the Mt. Found a pizza place and had a salad each and split a pizza. The pizza crust is made from a crepe, wood fire grilled in an oven and topped with tons of toppings, it was delicious and very filling, exactly what we needed.

Seeing Mont Saint Michel for the first time is an awesome sight for sure, a large abbey built atop a seemingly too small island.


There is one main drag going all the way to the top or you can walk the wall ramparts that gradually wind around and up thousands of stairs to 300’ above sea level. We got our workout today. We enter the abbey and read the fascinating history as Terry takes photos of all the unique architectural details and roof tops. There are still 30 residents living on the Mt. island itself, a few are monks. There is also a couple hotels, eateries, and a multitude of tacky, souvenir shops along the main drag that ruined the ‘ historical feel’. We scaled every stair case and explored every nook and cranny making sure we saw every bit of the Mt. We descended back down through the main drag and went back to the B&B to rest a bit in the back garden on lounge chairs, we both could have gone to sleep.

Photos for today.

We went back at dusk to get a few photos from afar, had a snack of fruit and crackers and went to bed.

Amboise - Our home base in the Loire Valley

9-20-08 Mt St. Michel to Amboise

We eat breakfast at 8am and are greeted by not only Max the kitty but also Luna, his female counter part who was not friendly, she was prissy & hissy, with a French accent – LOL!

The drive to Amboise took us on some pretty small, one track country roads. They are big enough for one car with no center lines. If another car approaches, you both pull over into the gravel and grass shoulder to pass each other. We kept seeing McDonalds signs but never saw one, they boast WIFI, so we were tempted to pull into one just to use it, we may still do that in the future if we continue to have no access at the B&Bs.

The drive was pleasant and about 4 hours. We stopped at a large grocery called Super U, which I suppose is their version of Walmart, but looking very 7-11ish. Sold some furniture, appliances, clothing, food, toys and soaps in very limited quantities. Bought more fruit and the much coveted COLD milk to guzzle.

We checked into the B&B, Ginette is a most gracious hostess. I wish I could say the same about her fox terrier, Ollie, he looked at me sideways, snarled and nipped at me but seemed to take to Terry just fine. Between Ginette’s little English, our little French and our trusty dictionary, we get along just fine. We unload and head into town to eat some lunch. It is now about 3pm, little did we realize that ALL restaurants are only open from noon-2:30 and then don’t reopen until 7pm for dinner.

Our Amboise B&B and the road leading to it

We finally found a little sandwich shop still serving, and had a doner kebab and fries. A kebab is lamb, shaved very thin and piled on a large, heavy bun type bread with sauce of your choice. Not what we really wanted, but it was good and filled the hole. We found the Laundromat, today being one of 4 wash days, and relaxed and visited with other Americans from Sacramento and Seattle. Back to the room for some much needed rest and settle in. Asked Ginette about internet access and she gave us an Ethernet adapter that works through the power outlets, and is similar to dial up. We try to send some emails but are having problems. I was able to post the first days of the blog though, so go figure.

The next 3 days will be jam packed running around the valley seeing all the aristocratic chateaus and castles.

Chateau hopping day in the Loire Valley

9-21-08 Amboise

We have a delicious breakfast of baguettes with butter and homemade jams, yogurt with cereal mixed in, coffee and hot chocolate for Terry, he loved that. That is a pretty standard French breakfast only we notice the French dip their bread in hot tea.

We leave around 9am for Chenenceoux, just 19 km from Amboise. This stately hunting chateau was built by King Francois 1 and as a home for his mistress, Diane. His coat of arms are plastered everywhere you look, a fire breathing salamander and the letter F with a crown on top. Quite the egotist, if you ask me. His wife, Catherine found out about the mistress and kicked her out. She remodeled the chateau with a huge, 3 story entertaining hall that spans the river, a unique feature of Chenenceoux.


