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 GDR (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.  

May 27, 2019 Bamberg GE

When you are traveling from campground to parking lot to campground you start to appreciate the little things.  This campground has absolutely the best showers we have ever seen in a campground and would rival most luxury hotels.  Ton and I have been really taking long luxurious showers the last two days.

Ton liked this sculpture in downtown Bamberg.

We had a low key pub crawl today.  We stopped in 4 breweries/beer halls and craft brew store for one of the largest suppliers of beer malt in the world.  We enjoyed the breweries, and did not enjoy the malt company craft beer store due to poor service.

These wrought iron signs have been common everywhere in Germany, this one is for a brewery.

At the second of our brewery stops we saw another couple sitting at a table with no beer.  At a lot of the beer halls they do not serve you at the table, instead you go to a window by the bar and order your beer.  We heard them speaking English so we explained the process to them.  We ended up chatting with them while we enjoyed our beer.  

The beer tender at the beer garden.  Frequently in Germany the beer is piped directly from the brewery to the taps.

They had lived in Beaverton Oregon for a while before retiring in Florida so we had a nice chat about traveling.  Eventually we parted ways to head out on different beer agendas.  A couple hours later we were sitting in our 3rd brewery when we saw them walk in.  We ended up spending the next couple of hours with them as they planned to visit the same breweries we had picked.  They had lived in Germany in the past and gave us some good tips on other good beer towns though they did admit that Bamberg was their favorite beer town Germany.

Number 3 of our brewery crawl.

It was a fun day with lots of good German beer; our faith in German beer and creativity is restored after today.  Ton thought I was a little harsh on Würzburg the other day, she thought the scene on the bridge was fun and that my expectations were too high .  

Number 4 (6 if you count the two yesterday)and the best of our brewery crawl of Bamberg.

May 26, 2019 Bamberg GE

Had a rushed start to the day.  Part of our daily routine is for me to get up and make a cup of coffee.  When that is done I take a short walk so Ton can have some privacy while she gets dressed and makes herself beautiful.  This morning as I was leaving the parking lot we spent the night in I realized that a bunch of people in yellow vests were taping off the entrance to the parking lot and the entrance road.  I finally understood that the Würzburg Marathon was going to run right thru the parking lot we were in, so I rushed back to François and hurried Ton to get dressed before we were blocked in for the day.

As we were getting ready to set off we had to decide where to head for the day.  We have been having an ongoing debate about whether to go to Nuremberg.  We have read great things about it, but it is a pretty big city, and the options for parking François were pretty unappealing.  We had continued the debate last night without coming to a decision whether to go to Nuremberg and then Bamberg, or straight to Bamberg.  As we were getting ready to roll I asked Ton, and she said Bamberg much to my relief.

The old mill in Bamberg on the Regnitz River.

Bamberg is another World Heritage Site, with the bonus of reportedly having the most breweries per person in the world.  Bamberg was a must see for us.  Because of our early start, and allowing Greta Garmin to use the Autobahn we arrived in Bamberg before 10am.

The Rathaus (Town Hall) in Bamberg, the story is that the town would not provide land for the Rathaus so the Mayor built it in the river.

We have been struggling with Germany a bit.  The cities are pretty, clean, and well organized.  The people have been universally helpful and nice.  But for us it has been less sanuk (for non-Thai’s a word that speaks to a feeling of fun, and spontaneity) than either Spain or France.  As an example last night at the bridge had the feeling of sanuk right up to sunset when everyone packed up and left at once.  On top of that; the beer (and this will sound heretical to many) has been mediocre since Munich.  In Germany’s defense the weather has not been helpful with days and days of cold and rain.   Last night we talked of heading to Poland and cutting Germany short.

The party on the bridge in Würzburg, 30 minutes later it was done.

But Bamberg does have all of the things that we have been looking for.  The town is really pretty and easy to move around.  The tourist information offered a beer map with 65 breweries listed in English.  

One of the 65 Breweries in Bamberg.

They even have a coupon book that allows you to visit different breweries and get their house choice beer.  We tried two today, and they were really good beers restoring our faith in German beer  The sun was out and we enjoyed walking around and people watching.  We even found some more Thai to talk to on the street.  There have been a lot more Thai in Germany than in France or Spain.

That’s what I am talking about.

Every place we sat down someone tried to engage us in conversation which was really nice.  When we got back to the campground we extended our stay for another day to check out some other breweries that the locals told us about.

