November 7, 2019 Milan IT

We woke early to head into Milan as the weather forecast was threatening.  It looked like the best window was going to be in the morning, so we were off for downtown before 8:30.

I expected Milan to be a more elegant city than it turned out to be, based on it being the fashion capital of the world with names like Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton  and Prada located here.  I envisioned it to be a Miami or Los Angeles. Instead it felt more like Pittsburg or Detroit, more industrial than elegant.  

Our camp site is in a working class neighborhood at the end of a tram line which is convenient for getting downtown.  We take public transport in most of the cities so we get to see the less glamorous parts of town.  It gives a view of life away from the tourist centers, and a chance to watch people interacting in a normal environment,  which we enjoy.  Milan is a more diverse city than any we have seen in Italy.  It definitely has the largest Asian population we have seen which seems to be mostly Pilipinos.  We had been commenting on the lack of Kebab shops in Italy compared to the other countries we have visited, but Milan had plenty of Kebab shops.

One of the windows of the Louis Vuitton store in Milan.

Downtown Milan did have some of the elegance we were looking for with all of the big name fashion designers having stores in the Galleria off of the main square.  Right after we arrived downtown it started raining and the Galleria is covered so we headed there to get out of the rain.  We walked around looking at all of the fancy stores and enjoying the Galleria.  I believe it is the inspiration for all of the malls that dot the US, but on a scale that no developer is going to pay for.  

The Galleria in Milan, the inspiration for hundreds of “Malls” in the US.

Between showers we would dash out of the Galleria and head towards the Cathedral which is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world.  It was built over 600 years so it passed thru a lot of design styles.  It is know for the hundreds of statues on the exterior and the interior.  

Ton really liked these two statues, though we are not sure what the story is.

We decided to pay the small entrance fee to visit the interior as there was no line.  We were both impressed with one particular statue of St. Bartholomew.  The statue is in great detail and you can see his bones, muscles, and veins.  We did not realize this was because he was flayed alive.  What we thought was a robe wrapped around him is actually his skin!

St. Bartholomew with his skin wrapped around him like a robe.

We had been remarking on Italy being the first country we had visited in Europe that did not have several Starbucks in every major city.  Ton looked it up and there is only one Starbucks in Italy and it is also the largest Starbucks in the world (until next week when a larger one will open in Chicago).  We decided to visit it as it roasts its own coffee that Starbucks calls a “Reserve Roast”.  They also feature many different ways of brewing coffee.  We expected to have a quick coffee and head out, but ended up in there for well over an hour and enjoying two coffee’s each.

The largest Starbucks in the world.

November 4, 2019 Venice IT

After a wet and windy night we woke up to sunny skies with a touch of fog.  The bet we had made on the weather had turned out, so we headed over to Venice for the day.

Our ferry dock was pretty memorable.

As I talked about yesterday I had to decide if we were going to take a gondola ride today.  Instead I decided that we would ride on one of the ferries that acts like a bus called a vaporetto.  Line 1 follows the Grand Canal and it costs considerably less than a gondola, and covers more ground.  After a couple of stops we gained the two front seats in the bow of the vaporetto. This proves (at least to me)that it is possible to have romance without spending a lot of money.

Who needs an expensive gondola when you can take a waterborne bus and get the same views.
Passing under the Rialto Bridge on our trip on the Grand Canal.

We also planned to visit the Rialto Bridge which is the most famous bridge in Venice.  So we disembarked from our vaporetto there after about an hour cruising the Grand Canal.  The bridge and the market next door did not capture our attention, so we headed over to St. Marks square.  The tide was quite a bit lower so the square was not under water today.  The places that were flooded yesterday now had fancy outdoor cafes with bands and extremely expensive coffee for sale.  It was quite a change from yesterday.  While it was a lot prettier it somehow felt less genuine than the square under water.

This is the area of yesterdays picture of St. Marks under two feet of water.  Today it is one of the most expensive cafe’s in Venice.

It was much less crowded than yesterday even with the better weather.  The long Italian weekend was over, and there was only one cruise ship in town instead of the three that were here yesterday.  So when we walked by St. Marks Cathedral we were shocked to see there was no line at all.  Ton was in full photography mode so she sent me off to see how much it cost to enter.  Another shock, it was free, so we headed in for a walk.  St. Marks is the first cathedral we have come to that allows no photography so we do not have any pictures, but it was very beautiful.

Exterior shot of St. Marks Cathedral, as no interior photos are allowed.

By now we were quite hungry so we headed over to the old Jewish quarter of town where we had heard there were lots of restaurants.  It was a nice walk and to our surprise the further we got from the tourist part of town the wider the roads got which spread the crowds out, the shops and restaurants were still intriguing, we found a nice garden with several  interesting art works, and the people watching was still quite good.  

We both really enjoyed this sculpture called “Guardians of Time”.

After our late lunch we decided to head back to the ferry as it was getting towards dark.  While waiting we were treated to the cruise ship in town passing by on the canal with three tugs shepherding it along.  It was a final giant connection to the city of canals.

Sunset over Venice.

