Saturday, January 2, 2016

France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg

We arrived in Paris on schedule June 13, 2000. We had quite a walk to the car rental area before we picked up our little green Saxo. We had no trouble finding the highway and headed North. Our first stop was Amiens, a beautiful city with a huge cathedral. Two of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedrals could fit inside.

After a pleasant stay, we left Amiens and traveled to Rencourt to visit the grave of James Frederick Cook, Teresa's great grandfather. He was killed on Sept. 2, 1918, two months before World War I ended. The graveyard was very well tended, small with about 60 graves or so, all English. We were the first family members to visit the grave.

We stayed our first night in a pleasant hotel just down the street from the cemetery. We had a sumptuous dinner at the hotel; a chicken cordon-bleu type entree and Teresa really enjoyed a small melon half filled with cherries soaked in a liqueur.
The next morning we went back to the cemetery to take more pictures with better sun. Teresa signed the registry in the brick gatepost. We also looked at a huge French cemetery across the street, with cross headstones.

We next headed north to Arras. This was a pleasant town with a large flea market in its main square. We bought only cheese and bread- olive bread- Steve liked it more than Teresa did. We have pictures of the market and the old but beautiful buildings.

Next stop Brugge, Belgium. After arriving we had a difficult time finding a place to park. We had a walk to get to the tourist information bureau but did see some sights, including another beautiful cathedral. We found a bed and breakfast that was almost perfect except for a two-flight trip down to the shower. Of course the forty-five minutes we spent trying to get our car to where we wanted to park it was very frustrating. There were so many one way roads we kept having to backtrack. We had a nice restaurant dinner and walked around the walled, canal filled city.

The next morning, we went to three museums in town. We then took a boat ride through the canals. We then climbed the 366 steps of the belfry in the main square. We saw two more important cathedrals- one reputed to have some of Christ's blood, the other with a piece of the true cross.
We walked through a peaceful convent and saw the place where ships used to come into the once important member of the Hanseatic League.

At Jerusalem Church we visited a workshop where women were tatting lace as painstakingly as had been done for hundreds of years in this city, famous for it. We had viewed some beautiful examples at the museums and in fact at this particular church. We purchased a runner with machine made lace edges at one of the many stores in town.

That night we stuffed ourselves on pizza at a nearby Italian restaurant. After a short walk, we went back to our room to  relax and pack. 
The next morning we said goodbye to Brugge and headed to Ghent. It turned out to be somewhat similar to where we had just come from, except a little more modern.
We toured two cathedrals and saw the Mystic Lamb of God, a very famous altar screen painted by Van Eyck. He was the first to use oils and one of the first to use perspective. The painting is made up of twenty magnificent panels. There is a very colorful history attached to the painting since it was finished in 1452. We listened to an audio recording about the painting and felt it was very much worth the stop.
We then walked along the river and gazed at the guild houses, toll house and Hanseatic League houses. Although inland, this city was reached by rivers and a canal connected it to Brugge. Trade by water was important in its history. We toured Ghent Castle, which was built on the confluence of 3 rivers.

In the early afternoon we headed to Brussels. Whatever you have heard about how bad it is driving in Brussels, multiply that by twenty. There were no signs directing you to the town center and it seemed like it took forever to find it. Not having a city map with much detail didn't help the situation. We finally decided to park when the pedestrian traffic picked up. At last we found the city center and tourist information center. Hotels were hard to come by because of World Cup soccer and we were referred to a hotel very close to us which had a room for one night not two. We paid a big city price, in what was a big city, to spend the night. After some careful studying of our newly acquired city map, and walking the route we would drive back to our car, we successfully moved it to the expensive car park through the maze of one way streets. Money was no object by this point, just get us a room and a place we can keep our car! Did we mention it was hot outside, shorts weather.
Our hotel was in a great location, only a block from the Grand Place. We went out and walked around. One Cathedral was still open for just a few minutes. During our wanderings we visited the little statue, Mannekin Pis. Teresa called him "Pissy Boy" because it is of a little boy going pee. A few minutes later we had gone back to the Grand Place when disaster struck. A couple from the Czech Republic asked me to take their picture and I dropped their camera. I really felt bad. I offered them money but they wouldn't accept it.

