November 10, 2019 Monaco

We decided to take the train into Monaco from Sanremo.  Some places exceed your expectations and some just miss.  I had been looking forward to Monaco with visions of the Grand Prix, and James Bond playing baccarat at the casino.  It is an independent country surrounded by France, and after the Vatican the smallest country in Europe so I had a romantic vision of the place.

The train station in Monaco.

When we arrived at the train station we could tell there was money in Monaco.  It is also the richest country in Europe, of its population of roughly 40,000, 30% of them are millionaires due to its status as one of the worlds biggest tax havens.  It is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth as it does not have much land to cram the millionaires into.

A view of the densely packed Principality of Monaco, the empty hills above the town are in France.

We walked along the waterfront admiring the harbor, and looking at all of the yachts.  One particular ostentatious one stood out to me, and I wondered what billionaire owned it.  The views of the harbor were nice and Ton took a lot of pictures as we strolled along.

Some of the yachts in the harbor at Monaco.

After getting our fill of the harbor we decided to head over to one of the famous landmarks of Monaco the casino in the Monte Carlo district.  We had read that it was difficult to get access to the building and we thought we would have to pay an admission fee to get inside.  We were surprised when we got there to see that we could walk in and look at the main foyer and the slot room.  Maybe because it was off season they were a little more lax with letting the plebeians in.  In addition to taking some photos we took advantage of their very upscale toilets and they were free.

The lobby in the casino at Monte Carlo in Monaco.

As we walked out of the casino Ton said lets find a real neighborhood with coffee shops and food stores for a light lunch.  So for the next hour we wandered the streets looking for a real neighborhood with coffee shops and normal stuff and failed.  Partly it might have been because it was Sunday and Monaco like France rolls the sidewalks up on Sunday, but we think at least partly it is because there are less of the cafe’s and little shops that we really enjoy in cities here. We ended up having a box of french fries at McDonalds for lunch (they still will not take our American Credit Cards!), not at all what we were looking for.

A typical quiet and empty street in Monaco.  I guess all of the millionaires were out of town.

We did find the carnival that was in town and walked thru that for a few minutes.  It was a big carnival and occupied a good piece of land on the harbor.  The families were behaving just as they do everywhere in the world when they are in a carnival which is fun to watch. 

The carnival along the waterfront, the most exciting place in town today.

Overall Monaco was a miss for us, and if I had to pick between Monaco and Sanremo to spend a week, I would pick Sanremo without hesitation.  It feels like a real town with real people and has a much more interesting atmosphere than the cold richness of Monaco.

October 30, 2019 Lucca IT

We woke early to catch the bus as there were only two options, one at 8:15 and the next at 11:10 which we thought was too late.  As I was getting things organized outside we ran into the owner of the Agritourismo, Andrea and he asked what I was doing up so early.  When I told him he said that he could have his father drive us in at a more civilized hour and we happily took him up on the offer.

The sign for the campground we are staying at in Lucca.

Ton did some research on the comic book festival in Lucca and it goes back to 1966.  It is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world with 90,000 tickets sold each day and the festival apparently sells out the 450,000 tickets in hours each year.  It is a much larger event than we expected. We figured the people watching would be interesting even though we do not have tickets.

The people watching was fun.

Arriving at one of the city gates all of the tents we had seen around the city yesterday had long lines leading into them with fans of different cartoons and comics looking to score the latest merchandise.  We wandered the streets pretty aimlessly and Lucca is a great site for this kind of event as the long narrow streets with frequent piazza’s allow it to absorb the people effectively and allows the participants interesting places to stage photos.  

This guy loved having his picture taken and insisted on handing me his weapon.

A lot of the participants were dressed up in costume, though Ton and I are not the right age to identify most of the characters people were dressed up as.  We did have fun trying to guess.  Eventually we climbed up on the wall that encircles the old city and it turns out it is an unofficial promenade for the people in costume to walk and see what other people were wearing.  We ended up walking completely around the city.  We found one exhibit that was open to people without tickets, it was based on the video game Resident Evil so we got to go in and interact with a bunch of zombies in Raccoon City.  

One of the zombies and a guard at the Resident Evil display.

In between all of the characters we also continued to admire Lucca.  After a while we needed a little break so we went to a restaurant Ton had her eye on that has been in business since 1865.  Our waitress was a young lady who spoke English well.  She asked if we were here for the cartoon festival, we told her no, it was a happy accident.  She apologized and said that Lucca is a beautiful city and while the festival was really good for the local economy she is happy when it is over because it was just a little too weird, and to illustrate her point she had to run up to the cash register to ring up the bill of a zombie with his intestines hanging out and a knife in his back.

The view of the Hoben Oak trees on top of the tower.

We returned to François just before the rain that had been threatening all day hit.  I am writing this a little early today because we are heading up to the farmhouse for a 4 course Italian dinner, I will write about that tomorrow.

