Europe – 2001

The Golden Tour Begins
May 11, 2001

My parents, Joan and Rick, and I spent almost two years planning this trip. My research started with tour books and moved on to the Internet. I booked “virtually” everything through the Internet, email or fax. That’s from airline tickets to hotels to tickets for a German musical! We stayed in small family-run hotels (1 – 3 stars) and leased a Renault. Our itinerary included: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Monaco.

Euro2001

Our Route

The excuse we give for this five-week driving adventure is their 50th wedding anniversary later this year.  Five weeks … one week per decade.  Sounds reasonable to me!

[NB:  All the photos on this page were taken with a film camera (an OM1) and scanned for digital use.]

End of Trip Disclaimer: Now that we’re home, my inclination is to edit this travelogue to fill in the blanks, add more sightseeing or historical details, correct my grammar, spelling and typos and generally make everything more coherent. But I’m going to resist. What you have before you is the way it was! We created our travelogues with the excitement of the day’s experiences upon us. And on foreign language keyboards! And in dark internet cafes with raucous music in the background, inhaling mysterious secondhand smoke. And we did it quickly; time is money when you’re buying internet minutes. So there it is … enjoy!  JB

———-

Well, we’re finally on our way. My brother, John, left us at the airport and, after checking in, we had supper at the Swiss Chalet (comfort food). Our flight was horrible — teeny-tiny seats with very yucky food. However, we made it to Paris without any serious problems.

We also picked up our car very easily. We’ve leased a Renault Kangoo. It’s silver and Dad says, “It only had eight km on the odometre. It’s an ugly little car that I’m sure only its designers could love. But, you know what, we really like it. It’s quick and responsive. The standard transmission is ultra smooth and runs really quietly on five forward gears. Its diesel motor is very efficient and costs less to run.” In France the diesel oil was about 5.36 F ($1.14) per litre, while regular gas was about 7.50 F ($1.60).

Our Leased Kangoo.  Loved that car!

Our Leased Kangoo. Loved that car!

We immediately drove through Paris and the French countryside to Normandy where we were going to spend two nights at the Hotel d’Argouges in Bayeux. Mom says, “We saw lots of sheep. All the houses look the same — old. There’s very little graffiti, no litter, fabulous roads, no potholes.”

Bayeux Hotel

Bayeux Hotel

We’re exhausted. But tomorrow we head to the very old and remarkable Mont-Saint-Michel.

Lots of Sheep on the Way to Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Lots of Sheep on the Way to Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Mom & Dad at le Mont-Saint-Michel

Mom & Dad at le Mont-Saint-Michel

Inside le Mont-Saint-Michel Chapel

Inside le Mont-Saint-Michel Chapel

The last time I flew to Israel, the El Al airline magazine at every seat contained the following prayer:

“The Lord bless thee, keep thee, the Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee, the Lord turn His face unto thee, and give thee peace. May it be Thy will, Lord of Heaven and Earth, to lead us to peace and safety, to fly us in peace and safety to our desired destination to find life, joy and peace. Guard and watch us who fly the air routes and cross the seaways and travel the overland passes. Make firm the hands that guide the steering and sustain their spirit, so that they may lead us in peace and safety. For in You alone is our shelter from now until eternity. Amen.”

Amen!

Vimy, France
May 14, 2001

Today we drove from Normandy through north-eastern France to Belgium. Our first stop at the crack of dawn (almost) was the D-Day beaches. Very moving. We saw the remains of the artificial harbour the Allies left at Arromanches.

Remains of the artificial harbour at Arromanches.

We continued north and, when we reached the mouth of the Seine River, we stopped at a service centre for some breakfast. This poor excuse for a cafeteria gave us a TINY cup of coffee you could stand a spoon in. No cream. But good croissants.

Later, after driving on a very back road (one lane, two way traffic, pouring rain, soggy ground), we stopped in a remote French village hoping to find sustenance. One little restaurant we saw was closed because it was Monday. Desperate for nutrition, we stopped, parking on the sidewalk like everyone else, at a little hole-in-the-wall brasserie where a little dog was barking at us from the top of one of the tables. Nevertheless, we had a terrific lunch — warm soup (great on a cold, wet day), great bread (no butter), Hache Parementiere (shepherd’s pie), a fresh rhubarb tart (pie). It was fabulous.

One of the Vimy cemeteries.

A little later, we stopped at the Canadian National Memorial at Vimy Ridge (Canadians: if you don’t know about this piece of Canadian history, look it up! Americans: this battle took place during WWI and was an important event for us Canucks.) Mom’s grandfather was posted to this area in 1917 and lost his leg soon after. We toured the trenches/tunnels. It was very moving. Some are as much as 25 m underground.

Driving into Vimy National Park

Tonight we’re staying in Bruges — a beautiful medieval town. Belgium is famous for their French Fries served with sauces, especially mayonnaise. We had some for supper and the waitress gave us six sample of sauces. Some were very spicy!

That’s all for now. Love to all.

Stay tuned for our next adventure in Bruges and then in Holland.

Bruges, Belgium and Noord Holland, Netherlands
May 16, 2001

Well, several days have passed since we last had access to a computer. Let me bring you up to date …

Before we left Toronto, the Alegria B & B sent us the following directions. We enjoyed reading them a great deal and wondered if we’d ever find this Bruges hotel.

Our street in old Bruges.

. . . And here we go for some more INFO ON HOW TO FIND US BY CAR.
Coming in from
France, Paris…..by highway
You will drive straight ahead direction Brugge,
drive continiuously
straight ahead, you will than autamatic.
drive on the big ring around Bruges,
drive straight ahead, follow the indication
KUST,ZEEBRUGGE,BLANKENBERGE,
that means once off the highway you only have to drive straight ahead all
the time!!!!!!!
you will pass several lights, go into a tunnel,drive passed our old prison ( left hand side )
drive passed our new prison ( left hand side )
at about 2 km you will find on your right hand side
a BIG SHOPPING CENTER, with shoes and child
confection E.A.
Right after that center you will need to
drive off at the indication A.Z. ST JAN,
( hospital )drive straight ahead again, you
will pass 2 redlights which we count for one and
just behind the second lights( third ) you have to turn
left, straight ahead again, second lights right again,
there you are at the EZELSTRAAT,
that’s the beginning of our street, straight ahead
once passed over the little bridge
turning with the road right and left again before the churchthere you are in the SINT JAKOBSSTRAAT now.
You will see a lot of flaggs HOTEL NAVARRA
at the right hand side,they have number 41,
ALEGRIA B & B is located a bit further on the left handside
NR 34 B. Please don’t drive passed our house,
try to park the car on the pavement oposite our house,
we will open the parking for you who is located
the first little street on your left hand side
NAALDENSTRAAT NR 1
Voilà I think that’s it, it realy is very easy to find,
If you get lost ( there could be roadworks )
please ask for the DE BIEKORF
( that’s an underground parking just around the corner
a bit further than our private parking ) . . .

Believe it or not . . . “Voila, I think that’s it!” . . .

The beautiful central market area just a block from our accommodation.

The view from a Bruges canal boat.