November 1, 2019 Ravenna IT

We departed Sienna reluctantly, the town really struck us as one of the most beautiful we had seen.  Part of the reason we left today is we had a fairly long drive and we thought it would be easier to do today because it is a holiday here in Italy. Our thinking was there would not be any trucks on the road (which was correct), and there would be fewer cars on the road as people would tend to stick around home (which was really incorrect).  It turns out this is a holiday for extended families to get together to celebrate, and lots of people are on the road.  We ran into our first traffic jam around Florence.  This was just a prelude to the mess we ran into around Bologna.  A drive I thought would take 2.5 hours ended up taking over 4 hours.  We were really regretting not sticking around Sienna.

We picked Ravenna because it is known for having impressive churches with World Heritage Mosaics.  It is also known for its’ writers as Dante finished the Inferno here.  It was also one of Byron’s favorite cities.  We also picked it because it had several campgrounds near the ocean.  When we first entered the town we were in a highly industrialized area with factories and lots of shipping containers so the initial impression of Ravenna was not spectacular.  When we got down to the beach front where the bulk of the campgrounds were it was extremely quiet.  The campground I had programmed into Greta Garmin was closed, I told Ton not to worry as there were two more just up the street, but they were all closed also.  We pulled over and began working on a plan B, do we brave the traffic and continue on to Venice, look for another city to spend the night in, or try the last campground in Ravenna which was on the other side of town. We decided to give the last campground a try before moving on.  It was about 11km away and we ended up on this weird unused freeway thru industrial sites.  We were the only vehicle on the road until we came upon a car that had somehow managed to drive into the center divider and was being tended to by a tow truck and a couple of police.  

Happily when we exited the weird freeway we saw some RV’s parked where we were going so it looked like we were in luck.  When we pulled up the harried looking owner asked “reservations?” which of course we did not have.  She then smiled and said well if you don’t mind improvising on the electricity we can squeeze you in.  

After settling in we debated whether to even go into Ravenna as it was 3 o’clock, and Ravenna hd not made much of a first impression on us.  The owner told us they could take us into town  and pick us up for €2 so we decided to go.  Ravenna turned out to be beautiful.  The center of town is quite clean and easy to walk in.  All of the people heading off to see their families were promenading thru town which made the people watching fun.  

The streets of Ravenna, it was cold and damp.

When we got to the main church the Basilica San Vitala we debated whether to pay the admission fee.  It would be a good deal if you were spending a few days in town as it included admission to 5 different sites.  But we only had a few hours and would only be able to visit the Basilica.  We finally decided to spring for the tickets as we had come this far.  

6th century Byzantine style mosaics in the Basilica San Vitala.

The Basilica was built in the 6th century by the Goths and features Byzantine inspired mosaics that are absolutely stunning.  We were mesmerized by the mosaics and spent almost an hour admiring them.  They are in incredibly good shape for being 1500 years old, and the artistry  of the figures is stunning.   The remainder of the church is covered by Baroque era frescoes from the 18th century, and they are beautiful in their own right.  The blending of art from the 6th century and the 18th century works much better than you would think.  

Mosaic in San Basilica.  It is hard to capture the extent of these mosaics in photos.

At the end on the walk back to our pickup I told Ton, that the first half of the day seemed like a mistake. But in the end I’m glad we hung around to see Ravenna as the town and the church were worth the effort.

Ton liked this grandma advertising a regional speciality.

October 31, 2019 Sienna IT

If you are following our destinations you will notice we have headed south.   The drive was pretty uneventful, the last 45 minutes were thru some pretty rugged hills that are the home of the famous Chianti grape.  Tomorrow is a major holiday in Italy so the traffic on the autostrada seemed a little heavier than normal but still moving well.  

We arrived at the campground in Sienna around 11:30 and after checking the weather decided to head right downtown.  When we bought our bus tickets at the campground office the lady warned us to make sure we stamp our tickets as soon as we got on the bus as they have monitors and they are mean.  In Europe you can buy tickets in bulk and it is your responsibility to stamp the ticket when you use it, this is also true on the trains.  We have gotten used to this and have only forgotten once and of course we were checked.  The conductor on the train let us off with a polite lecture about using the stamp, sometimes it is good to be perceived as a clueless foreigner.  We were checked by monitors both going to town and coming back so they really are strict in Sienna.

Five streets come together in this intersection in Sienna.

Sienna has been on our must see list for the trip and while we had last minute thoughts of skipping it we decided this morning to double back and I am glad we did.  It is a mountain city and has maintained a great deal of the old world feel to it that we like. 

View of Sienna from the bus stop.

It is known for two things the gothic era town hall with a large tower, and of course it’s cathedral.  We came across the town hall first and it is indeed impressive.  But for us the Piazza in front of the hall is more impressive.  In addition to the town hall the Piazza is surrounded by 6 and 7 story brick buildings.  Unlike most Piazza’s it is not flat but kind of concave.  

The town hall which is the center of the main Piazza in Sienna.

The Piazza is used to stage a twice annual horse race called the Palio of Sienna which is pretty wild.  There are 17 neighborhoods in the city which in the past were organized as battalions for the defense of the city.  10 of them are selected at random to take part in the race.  The first thing is that the Piazza is not an oval nor level so the turns are angles which makes them a lot more intense.  The next thing is that the jockeys ride bare back which makes for a much more precarious perch on the horse.  The jockeys are allowed to use their whips on their horse, but also on other horses (not the jockeys) to “disturb” them.  Finally it is the horse that wins the race not the jockey which means if the jockey falls off sometime during the race and the horse carries on without him and crosses the finish line first it is the winner.