October 29, 2019 Lucca IT

Today we headed south back into Tuscany.  It was a short trip so we were able to complete an important task which was a stop at Lidl to fill up the cupboards which were pretty bare.  

After stocking up we headed out to the outskirts of Lucca to an agritourismo site.  Like France, one of the camping options in Italy is on farms.  In this case we are on a vineyard with 14 spots dedicated to campers.  When we pulled up to the site there were no campers in site, but we were immediately met by the owner Andrea who asked if we had reservations.  He said I know it looks crazy but we are full.  It turns out Lucca holds the Italian equivalent of Comicon and it is this week and 500,000 people are expected.  But in true Italian fashion with a twinkle in his eye he said we can stay for two nights which was exactly our plan, so it turns out there is no problem.  I then asked him about the bus into town and he said the schedule was posted, but he would give us a lift into town if we could leave soon.

Early arrivals for Lucca Comics and Games Festival.

Lucca was a treat.  It is an old walled town with the walls still intact.  It has suffered little damage over time and has been a settlement since the Romans so it is full of interesting buildings from many different eras.  We wandered the town for a few hours and were rewarded with small revelations around every corner.  There are no spectacular buildings in Lucca, just a bunch of medium sized churches and palazzos with really interesting features.  

One of the towers that Lucca is famous for.  This one has tress growing on the top of it.

While it caters to tourists, (Italian Comicon), it is not overrun with tourists like a lot of the places we visit.  Tomorrow we are going to give Lucca another look and take in the sites of Italians dressed like superhero and comic book characters in a town that goes back to the Romans.  It should be a treat.

Street scene in Lucca. We really enjoyed the atmosphere of Lucca.  

We tried to take the bus back to the campground, but the bus runs on a pretty irregular schedule.  Google told us the next bus was not for 2 and a half hours, the bus stop seemed to imply there was one an hour sooner than that.  We gambled on the bus stop sign and lost, so we decided to take a taxi. This turned out to be a good idea as a major thunderstorm rolled in just after we got back knocking out power in the area.

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 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.

February 3, 2018 Las Vegas NV

A slow day for us.  We spent the morning taking care of laundry and using the internet at the office to publish the blog and do some research on next stops for us.  

We decided to go to a Chinese Lantern Show that was advertised in the local paper.  It looked like it would be interesting and a nice way to spend an evening.  It totally blew us away.  It was 5 or 6 acres of really complex lanterns, though they did cheat and use led lights instead of candles.  Ton killed the battery on her camera taking pictures.  We had a hard time selecting a couple of pictures for the blog.  It also included a show of Chinese jugglers, acrobats, and a mask dance that was really extraordinary.  The young women went thru a series of masks in just a couple of seconds.  We have not been able to figure out how she did it, but it was really cool.

This frog changed colors.
A famous tea maker.
Chinese opera.
Pandas.
And of course a dragon.
This is a traveling show if it ever comes to your town I highly recommend you go.

June 7, 2015 Union OR

Today we spent the day at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show.  It is a combination of a 4H fair, horse racing, and Rodeo.  I have always wanted to visit a small town Rodeo.  Union with a population of 2120 meets the small town criteria.  It seemed like the whole town was out for the Rodeo and everyone looked like they were having fun.

There was quite a bit of action with horse races mixed in with the rodeo events.  The rodeo is a kind of minor league for the big time rodeos you see on TV. 

Note all of the cowboys wearing pink for breast cancer awareness.

After the rodeo we payed a visit to Barley Brown’s Brewery to fill up the growler.  We also bought a nice half-growler to use for water, but first we will have to finish the beer that was included.

February 3, 2018 Las Vegas NV

A slow day for us.  We spent the morning taking care of laundry and using the internet at the office to publish the blog and do some research on next stops for us.  

We decided to go to a Chinese Lantern Show that was advertised in the local paper.  It looked like it would be interesting and a nice way to spend an evening.  It totally blew us away.  It was 5 or 6 acres of really complex lanterns, though they did cheat and use led lights instead of candles.  Ton killed the battery on her camera taking pictures.  We had a hard time selecting a couple of pictures for the blog.  It also included a show of Chinese jugglers, acrobats, and a mask dance that was really extraordinary.  The young women went thru a series of masks in just a couple of seconds.  We have not been able to figure out how she did it, but it was really cool.

This frog changed colors.
A famous tea maker.
Chinese opera.
Pandas.
And of course a dragon.
This is a traveling show if it ever comes to your town I highly recommend you go.

May 16, 2016 Mormon Lake AZ

Woke up to no snow so Ton and Dang were trying to come up with a strategy to get in without trashing their hiking shoes.  When Ron stepped outside in his already trashed boots he realized the vehicles moving around and people walking had turned the ground into mush.