We found the directions to be completely accurate. The owner of this manor house that dates back to to the 1700’s talks just like her written directions, as well. The hotel is only steps from the central market square, so it was a great location.

Another Bruges canal.

View of Bruges from the Canal

View of Bruges from the Canal

We had one full day in Bruges. In the morning we did a little shopping and then took one of the canal boat cruises. The boats are small and open, so it was good that we had a few hours of sunshine that morning. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really hear the narration, but we sure enjoyed the water level view. I remember seeing gorgeous deep purple lilac blossoms hanging over the water from the tiny garden of an old manor house, water steps at most buildings, including churches, many geese and swans.

Bruges Bell Tower

Afterward, Dad and I climbed the market square bell tower (366 steps). The view is terrific once you get there, but the staircase !!! It’s a corkscrew staircase that grows progressively narrower and there are people constantly going up and going down simultaneously. Very scary.

The view from the bell tower.

Once Dad and I had recovered, we hopped on a mini-bus that gave us a great city tour. We drove through streets we would never have reached on foot. Some of the streets were so narrow, I don’t know how the bus made it! Dad videotaped much of the tour and, once in a while, you can hear Mom gasp.

It was a terrific day!

Mom and Dad resting by a canal in Bruges.

Bruges Roofline

Bruges Roofline

After a rest in our room, we had a wonderful dinner of Flemish stew at one of the outdoor market square cafes. We started out eating on the covered porch of the restaurant but, when the rain started to pour (it was a deluge), and the winds began to howl, we moved inside next to the fireplace.

A canal outside of Bruges.

Market day in Bruges

A canal near Bruges

A canal near Bruges

The next morning, after another hearty breakfast at the hotel and buying picnic supplies at the outdoor market, we drove north into Holland. We still haven’t been stopped at any customs location. The only people who have looked at our passports have been bank staff when we cash travellers cheques. The entry into Holland was just a sign along the road. We took a short ferry (6 km) across into the delta area of Holland (sw Holland) and then we drove north along dikes. In order to reach our next hotel in Noord Holland, we drove through the very urban areas of Le Havre and Rotterdam. We saw enormous shipping locations along the harbour areas. Very impressive.

Most of this day was pouring rain and we weren’t able to visit the tulip fields this afternoon as we’d hoped. Instead, we stopped near Leiden for a leisurely lunch at a traditional pancake house. Dutch pancakes are what we in North America call crepes . . . with no maple syrup in sight! Our dinner pancake had chicken and a mild fruit sauce. It sounds strange, but was delicious.

We finally reached the area north of Amsterdam where we started to look for our next hotel. I had booked three nights at Hotel Edam Farm, a renovated stable on a traditional Dutch farm. We found the village of Middelie where it was supposed to be located. We drove and drove and drove around the back roads of the polder, looking for the elusive hotel. Nothing. It was getting wetter and wetter and Mom was sure we were going to end up with the swans and herons in one of the MANY canals.Finally, we found a auto repair shop where they spoke some English. Our hotel was one canal-road over. We finally found it! There are cattle (including a long-horn steer), a llama, sheep and goats in the yard. Our room was very large and had a jacuzzi, or as the owner pronounced it, yacussi.

Our Edam Farm Accommodation

Our Edam Farm Accommodation

A Friendly Steer at the Edam Farm

A Friendly Steer at the Edam Farm

It finally cleared during the evening, though it remained very windy. After a snooze, we drove north to the Great Enclosing Dike. This dike has cut off the sea from the huge bay in the centre of Holland. It has allowed them to replace the bay seawater with fresh water and drain some of it to create new land. Holland is such a tiny country and has a large population (60 million), they can use every acre they can find. (Even with that large population, we haven’t found that there is an overcrowded feeling.) The dike is an engineering marvel. At one point along the dike, we saw between 30 and 40 swans sheltering against a small spit of land.

After we left the dike, we drove slowly back to our farm hotel through tulip fields and picturesque villages. We were really pleased to see the tulip fields. Because the spring is so late this year, some are still in blossom. Once the plants are in full blossom, the farmers cut off all the colourful heads – you see piles of blossoms decomposing at the ends of the fields – so that all the plant’s energy goes into the bulbs. Fields of red or yellow or orange really are thrilling to see.

Modern Windmills in the Netherlands

Modern Windmills in the Netherlands

Tulip Fields

More Tulip Fields

Small Canal in the Netherlands

Small Canal in the Netherlands

Early Thursday morning (I mean early!), we headed to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. This was a really interesting place to see after the tulip fields the night before. The auction takes place in one of the largest buildings in the world. It is the size of 125 soccer fields. Every weekday they sell millions of plants – literally! The tour consists of walking along a catwalk that is suspended over the central part of the building. From there you can look down on innumerable flowers and plants that will be shipped the same day around the world to be sold in florist shops, etc. The staff (thousands of people in total) are moving around the facility like busy bees, some walking, some riding bicycles to get from one side of the building to the other, some are driving little vehicles that trail trolleys of flowers behind them. There’s quite a cacophony of noise echoing about the place – machines, shouting and calling. You can’t even say the flowers are completely silent, though their noise is in the pungent smell that hits you like a tide as soon as you enter the building.

After being saturated with the flowers, we headed into the centre of Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh Museum. We got there just as it opened (wheelchair parking just in front of the museum!) and so had a chance to view the impressionist’s work without huge crowds. I really enjoyed this visit; van Gogh has always been one of my favourites. Mom wasn’t thrilled with his aggressive style. However, we all enjoyed later in the day the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.

Our intent had been to stay the day in Amsterdam, walking through the old centre, taking a canal cruise, etc., but when we left the Van Gogh Museum, there was a torrential downpour. It just wasn’t worth it. So we headed to Haarlem. The Frans Hals Museum was of great interest to Dad and me since we’d earlier read a book about Frans Hals, a Haarlem painter in the 1600s. The museum was terrific, with works by Hals and many of his contemporaries. I highly recommend it.

A Haarlem Street

A Haarlem Street

One very interesting thing we saw at the Frans Hals Museum was a 17th century doll house – about seven feet high and built into a beautiful chinoiserie cabinet. The paintings on the walls of the dollhouse rooms were done by a well-known artist of the day. We’re not talking Fisher-Price here.

That’s all for now!

Noord Holland, Netherlands
May 18, 2001

If we don’t find a laundromat soon, we’re going to have to buy new clothes!

This morning, after another hearty breakfast in our room (soft rolls, cheese, sliced meat, strawberries we bought in Bruges, coffee, juice), we drove into the nearby Volendam, a village where most of the residents wear traditional dress. We did see a few people dressed in the old-fashioned clothing, but 9:00 am seems to be too early for these folks. We wandered around the harbour, but none of the stores were open until 10. At 9:45, the church bells started ringing . . . and didn’t stop for at least 15 minutes. No sleeping in here!

Ships in the Volendam Harbour

Ships in the Volendam Harbour

We stopped at the tourist information office to see if they could direct us to a laundry place and, as usual, the talk turned to the cold, wet, windy spring they’re having. It sounds as if their weather here is usually more like Vancouver than Toronto. The woman working in the Tourist office told us about a winter they had that was remarkable for its snow and ice. The Winter of ’63 had so much real winter weather that schools were closed for a week.

