I planned to have an easy day in Tucson before watching the superbowl. But the game was pretty late so I looked for something to do early in the day.
Since I was on an airbase it seemed appropriate.to visit the the Pima Air Museum which has the second largest collection of airplanes in the world. On the way I drove by the boneyard. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where I am staying is where the US stores aircraft that are not currently being used but not ready to be scrapped. Some are being held in reserve in case they are needed in the future. Some are being stored for possible sale to other countries Air Forces, and some are being harvested for spare parts for similar aircraft. There are thousands of aircraft stored here in the desert and it is quite a site. The storage area is referred to as the boneyard.
The Pima Museum was very impressive, I spent about three hours wandering thru the exhibitions looking at both military and commercial aircraft. There were some interesting experimental planes, and some classics. The WWII exhibits were especially impressive. If you like planes or just like mechanical things I highly recommend the Pima Museum.
My last adventure for the day was to try to find an ATM from my bank. It took two tries and about 10 miles of driving to find one. Scout would not fit into the drive thru so I parked and was walking up to use it when a car sped around me and cut in to beat me to the machine. Then they spent about five minutes getting ready to deposit checks while I cooled my heals in the sun standing behind them. The guy did not even have the guts to make eye contact with me while I waited for them to complete there complicated transaction from the comfort of their car.
Today is my day for jerks, as my neighbor at the campground is apparently using his truck engine as his generator to power his RV, so every hour he runs his truck for 15 minutes right outside the door of my RV even when I am sitting outside watching the Super Bowl. On top of that the team I was rooting for in the Super Bowl lost. Tucson so far has been my least favorite stop on the trip.
Today we decided to start our time in Rome by visiting the Vatican. Yesterday after some research we decided to do a guided tour, it was €10 more than the unguided ticket. It was expensive but the other option was waiting in line for an indeterminate amount of time to purchase a ticket as an individual.
Our tour was at 11am but not having tried the public transport in Rome we left about 8:45 to give me some time to get lost. It turns out the trip to the Vatican was a breeze and we were there about 9:30. We used the time until the tour began to wander around St. Peters Square. The square itself is very impressive and we had no trouble killing the time we had until our tour.
We joined our tour and headed over to the Vatican Museum. The museum was fantastic but the crowds inside were incredible. I am not sure how many people they let in per day, but if today is any indication it is too many. At times you could not stop walking as you were being carried along by the crowds. We saw a lot of beautiful things that we would have liked to stop and admire but were unable to due to the crowds. It also made following the guides talk very complicated as we would frequently be separated from her by a wall of people and were not quite sure what piece of art she was talking about. We later learned that even in shoulder season Mondays and Saturdays are very crowded.
We eventually made our way thru to the highlight of the trip the Sistine Chapel. Again the place was jammed with people and you were basically herded into the middle of the Chapel and had to stop and stand in one place. There was no moving around to get a better view of a particular part of the chapel. Having complained I know why so many people want to see the chapel as it is absolutely stunning, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. In the end it was worth the trouble. Sorry there are no pictures from the Sistine Chapel allowed.
The tour finished up with St. Peters Basilica. We have visited a lot of Cathedrals during our time touring in Europe but this one is special. While the crowds were just as large, St. Peters was more than big enough to handle them. While the place is ornate it struck me as more understated, as if it has nothing to prove. We appreciated this, but the art that is in the cathedral is beautiful, and surprisingly to us from many different eras. It is not frozen in time which is also refreshing.
In the end our three hour tour took a little over four hours due to the crowd, and we emerged from St. Peters famished. Ton had picked out a place she wanted to try and following Google maps we arrived at the site, sat down and ordered some pasta, when I looked across the street and saw the name of the restaurant she had picked out, we were in the wrong place. The food was pretty good though.
Today we moved a whole 15km to a nice aire on a farm in the village of Westvlateren. It is a very small village known for St Sixtus Abby and Brewery. The setting is beautiful but unfortunately they just cut the hay in the field next to the aire and Ton who has been fighting allergies this entire trip is really suffering.