The Piazza where the race is held.

Our next stop was the cathedral.  We have seen a lot of cathedrals over time here, but Ton and I both said wow when we saw the Cathedral in Sienna.  It is not the largest cathedral, but the front is beautiful with intricate carvings and colored marble.

The intricate Cathedral of Sienna.

Having knocked out the two main attractions in town we just wandered up and down roads and alleys for a while taking in Sienna.  We both agreed that it would be easy to spend a few days here, but we are running out of time.  

The town symbol of Sienna.

October 26, 2019 Florence IT

After our quick view of Florence yesterday we headed back in today with a plan for a walking tour of Florence.  It is another beautiful Indian Summer day, low 70’s and sunny.  

Florence is beautiful and an easy city to walk around in.  We hit all of the tourist highlights.  Because of the weather the city was teeming with people, but everyone seemed in a good mood.  We had thought of visiting the inside of the Cathedral but when we arrived the line was far too long so we moved on.

Exterior of the cathedral, we never made it inside.

Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  We had gone by yesterday to get some photos but Ton was not happy with the results so she wanted a reshoot.  (She is turning into a real professional.)  After getting some good shots we headed up hill on the far side of the river.  It was much quieter and we really enjoyed walking thru some interesting but less busy neighborhoods.  We headed up to the Piazzo Michaelangelo where we had a great view of the city.  On the way up we made a short detour into a very beautiful rose garden that we both enjoyed.

View of Florence from the Michaelangelo Plaza.

 

A copy of Michaelangelo’s David.

Our next stop was the Florence Market which is always a highlight for Ton in every city.  The Florence Market did not disappoint, we wandered from stand to stand for a good hour, and ended up with spices, pasta, and a kilo of parmesan cheese which we have optimistically vacuum packed, but I suspect will not make it home.  The upstairs of the market is a food court unlike any we have ever seen.  There are 50 or more food stands with an eclectic mix of Italian and non-Italian foods.  We were tempted but had two restaurants we wanted to check out for lunch.

A colorful stall at the Florence Market.

The first restaurant was right outside of the market but when we got there it was clear we were not the only one who had selected this restaurant.  The other restaurant on the list was a 20 minute walk away but when we got there it had already closed for lunch.  Now we were really hungry, we discussed going back to the food court at the market but neither one of us wanted to double back.  

As we were walking down the street Ton saw a place offering a two course meal with wine for €10.  It seemed too good to be true, and I was skeptical but Ton talked me into it and it turned into one of our best meals in Europe.  There were 6 choices for the pasta plate, and 6 choices for the meat plate.  We each picked different ones and shared and they were all good.  It also came with a carafe of wine that was a solid Tuscan.  In the end for €10 we had a memorable meal.

When we finished our meal we both had gone into a food coma, so we decided to head back to the Hilton for the day.

October 24, 2019 Perugia IT

The weather forecast was threatening so we had a debate about whether to head into Perugia.  But after consulting with the weather channel app and the clerk at the desk for the campground it looked like the rain was going to hold off until late afternoon so we were off for Perugia.

The Passignano train station.  

The next issue was we had about 30 minutes to get to the train station which was about a mile away on foot.  So we took off like someone chasing their water buffalo (to quote the Thai saying), and made it with a few minutes to spare.  When we arrived in Perugia we saw signs announcing the European Chocolate Festival, so the day was definitely looking up.  After taking the mini-Metro (maybe the cutest mass transit system we have seen) from the train station to the top of the hill that Perugia’s city center is located on we were greeted with row after row of tents with chocolates from primarily Italy, with a few of the biggies in Europe thrown into the mix.  

Looking forward to entering Choco Street.

In between visiting chocolate tents we also enjoyed Perugia.  It is a beautiful town set on a hilltop with expansive views in all directions.  We were also surprised by the beauty of the Palazzo dei Priori (Palace of the first People) which dates from the late 1200’s and was the seat of government during that time up to modern times.  We wandered in by accident and then spent about 30 minutes walking around looking at the wood carvings and paintings.

One of the paintings from Palazzo dei Priori.

Across the square is the Cathedral of Perugia and despite a little cathedral weariness we really enjoyed this one.  It is quite different than the cathedrals we have seen in France, Germany, and Spain which seem to have a lot in common in design and decoration.  Like St. Peters this one seems less in a pattern and more unique.  The highlights were the different marble pillars, and the ceilings.  But the surprise was a room off of the main cathedral.  The sacristy (which is the room where the priests keep their formal clothing and other artifacts needed for mass) was covered in frescoes by an artist named Pandolfi and were really beautiful.  It was like a small version of the Sistine Chapel, with the difference being that we had the room to ourselves to enjoy the art.

The ceiling of the sacristy of the Cathedral of Perugia.
Interior of the cathedral.

Keeping the rain in mind we cut our visit short, and headed back to François.  We beat the rain.  Ton really outdid herself with a pasta dish that would make any Italian proud. The rain has arrived and we are being treated to a pounding rain on the roof of François.