The fascinating kitchens were nothing but the best for the time including a butchery to carve all the animals after being killed, a huge pantry room to store supplies for the winter months, a servant dining room and lastly the gigantic kitchen with ovens and stoves. Just awesome, especially decorated with time period copper pots and pans, unusual utensils, and unknown to us type tools and contraptions, I guess used for carving. There was even a large copper pot with a snout protrusion to roast pigs.

The red velveted bed chambers oozed of gold and wealth as do most palaces. The cornices, crown mouldings, and full wall tapestries were extremely ornate showing animals and hunting scenes.

The surrounding gardens next to the river were gorgeous and perfectly symmetrical as were all gardens from the time. Our walk back to the car took us through a tunnel of shaded trees. We bought a baguette sandwich from the vendor at the entrance and had a picnic with other goodies we had stashed in our snack bag in the car.

The next stop is a feudal castle and town called Fougers.


We arrive about 1:00, to find it closed for lunch until 3, hmmmm, a tourist sight closed for lunch? We take some outside photos and move on to Cheverny, about ½ hour away. Again, we only take outside photos and walk the cute town, knowing we need lots of time to see our last stop, the grandest of all chateaus, Chambord.

Again, seeing Chambord for the first time, with it’s shear size and varied rooftop turrets, unusual chimneys and roof lines is overwhelming.


We walk around the chateau as Terry clicks photo after photo. The place is mind boggling huge. We enter the courtyard, to find a rather plain, gravel filled entrance, through the massive stone arch doors to see a double helix spiral staircase, most likely designed by Leonardi Da Vinci. The historians and not real clear, but it has his earmark all over the design.

Francois 1 was also behind the beginning building of Chambord, to have an even more stately hunting lodge than Chenenceoux. His trademark salamander and F crown grace this chateau as well. Building stopped and started on Chambord for a century because of wars, deaths of kings, and sat empty and abandoned for 70 years! It was finally restored, bought by the French govt. and is now a historical monument.

We walked up each flight of stairs, seeing all the royal bed chambers, drawing rooms, salons, yada yada and all the other rooms the royality just had to have for this reason or another. They really knew how to be self indulgent, never ceases to amaze me even as many palaces all over Europe that we’ve seen. We finally climb the last bit of helix stairs to the roof top, Terry’s photo heaven. We descend back down, going in circles what seemed like forever, making me somewhat nauseated.

More photos from today.

We leave Chambord and head back to Amboise just knowing we NEED a decent dinner tonight. We’ve been running on empty and grabbing food when we can. We find a small restaurant that opened at 6:30, so we waited the few minutes. Terry got the Lasagne salad special and I got chicken, mushroom, artichoke, and gorgonzola pizza with a salad on top! Very unusual but so good. We were famished and ate like we never had before. We also had a glass of Amboise rose wine which was very good.

Full and happy we went back to the B&B, turned on the French TV to see some 60s show called Cosmos 99 with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, French dubbed in - hilarious! We literally flopped into bed at 9pm.

A Free Day in Amboise

9-22-08 Amboise

We are pretty exhausted and decide to see just the one sight in town we both want to see – Chateau du Clos Luce.


This is the guesthouse built next to the Amboise Chateau, that Francois 1 offered to Leonardo Da Vinci to live in the last 3 years of his life, he died in the house. Francois 1 was a forward thinking King and paid Da Vinci to flee Rome and live there, giving him full reign of the house. All he wanted in return was to talk to and pick Da Vinci's brain, knowing what a genius he was. They became very good friends and Da Vinci painted and invented to his heart’s desires until his death. The house now displays some of his drawings, works and inventions built from his original drawings including, a parachute, helicopter, airplane, car, paddle boats, war machines, machine guns, tanks, etc.

More photos of Clos Luce and Amboise

We leave and start up the main drag of Amboise at 1:00, vowing not to miss the lunch hour. We popped into an Italian resto, Terry got gorgonzola spaghetti, me parmesan stuffed type tortellinis, in a soup type sauce – it was great and we ate every bit. We walked across a bridge over the river to a small island to get a good photo of the Amboise Chateau. We heard it was nothing special inside so opted not to visit. Strolled over to the famous choclatier in town, but everything looked to froo froo for our taste. Instead we went to the SuperMarche grocery and got a German Milka bar – YUM! – and more COLD milk and bananas.