As we have been traveling around Belgium we have kept hearing about this mythical beer from Westvleteren. When we were in Amsterdam we ran into an Australian who proudly mentioned he had found some bottles of it for sale in Brussels and was happy to get 3 of them for only €19 each. When we moved to Bruges we also heard about this beer from some other people. Ton began doing her research and it turns out it is considered by some beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world, and it was very difficult to buy it as you had to make an appointment and you were limited to 48 bottles at a time. The problem is that the phone to call to make an appointment receives over 80,000 calls per day so it is very hit or miss whether you can get an appointment. The monks are very concerned as their beer has been growing in popularity about people gouging others. They closely control distribution to minimize people inflating prices, but it is still happening like our Australian friend in Brussels discovered. At the brewery the bottles sell for €4.
We were still not planning to visit the brewery until last night when we decided to spend the day in the vicinity of Poperinge which is the biggest Hops producing town in Belgium. When I began to look for a place to stay around Poperinge it turns out there is an aire close to the Westvleteren Abby. Ton did some more research and found out that the monks did allow one cafe to sell their beer over the counter in the village, so here we are.
We started the day by going to Poperinge to visit the hop museum. It was an interesting presentation on hop production in the region. It focused mostly on the farming of the hops and was full of equipment and detailed descriptions of how hop farming techniques had changed in the area thru history. At the end it had examples of every Belgian Beer currently in production by region.
The next stop was the Westvleteren Cafe which along with the Abby is pretty much the entire town. The aire was supposed to be 1km from the Abby but that turned out to be as the crow flies, so after a half hour walk around the fields between us and the abby we arrived hot and ready for a cold beer. It took a while to be served as we have not quite mastered the way of getting a Belgian servers attention, but we finally put in our order for one of each of the 3 beers they produce here. The first is a blonde, the second is a dark beer with 8% alcohol, and the reported best beer in the world is the dark beer with 12% alcohol. They were all excellent, but our conclusion was that the dark 12 was indeed the best.
As we were leaving we stopped in their gift shop to pick up a memory of the trip, and discovered we could buy a six pack of the dark 12. So as I am typing this I am happily sipping on one of the best beers in the world.
When I was 11 or 12 my friend John and I were totally fascinated with the story of Colditz Castle and the allied prisoners of war who were held there during the war. The Germans designed the POW camp at Colditz to hold the most difficult prisoners, people who had attempted multiple escapes or were just a large scale pain to the Germans. John and I read the book by one of the prisoners called Escape from Colditz and spent a large part of the summer pretending to be prisoners trying to escape from Colditz. Today I got to visit the real thing.
It was not on the plan, but when we were traveling from Dresden to Leipzig the other day I saw the exit on the Autobahn for Colditz and told Ton the story and she insisted that we visit it. It was a short drive down from Leipzig with the only adventure being Greta insisting there was a road to follow when there was not one, after 10 minutes or so of circling Greta’s imaginary road we followed our noses and eventually found our way to Colditz.
The castle has been in existence since the middle ages, and was for a short while the home of Augustus I of Saxony. After a while it fell out of favor as a royal residence and became at different times a hospital, prison, and mental hospital. When the Nazi’s came to power it was used as a concentration camp, before being converted to a prisoner of war camp in 1939. During the war it held prisoners from many different countries including Poland, Holland, Belgium, France, the US, and Britain, with the British making up the bulk of the prisoners.
Today we were fortunate to be the only ones on our tour of the castle which was led by an Englishman named Alex who had married a local Saxon girl. He did a fabulous job of showing us around the castle explaining the living arrangements of both the prisoners and the guards. He talked about the various escape attempts. The most fascinating was the French tunnel which as you would expect was the work of the French prisoners held there. They dug this tunnel for over 9 months and covered over 500 feet going up and down around the stone that the castle rests on including cutting thru the original wooden supports that were adjacent to the chapel.
The German government has spent a lot of money fixing the castle in addition to the museum they have converted the old German guard quarters/Mental Hospital (under the East Germans) into a hostel. If you are in the area we recommend it. It was nice to see a place that had given me a great adventure one summer when I was a kid.
