October 22, 2020 Prosser WA

We decided to extend our stay in our current campground, so we took a little extra time this morning. After looking around for options to do today we decided to head over to Saddle Mountain Wildlife Refuge to start the day and once we were done there decide what was next. We know that this is a very vague plan. The other decision for the day was whether this was going to be a wine tasting day or a beer tasting day. The final decision was for beer, so now that we had an agenda for the day.

The Columbia River passing thru the desert. The source of water for the crops in the region.

We set Greta to no freeways as we wanted to get where we were going by driving thru the verdant farm country in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys. We both really enjoy driving down country roads trying to identify crops, and looking at the different ways farmers manage crops. This area is known for three major crops now. Apples have been the major crop for generations, but about 40 years ago they began planting warm weather varietals of wine grapes and it now a major wine region. The third major crop now is Hops. Hops have been grown here for decades, but since we last visited about 10 years ago hop production has exploded in the area, and today we drove thru thousands of acres of hop farms.

These apples were being harvested as we drove by.

We were enjoying our drive and looking forward to the Wildlife Refuge. As we left the Yakima River Valley we entered the high desert grassland this area is naturally without irrigation. For about 20 miles we were skirting the edge of the Hanford Nuclear Site. During WWII this area was very remote and sparsely populated, so a top secret facility was built out here with some of the earliest nuclear reactors. At the peak the Hanford Nuclear site had 9 reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The nuclear matter for the Manhattan Project was produced here. The production sites are now deactivated though it is one of the largest storage areas for used nuclear material in the US. At one point we came to one of the guarded entrances to the site. It did not seem like a good idea to stop and take pictures so we have nothing to show.

After leaving Hanford we had crossed over into the Columbia River Valley and the apples, and grapes reappeared, but more corn than hops. We were following Greta Garmins directions as we drove along and she finally had us turn down a gravel road into a large apple orchard, Greta finally announced we had arrived at the wildlife refuge when we were surrounded by apples with a large expanse of desert in front of us. The desert was probably part of the wildlife refuge but it did not appeal to us, so we turned around.

As we were heading back to the main road we saw a small field of a plant we have never seen. We slowed down to take a look and I began to suspect it was marijuana. We stopped and I saw some signs in Spanish that I think confirmed that it was cannabis. Now that the stuff is legal it has to be grown somewhere, and a remote apple orchard in the Columbia River Valley is as good a place as any. The smell from the plant is very strong and distinctive.

Marijuana, the newest cash crop in the Columbia Valley.

We finalized the day by visiting two local breweries in town. The first one was Bombing Range Brewery. We really enjoyed their beer, and they have one of the coolest logos we have seen. We ended up buying a couple of the glasses to add to our collection. The second brewery was Horse Heaven Hills Brewery where we ended the day.

The local brewery in Prosser.

Tonight we are hunkered down watching the local Soccer Derby between Seattle and Portland. The good guys let three points get away by conceding a goal in stoppage time. Soccer is such a cruel sport.

October 20, 2020 Yakima WA

Ton and I have always enjoyed the Yakima Valley. It is usually sunny and bright. Ton really likes the “light” in the valley. It is the biggest producer of hops, fruit, and wine grapes in the Pacific Northwest, so it is a source of some of our favorite beverages. We decided that today was going to be a beer day sandwiched between two wine days.

But before starting with the breweries we headed to the local Costco for a quick run thru. We also had a luxurious lunch of the $1.50 hotdog for me, and a chicken wrap for Ton from the snack bar there.

Part of the Japanese garden at the Yakima Arboretum

As we have passed thru Yakima in the past we noticed a very beautiful botanical garden just off of the freeway so we decided to visit today. The garden was very well tended and had an interesting section highlighting the trees of the Northwest. There were several families exploring the gardens as well as us. They also had a nice formal Japanese garden tucked in one corner that we spent some time in. Some of the trees were at peak fall colors, as were the plants along the bank of the river, so we achieved our fall colors goal for the day.

Part of the wetlands exhibition at the garden.

As we drove down the freeway, Ton hit me with the bad news that due to Covid-19 the two breweries on our list were on restricted hours and closed today. I was really disappointed as my beer day looked busted. A little further down the freeway Ton told me that there was another brewery open that looked promising, so after a little reprogramming of Greta we were on our way to Cowiche Creek Brewing and a fantastic afternoon.

A great location for a brewery..

The Brewery bills itself as a country brewery, and it is certainly out in the country. Ton looked around, and asked where did I think they drew their customers from. Even though it is hard to tell from the beautiful rural setting it is only a short drive into Yakima. The hilltop the pub is on has expansive views toward the Cascades in the west, and overlooks hop fields and apple orchards in all directions. Ton declared it the prettiest brewery in Washington, and ran off with her camera as soon as we arrived.

We were the first customers of the day and had the place to ourselves when we arrived. I corralled Ton long enough from photographer duties to get her to pick a beer so I could grab a spot on the patio and take in the view with a cold brew.

One of my favorite pub dogs of all times, she quickly trained me to throw the ball for her on command!

Ton would stop in periodically between photos to grab a sip of her beer, while I played with one of the best pub dogs I have ever met. She was part Labrador and wandered over to check us out when we arrived. After I scratched her ears she settled in, and decided we were good company. Eventually she conned me into throwing her ball for her for about 30 minutes. As I played with the dog quitting time for the people working arrived and the pub began to fill up, so they do have a good customer base despite the remote location.

If you are ever in Yakima, make sure you swing by Cowiche Creek Brewing. The beers are delicious, and the food is prepared using fresh ingredients from the garden on site.

October 5, 2020 Bandon OR

A view from PCH. We think the haze is from the California wildfires.

Since we cannot spend the night in Brookings due to the state park being closed there we decided to get up early and do a round trip drive to Brookings. The weather is the best since we arrived on the coast with temperatures in the mid-60’s sunny skies and minimal wind. It is a perfect day for a drive.

Harris Beach near Gold Beach Oregon.

We just meandered down PCH until we got to Harris Beach. Ton yelled stop at me so I swung into a pull out, and we spent the next hour walking up and down the beach. It is one of many spectacular stretches of nearly empty coast line. Ton took a bunch of pictures, and except for a haze that we think is from the wildfires in Napa California it was perfect.

