Paris at Night

27 06 2008

From the trip, here are a couple of the shots I got in Paris

Eiffel tower at sunset:

100% crop (much larger)

Arc de Triomphe at night:

100% crop (much larger)

I hope you enjoy them! I loved being there and shooting them.

Some other photos are at my Fotothing photo blog:


All Europe 2008 trip posts

23 06 2008

Here are all the trip posts in Chronological order:

Europe 2008 (Vancouver-London) Days 0-1 May 24-25
Europe 2008 (London) Day 2 – May 26
Europe 2008 (London) Day 3 – May 27
Europe 2008 (London to Manchester) Day 4 – May 28
Europe 2008 (Chester) Day 5 – May 29
Europe 2008 (Manchester to Fort William) Day 6 – May 30
Europe 2008 (Oban) Day 7 – May 31
Europe 2008 (Fort William to Penrith) Day 8 – June 1
Europe 2008 (Penrith to Harwich) Day 9 – June 2
Europe 2008 (Harwich to Amsterdam) Day 10 – June 3
Europe 2008 (Kinderdijk and Madurodam) Day 11 – June 4
Europe 2008 (Edam, Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam) Day 12 – June 5
Europe 2008 (Amsterdam to Luxembourg) Day 13 – June 6
Europe 2008 (Luxembourg to Troyes) Day 14 – June 7
Europe 2008 (Troyes to Paris) Day 15 – June 8
Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 16 – June 9
Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 17 – June 10
Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 18 – June 11
Europe 2008 (Paris to Caen) Day 19 – June 12
Europe 2008 (Caen) Day 20 – June 13
Europe 2008 (Caen to Amiens) Day 21 – June 14
Europe 2008 (Amiens to London – Heathrow) Day 22 – June 15
Europe 2008 (Heathrow to Vancouver) Day 23 – June 16

Some photos are available at:

More will become available as I sort through the over 6500 photos that Mrs D and I have taken!

Europe 2008 (Heathrow to Vancouver) Day 23 – June 16

17 06 2008

Well, this was it.  The day we leave.  No castles, churches, WWI or WWII sites. No driving. No planning. Not much of anything really.  The goal was simple.  Get up. Go to airport. Fly.

We woke up at a leisurely 0830 and got out of our room at 1000.  I went over to the reception desk to check out and was told I owed them money. 

"No, I’m pretty sure I prepaid through the booking agent"

"Sorry sir, it shows no payment on your account"


"That’ll be 44.19 please."

"Ok – I’ll need a receipt because as of now I’ll have paid just short of 100 pounds for my room."

"I understand.  Thank you.  Would you like us to get a taxi for you?"

"I was thinking of taking the little Hoppa Bus."

"The taxi will be the same price – 8 pounds."

"Excellent – I’ll take the cab."

With that,the valet bundled wheeled my luggage over to the door and popped it in some van with no Taxi designation that _I_ could see.  Someone’s got a little side business going ;)  We hopped in and wound our way over to the airport.  The drop off point isn’t exactly door-to-door service so no tip for him.  Heck, the entire 8 pounds probably went into his pocket (minus gas money).

The airport was busy.  Monday morning, and people were heading around the world.  Heathrow is quite the busy European gateway.  We proceeded to check in.  I’m not sure how our luggage didn’t get flagged as heavy – scale must have been broken. I swear we managed to collect an entire tree in paper products that we picked up along the way.  After saying goodbye to our bags and hoping I’d see my bottle of Oban scotch again we were off to security.  Security screening was like a giant machine processing human units to transform them into airplane travellers.  First you get "greeted" by someone to make sure you have no liquids.  Check.  Next you get funnelled into a screening distribution line where they spit you out into various screening stations.  The usual.  Everything out of pockets, but laptop doesn’t have to come out of the case.  Always different.  I strode confidently through the little metal detector.  "Beep!"  What?  I haven’t triggered one since Guangzhou where I swear to God they just had it beep for everyone walking through!  Anyway some guy gets frisky with me and checks my wallet.  Next he has me undo my belt… Thankfully no more than that :)  All good, I gather up the goods and meet Mrs D who is now also clear of that stage.  We continue on. Now it’s the "Shoe station"  Damned Richard Reid.  Unlike apparently 90% of the travelling public I actually have to untie my shoes to take them off.  After passing them through the machine I then have to put them on and retie while everyone else just slips their shoes on without any need to untie/tie their shoes. I have a suspicion that many people have shoes that are actually too large for their feet.  As I’m tying my shoes, I wonder if anyone has done a study on this. If not… is there money to be made?

I remembered Eddie’s words of advise – right after you exit the shoe screening is the Customs VAT reclamation.  Sure enough, it was over to the left.  After getting my stamp on my LV purchase he told me I could just head over to the currency exchange for a refund. Sweet.  I headed over there.  "Sorry sir – you asked for a refund on your CC…" They were, however, able to give me a UK postage paid envelope to drop in the big red mailbox.  Better than nothing, I suppose.

Post-security in Vancouver gets you a few Duty Free shops and a couple of restaurants.  In Heathrow, post-security is a whole little city!  You had a choice of probably 10+ BIG duty free stores, over 15 restaurants and maybe a dozen newsstands to boot.  There were so many people milling about that you really didn’t feel like you were in a secure zone.  We wandered and considered buying some items, but nothing really struck us as a "must have" and after seeing some of the prices on the shortbread as MORE expensive in duty free than outside with duty imposed, I had to wonder how many other prices were just shams as well. Nice.  Real nice.

We were early for our gate – they didn’t even tell you which gate to go to before 1210, so I suggested we have our last meal at a pub, albeit an airport pub.  There was an Irish pub and the prices weren’t half bad.  Mrs D had (of course) the fish and chips and I had an Irish stew with soda bread.  A McCaffrey’s topped it off beautifully.  We got rid of almost all our UK coins, filled our bellies and killed some time.  Perfect.

1210 we headed down to our gate.  The gate room was a little holding cell where you can’t pee, there was barely seating for half the people and circulation wasn’t that great either.  I could see why they didn’t want you down at the gate any sooner than needed. We boarded the plane quite quickly and noticed that it was very modern.  The First class section had fully reclining seats in the little "cocoon-like" format and back in cattle-car each seat had its own touch screen TV with a 3 prong North American power outlet and a USB power outlet.  Great.  I’d be able to get a bit more blogging done between movies an naps.

We were supposed to head off at 1315 but someone forgot to tell US president Bush that we had a flight scheduled, so he just booked his flight time with Air Force 1 at about the same time. Net result: we lose.  We sat on the ground for an extra 30 minutes while his bushiness took off and cleared Heathrow airspace.  Way to make friends.

The flight was about 10 hours long and about as exciting as 10 flights ever get.  We touched down at good old YVR in 21C sunny weather.  It was good to be home.  The last few times I have flown internationally I have hit customs lines that were 15-20 minutes long so I was surprised when we simply stepped right up and through customs today.  Wow!

I called Eddie.  He would come around to get us as soon as we got our bags. 10 minutes later we were on the phone with him again asking him to come and get us!  Fast.  Unfortunately it was now 1600 and rush hour was starting up in good old Vancouver.  Eddie took us home and we showed him what we picked up over there.    Since I was reluctant to crack the REALLY good scotch yet we cracked the bottle of normal 14 yr old Oban.  Silky smooth… I think I can see myself becoming a scotch drinker – expensive habit though. :)  Dinner was at Mui Garden.  Mrs D was pretty happy to have Chinese food again.

We were dead tired, but I stayed up.  We went to bed at normal Vancouver time but I still managed to wake up at 0300.  Damned jet lag.

Well, that’s it for the trip!  Thanks for following along – I know it’s been a long ride :)  I’ll summarize in a post a little later.  Right now, it’s time for my fingers to take a rest.

Au Revoir!

Europe 2008 (Amiens to London – Heathrow) Day 22 – June 15

15 06 2008

It was a long day today, with seemingly endless travel. 

After having worked out all my hotel/travel needs last night though, things were looking up.

We got up and had the included breakfast down at the hotel dining area.  It was the usual croissants, bread, cereal and juice.  A decent breakfast to get you going in the morning.  We carried all our carefully repacked suitcases and bags down to the car and we were off by about 0930.  A bit late, but we didn’t have very far to go this time.  Amiens on a Sunday was dead calm, as I suppose are most cities at 0930 on a Sunday. I’m just not normally up to see it.

The GPS gave us a choice of Toll or no Toll again on our way to Vimy, and the difference was only about 5 minutes and it was 25 km shorter.  Excellent.  Sure, it meant more small roads, but that’s the opportunity to see more of France before we leave.  It was a nice drive and the weather was good.  Go figure.  After 3 weeks of rain/clouds/sun the weather seems to finally turn the corner as we are leaving.

We arrived at Vimy around 1015.  The signage made me feel like we were back home in Canada, they were all the style used by our military.  Dark green with white lettering and white border.  The site, it appears is one giant field of unexploded ordinance – nice.  The first thing we came upon was "the trenches".  The trenches had been excavated from the original trenches that had been built in 1917.  They were now lined with cement shaped like sandbags.  I was surprised how deep some of the trenches were.  It seemed that if you were to have to climb out or jump in, it was a long way either way.  Perhaps those parts were designed to allow soldiers to move like a corridor rather than in a defensive or offensive way.  It was interesting to read about the elaborate network that had been built and the dangers of simply moving within the trenches.  Runners, messengers, would be a common target of opposition snipers as killing them meant disrupting communications between the command in the back and the soldiers up front.  There is a centre which explains about the battle for Vimy ridge in the overall scenario of WWI as well as the roll played by Canada.  It was a decisive battle for Canada as part of a great offensive to turn the tide of the war.  We lost many, many men during the battle, and the Germans totalled 20,000 casualties. 

It was a short drive from the trenches to the memorial which had been built to honour and remember Canadian efforts and sacrifices during the battle for Vimy and other places during WWI.  The memorial was huge.  It stands 10 storeys tall and is two tall columns made of white granite and topped with figures, looking to me as if it were heaven reaching down to help the soldiers.  The "front" which seems to actually be the back, is the are from which you approach the monument. I think a bit of redesign on the parking lot and paths would go a long way toward having you approach the monument from the slope below seeing the weeping woman in the front and the memorial for lost soldiers at the base, rather than coming across it if you walk around.  When I saw the monument standing out against the dark clouds in the background it made me pause and again imagine those trenches, German and Allied, that lined the ridge and were the only shelter these men had when rain, artillery and bullets came down upon them.  For a young Canada’s international contribution to a war, it was certainly a place to leave our mark.

Interesting side note:  The government of Canada has cordoned off many acres of the fields of Vimy ridge due to the massive amounts of unexploded bombs and artillery.  In order to keep some semblance of trimming to the area they have brought in sheep to help control the grass and wildflower growing.  There are hundreds of sheep grazing in the danger zone.  When I came up to the interpreter at the memorial I had to ask her, "Apparently the sheep are expendable.  Has one ever blown up?"

Her answer surprised me,  "You know, that’s probably the most common question that is asked of me.  No, one never has, but I wish one would while I was around so I could finally answer with Yes."


We moved on by 1145 and were on our last leg of our time in France.  We were headed for Calais.  Of course you can’t get there without shelling out about another 10 euros.  I think the drive through France cost about 50 euros in tolls by the time we got out! As we were approaching Calais I noticed that our fuel was getting low and Mrs D suggested we stop at one of the service centres along the autoroute for gas.  I told her that if we did that, we’d have to fill up again in Calais anyway so I was going to wait and fill in Calais.