Back to the B&B, to finally send our emails and for me to catch up and post the blog. Voila! Tomorrow, we will try to leave at 8am for the 4 hour drive to Oradour and Sarlat.

Oradour-sur-Glane and Sarlat

9-23-08 Amboise to Sarlat

Ginette accommodated us by having breakfast ready early so we could leave by 8:30. She was such a sweet lady, constantly bringing us things and moving nice lawn furniture in front of our room to sit. She always insisted on packaging up leftover baguette or bread at breakfast for us to take for ‘picnic’ as she would say. After about every sentence, she would say, VOILA!, so that is why I said that in the prior post. We really liked her a lot and she really knows how to pamper her quests and run a great B&B.

On the road again, about an equal mix of small country roads and highways, as we make our way to Oradour-sur-Glane. We drive to the new town of Oradour, buy a sandwich and eat outside the entrance in a park area before touring WW2 martyred town of Oradour.

Oradour-sur-Glane was a small town of about 600 people, who were murdered by the Hitler’s German SS Waffen troops on June 10, 1944, just 4 days after D-Day. They wanted to set an example to other towns not to resist the Germans and side with the Americans after the invasion. The Nazi’s looted every house and business, shot every man, woman, and child in cold blood, before torching the whole town. The French Govt has left the town exactly as it was from that day as a remembrance and memorial. One word etched in stone as we entered the town, “Remember.”

Typical street in Oradour

We strolled the burned out streets and buildings, all labeled with plaques of what business it was and who owned it. We saw a bakery, butcherie, dentist office, seamtress, hair salon, all with supplies and tools the Germans left behind they didn’t want. Just about every home had a burned up sewing machine. Many cars were left in front of homes and in car garage repair shops, all burned and rusted.

We turned one corner and saw the church, we both knew that the women and children were rounded up and killed there, it was hard to enter. And there was no way we could bring ourselves to take photos inside the burned out church, it was too sad. About the same time we entered the church, a dozen or so French soldiers were also touring the grounds, they were even sniffling as they walked the church.

Around the corner, was the street that led to the cemetery and memorials. Again, we couldn’t bring ourselves take photos as we saw face photos of whole families who had been killed. At the back of the cemetery was an official memorial listing the names and ages of everyone in town, ranging from 12 days to 80 y/o. It was a very, sad and heart wrenching sight. As we exited the cemetery, Terry and I both could not comprehend how 200 Nazi’s could be in the frame of mind to kill babies and old people, they had to be psychopaths. It was mind boggling at the thought.

We left Oradour, in a somber mood, reflecting on the surviving family members from other towns, who still go back to Oradour to tend to the memorials by placing flowers and notes. It must still be so hard for them even after all this time.

Back on the A-20 highway for the 2 hour drive to Sarlat. We arrived at our B&B at 4:30 and was met at the door by sweet Alain, who kept apologizing because she didn’t speak English. We laughed and said we didn’t speak much French either, but as always, no problem, we managed. We unloaded our bags, and drove the couple kms to town and parked on a steep hill neighborhood. The whole town of Sarlat is hilly, with narrow medieval cobbled, streets. Every turn had an interesting building, roof line, square, alley, and cats who had ½ size curly tails , think pug. They must have all been related in some way to carry on that weird genetic trait, just like the bunch of 3 legged cats we saw in Rome. We walked the town walk, seeing every little street and cranny so Terry could snap photos of it all.

Sarlat Street and square

It was now dinner time, so we decided to try a resto recommend from Rick Steves book. I can’t remember the name of the resto, but it was great. Terry had a potato and cheese fondue plate, surrounded by all kinds of freshly sliced ham type meats. I had a small salad and a tartiflette, which was like a ham and cheese au gratin potato casserole. We stuffed ourselves, it was so good! We have finally found, after getting used to the time change, we sleep better if we have a decent meal in our stomachs before bed. No more waking up at 2am starving-LOL!