Another view of Harris Beach.

As we worked our way down the coast towards Brookings, Ton yelled stop a couple of more times to take some more pictures, so there were a couple of shorter beach walks as we made our way south. We finally arrived in Brookings around 12:30 and started out towards the brewery that was our excuse for driving 80 miles.

Another view of Harris Beach.

Before we got there though Ton remembered a small hole in the wall seafood place she had read about. She said it was supposed to be good, fresh and simple seafood, so a quick reprogram of Greta Garmin and we were off. The food was as advertised, we split a seafood combo of 2 pieces of cod, 2 oysters, 4 pieces of calamari, 4 clams, and 4 shrimp, all fried. We substituted hush puppies for fries. The fish was all fresh and we enjoyed it.

The final stop in Brookings was at Chetco Brewing Company, which is our first Vegan Brewery. We are not sure what constitutes Vegan Brewing but we tried a taster of different styles of beer, and they were all pretty good. So I think I can say that this is the first Vegan food I have liked.

Battle Rock in Port Orford Oregon.

The return trip to Bandon was quick and the views were as spectacular going north as they were going south so we both enjoyed ourselves. We made one stop at Battle Rock park which marked the site where 9 white settlers were besieged on top of a rock by the natives who were not happy with the invasion of their land. It is now a pretty park in the town of Port Orford and we enjoyed our last walk for the day.

Looking south from Port Orford.

October 4, 2020 Bandon OR

We had a leisurely start to the day. Once we got going we started south on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). Our target today was my favorite town on the Oregon Coast. At one time I was an avid golfer and Bandon was my personal favorite golf course. Now that I am not golfing we visit a lot less.

This guy had dropped down from a tree and made this nest overnight. Almost hated to move Scout in the morning.

Enroute to Bandon thru the miracle of satellite technology we listened to two English soccer games as we were driving. Both games were shocking with Tottenham beating Manchester United 6-1 followed by Liverpool losing 7-2 to Aston Villa.

As we entered Coos Bay Ton remembered that there was a brewery there she really liked and asked if we could stop. I of course said ok and so we found ourselves sitting at 7 Devils brewery for a light lunch and a nice taster flight of their beers.

Today we are staying at an Oregon State Park. Oregon has a very large and well maintained park system. Oregonians tend to be outdoors people and they support the parks. When the pandemic hit, the parks were initially shut down completely. Over time they re-opened the parks, but now all campsites are only available thru reservation. We usually like to select our sites on the spur of the moment, but now we are having to plan a little more. I was startled when I went to make the reservation last night as there were only 6 spots available in a park with over 90 spots. We had read a lot of articles about people taking up camping as a way to have social distancing and recreation and I guess we are seeing the impact of that.

After checking in we headed over to Bandon which is a cute tourist oriented town. We walked around town again watching people crab and fish. They have three little fish restaurants on the waterfront, but they were all mobbed and the mask wearing and social distancing was poor so we moved on.

As we drove into town we saw a new cidery and decided to check it out. We had low expectations as neither one of us are big fans of cider. This place however, knocked our socks off. We tried a sample tray of 4 ciders and liked every one of them, so we decided to get a second sample tray of the remaining ciders and were equally impressed. If you are in town I really recommend Bandon Rain Cidery. Ton and I agreed on a favorite which is apple cider with gorse flowers.

The gulls were hoping for crab bits by the docks.

While we were at the cidery we decided to book our state park for tomorrow night. Our original plan was to follow the PCH from Astoria which is the northernmost town on the coast to Brookings which is the southernmost town. When I went to book a site the reservation system showed no availability in a park with 79 RV sites. I called to confirm and they said that the system was true. So we are going to drive down to Brookings tomorrow and return to Bandon for the night. When I went to book the state park here there were only 4 sites remaining for tomorrow out of 90!

Good Cider!
The Coquille River looking towards Bandon Wildlife Refuge.

We finished by walking along the Coquille River to the ocean. It is a nice walk on the other side of the river is a Wildlife Refuge, though we did not see anything particularly interesting. We did not linger at the ocean as the wind was blowing pretty hard and kicking up the sand.

October 2, 2020 Depoe Bay OR

I woke up early to take a walk along the ocean front, Ton had stayed up late catching up with one of her friends in Thailand on line. The surf was still pretty rough and the rock in front of the condo was taking a beating. The rock is usually covered with different sea birds, but this time there were only two birds on it. When I looked closely I realized that they were a pair of Bald Eagles which explained where all of the sea birds had gone.

A pair of bald eagles near our condo.

It was a pretty quiet day for us as we spent most of it catching up with our friends and watching the ocean crash on the rocks. We were hoping for a whale siting as the whales are migrating and this area is famous for whale watching. Despite a couple of whale watching boats going by we did not get to see any whales.

In the afternoon Ton and I drove back to Lincoln City to check out a brewery there. The beer was just ok and the setting was nice overlooking a golf course and a creek. The problem was it was a little chilly so we did not enjoy the setting as much as we would have liked.

After our beer taster we headed back to the condo for a nice dinner Khun Jim prepared, and an evening of watching old comedies on the TV.

October 1, 2020 Depoe Bay OR

We had a very good nights sleep at a very quiet and serene Camp Rilea. I got up for my morning stroll and met one of my neighbors who told me that a herd of elk usually came to feed on the grass on the rifle range behind the campsite. After spending a few minutes looking for the elk it looks like they decided to go somewhere else for breakfast this morning.

We got under way around 9am heading towards Depoe Bay. Good friends of ours Paul and Khun Jim are staying at a time share condo overlooking the ocean and we are going to spend the next couple of days with them.

We thought that October on the coast would be pretty quiet. Yesterday in Astoria seemed to confirm that idea, but today as we were driving south on the Pacific Coast Highway the traffic was extremely heavy with a lot of RV’s. One of the reasons became evident when we went thru the town of Garibaldi as the river was covered in fishing boats. One of the biggest salmon runs of the year is happening now so all of the fishermen are out trying to get their fish for the year. We stopped and watched the slow parade of fishing boats go by using their trolling motors.