As we approached Calais, my low fuel light came on.  No problem.   The vehicle estimated that I had about 85km left in the tank and Calais was only about 60.  We continued to follow the GPS and the signs for the Ferry terminal.  As we got to the edge of the city it became apparent that the distance remaining in the tank was decreasing more rapidly than hoped.  I had to find a gas station. SOON.  We took the first exit off the autoroute and started looking for gas stations. I plugged "petrol station" into the GPS.  1km away.  Perfect.  We followed Tom Tom as it carefully and methodically took us to a gas station.  All automated.  Excellent.  I pulled up and put my card in.  It spit it out.  I put my card in another way.  It spit it out again.  It would seem that I needed a chipped card, which apparently all Europeans have, and very few of us in North America do :(  No problem.  We punch in the next closest station and head off.  As we approach the location we soon realize that there USED to be a gas station here.  Ugh.  We anxiously plug in the NEXT gas station.  It’s Sunday – closed.  The one after: closed.  Turns out that Sunday is very much a "Day of Rest" in Calais. Uh Oh!  I’m starting to get the "I told you so" from Mrs D, and the car pings loudly at me with a "WARNING".  I am running REALLY low.  One more try.  This one is open and staffed.  Thank God.  The car laps up a happy 60 euros of gas and is full.  Phew.  With that little crisis avoided we head off to the ferry.

We arrive at the ferry area and I’m a little concerned that there isn’t quite the signage I had hoped for.  We do manage to not end up in the car lanes though and I find my way to the parking lot.   There is a small building that is advertising tickets for the P&O ferry.  Perfect.  I park near it and go in and ask to buy a ticket.  "I’d like two tickets for the next sailing please – foot passengers"  Not so easy. This was the little booth where you buy tickets for CAR traffic.   Foot passengers would have to buy them in the building at the end.  I asked about a Hertz counter and he mentioned that they were in the same building. OK, off we went.  We got down to the end of the parking lot and it was pretty busy (and big).  In my mind I kept replaying what the Hertz lady had said to me the night before "Just leave the car in the lot".  Did she mean THIS lot?  It was huge, what if they never found my car?  What if they took another day to find it?  Would I be billed?  I circled around until I found a fairly close spot.  We carefully made sure that we removed EVERYTHING we had from the car.  Double checked.  Good.  I locked the car and said goodbye to our trusty little Punto that had taken us so many kilometres through 4 different countries.  We were now foot travellers.  Dragging our suitcases and shouldering our backpacks and camera bags we headed for the ferry building.  We found the Hertz counter and the little after hours key drop.  Mrs D photoed me dropping off the key for proof because neither of us really had much confidence that they would find the car.

We still had to buy our tickets.  Not far from where we had dropped the key was the ticket booth.  We asked for the price.  40.60 euros for two people.  We had just enough in euros with about 40 euro cents to spare. Perfect.  our euro budget was excellent.  We had to hurry.  The ferry was a 1400 ferry and it was already 1340.  We whisked over through the doors and were met by British Customs and Immigration.  We filled out the little forms  and had missed a field.  The grumpy guy at the counter made sure we got it all right.  3 weeks of travelling and only one grumpy person.  Not bad. 

After doing the customs thing, next stop was a little waiting room.  From there, they shuttled you via a bus to the ferry. The ferry docks were HUGE and there was an immense amount of traffic, both passenger and freight.  What a operation.  It puts our little BC ferry operation to shame.  We were deposited at the foot of the ferry.  Our next task was to get on.  This meant winding your way up about 4 storeys to the entrance via an interminably switchbacked covered gangplank to get on. Whew.  We were already tired of being foot passengers.  We found a spot at the front of the boat and settled in.  Not long after, the boat was on its way.  Turns out that it was a good thing we caught this boat as the 1500 sailing is a Dangerous Goods sailing so the next passenger ferry wouldn’t have been until 1600.

The boat is huge.  There are many amenities on the ship as well as a full bar and duty free.  Strange.  The trip was only going to be 90 minutes.  It seemed to be over amenitized for such a short trip.  Mrs D had a bit of a rest while I went out to explore the outside and shoot the white cliffs of Dover as we approached.  I had the added bonus of getting some good shots of a herring gull that would sail along right next to us on the breeze and zip over and grab food from passengers that were all too happy to feed it.  Fun.

1430 UK time, we landed and proceeded to reverse the gangplank thing.  Down is WAY easier than up.  As foot passengers we emptied into a largely empty receiving terminal at Dover.  It was strange, very few people travel without a vehicle on this crossing.  From the terminal we took a shuttle to the Dover Priory train station.  I was glad we took the shuttle. Internet commentary had said the station was within walking distance, but then again anything is if you’re willing to walk for enough hours.

The train ride to London was uneventful.  It filled up quite a bit and we felt a bit awkward taking up 4 seats with our luggage etc, but hey… there’s only so much you can do with it all 🙂

We had elected to transfer to the Picadilly line at Victoria Station.  I don’t know how I missed this zoo of activity previously in London. Oh my God! People bustling every which way, a gazillion STEPS to haul luggage up and down.  We managed to find our way to get a tube ticket.  Tickets purchased, we hauled our luggage up and down MORE steps and then packed ourselves onto a fairly busy tube.  It was surprising really – 1600 on a Sunday and the station was just teeming with life.  I can’t imagine what it would be like at rush hour.  Oy Vey!

Our journey almost complete, we stood for most of the ride on the tube out to Heathrow.  It’s a 1 hour ride on the underground.  Wow.  Surprisingly long ride.  We were almost there… you could almost feel it.

Now the choice was to take the 4 pounds/person "Hoppa Bus" or the free city bus.  Tough choice, but I managed to make it.  We were going free :)  With that litle 4 minute ride completed we were FINALLY at the hotel.  Total travel time from dropping off our car: 6 hours.  Ugh.  We checked in at the Holiday Inn, Heathrow and had a nice, albeit expensive dinner. It was a buffet, but the servers around the room were incredibly attentive and made sure that our plates were cleared ASAP and our water glasses kept full.   Nice place.  We stayed for 45 pounds.  Nice price.

This would be our last real day of vacation.  Tomorrow we’re leaving back to North America.

Europe 2008 (Caen to Amiens) Day 21 – June 14

15 06 2008

Today was much less packed than yesterday.  It was great to see all the stuff yesterday but there’s just soooo much of it!

We left our little place in Caen at around 0915 and kicked on down the highway toward Dieppe.  More tolls.  More driving at 125kph!  W00t!   We made good time on the road and we were close to Dieppe when Mrs D spotted the sign for the Canadian cemetery.  Perfect.  We wound our way through a few small roads following the nice clear signs and found the cemetery tucked away pretty much next to a bunch of farm fields.  Parking consisted of a small bulge in the small road to pull over.  Room for maybe 2 cars max.  Obviously not a "must see" on the usual tourist itinerary.

The cemetery has 944 graves of which 700 are Canadian.  We saw New Zealand, British and Polish graves there as well.  A large proportion of the Canadian graves were dated August 19, 1942.  It was heart wrenching for me to see a line of 20+ graves all with the exact same date.  August 19, the date of the disaster that was the raid on Dieppe. 

The cemetery is unique among Commonwealth cemeteries.  The graves are placed head-to-head instead of the usual head-to-toe format.  The reason for this is that these soldiers were buried by the Germans.  When you don’t actually take the land, you don’t get to reclaim your dead.  The (still) occupying Germans buried the soldiers and marked whichever graves they could.  There were many unnamed soldiers, "Known Unto God".  There were groupings of three stones together and it didn’t take long to realize that they were all members of the same flight crew of a plane that had been shot down.  From the closeness of the stones I imagine they didn’t dig separate graves for them.  The harsh realities of war. :(   When the allies retook Dieppe in 1944 they didn’t disturb the graves, but simply re-marked the graves with the now well recognizable white granite markers.  The cemetery is beautiful, quiet and unfortunately under-visited.  If you are a Canadian and are anywhere near Dieppe – take the time to go and visit.  Register in the guest registry.  These soldiers were some of the most unfortunate pawns in a war planned and plotted from across the channel.  The Canadians didn’t have a chance.  Go by.  Visit.  Remember.

We moved on from the cemetery to the actual town of Dieppe.  The town was abuzz with activity.  It was certainly not a small town.  It has a population of 35,000 now.  It was Saturday and there was a Fish Market going on as well as a general open air market with people selling their various wares, food, trinkets etc.  People were thick in the market, out on a nice sunny day shopping.  We drove around and found the Tourist Info centre but there was no way we were going to be able to park there.  The fish market was set up right in front of the front door.  We had to drive about 6 blocks away before we found parking over near the beach On the positive side: parking was free.

The tourist info people were most helpful.  The lady had a map of the town and on it she marked where the Memorial building and the "Canada Square" were as well as the location of various monuments that were along the beach where so many died.  We worked our way out and decided that given where we parked, we could make a large loop that ended at the vehicle.

To get to the Canadian memorial we had to work our way through the market.  About 3 blocks of almost back to back people buying, selling and generally living a busy Saturday afternoon. We made it through the market and the first thing we found was "rue du 19 Aout, 1942"  A small road named after the events of that fateful day. Along the road at the Eglise St. Remy there was a small memorial against the church wall that said simply

"Ici le 19 Aout 1942

Sont tombes

deux soldats Canadiens"

The location where it was placed made me feel that it was quite likely that these soldiers may have been executed. I don’t know, and I can’t find any further information on the Internet. If you know anything about this memorial, I’d love to hear it.

A block away we came across the Dieppe-Canada Memorial building. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be open until 1400 on Saturdays, and we were going to be heading out of town before then. It seemed that almost everywhere in Dieppe that you went if there was a French Flag flying, there would be a Canadian one nearby.  You really understand that they were so strongly affected by these events of the war that they make a point of ensuring that they will always remember.. (more on that in a bit) In North America, too many seem to let these events slip away 😦

Past the memorial and in the shadow of the Chateau de Dieppe was Canada Square.  A lovely green space with a large Canada Flag crafted from red and white flowers.  The white ones seemed to be in transition while we were visiting, but the red of the maple leaf and its bars were distinct and drew your attention.  There is a monument in the square which lists the ties that Dieppe has had with Canada going back to the early Catholic missionaries that came from there and were, unfortunately, killed by the algonquins back in the 1600’s  Our history with Dieppe is long and bloody.  The square was well laid out and quite respectful.

We headed out toward the car via the beach.  Along the beach were 3 different memorials to the different regiments that landed at Dieppe and were slaughtered.  It was strange to be standing at a monument looking out on the beach and up at the cliffs where the German guns had been.  You could almost hear the screams of soldiers as they were pinned on the beach trying not to die more than trying to take a town.  After that, you turn around and there are sailboats on the water,  kids playing on the rocky beach, lovers making out leaning against the very seawall that that gave little shelter to soldiers 66 years earlier,  and a stage crew setting up for a show that night.  It was strange to see people going about their lives on the beach as if nothing happened. You wanted to scream to them, "Don’t you know a thousand people died here?!?!"  But they do.  They remember. They care.  But they have to live their lives and move forward, while remembering.  When someone from outside comes in, full of "remembrance" we don’t understand that they’ve lived with this for 60 years.  They can’t spend every moment of their lives visibly remembering. 

We finished our walk along the beach and stopped for a lunch at one of the beachside stands.  Mrs D had a hotdog (which is a wiener stuffed into a baguette) while I had a "Croque Monsieur". I had seen them for sale throughout France and decided it was high time I had one.  We ate in a nice little sheltered area and enjoyed our lunch.  Two thumbs up for the Croque Monsieur!  We seemed to finish at a good time.  As we were getting ready to leave the German chapter of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang was rolling in.  Nice guys, I’m sure.  I didn’t really want to hang out with them though – I was afraid I might cramp their style 😉

We headed out to Amiens, our destination for the night.  More tolls, more driving. The warm sun and food, combined with the lack of sleep from the night before meant sleepy me.  Not exactly a winning combo when you’re whipping down the highway at 125.  We stopped at one of the many roadside rest stops and I napped for about 20 minutes about 45 minutes short of Amiens.  It would seem I was dead tired.  I almost passed out immediately.