Today's photos.

Back to the B&B, and we are met at the door by friendly, Francoise, Alain’s husband, who does speak a little English. He wanted to know all about us, where we had been, where we were going,. We were tired and wanted to go to bed, so we politely excused ourselves as the conversation winded down and flopped in bed.

Today was interesting because we went from Renaissance chateaus, to WW2, and then back to Medieval times.

The Medievel Walled City of Carcassonne

9-24-08 Sarlat to Carcassonne

This morning Alain gave us yogurt, fresh croissants, homemade spice breads and jam, coffee and hot chocolate. Francois pulled out his maps and wanted to see our intended route and made some recommendations of things to see along the way. Unfortunately, we knew we wouldn’t have time, but he was a wealth of info and we appreciated his time. We left to them both waving goodbye to us, just like a Mom & Dad, he he!

The scenic 3 ½ hour country drive to Carcassonne was beautiful. Small, hilly towns dot the area mixed in with cow pastures. We stopped at McD’s to use their Wifi and ended up sharing a Big Mac and fries, we weren’t that hungry after a big breakfast. We arrive at our small hotel around 3pm, dump our bags and begin walking to the completely walled, old city of Carcassonne, about a km away.

The outside walls are imposing and impressive, making the town appear much bigger than it actually is inside.


Big round towers and turrets seem to keep watch over the town. We enter through the only large port gate to small cobbled, narrow streets barely wide enough for a small car. Shops and restaurants fill the buildings with hotels and homes above. One large chateau palace is in the center of town which we did not enter, not worth the 8E entrance. We strolled all the little medieval streets that seemed to wind around each other in circles.

Carcassonne photos

We found a resto that opened at 6, so we decided to try it. We were seated near a burning wood fireplace stove with all kinds of very old knick knacks hanging from the beamed ceilings, creating a fantastic candle lit ambience. We ordered their 3 course plat du jour specials, Terry ordered salad, ham & cheese crepe casserole and I ordered salad, grilled chicken and potatoes, which were grilled right in front of us on the little fire. Our dinners came complete with a big bowl of very rich chocolate ice cream - the whole meal was excellent! With full bellies, we walked back to the hotel for rest.

Mediterranean Sea and Arles

9-25-08 Carcassonne to Arles via the Mediterranean

We decide to pass on the hotel breakfast at 8E each and instead stop at a patisserie for fresh croissants to eat on the road, mmmmmm. More country roads for about 2 hours until we reach the Mediterranean. We have now driven the whole country from north to south. We stop at a deserted beach for a short walk and rest. The sand is very fine and white, with seashells in abundance. Of course, I have to stop and collect a few.

Mediterranean shell booty!

We continue along the coast for about 15 more minutes, head inland to Arles. We pass through a medieval gate wall and our Hotel Regence was right around the corner, next to the Rhone River. It is about 1pm, and our room is not ready, so decide to eat a nice lunch today. Our hotel clerk speaks perfect English, so we ask him where HE would eat. He pulled out a map and circled 4 restos to choose from, we chose the closest around the corner. We order their plat du jour specials again, which are actually a very good buy at 12E and it fills us for the rest of the day. Terry got a white fish in provencial tomato sauce, rice, green beans and salad. I got a chicken breast with mushroom herb white sauce, baby white potatoes, green beans and salad. Again we ate every bit – so good! For dessert, Terry got apple cake and me fresh blackberry sorbet. We were stuffed and very happy with our meal.

Laundry time! We check in and walk to the Laundromat just 3 blocks away, and chat with a nice couple from Montreal. After laundry we stroll the medieval streets until dusk.

Arles street

Arles photos

We enjoy Arles immensely, such a quaint, great walking town. It had some interesting streets, intact Roman ruins, and pretty churches. We really wish we had extra time to explore more of Arles. It is a nice, old medievel town with a Roman twist. We return to the Hotel and retire for a good nights rest – we are exhausted!