The traffic continued to build as we headed south and we were really startled when one of the larger state parks had a full sign for the campground. It looks like our hope for a quiet off season week on the coast is not going to happen.

We arrived at Depoe Bay around noon and shifted into the luxury of the condo. Paul and I entertained ourselves talking and watching the surf crash on the rocks on the beach, while Ton and Khun Jim chatted at the kitchen table and planned the Thai meal for the evening.

When Paul turned in for a nap I headed to Depoe Bay for a cup of coffee and received final confirmation that the coast was not quiet but actually very busy. While I was gone Ton decided we needed to visit one of her favorite breweries which is near by so we were off to Wolf Tree Brewery in Lincoln City. The beer was as good as Ton remembered and after trying a sampler tray we decided to purchase a couple of cans of each beer on the tray.

We ended the day with a Thai fish meal prepared by a local restaurant with fish provided by Khun Jim. She convinced them to cook a couple of dishes not on the menu while we were gone sampling beer. Ton and Khun Jim were gone to the restaurant longer than Paul and I expected because as they explained when they returned the place was mobbed with customers and it took a while to get the special dishes done

September 30, 2020 Camp Rilea OR

It has been a long time since we have been on the road. Packing Scout seemed to be a little more difficult as we kept remembering things we forgot to pack and were running back in constantly. Eventually we got almost everything loaded, (except for wine glasses) and got on the road for the coast pretty early.

The trip over to the coast was uneventful, and we started by stopping into Camp Rilea to get a spot for the night. Camp Rilea is a small Oregon National Guard Post that allows retired military to camp in an area that is much like an aire in France. The only difference is it is next to the rifle range where soldiers do their annual qualification. Luckily for us no one is shooting today so it is nice and quiet.

Once we got checked in, we decided to head over to Reach Break Brewery which is one of our favorite breweries in Astoria. We got there just as they were opening, and like many places in Oregon they have closed off their inside dining room and are serving everyone in outdoor seating. We prefer outside seating, but today was one of the first cold days of the year. The marine layer had set in and refused to go away so it was pretty chilly and damp.

We tried a taster tray of 5 of their beers. They were doing a fresh hop sampler where they took three different hop varieties and applied each of them to the same beer. We could taste the fresh hops in the beer, but could not really taste any difference between the three different hops. We also shared a fish and chips.

Our next planned stop was Ft. George Brewery where we planned on having a pint. When we got there they had a sign saying that they were only seating people by reservation. The next reservation was in 30 minutes and since we only wanted a beer we decided to move on.

We went back to Reach Break and asked one of the brewers what place he would recommend that would be open. He recommended a brewery on the other side of the Columbia River in Washington called North Jetty Brewery. We had been there once before several years ago, so we were off.

The bridge over the Columbia River near Astoria.

Astoria is located near the mouth of the Columbia River, and the bridge across is an impressive structure. The river here is over three miles wide, and ocean going ships have to pass under the bridge so it is quite tall near Astoria. We always enjoy crossing it. The views from the top are spectacular when it is not fogged in.

When we arrived at North Jetty, they had indoor dining available that looked effectively distanced so we had another taster tray indoors. They were serious about mask wearing as Ton and I both stepped away from the table a couple of feet without our mask on and were admonished by the bartender.

We were hoping for a break in the marine layer, but we did not get it. So after our taster tray we decided to head back to Camp Rilea to settle in for the evening. We took a walk down to the ocean but the fog and the damp drove us back to Scout for the night.

June 19, 2019 Kortrijk BE

We woke up to a pretty serious thunderstorm.  It had been raining off and on all night with a few gusts of wind strong enough to rock François back and forth.  Our neighbor had to get up and secure his bicycles and table to prevent them from blowing away.

The wheat next to our parking place showing the effects of the rain and the wind.

The neighbors were Belgian and we spent some time talking to them last night.  Neither spoke English fluently but they both could communicate to us.  The first question was where we were from as it was clear to them we were not French.  After we got that sorted out, we began to talk about traveling.  The wife volunteered that this was her first time in this part of Belgium.  Since Belgium is quite small we were a little surprised so Ton asked her where she was from, “Bruges”.  We both laughed as Bruges is about 40 miles from where we are today and she was probably in her late 60’s.  She thought about it for a minute and laughed too, saying she has been to Spain, France, and Indonesia but not to Westvleteren until today.  She made me laugh again later when we were heading back to François, I told them “See you later”, she replied “See you later alligator”, giggled and followed it with “after a while crocodile”.  I got a real kick out of that which she appreciated.

The Duchesse de Bourgogne, the purpose of our day today.

Today was the biggest day of our beer tour of Germany and Belgium.  Tons’ favorite beer in the world is Duchesse de Bourgogne by Verhaeghe Brewery.  Ton had been on their website and they only offered public tours on Friday and that would not work for us.  We decided to send them an email explaining our problem and asking if they could accommodate us in any way.  We were thrilled when they agreed to give us a private tour of the brewery today.  

Katrien our tour guide for today.  Yes we did try all of the beers in front of her.

We arrived at the brewery and met our guide for the day Katrien.  She sat us down and began the tour with a tasting of two of their beers that they only sell locally.  After that we were off for a walk around the brewery.  The brewery is family run for 4 generations and has survived two world wars.  In the first world war the owner of the brewery refused to brew for the Germans so they confiscated all of his beer making equipment to melt down to make guns.

As Katrien said we could have a good party with the contents of one of these barrels.

Their beer is all pre-sold so they are in the process of a significant expansion of the brewery to double their output.  We were shown both the historical old buildings and the new modern buildings that will make up the expansion.  Katrien did a great job explaining the process, and talking us thru each of the beers.  It was a great time and we have a fresh bottle of Duchess de Bourgogne to drink before we leave.

The twin watch towers over the River Leie in Kotrijk.

We finished the day in an aire in the town of Kortrijk which is a major town in the region.  We did not see as much of it as we wanted as it was raining pretty hard when we first arrived with occasional flashes of lightning. It finally calmed down enough for us to take a quick walk thru the town.  It has two World Heritage Sites, their town belfry which along with all of the other belfries in Flanders are grouped as a world heritage site, and the Beguinage of Courtrai which is a well preserved 13th century womens community.  It was run like a nunnery but the women did not take any religious vows.  It was still active as a womens community until the 1960’s.  