We ate on the Rue de Bouchers at a restaurant mentioned in Fodor's. I had mussels au gratin, to die for. Teresa had chicken watzoolie, a traditional dish, sort of a chicken and vegetables goulash, cooked in gravy.
As it turned out, there was a large crowd of English soccer hooligans in town for the game. We had wondered about the large police presence in the entry points to the Grand Place earlier, thinking that some dignitary was in town. The reason was to keep out anyone resembling an English soccer fan form entering the Grand Place. As we later saw, for good reasons.
Throughout the late afternoon and evening you could hear the singing of the English. As the day wore on into night, the police grew in number. Finally we saw a large group of them line up in the street, fully armored, hats and bats, visors down, and they marched out to form a row across a street.
We then saw a group of Englishmen, obviously agitated. One of them picked up a chair and tried to put it through a window. The chair was plastic, the glass was strong, and the bloke quite drunk. Nothing broke. Then there was a sort of charge toward the police. Some stopped right before and put up their hands. Others had the mistaken judgment of trying to break the line-like a drunken red-rover game against Green Bay. They were beaten, arrested and deported. One girl, close to us, spit on a cop and was pushed down. We did have to turn and run one time because of a sudden movement of the hostiles.

We then went and got some ice cream, to calm our nerves of course, and walked through the galleria and went back to the hotel.
The next morning, we checked out but left our car there and took the metro to the Art and History Museum. It was actually a good museum.
We took the Metro back to the city center and ate Greek food just off the Grand Place. We did meet some Englishmen who asked us the way to the police station- presumably to get soccer tickets from one of their mates.
We left Brussels for Antwerp, or I should say tried to leave Brussels. We had about as much success finding our way out as we did in. One side benefit was that we accidentally saw the Atomium.

We arrived in Antwerp in time to find the information center. A friendly American from Pittsburgh had sent us in the wrong direction.
Because of the football matches, the town was again booked up. We found a hotel east of town that fortunately was near a trolley car stop for the downtown, Grote Plaza. We again ate Italian. I had a calzone, lasagna, tetrozzini, Teresa had a salad (natch) and spaghetti Bollognaise.
We then walked around the old part of the city even through the red light district. We also saw the best mime. We had seen some in Brussels that were good but this one made himself look like a statue, green and weathered and look like part of the statue scene he had taken position in. Overall the class of street performers was better in Antwerp than in Brussels.

After our long stroll we took the trolley back to our hotel. We were helped in negotiating our way by two ladies (one each way) on our trips.
The next morning we hopped in the car and drove to the Diamond District of Antwerp- Fodor's had indicated a preponderance of Hassidic Jews and it was right, very colorful.
We toured the Grand Central Station- opulent because it was built at the height of Antwerp's boom years- walked by jewelry stores and then went to DiamondLand, a diamond museum. It was quite informative but the jewelry was overpriced.
We then drove back to our hotel and took the trolley back into the City Center. We went to Museum Mayer Van den Bergh that featured many masterpieces including "Mad Meg" by Bruegel.
We then went to the home of Peter Paul Rubens- he didn't invite us- it is now a museum, a lot of the art was his, quite a bit wasn't.
Next was the Cathedral of our Lady which itself contained four Rubens masterpieces.
We then found a flea market where we bought Shane a sword with little idea of how we will get it back to the states.
It was close to St. Andrew's church that has the neatest carved pulpit. We then searched until we found Vlacykensgorg, a little alleyway suggested as a treasure by Fodor's, not.
We had Italian again, salad and pizza, at a different place.
We sauntered back to our trolley stop and when we got back to the hotel we made reservations for Amsterdam at a Fodor's choice, Canal House, our most expensive nights. It was hot that night and it was hard to get to sleep. We tried keeping the door on the back of our third floor room open, but bugs were biting us.

