November 16, 2019 Gron FR

We woke up early with only two things in mind for the day.  Head over to the Valrhona Chocolate company, and then jump in François and do a marathon drive on the Autoroute to Sens.

Both missions were accomplished, when we went out for our walk to the chocolate company we were surprised to see two river cruise ships tied up to the docks right next to the campground.  The fog was dense and you could barely see them but they loomed in the dark.  We think all of the passengers had already taken off for their day trips as the crew of one of the ships were engaged in a vigorous snow ball fight on the top deck, which is usually used for the passengers to enjoy the sun and the views.

The pedestrian bridge across the Rhone shrouded in fog.

We arrived at the factory and Ton did some sampling and shopping while I sampled and tried to figure out why our internet was out of order.  Ton was much more successful than I was.  After much sampling and comparison we departed Valrhona with a kilo of chocolate to take home to Oregon.

François sitting in the fog and snow 30 yards from the Rhone River which is the source of the fog bank.

We quickly packed up and headed to the autoroute.  At the entrance I was distracted going up to the gate where you get the ticket to enter.  In France they have a Telepass system where you put a transponder in the car and do not need to stop at the toll gates.  As I drove up to one of the two entrance gates I was not paying attention, so when I pulled up to the machine that usually dispenses the ticket you need, nothing happened, and then after a few seconds a recording began lecturing me in French about the fact that I had entered the Telepass gate, after about 20 seconds of being scolded in French, and having a picture taken of our plate (there was a flash at the rear of François which I presume was a camera going off), the machine dispensed the ticket we needed, the barrier went up and we were on our way.  I fear there may be a fine in our future.

A windshield shot of a castle along the A6 autoroute.

The rest of the day consisted of us navigating the 430 km’s on the autoroute, and paying a huge toll at the end.  Before heading back to the aire in Gron which is our normal beginning and end of trip stop, we also filled up a thirsty François to the tune of €120.  The days when we see the least are often the most expensive.

Fall colors on the A6 autoroute in Burgundy.

November 13, 2019 Nice FR

Last night we were discussing what to do today, and as we often do when planning things we consulted the weather channel app.  It told us today was the last sunny day we should expect on this trip.  So we had to make a decision, we are positioned equidistant between Nice and Cannes so we had to decide which town would we spend our last sunny and relatively warm day on.  As with all of these type of decisions I left it up to Ton and went to sleep.  When I woke up in the morning she said Nice, and gave me an agenda.

We started off with our mile walk to the train station thru the massive condo’s.  This morning we discussed again the architectural merits of the buildings, and we both admitted that the buildings had grown on us.  Ton said she looked at her pictures last night and began to see some of the subtleties of the buildings that are hidden by their sheer size.  While we will not be purchasing a condo there anytime soon we can see ourselves living there if the opportunity arose.

The condos that have grown on both of us as we spend more time around them.

When we arrived at the train station we found a representative of SNCF (the French National Train Company) posting a notice on the still broken ticket machine.  He said that the construction near the station had cut the power to the machine, and to his office so he could not issue tickets.  We asked him what we should do, and he said just get on the train and if the conductor comes by tell him you got on here and they will sell you a ticket on the train.  I said what if we do not see a conductor, he said the ride is on us!  On the platform I told Ton that we should take a picture of the notice on the ticket machine just to be safe, a lady on the platform overheard us and asked in accented English what was going on.  We told her and she said she would go with Ton to take a picture also.  When she returned  I noticed she had a Johns Hopkins University sweater and it turns out she works in their Washington DC office and was also a visitor to France for a couple of weeks.  She was taking advantage of the good weather to head to Monaco for the day.

Ton’s itinerary for the day consisted of visiting the Central Market, an ice cream shop, and another walk on the Promenade Anglais.  The first stop was the central market where we poked thru the vegetable stalls and souvenir stands.  Our only purchase was a couple of nice local themed shopping bags.  We were drawn to a stall selling a dish called Socca which looked a lot like a dish we had eaten in Lucca that we really enjoyed and never learned the name of.  

Flowers for sale in the Market in Nice.

We were tempted but we had ice cream to eat so we set off to the ice cream shop.  We saw one branch of the shop and it was closed, but I told Ton not to worry as this was not the main one, and the main one would surely be open.  When we arrived there were several workers working cleaning the chairs and tables but they were not open.  I asked one of the workers when they were opening and he cheerfully replied “next year”!  It turns out they were cleaning up before their winter break.  So Ton’s luck with restaurants continues.