The interior of the Beguinage with the Cathedral tower in the background.
Another view from inside the Beguinage, the building in the middle is from the 1600’s while the buildings surrounding it are from the 1300’s.

June 18, 2019 Westvleteren BE

Today we moved a whole 15km to a nice aire on a farm in the village of Westvlateren. It is a very small village known for St Sixtus Abby and Brewery.  The setting is beautiful but unfortunately they just cut the hay in the field next to the aire and Ton who has been fighting allergies this entire trip is really suffering.

Our impromptu goal for the day St. Sixtus Abby.

As we have been traveling around Belgium we have kept hearing about this mythical beer from Westvleteren.  When we were in Amsterdam we ran into an Australian who proudly mentioned he had found some bottles of it for sale in Brussels and was happy to get 3 of them for only €19 each.  When we moved to Bruges we also heard about this beer from some other people.  Ton began doing her research and it turns out it is considered by some beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world, and it was very difficult to buy it as you had to make an appointment and you were limited to 48 bottles at a time.  The problem is that the phone to call to make an appointment receives over 80,000 calls per day so it is very hit or miss whether you can get an appointment.  The monks are very concerned as their beer has been growing in popularity about people gouging others. They closely control distribution to minimize people inflating prices, but it is still happening like our Australian friend in Brussels discovered.  At the brewery the bottles sell for €4.

Liquid Gold.

We were still not planning to visit the brewery until last night when we decided to spend the day in the vicinity of Poperinge which is the biggest Hops producing town in Belgium.  When I began to look for a place to stay around Poperinge it turns out there is an aire close to the Westvleteren Abby.  Ton did some more research and found out that the monks did allow one cafe to sell their beer over the counter in the village, so here we are.

Hops were the reason we began the trip today.

We started the day by going to Poperinge to visit the hop museum.  It was an interesting presentation on hop production in the region.  It focused mostly on the farming of the hops and was full of equipment and detailed descriptions of how hop farming techniques had changed in the area thru history.  At the end it had examples of every Belgian Beer currently in production by region.  

To celebrate the end of the hop harvest locals burn straw men in the field and drink a lot of beer.

The next stop was the Westvleteren Cafe which along with the Abby is pretty much the entire town.  The aire was supposed to be 1km from the Abby but that turned out to be as the crow flies, so after a half hour walk around the fields between us and the abby we arrived hot and ready for a cold beer.  It took a while to be served as we have not quite mastered the way of getting a Belgian servers attention, but we finally put in our order for one of each of the 3 beers they produce here.  The first is a blonde, the second is a dark beer with 8% alcohol, and the reported best beer in the world is the dark beer with 12% alcohol.  They were all excellent, but our conclusion was that the dark 12 was indeed the best.

Two very happy people.

As we were leaving we stopped in their gift shop to pick up a memory of the trip, and discovered we could buy a six pack of the dark 12.  So as I am typing this I am happily sipping on one of the best beers in the world.

June 16, 2019 Bruges BE

Bruges deserved a second day so after spending some time talking to our Dutch and English neighbors we headed into town to take a look at some other sites for the day.  We were hoping it would be a little less crowded than on Friday but if anything it was busier.

Market Square in Bruges with the crowds.

Our first stop was the oldest bar in Bruges dating back to the 1560’s.  One of the stories is that the famous Flemish painter Paul Reubens ran up a bar tab in the 1600’s that he did not have the cash to pay off, so he paid the bill with a painting.  Hopefully they kept the painting long enough as it would have paid off whatever tab he ran up plus a million Euro or so today.

The door to the oldest bar in Bruges that one time owned an original Reubens.

Something interesting happened as we walked to the bar.  It is not in the tourist core of Bruges, and after we got a few blocks past the square we were suddenly alone.  We were following a beautiful canal with really interesting buildings all around us, but hardly any tourists, just locals.  We really enjoyed this stretch of the city.

Another beautiful area in Bruges away from the tourist crush.

On Friday we passed on a canal boat tour because of the crowds, but today despite the crowds being worst we felt obliged to do it.  There were 40 seats on the boat and they were all filled.  Our boat driver was multi-lingual so he did the tour in 4 languages, English, Dutch, French, and Spanish so we had to pay attention for when our explanation was coming.  By this time we had walked all of the canals we went down on the boat a couple of times so we were familiar with the sites and the short explanation did not add much to our experience.

The crowded canals of Bruges.

Ton treated me to a fathers day meal of Flemish Mussels which are a delicacy around here.  After we started eating we realized that Delirium Brewery from Brussels had recently bought this place which was listed as one of the best restaurants and beer halls in town.

Enjoying my Belgian Mussels with a Delirium Beer.

At the end of the day we returned to Half Maan Brewery for a tour.  It is clear that lawyers are not the powerful force in Belgium that they are in the US.  Our tour had us climbing up and down ladders and very small stairs thru working industrial space.  At one point the tour guide let an 11 year old boy climb into a 500 liter beer tank, that would result in a fine from the safety inspector in the US.  The brewery has a 2 mile pipeline for beer from the brewery to their bottling plant in the industrial outskirts of Bruges which is the longest beer pipeline in the world.  The highlight was when we popped out on the roof of the brewery for a great view of the top of Bruges.  The tour ended with a nice glass of Belgian Blonde Ale, and some soccer discussion about the US women and Timbers with another couple from Portland who were also on the tour.  

Ton really liked the logo of the Half Maan Brewery.
The view of Bruges from the roof of Half Maan.
The storage tanks they let the boy climb into.

As we headed back we heard voices near François and it turns out our English and Dutch neighbors had also just returned and were exchanging stories of their day.  We joined in and an impromptu party broke out where some French wine, and Irish, and German beer was consumed.  That is why this is being published a day late.

As we were leaving the city we came on this sculpture of the flying horse Pegasus pulling a carriage.  We are not sure what the significance is of the naked women on the back.