Getting out of Antwerp was much easier than leaving Brussels. We drove first to a little village called Veare that was very quaint. We walked around the town, got some Dutch money and some provisions. We went back on the road again and decided to take the long way over the dikes and storm surge barriers.
We stopped at a place called Waterland; it featured a rather lame pavilion, a boat ride and an exposition of the dikes. The last of these was the most interesting and I finally got a sense of what the dikes were used for.

By mid afternoon, we headed on to Amsterdam and after a little searching found our hotel.
Parking is expensive, almost $20 a day for a small spot on the canal. After checking in and bathing we went out and saw Anne Frank's house. It was right around the corner from our hotel and was a similar structure overlooking a canal. The museum there was put together very well and was quite moving. 
We then started exploring the city. The very center of the city was dirty in every sense of the word. The city has seemed to attract a lot of individuals whose only goal in life is to get high. We saw several people who were way past enjoying drugs recreationally. The further you moved away from the city center the nicer everything got. We ate at an Argentinean Steakhouse where for $8.00 you got a big slab of ribs, a baked potato and salad. The salad wasn't much but Teresa proclaimed the baked potato "was the best I ever had". Otherwise, by the way, Amsterdam seemed expensive.
We walked around the nicer parts of the city and saw some of the sights before calling it a day.

The next day we arose and ate breakfast at our hotel, included in the price of the hotel. We then went for an hour canal tour by boat. It was pleasant, but we could tell the day was heating up again. The weather had been hot.
After the cruise we went to the Amsterdam history museum, (very good air conditioning). It was a big museum; it flowed well and was interesting.
Then we went to the shopping area where Teresa bought a top. (She refused to bring the tank tops I had tried to pack and now she needed more warm weather clothes.) It has been unseasonably hot.
We then went to the state museum which among other things had a large art collection that featured Rembrandt's "Night Watch", his most famous painting. From there we went to the Hard Rock Cafe, split a brownie chocolate fudge sundae and bought Shane his last present, a cool shirt.

We saw a chess game played with almost life-sized pieces and then went to our room before going out to a pancake restaurant for dinner. Teresa had another dessert like dinner of pancakes.
In our walk after dinner we happened upon the red light district which was to say the least, interesting. As in Antwerp the women were sitting in windows on the street in varying states of undress, some very young looking.
The next morning, we rented bicycles for the day. It was a good move as the day was cooler than it had been. We went across town to the Jewish quarter and toured the Portuguese Synagogue and viewed the videotape about it. It was wooden and one of the few to last through WWII. We explored the flea market and bought Christine a practical gift, a trivet.
Back to our bicycles and we basically circled the city, catching some of the sights we had missed. After a quick lunch we headed to the Van Gogh museum. I am not sure if he was a pretty bad painter or a genius. Teresa loved some of his paintings hated others.
It rained when we came out but we braved through it to make it back to our hotel for a break. We then got back on our bikes for a tour of the Jardin area before having to turn them in.
That evening we had Greek food, excellent.
We then walked around to find a bar to watch the soccer match between Holland and France. Holland won 3-2. It was again back to our hotel.  
The next morning we headed East and South. We went to a forestry park where we got bicycles and pedaled around.

 We had a tour of a hunting lodge and went through a museum but the park was unremarkable. It was then off to Maastricht. We went through Arnhem on the way and saw the "bridge too far".
Maastricht was neat. It is a city in the Netherlands but squeezed between Belgium and German, a true international city.

We were able to find a parking space and went to the information office where they booked us a room at a small hotel. It was a third floor walkup in a building built in 1690. We walked around town and saw a portion of the Northern Bastions, the various squares, and churches and window-shopped. We ate Chinese that night. We crossed a 12th century bridge to the other part of town and finally bought ice cream from McDonalds since nothing else was still open. Steve was quite put out that his sprite had no ice, quite barbaric!