We hit Amiens around 1600.  We passed the Holiday Inn Express a couple of times before we managed some strett parking so that I could go in and ask about where to park the car.   The public underground parking under the hotel was only 5 euros for 24 hours!  Sweet.

We settled into our room and tried to get worked out what I was going to do with the car in Calais the next day.  We had told Hertz that we were going to drop it at the Eurotunnel but that was 4km from where we wanted to be. Not so handy if you are carless.   I had to pay 20 euros for 24 hours but with that it meant that I got Skype up and going.  I was able to call Hertz international and they told me I’d have to call the local rental agent if I wanted to change anything.  I tried Hertz Amsterdam – no answer.  Next, I decided to try calling Hertz in Calais at the Eurotunnel site and determined that car to Ferry port was OK, despite what Hertz International had said when I was booking the vehicle on the phone back in Canada.  It seemed like a lot of work to get from Calais to Heathrow without a car so I asked the nice lady at Hertz Calais Eurotunnel what the cost of dropping the vehicle at Heathrow would be instead of Calais. 1200 EUROS!!!!  Apparently they really DON’T want their cars left on the other side :)  Foot passengers we would be then.

We walked down to the Quartier St. Leu of Amiens.  There are many nice restaurants next to the canal and they quite a variety of choices.  We chose one that really had a very nice combo of "french" cuisine seeing as this would be our last night in France.  We started a nice crepe-like pastry filled with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce and cheese – ficelle.  The main course was duck in a sauce which seemed to have a red wine hint in it. Very nice.  For dessert I had profiteroles an Mrs D had the Chocolate Tarte. We finished by sipping our little french coffee.  All this for 15.90 euros while sitting on the patio and enjoying the sites and sounds of Amiens.  The way the area was set up, you’d think you were in a little town of a few thousand rather than a population of 140,000.  Not only was the atmosphere great, the price was a pleasantly good deal for a change. 

We walked back to the hotel and made sure that all our stuff would fit in our bags and that we would be able to handle it all during the travel on foot the next day. With that complete, and eleven dollars of Skype credit to use up we called people around Canada and chatted with them for a while, burning up some of the left over minutes.

I blogged until 0100 to try to get caught up with all the crazy days that have been just wiping me out.

Europe 2008 (Caen) Day 20 – June 13

13 06 2008

I hope you have a bit of time to read, because I know this will take a while to write.  Sooo much stuff!

Last night I had plotted a route which would take us through various cemeteries, beaches and other historical points along the famous Normandy Coast of the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944.

From Caen our first stop was the Canadian Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer/Reviers.  The cemetery sits off to the side of a quiet road and has a gravel parking lot capable of holding about 30 cars if it had to.  The place was nicely done.  There was an area of reflection and dedication and a nice green lawn.  Further in, you reached the border of the  graveyard.  There were two "watch towers" overlooking the graves with dedications within them.  The graves were aligned along a left-right line and there were flowers and roses planted around the headstones.  It was quiet when we got there.  There was one vehicle there.  As we were there one other vehicle came in.  I felt sad to see so many graves in one place.  Interestingly one of the graves  in the cemetery is that of a French Freedom fighter.  He is the only non-Canadian buried there.  He apparently fought along with the Canadians on D-Day and had no living relatives.  The Canadian soldiers were his family, so they "adopted" him as a Canadian.  His grave was marked with the distinctive French cross style of marker with a steel plate and the commemorative words "Mort pour la France".  It was a nice visit.  It brought a lump to your throat to see all the 20-25 year olds that never got to grow old.

Next on the agenda was Courseulles-sur-Mer, so we started heading out that way.   We arrived in Courseulles-sur-Mer and found that there was a "Juno Beach Centre".  We arrived at the centre around 11:20 and it was raining pretty hard.  That worked well – we would be able to head inside and stay dry while getting caught up on the regional Canadian specific history.  We were offered the "beach tour" for another 2.50 euros.  It was scheduled to leave at 1200, but we weren’t so sure… it was raining pretty hard.  The kind girl working the desk said that if we wanted to go later we could just pay our 2.50 then.  Perfect.    We went into the museum and information section and the display is designed to help explain why Canada entered the war, and what the motivation was behind many of the Canadian soldiers of the time.  We got about 1/3 through when the guide came and called all for the tour.  "Is it still pouring out?" We asked.

"Not too much, but I have an umbrella for you if you need it."

Sold.  We shelled out our coin and headed out to the beach area for the tour.

The tour pointed out some of the locations and talked about how Dieppe was a development stage for D-Day.  The guide was a knowledgeable French Canadian student who was on a work term.  He pointed out that the centre had not been built by the Canadian government by veterans gathering donations to have it built.  Until the Juno Beach Centre existed there had been an American history centre and a British history centre but nothing regarding the Canadian involvement.  With the funds raised from private donors they have built a great site of which Canada can be proud.  After the tour we walked around on the beach and came across a German bunker known as "Cosy’s bunker" for the soldier who eventually took it.  Juno beach also happened to be the place where Montgomery, King George and de Gaulle came on land after the initial assaults had cleared enough land.  Looking at the size of the exposed beach at low tide and the small seawall, combined with the locations of the bunkers it was easy to imagine the horror experienced that day.

Interesting sidebar – Courseulles-sur-Mer is located on the 49th parallel.  The same latitude as Vancouver.

From the centre we headed up the beach road in the direction of Gold Beach.  The first location we came upon was Arromanches.  It was at Arromanches that the Allies built one of two floating harbours (Mullberry A and B).  The one here was known as Port Winston.  The Brits and Canadians built it well, with the idea that it was going to be permanent.  It weathered some nasty storms during the war, and even to this day there are pieces of it still in their original locations!  The one built over at Omaha was viewed as temporary and was anchored down as such didn’t have quite the same building care put into it.  It lasted for a short while but was torn apart by a strong storm within 10 days.  From the cliffs above Arromanches you could see that the outline of the breakwaters for the harbour. It truly was a MASSIVE undertaking.  The harbour at Arromanches functioned for 8 months and moved 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tonnes of supplies.

Our next destination was a battery of 4 German guns stationed at Longues-sur-Mer.  The bunkers formed part of the "Atlantic Wall", and consisted of 4 guns spread out approximately 500m from the cliffs and a forward observation post near the cliff.  The guns caused serious problems for the Americans landing at Omaha as well as the British at Gold.   They continued to harangue the invasion fleet until 0845 that morning.  Apparently the 4 guns had fired a total of 115 rounds.  when you got out to see them they were in surprisingly good shape for having been hammered by intense bombing, and shelling from the Navy ships off shore.  Two guns looked like they had taken a pretty bad hit, but 2 of them appeared to be in quite good shape, all things considered.  I knew from looking at these monsters that I wouldn’t have liked to be on the receiving end of a game of catch with these guys.

Back in the car after having had my drenching again at this site (I wonder how much rain they had to fight through during the days of the invasion) we headed up the road toward Omaha beach, the location where Saving Private Ryan was set.  The beach was set below a sweeping hillside that would have been pretty much devastating.  We arrived down to the beach by a quiet little side road at "Easy Red, Fox Green" and had missed all the plaques and memorials higher above.  We were down on the beach looking up.  Much like the US soldiers probably were on D-Day. At the little parking lot where we were it was probably only a small percentage that ever got to see that view.  Most would have died as they were in their landing boats long before even seeing this point.

While standing down there and looking at the beach and the hills overlooking it a pair of horseback riders came by and galloped across the beach with the wind blowing their horses’ manes.  If not for the bloodstained history of the beach it could have been a simple afternoon on a country beach.  The solitude and freedom of the running horses seemed a strong contrast to the chaos and crawling approach on the same beaches 64 years ago.

We walked up from the beach to the hill and came across a network of gun emplacements, pillboxes and casemates that would have rained hell down on the beach.  I couldn’t believe that anyone would have got through that, never mind throwing in barbed wire, Czech hedgehogs and antitank and antipersonnel mines.  We stood in awe at the thought and were glad that the young men of the US army DID get through.  There were memorials to the different divisions that attacked that day on that beach and a reconnaissance map of how the German guns were laid out.  Very interesting.

Above the beach on the very hills that were so well entrenched by the Germans is the American Military Cemetery.  The cemetery is huge.  It has to be to hold almost 10,000 dead.  Most of the soldiers lost their lives in the D-Day landings or in the battles that ensued.  The cemetery also has a semicircular "Walls of the Missing" on which are the names of the 1500+ soldiers that were never found.

The cemetery is also a popular "tourist" destination and there were 3 busloads of School Teens running, laughing and shouting at each other.  This detracted from the feel somewhat but once you walked far enough down the very path between the columns of graves you got to the quieter end.  There were many "known unto God" soldiers and it hurt to know that a parent out there never knew what became of their child or had that closure that we all need when dealing with death.   The sheer volume of grave markers overwhelmed you and it was easy to have the individual names.  I forced myself to read the names and the dates one by one to help remember that it wasn’t about companies, platoons, divisions etc.  It was about individuals.  Scared, young individuals that were killed fighting for the freedom we all enjoy today. 

It was already 1800 by the time we finished at the cemetery.  The visitor office had closed.  We still had three more sites to see before our tour was over.  It was going to be a long day.  Lunch?  We had some bread, cheese and water back at Juno Beach but that seemed a long time ago.

Our next destination was the first town liberated by the Allies on D-Day.  It also happened to be WAY out of the way from the rest of the beaches but the treatment it got in "The Longest Day" had me wanting to get out to see the town.   We drove and drove down the highway over to Sainte-Mère-Église.  It was a bustling little town and very touristy.   Seems they really market their role in the D-Day invasion.    Well, we were a bit disappointed but stopped at the church and shot a few pictures of the paratrooper dummy hanging from the church like John Steele did during the heavy fighting of June 5/6. The cool thing was that the stained glass windows (all of course new since the fighting had destroyed them) had scenes from the WWII battle.  One window depicts the Virgin Mary with Paratroopers landing around her.  Another a night with the symbols of the 101st Airborne incorporated into it.  Well done.

It was getting late, and we’d been driving around now for about 10 hours.  We had two more sites that we HAD to visit so we drove back down the highway that we came and headed our way to GrandCamp-Maisy, home of Pointe du Hoc.

We got to Pointe du Hoc at around 1930.  The visitor centre had closed at 1900 so the place was deserted other than maybe one other car.  That was fine for us.  We just wanted to see the area.  We read the plaque explaining the Rangers’ mission to scale the cliffs and take out the guns.  It must have been quite a surprise to get through all the fighting and find that the guns weren’t even there.

About 100 yards down the path, the open field of Pointe du Hoc opened up and you could see the place looked like it had been put through a blender.  It was as if a giant had walked through a freshly poured concrete sidewalk before it hardened.  There were craters that were 30 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep.  Many of them just flowed one into the other.  Where the casemates were there were blocks of broken concrete.  I could almost imagine the area after the enemy bombardment – muddy, giant holes, and twisted steel and concrete.  Despite all this, the casualties had been relatively low for the Germans and they were able to mount a strong defence against the Rangers with small arms.  You could walk around the point and feel the size of the craters by walking down into them and looking up.  You could really feel that even if you didn’t get killed by an exploding bomb or shell, the 5 tonnes of earth that was displaced would likely have done it to you.  Nothing like dying from a rock flying through you 😦

The walk was very interesting.  Mrs D rated as the most interesting part of the day.