June 15, 2019 Ghent BE

Today we took the train into Ghent leaving François in Bruges.  Ghent is an easy 30 minute train ride from Bruges and we are parked almost next to the train station, with the added bonus of 1/2 price train tickets on the weekend it was a no brainer for us, and a rest day for me and François.

The market square and St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent.

The Ghent station is about a mile and a half from the center of the city, so we stopped and bought a day pass for the local transit which broadened our area to explore a bit. The first stop was the tourist information center to pick up a walking tour map of the city.  Ghent is a bigger less touristy version of Bruges.  It has all of the canals, cathedrals, and old buildings of Bruges just on a bigger less personal scale.  

The Belfry in Ghent, while it looks old, the top half is from the early 20th century.

The center was very lively as it was Saturday and the local people were out shopping with the tourists.  Ghent had a really fun feel to it and we enjoyed walking thru the center of the town.  It is the third biggest city in Belgium, but avoided significant damage in both Wars so it has retained a lot of it’s pre-20th century charm.  Recently as Bruges has been overrun with tourists, Ghent has turned into a major tourist destination as well.

The center of the tourist industry, the canal boat tours in Ghent allow alcohol while the ones in Bruges do not.  
The old meat market with a selection of (probably Spanish) hams hanging from the ceiling.

After touring the center we decided to continue our beer tour of Belgium by visiting a couple of breweries, the first was Dok Brewery.  It was in an old industrial area adjacent to some canals that is being converted to housing and small tech type businesses.  Dok in Flemish means Dock in English and it was located in an old warehouse.  We knew we had found a place away from the tourist route because all of the signs were in Flemish.  When I apologized that I could not speak Flemish to the Bartender she smiled and switched to perfect English and told me not to worry, no one but the Flemish can.  It really reminded us of some of the breweries in Portland that are also in old industrial sites.  They had a wide selection of beers beyond the traditional Belgian beers.  We enjoyed a taster tray and then a round of our favorites.

Canals cut thru Ghent in many directions, many are still used for industry, some are converting to tech and housing.

The second brewery was Gruut Brewery.  Ton really wanted to visit because  the head brewer is female.  It is also set up as a microbrewery, so we enjoyed a taster of not just the traditional beers but some non-traditional.  They were also excellent.  

The interior of Gruut Brewery.

On the way back we were comparing Ghent and Bruges.  Our conclusion was if you were visiting for a day you should choose Bruges, if you were visiting for a week we would choose Ghent.

We stumbled onto this alley that the local artists were using as a living art gallery.  There were about 100 yards of graffiti art along both sides. 

Ton has been greatly entertained by Flemish/Dutch spellings, as they have lots of vowels.  In the past she visited the Czech Republic and had difficulty pronouncing anything due to that languages lack of vowels, here the plethora of vowels cause her the same problem.  Tonight she was telling our neighbors from the Netherlands that they need to lend some of their vowels to the Czechs so both languages would be easier to pronounce. I am not sure they understood her humor, but they smiled.

A wood carving of St. Bavo.  He has the nicest cathedral in Ghent named after him.

June 14, 2019 Bruges BE

Bruges is one of the most visited cities in Europe and a world heritage site.  It is one of the cities that is being loved to death and is looking at how to reduce tourism without killing it.  So we are here with all of the tourists trying to enjoy the city.

The market square in Bruges with some of the crowd.

When you get here you see why it is popular.  It has most of its older buildings intact and is a great size to walk around and take in the sites.  On top of that it has an extensive canal system that makes it feel even more fun and interesting.  The entire town is a UNESCO site and for good reasons.

But views like this are the reason so many people want to see Bruges.  It is a stunning place.

Having said all of that we we are here in shoulder season and it was packed.  It is not a place to visit if you do not like crowds.  We usually avoid crowds but braved them today and are glad we did as the city is really worth it.  There is not one thing that is truly outstanding, but what you have is all of the pieces of a European City, palace, cathedral, market square, old houses and businesses and they are all well preserved and presented.  In this case the sum of the parts is greater than the individual parts.

The combination of the house and the footbridge, these small charms are scattered through out the city.

The aire in Bruges is next to a giant bus lot for all of the tour busses who come to the city each day.  The aire is expensive but the location is good as it is a quick 10 minute walk to the center.  

A green canal near between the aire and city center.

We had a list of things we wanted to see and do.  One of the highlights was a visit to a chocolate shop that is known for outstanding hot chocolate.  This was absolutely the best hot chocolate we have ever had. When our order arrived we thought they had made a mistake because we received two very large cups of hot milk, and a tray with two heaping servings of chocolate.  The girl explained that we put the chocolate into the milk and mix it ourselves to taste.  It was unbelievably delicious.  In addition to the chocolate we split a Belgian Waffle with chocolate, whipped cream and ice cream.  It was decadent, the best desert we have had on this trip.

Our decadent Belgian Waffle.
We came across this view wandering down a back alley.  Bruges seems to have a beautiful surprise around every corner.

After that we spent the day enjoying ourselves wandering around town.  Ton ran the battery down on her camera taking photos.  Bruges is one of the best cities we have visited to just wander aimlessly as there is a new view, or statue, or people doing interesting things all around.  We accomplished all of our list but the canal boat ride as the lines were crazy and the boats were gunnel to gunnel going down the canal.

We missed the canal tour because of the crowds.
The Belgian version of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

We ended the day with a stop at at the Half Moon Brewery which has been around for six generations now.  We enjoyed two of their signature beers.  Even though it was our last planned stop we still took over an hour to get back to François as new sights beckoned us to turn aside all the way back.  

Came across this view as we walked back to François.
Another view on our way back to François.

June 13, 2019 Brussels BE

Today we took the train from Antwerp to Brussels for the day.  We always intended to visit Brussels, but when we looked at the parking options for François they were pretty bleak in Brussels.  We realized we could be in Brussels in a little over an hour by train from where we were, so we locked François up for the day and headed to the train station.

The Antwerp train station is one of the largest in Europe.

It was a pretty uneventful ride except I had us get off the train one station early, but luckily there was another train right behind the one we were on, so we arrived in Brussels only a few minutes later than our train did.

The central square in Brussels, note all of the coats the high was around 60 degrees.

