Another trip is wrapping up. I spent the night hoping we did not run out of LPG for the heater as the temperature hovered around freezing. I lucked out and we made it, though when we return we will be heading right to the LPG pump to fill up. We woke up early and finished preparing François before dropping him off for the winter.
The trip into Paris was uneventful, and we arrived at the hotel at the airport. We have upgraded to a Holiday Inn which is a huge improvement from the Comfort Inn we have been staying at.
Today was cleaning and packing day. On Sundays what little that is open is open between 9am to Noon, so we headed out early to the grocery. I asked to head to Leclerc because I wanted to try to get some LP gas so we could be toasty tonight. Unfortunately the LP gas pumps were closed for Sunday, so I will cross my fingers that it does not get too cold tonight and I will set the thermostat a little lower than I wanted. Bad planning on my part as I thought we would be fine for the rest of the trip.
At Leclerc we did find a very nice carwash that was better than the one we had used in the past. So I spent a half hour pressure washing François while Ton worked on cleaning the interior. The next stop was Auchan to buy some food for dinner, and to give Ton a last walk thru a grocery on this trip. When we got there Ton told me to get lost for an hour so she could pack and I would just be in the way.
As we were leaving Auchan we saw the major traffic circle on the main road had been taken over by the Yellow Vests. Today was the first anniversary of the Yellow Vest movement in France. It has been covered lightly in the US. It is a protest movement against some of the rationalization of the French economy that has been proposed by their President Macron. The folks come out every Saturday and sit in the middle of the traffic circles that are all around France. They occasionally enter the circles and slow down traffic. Unfortunately the protests today became violent in Paris, though the one we saw in Sens seemed very peaceful and was mostly people standing around a bonfire keeping warm. On the way back to the aire we came across another group occupying a different traffic circle who were motorcyclists, we were not sure what they were protesting but one of the signs seemed to say that there were too many photo radars. While we were waiting to get thru the circle one lady came barreling around the cars in line and tried to force her way thru the circle while shouting and getting shouted at by the motorcyclists.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had big hopes for today, but nothing went well. Our plan was to revisit a town we had fond memories of from our very first trip to France. Tournan-sur-Rhone is both the originator of Syrah, one of my favorite wines, and has a fabulous chocolate factory.
The day started out with a hiccup when we were trapped in the campground after we had packed up. We were ready to roll about 8:30 when we realized the office for the campground did not open until 9 so we messed around for 30 minutes and headed to the office where no one was in sight, they did not arrive until 9:15, so we were an hour late getting going.
To expedite travel today we decided to pony up a large sum of money (€50) for tolls. We needed to cover about 380 km’s to Tournan. The first 200km’s went as planned though we cringed at each toll booth. Then we began to run into a pattern of 30 or 40 km’s at speed followed by 8 to 10 km’s of crawling along in a traffic jam for 30 to 45 minutes. One of the traffic jams was interesting as the Gendarmerie had closed two lanes on the freeway creating a huge bottleneck, and when it closed down to one lane they diverted 100% of the commercial trucks into the two closed lanes and parked them nose to tail, we have no idea why. So our 4 to 5 hour trip was delayed by 1 hour starting and took 90 minutes longer than we planned. The good news is Ton turned the dash of François into an impromptu dryer, so a lot of our soaked clothes got dried out as we crawled along the A7 autoroute.
The final surprise was there was 4 to 6 inches of snow at Tournan when we arrived. Luckily the campground was open and we were able to get a spot facing the Rhone. The snow made things pretty, but walking the 1.5 km’s on icy sidewalks and bridges did not seem like a good idea in fading light, so we missed the chocolate factory. Hopefully tomorrow.
The next annoyance of the day is that we are in a cell phone dark spot and have only 2g service on our WiFi. Ton spilled her wine to cap off the day. Well some days are better than others.
We have a friend who arrived in Paris a few days ago. Ton and her have been keeping in touch and sharing some photos. We thought they were going on to Savona from Paris, but last night she sent Ton a message saying they were going to Mice today. Ton showed me the message and said do you think she means Nice? A short phone call confirmed that she was heading our way and would arrive on a train about 1:15. So our plans for today were set with a happy meeting of friends.
In the morning we took care of our last laundry for the trip, anything that gets dirty from this point is going home with us. The weather was threatening all day but the rain held off in the morning. As we were locking up François to head to the rail station a French couple walked up and hit me with a long and complex blast of French. When he took a breath I told him that I was very sorry but I do not speak French. They switched to English and we had a nice conversation about traveling both here and in the US.