October 21, 2019 Rome IT

Today we decided to start our time in Rome by visiting the Vatican.  Yesterday after some research we decided to do a guided tour, it was €10 more than the unguided ticket.  It was expensive but the other option was waiting in line for an indeterminate amount of time to purchase a ticket as an individual.

Our tour was at 11am but not having tried the public transport in Rome we left about 8:45 to give me some time to get lost.  It turns out the trip to the Vatican was a breeze and we were there about 9:30.  We used the time until the tour began to wander around St. Peters Square.  The square itself is very impressive and we had no trouble killing the time we had until our tour.

St. Peters Basilica from the exterior.

We joined our tour and headed over to the Vatican Museum.  The museum was fantastic but the crowds inside were incredible.  I am not sure how many people they let in per day, but if today is any indication it is too many.  At times you could not stop walking as you were being carried along by the crowds.  We saw a lot of beautiful things that we would have liked to stop and admire but were unable to due to the crowds.  It also made following the guides talk very complicated as we would frequently be separated from her by a wall of people and were not quite sure what piece of art she was talking about.  We later learned that even in shoulder season Mondays and Saturdays are very crowded.

This level of crowd was the norm for the tour.

We eventually made our way thru to the highlight of the trip the Sistine Chapel.  Again the place was jammed with people and you were basically herded into the middle of the Chapel and had to stop and stand in one place.  There was no moving around to get a better view of a particular part of the chapel.  Having complained I know why so many people want to see the chapel as it is absolutely stunning, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  In the end it was worth the trouble.  Sorry there are no pictures from the Sistine Chapel allowed.

This picture is a Raphael from the Popes Apartments.  He depicts Michelangelo sitting in the lower left center.  He is in Renaissance clothing unlike the other characters, and  working on a list.

The tour finished up with St. Peters Basilica.  We have visited a lot of Cathedrals during our time touring in Europe but this one is special.  While the crowds were just as large, St. Peters was more than big enough to handle them.  While the place is ornate it struck me as more understated, as if it has nothing to prove.   We appreciated this, but the art that is in the cathedral is beautiful, and surprisingly to us from many different eras.  It is not frozen in time which is also refreshing.

A Michelangelo from St. Peters Basilica.

In the end our three hour tour took a little over four hours due to the crowd, and we emerged from St. Peters famished. Ton had picked out a place she wanted to try and following Google maps we arrived at the site, sat down and ordered some pasta, when I looked across the street and saw the name of the restaurant she had picked out, we were in the wrong place.  The food was pretty good though.

October 6, 2019 Lyon FR

The jet lag is starting to wear off so we woke a little earlier to head into Lyon.  We purchased an all day pass for public transport in Lyon which is a good deal for €6 as we wanted to cover a lot of ground today.  

On the way to Lyon we asked a young gentlemen to confirm we were at the correct bus stop, and ended up chatting with him most of the way to downtown.  He is trying to start a company to refill wine bottles directly rather than sending them to recycling first and then remolding them.  He told us there is a similar program going on with beer bottles in Oregon that we were not familiar with.  We enjoyed a wide ranging conversation from tax methods to population density of Oregon vs France.  These small contacts are always fun and encouraging.

When we finally arrived in downtown Lyon after a detour due to a market along the route and getting caught in a major traffic jam, we ran into the finish line for the Lyon marathon.  We spent a little time watching the runners finish, and enjoying the good mood of the spectators and runners as they crossed the line.

The finish line of the Lyon Marathon, Ton was trying some tricks with her camera so we caught some ghosts running the marathon.

Our next stop was the Roman theater which was pretty close to the finish line, the problem was it was about 600 feet higher on a pretty steep hill.  There were two funiculars up the hill which were covered by our transit pass, but I could not find them so we ended up climbing the hill.  The Roman theater is quite large and well preserved. It is still used to stage plays during the year, and holds about 6000 people in its current configuration.  During the Roman era there was a second wooden deck that accommodated another 5000 people.

The Roman Theater in Lyon is one of the largest in France.

In the distance we saw a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary and headed over there.  It was a fairly modern cathedral built around 1872.  The story about the cathedral is it is on a hill overlooking the original cathedral in Lyon Saint-Jean.  In the 1500’s when the plague was going thru Europe the town prayed to Mary that if she spared Lyon from the plague they would do an annual procession to the top of the hill, and the plague skipped Lyon.  In the 1600’s there was a cholera epidemic in the area, and the citizens again prayed to Mary and promised a church on top of the hill if Lyon was spared, and it was.  Finally during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 the citizens asked Mary to spare them from destruction by the Prussians this time promising a cathedral, which was duly built when the Prussians by passed Lyon.

You rub the Lions nose for good luck as you enter the cathedral in Lyon.

We also found the funicular so our trip down to the main city was much quicker and easier on the knee’s.  I have become quite reliant on Google for navigation, and it was at this point that I realized that despite Lyon being the third largest city in France, its transit system was not loaded into Google maps.  So now to get to our next destination I had to go back to the old way of trying to compare a city map with a transit map to figure the best way to get to a food hall with several famous restaurants.  It was not pretty but eventually we arrived just in time to watch all of the restaurants close up for the day.  

The food hall that was just closing up as we arrived.

So instead we headed back to François where Ton prepared me a delicious meal.