At one point in life there was some short lived discussion of a job assignment in Brussels so we had done some research on the city.  At that time it had the reputation of being more of a manufacturing center and a little gray by all accounts.  Either those accounts were wrong or Brussels has had a renaissance in the last 15 years because the city center was bustling with all of the air of a major tourist destination.  There were lots of chocolate shops, on one high end street every third store was a chocolate shop.  

Waffles and Belgian Fries are very popular.
The famous statue of the little boy peeing into a fountain that Brussels is famous for.  The tourism photos make it look much larger than it is.
The feminist version located near Delirium Brew Pub.

We also visited a couple of very old beer shops that look like they belonged in the gritty industrial city I had expected.  They were the kind of dive bars with excellent beer selections we really like.  We also visited a bar that one of our friends recommended that has over 2000 beers from around the world.  Unlike the dive bars it was catering to the tourist crowd.  We took a walk around before heading off for a meal, and the visit to the cathedral.

The inside of the dive bar that matched my vision of Brussels.

Our trip back to Antwerp was uneventful and quick, especially since I did not get off in the wrong place.  We got back just in time for a good sized thunderstorm complete with a little hail.

June 12, 2019 Antwerp BE

It was poring rain when we woke, and the temperature had fallen quite a bit.  Earlier in the trip we probably would just have settled in for the day, but we are feeling some pressure to keep moving so we decided to go ahead and head up to Antwerp.  Our plan is to explore Antwerp today, and then take the train from Antwerp to Brussels tomorrow, as the parking opportunities are pretty limited in Brussels.

Drove to Antwerp pretty much the whole way in poring rain, and we ran into a 40km back up of trucks heading into Antwerp the second busiest port in Europe.  We finally arrived at the aire about 1230 and where Greta Garmin told us to turn there was a gate across the entrance.  It turns out they were closed for lunch, so we found a place on the street until lunch was over.  By the time we settled in the rain had a second wind and was torrential.

Market Square in Antwerp.
Cute sculpture in the square in Antwerp.

About 4 pm it let up so we headed into town.  Besides wanting to get a feel for the center of Antwerp we had one particular location in mind.  Ton in her research on beer had discovered a destination beer bar called Kulminator.  It has made a lot of lists of best beer destinations in the world, and apparently the owner regrets the publicity as he does not want beer tourists, but beer lovers.  Now he has put in a buzzer on the entrance to the bar, and after you ring it he comes out to screen you.  He asks you if you are there to taste beer or to drink beer.  There is a correct answer and if you get it wrong he sends you on your way.  We knew the question in advance but did not know the correct answer, so as we walked there we debated; Ton thinking drink while I was thinking taste.  When the question came Ton gave her answer, but then told him we really wanted to experience the place no matter the answer, so even though she gave the wrong answer she is cute and he let us in.  Inside is a place that feels like an overstuffed living room with a beer bar in it.  The music was classical, and they obviously were making no attempt to be hip or commercial.  When you sit down the owners wife, and beer tender brings you a huge book with all of their beers in the cellar, and points out what is on draft.  The book is intimidating and takes some time to go thru so we stuck with the draft beers which were very eclectic.  We enjoyed two rounds while sharing beer and travel experiences with an Australian/English couple.

The entrance to Kulminator includes a buzzer where you have to convince the owner of your good intentions before you can enter.
A sour and a dark beer among the hundreds hand picked by the owner to be “tasted”.

By the time we left the rain had broke and we enjoyed a couple of hours of sun.  The days are quite long and as I type this at 9:20 we still have another 50 minutes of day light coming.

June 10, 2019 Cologne GE

Another long drive today as we decided it was time to move on from Germany.  Just like with Spain we thought we had enough time to see most of Germany and it turns out we have missed most of the central part of the country.  We wanted to make one more stop on our way out of the country in Cologne.  

Cologne is one of the largest tourist destinations in Germany and has the most visited place in Germany in its Gothic Cathedral.  Since it was on the way towards The Netherlands we decided to spend the night here.  Again we were both up pretty early and got an early start so our drive to Cologne was nice and easy if a bit long.

We got a nice spot in the aire facing the Rhine River so we have spent part of the day watching the river barges going past.  After settling down we headed towards the city center to join the crowds at the cathedral.  Our route was along the Rhine, and for the last mile the path was a sprawling flea market.  Between the flea market, the holiday and the five river cruise boats docked along the river the river walk was jammed with people.

One of the five river cruise boats docked along the waterfront.

We finally reached the cathedral, and had a quick walk around the exterior before going in.  Much to our surprise the entrance was free.  This cathedral is still Catholic unlike many of the churches we have been visiting lately which started out as Catholic, and were converted to Lutheran after the reformation.  The exterior is massive and the spires are the main attraction. Construction was started in 1248 and suspended in 1473, it was finally completed in 1880 after over 400 years of suspension.

The exterior of the cathedral, it is hard to capture the scale of the building.
One of the gargoyles about 100 feet above ground.

The interior is attractive, and the stain glass is pretty though we presume it is all post WWII.  The Cologne cathedral would probably make our top 10 list of cathedrals if we were keeping one, but closer to number 10 than number 1.

The interior houses a reliquary of the three kings, which was the original reason to build the cathedral.
The mosaics on the floor were extensive and intricate, they were the highlight of the cathedral for us.

Cologne is also famous as the originator of  Kolsch Beer, so that was the next attraction we headed for.  The first place we went was Peters Beerhouse where the first waiter asked if we were there to eat or to drink, we replied drink and he immediately showed us to a standup bar in a corner next to a bar, and the place where waiters return the used beer glasses.  This was in a huge place that could easily seat several hundred and it was 90% empty.  The tradition in Cologne is to serve beers in small glasses so that the beer remains cold, the server is supposed to come by frequently so you can get refills.  In this case after the first round the waiter came by and said his shift was over so we needed to pay up.  So we were out of there.  

The server on the right in this picture is carrying the traditional Kolsch Beer Caddy, so he can provide cold beer on the spot.
The modern plastic version.

Hoping that was an aberration we headed over to another famous Kolsch place which again was largely empty, this time we got to pick out table and sit, but the service was not particularly friendly so we decided to cut our losses and head on back to François thru the slightly less crowded flea market.  Ton cooked a great German meal of pork cutlets, spatzle, sauerkraut and kraut salad so the day ended on a positive note as we enjoyed our meal while looking out on the river traffic on the Rhine.