This mess got worst as the day wore on and people tried to leave.

We decided to bail out of there while the getting was good.  It was quite a drive out it was the first time we used 4WD low and it was touch and go for a moment.  By the time we covered the 1/4 mile to the paved road the truck was completely covered in mud.  After attending a couple of talks and walking around in the less muddy expo area we headed to Flagstaff.  The first order of day was to knock some of the mud off the truck.  After about $40 in the coin slot we managed to knock about 200lbs of mud off the truck and headed in for the night.

October 30, 2019 Lucca IT

We woke early to catch the bus as there were only two options, one at 8:15 and the next at 11:10 which we thought was too late.  As I was getting things organized outside we ran into the owner of the Agritourismo, Andrea and he asked what I was doing up so early.  When I told him he said that he could have his father drive us in at a more civilized hour and we happily took him up on the offer.

The sign for the campground we are staying at in Lucca.

Ton did some research on the comic book festival in Lucca and it goes back to 1966.  It is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world with 90,000 tickets sold each day and the festival apparently sells out the 450,000 tickets in hours each year.  It is a much larger event than we expected. We figured the people watching would be interesting even though we do not have tickets.

The people watching was fun.

Arriving at one of the city gates all of the tents we had seen around the city yesterday had long lines leading into them with fans of different cartoons and comics looking to score the latest merchandise.  We wandered the streets pretty aimlessly and Lucca is a great site for this kind of event as the long narrow streets with frequent piazza’s allow it to absorb the people effectively and allows the participants interesting places to stage photos.  

This guy loved having his picture taken and insisted on handing me his weapon.

A lot of the participants were dressed up in costume, though Ton and I are not the right age to identify most of the characters people were dressed up as.  We did have fun trying to guess.  Eventually we climbed up on the wall that encircles the old city and it turns out it is an unofficial promenade for the people in costume to walk and see what other people were wearing.  We ended up walking completely around the city.  We found one exhibit that was open to people without tickets, it was based on the video game Resident Evil so we got to go in and interact with a bunch of zombies in Raccoon City.  

One of the zombies and a guard at the Resident Evil display.

In between all of the characters we also continued to admire Lucca.  After a while we needed a little break so we went to a restaurant Ton had her eye on that has been in business since 1865.  Our waitress was a young lady who spoke English well.  She asked if we were here for the cartoon festival, we told her no, it was a happy accident.  She apologized and said that Lucca is a beautiful city and while the festival was really good for the local economy she is happy when it is over because it was just a little too weird, and to illustrate her point she had to run up to the cash register to ring up the bill of a zombie with his intestines hanging out and a knife in his back.

The view of the Hoben Oak trees on top of the tower.

We returned to François just before the rain that had been threatening all day hit.  I am writing this a little early today because we are heading up to the farmhouse for a 4 course Italian dinner, I will write about that tomorrow.

October 29, 2019 Lucca IT

Today we headed south back into Tuscany.  It was a short trip so we were able to complete an important task which was a stop at Lidl to fill up the cupboards which were pretty bare.  

After stocking up we headed out to the outskirts of Lucca to an agritourismo site.  Like France, one of the camping options in Italy is on farms.  In this case we are on a vineyard with 14 spots dedicated to campers.  When we pulled up to the site there were no campers in site, but we were immediately met by the owner Andre who asked if we had reservations.  He said I know it looks crazy but we are full.  It turns out Lucca holds the Italian equivalent of Comicon and it is this week and 500,000 people are expected.  But in true Italian fashion with a twinkle in his eye he said we can stay for two nights which was exactly our plan, so it turns out there is no problem.  I then asked him about the bus into town and he said the schedule was posted, but he would give us a lift into town if we could leave soon.

Early arrivals for Lucca Comics and Games Festival.

Lucca was a treat.  It is an old walled town with the walls still intact.  It has suffered little damage over time and has been a settlement since the Romans so it is full of interesting buildings from many different eras.  We wandered the town for a few hours and were rewarded with small revelations around every corner.  There are no spectacular buildings in Lucca, just a bunch of medium sized churches and palazzos with really interesting features.  

One of the towers that Lucca is famous for.  This one has tress growing on the top of it.

While it caters to tourists, (Italian Comicon), it is not overrun with tourists like a lot of the places we visit.  Tomorrow we are going to give Lucca another look and take in the sites of Italians dressed like superhero and comic book characters in a town that goes back to the Romans.  It should be a treat.

Street scene in Lucca. We really enjoyed the atmosphere of the city.  

We tried to take the bus back to the campground, but the bus runs on a pretty irregular schedule.  Google told us the next bus was not for 2 and a half hours, the bus stop seemed to imply there was one an hour sooner than that.  We gambled on the bus stop sign and lost, so we decided to take a taxi. This turned out to be a good idea as a major thunderstorm rolled in just after we got back knocking out power in the area.