The special bicycle used to deliver Socca to the market.  The cover goes over the pan of Socca as it is driven from the restaurant to the market.

We were unfazed because this put Socca back on the table.  We found the restaurant that produces the Socca for the market on a back ally in the old town.  Inside there were three generations of the family working.  The father was ferrying giant platters of Socca on a specially made bicycle to the market, the son was doing the cooking and serving in the restaurant, and the grandson (who Ton spent the meal wondering why he was not in school) served the customers outside.  Socca is a simple dish made of chickpea flour, water and olive oil poured onto a large shallow pan and cooked in a wood fired oven.  Like the dish we had in Lucca earlier (called Cecina in Tuscany) it was absolutely delicious and cheap.

A pan of Socca going into the oven.

We spent the rest of the day wandering the old town and along the Promenade Anglais.  Ton really loved the Promenade and kept saying lets go just a bit further and we will stop.  At one point I sat in a chair and she went down on the beach and spent half an hour happily taking pictures in all directions.  

The beach and Promenade Anglais in Nice.

After we had walked about 10 miles we decided to head back to François and take it easy for the rest of the day.  It was a simple day but the kind of day that makes great memories.

An interesting statue in front of one of the grand hotels along the Promenade Anglais.

November 11, 2019 Sanremo IT

Italy has a hold on us.  Our plans were to head over to Nice in France today but when we woke up this morning the weather was pretty brutal, and it was supposed to stay that way all day with a couple of short breaks.  After some discussion we came to the conclusion if we were going to be trapped in François most of the day why not do it in Italy.

We spent the morning trying to get a veterans discount for our Amazon Prime service.  Amazon was struggling with us applying for a US veterans discount from Italy but after three calls we finally got it sorted.  

Finally about noon we saw a little break in the rain so we made a dash to downtown Sanremo. Ton wanted to get a picture of the Russian Orthodox Church we saw on the bus the other day, and we decided to do one more shop for Italian food in a large Coop (pronounced coupe) here in Italy.  

The waterfront promenade in Sanremo on our way to the Coop for groceries.

We got off the bus near the casino in Sanremo (about the same size as the one in Monaco but not as famous.)   After getting some shots of the only Orthodox Church we have seen in Italy, we took one final walk down the main shopping street, confirming that Sanremo was much more alive for us than Monaco before heading to Coop.

The dome of the Orthodox Church in Sanremo.

One of the pleasures we have had in Italy is the quality of the food in the groceries.  We have each found and enjoyed a bunch of food that we have not seen anywhere else.  Our main motivation was to get one more chance to stock François up with some our favorite new staples such as Blood Orange Juice, fresh pasta (not dried like we are used to in the US), pocket coffee (a chocolate coffee confection that can be eaten as candy, or added to a shot of espresso to make a drink), and the varied pasta sauces.  We also broke our €2.99 limit on a bottle of Primitivo wine as we both wanted to try this particular wine and had not been able to find one within our budget.  So we picked out the cheapest bottle and are now indulging in our expensive €3.69 bottle which is superb!

Italy rewarded us for our loyalty for the two and a half hours we were out the rain held off.  Five minutes after we returned to François the skies opened up again. 

November 8, 2019 Turin IT

It really pored all night last night. The heaviest sustained rain we have seen on this trip.  The last week has been wet and cool and it is starting to wear on us.  Turin is our last major Italian city of the trip.  We picked it so that we could get a brief taste of the Piedmont area.  

The drive over was pretty easy except for hitting a few very heavy bouts of rain.  As we closed in on Turin the weather started to turn and morale picked up in François.  There was even a brief view of the Alps as we got close to the city.  

The Sosta we are parked in is run by the tram company in Turin, while it is very convenient it probably has the most convoluted pay system we have seen.  You take a ticket when you check in and that takes care of the parking. To use the water you are supposed to stick the parking ticket into a machine and it records that you used water.  This also goes for the dump, bathroom, and showers.  To get electricity you have to go get a separate card give a €10 deposit and then take that card to a vending machine to put some credit on it, and after the credit has been loaded you take it out to the electric boxes and insert the card to get your electricity.  The parking lot is located off of “The Soviet Union Boulevard” (Turin is a very left wing city.), so I think whoever designed the payment system must have learned it when they were studying in the USSR.

The Duke of Savoy’s Palace in Turin.