We still didn’t find a laundry. Dad thinks we should throw all our clothes into the Jacuzzi for a while.

We headed next to Haarlem where we wanted to visit Corrie ten Boom’s house – a must-see on our list. However, as we drove down the highway, we rather spontaneously decided to stop at a small outdoor folk museum (since it wasn’t raining at the moment). This turned out to be a great stop for us, for several reasons.

  1. They had great souvenir shopping. Mom and I had a great time browsing through the souvenir junk, while Dad videotaped Japanese tourists posing with giant wooden shoes. OK, Mom and I posed with the shoes, too.
  2. We watched a demonstration of how to make wooden shoes. It was really interesting especially when, after explaining how they use wet wood for the shoes, the shoemaker put his mouth to the newly made shoe, blew hard, and forced a rather large amount of water from the wooden soles. There was also a fascinating exhibit of the history of wooden shoes (they’ve been around for at least 800 years). Not that I’m planning to buy any, you understand!
  3. We also watched a licensed Delftware painter working on one of his plates. Very expensive stuff this. We didn’t buy any.
  4. Then we passed my favourite kind of store … antiques and collectibles, housed in a very, very old house. (This is all on the property of the folk museum). One thing that caught my eye was a group of old wooden skates (they do have metal blades) that were worn over wooden shoes. We’re talking about Hans Brinker here. The top of the skates (where the bottom of the shoe would be placed) were painted, rather like Grandpa Beurling painted on saws. I couldn’t resist and now own an antique wooden Dutch skate.
  5. The real highlight of this visit was the fact that one of the several working windmills they have at this museum makes linseed oil. The windmill’s turning causes the mechanisms inside to pound and press linseed and rapeseed so that oil is produced; this is called olislaght-something. Dad and I watched it working from inside (very, very noisy process). Here’s the significance: my great-great-great-grandfather, Fredrik Hassels Beulink, the Beurling who emigrated from Holland to Sweden about 1810, was a master oljeslagaren. In other words, producing linseed oil was his profession. We’ve known the Dutch and Swedish words for his occupation for some time, but no one – until today – was able to tell us what it meant! Needless to say, we were excited!
Windmills at Zaans Schans

Windmills at Zaans Schans

Farmland around Zaans Schans

Farmland around Zaans Schans

Later in the afternoon, we hightailed it to Haarlem ’cause Corrie was waiting. After driving fruitlessly in circles around the canals and teeny-tiny streets, we finally found a parking spot and walked to the ten Boom house. The bottom of the house is still a watch and jewellery store. The sign on the door said to stand in the street until the tour guide comes at 4:45. It was 4:30. We were really relieved that we’d arrived in time to catch an English tour. The guide was very relaxed and told the story of Corrie and her family and how the Lord worked in them and through them. It was quite thrilling. We were led through the family house (it’s small, but not as cramped as I’d imagined) and, of course, the peak of the visit was in Corrie’s bedroom where the actual hiding place is located. Six people hid for 2 1\2 days in that tiny space. Although Corrie and her family were arrested and sent to the camps, the Jewish people they were hiding there were never found by the nazis and escaped safely. I think this was our best stop in Holland.

Tomorrow morning we need to get up very, very, very early so that we can catch our 8 am plane to Norway. We still haven’t found a laundry. The Jacuzzi is starting to sound better and better!

Kristiansand, Norway
May 19, 2001

This morning we made it to our early plane at the Amsterdam airport in time. Of course, since it’s Saturday, we didn’t have to deal with too much traffic. We flew first to Copenhagen and then, on another plane, to Kristiansand. Mom was a little freaked out by the landing – there were rather severe cross winds and we sort of landed sideways!

Kristiansand, Norway

Kristiansand, Norway

Hans Gustav Beurling and his wife, Anna-Karin, met us at the airport with lots of hugs and welcome. Their house is only a few kilometres from the airport. The landscape here is just like Muskoka only with slightly bigger hills. We feel very much at home.

The Beurling family here knew that one branch of the family had gone to Canada. Hans also knew that the father in that family had a bad arm. Well, my g-g-grandfather, Gustaf Ferdinand Beurlingk, had lost an arm as a young man and is the one who brought his family to Canada. So, although we knew our branches were connected (because of dates and names we’d already collected), this sort of confirmed it for us emotionally. We feel very comfortable with them. We’re staying with family!

Hans’ youngest son, Steinar, reminds us very much of my brother, Steven, when he was a teenager. Steven, remember when you had big hair? That’s what Steinar looks like right now, only he has dark brown hair and eyes. Pictures of him as a toddler also make me think of our cousin, Anne.

These Beurlings (at least Hans and his family) are shorter than we are. Hans is about my height or maybe a little taller than me (5’9″) and they laughingly call themselves The Pygmy Family.

We spent the first hour or so sharing details about our families and what we knew of the Beurling history. One very interesting thing Hans shared was some oral history about Fredrik Hassels Beulink, our mutual g-g-g-grandfather (the one I mentioned yesterday). Fredrik Hassels emigrated from Holland to Sweden about 1810. I knew this. However, the Beurlings here talk about how he smuggled himself onto a ship and entered Sweden illegally. That’s the stuff family history is made of!

Later in the afternoon, Hans and Anna-Karin took us into downtown Kristiansand, a town about the size of Barrie. We walked about on the pedestrian streets and then down by the harbour. We stopped at an outdoor café to have a late lunch of fish soup (blue mussels, shrimp, salmon) that was wonderful. It was sunny but cool and windy so soup hit the spot!

Mom & Dad, Hans Gustav & Anna-Karin in Kristiansand

Mom & Dad, Hans Gustav & Anna-Karin in Kristiansand

We’ve also noticed in photographs that Hans’ father (who died a few years ago) had the same ears that the Canadian Beurlings usually have – big! Hans himself missed out on that privilege.

Hans’ father and his father’s two brothers have all passed away in the last couple of years. At least two died of cancer. The saddest note is that the last uncle was buried the day before we arrived. He was looking forward to our visit. Hans and Anna-Karin took us to the cemetery yesterday where their family is buried. We saw the graves of about seven or eight Beurlings, including their g-grandfather Karl Alfred, the brother of my g-grandfather, Gustaf Ferdinand. Gustaf Ferdinand is buried in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

We had a late supper with Hans and family, including his daughter, Torunn (pronounced Too-rrrrrun) and her boyfriend. It turns out the boyfriend, Ken, was in Australia last fall at the same time as me.

Mom nearly fell asleep right on the sofa – of course, we were watching Dad’s videos at the time – so we headed for bed. (Dad says that if you need a good sleep he’d be glad to show you his videos when we get home.) We did find out at that point that Hans has the Beurling sleep gene! He can fall asleep at any time, anywhere.

We’ll let you know how the family reunion goes. We’re going to that tomorrow morning. They’re holding it in the barn of a local mansion. I guess it’s a facility that is rented out for events like this. It’s by a river and sounds very attractive.

Banquet Hall

Banquet Hall

Love to all!