Some of the river traffic we have been enjoying this afternoon.

June 7, 2019 Hamburg GE

When we moved from Schwerin to Lubeck we crossed from the former DDR (East Germany) to the BRD (West Germany).  We knew because the pedestrian lights changed.

The wait and go lights in West Germany, much like the rest of the world.
Ampelmanchen from East Germany.
The portly man lights used in the old East Germany. I can relate.

The wait and go lights in East Germany are referred to as Ampelmanchen, and are one of the few things that have been retained.  Much cuter than in W. Germany, Ton loves the hat and the portlier body.

Hamburg is the second biggest city in Germany with a population of nearly 1.8 million.  It is a bigger city than we normally take François into so we were a little nervous.  The drive in turned out to be pretty easy with only one detour caused by construction.  I had accidentally loaded in the coordinates for a different RV parking than we planned, but by the time we figured it out we were settled in.

We only budgeted one day for Hamburg so we decided to take a “Free Tour” of the city center to try to take in as much as we could in a short time.  The tour as always was informative and gave us a quick view of the city and it’s history.  

The Speicherstadt is multiple blocks of warehouses with canals built in the late 1800’s when this area was duty free.  They lost their duty free status in the 1990’s and have now been converted to hip studios, restaurants, and galleries.

At the end of the tour we were by the new Elbphilharmonie Hall.  This concert hall was recently completed in 2017 for over €800 million, and besides the concert hall there are apartments and a hotel in the building.  

The exterior of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburgs newest landmark.

The concert hall reportedly has the best acoustics in the world, and is designed so that no one watching a concert is more than 100 feet from the stage.  Today they were celebrating their 10 millionth visitor to the Hall so they had free concerts and apple strudels.  

The interior has the stage in the middle.  They were setting up for a symphony concert.

The interior is beautiful, the exterior attempts to be modern and striking and we think misses on the striking part.  The observation deck has a panoramic view of the very busy Hamburg harbor.

The view of the harbor from the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg is still a very busy port.

Our last stop was a brewery in St. Pauli which is the former (current?) red light district for Hamburg.  It turns out the brewery was across the street from the RV parking I had meant to use, so it was a missed opportunity to save on some walking.  We stood out from the crowd, not because we were American, but because we were not young, hip, and tattooed.  The beer was good, and the people watching fun so we indulged in two rounds instead of our normal one.

The exterior of the very hip brewery in the St. Pauli district.

June 6, 2019 Lubeck GE

We have found a city in Germany that we really have a good feeling about.  As we have traveled around Europe we find cities or towns that we kind of instantly like.  Examples are San Sebastian, Seville, and Malaga in Spain, Dijon, Gardes, and Flavigny in France. It is hard to describe why, but it just happens.  So far on this trip we have not had that experience with any German cities.  We have discussed this several times over the trip, we have not had a bad experience here, but overall we are lacking the connection we have felt in Spain and France.

Before we headed out of Schwerin we headed to the town to take a look around.  It has one of the nicest castles we have seen, and it avoided major damage during the war and was part of East Germany so it’s old town has not been modernized like most cities in Germany.  Our tour of the city was quick but we enjoyed it.

Schwerin Castle survived the war intact.  My personal favorite castle in Germany.
Another view of Schwerin.  It was a really pretty city.

Today we found a city that we have connected with in Lubeck.  It is a relatively small port city on the Baltic Sea with a long and interesting history as a trading city.  But almost as soon as we arrived we liked the feel of the town.  Our parking spot is right across the canal from the old town, they do not gouge you for the spot.  After several weeks of hearty German food we opted for seafood and found an old slightly upscale restaurant with a great atmosphere.  The waiter not only served us efficiently but took time to have a nice conversation about travel, and the way different cultures take care of the elderly.  It was an unexpected personal connection.   

The interior of our restaurant, it used to be the sailors guild hall.

Lubeck is also famous for Marzipan which is a confection of almonds and sugar.  We decided we needed to sample some Marzipan so we went to the most famous bakery in town.  The pastry was quite good, and not as overly sweet to Ton as American pastries.

A Marzipan pastry.  Niederbergers has been producing Marzipan since the 1800’s.

We ended the day at one of the best breweries we have been to in Germany called Brauberger.  Their specialty is a Zwickel beer which is a cellared Lager.  It was quite good, and we split a pitcher and had a good time people watching.

A view across the canal into the old town from near our parking spot.
The sign on the city gate says Harmony within, Peace without.  

I know this sounds like many of our days, but this one was our best so far in Germany.  As we were walking back we discussed staying another day here even though we are feeling some time pressure, and are quite a long way from Belgium.

This happy devil captured some of the spirit of Lubeck that we liked.  The story is that he was conned into helping build the church by the workers who told him it was going to be a wine bar.

June 3, 2019 Leipzig GE

We spent the day touring around Leipzig which is a nice city.  This is an up and coming city in Germany, which means it still has a little roughness around the edge which we liked.  Dresden’s downtown felt like it had completed it’s makeover, in Leipzig it felt like it was well on its’ way but still in progress.

We went to St. Thomas Church which was the base of J.S. Bach for many years.  As we entered the church a youth orchestra was beginning to practice for a concert.  We sat and listened to them for a few minutes which seemed a fitting way to pay homage to Bach.  

Bach’s statue in front of St. Thomas church.

Leipzig embraces its’ role in the downfall of East Germany, and as you walk around town you see plaques telling stories about key events in 1989.  It is humbling for me to walk the ground to see the role that common people played in bringing down a government with the repressive power of the old East German government.

This cross is part of the story of the revolution of 89, as people would come to the church to leave messages for friends as well prayers.

Leipzig is also the site of one of the great battles of the Napoleonic era.  At Leipzig Napoleon was defeated by the combined army of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden. This defeat led to his first exile.  There is a huge monument to the battle on the edge of Leipzig.  While the scale is massive, (it takes over 500 steps to reach the top) the aesthetics of the monument were not to our taste.  We gave it a quick walk around without buying a ticket to go inside, and moved on to one of our favorite activities.