After sorting out the electric we headed downtown on the Tram.  Turin is a very prosperous town, and while there is nothing particularly spectacular in town, the overall feeling of the town is quite  organized and well ordered.  In fact it almost felt German except for the driving which is Italian to its core.  Ton had one primary target which was Al Bicerin Cafe which has been in business since 1763.  This place developed this drink consisting of espresso, dark chocolate, and cream in layers.  The drink and the cafe have been celebrated in novels and travelogues for over 200 years.  After walking thru the former Dukes Palace and the main square of town we headed over to the Cafe.  Ton ordered the Bicerin while I opted for a normal hot chocolate.  It is a humble looking place that does not look like it has been impressing great artists and politicians for centuries.  It was everything Ton hoped for (my hot chocolate was good also, but now I feel like a charlatan).

The Al Bicerin Cafe which has been serving the rich, famous, and humble since 1763.

When we finished up with the Bicerin and some light food we headed over to the central market.  We can never go wrong at one of these traditional markets.  We really enjoyed our walk thru the market and the food stalls in a separate building.  Turin looks like a great town to live in, an interesting mixture of big business (it is the home of Fiat) and food.  It reminded me a little bit of Portland without the beer.

One of the stalls in the Central Market in Turin.

We finished the day with a promenade up the main shopping street of town, before grabbing the tram.  On the way back to François we made one final stop at a big grocery store to stock up on some of our favorite Italian groceries before we head back into France.

Street scene in Turin.

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.

October 28, 2019 Cinque Terre IT

We had another great day on the Cinque Terre.  We are staying at a basic Sosta run by one of the local ambulance services, so in addition to a bunch of motor homes we are sharing our space with a couple of ambulances.  When the drivers are not out on runs they man the front gate and take payment.  When I went to buy bus tickets into town I tried to do the ordering in Italian (“due persona, biglietta a autobus retorno”) for anyone who speaks Italian you will know that is terrible, but the guy understood and thanked me for trying and then switched to perfect English for the rest of the transaction.

Yesterday we covered the most popular of the three cities on the Cinque Terre, today we planned on covering the last two towns.  After our twenty minute bus ride to the train station in La Spezia we headed out to Corniglia.  It is the least visited town because it does not connect to the ocean, and you have to climb 365 steps to get to the town.  The town is really perched on a promontory overlooking the ocean with great views up and down the coast.  It is also has good views up to the mountains above the coast.  In addition to climbing the steps to town we climbed up above the town into the vineyards that were the primary source of income before tourism took over.  

Corniglia with vineyards terraced on the hills above town.

Our next stop was the town of Manarola.  It is considered by the people who write about the Cinque Terre as the most romantic of the towns.  It consists of one main street running down to a small harbor.  But what makes it romantic are the trails around the town which after a pretty good climb take you thru the vineyards that cascade down the mountainside into the town.  The trail is quite spectacular and you are rewarded for your effort by some great views.

Looking down on Manarola from the vineyards above town.

Having climbed about 770 feet in total between the two towns (if my fitbit is to be believed) we decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch.  We walked up the road in Manarola scouting for lunch.  Ton would walk up to each restaurant and look at the menu and inspect the food on the tables that the customers were eating.  After a while she pointed at a restaurant and said that is the one.  I noticed that there was a table for two on the second floor balcony and asked one of the waitresses in terrible Italian if we could sit there.  She said of course; and informed the manager/husband that we were going to get those seats (my reward for trying to speak Italian), clearly to his frustration.  It turned into a wonderful meal as we both had great fresh seafood on a balcony overlooking the town.  We shared the balcony with a nice German couple, and inside there was a French tour group who had quite a bit of wine with their lunch, and in the end their Italian tour guide broke into song and the group joined in.  All in all a very memorable lunch.

The rail station at Corniglia looking down from the top of the 365 steps.  The rail line connecting the 5 towns is more or less continuous tunnel, with the tracks only emerging at each town.  Manarola is the town you can see in the upper right of the picture.

Our final plan for the day was to walk from Manarola to Riomagiore but unfortunately the trail was closed.  So instead we headed back to La Spezia.  Ton says I owe her a massage for making her climb 770 feet today, but I think most of the climbing was her idea.