Another view of the Rathouse in Bamberg one of my favorite buildings so far in Germany.

May 23, 2019 Dinkelsbuhl GE

We slept well with a natural white noise machine going all night in the form of the Lech River running at near flood stage behind us.  The plan for the day was to follow the Romantic Road further north to a town called Rothenburg.

The Romantic Road is quite pretty but it reminded us of hundreds of miles of roads in France without the marketing.  As we were driving we could see some flooding from the weather over the past few days.  

Ton mentioned that she wanted to stop at a town called Dinkelsbuhl before we got to Rothenburg.  I pulled into the parking for RV’s and was checking the pay machine to see how much it would cost for a couple of hours.  I noticed the cost for a night was only €6 so I went back and asked Ton how nice was this town supposed to be?  We went back and forth for a few minutes when a German couple came over having noticed the French plates and thinking we could not figure the machine out, we told them our dilemma.  They were adamant that we should spend the night here as it was cheaper and the town was really special.

The view from our parking lot.

Dinkelsbuhl turned out to be a gem.  It is a walled town with many of its towers still preserved.  

One of the 18 towers still in place in Dinkelsbuhl.  Some of them looked like they were private residences.

It is just big enough to have a lot of interesting things to see, but small enough to manage on foot.  It is very well preserved, but still feels lived in.  

This is the view as you enter the town thru one of the gates in the wall.

It really helps that the sun was out today, and for the first time in about a week we did not need to be in rain gear, or to have it in our bag on standby.  We took advantage of the good weather to sit in a beer garden and try a couple of the local beers.  

We have not seen any storks since Alsace.  There were several pairs here.
Ton really liked the logo of the brewery today.
The recording session we were allowed to observe for a few minutes.

We finally headed back for a relaxing dinner, Ton really made a nice chicken and spatzle dish.  She is really doing a great job mixing German, Thai, and American cuisines.   The day ended with a quick run thru an Edeka to make sure we have the refrigerator full for the next stop.  Once again the flexibility of not having reservations and our own house on wheels allowed us to make a new exciting discovery.

May 20, 2019 Munich GE

Well unfortunately the weather forecast was correct, it is really raining out.  We lay around the room quite a while in the morning trying to figure out what to do for the day indoors.  

We finally settled on the Munich Residence as the trip advisor said that it was the best place to spend a rainy day as it was only 100 yard walk from the subway to the entrance so you do not even need to open your umbrella.  

The Munich Residence is the former palace of the Bavarian royal family the Wittlesbachs.  Construction was begun around 1380 and continued in spurts until the mid 1800’s.  When finally completed it has 130 rooms and 10 courtyards.  It has a full sized concert hall that is still used today.  It was very heavily damaged during WWII and not fully reconstructed until the 1980’s.    It has been converted into a museum both to highlight the architecture, but to show period furniture, art, and religious relics.

The Antiquarium is a room nearly 200 feet long.  It was built to display Roman and Middle-Age statues.  It also served for serving royal banquets.
An impressive ceiling from the Kings chambers.
Artwork from the 1800’s showing a Turkish influence.
The Ancestral Gallery lined with portraits of the Wittelsbach family.

We spent most of the afternoon winding thru many of the 130 rooms of the residence.  It was a nice dry way to spend the afternoon.  When we were finished with the residence we decided we needed to visit the actual Augustiner Beer Hall.  A short tram ride later we arrived at a giant beer hall with a huge outside sitting area. It was pouring but we were able to get a good seat in the beer hall.

St. Augustine the inspiration for the beer.

We both enjoyed our meals the night before so we decided to order the exact same dishes tonight.  They cost a little less, and we both thought the meals last night were a little better, still we did not leave any food on the table.  The Augustiner Beer is much better in our opinion than the Hofbrau House.

The interior of the Augustiner Beer Hall.

Just as we were thinking of leaving a Bavarian Band started up, so we had one more round and enjoyed the band.  When we finished up it was raining quite hard, and it looks like the forecast of up to an inch of rain was accurate.  Just hope the forecast of 1 to 2 more inches of rain overnight is not accurate.

The oompah band at Augustiner Beer Hall.

May 19, 2019 Munich GE

Last night we discussed our next step. The weather once again is intervening in our plans.  The weather over the next three days is forecasted to rain 2 to 3 inches, with periods of high wind and high temperatures in the 50’s.  Munich was one of my bucket list items so after a lot of discussion about how to best do it we decided to use some of our hotel points to get a hotel in Munich for two nights.  We arranged to park François on the Army base here so he is well secured.  Our new friend Scott even offered us a lift into Munich in his rental car.