This massive monument to the Battle of Leipzig was finished in 1913.  Huge statues and huge blocks of stone.
This picture is from  Auerbachs Keller that has been operating since the 1400’s, they claim you cannot say you have visited Leipzig unless you visit here, so we had to stop.  It is supposed to be Faust and the Devil on top of the barrel.

Our last stop was at a brewery in an old train station near downtown.  Bayerischer Bahnhof Brewery is one of the originators of Gose style beer.  We usually don’t much like sours but this one was good and Ton claimed it helped with her allergies so we had a second round.  The brewery is located in one of the old train stations in town, the station was closed down around 2001, but the entrance hall was a historical site so it was saved and eventually converted to a brewery.  It may be the nicest brewery we have ever visited and we have visited a few!

The exterior of the brewery.
The interior.

May 29, 2019 Bayreuth GE

As I said yesterday we planned to move to Bayreuth to go to the largest beer museum in the world.  It was an easy 50km drive in light rain, and we have parked up at the first free aire since we arrived in Germany.  

After lazing around for a while waiting for the rain to stop, we headed into town to the museum.  The museum is only available by tour twice a day and we wanted to make sure we had a spot so after checking in we were told to come back in a couple of hours.

We headed over to the main street of Bayreuth and found a really nice and wide pedestrian zone.  We enjoyed checking out the stores and the people.  It was a little quiet since the weather was still unsettled and unseasonably cold.  We stopped by the opera house which is a world heritage site to check on tour times as it is also only accessible on tours.

Every town in Bavaria has one of these poles which shows the different services available in the town.  By tradition they are taken down and updated every 3 years which prompts a beer festival.

After a quick lunch at a Donner Kebab place we headed over to the Maisel World of Beer for our tour.  When we first checked in they told us the tour was in German but they would give us an English script so we could follow along.  However, it turns out we were the only ones on the tour, so the guide said she would do the tour in English if we did not mind her making a few mistakes as she had never done the tour in English before.  It turned out to be a great tour.  When Maisel replaced their old factory with a more modern one, they just left all of the equipment in place in the old building.  We were able to see really cool beer making equipment purchased between 1890 and 1910 still in working order.

Some of the original equipment from Maisaels factory.  It was used from about 1900 to the late 1970’s.

The tour much like yesterday included every part of the beer process from grain to shipping.  The bonus was it was done in English, our guide was a college student from the local University and she did quite well only stumbling on a couple of technical terms.  They also had an interesting display of beer glasses, steins, and signs from over the last 100 years.  

Some of the hundreds of beer steins on display.
They have over 5400 beer glasses on display from around the world. We found a few from Oregon.

They still produce their traditional Maisel Weiss which is the beer that made them famous.  But the 4th generation of brewers wanted to expand the horizons a bit so they have a second company called Maisel and Friends which while keeping with the purity laws produces typical micro brews including ales, porters, and IPA’s.  The brewery itself looks very much like an upscale west coast brewery.  It would fit in very well in San Diego or Portland.  It was interesting to see the German take on a microbrewery.

We ended a day with a tour of the Margravial Opera House which was built from 1744 to 1748.  This time there were plenty of Germans on the tour, so we were relying on our pamphlet to understand what we were seeing.  

The wood carvings on the balcony of the theater is incredibly intricate.

It was built by Frederick the Greats daughter to celebrate the marriage of her daughter Wilhelmine to the Duke of Wurtemberg.  Unfortunately the marriage did not work out very well, and the couple were effectively separated before the Opera House was paid for.

The wood carvings on the interior are incredibly intricate and a bit ostentatious.  The stage is really deep and allows for the staging of really large sets with lots of extras.  For this reason it was a favorite place for the German composer Richard Wagner to stage his operas some of which go on for 3 or 4 hours with giant casts.  
Bayreuth was the adopted home town of the composer Richard Wager so these little statues of him are everywhere.

We were completely lost during the extensive talk about the building.   But it is indeed an impressive piece of architecture, and I can see why it works as an opera house even if it is a little over the top.  

Bayreuth turned out to be a very nice city and the easiest we have walked around in Germany, with a great pedestrian zone, and extensive walking and biking trails.  Though we were in a big city we were mostly isolated from the cars which we enjoyed.

May 28, 2019 Kulmbach GE

Today was a pretty easy day.  After Ton had one more luxury shower at the campground we headed into town to do some shopping at a Lidl and a Rewe that were conveniently next to each other in town.

Once François’ shelves were restocked we headed down the autobahn towards another Frankish town called Kulmbach.  While we are technically in Bavaria the area we have been in since Rothenburg are inhabited by a people called Franks who will tell you they are not Bavarian by choice.  It appears to be a friendly rivalry,  but they do make a point of telling you at every opportunity that while administratively they are in Bavaria they do not consider themselves Bavarian.

We arrived at the aire in Kulmbach after Greta decided to test my driving skills by sending us right thru the center of town complete with narrow one lane roads with cars parked on both sides.  After settling in we headed over to the nearby beer museum.

The museum is located on the grounds of Mohnschof Brewery and is really quite a museum.  It looks like they built a new brewery on site, and took the old brewery including all of the equipment and built a really fascinating beer museum.

A shot of the interior of the new brewery that replaced the one that became the museum.

 The museum winds up three floors of the old brewery and then across and back down three more floors.  It covers everything from the history of beer, and variations of beer around the world.   It shows everything you want to know about how to make beer from farming the main ingredients, brewing using the old brewery equipment to demonstrate how,  to transporting the finished product.  

The old brewery equipment that was replaced by the stuff above.

Needless to say we were in heaven.  We spent altogether over 2 hours working our way thru the museum even though all of the displays and information are in German.

Really cool storage barrel, not sure if it was ever actually used to store beer.

If the signs were in English or we could read German we might still be there.  The tour ended with a well deserved glass of beer.

They had a great collection of beer steins back almost 100 years.
Ton really liked this ad from the beer museum.  The caption means The Reward.

As good and extensive as this museum is, it is not even the largest in the area. Tomorrow we will be visiting the largest beer museum in the world according to the Guinness book of world records.