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 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 1, 2019 Dresden GE

We made the short hop up the Elbe River to Dresden this morning.  We had a bit of an adventure checking out of our stellplatz in Meissen.  As I said when we checked in it is quirky.  The first thing is they hand you a key and insist you lock the gate every time you enter or exit.  Each day there were 10 to 15 campers there and we each had a key to the gate and everyone did their duty to insure each others security.  To get the key you have to leave a €20 deposit at the municipal swimming pool which looms over the aire.  There is a nice clean bathroom on site but again the instructions are clear, lock the door every time you use it.  One morning I was in doing my thing when one of the maintenance guys came by and locked the door while I was in there, fortunately I had my key.  The parking is a free for all and there is only two electrical posts so everyone is running a 100 foot electrical cord from their vans to the power post.  This became a problem when the maintenance crew showed up to mow the grass, but we all pitched in and shifted cords around to clear paths for the mowers.  Finally, in the middle of the aire is an immense abandoned pool from the communist era that has trees and bushes growing from it, everyone seemed to need to hop the fence to get a closer look at it like an archeologist.  All of the eccentricities made it kind of charming and a memorable place to stay.  So as we were leaving I needed to return my key and retrieve my €20, when I walked in there were 50 people in line to check in for the pool, with 2 people at the desk to handle them all, so half an hour later I got rid of the key and we were on our way to Dresden.

The air in Dresden lacks the quirks of Meissen and is quite packed, (apparently due to an American Football game that is being played tomorrow between two German professional teams) but it is an easy walk to the center of town.  After settling in we headed to town.  As we neared the city center we discovered that today was gay pride festival weekend in Dresden (actually it is a 4 day event)and we had found the staging ground for the parade. We hung around to see the beginning of the parade and it was quite entertaining.  Dresden has a large and proud gay community.  

One of the 20 mobile sound systems and improvised dance halls that made up part of the parade.

Next we walked thru town to look at all of the sites.  They are nearly all rebuilt following a controversial fire bombing of Dresden by the RAF during WWII which caused a fire storm in the city killing around 20,000 people and destroying the old town.  

The old town of Dresden fronting the Elbe River. A lot of construction and maintenance work being done.

The buildings are impressive, particularly the old palace of the Elector of Saxony.  The Cathedral was rebuilt but they had a hard time finding matching stones for the walls that collapsed so you can clearly see the old and new stones.  Most of the buildings in Dresden are quite black, I am not sure this is by design, but am guessing it is a result of pollution, as a few of the buildings look like they have been recently cleaned and are not black.

The grounds of the Elector of Saxony’s Palace.  The buildings and grounds are quite impressive, you can see the contrast in the color between the building on the far left corner of the picture and the main hall.
This is part of a block long mural showing all of the Electors of Saxony including Augustus the Strong in the center who funded the Meissen Porcelain Factory.

We wandered around the old town for a few hours before crossing the bridge to the new town for a beer and curry wurst.  After our beer as we were crossing back over the Elbe the gay pride parade came down the riverfront and since they seemed to be taking the same path we were taking to François we walked along with them for a while before stopping for one more beer as it was hot.

The Christopher Street Day Parade passing along the waterfront downtown in Dresden.

May 30, 2019 Meissen GE

Today we decided to end our stay in Bavaria after 2 weeks.  We were tempted to head into Nuremberg, but after some more thought we decided to make a jump north.  So today we are in a very quirky Stellplatz in Meißen in Saxony.  

The German countryside at 60mph from the autobahn.

The trip was our longest in Germany so far at a bit over 220km’s.  Feeling a little lazy we decided to pick the fastest route which turned out to be almost all Autobahn.  We were on a nice roll and covering distance at a rate we are not used to even though we were among the slowest vehicles on the autobahn.  It turns out today is a holiday in Germany so while there was virtually no trucks on the road there were a ton of cars.  When we were less than 2km’s from our exit the right lane came to a complete halt with an equal number of cars stopped in the right lane and the shoulder.  At first we thought there must be an accident, but it turns out there was some kind of event at out exit.  It was interesting to watch the disciplined Germans behave just like the rest of the world when faced with a traffic jam, most people stayed in the right lane and crept towards the exit, a higher percentage than we would see in the US decided to run up the shoulder to the exit and force their way in there, this ended after a few minutes when a couple of cars blocked the shoulder to prevent that happening.  Also a few real jerks  just like in the US used the left lane (which was still moving) and then forced their way in right at the exit.  It turns out people are the same everywhere, even the disciplined Germans.

Ton had picked out Meissen because it is supposed to be a relatively undiscovered gem. After the sophisticated tourist cities of Bavaria, Meissen was really refreshing.  Meissen is famous for its porcelain as well as its castle and cathedral on a bluff overlooking the Elbe River.  The climb to the castle was steep but worth it.

The Cathedral in Meissen.  I suspect the black on the towers is due to pollution and not design.
The red roofs of Meissen from the castle grounds.  Ton tells me these rooftop shots are “the thing” these days.
The Elbe River from the castle.
The only really touristy thing in town, and there was only one wagon.

As we walked around the town it was crowded as not only is it Ascension Day but also Fathers Day.  Interestingly in Germany, Fathers Day is celebrated by the men having a boys day out without the families.  We saw one group of guys being pulled thru town on a trailer behind a tractor with beer steins in hand.  Also, unlike in Bavaria we did not hear any English (or Thai) as we walked.