Pont du Gard and Avignon

9-26-08 Arles to Avignon

I slept a solid 11 hours – I can’t remember the last time I’ve done that! We actually had CNN news in English on our TV so we were able to catch up on home news last night. Still no internet to upload this, hopefully soon. We may stop at another McD’s tomorrow to use theirs. Walk downstairs to the nice buffett breakfast, fill up and head to our first stop of Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard is a huge, 3 story section of Roman aqueduct which serviced Nimes. It is the 2nd tallest Roman ruin other than the colosseum in Rome. It was built between AD38 – AD 62.

We bypass the little museum and head to the small town of Uzes, 10 minutes away, recommended as a good lunch top from the Montreal couple in the laundromat. It was a cute, little medieval town and took about a ½ hour to walk. We found a small family run café, Terry ordered a salmon tarte omelette type dish and salad just OK, I had lasagna and salad which was totally forgettable – YUK! This was our first bad meal, oh well!

This was the beginning our the rest of the bad day – our first. We drive into the walled city of Avignon, with tiny narrow streets congested with traffic. Our hotel gave us directions to park in a parking garage 2 blocks from the hotel. Well we found the garage, what an experience driving in that tiny narrow space, almost hitting every car and wall. We finally find a spot with less than 12” on each side to get out of the car.

We unload all our luggage in one swoop and start walking the town to our hotel. Instantly, we both have a weird feeling about Avignon. We have been in enough European cities to know when a place feels safe, this not so much. Drop our bags, our hotel is decent as is the room and feels very secure. But as we venture out to walk the main parts of town, there are LOTS of street people, graffiti, begging homeless, and groups of young men who are casing the tourists for pickpocketing. Terry puts the camera away, we hold our bags tight in front. Walk a few streets down the main drag and turn around to leave again not feeling safe. The streets are dirty, trash everywhere – such a shame to let a historic city center go to pot.

Went back to our hotel neighborhood, which does feel much safer and neater. Visited a church, and saw the Palace of the Popes and it's square. Pope Clement the 4th of 1309, was French, had enough of the Italians and Rome, and literally moved the Papecy to Avignon. The Catholic church bought most of the land in Avignon, built the Palace for the Popes to live in, much like Vatican City. The Popes and the Catholic Church remained here until 1417, when it moved back to Rome after the city cleaned up it's act.

Palace of the Popes

We then walked to the big city park on top a hill above the Palace to see the Rhone river view and a bridge that was destroyed in by a 1600s flood. Got an ice cream cone, people watched in the square, went to the store, bought fresh cheese, baguette, bananas and milk for a dinner snack. LOL, we are really becoming resident French, eating cheese and bread at just about every meal. You know the saying, when in Rome . . . oops in this case France! : )

Avignon photos of area around our nice hotel neighborhood

Back to the room at 6 to eat and rest.
Avignon was one place we were really looking forward to, what a disappointment.

Dijon and our longest driving day

9-27-08 Avignon to Dijon

Got ready this morning and opted for the corner patisserie for bread, croissants, and milk for breakfast. The hotel breakfast didn’t look like it was worth the E8 each, for basically the same darn thing. We ate and left Avignon early, on Saturday so we lucked out with no traffic and it was pretty easy. The 4 hour drive to Dijon was all on the Autoroute, France’s toll system, and boy is it expensive. To drive 4 hours cost us E30, our only other alternative would have been about an 8 hour drive on tiny village, farm roads . . . um, let’s see . . . no.

We stopped at an Autoroute, Supergrill rest stop, bought chicken baguette sandwiches and had a picnic for lunch. Back on the road, and we arrive in Dijon around, 2pm. Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy wine region and home to mustards . . . grainy, dark, spicy, mustards.

Unload the bags and check in, and walk into the old medieval town, not far away. The first road we walk was the high end shopping district where everyone hangs out, we turn off to see the historic areas, stopping in the Ti for a town walk map. We really enjoyed the walk lasting all afternoon, seeing the churches, old wood timber buildings, cobbled streets, and palace from the outside. We even stopped in the ole mustard shop to sample the local mustards. They were so spicy and hot there is no way I would even consider putting that on a sandwich because that is all you would taste. Although, I suppose it would flavor sauces wonderfully.