We arrived at the train station a few minutes before the train from Paris arrived and were able to meet our friends at the platform. It was a nice surprise for them as our friend from Portland Boo had not told the other two couples she was traveling with that we were in Nice. After saying hello to Moo, Nit, Jeap and Dit we headed off to their hotel.
After they checked in we were off to the promenade and old town for a bit of sight seeing and catching up. They are on an extensive trip that started in Paris, they are heading on to Italy to catch a trans-Atlantic cruise to Brazil, after they arrive they are going to linger in South America for a couple of weeks. Ton and I are a little jealous.
Walking along the promenade and the old town of Nice was fun as we exchanged travel stories. The promenade was empty as while it was not raining yet the wind was blowing hard and it was cold. Despite this everyone was having a good time. Ton and Boo were having a great time talking as they walked arm in arm thru town. I think it was good for Ton to have a friend to talk to instead of me and in Thai instead of English.
After a few hours we realized that we had left the key to the gate for the campground in François. The campground we are staying in is gated and they close the gate at 7pm, without the key we would not have access, so we left a little earlier than we wanted to, but this turned out to be a good thing.
As we were walking to the train station it started to rain. The weather report today was pretty ominous actually with high winds and heavy rain called for. It turns out while the wind and rain was delayed, when it hit, it hit with a vengeance. When we got off the train in Villeneuve we were struck with a gust of wind of 20 plus miles per hour and heavy sideways rain, umbrellas were collapsing and people were actually staggering as they stepped off the train. The walk back to François was in a ferocious rain and wind storm, with flashes of lightning to add to the fun. By the time we arrived at François we were soaked to the skin, and now the bathroom is full of wet clothes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We finally had to reluctantly leave Italy behind. We will talk more about our impressions of Italy later, but we both found it wonderful. We had read a lot of negatives about Italy, and were prepared for a tougher experience than we had had in other places. It turns out Italy was pretty easy to move around in and we did not experience anything that would cause us to discourage anyone from traveling there. On the contrary we found Italy to be a wonderful country and we encourage anyone who is thinking of Europe to make sure they include Italy in the itinerary.
We woke up to sunshine, so we made an early start towards Nice. The drive over was uneventful but Nice made a bad first impression on us. First the year round campground that we planned to stay at after much research to make sure it was open, was closed. One warning if you are traveling in November call ahead and confirm that places that say they are open are really open. Luckily because of our research we had a second choice in mind and it was only 10 minutes away, and most importantly they are open year round as advertised. The next negative to our first impression of Nice was at the train station. We walked about a mile to the nearest station, which is a minor station. In Italy every station no matter how small had someone working there, this one had a nice lobby with an information window, but it was closed with a sign saying they were open random hours during the week. No problem we are serious travelers and can get tickets from any automatic machine. The one thing that will stop intrepid travelers like us is if the only ticket machine at the station is malfunctioning (actually completely dead, powered down). So now we were stuck, our first temptation was to just get on the the next train and if we did run into a conductor tell him our tale, but not really speaking French this seemed risky and could end up costing us an awful lot. At this point Ton saw an advertisement for an App the train company in France has where you can buy tickets on line so we tried that. Surprisingly it worked, and armed with our app bought ticket on our phone we boarded the next train to Nice.
As a quick editorial, one of the things we liked about Italy was the lack of automation, you bought tickets from people, who were able to answer questions, point you in the right direction and deliver a smile. Maybe that is why even though things are rougher around the edges in Italy we enjoyed it so much, because we were dealing with people and not machines and apps.
Nice is much larger than I envisioned, somehow I had an overgrown Monaco in mind and not the big metropolis we found ourselves in. But it is beautiful and the waterfront esplanade is one of the best we have ever seen anywhere in the world. It is truly magnificent and I can see how you could fall in love with a city that goes out of it’s way to embrace the sea in the way Nice does.
We ended up walking more today than any day on this trip, just about exactly 10 miles. We climbed up to an overlook on one side of the city and waterfront and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both Nice, and the Alps in the background.
When we arrived back to our broken home train station of Villeneuve-Loubet I told Ton I thought there was a better route home. When we were walking to the train station in the morning we had spotted three very large and striking condominium towers. We both find them striking but neither one of us will own up to liking them. We walked thru them on the way back and found a giant marina behind them, so they are catering to a very upscale clientele. It was sunset and the sky and the views over the Mediterranean were eye catching. From one beach we were able to look at the sea, and turn and look at the Alps with the pink light of the setting sun highlighting the snow caps. It was worth the diversion for a great sunset.
There really is not much to talk about today. We needed to be in Toulon at 3:30 pm to catch our ferry to Sicily, so there was no time for exploring. We spent the morning poking around the campground taking care of cleaning, dumping tanks, and filling tanks. At 11:30 we took off for Toulon looking to fill François up, and maybe do a quick shop for some of our favorite French things before we depart for Italy.