At this point it was pretty late but I wasn’t going to go home until we’d visited the German cemetery at La Cambe.  When we got there it was already 2000.  The place was definitely closed.  There were no other visitors other than ourselves and the sun was beginning to get that golden glow.  We wandered throughout the cemetery.  The graves were all marked with flat grave makers instead of stand up crosses.  It made it hard to grasp the size of the cemetery.  A little Googling brought up the fact that there were 21400 graves there. More than two times the number of the American cemetery but it was a smaller area, and the monuments were less grandiose.  I felt that these soldiers got the raw deal.  They had fought just as valiantly, they had fought for their comrades and helped and had no doubt been heroic in their attempted defence of the coast.  They obviously got nowhere near the visitors that the American cemetery did, having only space for parking 2 busses and maybe 40 cars. compared to the room for 10+ and a few hundred cars at the American cemetery. Probably because of the setting sun and all, but I got the feeling that these soldiers had been forgotten.   I spent a while reflecting and saying a prayer for them, knowing that before God they were every bit the soldier that the ones that got all the visitors were.   Monuments in the cemetery talked of peace and building bridges.  A contrast to Monuments in the Allied cemeteries talking of valour and courage.  It sucks to be the loser.  History and perspective is all from the winner’s point of view.

We headed back to our hotel.  At 2100 we stopped at Bayeux and had McDonalds.  We needed a quick meal and I wasn’t about to figure out where decent food was in town.  I still felt cheated at the price of the McChicken combo 😦

While our 12 hour odyssey was long and tiring, I felt it was an important trip to make to learn and understand the very things that shape our world today.  I thanked God for all the brave soldiers that fought to free France and Europe, and I hoped for salvation of those that fought to defend it.   I reflected and realized that the reasons why we as Canadians fought in Europe are similar to the reasons we as Canadians are now fighting in Afghanistan – to keep a harmful radical ideology from spreading across the world. I only hope we succeed now as well.

Say a prayer for our soldiers.  Say a prayer for peace.


Europe 2008 (Paris to Caen) Day 19 – June 12

12 06 2008

We got up at a reasonable hour and started out from the hotel.   I headed down to where I parked the car and paid my ransom to get it back.  105 euros to park for 4 days.  The joys of big city living.  We got moving around 0915.  Great.  Paris rush hour.   Like most big cities, rush hour in Paris is a horrible misnomer.  Nothing like standing almost still as you try to weave your way across two lanes while your GPS is telling you "Stay LEFT ahead", "Right turn ahead". Of course "Ahead" is another 5 minutes away when you’re not really moving :( 

We finally got going out of Paris and it was toll time again.  I don’t know if I mentioned it previously but if you want to drive on a road that lets you haul ass at 130 kph you’ve got to pay for it.  Tolls.  Lots of them.  Oh well.  Gotta get where we’re going.  We don’t really have that much of a choice.  The non-toll roads would take me another 2 hours according to Tom Tom.

So, while whipping along the highway the French government has taken it upon themselves to tell you about great things that are in the area where you are driving.  Castles, Historic events, stuff like that.  As we were on pace to get to Caen pretty easily today something had to come up. It did.  The little government "feature" sign said simply "Giverny" with a picture of water lilies.  I turned to Mrs D, "Monet’s Garden?"


And so I plugged "downtown" Giverny into Tom Tom and immediately got the "Take the next exit".  Off we went to find Giverny.

Interesting sidebar.  "Center of city" in Tom Tom parlance seems to mean "Place in small town where the biggest church is located" so sometimes you don’t so much end up in the center of the city, but next to a cool big church wondering where you’re supposed to go now.  Thankfully Giverny has a thriving population of approximately 500 residents and probably holds another 2000+ tourists in summer.  This meant that if I was heading for the center of the town I was pretty likely to find directions to the garden too!

We found our way to where the five tour buses were parked.  It was pretty heavily overcast but we figured teh rain would hold off long enough.  We got to the gardens at about 1030.   We paid for entry into the gardens and the house.  Probably would have been a better plan to just get the garden ticket.  We figured we’d go to the gardens first and if it started to rain we could head towards the house.  It had been a cool spring and we were in the part between the summer blooms and the early spring blooms but the garden keepers had managed to have a nice variety of flowers around the garden bringing an aromatic bouquet on the air as well as lovely splashes of colours from the trellised roses and other lovely flowers.  We wandered down in quiet contemplation of how Monet must have felt in the tranquility of his gardens when the other 100 tourists weren’t walking around and babies crying.  It was a challenge to imagine, but I managed to bring myself there.

Just as we got to the Japanese garden, about the furthest from the house, the heavens opened up.  This made quiet contemplation a bit harder, as it was accompanied by the "plink, plink, plink" of rain constantly hammering the water.  Where there was slight shelter from the trees you had the solitude of having your own 2 square feet of tranquility to revel in the lily pond.  Seriously though, it was very pretty down at the lily pond and I could certainly imagine great inspiration coming from there.  We took a few pictures in the downpour and headed up to the house.

The house was a basic little house with a fairly turn of the 19th century look to it.  Simple but nice.  Monet had hung many paintings of Japanese artists on his walls.  He obviously really enjoyed to style of the japanese art, having so much of it around. The extra cost of touring the house just didn’t really seem worth it though. In retrospect I would have been fine with just the gardens.

As we finished our visit at 1200, so did the rainfall.  Fate, I guess.  It continued to spit a little, but nothing like the deluge of earlier.  The drive to Caen was fairly short from there and after paying more tolls we arrived at our location by 1400.

The nice thing about arriving early is that you have time in the afternoon to do something.  At about 1600 we took the rest of the afternoon time to visit the Caen Normandy Memorial.  The building is very large and houses a couple of small theatres, a permanent WWII exhibit, a temporary 9/11 exhibit as well as a small exhibit about the French Canadian soldiers in the war.  We saw one of the movies, explaining the landing at Normandy and the history behind it.  It helped Mrs D get a better grasp of what happened in the European theatre of WWII.

After the movie, we had enough time to visit the WWII museum and see what conditions in Europe led to the outbreak of the war.  The display took you through French life during the war and the work of the resistance.  They helped to explain about the formation of the Vichy government and formation of the Free French led by Charles de Gaulle. It was quite enlightening.   They had a battle map of how the invasions of D-Day occurred and where.  Mrs D could clearly see where the Canadians assaulted vs the British or Americans.  They had various relics from the war as well as a wedding dress that had been fashioned out of parachute silk during the war for a French bride. I don’t recall WHY they used the silk for a dress instead of a parachute, but it was still quite cool to see.  We finished our tour of the memorial by 1900 and stopped at the gift shop to by a nice map/guide of the Normandy D-Day sites for 5 euro, which would help me plan the next day’s upcoming D-Day beach tour.

Our hotel was located about 2 blocks from a big mall with a Superstore like grocery market.  We stopped in and bought some Normandy cider, red wine, a baguette and MORE Camembert!!! Yummy.

A 250g package of Camembert cost only 2.50 euros and the wine put me back a whole 2.35 euros for a bottle of Cotes du Rhone.  I love it.  No wonder they drink so much wine here.  Much cheaper than water.

When we got home we had some cheese and bread as well as the cider.  Delicious, although Mrs D found this cheese to be a bit strong in smell compared to the last camembert.  I found it nicer.  Everyone has their preferences I suppose.

As Mrs D settled down for the night, I planned the next day’s Normandy beach assault of our own.  I had plans to visit about 8 different sites that day.  It was going to be a long day even if we were only going to actually drive 200km.

I’m excited about tomorrow.

Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 18 – June 11

11 06 2008

Today was the Louvre day.  We headed out after our usual breakfast and got to the museum around 1000.  We were overwhelmed by the size of the place.  It was huge.  There were so many people milling about lobby area. 

Overall impressions:

  • Huge
  • Need 2 days to see it properly
  • Incredible collection of antiquities and works by masters.
  • If you’re smart you can tag in behind a tour group and hear what the guide is telling them about particular masters or their paintings.
  • Don’t forget the Renoirs, Venus de Milo.
  • Cool Egyptian relics from 3000BC!

We saw the Mona Lisa.  It’s a bit anticlimactic.  You have built this painting up in your mind for all these years and you get to the room where it is.  There is a throng of people pushing to see it and take photos.  Flash bulbs are popping right left and centre.  We worked our way in the crowd to the front of the mass.  It certainly wasn’t a time to quietly reflect on the asymmetry in her arms or to see if the eyes followed you.  You couldn’t move anywhere.  We took our pictures and spend a good 10 seconds admiring her before letting someone else push their way up to where we were standing.  We stood off to the side and enjoyed watching the crowds, probably more than we did the Mona Lisa.

Now… why does the Louvre not worry about camera flash and its UV destroying the delicate masterpiece that is the Mona Lisa?  Is it because by being behind glass most of the UV is cut out?  Why?  This pictures/no pictures thing gets kind of annoying.

The Louvre is housed in what was previously a royal palace.  They have reconstructed many of the rooms to be as they were back then.  The dining room which seated about 30 of your closest friends was amazing.  The chandeliers extravagant.  After this and the visit to Versailles, it wasn’t hard to see why the peasants killed them all.  They lived so excessively over the top, all from the money they extracted in taxes.  If I was living in dirt and barely eating any bread, I might be inclined to pull the rope on the guillotine myself.

Our only other task for the day was to head back to Louis Vitton to get Eddie’s wallet.  We took the metro a couple of stops and popped up right at correct intersection.  One small problem.  We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and we’d been on our feet for the whole day!  Another 15 euro meal?  This was going to cost us an arm and a leg.  Nope. We hit McDonalds.  Yes, McD’s  in Paris.  For those of you out there that are Pulp Fiction Fans the quarter pounder is really called Le Royal.  LOL!  At 6 euros for a combo, it made for a pretty pricy McChicken but it was good.  Honestly we were pretty hungry and sawdust probably would have tasted good. 

Having brought our energy levels back up from zero we headed over to LV.  We went over to the men’s section and asked for Eddie’s wallet.  This was going to be quick and easy.  Then the dreaded words came from behind me, "Do you have a similar wallet but for women?"  WHAT????  Could that really have been my wife’s voice?  I turned like in one of those action films where the hero sees his love interest being shot.  A second seemed like an eternity.  My mind reeled, "Noooooo!!!!!!"  but it was too late.   The snooty salesman was more than happy to help.  We spent another 30 minutes looking at overpriced means of holding that which you wouldn’t have if you bought one of them.  Sigh.  Women.

Having done our shopping for others, it was now time for us to do something for ourselves that we could afford.  Laundry.  We had one more load of laundry to do and we’d have enough clean laundry to last us until the end of the trip.  From looking at $1000 wallets to washing your undies in a laundromat.   Heh.  Life’s funny how it reminds you of reality.  Tonight we went over to the "Fran Prix" supermarket and picked up some Camembert, ham, salami, wine, water and grapefruit juice.  We had the meat and cheese and wine for dinner along with a baguette from the neighbouring bakery.  Cheap.  Good.  Oh so French. 🙂

Up to the lobby again later to try and find a place for post-Normandy.  I found a Holiday Inn express in Amiens.  Booked.  The post Paris landscape had been reshaped.  We were going to hit the beaches of Normandy on the day between the two nights in Caen.  We would hit Dieppe from Caens to Amiens and then Vimy from Amiens to Calais/Heathrow.  Much better breakdown of driving all ’round.  Some things are just fall into place to make it all work better I guess.

Tomorrow we will be leaving Paris.  What a wonderful city.  Full of so many incredible sights.  I could see living here.  As long as I had an income to match the spending levels that are required.



Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 17 – June 10

11 06 2008

Today we got up a little less bright and early – 0800.  The small room at the hotel was fine, although people came and went outside until fairly late.  We were finished our breakfast at 0850 and on our way by 0900.