Kristiansand, Norway
May 20, 2001

Words fail me.

Well, not exactly, but I do feel rather overwhelmed. So much has happened since yesterday.

1. Last night I had an email response from one of the Beulink family that is still living in Holland. Our connection to such Beulink’s has to be at least 200 years old. Our connection to the Norwegian Beurlings is only 100 years old. This young woman wrote to me in response to a message I left on a genealogy forum many months ago. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it. Unbelievable timing! She still lives in a village near the town our family originally came from! I emailed her immediately to say that we’d be in that area on Monday, but I haven’t heard back from her yet.

2. Tonight we had an email message from George, one of Mom & Dad’s friends in Grenada. George wrote to say that he knows some Dutch people in Grenada named Beulink and will try to get more information for us. Go, George!

3. We spent the entire day with the Beurling clan of Norway. Wow! We met too many people and learned too many things today to do more than summarize coherently. One of the major highlights was when one of the older women who had married a Beurling showed us a very old photograph album. She didn’t know who the people were, but hoped others would. Dad was looking over Hans’ shoulder at the pictures. The first few pictures were of the earliest Beurlings in Norway (Grandpa’s uncle & first cousins). Then Hans turned a page and Dad saw a photograph he recognized — his grandfather, Gustaf Ferdinand Beurlingk, the one who brought his family to Canada. Needless to say, there was great excitement on the part of each branch of the family. I really enjoyed the woman who brought the photo album. She talked to us quite personably for a long time and not a word was in English. I have no idea what she was saying, but she said it charmingly!

We had a lot of fun seeing family resemblances. I’m sure the following details will be of greatest interest to other family members, so I won’t try to identify or explain everything in detail . . .

We saw alot of big Beurling ears. There were so many, it became quite comical. We saw a little girl who could be the sister of my niece, Alyssa. We saw a young boy who could be my cousin, Ricky, at that age (about 12). I saw a young man who made me think of another cousin, Cricket.  (His Mom, Bjorg, told me in very broken English that he has just returned from a three-year mission trip to Mali.) We saw the broad faces many of us in Canada have. When they sang Norwegian folksongs, I could hear Auntie Gladys and Auntie Elsie. We met a cousin of Hans’ who looks very much like Auntie Frieda. We met Hans’ nephew, Fred Ivar, who I thought bore a striking resemblance to Uncle George. He was also the tallest Beurling I met, a good 6’2″ I think.

The Beurling Clan

The Beurling Clan

I’d better stop for now. I have seen and heard too much and am too tired to make good sense of it. And we need to get up in less than six hours to catch the plane back to Amsterdam.

We had the most wonderful day. Hans just keeps sighing and saying, “It was a GOOD day.” Dad just keeps sighing.

I’ll write again when I can. We’ll do our best to locate the Beulink family in Holland.

Gelderland & Overijssel, Netherlands
May 23, 2001

When we first arrived back in the Netherlands, we stopped at the Keukenhof Gardens - a famous location with spectacular displays of tulips each spring.

When we first arrived back in the Netherlands, we stopped at the Keukenhof Gardens – a famous location with spectacular displays of tulips each spring.

Keukenhof Blossoms

Keukenhof Blossoms

A Keukenhof Canal

A Keukenhof Canal

Keukenhof Tulips

Keukenhof Tulips

Mom & Dad at Keukenhof

Mom & Dad at Keukenhof

Well, we’re coming to the end of three days in the Gelderland, the home province of the Beurling clan.

Today we visited the village of Blokzijl in the neighbouring province of Overijssel. This is the village Fredrik Hassels Beulink was born and raised in. He’s the one who immigrated to Sweden about 1810. It’s a charming village, originally on the edge of the dikes that kept the Zuider Zee out of the farmland. Today, much of that Zuider Zee has been drained and the port village of Blokzijl is now many kilometers from open water. However, it still has a small harbour in the centre of town and canal access to the sea. It is very beautiful with houses that date back to the 1600s.

Blokzijl Street

Blokzijl Street

Blokzijl Harbour

Blokzijl Harbour

Blokzijl Building

Blokzijl Building

Its church is quite important historically because it was one of the first protestant churches built in Holland. We walked into it and admired the accoustics, chandeliers and graves in the floor. Unfortunately, most the grave inscriptions are worn away by restless feet during long sermons. There is a large clock above the church door (inside) that has only one hand to show the hour. However, Dad read that on the pulpit, which is one of those high jobs you access by a private staircase, has an hour-long egg timer to keep the pastor on track. It’s about a foot tall and is quite visible to the congregation. Does Parkway need an egg-timer? Soft or hard boiled?

Yesterday was a great day! We finally found a laundry. The farmers we’re staying with (great place) let us use theirs. While our shirts were sloshing, we sat around their table and chatted. Of course, we told them why we were visiting their area and they got out their phone book to see if they could find Christel Beulink’s address (she’s the girl who emailed me on the weekend). They found a list of about six Beulinks in the village of Zelham, not far away.

The Beurlings & the Beulinks

The Beurlings & the Beulinks

Then Erik (the farmer) offered to phone and see if we had the right place. Christel answered the phone! [Can you believe that, Hans?] I spoke with her briefly on the phone and we arranged to meet at her house that afternoon. We didn’t have too much trouble finding her house — another farm. Pigs and cows. She and her parents gave us a tour of their place. It was really fascinating. Not what city people like us are accoustomed to seeing. It was really a great opportunity.

Christel and her parents seemed very excited about the contact. It was very unexpected to them because Christel still hadn’t checked the email response I sent her, so she didn’t have any idea that we were in the area, let alone on the continent. Such timing. I can’t help but think the Lord’s hand was in this.

We spent about 90 minutes with them. They showed us photos — many of the people had suspiciously Beurling-like ears! They showed us their own family tree research; I wrote some of the information down and will check it with my other records when I get home. They have many Fredriks in their family names.

The Beulinks, who are brown-haired and brown-eyed, served us delicious coffee and biscuits and then — a major highlight — led us by car to the farmhouse where Crystal’s Beulink grandfather was born, a few km away. The farmhouse was built about 1856 (we took photos and I don’t quite remember the precise year), but — this is important — it had built into the front of the house for a keystone, another stone that had been inscribed: BOELINK 1473. This implies to us that the Beulink family has been in that area at least since the 15th century! Wow. This will give us some more genealogical leads. I think I’ll try to look for that spelling of Boelink in early records. Without this clue, I might have passed over that name in the Dutch records.

The Beulink Farmhouse

The Beulink Farmhouse

The Boelink Keystone

The Boelink Keystone

Also, Mom and Dad’s Grenada connection through their friend George, suggested that Beul is also the name of a tool used in linen production. The making of linen was a major activity in Overijssel a couple of centuries ago. Earlier today we visited a museum he recommended in the nearby village of Vriesenveen where we had a personal tour by one of the museum staff, and where we learned more about this. However, it would seem that the name Beulink/Boelink predates that industry.  I’m sure we’ll learn more in the months and years to come.

Well, we’d better sign off for now. Tomorrow morning we cross into Germany and, if we time it right, we’ll take a cruise down the Rhine River and Mom will shop for a cuckoo clock.