Everything was going to plan until it was time to get fuel. Periodically our American credit cards are refused at French fuel dispensers. There is no rhyme or reason about when it will happen, but it happened today. In the past we were able to overcome this by using a debit card we travel with for emergencies, but today they even refused that. So we were stuck on a tour of fuel stations of Toulon until we found one with a human being who could process our credit cards. Five stations later we finally found a station with an attendant and filled up François.
When we parked in the line for the ferry I noticed the camper van in front of us had Thai writing on it. I went up to ask the French couple about why, but it turns out they had bought the van used and did not even know the strange writing was Thai, they just liked the way it looks!
It is the largest ferry we have been on and is almost like a mini-cruise ship, complete with bars and multiple restaurants. So after settling in we went up top to watch our departure from Toulon on the way to Trapani Italy.
Today François stayed in place while we visited the neighboring city of St. Tropez. It was a short bus ride to St. Tropez, but it was a change from middle class to uber rich. Port Grimaud is a pretty city on the same bay as St. Tropez, but while prosperous it features 40 foot boats and nice condos. 5km’s away St.Tropez features 100 foot plus yachts, and helicopters scurrying over carrying their owners to their estates.
We can see why St. Tropez is such a hit with the jet setters as the climate and the setting is spectacular. The water in the bay is crystal clear and generally calm. It became one of the “it” places in the world largely because of Brigitte Bardot in the 1960’s. Several of her famous movies were filmed in this area and put St. Tropez on the map. It is a pretty little town with lots of restaurants and high end shops lining the waterfront. There are a lot of people walking up and down the harbor gawking at the yachts. The actual uber rich were out of site or blending in with the crowds.
Ton had two things she wanted to accomplish; she wanted to visit the road named after one of her favorite authors Antoine de Saint-Exupèry, and to take a picture of a statue of Brigitte that is in town. After we walked thru the town we headed out to find the road dedicated to Antoine. He was Ton’s favorite author when she was studying French. The Little Prince is his most famous work. Antoine was a true renaissance man as in addition to being a great writer he was also an early aviator and explorer. It is located next to the old fort on the hill above town and had a great view of the town and the bay. We both find that we find small connections to our youth by exploring these towns and it adds some fun to the trip.
After our walk around town and up to the fort we were hungry. Ton had two restaurants on her list, but one had gone out of business, and the other was closed, and as we were running out of time for lunch we popped into a Thai restaurant. This was our first Thai restaurant in Europe and we left a little disappointed.
The final stop for the day was to be a statue to Brigitte Bardot, but after walking the streets looking for it (including seeing several French restaurants that only added to our disappointment with lunch), we came to the statue of Brigitte and had a good laugh. When we first got off the bus we walked thru a little square with a cute statue of a women nude, and Ton took several pictures of it as she really liked it. It turns out this was the famous Brigitte statue that we were looking for. Brigitte while long retired still lives in St. Tropez.
Since we were next to the bus station we headed back to the campground for a light dinner and a walk along the beach at sunset.
Another day of big driving, and me being clueless. We wanted to get down somewhere near Toulon as our ferry to Sicily leaves from there on October 9. Ton thought hanging around near the rich at Saint Tropez would be fun. Port Grimaud is only about 10 km’s from Saint Tropez and would let people of our economic stature hang around; so that was the target.
Before the trip I thought we needed an oil change as my research indicated that the oil was due to be changed at 45,000 km’s. I had planned to have the oil changed when we got the new tires for François but I had a conversation with someone who managed a fleet of vehicles like François who said that oil change was 50.000 km’s so I decided to hold off until we returned from Italy. It turns out my research was right and about halfway to Port Grimaud we got a flashing red oil can on the dash of François. In my experience anything on the dash that is red and related to oil needs immediate attention. We pulled into the first rest area on the autoroute and I checked the oil. It was low, but not out so I added a liter and expected the light to go out. It did not so as I drove south Ton began looking for a Fiat dealer or mechanic and she came up with one. Well after about a 40 minute detour we came to the location of the Fiat mechanic according to Google, and it was a brand new KFC. Since all of the dealers who could deal with François were on lunch break anyway I took the time to do some more research and it turns out that the flashing red oil can indicates the need to change the oil and not a problem with the oil, so we decided to carry on with our trip and find a place to change the oil when we get to Italy.
So after a little drama, we are now in a very large campground next to the Mediterranean Sea, and looking forward to heading into Saint Tropez tomorrow to see how the 1% live.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So instead we headed back to François where Ton prepared me a delicious meal.