A street in Dijon downtown

Dijon photos

It is now 6pm and we ponder how hungry we are, and decide to check out the pizzeria by our hotel. On the way we see a “Flunch” restaurant, a chain which we had been seeing along the roads the whole trip. We popped in to check it out and it was a fast food type order/pay system but they had reasonably priced hot meals, salad bar, and desserts. Terry got the loaded, large salad bar, baguette and chocolate mouse. I got the chicken leg dinner, with choice of veggies from a veggie bar. We were pleasantly surprised how good it was, we would definitely eat there again. Plus we didn’t have to wait until 7pm for a resto to open. Back to the hotel to rest.

Verdun and the WW1 Battlegrounds

9-28-08 Dijon to Verdun

We are both getting very tired. We’ve had a lot of consecutive, one night stays and on the go constantly. We are looking forward to changing gears and moving into Belgium and Netherlands for a change of scenery and some multiple night stays in nice B&Bs.

This morning we eat the hotel breakfast, not wanting to even try to find anything open on Sunday morning. Everything is France is closed on Sunday except restos for dinner and church, which is the way it should be.

The 3 ½ drive is a mix of small roads and some Autoroute. The landscape is changing to rolling wheat fields, more cows and lots of big wind turbines to power the small towns. It is good to see alternative power sources at work. The tiny, villages are quaint and typical farm towns. Other than food they grow, where do they shop for other incidentals? All the sizable towns worth any kind of market, are not close, they must stock up on 1-2 week runs. But, just about every town has a patisserie – shame on them if they don’t!

We arrive at our B&B at around 1pm, it is just gorgeous and Valerie greeted us in perfect English. She gave us all kinds of Verdun visiting brochures and resto recommends for dinner.

Our B&B, so quiet and tranquil.

We unload and head off first to eat some lunch at one of the few restos open on Sunday in the area. It was more of a bar, had some pasta, just OK. Then on to the Battlefields of Verdun from WW1. Verdun was one the bloodiest battles ever, 300,000 French and German soldiers killed in about a 300 day period in 1914. The battle over the town of Verdun and all the small surrounding villages, did nothing but mame, kill and leave every town completely destroyed. The whole area was left as a pockmarked lunar landscape from all the bomb and mortar holes left behind.

We visited the excellent museum first, displaying weapons, uniforms, tools, vehicles, medical supplies, and just about everything else war brings including propaganda and political cartoons. The story boards were thoughtfully translated into several languages, so we were able to really grasp the stories of the hideous war. The Germans were hell bent on taking over France, both in WW1 and in WW2.

Next, we visited Fort du Douamont, a French fort build partly underground covered in earth for camouflage. We pass on the inside, instead walking the outside. Again the visable bomb holes are everywhere as are visable, bullet holes, scrapes and mortar holes on everything.

Just down the road are many zig zig trenches the troops used for protection, cover and sleep. I just can’t imagine the conditions in those narrow pits, men clamouring for their own little space – UGH!

Terry in a trench and a Verdun road marker.

On up the road to the cemetery and memorial, nothing more than a huge building with towering, pointed obliske. The buried French soldiers each have an engraved, concrete cross with a pink rose bush planted in front.

The last stop was the Bayonnette Trench memorial. Many years after the war, as surveyors were removing war junk and live ammo from the area, they found some bayonettes sticking up from the ground, in a row. As they dug, they unearthed soldiers bones and their gear as if they were buried alive. They immediately reburied the men in place, declared it a memorial, preserving the trench and built a protective building over top.

Verdun photos

We drove the 10 mins back to our B&B to settle in and try to see if we have internet. Our hostess, Valerie is gone but her teenage son, who doesn’t speak English, graciously tries to help us connect to their WiFi, with no success. The only thing we can figure it our keyboards are very different so something in the password was not translating properly. (Who knows?) We noticed a McD’s in Verdun earlier, so we thanked him for the help and headed there. Still couldn’t connect, turned out you needed a special cord for their service. ARG! We ate a snack and left, still no internet. Who knew it would be this hard?