PS: Just asked Dad if there’s anything else we should say and he said, “What about food?” We’re eating breakfast just like real Europeans, seedy bread, smelly cheese and strong coffee. Lunch we try to eat out. Yesterday we had another Dutch pancake with stroganoff inside. Delicious, but Mom enjoyed it all night! Suppers are usually lighter, and more picnic-like with more bread and cheese and sliced meat and yoghurt and fruit.

We didn’t tell you about the place we’re staying. It’s behind a farmhouse and is a remodelled bakery house. It used to be used to bake bread. It looks out onto the cow fields (Mom loves the eau de cow) and we watch birds and rabbits playing the fields. Really!

The Bake House Cottage

The Bake House Cottage

Dad Polishes the Car in Gelderland

Dad Polishes the Car in Gelderland

This little cottage is a charming place with the main floor fully equipped for cooking, eating and relaxing (everything from videos to puzzles). There’s a plant or fresh field flowers on every flat surface. Upstairs there are two bedrooms and at night we can hear things skittering across the roof. Actually, we love it. It’s spotless and very, very comfortable.

That’s all for now!

The Rhine River, Germany
May 26, 2001

Well, here we are again. Several of you, Dear Readers, have written to say how much you’re enjoying our adventures. Thanks! Interesting stuff keeps happening.

Tonight when we checked our email, we had the following note from Hans Beurling in Norway:

Dear Janice

Guess what I found When I took the old picture out of the album!

The pictures of Gustav Ferdinand and the picture to the left in the album, the one your father thought may be was Julia Johanson.

Both pictures is taken in Hjerpen Sweden.

It look likes theese are the only pictures coming from Sweden.

I belive that Richard is right about Julia Johanson.

in the back off the picture of Gustav Ferdinand it says in Swedish, besides the buisniss name and adress : “The plate is archived in case of an after order”.

Look at the attachments.

If you would like me to mail the pictures to your ordinary e-mail, please tell me.

Venner for alltid

(Friends for ever)

Hans

How exciting can this genealogy stuff get? [Thanks, Hans. We’re so glad you checked those photos thoroughly.]

Now, to our latest adventures.

After we left the Ruesink farm in Holland on Thursday morning, we had only a few km to drive before we reached the German border. Again, nothing remotely resembling customs. Just a sign saying we were in Germany.

Our first order of business was to master the art of driving on the Autobahn. There weren’t many cars at first and we didn’t even realize we were on the famed speedway. However, as we sped along at about 120 km an hour (under the speed limit for the right lane) we did notice the car shaking as other cars started to drift by at — Dad thinks — about 180 to 200 km an hour. Needless to say, Mom was again trying to drive from the back seat. She helped Dad every time he had to pass a slower truck. He says he spent the whole time watching for approaching vehicles in the rear view mirror. Motorcycles were even faster than the cars. I think we only heard them as they broke the sound barrier.

The terrain changed fairly quickly from the very flat land of the Netherlands, to rolling hills, not mountains but much bigger than anything in southern Ontario. We left the highway just before noon to drive smaller (much smaller — and slower) roads to the village of Bacharach (as in Burt). Our goal was to take a river cruise on the Rhine River, one of the greatest rivers in Europe. As we were making our way toward the river, we stopped on the road at one spot where we had a fabulous view. The wildflowers were blooming, the sun was shining, the breezes were blowing, Dad was videotaping, and then we could hear the noon bells from the distant villages ring out. It was almost The Sound of Music.

The Rhine River

The Rhine River

However, the bells reminded me that the cruise left the docks at 12:30 and we still had a way to go. We flew down the hills (just like Maria), and finally reached the town of Bacharach. The streets were cobble-stoned, the streets were narrow, and Mom was again driving from the back seat. We finally emerged from the old part of town onto the main (I use the term loosely) road that runs by the river. Lo and behold, but didn’t we pop out exactly by the dock parking lot.

We pulled into the last parking spot and hurriedly grabbed backpack and cameras. We had only a few minutes before the boat was to arrive. In fact, the boat schedule had been changed and we had fewer minutes than we’d expected. We left the car so quickly, Dad had to go back to close Mom’s door and lock up. We hopped on board the crowded boat and settled in on the top deck for a fun ride.

The river current is about 10 km per hour in the wider sections, and as fast as 20 km an hour in the narrows. We travelled downriver to the fourth stop on the route, St. Goar. In between, we saw castles guarding the river. These were originally built to control river traffic. There is one castle where they would pull chains across the river to stop boats until they paid a toll. If the sailors didn’t pay up, they enjoyed castle hospitality in the dungeon.

Another feature of the river is the river traffic. We saw many river boats and barges carrying any number of heavy loads. The boat owners live on board (you could see the lace curtains in the windows) and sometimes carry their own cars on deck. These boats are massive.

A Barge on the Rhine River

A Barge on the Rhine River

One of the most interesting aspects of the Rhine (and Mosel) River is the many, many vineyards climbing the hills. We thought the hillsides rose at about a 65 degree angle, yet they were covered with rows of grape vines. The hillsides were terraced with ancient stone walls. We couldn’t imagine how anyone could till the fields, let alone harvest the grapes. It is quite amazing. Dad says it’s beyond telling and you’ll have to look at our photos (his videos!).

When we arrived in St. Goar (about an hour’s ride) and found a restaurant for lunch, Mom said to Dad, “You have the Germanz money, don’t you?” Dad looked blank and said, “I thought you had the money.” Then we realized that in the rush to catch the boat, we’d left the money in plain view on the car dashboard. Oy! Not only that, but I started to think about how we hadn’t seen any parking meters, but neither had we really looked. Nevertheless, when we returned to Bacharach a few hours later, the car and money were still intact — no fines, no break-ins. Whew! (We did have a good lunch anyway. Plastic is still good for some things!)

After our boat adventure, we hurried to our hotel for the night in Beilstein on the Mosel River, a tributary of the Rhine. We found the village without any trouble, but couldn’t find the hotel itself. I set out on foot down through the village toward the river. Dad and Mom followed me by car. The street they came down was so narrow, Dad scraped the car mirrors on the walls of the buildings. Needless to say, I’ve never seen Mom get out of a car so fast! There was steam seeping from the car windows when they finally reached the hotel. I’m glad I was on foot.

The hotel was built in the 1600’s and our room was quite remarkable. It wasn’t large (although the owner’s father told Dad it used to be three rooms) and the wooden beams were very much in evidence. Also, the floor distinctly sloped. You had to walk UP to the windows. The bathroom was modern. We also had a great breakfast the next morning — everything from a boiled egg to rolls with cheese and meat to Mooselips and Yoggi (mueslix and yoghurt). A fun place!

The next morning we toured our first castle, Burg Eltz. This striking, rather fairytale looking assembly of buildings was built in the 1300s. We visited about eight or ten rooms that were beautifully decorated. We really enjoyed this experience. The same family has owned the property (and still uses it) for 700 years. A must-see if you visit this area.