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 14, 2019 Taormina IT

Taormina was on Ton’s must see list today.   I made a scouting run down to the terminal to discover the best way to Taormina.  Option 1 was a hop on hop off bus that gave us use of the tourist bus and the regular bus for €14 each or take a regular bus for €3.  We were torn about what to do, and still had not made up our mind when we got to the terminal.  We finally chose the regular bus, but after we bought the ticket the cashier who must have heard our debate, asked the Hop on Hop off bus driver to let us ride to Taormina, so we ended up with the best of both worlds.  This good samaritan was the same guy who had rebuffed my earlier attempt to ask him about the bus to Taormina in Italian, with a gruff “What do you want?” in English.  

Taormina is the town between the two high points of land.

Taormina has been a town since the ancient Greeks, and it is really a spectacular site on a large bluff overlooking the harbor at Giardini-Naxos.  We were dropped off at a nondescript bus terminal, but as soon as we began hiking up the road to the town the views were spectacular.  As we got closer to the town center we both became more charmed.  Despite the fact that Taormina is definitely on the tourist trail, complete with all of the brand name stores lining its main street, it still had a spirit that we both really enjoyed.  

The main road in Taormina lined with big brand shops, but still beautiful.

The town meanders up and down hill.  The main road is wide and flat, but all of the roads off of it are either up or down and quite narrow, which adds to the atmosphere.  Off of the main road the shops were run by locals who were very friendly without being pushy.  Ton had picked out two potential restaurants for lunch, but one had gone out of business, and the other was not open.  Just down the street was a cheese store that advertised lunch and we were both drawn to it.  We went inside to take a look and saw a restaurant in the back.  We asked the lady at the counter if they served lunch and she said yes in an hour, would we like a reservation.  Something I have learned is that in romance languages my short name “Ron” (in Spanish it means Rum) is perplexing, so when she acted confused about my name I switched it to Ronaldo, she immediately connected the dots and had a good laugh with one of the customers.

Typical side “road” in Taormina.

Having an hour to kill we decided to head up to the Greek Theater which is the big attraction in town.  When we got there it was €10 to get in, and since we have seen a lot of antiquity sites on this trip decided to pass.  We still had time to kill so we went to the municipal park and sat down on a park bench to enjoy the views.

The view from our park bench in Taormina.

The lunch at the cheese shop was superb.  We opted for a Sicilian food and wine tasting.  It consisted of three wines, and a plate of cheeses, meats, and grilled vegetables.  We have had a lot of good meals on our trips in Europe, but we both agreed that so far this is the best.  The food and wine while simple was fresh and delicious.  The service of the husband and wife was great and they enjoyed explaining the food and wine to us.  They were clearly proud of their Sicilian heritage and happy to share it with us.  At the end neither of us could bring ourselves to leave so we stalled with a coffee, and an aperitif.  Ton was tempted to return for dinner, but they were full, though we could tell if we pushed and had some flexibility they would have found a way to accommodate us.  We rarely mention places by name but if you are ever in town do not miss La Bottega Del Formaggio.

I really enjoyed this meal much more than my expression shows!

October 11, 2019 Marsala IT

Our first full day in Italy was a treat.  We were still a little unsettled about our plans for Sicily when we woke up.  Marsala is famous for a type of fortified wine and while I was sleeping Ton found a place where we could have a tour.  So while I was making coffee she proposed we spend the day here and take the tour.  The winery was too far away to walk to, and it required reservations so we had to find out if we could get in and arrange for a taxi to take us there.  I went up to the office and asked if they could arrange a taxi, and call the winery for us as we do not have a sim card for Italy in our phone.  The owner of the campground said he would take us and the winery could accommodate us at 10am.  Since it was already 9:15, I ran back to tell Ton to get ready as we needed to leave in 20 minutes.  Giacomo the owner of the campground  ran off to change into better clothes and also to quickly give the van from the campground a wash.  We arrived at Florio winery with 10 minutes to spare.

Our breakfast today, not healthy but delicious.

Florio Winery was founded in the early 1800’s to produce Marsala.  It was the first Marsala Wine producer to be owned by Italians as prior to that the fortified wine industry in Marsala was dominated by English.  The Florio family went on to become quite a conglomerate including wine, shipping, agriculture, and light industry.  At one time they were by far the richest family on Sicily.  They also made their mark by providing some of the original assistance to Garibaldi as he began his campaign to unite Italy into one country.  Like many family dynasties the first generation makes all of the money, the second generation maintains the fortune, and the third generation squanders it all.  The third generation of the Florio’s ended up selling off the winery to raise cash to pay for their extravagant lifestyle.