As we were waiting for our bus back to the aire we noticed this moving monument to the inmates of the small concentration camp located near Meissen.

This is our first experience in the old East Germany so the differences in the buildings and the infrastructure we saw was interesting.  We need a few more days to decide if the difference is Bavaria vs Saxony, or West German vs East Germany.

Also today Google Maps let us down for the first time.  We decided to take the bus back to save a couple of miles of uphill walking.  We really rely on Google Maps to help us navigate and to use the transit systems over here.  It gives you good routes and even tells you what busses/trains to take and what stops to get off.  I do not know how we did it before.  Everything was going well and we got off at the bus stop Google told us to.  It showed a route for us to walk, and when I began to follow it it lead us to a hedge row and I heard a creek behind it.  I looked at the map and realized that it was sending us directly cross country not following a road or trail.  So our easy walk home became about a mile and a half as we circled the woods and the creek between us and our destination, we trudged along in silence me cursing Google, and Ton I am sure thinking I was lost again.

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 18, 2019 Neuschwanstein Castle GE

Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the must see landmarks in Germany.  Ton had already been twice, but since this is my first time in Germany she suggested we should see it.  We signed up for the tour from the Army.  

We have seen these giant strawberries all over Germany.  

The first stop on the tour was Weiskirche which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It contains a religious relic called the Scourged Jesus.  In the 1700’s an old wood carved Jesus statue was found in the hayloft of a barn where it had been stored for a couple of generations.  The farmers wife built a small chapel to house it, and the morning after they placed it in the chapel she noticed tears on the face. 

The scourged Jesus is in the center of the altar.

The area of the farm is on an old Roman Road which was the main pilgrimage route from Bavaria to Rome, so the pilgrims began visiting the chapel and miracles occurred.  Over time enough miracles occurred that the Scourged Jesus was declared a religious relic and  received funding for a proper church around 1745. 

The exterior of the pilgrimage church of Wieskirche.

The church was built in the Rococo style and is known as a pilgrimage church as it is out in the middle of a field not near a town.  We have spent quite a lot of time in Gothic churches and cathedrals so the Rococo style was interesting for us to observe.  It is much more light and airy than gothic.  The art work is focused more on the ceiling of the church, and they try to achieve a 3D effect by blending statues into the art.  The art work was quite beautiful, and either well preserved or recently restored.  

The ceiling of the Wieskirche leading to the door to heaven.

After the visit to the church we were encouraged to try some Bavarian Donuts.  Every culture seems to have a variation of fried sweet dough, and so far they are all delicious. We sat down with a soldier to eat our donut and he was on his way home after having spent the last 8 months working with the State Department, and US Aid assisting with Syrian Refugees.  He said it was the most complicated assignment he had faced in his 34 years in the army.  It was fascinating to hear his experience trying to deal with the Turks and the Kurds both of whom are allied with the US, but hate each other pathologically.

Bavarian Donuts.

The next stop was Neuschwanstein Castle, which is the model for the Disney Castle (they reportedly pay a royalty to the Bavarian Government annually for the likeness).  The castle is quite new having built by King Ludwig II in the 1860’s.  

This was the castle Leopold grew up in, it was not good enough so he built Neuschwanstein.

Ludwig was quite an eccentric and spent a great deal of the treasury and his families money building this castle and two others.  He was spending money at such a fast rate that eventually the Bavarian Government had him declared insane, and appointed his Uncle king.  Shortly after he was deposed he was found “accidentally” drowned along with one of his Doctors in three feet of water, even though he was 6’5” tall.

The view from the castle back up the gorge it is perched on.

The castle is quite an impressive structure, and the workmanship of the rooms was superb.  The tours are conducted with Germanic precision and no pictures are allowed of the interior.  I can now cross Neuschwanstein off my bucket list.

Neuschwanstein Castle.

May 11, 2019 Freiburg GE

Today was certainly less hectic than yesterday.  We woke up a little earlier than usual, but were in no hurry to get going for the day.  After puttering around for a while we decided to head into Freiburg.  

Freiburg is supposed to be one of the greenest cities in Germany, it is full of walking trails and bike paths. When we checked in I got a lecture about how to sort our garbage before depositing it at the campground.   

This walking trail follows the river from the campground to downtown Freiburg.

The old town walls are mostly gone but two of the old gates are still in place.  We headed to the Cathedral square and were surprised by a very large farmers market.  We spent about an hour poking around the market looking at the various vegetables.  There were three sausage grills going that were doing booming business. I was drooling, Ton was more impressed with the number of vegetables for sale.

One of the three sausage carts.  The number of sausages was impressive, and the smells were to die for.

We went in to see what the interior of the cathedral looked like.  As we went in unlike almost any other cathedral we have been in many people were sitting in the pews. It turns out there was an organ concert scheduled in a half hour so we sat down and waited.  The concert was really nice, and the cathedral was packed.  

The organist just sitting down to begin the concert.

In fact when we left the concert the city center of the town was really packed with people.  We were both startled with the number of people as this is not a big city, but it was really busy.  After one more pass thru the city we headed back to the campground.

This gargoyle is mooning the city hall.  The story is that when the cathedral was being built the town council told the stonemasons working on the cathedral that they needed to work faster, and with more detail.  This gargoyle is the response from the stonemasons guild to the request.  It was done quickly and with a great deal of detail.