That afternoon we drove to Rothenberg on the Tauber in Bavaria (southeastern Germany). The drive (more autobahn) was beautiful and the town is one of the best walled medieval towns in Europe. We’re staying in a manor house hotel that was built in the 1400s. Our room on the second floor is as large as the previous hotel room was small. We’ve been hanging out the five windows in our room, over the geraniums, to watch the parades passing by on the street below.

The Wall around Rothenberg

The Wall around Rothenberg

Rothenberg

Rothenberg

Rothenberg

Rothenberg

This town is also for serious shoppers. Mom and I have dropped several times today. This morning, Dad and I took in a brief organ concert in one of the local (ancient) churches. It was great. The pews shook.

Tonight we opted for a choir and organ concert at the St. Jacobs Evangelical Lutheran Church a couple of blocks from the hotel. The church was built in the 1300s and Dad estimates the roof is about eight or nine stories high. With the stone and structure, the acoustics were fabulous. The choral notes just floated up and wandered around the roof long after the choir had finished. They performed a number of pieces, including some Bach and Holst. One song we recognized was Nun danket allet Gott (Now thank we all our God). It was fabulous.

Now, about food. My brother, John, said we should be sure to try exotic dishes. Well, sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re going to be served when your waitress doesn’t speak English and you can’t read German menus. For example, at lunch today, we placed an order for something exotic. What did we find when we received our meal but — Chicken McNuggets. Go figure!

However, tonight I had Venison Ragout mit Spatzel. Spatzel was described as potato dumplings, but it looked more like Klingon Gagh! to me. Mom had salmon with noodles and salad. Dad had sauerkraut (again) with several kinds of meat including bratworst, bacon and steak with boiled potatoes. It was all terrific.

Now we’re exhausted, it’s dark out and Mom is sure we won’t find our way home. If you don’t hear from us again, send help!

Unter Pinswang, Austria
June 1, 2001

Well, we’re still on the go.

This is just a quick note to let you know that we’ve survived the deep, dark Black Forest, Heidiland and are now in Austria in a teeny, tiny village.

This morning we toured two castles. Our knees may never be the same. Upstairs, downstairs, up trails, down trails, in the shuttlebus, out of the shuttlebus. Yikes!

We only have time to send this quick message because we’re using the hotel manager’s office computer. He’s been really kind and helpful to us. You should all come and stay at his hotel, Gutshof zum Schluxen! Will write as soon as we have adequate computer time.Venice is the day after tomorrow!!

Venice, Italy
June 4, 2001

We’re back! We’re in a smoky internet cafe in the Campo San Stefano in the heart of Venice, just a few minutes walk from our hotel on the Grand Canal. However, before we tell you about Venice, let us bring you up to date on our adventures of the last week.

We did find our way home from the internet cafe in Rothenberg that dark night after the concert … much to Mom’s relief. The next morning we went back to St. Jacob’s Church for the morning church service. It was a beautiful service, although it was all in German. We didn’t understand a word except “Luther” and “Hallelujah.” They don’t seeme to have any trouble with music styles there; all we heard were very staid, old-style hymns. Not a chorus in sight. However, neither did they seem to sing with much enthusiasm. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed this experience.

Right after the church service, we headed south through more rolling hills and farmland that gradually gave way to much higher hills and deep forests. It reminded us of the New England mountains. We were really impressed with the beautiful homes and cleanliness of the entire countryside. I think maybe they have gremlins come out at night to clean everything up! One thing we noticed is that the farmers all seem to live in tiny villages, rather than on their actual farm land. In one valley you can see several different villages simulaneously. Also, we thought the villages on the hillsides looked much like the villages we all see on the news — the ones being bombed in Kosovo and Bosnia, etc. It helps us visualize those events more clearly.

The Black Forest

The Black Forest

Eventually, we found our hotel in the village of Haslach. It turned out to be one of the most creatively decorated places we’ve ever seen. My room was very romatically decorated with a small canopy. Mom & Dad’s looked like a barn! Actually it looked better than that, it’s just that there were animals painted on the walls, barn rafters on the ceiling, holes painted on the walls so you could see the farm fields … it was most creative. Fortunately, this room did not come with aromas and sound effects.

The next morning we continued again south until we reached the border of Germany and Switzerland, at Basel. We had to stop there — we thought, with excitement, that we’d have to show our passports! — but, no, they just wanted us to pay a toll in order to use their highways.

At this point in Switzerland, the land is quite level, but soon we were able to see the hills growing higher and before long we were gasping at every turn. Our destination was Gimmelwald, a tiny village on an Alp, high above the valley level in one of the most mountainous parts of Swizerland — the Berner Oberland.

Gimmelwald, Switzerland

Gimmelwald, Switzerland

A Hiking Boot Mounted on the Wall of a Gimmelwald Chalet

A Hiking Boot Mounted on the Wall of a Gimmelwald Chalet

A Gimmelwald Cheese Shed

A Gimmelwald Cheese Shed

Mom Outside Our Chalet B&B.  Just behind her, the hillside drops off a gigantic cliff to the valley below.

Mom Outside Our Chalet B&B. Just behind her, the hillside drops off a gigantic cliff to the valley below.

Gimmelwald is not far from Interlaken, but is so small and remote it’s not on most maps. From Interlaken, we drove deeper into the mountains and parked near the end of the valley road in Stechelberg. From there we took a cable car five minutes up the mountain, but it seemed many years back in time. The homes of Gimmelwald cling to the Alp and there’s nothing but air between them and the mountain face across the valley.

From the lift, we walked slowly up the hillside on the the only “street” Gimmelwald has (it’s a switchback and really only has people, cows and a few small-scale motorized farm vehicles using it — cars are not permitted on this mountain). We were tired, I didn’t really know where our B&B was located, and Mom was traumatized by the cable car. You can imagine how pleased we were to find the B&B, just where it was supposed to be, on the hillside facing the other mountain, with waterfalls tumbling down before us, eagles floating above us, and multitudes of wildflowers below us. What a place!

Our hosts are the school teachers for the village of Gimmelwald. Olle teaches a one-room school of about 17 students. He and his family have lived here about 15 years. That evening he invited us up on the deck behind the chalet to look through his telescope at sheep and wild ibex that were climbing about on the opposite mountain. We could all see the sheep (their white coats stood out against the grass and rocks), but I only think I could see the ibex (they’re brown). Dad says he could. Anyway, it was a great experience. We could however clearly see a farmer’s summer hut on the mountain with the sheep.

The next morning, after sleeping with the sound of cowbells in our ears, we headed further up the mountain on three different cable cars. Mom was not amused! The second two lifts were across high spurs of the mountain — lots of air beneath us. It was very, very scary for people afraid of heights, like me! However, we did arrive safely to Piz Gloria, the mountain peak restaurant on the top of the peak called Schilthorn. This is the location of a segment of an early James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. We arrived early, in time for the James Bond Champagne Breakfast (although Mom had a delayed reaction from the ride up to the peak — she was very wobbly).

The Three of Us at Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn

The Three of Us at Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn

Descending from the Schilthorn

Descending from the Schilthorn

Still Descending!

Still Descending!