We spent the day touring around Leipzig which is a nice city. This is an up and coming city in Germany, which means it still has a little roughness around the edge which we liked. Dresden’s downtown felt like it had completed it’s makeover, in Leipzig it felt like it was well on its’ way but still in progress.
We went to St. Thomas Church which was the base of J.S. Bach for many years. As we entered the church a youth orchestra was beginning to practice for a concert. We sat and listened to them for a few minutes which seemed a fitting way to pay homage to Bach.
Leipzig embraces its’ role in the downfall of East Germany, and as you walk around town you see plaques telling stories about key events in 1989. It is humbling for me to walk the ground to see the role that common people played in bringing down a government with the repressive power of the old East German government.
Leipzig is also the site of one of the great battles of the Napoleonic era. At Leipzig Napoleon was defeated by the combined army of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden. This defeat led to his first exile. There is a huge monument to the battle on the edge of Leipzig. While the scale is massive, (it takes over 500 steps to reach the top) the aesthetics of the monument were not to our taste. We gave it a quick walk around without buying a ticket to go inside, and moved on to one of our favorite activities.
Our last stop was at a brewery in an old train station near downtown. Bayerischer Bahnhof Brewery is one of the originators of Gose style beer. We usually don’t much like sours but this one was good and Ton claimed it helped with her allergies so we had a second round. The brewery is located in one of the old train stations in town, the station was closed down around 2001, but the entrance hall was a historical site so it was saved and eventually converted to a brewery. It may be the nicest brewery we have ever visited and we have visited a few!
A very light day for us. After sleeping in we took our time getting going in the morning with Ton updating her friends on Line, and me catching up on what was going on with the Timbers.
Meissen is famous for being the first place in Europe to manufacture porcelain. Porcelain from China and Japan was all the rage in the late 1600’s and imports were really expensive so the local prince told some of his best minds to figure out how it was made. Eventually they successfully reverse engineered the process and in 1710 opened the first porcelain manufacturing site outside of Asia in Meissen. It has been in continuous business since then.
The demonstration of the manufacturing process is quite interesting as actual artisans from the company perform work as you watch them. The work is quite intricate and artistic, so it is fascinating to watch them actually perform the work as it is described to you.
We really enjoyed seeing the process. The work at Meissen is still largely done by hand unlike most porcelain manufacturers who have automated the process. As a result Meissen porcelain is highly valued and is expensive.
After the demonstration we walked thru the museum with over 3000 pieces from different eras on display. There was a lot of very interesting porcelains on display, and we spent quite a bit of time walking thru the exhibits.
We decided to head back to François a little early for the day after we picked up some things at the grocery. We relaxed for the afternoon, while I tried to have a conversation with our Dutch neighbor. He was quite a character, but also the first Dutchman I have come across who was not fluent in English. As a result I spent a lot of time nodding and smiling while maybe understanding 20% of what he was telling me. Still it was nice, and gave Ton and his wife some time to take care of business without us in their hair.
As I said yesterday we planned to move to Bayreuth to go to the largest beer museum in the world. It was an easy 50km drive in light rain, and we have parked up at the first free aire since we arrived in Germany.
After lazing around for a while waiting for the rain to stop, we headed into town to the museum. The museum is only available by tour twice a day and we wanted to make sure we had a spot so after checking in we were told to come back in a couple of hours.
We headed over to the main street of Bayreuth and found a really nice and wide pedestrian zone. We enjoyed checking out the stores and the people. It was a little quiet since the weather was still unsettled and unseasonably cold. We stopped by the opera house which is a world heritage site to check on tour times as it is also only accessible on tours.
After a quick lunch at a Donner Kebab place we headed over to the Maisel World of Beer for our tour. When we first checked in they told us the tour was in German but they would give us an English script so we could follow along. However, it turns out we were the only ones on the tour, so the guide said she would do the tour in English if we did not mind her making a few mistakes as she had never done the tour in English before. It turned out to be a great tour. When Maisel replaced their old factory with a more modern one, they just left all of the equipment in place in the old building. We were able to see really cool beer making equipment purchased between 1890 and 1910 still in working order.