We explored a large, busy city market the next morning. We bought a knife from a hawker who had involved Teresa in his show, as he did with many in the audience. It was some of the best entertainment we'd had. She figured Christine could use the knife at school. (We expect her to cook sometimes.)

We did some more window shopping, trying to get rid of our currency before leaving the country. We found some new sunglasses for Steve after some hunting and bought some chocolates that we later decided were a great deal and so good! We were on the road again to the south to visit the "point of eight views". We weren't sure of where we were, if in fact we were going in the right direction. It as a pretty road and we stopped to eat some bread, cheese, and peaches on a trail overlooking a ravine.

On to Luxemburg, where we arrived and quickly found a parking spot and the information center. They made reservations for us at a hotel a short ride away. Teresa decided she needed to run- she said she had to relieve some tension. She found some of the fortifications of the city and an area turned into parkland, a lovely run. We then prepared for dinner and what a dinner Steve had. Steak with Roquefort sauce, carrots, beans and French fries with Moesel beer, made in Luxemburg, to wash it down. I may have had better meals; I just can't recall one. It was the best beer I have ever had and the sauce was perfect. Teresa had a Salad Nicoise with anchovies as well as tuna. She wouldn't eat the anchovy/sardines and I couldn't help because I had so much steak. While we were eating, a band played, quite enjoyable.

After dinner we walked around the town- went to the battlements and fortifications. A young lady who attempted to ask us directions in French approached us. It turned out she was Canadian and we had quite a talk.
She went to Holland for an Internet job and has been touring on her breaks by bicycle! Jacqueline Park is her name and although on a tight budget manages to carry around her 60-lb. backpack through the mountains of Europe on bike.

After a lengthy conversation we then went back to the hotel room. In the morning the three of us tried to go to Notre Dame Cathedral but a mass was taking place. We then left for the city museum. Unfortunately there was no English translation so we didn't go in. We then tried to go to the casements, the tunnels that were part of the defenses of the city, but they didn't open until 11:00. At that point Jacqueline felt she needed to be going as she wanted to bike to Widen and then through the wine country and make her next hostel. We said our goodbyes and headed to the other casements. We explored tunnels, which were quite extensive. When we came out it was raining. It was already a cool day- so we waited out the rain and then explored the Grund area, John the Baptiste Church, and the Wenzel walk of the battlements.

We walked through the Gare area and headed back to our room. We ate lunch there then headed to Royal Blvd. to see the banks, and the Wall St. of Luxembourg.
There we saw the parade of antique automobiles that were going through town. We then toured the shopping district before returning to the Place de Armee for the fashion show. I took pictures.

 Next we went to the Place de Guillame, almost next door, to hear the rappers, not as talented as the models. We were then able to get in the cathedral and the crypt.
In the late afternoon we walked in the valley below the city, where Teresa had run yesterday, very picturesque. Back at our room Steve watched Portugal play Turkey on TV while Teresa napped. Portugal won and you wouldn't believe how many Portuguese live in Luxembourg. The town was full of dozens of cars full of Portuguese fans honking horns and waving flags.

We had a nice meal of Mexican food followed by our traditional walk.
Afterwards there was a fashion show which Teresa wanted to see. The next morning we headed East, Northeast, the accidental scenic route to Verden Castle.

After that tour we headed west to Hans a Lesse for the cave experience, very large caverns with stalagmites and stalactites. We were disappointed that the multi-lingual tours did not include English.

We arrived in the early evening in Rheims. The tourist office was closed but had posted some places to stay. We found a small, very inexpensive place and then walked around the city. Dinner was salad for Teresa and Gorgonzola sauce on veal for me. Yummy. Back to our room to see the end of the France-Italy game. France won, more celebration in the streets.
The next morning we first went to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Very large, beautiful stained glass, except the Chagall.