We are both battling a little bug coupled with jet lag and a pretty good storm resulted in a poor nights sleep for both of us. As a result we decided to just jump on the road and get some miles towards our ultimate destination.
We have been wanting to visit Lyon and it was about half way to Toulon so we decided to head there for the day. Ton suggested we go ahead and pay to use the Autoroute so it was a very easy day of driving for me, but a little expensive. By the time we arrived in Lyon we decided to just explore the area around the campground. The area around us appears to have been part of the fortress system for Lyon in the past, so there were a lot of tall walls. The town center was nice and we gawked at some beautiful French pastries, the French really do pastries right.
After stretching our legs we decided to turn in early and get ready to try to take Lyon by storm tomorrow.
Today we moved about 5km’s to our favorite aire at Gron. Jet lag won the day and neither one of us were moving around until about 11:30 so we decided to take care of a couple of more things around our base in Sens before hitting the road tomorrow.
The biggest thing was to fill up the LP and top off the fuel in François. It looks like we will have some cool nights so the heater is going to be running. They have been having a drought around here so of course we show up and bring them three days of rain and cool weather.
One small adventure happened today. E. Leclerc is one of our favorite grocery chains in France and the one in Sens has propane and relatively cheap fuel so we decided to head over there. It is not pay at the pump so we had to circle thru the pay station twice to take care of our two different fuel needs.
When we finished the fuel merry go round we headed over to the parking lot for the store, and they had installed height barriers restricting the parking lot to 2.3 meters (François is 2.9 meters). We have shopped here on every trip so I thought they must have at least one part of their large parking lot open to Campers, and as we drove around the lot the last entrance had the height barriers open so we pulled in and parked. After we finished our shopping we came out and while we were in the store they had closed the height barrier trapping us inside.
As I was trying to sort out how we were going to escape another Camper pulled up. We had a short conversation in sign language and Franglish where he told me (and I am paraphrasing greatly) that his camper was 2.8m and he fit under the sign. Meanwhile a couple of cars had pulled up behind us and were watching us figure this out, then a third car came up and began blowing his horn where upon we both gave him a big Gallic shrug, like what do you want. The guy in the shorter camper went under the bar without hitting, and then got out to guide me thru. Taking it slow we escaped under the barrier, and with a shake and a bon journey we were on our way to the aire to finish our day.
Started the day by going over to retrieve François from storage at Eurocamping Cars. The next stop was Garage Alary to get some new tires installed on François. The designated English speaker Abdelsem did a good job of making us feel welcome. Two hours later we have new tires and were on our way to Sens for some grocery shopping.
I misread the gauge on the control panel and thought the battery was down on François so instead of going to the free aire in Gron we usually stay in we went to the pay aire in Sens as it provides electricity. As it turns out we had electricity, not water. So instead of staying in Gron for free with free water, the pay aire in Sens charges an extra 2 euro for 10 minutes of water. My first mistake of the trip on the first day. I tried to convince Ton it is better here because their is a Lidl across the street to shop in, but she knows better.
We finished the day up with a short trip to Lidl and an early supper. Tonight will be an early one as we are both quite jet lagged.
We made it back to France. This time the trip was on Delta Airlines and unlike our previous flight on Icelandic they provided plenty of food for free. Another bonus is that they are flying 767’s on the route from Seattle to Paris which comes with 2-3-2 seating so Ton and I had our two seats to ourselves which is another bonus.
We were impressed the first time we arrived at Charles DeGaulle airport as there was no wait at all for immigration. This time was absolutely the opposite, their were easily a couple of thousand people in the arrival hall and the crowd had spilled outside the roped off area into a hallway where people fed in from three different directions so getting a line of any type formed out there was going to take some effort on someone’s part, unfortunately the people working there chose not to be the ones to make the effort, so the passengers did their best to organize things. it took nearly two hours to clear immigration.
The rest of the trip worked as planned with our normal train ride from the airport to downtown, a short trip on the metro to Gare DeBercy and a train to Sens. Overall from leaving our house to arriving at the hotel in Sens was a 28 hour trip.
Except for a terrible check in process Iceland Airlines got us home on time, and relatively comfortably. This was our longest trip so far at 8 weeks.
We visited 6 countries if you count our unplanned drive thru Austria on our way to Garmisch. We spent time in France, Germany, The Netherlands (one day), Belgium and Luxembourg. Germany is a very easy country to travel in. The roads are good and we fell into the habit of using the Autobahn which cut our drive time down quite a bit at the expense of seeing the countryside. There is a lot to see and we found the cities very comfortable to visit. I enjoyed seeing the former East Germany and found it very interesting, though the differences between the East and West to an outsider are fading fast. We really enjoyed Belgium, it is a charming country with some really pretty cities. Bruges is popular for a reason and was probably the prettiest city we visited.