We arrived in Munich about noon and headed over to our hotel to check in.  We had arranged to meet Scott for dinner at Augustiner Brewery later in the day.  After we had checked in we began to get our feet wet with the Munich mass transit system.  During the trip we ended up using Trains, Subways, Busses, and Trams.  We made multiple trips without any major incidents, and whenever we looked particularly confused locals often offered us help to understand what direction or platform to get on.

The spectacular town hall of Munich.

Our first stop was the Marienplatz which is the center of Munich.  It is a long and wide pedestrian zone full of restaurants, churches, shopping and museums.  The rain that was supposed to already be starting was delayed so the afternoon was sunny and warm.  We were enjoying our stroll up Marienplatz when we got a text from Scott asking which Augustiner Brewery as the front desk at his hotel said there were many.  We picked one based on our location, and asked him where we should meet.  It turns out we were only about 50 yards apart while we were texting each other, and when I looked up I saw him.  Having worked out the logistics of meeting each other we decided that since we were also right in front of the Hofbrau House we should have a beer there.

Street scene from the Marienplatz.

The Hofbrau House is probably the most famous beer hall in Munich.  Nearly every American who passes thru Munich has to have a beer there including us.  

The interior of the Hofbrau House.  A tourist must see (and drink) in Munich.

After the Hofbrau house we headed over to one of the Augustiner Breweries.  The Augustiner Breweries were founded in 1328, and there really are a bunch of them.  The weather was still really good so we found a seat outside.  

The Augustiner we ended up picking for dinner, one of at least four we passed.

Ton wanted to try the white asparagus (spargle in German)that Northern France and Germany are famous for, it is regular asparagus but the farmers cover it with dirt so it does not undergo photosynthesis to turn green.  This asparagus is a real delicacy in Germany.  It has a very short season being available only from late April to early June.  It has no fat and 0 calories (before you coat it with Hollandaise sauce), and lots of vitamins.  

White Asparagus, a delicacy for Germans.

My choice was a much less healthy schweinshaxe (pork shoulder).  It is roasted so that the skin is crispy almost like a pork rind, with the meat under it tender and juicy.  Both of our meals were really good.

Schweinshaxen, my favorite German dish so far.

As we were eating and drinking Ton asked me something and I answered her in Thai, the table next to us had three Asian people and as soon as I spoke Thai they perked up and said hello in Thai.  It turns out that Ken, Pup, and Ploy were from a solar panel company in Northeast Thailand.  They were in Munich for a trade show, but being good Thai they gave us an in depth rundown of the restaurant scene in Munich.  After our meal was done they asked us if we wanted to join them for another round of beers, so Scott, Ton and I were off to another restaurant for some more Schweinshaxn, (according to Pup the second best in Munich) and beer.

It turned into a really nice day where we made a new American and three new Thai friends.  By the time we finished with the last restaurant the clear skies were gone and it was raining buckets so we dashed for the subway and back to the hotel.

May 17, 2019 Garmisch GE

Yesterday when we went into the Army facility near us the guards told us we should have our identification cards registered with US Forces Europe as it would make it easier  to get on other bases.  So we started the day by walking over to the Military Police Office, the process was quick and efficient.  The lady was very nice and told us we could use the facilities.  This base is a recreation and conference center so they actually sponsor a lot of tours.  After looking at their options we opted to sign up for a couple of tours, so we will be spending several days in the area.  

The first tour we signed up for was of the Greisbrau Brewery.  It was located about 40 minutes away, and the brewery is from the 1970’s, though the building is a few hundred years old, but was previously a cattle barn.  Wolfgang our host walked us thru the brewing process.  

Wolfgang enlightening us on the fine art of making beer.

We learned about the German Beer Purity laws which limit Beer to only three ingredients, Water, Hops, and Malt.  The talk was interesting and we were all paying extra attention as we had to take a test at the end to earn our Beer Drinkers Certificate.  Ton and I passed and we are now an official Bavarian Beer Connoisseur.

Wolfgang giving out samples of the beer to our group of future Bavarian Beer Brewers.
My certificate as an official Beer Connoisseur.

We ended the tour with a nice Bavarian meal.  It was a late night out so todays post is a little short.

Ton’s meal a meat and potato lovers delight.