As soon as we got back the wind really started howling, and then rain kicked in.  We did get our laundry done which is always a landmark event on these trips, so all in all a productive day.

May 9, Strasbourg FR

Today was a day of rest for François but not us.  The weather is starting to wear us out a little.  We shut in yesterday to let the heavy rain pass thru.  Yesterday the weather app was saying it would be better today.  They were wrong, today was just as miserable, we had periods of very heavy rain mixed with showers, and the temperatures were in the low 50’s.  

Our Stellplatz (German for Aire) is located a few hundred yards from the Rhine, so we decided to head down there to start the day.  The river was flowing pretty fast and there was a large river cruise boat parked there.  It was a nice park, but after talking about it we decided to go ahead and head in to town for the day despite the bad weather forecast.

A German Post mail bicycle.  We followed the mail lady down the road for a while on the way to the Tram.

As we stepped off the tram in the center of Strasbourg we saw a “Free” tour going buy so we decided to join in.  It was a good tour though I think everyone’s motivation dropped when the rain and wind really started kicking in.  Strasbourg looks like it has a lot to offer.  It is an interesting blend of French and German architecture.  

The old town of Strasbourg is built on an island in the Ill River.  
Another view of the Ill River.

We ended the tour in a windy downpour, so we dived into the Tourist Information Office with about 100 other Americans.  We were debating whether to call it a day, but decided to spring for a boat tour as the weather app said the rain was going to let up a bit later in the day.  The boat trip would have been great except for the pounding rain but at least we were inside.  We went by the European Parliament which is quite an impressive modern building.  We did not get any pictures due to the heavy rain.

Our last stop for the day was the Cathedral.  It is another very beautiful building.  The highlight of this cathedral for us was the astronomical clock.  The gold hands on the clock represent the solar time, and the silver hands the local time.  It also figures that rotate around at certain times of the day representing the different phases of life parading past a figure representing death.  

The astronomical clock in the Strasbourg Cathedral.
A modern version of the last supper from the interior of the Cathedral.
The exterior of the Cathedral.

After the Cathedral we called it a day heading back on the tram to Kehl.  We had a short sun break where I leant a young group of Belgians our water can so they could fill their RV with water, one of the guys told me that he had recently hitchhiked from Miami to Houston, (never got the reason why) and could not believe how generous the people were on that trip.  Shortly after that  another band of rain drove us into François for the night.

May 1, 2019 Troyes FR

Today is labor day in France so we knew we were going to be limited in our sites as most everything was closed.  Since we are in the Champagne region we decided we should go to some wineries. Ton did some research and while Chateau-Thierry is in the heart of the high end champagne country she decided we should go to southern Champagne as it has smaller family run wineries vs the big world wineries like Dom Perignon.  We aimed for a town called Riceys as it has a lot of family run wineries.  

After an uneventful run over very quiet roads due to the holiday (no trucks) we got to Riceys and found two free aires on winery sites.  But it is a small town and as it was a holiday everything was closed.  After a little poking around Ton suggested we head to Troyes which was only about 45 minutes away.  

Ton made a great call, as Troyes was a beautiful town to walk in, even though almost everything was closed.  Troyes has one of the best collections of half timbered homes in France and most of the city center still contained these wood timbered building.  While many of them have been modernized and turned into name brand businesses they still bring a great feel to the town.

A sample of the wood timbered homes in Troyes.
The cathedral in Troyes.

We also toured the cathedral as it was open.  As our first cathedral of the trip it did again impress us.  It was interesting as it has a lot of 20th and 21st century religious art on the inside.

The three wise women inside the cathedral in Troyes.  A modern interpretation of the three wise men, we think, the sign was only in French.
A gargoyle on one of the churches in Troyes.
Troyes is also the home of the founder of the Knights Templar and the local tourism office uses the knights  to help you on the walking tour of the town.

As we continue to find; often times the best days on these trips are ones you did not plan on.  

January 26, 2019 San Diego CA

Dylan suggested we head up to San Juan Capistrano to visit the mission there.  It is about an hour north of here and you have to transit thru Camp Pendleton.  The Marines were out playing today.  There was an amphibious ship off shore, and we saw some ship to shore movement including some helicopters, and amphibious tractors.  It brought back some nice memories for Ron.

A CH-53 helicopter stopping traffic on I-5 as it passes thru Camp Pendleton.

San Juan Capistrano is one of the best preserved of the California Missions.  When the Spanish were colonizing Alta California in the 1700’s they built a string of missions along the coast about one days horse ride apart.  Each mission was part fort and part Catholic church.  They were designed to encourage the native Americans to convert to Catholicism.  California uses the missions as part of the 4th grade curriculum for elementary schools.  We remember helping Alex with the construction of his model mission when we lived in California.  The mission at San Juan Capistrano used to be famous for an annual return of swallows to the mission.  These days the swallows are going some where else due to urbanization around the mission.

The interior of the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

After the mission we stopped at a couple of breweries, and swung by Walmart to by a new water hose for Scout as our old one gave up the ghost yesterday.  We have been really impressed with the quality of the breweries in San Diego.