Funny thing about living in the hostel environment.  Around breakfast we had mentioned to someone that we were planning to visit the Louvre today.  They turned, in surprise, and explained: "The Louvre is closed.  All Museums except d’Orsay are closed Tuesdays."  Whoops.  Plan B.  All I had to do was actually come up with plan "B" 😉

OK, so plan "B" consisted of Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and if time provided we’d hit Sacre Coeur.  The hostel environment certainly paid off.  We would have ended up at the Louvre wondering why they were closed.    We started down to Notre Dame on the metro and arrived about 4 blocks from the church.  The day was nice and sunny, it was starting to get pretty warm. On our way to Notre Dame we passed by Sainte Chapelle – CLOSED due to strike.  Strike?  It’s a CHURCH?  Urgh! Today and the next day.  Basically closed for the rest of our stay in Paris :(  Plan "C"?  We wing it.

When we arrived at Notre Dame we got to the front area and found a small SEA of tourists.  Up until Paris we really hadn’t hit many crowds.  I had taken us to locations that were a bit off the beaten path.  No way to avoid that in Paris it seemed.  Summer was coming and the tourists (French and otherwise) were flowing in.  Entry to the cathedral was free.  Free? Yes – Free.  Gratis.  Sans tariffe.  Go figure.  We walked throughout the cathedral and enjoyed the history and feel of the great old gothic church.  The interior was very tall and this meant that it was really, really hard to shoot the windows.  1) They were so far away, and 2) the keystoning was nasty.  I’m not terribly happy with the results.   We shelled out 3 euros to get into the sacristie and see the treasures of the church.  There were many beautifully adorned items and interesting relics.  The catholic church certainly knew how to get donations. :)  As we toured about, a choir began to sing, accompanied by the organ.  It was heavenly, the sounds of the all female chorus floated beautifully throughout.  Between the choir and the organ it let you float away on the sounds.

Having been around the church, we decided we’d walk around to the back of the church on the outside to see if we could get some good shots of the cathedral from another angle.  It looks so different from the outside.  We walked around and took some good pictures.  As we were going around we came across a French scout troop that was definitely putting the "out" in Scouting.  They were meeting on the lawn behind the church.  You could see that one part of the group was working on some basic knot skills while another section of the troop was doing something else.  We continued away from Notre Dame to try and get further away in order not to be shooting up at 70 degree angles.  It was REALLY hot.  We tried to stay in the shade of trees whenever we could.  

Next on the "agenda" I figured we could take a walk along the canal/river.  As we headed toward the water we ran into a location shoot for a Hollywood flick "Julie/Julia".  We stayed and watched for a bit.  There were no stars that I recognized.  Sorry Blair.  We walked over one of the bridges and down to the Seine.  It was a pleasant walk, keeping in the shade of the embankment as we walked.  There were many artists sketching the cathedral or street life.  Very much as you would imagine Paris by the river.  We walked a while further and then realized we were right at an RER station.  I looked at our metro map… The musee d’Orsay was on the RER line AND it was open.  Sweet… musee d’Orsay it was!  We hopped on the RER and went to musee d’Orsay which, if you recall from above,  is the only major museum not closed on Tuesdays.  We got out of the train station right at the museum.  A few steps outside and we realised it was HOT, HOT, HOT!  Good thing we were heading inside.  We went to the ticket lineup and proceeded through the standard security check and then walked right in.  Yup.  No fee.  Another free attraction.  We couldn’t figure out why it was free.  Our best guess in retrospect was because all the other museums were closed.  We weren’t about to complain.

We wandered the galleries for about 4 hours and saw works by Monet, van Gogh, Gaugin and Degas among others.  Wow, to see the paintings in person really gives you an appreciation for their works.  You can see the brush strokes and the detail.  The 6th floor was where all the real heavyweight great works were.  Just one masterpiece after another.  If you go visit the museum don’t think "I’ll skip the 6th floor, it’s probably more of the same."  Get ye to the 6th floor!

After d’Orsay we were tired.  We’d been doing some serious "on foot time" today, but we figured we could squeeze in Sacre Coeur still and leave the Louvre for tomorrow.  We took the metro from d’Orsay to the the  Montmartre funniculaire, it would be short hop up the funicular to get up to the church.  We walked from the metro to the funicular to find a sign that said "Funicular closed for repairs"  D’Oh!  More stairs!  About 60ft of elevation to climb to get to the church.  Huff, puff, water, walk, water, rest, water, walk.  The heat and the walking were really taking their toll on us.  We made it up the stairs to see the prominently placed Eglise du Sacre Coeur.  It rose above the area around it, even the hill on which it was placed.  It was definitely a good "church place’. Entry:  free.  Things weren’t all bad. As we entered the church some big guy told us "Cameras away in your bags."  No photos in the church.  It is supposed to be a place of 24 hour prayer and silence.  I suppose the clicking and the flashes from those that can’t turn off their flash.  Bummer.  The guy at the door was quite fanatical about the photo thing too.  We saw someone take a photo and he called the erstwhile photographer over and made him delete the picture in front of him.  This guy took his (probably volunteer) job seriously.  I’d hate to think what would have happened if the dude had used flash!  The stained glass windows in the church were lovely and the sun shone through them strongly, throwing coloured squares all around the floor.  It was very nice. The church is new (as far as old churches are concerned).  It was built in 1919.  The newness meant that, unlike all the other churches we’d visited to date, they hadn’t used candles and torches to light the church in the past.  All the walls were a beautiful clean white granite and it almost glistened.  Quite a difference from all the older churches that had a dark black sooty look to much of their interior stone.

After the inside, we did the requisite walk around the outside to see the church from different views.   We saw that you could climb up to the top of the tower for 5 euros.  As much as we wanted to, our feet weren’t going to agree with that idea.  An option that seemingly nobody else was taking was to head down into the crypt.  That was free.  The crypt was cool.  (both temperature and in effect).  There was nobody else in there.  It was so quiet that you could hear feet walking even in running shoes.    It was quiet eerie.   The crypt, of course, is where they keep their relics.  Unfortunately the light was so poor in the area of the relic cases, all I could discern was a piece of fabric and some fragments of bone.  Interesting.

We decided to walk back from Sacre Coeur back to the hotel.  Of course we didn’t let the small problem of having no idea which way that was get in the way.   We walked for a while and then decided to pull out Tom Tom.   Tom Tom hadn’t let us down yet, but he was going to have a challenge in the narrow, building lined streets of the area.  After a lot of thinking Tom Tom figured out where we were but it kept getting the way we were walking wrong, so it kept telling us to reverse direction, turn right and then change its mind and tell us to turn left.  Some gentleman, seeing that we were obviously not 100% sure of our directions offered to help.  He pointed us in the direction that Tom Tom had picked as well.  Tom Tom had picked the physically best walking route, but had no knowledge of altitude changes so it was happy to take us up the mountain and down again to keep the path short.  The gentleman had given us a more "round the mountain" route.  We went with his directions 🙂

On the way back we grabbed a couple cans of Heineken and a bottle of red wine.  When we got back to the hotel we drained those cans like they had plain water.  We were so thirsty.

We decided to try the French restaurant at the bottom of the steps for dinner.  Let me tell you about the steps. Caulaincourt Square is located on the side of the hill (massive mountain if you’re walking) and to go up or down one block on the hill meant about a 80 step climb.  The metro was about 150 steps from the street down to the track level.  The steps down to the restaurant were about 80 steps (probably 3 floors elevation change)  We arrived around 1900 for dinner.  The place was nearly empty except for one other table.  The day outside was finally beginning to be less sweltering.  We had a pretty authentic french meal.  I had a duck and Irene lamb.  They were well prepared and the sauces complimented them well.  The dinner was 14 euros each but it felt worth it.  Good food, good service and cute waitress  😉

We went back to the hotel and I took the laptop up to the lobby where I could get WiFi working.  We had to try to book a room in Normandy and Ypres.  Time was ticking and we didn’t want to end up in a predicament like we did in Troyes. I searched and searched.  I must have tried 10 different hotel search engines.  Most of the small places only had email or a phone number, and I wouldn’t hear back from them until at least the next day.  I sent the emails but didn’t give them much hope.  I really needed to book a room today.  We finally ended up booking a place in Caen.  The price was reasonable.  With our relocated Normandy accommodations it meant I had some more flexibility in the night after the two nights in Normandy.  Good thing too, as Ypres appeared to be booked solid and all the hotel search engines were offering Brugges which is even FARTHER than Ypres from where I was.  We might settle on Amiens.  No last post in Ypres for me if we do.

At 0030 I headed back to the room with still only Caen booked but a better idea for our Normandy adventure coming up… Tomorrow is going to be a long day of museuming at the Louvre.

Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 16 – June 9

9 06 2008

We got up early today, and at 0715 I was off to start the laundry at the laundromat which was just 2 doors down from the hotel.  We finished the laundry by 0900 and had the breakfast that the hotel offers.  1 croissant, 1 bun, 1 glass of OJ, all the cereal you can eat and all the coffee and tea you can drink.  OK, but really "bready".

Our plan for today was to hit the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomphe.  We headed down to the Lamark – Caulaincourt metro (about 200m from the hotel) and bought a 3 day metro pass.  Finally something that didn’t cost an arm and a leg: 19 euros each. The metro attendant helped us figure out which metro we wanted to take and then we were off to see the Eiffel Tower!  I was excited.

We got to the tower and there was a small sea of tourists already there.  It probably took us about 40 minutes from when we got in the line at about 1000 until we finally got into the elevator to go up to the 1st and second floors.  Well, there were 3 elevators bringing people up to the 2nd floor and from there it was one elevator bringing up people to the 3rd floor (about the same height up again as the 2nd floor was).  We immediately joined that line and took some pictures as we waited.  Paris was lovely from up on the tower.  We could see that it soon would be smoggy as the weather warmed up and the haze built upon the city.  After waiting about another 30 minutes we made it to the elevator for the 3rd floor.  They packed us in like sardines and we took the elevator up to the top.  The view was very NICE.  It was interesting to see the people and cars milling about down below looking like ants.  We took pictures of Paris, probably from every angle you could imagine.  Unfortunately the Champs de Mars was directly into the sun so it meant that it limited our pictures to more northerly exposures.  I dreamed how the city might look from up there at night.

We went down to the second level and took our time looking around from there.  It seemed that, even thought it was super cool from the 3rd floor to see the city, the view from the second floor was clearer, less hazy.  We took a whole bunch of photos again.

Next stop: First floor.  It was past lunch and we needed a bite.  We dined on the Eiffel tower overlooking Paris.  Sure we only had a sandwich and a hot dog, but we DID dine on the tower overlooking the city ;)  After regaining our energy from eating lunch we decided we’d WALK down to the ground instead of the elevator.  It was interesting to walk down through the structure of a leg of the tower and see the elevator passing you.

From the Eiffel tower, it was off to the Arc de Triomphe.  We got off one stop down from the Arc and walked up the Champs Elysee towards it.  It was already afternoon unfortunately and the sun was behind the Arc, making it a tough shot :(  We passed Peugot and Renault shops on the Champs as we walked and they both had their latest F1 racers on display in the showrooms.  Very glitzy.  Very cool.  Got some good shots.  We continued along further and stopped at the Toyota Paris.  They had a scale model of a RAV4 there.  The impulse buyer with me now has one :)  Next stop on the walk was Louis Vitton.  The store was full of people buying REALLY expensive stuff!  We walked through the store and saw some Jewellery for CAD35K and luggage for CAD21K!!!  We inquired about the wallet we figured Eddie wanted.  Out of stock.  Bummer.  We got a couple of other model numbers from the catalogue and figured we’d check with him as to what he wants.