Once again we ran out of time and ended up skipping some planned stops in Germany including Nuremburg and Berlin. So far we have had a hard time making capital cities on our trips. In Belgium we missed Wallonia completely, and I would like to give the Ardennes region there a look. Based on our day in Maastricht and talking with the many Netherlanders we met we have added the Netherlands to our countries to visit.
We covered about 5000km on this trip, (not an exact number because I forgot to note the starting mileage.) Besides the mystery leak when we are in monsoon like conditions François performed well. We are really enjoying Europe so far.
The final question; who has the better beer? I think it is Belgium by a mile, and Ton also votes for Belgium.
We dropped François off and took our normal route to Paris. Everything worked as it should, except there was a long line to buy tickets for the train to the airport so we missed the last shuttle of the afternoon for our hotel. With the help of a couple of French ladies we were able to convince another hotel (with the help of €10) to drop us off at our hotel. The air conditioner in our room did not work and it was around 90 degrees, fortunately the window opened so we were able to cool the room down to sleep. We think its time to look for a new hotel.
Dinner was at our normal kebab place near the hotel. They did not have AC either so we did not linger. The highlight of the day was watching the US beat Spain in the Women’s World Cup.
Today was our last day with François so our priority was to get to Sens in time to make a quick run thru Auchan to pick up some last minute snack food, as we came to the realization a couple of days ago that Icelandic Airlines will not provide us food on our 11 hours in the air coming home. We picked them primarily because they had a flight into Portland from Reykjavik and we were thinking about using them in the future as the connections are clean. It never occurred to us that an airline would put you on an 11.5 hour flight and expect you to buy food. Plus the fare was not particularly a bargain, live and learn.
Now that we are back in France and trying to avoid tolls Greta picked a route that while inexpensive turned out to involve quite a few country roads that had our speed down, so the trip took about 40 minutes longer than we planned, but all ended well as we arrived at Auchan with an hour to spare before their 1230 Sunday closing time.
We had also planned to give François a good bath today, but a few minutes into the wash, the car wash broke down. We quickly took advantage of the water that we had to give him a quick wipe down, and he ended up presentable.
Ton spent the afternoon packing and cleaning the interior while I tried to stay out of the way, but remain available when heavy things needed lifting.
We picked Epernay as a destination as it was about 60% of the way to Sens, had a decent place to stay, and looked like an interesting place to spend the afternoon. When we arrived we were worried about whether there would be room in the campground as there was a youth Rugby tournament taking place at the athletic fields surrounding the campground. Actually we have begun to notice that things are getting more crowded as we go, the aires and campgrounds have been filling up nearly everyday by 5 pm. We got lucky and did get a spot, but by 5 pm they were also full.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and when we were bored venturing out to watch the youth Rugby. Ton and I took a walk around 1pm, but in France even youth Rugby tournaments take a two hour break for a proper lunch. We enjoyed watching the families lay out a large lunch spread including wine for the adults. The French surely have their priorities aligned when it comes to food.
Epernay is one of the largest producers of champagne, and Moet which is an upscale brand is based there. Our original plan was to walk into town and poke around, but it was quite hot. When we checked in they told us there was a wine tour at 5:15 pm for a reasonable price, so we signed up to avoid the walk. On the tour we were joined by a German couple with a cute Labradoodle named Murphy, and a couple of Dutch guys who were on a weekend trip to stock up with champagne for the year. The winery was kind of a bust as the owner did not speak much English, and none of us spoke French. But we made the best of it and ended up enjoying the company of the other people on the tour.
When we returned Ton made a huge dinner as we are trying hard to eat all of the food in the refrigerator. Feeling stuffed we decided to take an after dinner stroll when we ran into the Dutch guys again. As we were exchanging stories Ton told them about the Dutch couple we were parked next to in Bruges, he had told us that he was one of the original surfers in the Netherlands. When she was explaining the part about the surfer dude from Holland the two guys started speaking excitedly in Dutch, and asked her to describe him in more detail. They had a little more conversation in Dutch and then told us we had met Jan van de Berg who apparently is more than just a surfer dude in the Netherlands, but a big deal. He was an Olympic hero in the 80’s for winning the Netherlands first medal in surfing, also he was apparently a hotty as all of the girls in the Netherlands had posters of him in their bedrooms. Our street cred with the Dutch guys went up enormously. Later Ton did some research and we think we met the parents of Jan, and not Jan himself.
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.
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.
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.
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.