Tonight, we are in a beautiful, comfy B&B and looking forward to a good night's rest.

France to Bastogne, Belgium to Arnhem, Netherlands

9-29-08 Verdun to Arnhem

Valerie put out a nice breakfast of assorted breads, croissants, jams, yogurt, coffee, hot chocolate and OJ.
This was our last stay in France until we hit Paris. We take our time to eat and head out for the 1 ½ hour drive to our next visit in Bastogne, Belgium.

Bastogne was the Battle of the Bulge in WW2, where the Americans single handedly protected the border town of Bastogne, pushing back the Germans. American troop losses and wounded were high, but the battle was pivotal in stopping the Germans counter attack in their bid to re-take Belgium. The troops were led by Generals Eisenhower and Patton. We went to the museum in Bastogne which included an audio guide to explain the battle and positions. Displays included uniforms, supplies, weapons, artillery, medical and large dioramas with vehicles and scenes of the actual battles. The museum was very informative and we learned just how important the Americans were in the fight against the Nazis.

Today's photos.

Back in the car for the 3 ½ drive to Arnhem Netherlands. Stopped at a rest stop for gas and lunch at a cafeteria. Terry had salad bar, bread and éclair, and I had a big bowl of veggie soup and bread - not too bad. Arrived in Arnhem about 4pm, to cloudy skies and cold wind. We check in and Margot, our hostess is just delightful, friendly and helpful. The B&B is right across the street from the town’s large park, we have a great view from our 3rd story room. Most Dutch homes are narrow and 3-4 stories tall, with very narrow, steep stairs. We settle in for a bit until 6pm and walk the few blocks to old town for dinner. I was intriqued by a small resto called Pinocchio, the menu looked good, so we went in. Instantly we noticed the whole ceiling was covered solid with hanging wine bottles, and of course Pinocchios everywhere in paintings and knick knacks, very fun atmosphere. The menu had Italian and local specialty dinners which I would have tried, but it would have been way too much food. Terry got a spinach fettucine pasta with salmon and cream sauce, I got chicken penne with mushrooms, fresh mozzarella chunks, pine nuts, and cream sauce – excellent!

Arnhem street

On our walk back to the B&B, it started to drizzle. Watch a little of the depressing Europe CNN news and all the financial fiascos going on at home. Seeing it from the Europeon perspective here, they are shaking in their boots too.

Today was interesting because we drove from France, a little bit into Belgium, and then the Netherlands. The roads, languages and signage changed dramatically each time. The Netherlands looks very modern, contemporary in the buildings, the highway lighting & signage and the artistic sound breaks along the highways. And yet, next to a new building, would be a cow pasteur and fields

Netherlands Open Air Museum

9-30-08 Arnhem to Haarlem

We wake up to rain, our good, clear weather has finally run out. And of course it rains when we want to visit an outdoor museum. We walk down the 3 flights of stairs to Margot’s ‘in kitchen’ dining room for breakfast. She pulled out all the stops for her great breakfast, we didn’t know where to start. There was granola, milk, drinkable yogurt, regular yogurt, a huge basket of all kinds of warm breads, jams, butters, a platter of 3 different kind of lunchmeats and 2 cheeses, a basket of wedge spreadable cheeses, a bowl of strawberries, soft boiled eggs, coffee, hot chocolate, and OJ. YUM – our best breakfast yet and we stuffed ourselves. We were glad to have such a bellyful knowing we would be walking the museum all day.

We thanked Margot for her hospitality and drive the 2 km to the Netherlands Open Air Museum. This museum is a collection of historic buildings from all areas of the Netherlands, relocated to this wooded park to form it’s own little village. The buildings included mostly farm homes, windmills, businesses, a train station, a doctor’s office, blacksmith, milk and cheese factory, brewery, all from different eras depicting the lifestyle from that time. The center of the town are buildings converted that are now used as a bakery and restaurants to buy food. Some of the buildings had people dressed in period dress that would answer questions, it was very interesting talking to them. Other buildings were well signed in several languages explaining their history or function.