A 700 liter wine cask built for an exhibition in San Francisco in 1915.  It is still in use today for production of cooking wine.

After we completed the wine tasting we followed the harbor to the old town.  Things are scruffier in Sicily, but very charming.  We enjoyed walking around town looking at the sites when we realized that our breakfast had been fortified wine.  We found a nice restaurant near Garibaldi square.  The food was outstanding, and the service was really outstanding. The waiter was a young guy who may have been the son of the owner, and if not acted like he was.  At the end  we asked for coffee and when we commented on how much we liked it he lit up and told us it was a local coffee and talked us thru the beans and roasting process with great passion.

The Garibaldi Gate near the point where Garibaldi landed with his initial 100 supporters in his successful campaign to unify Italy.

We arranged for Giacomo to pick us up at a local grocery store.  After delivering us to François I saw him sitting in a chair near the office having a beer and struck up a conversation.  It turns out between driving us to town and picking us up he had spent the day harvesting the olives from the trees around the campground.  Talking to him it turns out he had retired from the Italian Army after 20 years and returned home to Marsala to open the campground on part of his fathers farm.  He took us around the campground showing us the different plants and herbs he had planted around the campground.  It was a treat to spend some time with him.

Some of the olives harvested by Giacomo the owner of the campground we are staying in.

June 21, 2019 Luxembourg City LX

Luxembourg City is a beautiful city, but for now it is also a giant construction project.  At nearly every point we turned there is a building going up, or a road being widened or paved.  We even ran into a small side loader when climbing a trail from the lower city to the upper city.  On top of the construction they were setting up for the national day celebration so where construction was not going on there were crowd control fences and stages being built for the party.  While we do not think this is normal, it was probably the hardest city to walk in we have seen in Europe.

Some of the old fortifications and bridges above the Aizette River.

Most of the city is on the bluffs of the Aizette River.  The river passes thru the city in a gorge a couple of hundred feet below the city.  There is a section of the city at the bottom of the bluff called Grun.  We spent most of the day down there wandering around the old streets and messing around in the ramparts of the old fort.  We could see it is a beautiful city when it is not being dug up in mass.

The Grun district in the valley below the city center.  Ton had to work hard to get a picture with only one construction crane in it.

We had lunch in a restaurant in the Grun where we tried the national dish of Luxembourg called Judd Mat Gaardebounen when it arrived at the table it came in a cauldron.  It is pork neck soaked in brine with white beans, definitely peasant food.  It was filling.  Having eaten peasant food for our main course we decided to go to the official patisserie of the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg for desert.  We had a nice cheese cake, and chocolate nougat for desert.  So we had a peasant dinner and an aristocratic desert.

Ham and beans our traditional Luxembourg peasant lunch.
Our desert fit for a Duke.

When we returned for the night there was an outdoor concert taking place.   So we wandered over with some of our Duchesse de Bourgogne beer and listened to the Moselle Valley Brass Band until it was time to turn in for the night.

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 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 9, 2019 Bremen GE

We learned yesterday afternoon that Monday is a holiday in Germany which explains the big crowds both in Bremen and at the stellplatz.  When we got back to the stellplatz last night there was a sign in the entrance saying that there was no room in the parking lot. Because we liked Bremen and were worried about finding a similar sign in our next destination we decided to spend another day.

The market square in Bremen on a beautiful sunny day.  We had no regrets spending another day.

The World Heritage Site the old town hall that we saw yesterday had a tour today at noon and we decided to make that our highlight for the day.  We slept in and then spent the morning cleaning François and watching the morning exodus of motorhomes from the stellplatz before walking down to the city for our tour.

Part of the interior of the town hall with incredibly intricate wood carvings.

The tour of the interior was helped by an extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who did a good job of explaining how Bremen developed as an independent merchant city under the Holy Roman Empire.  When Charlemagne first tried to incorporate Bremen into his empire he did so in the normal way by sending a bishop to the city.  The citizens of Bremen resisted this because they wanted the city government to be separate from the church.  Charlemagne’s son Roland agreed to this and Bremen claims to be the first government where the separation of church and state was formally proclaimed.  

The town hall next to the cathedral, the council of the city sat with their backs to the cathedral in the town hall to prove they were not beholden to the Bishop.

Unlike in other cities in Europe the town hall was as prominent as the Cathedral, and do to luck the building survived all of the wars that occurred over the 600 years it has been in existence.  In addition to the normal fantastic wood carvings and paintings the town hall also has a giant wine cellar that holds over 650 different examples of German wine.