It was terrific, munching away and watching the spectacular peaks rotate around us. Of course, we were the ones actually rotating. It made me a little carsick and it was hard to find my landlegs after we left the restaurant. The day was really worthwhile in terms of weather. We had perfect blue skies the whole time we were at Schilthorn and in Gimmelwald. I’d started praying about this weather months ago. The Lord has really blessed us on this trip. On most of the important sightseeing days, we’ve had perfect weather. Most of the downpours we’ve been in have been on driving days.

After our sky-high breakfast, we returned to another village on the way down. We were hoping to buy some food supplies in Murren since our room at the B&B was actually equipped with a small kitchen. It was amazing; as we walked through town, the stores just closed up in front of us, and it was only 11:30 am. Although this is only a tourist town (no other businesses), we were there during off-season for tourists. We headed back to Gimmelwald and planned to have supper at the local Pension restaurant where we’d eaten the night before.

Mom had had enough walking, so she took the cable car back by herself. Dad and I walked down the Alp, back to Gimmelwald. It was beautiful — wildflowers and cows! They say it’s a 30-minute walk. That’s 30 minutes without a camera. For us — with cameras — we took about 90 minutes.

Well, for supper we headed down to the pension, only to be told they were booked up and wouldn’t be able to feed us until 8:30 pm. This was way too late for us, so we decided to go back and make cheese sandwiches out of the last of our food supplies (we’d brought them with us from the valley). But, wait! We discovered that the lady across the “road” sold bread and eggs. We got one of her last loaves and half a dozen eggs. What a supper we had!

The next morning we went back to the pension for their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. We met a fellow-Canadian that morning (he lives in Thornhill, just north of Toronto). He was orginally from Germany and shared with us some of his war experiences as a child there. It was just fascinating to hear about his recollections. (Thanks, Armin!)

After three nights with the Heidi on the Alps, we descended to the valley with regret. It was starting to rain!

We turned our car east and headed out of Switzerland and into Lichtenstein. This country is so tiny that we had passed through it and were actually stopped by Austrian customs before we even realized it. However, the Austrian customs agent asked us for our passports. With delight we started rummaging around for them — we thought we’d finally get to show our passports! He must have thought we were French because of our French car license plate but, when he heard our accents he said, “Americans?” “No, Canadian.” And he waved us through. I didn’t even manage to get my passport out. Great to be Canadian, but such disappointment! Sometimes we wonder if we’re just in another part of Canada we haven’t heard about, rather than another continent.

We travelled through many, many mountain valleys and passes. We drove through so many tunnels, we gave up counting them. We guess we passed through at least 30 to 40 tunnels on that one day. One in Switzerland was 5.8 km long. We thought that was something until we drove through one that was just short of 14 km long! Marvelous engineering feats — each of them.

Our hotel in Austria was in Unterpinswang, a village in the Tirol mountains along the German border. The hotel itself is the biggest we’ve stayed in so far (65 rooms). It’s an old manor house that was stayed in by King Ludwig II of Bavaria himself. This hotel had the best breakfast with everything from cereal and yoghurt to boiled eggs to fresh fruit to breads, cheese, meat, juice and coffee. It was great.

The primary reason for staying in this region was to visit the castles associated with Ludwig. His is a sad story. After his father died in the mid-1800s, Ludwig became king of Bavaria at the age of 19. He seems to have been very much an idealist and a dreamer. Instead of ruling his kingdom, he chose to promote the arts and build castles. The castle Walt Disney used as a model for Cinderella’s castle, is Ludwig’s greatest accomplishment. The sad part of Ludwig’s story is that his advisors had him declared insane when he was in his early 40’s and removed him from power. The next day, he drowned in the lake. Suicide or murder? No one’s quite sure.

Neuschwanstein - Ludwig's Disneyesque Castle

Neuschwanstein – Ludwig’s Disneyesque Castle

The night we arrived, we went to a sold-out musical on the life of Ludwig. It was very creatively staged. We really enjoyed that aspect of it. Because it was in German, we only knew what was going on by reading the super-titles (short segments of dialogue on screens above the stage). Maybe you have to be German. We just didn’t find the musical as gripping as the Germans and Austrians around us did. They hardly stirred in their seats during this long production, but gave a great ovation afterward.

The next morning we headed to Fussen, Germany (just a few minutes away) to tour the castle of Hohenschwangau where Ludwig grew up and Neuschwanstein, his nearby fairytale castle. These were just spectacular, but difficult to reach. You have to park in the valley and climb or take local shuttlebus or horse and carriage transport up the hillsides (more like mountains). Your only other option is to walk/climb. We ended up climbing to Hohenschwangau, the lower of the two. Yeah, Mom! I didn’t think she’d make it but she beat off all the mountain hikers with her cane. We took the shuttlebus up to the other castle, which is much higher. However, then you have quite a climb from the bus stop to reach the castle doors, not to mention the 300 steps up and down inside the castle.

The castles themselves were spectacular, although we only saw portions of them. They were very luxurious, filled with beautiful furniture and spectacular paintings. The paintings were not separately hung on the walls, they were the walls. Every available square inch of wall space was painted with leaves and flowers and illustrated themes of German folktales. In Neuschwanstein, Ludwig focused on themes that illustrated the works of his buddy, Richard Wagner. Overall, it was overwhelming. We highly recommend these two castles.

Our second day in Unterpinswang (another cold, rainy day), we drove again into Germany and visited the famous town of Oberammergau. This is the village that has been putting on a massive passion play (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) once every ten years. Several hundred years ago, they promised the Lord they would do this if He kept the plague away from their village. The plague didn’t arrive, but the tourists have. Fortunately for us, this was not one of the “ten” years, so we had no crowds. But we still enjoyed the town; the buildings are covered in paintings. It’s quite beautiful. The stores are full of outrageously priced wood carvings. We enjoyed the whole experience immensely, but once is quite enough.

A Painted Building in Oberammergau

A Painted Building in Oberammergau

An Isolated Austrian Lake

An Isolated Austrian Lake

We also visited the nearby Wieskirche, a famous church built in the rococco style. The church is at the end of a road and stands in a meadow full of wildflowers. Although beautiful on the outside, no one can be prepared for the extraodinary interior. The church is full of gilt and pastel-coloured paintings on every surface. Rococco is a style that goes beyond baroque is and chock-full of curlicues and extreme decorations. This church is a perfect example. It is a stunningly beautiful creation. Breathtaking. I’d imagine, though, that it would take one’s mind off the morning’s sermon. There are some drawbacks to such beauty!

After three nights in Unterpinswang, Austria we headed south to Italy. Pouring rain. Buckets of rain. Heavy wind. Snow! We had it!

We’ve more to tell you about our trip into Italy and Venice itself, but it’s going to have to wait. I’m fading and my stomach is growling. We found a restaurant that’s open on Mondays (apparently they don’t like to feed tourists on Mondays) and I sure don’t want to find it’s booked up!

We’ll write again as soon as we can.

Love to all. Ciao!

Monterosso al Mare, Italy
June 6, 2001

Let me bring you up to date on our trip from Austria into Italy.