We arrived at the Arc de Triomphe and had a look around.  I forgot how massive it was.  Nothing like coming up from the underground under the arch and seeing it up close.  There were the words of Charles de Gaulle which he broadcast from the BBC after France capitulated and there was the tomb of the unknown soldier.  It was really nice.  There were many clueless tourists just snapping pictures and saying "What was THAT part for?"  So many of them didn’t have a clue about the history of the Arc or why it was built.  Some (North Americans) didn’t even know that WWI was 1914-1918.  I was ashamed to be a North American when I heard that conversation 😦

We went over to Avenue des Grands Armees and took some pictures with the sun to our back this time.  Next we walked down the Avenue des Champs Elysees on the other side of the street and checked out all the stores on that side.   We walked, and walked, and walked all the way down to the "Jardins des Tuileries"  and then down to th musee de Louvre at the far eastern end of the Avenue des Champs Elysees. What a long walk that was.

We headed over to 2ieme arrondisement for dinner.  After wandering somewhat hopelessly, we found a nice cafe with good food and good prices.  Soccer was on.  France tied Romania.  0-0  We ate some local French food. I had duck, and Mrs D had steak in French preparation.  It was good, and we enjoyed some good wine with it all.

After dinner we headed back over to the Octagonal pond of the Jardins des Tuileries and sat down at the Ocatagonal pond to wait for sunset.  It was all pretty relaxing and good.  We hung out until about 2230 and were waiting near the obelisk.  At 2245 the Eiffel tower lit up.  It looked beautiful.  I figured we’d need to pop over on the metro to the area near the "ecole militaire" at the end of the "Champs de Mars" so that we could get a good angle to shoot the tower.  Just as we started walking towards the metro, at 2300, the tower began to glitter with strobe lights.  It did this for about 10 minutes, and then went back to normal illumination.  COOL.  We took metro to Ecole Militaire and got some great shots of the lit up tower from the angle of Champs de Mars.  There were probably 1000 or more people sitting on the lawns of the Champs and they were hanging out drinking wine or beer and enjoying the view.  It was spectacular.  We probably each shot about 20 shots each.  It seemed as the sun kept setting the sky behind the tower kept changing and it was VERY beautiful.   From there, we grabbed the metro back over to the Arc de Triomphe and backed out about 2 blocks.  I got some great longer exposure shots from resting my camera on the traffic control for a "tripod".  It worked.   I seemed to have some problems focusing and I definitely noticed my IS on my 17-85 lens shaking before settling down.  Not happy.  If the camera/lens stop working during this trip I’m going to be PISSED.

We took metro back "home" and we got back to hotel at 0030.  I figured I’d try the WiFi again. It STILL sucked. 😦

Long, long day… 0125 – Time to sleep.

Tomorrow we go to the musee de Louvre and Notre Dame.  If there’s time, we’ll hit Sacre Coeur.

Europe 2008 (Troyes to Paris) Day 15 – June 8

8 06 2008

Having to buy a 20 euro adapter last night to simply connect to power and then spend 10 euros to get online was pretty painful.  It was, however, necessary as we needed to complete our bookings for various days.  It seems that as we get towards mid-June that the tourist season is beginning and rooms are harder to find. 

We got up and going by 0900 without breakfast as it wasn’t included in the room price.  I’m hard pressed to shell out 10 euros for a croissant and some bread.

Our target was Chartres first and then Versailles followed by our hotel.    We took off and headed along.  The highway limits are 130 kph here!  The little Punto hummed along like a happy sewing machine doing 4500 rpm while driving at 125.  We didn’t really stop along the way at all.  We went straight to Chartres.  After paying what seemed innumerable tolls we got down to the town that I had visited back in the summer of ’86.  Wow.  It sure had changed.  Funny how 22 years will do that to a place.  Chartres had grown up from a little town to a small city and was a hustle and bustle with tourists around the cathedral.

Chartres Cathedral is beautiful.  They have, I think, about 1100 stained glass windows and many of them from the 12 and 13th century.  During the war they had taken all the glass out of the windows and stored it underground to avoid damage.   That must have been a lot of work.  The cathedral was much as I remembered, but BIGGER.  It was huge and deep, and they LET you take pictures inside.  It was hard to shoot.  Almost all the light in the cathedral was filtered by the stained glass windows and as such it was pretty dark.  As we walked around the organist was playing (probably due to the fact that the service has just ended at around 1200.  The sound was marvellous. A great organ and a huge cathedral – what a combination.  We stayed in Chartres until about 1400 and then drove up to Versailles.

As it turns out, it was fortuitous timing that we arrived in Versailles at 1445.  We found our parking at the palace of Versailles and worked our way to the ticket line.  It looked long.  This was really the first location that we had been to that had tourists in large numbers.  And by large numbers we’re talking about 10+ tour busses parked and a parking lot full of cars!  We joined the line and expected a long wait.  Boy were we surprised.  It only took about 10 minutes to get through the line.  We expected to pay about 16 euros for our tickets and found we had another surprise in store for us – namely that at 1500 there is a "discount" ticket issued which is only 10 euros AND includes the audioguide.  I imagine they don’t think you’ll make it through it all by 1730 when they close the buildings. 

The palace was HUGE, spacious and lavish.  As you went from room to room you saw beautiful ornate furniture, gilt  frames on paintings, whole ceilings painted with roman themed paintings.  Luxury, exuberant luxury.  So many beautiful things dating from Louis XIV and XV.  Just when you think you’d seen it all, you end up in the hall of mirrors.  What a beautiful hall.  17 large mirrors that are across from 17 large windows (by large I mean 15 feet tall and about 10 feet wide each).  I tried taking photos, but I’m pretty sure they don’t do justice to the place.  We finished the palace as they were ushering people out.  Just in time.

After going through the palace we headed out to the gardens.  They were immense.  There was a little train you could take to go around for about 4 euros.  We parted easily with our money yet again.  We took the train down to the bottom of the Grand Canal and enjoyed a nice light dinner with beer in the warm evening sunlight.  Instead of taking the train back, we decided to walk back up to the palace.  It was great to walk up.  A lot of people were lounging around and enjoying the late evening rays.  It was a pleasant walk back up.

By the time we got back to our vehicle it was 1800, and time to drive into Paris proper to find our little hotel Caulaincourt, the same hotel the scouts stayed in last summer.  We hopped in the Punto and fired up the GPS.  It couldn’t find us!  It insisted we were were one block to the West of where we actually were!  This was going to be a disaster.  In the narrow, winding streets of Paris, we were going to need ACCURATE location in order to make sure we were in the right place.  We turned it on and off, and on and off again.  It continued to think we were off the road.  Aggh.  Then, for no apparent reason, as we approached the city, the GPS decided it knew where we were!  Thank God!  We found the Caulaincourt Square after passing it a couple of times and having to do 2km loops to get back.  It was such a tiny square and not exactly marked in the way that MOST squares tend to be.

I left Mrs D with the luggage to get us checked in and went out to find parking.  I found a garage/carwash/gas station which rented space.  For the four days that we were planning on being there, it would be 105 euros.  Ouch.  After parking I walked back the 600m to the hotel and found that Mrs D had already taken down the luggage.  Excellent.  While we had only booked on the ‘Net for 2 nights it turns out we were able to get a room for all 4 nights that we wanted to stay in Paris. 

I tried to get the WiFi working, but had somewhere between zero bars and no connection.  Sigh.  That’s the way life works I guess – Cheap room = lousy free WiFi. 

Good Night.

Managed to get a room at the hotel caulaincourt for all 4 nights.  Great didn’t have to move.

Shitty WiFi but cheap room.  Can’t complain.

Europe 2008 (Luxembourg to Troyes) Day 14 – June 7

7 06 2008

We left the hotel in Luxembourg at 0900.  The roads were wonderfully empty on Saturday morning!  I had plans of stopping at an old fort, an old castle, an underground citadel, an archeological site and a couple of city gates.

As we got going, we stopped at a service station on the highway to get gas before leaving Luxembourg.  Apparently the REST of Europe has the same thoughts.  It was a drive through gas station.  You fill up, pull up and pay.  On you go.  It was about 10 or 20 centimes cheaper than outside Luxembourg.  Every penny helps when you’re paying 1.58 euros/L

We managed to find our first destination early.  An old fort over Thiony.  It was very interesting.  The real problem seems to be that it is only open to tourists on Sundays at 1500 (if at all – the sign could be old).  The place looked like they were going to be letting nature take its course and reclaim it.  It would be too bad.  I think the history is such that the fort was first built by the Germans when the land was held by Germany pre WWI and then the French and then the Germans again during the occupation.  Apparently it never saw action. 

Continuing along, our next couple of sites (a gate and an archeological site) were a bust.  On our way to the citadel at Verdun we stumbled across a memorial for an American pilot that had died in WWII.  He had been killed by pursuing Germans after his plane had bee shot down.  It was well kept and there were fresh flowers on the site.  We wondered why it was so well kept.  It turns out that the ceremony celebrating the 10th anniversary of the placing of the memorial had been this morning.  Timing.  We HAD missed the village school children singing La Marseillaise but we DID get to meet the committee in charge of the memorial.  A very nice woman and gentleman were glad to meet us and introduced us to a gentleman who had been in the air force for France in WWII.  They were very welcoming and we spent some time talking with them.   We continued down the road and encountered the Verdun national Graveyard.  La Necropole Nationale.  It was full of graves marking soldiers that perished in WWI during the heavy German assault on Verdun in 1916.  There were a few that were blank and said simply "Mort pour la France".  Another unknown soldier.  It was pretty moving.   We took some photos and paused for reflection.  Next stop was Verdun proper and its underground citadel.  There was a little Audio visual tour through the citadel in a little rail car that gave you an insight into the life of the 6000 soldiers that held up in the citadel for the 300 day onslaught of the German attack.

We tried to find a winery in Albert Le Brun.  We did.  It was a factory, and it was closed on Saturday.  Not exactly the farm winery that I had in mind. 😦

Last destination on the list was a castle!  It would be cool.  We drove into some country roads and snaked through the farm land through some tiny villages.  After some serious hunting we go to the location of the castle and knew we were in the right place.  There was a sign that said "Lieu Historique".  We made it.  There was a gate.  Mrs D and I parked outside, along the side of the "road" we were on.  We walked in towards the gate and saw a woman.  We asked if we could enter, as we were looking for the castle.

She explained that the castle had burned down in 1920 (way to stay up to date Autoroute 2008 😦 ) and that she and her husband owned the property privately.  Oops.  She proceeded to let us go in and look around as they had kept up the french gardens and were restoring an old part of the castle to be a home.  She actually joined us as we walked along and gave us full commentary on the previous building and the hopes of the previous owner to rebuild the castle in its original form.  Money got in the way of that apparently.

The grounds were lovely and apparently stretched right to the next town.  8 hectares.  There was one part of the original castle still left standing.  It was a "pigeonaire", a building that the owner would use to raise pigeons for the tender squab that was (and still is) a delicacy in France.  We went inside and saw the many "pigeon holes" which apparently are made of mud.  It is rare that such an old system would still be standing because if rain had gotten into the building then it would have dissolved the mud and washed away the nests.   Neat lesson in both French cuisine and French traditions.

We arrived in Troyes at 1730 and hit the tourist info center to try and find a hotel.  We ended up getting an expensive hotel.  It was the Accord Mercure.  Cheaper places either had no parking or were full.  116 euros to stay the night.  To make up for the higher cost, we ate the Cheese from Amsterdam and crackers and instant noodles for dinner.

We walked about old town of Troyes and saw all kinds of interesting architecture.  The old buildings seemed to bulge and lean.  We wondered if they were actually still structurally sound.  It was a nice walk, but again the light rain had started in the evening and we headed back to our hotel where we got the Internet going and got ourselves plugged in after buying a fancy-dancy converter since the hotel had a pin sticking OUT of the outlet, meaning my grounded converter WASN’T going to work 😦

Once online we hit the search engines and searched and searched.  We finally settled on the Hotel Caulaincourt that Eddie and the scouts stayed when they visited Paris last August.  Online, we could only get 2 nights in a row at the hostel/hotel.  We hope that we can perhaps negotiate a longer stay once we arrive. Good night. Tomorrow: Paris!