The interior of the wine cellar under the town hall, with over 650 different varieties of German wine.  We had beer!

Part of the wine cellar is now a restaurant so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch down in the cellar.  When we arrived we were offered a private room for about 6 people built into the side of the cellar.  It was a cool place even though we were planning on a light lunch.

Roland the person who agreed to allowing Bremen to separate the government from religion.

After lunch we strolled thru town for a while taking in the sites, and people watching.  Bremen has a cute town symbol the four musicians of Bremen.  It is based on a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm about 4 animals who are abandoned by their owners when they are too old to be useful.  The 4 of them decide to move to Bremen to be musicians and even though in the fairy tale they do not make it to Bremen the town has adopted them as the symbol.  There is a statue of the four musicians next to the town hall and the legend is that if you make a wish and touch both forelegs your wish will come true.  It is important to touch both legs because as they say in Bremen if you only touch one it is just two asses shaking hands with each other.

Ton making a wish with the four musicians of Bremen.
Another depiction of the four musicians on the corner of a building.

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.

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 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 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.

May 15, 2019 Reichenau GE

We have been enjoying Lake Constance so we decided to spend another day on the lake at a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Reichenau Island.  Yesterday we visited “Flower Island” and today we are visiting “Vegetable Island”.

The drive over was quick and uneventful except for a diversion to the ferry terminal as Greta Garmin decided that was the quickest way to Reichenau, she was probably right but we decided to skip the ferry fee, and after some resetting of Greta, we were on our way by road.

World Heritage Sites are usually pretty spectacular, so when we pulled on to Reichenau it seemed that the emphasis was on vegetables and not memorable architecture.  For our friends from Oregon think of Sauvie Island with three small churches.  After settling in to the Stellplatz we decided to walk on over to the Abby which is the largest of the three churches that make up the UNESCO site.  The walk was thru a bunch of vegetable fields where we played guess the vegetable, Ton won.

A field of different types of Lettuce on Vegetable Island.

We arrived at the Abby and it was a nice enough church but nothing spectacular. We finally figured out that the smaller church called St. George Church had the paintings that were what caused the UNESCO designation, and we had a couple of hours to wait until the next tour.

Part of the Abby which was the center of the religious order on the island in the middle ages.

The island this time of year is really very quiet and peaceful, and we spent quite a bit of time just wandering aimlessly around the streets enjoying the views of the lake and enjoying the ambiance and the greenery, it really reminded us of Oregon.   We visited the museum to try to understand the history of the Abby as the tour was in German so we needed to prep.

A reproduction of some of the art that we would see later in St. George Church.

Finally what we thought would be the highlight of the day was the tour of the interior of the church which has artwork from the 10th century that was rediscovered in the 1880’s  when the white wash that had covered them was removed.  The paintings are in the process of being preserved, access to the church is limited to help minimize the humidity in the church.

An example of the paintings from the 900’s that are being preserved at the entrance to the church.
Some of the art inside the chapel, this type of painting is very rare and this is the northern most church in Europe that this style is found.

The explanation of the on going work to preserve the paintings and the meaning of the paintings was quite extensive, but we did not understand much as it was of course in German.  But the guide was quite obviously proud of the work and very knowledgeable.

The exterior of St. George Church, sometimes modest structures hide real treasures.

We had planned on taking the bus back to François after the tour, but I was unable to figure out the bus system, and the bus guide we had did not match the one at the bus stop.  So being unsure whether the bus was going to take us home, or into Konstanz I talked Ton into walking the 2 miles back.  On the way she saw a sign for a grocery so we detoured down a side road where we saw a small brewery.

Being a little curious we crossed the street and were peering in the door when a man waved us in and welcomed us in German.  We were a little shy as we do not speak any German, but the man switched to English and asked us where we were from, when we told him Oregon he laughed and his wife smiled.  He said he got his Masters Degree from Southern Oregon University!  They have been operating the only microbrewery in the region for about 3 years.  Thomas insisted on giving us a tour of the facilities and a couple of beers to taste.  His beers are excellent.  We were also invited to a special event the brewery is having on Saturday including beer making, bands and food.  It looks like we may be staying in the far south of Germany for a few more days.

Thomas the owner of Insel Brewery on Reichenau Island.
We ended the day by walking down to the beach for a romantic sunset over Lake Constance.