October 30, 2018 Barcelona SP

Today we planned a second trip into Barcelona.  The primary purpose was to visit the interior of the Sagarda Familia, much like the Alhambra visitors are limited per day, and you have to register in advance to get a time to visit.  When we returned to the campground on Sunday we signed up for the next available spot and it turned out to be at 4:45 PM today.

Today was by far the nicest day of our visit to Barcelona with clear blue skies, though it was still on the chilly side.  We took the first bus into town as we wanted to spend some time in the markets at Barcelona.  They have two markets and we (particularly Ton) really enjoy poking around in the markets to look at the different food products.  We also used the time to look around the old town.  We pretty much just wandered around looking at churches, stores, and people.  Barcelona is now the third or fourth most visited city in Europe, depending on who is counting, so there is quite a lot to see. The shopping is diverse and interesting.

The entrance to the Market.
A fruit and vegetable display complete with jack o lanterns, here in Spain they attach tape to the exterior of the pumpkin to make the face.

We have become addicted to Pinxos which is Basque Tapas, and had them again at lunch.  In the past we had been eating mostly seafood, so today we went more towards meets and sausages.  They were also delicious, Ton also had her new favorite drink at lunch, a good Spanish Vermouth.

Finally we headed over to the Sagarda for our tour.  They are really serious about the time on your ticket, we got in line at 4:30, and when we got to the door they turned us around and told us to come back in 15 minutes. 

While we were waiting to get in Ton took this shot depicting Judas kissing Jesus before betraying him.  The numbers on the left add up to 33 in all directions, Jesus age at his death.

We have seen a lot of cathedrals in our last two trips.  Ron thought the exterior of the Sagarda was a little overwrought for his tastes, and preferred the more traditional gothic cathedrals.  Ton thinks you cannot compare the Sagarda with a traditional cathedral.  However, Ron was wowed with the interior of the Sagarda.  While the exterior is extremely busy, the interior is magically elegant, and the use of light is masterful.  His vision of the columns of the cathedral as a forest of trees is stunning.  The soaring ceilings are really something, and seem much grander than the large gothic cathedrals.  Ton was impressed with the stained glass windows, and the way the colors effected the mood of the interior.  The Sagarda is an extremely moving place, and we think Gaudi’s genius came thru on the interior, and his madness comes thru on the exterior.

The columns divide at the top to look like canopies of trees and also to support the roof.
One of the few statues inside the cathedral, this one is of Mary.

October 28, 2018 Barcelona SP

While we are staying in Mataro, the purpose of the visit is to see Barcelona.  The campground we are staying at is about 40 minutes outside of Barcelona, but offers free shuttles into the city which is nice.  It is one of the huge campgrounds in Spain that cater to European snowbirds, there are over 300 spots here, with a bar, restaurant, pool, beach club, and tourist activities.  It is quite a place.

The weather was a little better than yesterday but cold.  The place we visited two days ago had snow overnight, and it was still raining when we set off.  We intended today to be a bit of a reconnaissance of Barcelona so we did not have any firm plans but just wanted to get a feel for the city.  

When we got there it was raining pretty hard so we decided to duck into a coffee shop to plan the day.  After nursing our coffee and chocolate as long as possible we decided to head towards the medieval cathedral.  Barcelona has two cathedrals, one is world famous, and the other is the medieval one.  We will talk about the famous one later.

On our way to the cathedral we bumped into a “free” walking tour of Barcelona.  We had done these “free” tours in Chile and enjoyed them so we joined it.  It was a good decision as it gave us some good background on Catalonia, Barcelona, and the history of Wilfred the Hairy which is Ron’s favorite medieval name, (Richard the Lionhearted, Charles the Brave, and Wilfred the Hairy were all contemporaries more or less, apparently Wilfred was exceptionally hairy).

The door of the Gothic Cathedral in Barcelona.
Wilfred the Hairy depicted slaying a dragon (that looks suspiciously like a giant parrot) on the side of the cathedral

We stopped in a little cafe on the tour that was run entirely by Americans, but they had a good vermouth that Ton and I enjoyed.  After the tour was over they were offering a non-free Gaudi and modernisme tour.  We decided to join that tour also.

The modernisme movement flourished in Barcelona in the early 1900’s and is led by a guy named Gaudi.  We looked at several interesting versions of modernisme buildings ending with a tour of the La Sagarda Familia.  It is an extremely interesting building.  Gaudi was a Catalan who is considered the leader of the modernisme movement.  The university he received his architecture degree from said they were giving a degree to either a genius or a madman.  

The facade of a building Gaudi re-modeled in the early 1900’s.
Another Gaudi building from the early 1900’s he hated straight lines and symmetry as he believed they were not natural.

The Sagarda was commissioned by the city during the 1880’s and Gaudi took over the building a year after it was started.  In the end he did descend into madness, and it became his obsession.  It is still under construction 140 years later, and looks like it has another 20 or 30 years to go, though the official completion date is supposed to be in 8 years.  One interesting fact is that for the first 130 years it was under construction it did not have a building permit.  They recently resolved that and the commission that owns it paid a €30 million fine.  We will tour the interior on Tuesday so more to come on Gaudi and the Sagarda.

The door of the Sagarda, contrast it with the Gothic Cathedral above.  All of the figures around the door were plaster casts of real people in Barcelona.