The tour much like yesterday included every part of the beer process from grain to shipping. The bonus was it was done in English, our guide was a college student from the local University and she did quite well only stumbling on a couple of technical terms. They also had an interesting display of beer glasses, steins, and signs from over the last 100 years.
They still produce their traditional Maisel Weiss which is the beer that made them famous. But the 4th generation of brewers wanted to expand the horizons a bit so they have a second company called Maisel and Friends which while keeping with the purity laws produces typical micro brews including ales, porters, and IPA’s. The brewery itself looks very much like an upscale west coast brewery. It would fit in very well in San Diego or Portland. It was interesting to see the German take on a microbrewery.
We ended a day with a tour of the Margravial Opera House which was built from 1744 to 1748. This time there were plenty of Germans on the tour, so we were relying on our pamphlet to understand what we were seeing.
It was built by Frederick the Greats daughter to celebrate the marriage of her daughter Wilhelmine to the Duke of Wurtemberg. Unfortunately the marriage did not work out very well, and the couple were effectively separated before the Opera House was paid for.
We were completely lost during the extensive talk about the building. But it is indeed an impressive piece of architecture, and I can see why it works as an opera house even if it is a little over the top.
Bayreuth turned out to be a very nice city and the easiest we have walked around in Germany, with a great pedestrian zone, and extensive walking and biking trails. Though we were in a big city we were mostly isolated from the cars which we enjoyed.
Today was a pretty easy day. After Ton had one more luxury shower at the campground we headed into town to do some shopping at a Lidl and a Rewe that were conveniently next to each other in town.
Once François’ shelves were restocked we headed down the autobahn towards another Frankish town called Kulmbach. While we are technically in Bavaria the area we have been in since Rothenburg are inhabited by a people called Franks who will tell you they are not Bavarian by choice. It appears to be a friendly rivalry, but they do make a point of telling you at every opportunity that while administratively they are in Bavaria they do not consider themselves Bavarian.
We arrived at the aire in Kulmbach after Greta decided to test my driving skills by sending us right thru the center of town complete with narrow one lane roads with cars parked on both sides. After settling in we headed over to the nearby beer museum.
The museum is located on the grounds of Mohnschof Brewery and is really quite a museum. It looks like they built a new brewery on site, and took the old brewery including all of the equipment and built a really fascinating beer museum.
The museum winds up three floors of the old brewery and then across and back down three more floors. It covers everything from the history of beer, and variations of beer around the world. It shows everything you want to know about how to make beer from farming the main ingredients, brewing using the old brewery equipment to demonstrate how, to transporting the finished product.
Needless to say we were in heaven. We spent altogether over 2 hours working our way thru the museum even though all of the displays and information are in German.
If the signs were in English or we could read German we might still be there. The tour ended with a well deserved glass of beer.
As good and extensive as this museum is, it is not even the largest in the area. Tomorrow we will be visiting the largest beer museum in the world according to the Guinness book of world records.
Tonight François is parked about 20 yards from the Main River in Wurzberg. We have had a couple of river barges come by close enough to look in the windows, and they can look into François. We even waved at a guy going by in his room. But while we have a great view out the front window, this is the closest we have ever been parked to our neighbors on each side. We cannot use our side door, and must exit from the front drivers door whenever we come and go.
Würzburg is a beautiful city that was almost completely destroyed during WWII. The British Royal Air Force firebombed the city in 1945, and when the American army arrived at the town the Germans blew the bridges and made it clear they were going to defend the town. Needless to say by this point in the war, with the end in sight, we were not interested in taking any unnecessary casualties. So we just sat back and bombarded the city with artillery until we completed the destruction the British had started.
The Germans rebuilt the town after the war, and it is a very pretty river town in a great setting with vineyards surrounding the town on the hillside. There were a couple of landmarks that were not completely destroyed by the allies. The Residence of the Prince -Bishop was largely destroyed, this was an 18th century palace along the lines of Versailles, but some of the rooms were still standing and luckily one of the “Monuments Men”, a group of US Army officers with architectural or art backgrounds tasked with preserving the art and buildings of Europe showed up in town and helped procure the needed materials to preserve what was remaining. As a result several monumental frescoes were preserved that would have been lost.