 Next we went to Tattinger's for the champagne tour. We went through cellars that were part Roman quarries and part monk tunnels. We were told about the entire champagne process and of course received a glass to sample. Good.

We then went to the church of St Remi, the bishop who baptized Clovis, king of the Franks. We then walked through town to see the Roman arch that was the largest such arch in the western world. Back to our car and on the road.


We stopped at Beaveus to see the highest church in Christendom that also had the oldest chiming clock in the world, dating back to 1302.

On to Rouen. We got a room directly opposite the Cathedral. We saw most of the town looking for a parking space. We went out walking before dinner and saw more of the town including the outside of the Joan of Arc church that is located on the spot where she was burned at the stake. Our restaurant overlooked the church. Teresa had pork and zucchini and Steve had duck. We shared a salad. She got a crepe with sugar with her meal. I had an ice cream cone later. (I was on vacation!)

The next morning we headed first to the city cathedral. Happily there was a lot of information in English in the church. Richard the Lionheart's heart and his grandmothers were buried here.
We then went to the Joan of Arc museum, which was a little better than expected and had an English narration. We then were ready for the Joan of Arc Church. The design was like nothing we've seen in Europe but then it is a pretty new church, very modern but lovely. We went to see the tower where she was imprisoned and the outside of the large abbey.



We then left Rouen and went to Mt. St. Michael. This was more than I thought it would be. It was similar to Gibraltar in that there was a touristy medieval road up to the mount but the climb was well worth it. There was a well-preserved 1,000 year old abbey with several rooms. The site was also magnificent. We went on an English speaking tour that was well done and made the visit more meaningful.

We decided to spend the night at a seaside resort that is a walled town, St. Milo. The Nazis burned the town in WWII but the wall didn't burn. Parking was free until July and we found a hotel quickly, and it was cheap. Had to go to another floor to bathe but there was a toilet down the hall. We walked around and found a restaurant, grilled fish for Teresa, Coquille St. Jacques for Steve and a raspberry dessert.
We walked out to the beach and we were able to walk out to an island, as it was low tide. We then walked on the walls and watched a lightning storm far out at sea, quite a sight.

 The next morning we slept in. We were at a resort and we were on vacation. We headed to Vitre, which turned out to be a charming little town, but the castle was somewhat of a rip-off. It was nice enough but part of it was devoted to the city hall so you could only go in a small part.

We walked through the town and ate lunch at a small creperie. I wanted to eat an omelet before we left Brittany so we both had an omelet du fromage. It was good but unspectacular.
Next we headed to Chartres. Here was the cathedral with all the famous stained glass. It took forever to find parking, circling a lot waiting for someone to leave and be the lucky car in position to get the space. Steve almost left town in his frustration.

We found a hotel with more ease than the parking space and went shopping through the pedestrian district. We ate doner-kebabs and brought back two nocturnes to our room for dessert.
France beat Portugal 2-1 in overtime which I considered to be a mild upset. We then had to contend with the horn honking for a few hours.

We got up early the next morning and left before 8:00a.m. It was time to head toward Paris as our vacation was ending.
We first went to Chantilly, ate some pastry and tried to think of a way to get Shane's sword back. The information office was no help, but the post office suggested the super market to get boxes. We went there and oddly enough saw a woman with boxes in an aisle and we were able to get two boxes and some masking tape. Most of the communication was with pantomime.
We then went to the Chateau of Chantilly that is a smaller Versailles. No English tours and they close off part of the chateau during lunch. The only place to eat was a fancy restaraunt and it was full. We walked through the garden and shared the little food we had in the backpack. We took a French tour so we could see the apartments and finished the house. It did have some impressive artwork.

After a hot dog on French bread we went on to Senluis a lovely small town close to the airport.

 We wrapped Shane's present and had a nice dinner in a little pizza shop and saw another soccer game on TV. The next morning it was time to get up and go to the airport to return home.

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