Europe 2008 (Amsterdam to Luxembourg) Day 13 – June 6

6 06 2008

We got going a bit late this morning.  Started driving out of the city at 0900

We drove hard to Brussels.  They don’t even have a "Welcome to Belgium" sign on the highway, it was only a change in highway signs that indicated we were in a different country – Harumph!  We arrived in Brussels at 12:15.  Seems I punched the wrong street into the GPS originally and it took us faithfully there.  Rue du Grand Place is NOT Grand Place.   After re entering the correct place and much driving around we found a parkade.  As was becoming the norm, it started raining.  After getting out onto the street we realized we really had no idea where the Grand Place was after all that driving around.  A local grocer was kind enough to help us off in the right direction.

After walking the distance to the square we decided to try and find the waffle place that Eddie had eaten at last summer since Mrs D was hungry.  We tried all around the square but it appears that Eddie had neglected to mention that the waffle place wasn’t actually IN the square, but near.  There are many blocks NEAR the square..we weren’t about to go wandering looking for the restaurant.  We DID manage to find a teahouse that served waffles and other classic Belgian delicacies.  They had been doing so since the 1800’s.  Since business in the tourist trade was quiet in the rain the waiter took some time and explained the big cookie moulds that were hanging on the wall and even brought us a sample one after we had had our 10 dollar waffles.  As expensive as the waffles were, they were better than any waffle I’d had in North America.  10 dollars better?  I don’t know.

While we hadn’t planned on seeing the "pissing boy" the waiter said that we should go down and see him anyway.  He was only about 200m from where we were eating.  We first went back to the Grand Place and took a bunch of pictures since the rain had stopped and it was WAY easier to shoot the buildings with out the constant need to wipe your lens.  Then, we walked some more.  We went and saw the pissing boy.  Today he was dressed in a Swedish outfit as it was Sweden’s national day.  Meh.  Apparently they dress him up for different occasions.  Lucky us.  He looked kind of like something out of Chuckie rather than a 600 year old fountain all dressed up like that.

On the walk back I had to buy one more Belgian thing.  CHOCOLATE!  I bought 500g of Pure Belgian milk chocolate.  Heaven!

We realized that we had no idea where we left the car after all that so we used the Tom Tom to find our way back to our parking garage.  I think if I had counted on my memory we would have ended up across town from the vehicle.  Oops. 

We got out of Brussels at 1500 and headed to Luxembourg.  Heavy rain descended upon us as we approached at about 1730.  At least Luxembourg had a "Welcome to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg" sign.  We also learned that Luxembourg has no (or lower) taxes so it is THE place to buy alcohol, cigarettes and gas.  Odd.

Since it was rush hour when we arrived in Luxembourg, traffic was crazy.  We did manage to find the hotel and got parked. It was an absolute downpour.  Nice vacation.

After checking in and learning that they wanted 10 euros for Internet (which we declined) we settled into our room tried to call my FT friend, Grimp.  No luck.  We tried for quite a while.  Still nothing. Odd.  WE needed to get out for dinner so we went for walk to the old town.  Thankfully it had totally stopped raining.  We had a multi course meal for only 15.50 euros each!  Wow.  finally a good deal in Europe.

We ate on the outdoor patio and a German couple sat next to us and chatted.  They were in for the weekend to get away and they were a quite friendly older couple.  There was a concert band playing music at the amphitheatre which serenaded us during dinner.  They actually started at 1900 and then another band came on and took over until about 2100. 

We got back to the hotel by 2130 and planned tomorrow’s trip.  Looks like we’re heading to Troyes with stops at some castles, some gates and other interesting things.  No Germany for us.  Just too far.  A bit too optimistic in my plans when sitting at home.

2320: good night… I hope we find a place in Troyes tomorrow.

Europe 2008 (Edam, Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam) Day 12 – June 5

5 06 2008

Yesterday it was the area SOUTH of Amsterdam.  Today it was the North.  We planned to visit Edam, Zaanse Schans and if time allowed Alkmaar.  It turns out that we just have the wrong days for our visit.  Edam’s cheese market is on Thursdays and Alkmaar’s is on Friday (or something like that.  NOT the days that WE were visiting)

We arrived at around 0930 in Edam.  It was as if we had driven into a ghost town.  Most Edamites commute into Amsterdam during the week, so it’s pretty quiet during the weekdays.  The rain was on and off. Mostly off, thank God.  There were many cool buildings to shoot in this 17th century town and many of them had some "interesting" tilts due to the settling over the past 350 years.  The nicest thing was that there were NO tourists around.  Most excellent.  After walking around Edam for about an hour, we had taken our share of pictures and it was time to head out to Zaanse Schans.

I had plugged a point into the GPS and it dutifully led us towards Zaanse Schans.  As we approached the area we ran into a total traffic jam around 1230 on the highway.  I told Tom Tom to find me an alternate route and away we went off the highway onto bizarre little farm roads.  It was an interesting route – to say the least.  We went around various fields with the kestrels flying and some little shorebirds.  We stopped along the way and got a great shot of one of the shore birds that was buzzing a local farm cat.  It turned out to be a black tailed godwit.  After various circles around the farm fields we were directed right to the windmill area of Zaanse Schans.  Unfortunately it was the bike path.  Oops, we backed out and made our way back to something that at least resembled an actual road and told Tom Tom to try again.  This time we made it to the parking area.

Zaanse Schans is a TOTAL tourist trap.  They have a wooden shoe making demonstration, coupled with a wooden shoe shop, a Cheese demonstration, coupled with a cheese shop, a jewellery shop (Amsterdam – diamonds) and windmills (Oil, saw and pigment mill).  You could walk into each of the windmills for a price (around 3 euros).

We watched the shoe maker do a demo, and it’s mostly all done automatically with a "copy lathe".  In 5 minutes you can now churn out a pair of shoes.  Hmmm.  Not exactly terribly traditional.  If you felt so inclined, you could buy a pair of shoes in your size to wear.  Yes, we actually HAVE seen Dutch people wearing REAL wooden shoes.  It’s NOT just a tourist gimmick.  That being said, I have no need or space for a few pounds of wood in my luggage so we passed on that opportunity.

We wandered about to see the classic green and white houses of the 18th century that were typical of Holland.  The houses were authentic, but had been moved to the area from their original location.  They were still quite interesting.  Almost every house had a "museum" which you could go and see for a nominal fee of 10 euros or so… Yikes.

We went into the cheese farm next and it was wonderful to see all the cheeses and try the various flavours.  The girls behind the counter were dressed in traditional old Dutch costumes, making for some good photo ops.  We purchased a small wheel of Plain Gouda.  I was looking forward to having it already!!  We had a quick 2 euro Coke and it was off to walk down to the windmills.

We walked up the path all the way up to where we had previously driven.  It was nice.  Today, since there was wind, and the mills are "work" mills, the blades were turning.  Very nice, even WITH the cloudy day.  After walking up and down, we decided to go into one of the mills and chose the pigment mill.  Excellent choice.

The main core of the mill is two 6,000 kg stones  which grind previously mined chalk into the fine chalk dust that is used in various industrial uses, including the chalk they put down on baseball and football fields.  They had a secondary stone that grinds rocks into pigments, usually ferrous rock to get a red pigment.  These pigments are used in applications such as oil paints and other items that need colouring.  Last, but not least there was also a couple of chopping blades that chop up pigmented wood into powder to make dyes for clothing.  As the rocks are quite heavy they require a pretty stiff wind to work. The chopper is LOUD apparently,so they don’t run it during tourist hours 🙂

As interesting as it all was, we also asked the miller about how they go about changing the set up for grinding different rocks since everything in the pigment area was covered in the fine dust from grinding.  He explained that it takes him about 3 days of solid cleaning with a brush to get the rocks all clean.  For those three days he apparently could pass for a red person… especially if it was the summer and it was hot in the mill.  Then, he looked around and said that since it wasn’t busy he’d give us a back room tour.  Cool!  We went to the back to see the bulk chalk that arrives and learned that they have to leave it out to dry for a number of days because it arrives quite wet and wouldn’t grind very well if they put it under the stones wet.  He took us to the "pigment room" and showed us the shelves of probably 500+ pigments that they had.  They take orders from the Vatican for a particular green pigment which is used in paintings from old which no other place makes.  He brought out a piece of malachite green and one of lapis lazuli.  The piece of Lapis was worth 5000 euros!  Because of the price of this kind of stock material, they don’t grind it in the rocks – too much loss.  For that, they ship it out to specialty grinders that have 99.999% recovery.  It was a great back room tour and the young man (about 25) was super friendly.  He explained that the millers all rent the mill from owners and that the owners are usually rich older Dutch people that like to own a piece of history.  Maintaining the mills is quite expensive and apparently owning a mill is a losing proposition – kind of like owning a sports team. People do it for the love of it. 

Having completed our tour, I gave him a little Canada flag pin as thanks.  As a return he gave me a Holland pin from their little souvenir shop.  Very nice.  It seems we picked the right mill to go into.

We got back to to town and hit the laundromat which my FT friends had helped me find.  Finally: clean clothes!

Since it was our last full day in Amsterdam, we decided to head down by tram and have dinner in town and check out the red light district.  Well, what a bizarre place Amsterdam is.  We had to ask for directions.  Nothing like stopping a policeman and asking for directions to the red light district!   It was very much as expected with women sitting in little rooms waiting for customers to come by and procure their services.  Men openly walked up to the women, talked a bit, and then went into the little door which was the window and they disappeared out the back of the room with the girl to complete the "transaction".  There was a complete mix of girls.  Some very VERY good looking, others almost like they came off the street back in Vancouver.

The red light district is also home to many "coffee shops" so the smell of marijuana smoke was evident although not exactly overwhelming.  There were doormen trying to get us to come into "Live sex shows" with offers of "I can show you some new moves!"  LOL!!!  Amsterdam… interesting city.

We had a long day coming up so we didn’t stay until total darkness in the district.  We headed home around 2100.  We got back to the hotel around 2145 and after some more blogging I am calling it a night at 2300.

Tomorrow: Luxembourg!

Europe 2008 (Kinderdijk and Madurodam) Day 11 – June 4

4 06 2008

Today we drove down to Kinderdijk.  I was concerned that the rush hour traffic would be bad.  It was a bit heavy heading down to the Amsterdam road but after that it was pretty smooth driving.  It was a pretty short drive and we got there pretty early. 

We arrived so early that the boat tours of the canal hadn’t even started yet.  They would begin at 1000, but only if the operator had 4 people.  We were the only two around.  Seeing as we had some time to kill, we decided to walk down to the second windmill, the one open to touring.  For 3.50 euros you were allowed to go up into the windmill and there were audio/video playing to show you what life in the windmill was like.  I didn’t know it, but people actually lived in the windmills, they weren’t just giant wind machines.  We also learned that the other 18 windmills in the area are all inhabited and that when the miller is home, they run their windmills.  The windmills now supplement the modern pumping system to keep the water level in the polder from swamping the fields.  The mills are quite small inside. I can’t imagine actually LIVING in one!   We got some very nice postcard pictures of the mills on the canals.

While we were out walking 1000 came and went, as did the boat.  A group of people had shown up at the RIGHT time and were out on the boat before we got back.  We headed back to the little shack at the entrance and enjoyed a drink and sandwich while we waited for the boat to come back. 

We took the boat tour.  It was quite inexpensive (all things considered) and there were some great photo opportunities.  I only wish we had a blue sky :(  While along the canal I managed to get a few decent shots of a horned grebe.