We took a guided tour of the residence, and the guide was fantastic. He really brought the building to life, and had a great blend of knowledge and a dry sense of humor that made the tour fantastic. He was able to handle questions from the group with aplomb that we really admired. Because of him the history of the residence came to life in a way that we did not expect.
We also had lunch at a local restaurant that had been in business since the 1300’s. The food was good and we are sure we missed a real opportunity due to language. Two ladies next to us seemed really fun, and while we tried to engage with them and them with us the lack of a common language really stifled what we are sure would have been a really fun and interesting conversation.
Würzburg has a pedestrian bridge over the Main River and the tradition is that you go to the bridge and have a glass of wine. We are not sure how old the tradition is, but it is a great way to spend the evening so we participated. When we arrived about 8pm the bridge was packed with people drinking wine and enjoying a band. But around sunset at 9pm we looked around and realized the band was packing and the crowd was nearly gone.
So a little disappointed we headed back to François for a late dinner, and bed.
Woke to blue skies, so morale is up for the day. We decided to spend another day here to further explore the area. As we walked into town we decided to head over to Mainau Island to explore what is called the Flower Island.
We had not done any research, but knew we had to take a ferry there. The ferry was a little expensive, but the shock was the lady who sold us the tickets said there was a €20 charge to get onto the island once we landed that we should buy on the boat ride over. At this point we were committed so on the ride we were feeling a little guilty about the cost, questioning our decision, and vowing to do more research next time.
When we began the walk it became clear that the decision was a good one. The island which is 110 acres is a giant botanical garden that is really well done. The island is owned by a Duke and Duchess and was originally a Grand Dukes residence. There is a strong Swedish royal connection, and the Swedish flag flies conspicuously on the residence.
During different times of the year they feature different flowers and for April and early May it was Tulips. The flower gardens featured over a thousand varieties of Tulips interspersed with other flowers.
In addition they had a petting zoo full of cute animals, and a butterfly building with thousands of butterflies flying around that we got to walk thru.
Their Arboretum was full of very interesting trees most of which we could not identify, but interestingly they had about 15 or 20 Sequoias from California. Beside the tulips there were other flower gardens including poppies, and rhododendrons.
While we may not have known what we were getting into when we got on the ferry there was no doubt that it was a great decision. Mainau is by far the best botanical garden we have visited in the world. What we thought would be a quick couple of hour visit turned into a whole day on the island.
The main goal for us today was to visit the village of Essoyes. Essoyes is famous as the summer home of Renoir. He did a lot of his later paintings there, as he spent a lot of senior age years there.
Last night we parked up on a winery in the area owned by the Lameroux’s. It was a nice parking spot for up to six campers including water, and a dump. We walked down to the winery when we arrived to check if it was ok to park. The wife of the owner met us and she did not speak any English, we managed to mime that we were in the camper aire, and she said good. We decided against a tasting and she looked relieved. This morning as we were pulling out her husband happened to be pulling into work. He stopped and thanked us for staying and invited us back if we were ever in the area, and you could tell it was heartfelt. Our experience in Les Riceys was really exceptional, and if an area ever motivated me to learn French it was here, as the people were fantastic.
The drive over to Essoyes was short, and we parked up next to a new museum for Renoir. In fact it was so new that the main exhibitions were not open yet. The museum included a video presentation about Renoir’s life in Essoyes. It was quite well done and helped us understand the rest of the tour. We followed the walking tour thru the village, and as we approached his home we realized we were going to run into lunch. We went in and did a quick tour, but decided to come back for a more extensive tour after lunch. We saw one of the curators and tried to ask in broken French if we could return after lunch, and he smiled and with a proper English accent said of course. Later we learned he was from the south of England.
The home Renoir lived in was exceptionally well restored and supported by one of Renoir’s great granddaughters so a lot of the furniture is family heirlooms. Essoyes is a beautiful village, and if you like impressionists and particularly Renoir it is worth seeking out.