Typical buildings in the Open Air Museum

We also took the little old fashioned tram that circles the whole town, for the round trip tour. The rain fell gently all day as we toured the whole museum for 4 hours. By this time, we were cold, damp, and ready to eat something light. We went back to the cafeteria near the entrance and had a bowl of soup and shared a sandwich.

The tram and the resident gnomes. The big gnome in black was cold!

Today's photos from the Open Air museum

Back on the road for the rainy, 2 hour drive past Amsterdam to our next 3 night stay in Haarlem. We find our B&B easily, located right on a canal in the middle of town. We luck out and grab a parking space on the street right out front.

Our Haarlem B&B, on the third floor, but in the back.

Inge greets us and shows us our room, up 3 very steep staircases. It is a beautiful, comfy room with 2 twin beds, a dining table, microwave & coffee making supplies, internet access. One whole wall is windows so we have a great view of the neighborhood and interesting rooftops. It is raining hard as we unload our luggage and Inge explains the parking meters to us. Our jaws drop as she tells us it is E2.50 an hour from 9am-11pm for a total of E35 a day just to park anywhere in the town of Haarlem!!!!! She suggested maybe trying one of the many hotel parking garages, as they have cheaper rates. A Carlton Hotel was around the corner, so we talk to the parking attendant and learn they have a weekly parking pass for E35 – much better than paying the E105 we would've had to pay to park on the street. Plus the car is in an indoor, security garage, we’ll check on it from time to time. We don’t plan on moving it at all the next 3 days because everything is walkable and we are taking the train into Amsterdam. We feel better now after the initial shock of parking prices wear’s off - LOL! Went to the ATM, and notice it is across the street from the cannabis shop, ha ha!

As soon as we entered both Arnhem and Haarlem, we notice just about everyone of every age is on 2 wheels . . . bicycle or scooter. All the roads have an excellent bicycle lane system so that the bikes and cars don't share the road except in interesections. Everywhere you look are bike parking lots and racks. Bikes have every kind of basket or child seats attached. We've seen other bikes with large wooden boxes built onto the front, holding a weeks worth of groceries, dogs, kids . . . you name it. One thing though, no one wears a helmet. When walking, you've not only got look out for the cars but the bikes as well, they go fast on their way to work or home.

Laundry time! We walk the ½ km to the Laundromat in the rain, checking out all the restos along the way thinking ahead for dinner. The Laundromat was spotless with an attendant on duty to help us figure out the confusing pay & token machines – good thing she was still there before she left for the day.

Started our laundry and so did the weird, bizarre side show. First, there was an old woman doing her laundry, dressed strange with lots of make up, messy hair, that was slightly crazy and saying weird things to everyone. Then we heard a loud crash just outside the door, we turn to see a BMW SUV out front with people inside, with a bicycle crashing from the top of the car, down to the hood and then to the ground. A deranged looking, shaggy middle aged man was standing next to the bike. At first we thought the car hit him while riding, but then we realize the weirdo was mad and threw the bike onto the car in anger and walked away. The shocked driver sat there at first and then just drove away, never getting out to see if he had any damage to his car. Then the weirdest of all – we start to hear glass breaking nearby. We look out the laubdromat door to see some crazy person smashing and breaking out all of his upper windows about 4 doors down. It sounded like he was using a hammer, glass flying everywhere on the parked cars, sidewalk, & street below. People walking and biking all around stopped in their tracks, in shock, to see the spectacle. Was this the same weirdo man who threw the bike at the beemer? It went on for a couple of minutes, looked like a guy from the resto across the street called police and we stayed inside out of the way. OK this town seemed so quaint and neat as a pin but now I think there has been too much legal pot smoking going on – LOL!

We gather our laundry, and head across the street to an Italian resto recommend by Rick Steves. Terry got mushroom pizza, me ricotta tortellini – just OK. It’s raining hard as we walk back to the B&B to settle in for the evening.