At 1200 we drove over to Madurodam in Den Haag.  The drive was short and parking was easy (if not a bit expensive) to find. I can imagine what kind of a zoo the place would be in tourist season.  We toured Madurodam for over 2 hours.  The miniatures were much as I had remembered them from when I was a little boy.  Of course things like the modern TGV running on the tracks weren’t around then.  Boy, there are a gazillion little models there.  Painstaking work building and maintaining them.  We stayed at Madurodam until about 1500, having had a snack to keep from passing out.  At 1600 we arrived back at hotel and decided this time to head out for dinner.  We started out at 1700 and we walked a long way to find a restaurant that wasn’t particularly sketchy or serving middle eastern fare.  We  found one and had a reasonable priced meal.  Definitely a bit of dodgy neighbourhood that the hotel is in.

We got back at 1900 and it was time to plan tomorrow’s trip to Edam and the North.  I put out a call for help to find a laundromat in Amsterdam with my FT friends.  They came through before I even went to sleep.  Then I managed to get caught up on my blogging.   Sleep will come easily again.

Europe 2008 (Harwich to Amsterdam) Day 10 – June 3

3 06 2008

Well, the Ferry cabin last night was very nice.  I didn’t feel any boat motion at all while I slept.  Neither did Mrs D.  We woke up at 0600, since we needed to take a bit longer to get organized in the smaller cabin of the ferry, and we were debarking at 0745.  The train station was basically across the street from where we got off the ferry.  The train was heading into Rotterdam first.  The transfer was fairly smooth.. we only had to ask one person for directions to the Amsterdam train.  As we got to the platform it arrived.  1 minute later we were off on the last leg of our Amsterdam destined journey.  The train was a "Sprint" train much like the "Go" trains they have in Toronto.  Double decker for handling the rush hour crowds.  The train was full of commuters.  I got to stand.  We made it into Amsterdam at 1000.  Since everyone had been warning us of the unsavoury nature of the crowds at the station area we didn’t really want to hang around much and grabbed a cab to get us to the rental car location.  My hope was that we’d be able to leave our luggage in the car while we toured Amsterdam a bit without the burden of luggage or car.  The taxi cost  20 euros to the car rental place on Overtoom.

We rented a Fiat Punto.  Kind of appropriate since I think you might have to punt it to get it up any serious hills. Small little car.  It sure was nice to see the steering wheel on the left again :)  We Talked to the rental guy and he let us keep the car and luggage there as  long as we would be back before 1800 to get the car.  Deal!  We took the tram back into downtown.  A whopping 1.60 euros each.  Boy, there’s some serious money to be made in the taxi business!

After getting back downtown, we took a canal tour on a boat which gave "100 highlights" in an hour.  Simple but a good way to see a lot of the areas around Amsterdam.  After finishing the tour, we then walked around the shopping pedestrian streets. It was very nice, and it struck me that there were 1000’s of tourists around.  I heard very little dutch among the throngs.  We passed by some flower shops, and being Amsterdam, some were selling "Canabis starter kits".  LOL.  Interesting city.  Surprisingly not much smell of the Whacky Tabbacky though.  We walked a LOT!  After looking at our map of the downtown area, it seemed that we weren’t TOO far from the car rental, so we decided to hoof it over to get our car instead of taking tram.  Mother nature made us pay for that idea.  A "rain shower" kicked in.  It POURED.  Thankfully we had our commemorative stonehenge umbrella.  With its smaller size, unfortunately the umbrella didn’t QUITE cover us totally,  we got a little wet.  Thankfully it stopped raining by the time we got to pick up the car.  It had been a while since I drove a standard, and I didn’t really relish the distraction of rain with the fun of driving in a foreign city while trying to remember to de-clutch.  It all went quite well.  No stalls!

The GPS guided us over to our hotel, the Tulip Inn, West Amsterdam.  Check in was no earlier than 1600 and we were just after that.  The hotel seems quite nice, but the area is a depressed area.  Many immigrants and a few appartment complexes boarded up.  Signs of broken car glass along the road didn’t exactly warm my heart as to the likelihood of finding my car the next morning without a broken window. I suppose we’ll see.

It had been a long day of trains boats and walking.  Having been up since 0600, we were tired.  We both passed out for a quick nap after getting settled in the room.  After waking up finally we found that hotel was offering a dinner special:  Ribs and fries for 13.50 euros.  Sounded like a good plan.  We both had the rib special.  The ribs were a bit dry but the BBQ flavouring was tasty and not overpowering. We asked for some ketchup to go with our fries.  Alas, sorry – no ketchup.  The waiter DID bring us the class dutch french fry add-on though:  mayonaise.  Tasty.  Somehow we just felt we didn’t really get tour value for the money and we were going to see if we could find a new place to dine tomorrow.

We went for a walk after dinner to scout out the  neighbourhood and determine if it really was as poor as it seemed.  Yup.   We also scouted out some possible ideas for dinner tomorrow.  We DIDN’T see a laundromat, so we asked at the hotel desk when we got back in.  Not in this area.  Apparently downtown only.  People out here do their own laundry.  Meh… can’t be THAT poor!

Once I got back in the room I took the opportunity  catch up on some blogging.  ADSL is FREE! FREE!  Can you believe it?  I’ve got about 6GB of photos to sync with home!  We’re getting 800kbps up!

Time for me to sleep and let the photos sync.

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Europe 2008 (Penrith to Harwich) Day 9 – June 2

2 06 2008

Today was our last day in the UK.  Tomorrow morning we will wake up in the Netherlands.  We checked out of the Travelodge and went over to restaurant next to it, the "Little Chef", for breakfast.  We each had a breakfast bun which was rather plain.  Mrs D asked for a napkin and we were told "Oh, we just rain out."  How do you "Just run out"?  There were about 6 other people in the restaurant at the time. It’s not like they had a  sudden rush on napkins.  Sigh.

We got out of the little hole of a Travellodge and the Little Chef at 0850…. We were NOT looking back ;)  We plugged the address of the National Car Rental into the GPS and started off.  We were headed for a long drive to Ipswitch.  Mrs D looked at the map and mentioned that we were going to be near Cambridge. I thought "Great!  We can stop in and see some cool history."

We stopped in Cambridge near the University at 1300.  We toured around the University grounds for about an hour. I couldn’t believe they were charging to see the inside of the King’s College Chapel as well as the open colleges!  Man… everybody just wants a piece of the pie all the time!  Despite that, Cambridge was a beautiful town and the architecture of the buildings was fantastic.  It’s unfortunate that it’s all so close together as it’s hard to get far enough away to get a photo that doesn’t have brutal angles in the shot.

Once completed in Cambridge, our trusty GPS directed us into and through Ipswitch to the doorstep of the National Car rental.  Great Job!  We got there around 1545.  One hour earlier than our deadline!  The folks at National were very good and it appears that National will deal directly with Visa to settle the little "Oops" regarding the mirror.  Apparently it wasn’t totally surprising to them.  Good.

While at the desk, I asked if it would be a better plan to hang out in Ipswitch or at Harwich International.  One of the staff there strongly recommended that we stay at Ipswitch instead of Harwich because Harwich International has NOTHING.  We took his advice and when the taxi came to get us we decided to stay down around the station for drinks and dinner to kill time before catching our 2104 train.  We headed over to the pub first for a drink as we arrived at 1630.  The restaurant next door, Royal India, opened at 1700 and we were his first clients for the night.

The restaurant has been open only for about 4 weeks and the owner was very friendly and helpful in choosing what to have for dinner.  They had a special that included various courses and the owner helped with each course and he tailored the dishes to our individual tastes.  It was GREAT food in a very good restaurant.

Unfortunately you can’t exactly hang out in a restaurant for 4 hours and that meant that we headed over to the train station at around 1930.  This now meant that we had about one hour and 45 minutes to kill on the train platform.  Not exactly an exciting time.  The train showed up.  It was ONE car long!  A short ride later, we arrived at Harwich International at 2128.  The National guy was right.  It’s just off the train and onto the boat.. NOTHING at the station area.  Someone should open a concession!

Check in at the ferry was fast and we were on deck 8 room 10 (810).  The cabin was quite swank.  We didn’t bother with the bunk bed, as there was enough room on the bottom level bed.  The ferry was huge and could hold about 300 or so people.  With the "comfort class" cabin, we also got chocolates on our bed as well as 3 hours of free wireless Internet.  Not much for upload speed (25kbps) but it was SOMETHING.  This room may even have been larger than our room in Fort William.

Time goes ahead one hour tonight, so it’s now officially midnight, and we plan to wake at 0600.  Time for sleep.  Tomorrow we wake in the Netherlands.

Europe 2008 (Fort William to Penrith) Day 8 – June 1

1 06 2008

Today we finished up our visit of the Highlands of Scotland.  We got up at 0700, as is becoming our regular habit.  We we headed down to the hotel restaurant and changed our dining plans from yesterday.  No kippers for Mrs D today…  she had already had enough salt for now.  She had the "Full Scottish" and I had scrambled eggs.  A more sane breakfast.

We left Fort William in the opposite direction than that in which we came.  We headed out of town towards the north, up via Spean Bridge and Laggan.  It was a nice drive with some gently curving roads through some national park forests.  It was beautiful.  We could look back at Ben Nevis as we looped around to the north.  From the north, we headed down towards Perth, looping down via the A9 and joining up with M90 to head down to Edinburgh.  Yes, we did NOT visit Loch Ness.  I’m not THAT much of a tourist.  Mrs D wasn’t thrilled with the winding roads, but I think she still enjoyed it!

We got to Edinburgh castle at 1230.  About 10 minutes out of the car, the rain started!  Mrs D had packed her jacket deep within the luggage so she wore mine.  Me, I went with T-shirt and Tilley Hat.  Those Scottish winds can get pretty cold!  We got to the castle just in time to hear the 1300 gun.  That is, we WOULD have been just in time, if it hadn’t been Sunday.  Apparently for as long as the castle has been around the gun has not fired on Sunday, Good Friday or Christmas Day.  Go figure.  It was interesting that this gun is one of only 4 time guns that still fire.  One of the other ones is Vancouver!  Cool!

Having already shelled out our small fortune for our "Scottish Heritage" pass we didn’t feel too bad about going even though a drenching was likely.  We decided that we weren’t going to let the cold wind or rain get in the way of our visit, and came up with a plan to see the whole castle.  We saw the prison, the barracks, the great hall, as well as the Scottish Crown Jewels.  The history of the crown jewels is quite something.  Also the interesting history of the "Stone of Destiny" and how it went from Scone to England and finally back to Edinburgh.  Like the English Crown Jewels they were kept in a vault within the stone castle which seemed out of place with its high tech vault door.   There were also 3 Scottish military museums within the castle and they helped to explain how the various Highlander and other regiments have come about and what they continue to do for the UK.  We saw the famous painting "The Thin Red Line".

We finished our castle experience at 1600…  Time to beetle!  We had a LONG way to go and not much time to do it.

We drove hard down A702 until we met up with A(M)74.  It definitely started to ring for us that we weren’t going to make it to Barnard castle (near Durham).  We did some quick looking at the map and the GPS and settled on Penrith.

We took a room at the Penrith Travelodge.  £65 for the night. No phone, no shampoo….  but it DID have internet!  At £10 per 24 hours.   Definitely not the choice of hotel for comfort or luxury, but it DID have a bed and it wasn’t HORRIBLE.

We had instant noodles for dinner as we needed to clear out some luggage space.  Tomorrow we will need to carry all our stuff in our suitcases as we will be dropping off our car and hoofing it to the ferry and into Amsterdam.  Turns out Mrs D has been collecting quite a bit of stuff ;)  We washed our instant noodles down with with CAD$2 coke (500ml).  Pretty standard price.  Ouch.  Nothing in this country is cheap.  All you really get is expensive and less expensive.

While we had Internet access finally I did a bit of room searching for Amsterdam. I hope the the Tulip Inn is as good as marketed, because we’re going to find out in a day, and we’re booked in for 3 days 😉

Well, it’s been a late night catching up blogging and searching.  I’m off to bed at 0130.

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