It was still pretty early when we were done so we decided to keep heading east. We picked out the town of Contrexeville in the Vosges as it was generally in the right direction and had a couple of parking options. The GPS said it was 130km so we figured about 2 hours. The GPS had lately been picking pretty good roads where the speed between towns is about 80kph (50 mph), and most towns were bypassed. Today she decided to send us down little D roads where top speed is about 65kph (40mph), but there are lots of little villages where you are creeping thru at 30kph. Our two hour drive turned into 3 hours. We did not mind that much as the countryside was really beautiful, and the roads were nearly empty.
Contrexeville is a spa town with a small Casino. They are trying to develop some tourism, but the Vosges do not seem to be attracting a lot of tourism. The campground tonight is really nice and an incredible bargain at €11.
Today we wanted to see the new part of Valencia. At some point recently the residents of the city rerouted the river that used to run thru the center of the city to prevent flooding. This opened up the old river bed for development which they turned into a giant park thru the city center.
At one end they have constructed some very monumental buildings with a very modern design. This area of development is the largest in Europe of it’s type. The main buildings are an opera house, a science museum, an Imax theater, and an aquarium. They are tied together with large walkways and fountains. It is an immense development and quite striking. The opera house in particular impressed us with its design.
It was quite a walk there, and eventually we tried to take a bus, Ron spent quite a while trying to sort out how the bus system worked. We did eventually work it out, but had an issue when we found out that the bus drivers would not make change for €20 note. We emptied our pockets but were about 40 cents short of the €3 we need. Luckily a lady in one of the seats saw this ordeal and handed us 2 10’s for our 20, everyone was happy. Another good person doing a good deed for complete strangers, we find this happens far more often than the opposite.
Having walked quite a distance we headed back to our campsite. We met Pat and Jessie for another couple of drinks. We are hoping we meet them again in a few years in the US so we can repay some of their kindness to us.
The aire we are staying at is owned by a Spanish/British couple who are RV’ers’ also. You can tell as they designed it in a way that is really user friendly, their experience shows. They are considering a trip to the US so we exchanged some information with them.
Later in the day we headed into Malaga which is a town we are both familiar with from school. We took a local bus into town, as we came around a point of land we had our first view of the harbor. To our dismay their were 3 cruise ships in port including the largest one we have ever seen. It turns out there was actually a 4th one but it was a sailing cruise ship and did not stand out. We knew then that the town would be packed.
Malaga had a really nice vibe to it, and we enjoyed wandering around town. As usual we checked out the cathedral, the castle (Arabic), and some old buildings. The old town is dwarfed by the new town, but it was still quite large. The Spanish do a great job of making their down town cores pedestrian friendly. The walkways are wide, and most streets have very limited access for cars and delivery trucks, so the roads can also safely be used for pedestrian traffic. Ton really loves how they make it easy to enjoy a stroll.
The high light of the day was the Picasso Museum. Picasso was originally from Malaga and the museum did a good job of showing the different phases of his development. Unfortunately there are no photos allowed in the museum. It is an excellent museum without having any of his famous works. Because of this they focused more on how his work developed from his early days as a student until his late works in his 90’s.
After that we were wandering down a street looking for the market when we came upon an old bar that looked interesting, it was founded in 1840 and was the official supplier of Sherrie for Queen Isabel II before she abdicated and moved to France. They served glasses of different sherries out of giant wooden casks. They had a variety of different local sherries which is a regional specialty around Malaga. They also had a very interesting way of keeping the tab, after you order they take a piece of chalk and write the amount you owe for the round on the wooden bar in front of you. It’s simple and you know right where you stand, and as an Englishman next to us explained you do not have to worry about losing your spot at the bar when you go to the bathroom, because for someone to take your spot at the bar, they also inherit your tab! Unfortunately we forgot to get a liter to go.
We ended the evening sitting around with the owner of the aire and two English couples where we were given some excellent advice about travel. Malaga was another great stop, we can see why people flock to the Costa del Sol.
Everyone we talked to over the last few days told us we had to go to Bordeaux. Ron was a little intimidated with the idea of driving into a big city, and there are no official aires or campgrounds in the city. After some research our Dutch Parking App listed a parking lot next to a soccer stadium and municipal pool that had good access to the city by bus.
To everyone who told us not to miss Bordeaux thank you we both enjoyed it very much. It is a medium sized city with a very well developed transit system that was easy to use. The waterfront promenade goes on for a couple of kilometers and is wide and pleasant to walk. The promenade has cafes on one side, and river cruise ships, and one very expensive yacht on the other.
We visited the World of Wine Museum which is a little pricey, but a very modern multi-media museum, and the entrance did come with a taste of one wine from their world selection. The different multimedia displays included something to taste touch, and many different ways of visually presenting information about wine. It was interesting to see how curators are trying to integrate all of the audio visual stuff that is available now. We also got a small taste of French humor in some of the presentations which was fun.
After cutting ourselves off after over three hours in the museum we headed down town to look at some of the buildings in town. The city center is quite nice, and looks like it was not terribly damaged during WWII despite being a major base for German U-Boats. With a city as tuned into wine as Bordeaux is the cafe scene is quite extensive, and a lot of people were enjoying an afternoon drink, so we decided to join them for a beer. We had a couple of French microbrews and they were quite satisfactory.
Today we reluctantly left Brittany and decided to take a big bite out of our trip to Spain. We covered over 350km today to the city of Rochefort. The roads were generally good and for almost half of the way were limited access free ways with no tolls.
Rochefort is an interesting town. It was founded in 1666 to support a naval yard that was placed here by one of the kings. Unlike any French city we have ever visited it is actually laid out in a grid. The town itself had a kind of Mediterranean/California vibe. Ton thought it was kind of boring, but Ron was comfortable in a town he could navigate in without getting lost!
We made another attempt at getting a French phone. The guy at the Orange store (the biggest French mobile phone company), was really nice, but basically told us that there were no good solutions to our problem. We could either get a standard French mobile plan and pay the monthly cost, or get a sim card that only works in France and nowhere else in Europe. We are going to keep trying, there must be a way to make this work.
We went down to the old naval yard. It was a major producer of vessels for the French Navy from 1660 to the 1920’s. In addition to building French Ships of the Line (really big sailing battle ships) and Frigates like the USS Constitution, it also built France’s first submarine (named the Plunger). Unfortunately the location was not good for larger modern ships and it was abandoned.
Today they have a replica of the French Frigate Hermione. This ship is famous here for being the ship that took Lafayette to the US during the revolution. It is really well done.
After that we took a look around the ropery which was a large factory used to make all of the ropes used in the French Navy. By the end of the walk we headed to an aire for the night and relaxed.
We are still on the Normandy peninsula basically moving from the area of Utah Beach to Omaha Beach. We got a late start as we decided to take care of some housekeeping chores in the morning. After Ton paid some bills and we knocked out a load of laundry we headed out for Omaha Beach.
When we arrived at the center of Omaha Beach it was quite crowded with several bus loads of Americans taking their lunch break al fresco around the memorial. We poked around for a while and mourned with a fellow Oregonian about the football teams loss on Saturday to Stanford.
Done with Omaha we headed over to the American Cemetery in Coleville. This cemetery is maintained by the US Battlefield Memorial Commission and is the final resting place for over 9000 soldiers and sailors from the battles around Normandy. After the war the families of the fallen were given a choice to have the bodies shipped home or buried in place, so this does not represent all of the Americans killed in the battle.
The visitor center and the grounds are inspiring and a true honor to the young men who are there. The visitor center has an excellent display about WWII and D-Day. After you walk thru the visitor center you enter the grave sites, and the location overlooks Omaha Beach and the Atlantic. The site is immaculate and clearly lovingly taken care of by the French staff.
When we completed the tour at the cemetery we headed into Bayeux which is about the only major city that was not leveled during the invasion. It is also famous for the Bayeux Tapestry which is a famous medieval artwork. As we entered the city we made a quick stop at a Carrefour Market to re-stuff the refrigerator. We headed into the city but just missed our opportunity to see the tapestry as the museum was closing. We took a quick walk to look at the Norman style Cathedral, and then headed back to François for the night.
Today we covered the most distance we have covered in one day on the trip, about 200 miles. We got up a little early, and the trip was pretty easy as the roads were frequently 4 lanes wide, and we did not have very many small villages to pass thru.
Our target for the day was Utah Beach from the Normandy invasion in 1944. Our first stop of our D-Day tour was at the Airborne Museum at St. Mere-Eglise. St. Mere-Eglise was the initial focus of the 82nd Airborne Division during the invasion. It is said to be the first town in France to be liberated by Americans during WWII. The museum itself is well done, focusing on the issues of the airborne forces during the invasion. It mostly covers the 82nd Airborne, but does also give information about the 101st Airborne. It is an interesting collection of equipment, weapons, and stories. One of the most interesting exhibits attempts to give you the feel of doing a night drop from a C-47 transport plane. It is quite interesting and gets your attention.
We also visited the church in town which is famous for the story of one paratrooper John Steel who had the misfortune of getting hung up on the steeple of the church where he was shot in the foot by a German, and played dead for several hours hanging in the air above the center of town. If you have seen “The Longest Day” movie about D-Day you will probably remember this story as it is featured in the movie.
We ended the day at Utah Beach to see the monuments there, and to walk on the beach. The monuments and displays we saw today were really touching, and shows the deep respect and thanks the French have for the Americans who landed here.
Our final day with Dylan on this trip was the San Diego Zoo. Dylan is a member of the zoo so we were able to tag along for free using his membership. The San Diego Zoo is world famous and rightfully so. We spent 5 hours going from exhibit to exhibit. We hit all of the big animals and really enjoyed ourselves.
Our other priority for the day was to find a fan. Our roof fan has decided to stop working and probably needs a new rain sensor, as it seems convinced it is raining and will not open. After the zoo we went to Costco and Ikea and they were both out of fans as it has been unusually warm here. Finally we found a fan at Target.
Dinner was another great meal at a seafood market and restaurant. It is an old part of town, but the food was really outstanding and the line to get in never ended while we were there. San Diego has really been a good food experience on this trip from the unexpected Thai Hamburger to the great sea food. It was good to see Dylan and we really enjoyed ourselves here.
Today we started the day visiting one of our favorite places in central California. Near San Simeon there are beaches that are covered in Elephant Seals. We have visited this site three times previously and always enjoyed ourselves. This time we again enjoyed ourselves though as advertised there were fewer seals than normal, though many of the full sized males were there and really impressive.
After visiting the seals again we had a nice burger at a general store that had been in the same family since 1916. It was an interesting set up as they had a burger place selling Hearst Ranch burgers, a high end wine tasting bar, and a post office all in one large room. We split a burger as it was quite large.
After heading over to Paso Robles to get some fuel we eventually headed back to our campsite and had a nice dinner.
Today we planned to spend at the Louvre. Of all of the places in Paris Ron wanted to spend some extra time there as he had never been.
It is an overwhelming place in many ways. The building is huge, but the vast majority of people are there to see the two or three must see things, the Mona Lisa, David, and the Italian art. Those things are clustered in one area of the museum, and that area is packed. We did see all of those things, but the crowds were a little too much for Ron. The other wings of the building are nearly empty and there is a lot of good art.
After about 4 hours we had enough and decided to get some lunch. Ton was interested in getting some Moroccan food, and we found a good restaurant. We had our most expensive meal in France, and the meal was good. After lunch we decided to head back to Montmartre, and grab a couple of last minute things we wanted to take back to Oregon with us.
I think we enjoyed walking around Montmartre nearly as much as we did the Louvre for the day. We made a couple of trips to grocery stores in the area, as well as taking one last stroll (Ton would say climb) to the cathedral. We had our final dinner at an African restaurant across from the hotel that Ton had her eye on since we checked in The meal was excellent and the spices were really interesting. Ton’s fish was delicious.