After we left Unterpinswang in the Tirol, we headed to the Swarovski crystal factory near Innsbruck. Although we enjoyed shopping in their on-site store, the actual crystal place we paid to enter was a huge disappointment. Our recommendation: don’t bother. It was a huge waste of money and time. It’s very avant garde with displays of strange mannikins covered in crystals, very small-time light shows and average music … we didn’t get it. We thought we’d get to see the making of the famous crystal objects, but there wasn’t a craftsman in sight. Also, as seems to be common in Europe, the organization and display of their sales materials is very inadequate. Big chaos. Oh, well.

Following Innsbruck, we began to head through the Brenner Pass into Italy. We descended through the mountains for the next couple of hours … constantly going downhill. The Brenner Pass itself is an unbelievable feat of engineering. The roadway snakes through the pass and down the valleys … four lanes across … at a fairly even rate of descent and basically clinging to the valley wall. Almost the entire way is built up above the valley floor, as if you’re travelling on a high bridge for miles and miles. It’s nothing short of spectacular. Unfortately, we did it in rain.

Soon after we entered Italy, we noticed that the homes and farm buildings tended to look more broken down, and not well looked after. This seems to hold true for most of what we’ve seen in this country. That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t attractive places, just that the cultural tendency seems not to focus on building exteriors. It was quite a change from what we’d seen in northern Europe.

We drove most of the day through rain, at times very heavy and windy. Then, as we left the mountains near Verona, the storm finished passing us by. However, we then changed our direction and headed east toward Venice, chasing after the storm. As we drew closer and closer to this famous city, we overtook the storm and drove again in heavy rains. Despite the poor visibility, we managed to find Venice itself and parked in one of their only parking lots (cars are not permitted on Venice’s islands). We loaded up with the backpacks we were using for our two days in Venice and began to look for the route to the vaporetto (waterbus) so we could get to the hotel.

Picture this: We’re in Italy for the first time, we’re carrying our luggage, we’re blinded by the downpour and winds, we can’t find anyone who can direct us to the vaporetto (I’m not even sure which direction the water is), it’s getting late (after 6 pm), the information and banking facilities at the parking lot are closed, there are hordes of tourists waiting around for their tour busses in the pouring rain, we’re hungry, I can hardly read my map for the rain … You get the picture?

Even today, three days later, Mom keeps chuckling about her image of me — standing in the pouring rain, my hair hanging in strings, trying to read my map.

We finally stumbled on the vaporetto waiting area (by this time, we’re practically wading through the water), and found the right place to catch the boat. It arrived before long and we boarded with many, many other people. We all crowded into the covered sitting area, the windows were steamed up and there was no way to read the names of the vaporetto stops, it was crowded and we were very wet. It was so bad, I don’t think Mom thought about the boat capsizing and drowning once!

I had studied the map of Venice and knew (theoretically) where our hotel was. I knew that the boat we were on would take us down the Grand Canal. I knew our stop was called Academia and that it was located by the third of three bridges across the Grand Canal.

I kept peering out the doors and wiping away the mist from the windows and eventually was pretty sure it was time for us to disembark (neither the driver nor the assistant announce the stops). I was right and we stumbled onto semi-dry land. We stepped hesitantly into the street (walkway) and headed toward the building I was sure the hotel was in. I knew that the Hotel Galleria was located on one floor of the palazzo (palace) directly by the bridge. Logically, this meant there were other businesses or apartments located in the same building — more than one door. I also knew the building directly fronted the Canal, so that left three other sides of the building where we might find the door. But, there was the door we wanted right in front of us. What a relief! We could get our of the rain, I could dry my hair (absolutely soaked), and maybe we could find dinner!

Venice - The Rain Ends

Venice – The Rain Ends

Venice Walls

Venice Walls

A Venice Window

A Venice Window

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco

Venice Harbour

Venice Harbour

Venice's Grand Canal

Venice’s Grand Canal

St. Mark's Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica

A Small Canal in Venice

A Small Canal in Venice

Venice is terribly expensive. I had really looked to find a hotel that wasn’t the most expensive and that would give us the best experience and location for the money. I made the right choice in this case, but expected modest, if not plain and small, rooms. To our delight, the room we received looked out directly on the Grand Canal and was quite large. The ceiling was about 12 feet high and beautifully painted (with serious cracks at no added cost). The furniture was fancy, although a bit beat up. We enjoyed this room — even if the breakfast was meagre (croissants, rolls, a tiny bit of cheese, coffee).

Dad checked with the receptionist and she recommended a restaurant to us, just a few streets away. By this time it’s 7:30 pm. We found the restaurant quite easily (narrow alleys about four feet wide, Momspeak — “Rick, do you know where you’re going? Rick, we can’t go in there! Janice, what do we do now?” Dad just kept going and we followed.).

We were disappointed to find that the restaurant was “completo” or full. We didn’t have a reservation. They were willing to prepare a couple of small pizzas to take back to our room and we were happy enough with this. But, while we were waiting for the pizzas, a table became available, so we got to eat in style after all. However, by this time, we realized we were way too tired to enjoy a leisurely meal, so we settled for a small serving each of spagetti with salmon. It was delicious.

Let me break into this description of our time in Venice (or Vienna) as Mom and Dad keep mistakenly calling it, to tell you about restaurant meals in Europe. I call these dinners “Meat on a Plate.” We’ve been served German Meatballs (one large finely ground somewhat flattened meat pattie in the middle of a dinner plate, surrounded by a sea of gravy), veal all by itself on a dinner plate, salmon and fish from the Gulf of Liguria on a plate, venison on a plate, deer on a plate, sausage on a plate … and so on. If there are any vegetables involved (which isn’t always), they’re served separately or earlier or later. We never get all the food at once or together. Very disorienting.

Last night we had the Gulf fish on a plate served with a huge scoop of mayonnaise. The food is all delicious, but the serving of it is a constant surprise. Another surprise to us is the fact that everything is charged separately, including condiments. McDonalds charges extra for ketchup. The nice restaurant we went to the first night in Venice charged for the bread they had left us on the table. One helpful thing is to order from the Tourist Menu. Really helpful for tired, confused tourists. They give you several options in several courses. You just point to one for each course and you pay one set price for the whole meal. Good system. I’ll come back to this later.

Back to Venice. We had a great sleep and after the meagre breakfast headed out for the main sight in town, Piazzo San Marco. Actually, the entire town of Venice is one big sight. There’s so much to see and, as Mom kept saying, “It’s SO old!” But, most tourists head first to the St. Mark’s Basilica and the area around it. You’ve probably seen all the photos — pigeons everywhere. One landed on my shoulder. The enormous piazza (or courtyard) is full of tourists, even first thing in the morning. We saw a long, long line of them standing patiently down half the piazza. So, of course, we joined them!

While Mom & Dad held our place, I walked to front to discover that we were waiting to enter (free) the church itself. Good choice! I went back and joined them for a while, and then decided to go and see if I could find tickets for us to tour the Doge’s Palazzo next door. This was another good choice.

While Mom and Dad continued to stay in line and fight off the pigeons, I wandered around the palazzo in search of the ticket office. I eventually found it and joined the line-up for tickets — I hoped. There were no signs and I was just guessing I was in the right place. It’s good I went early; when we did enter the palazzo an hour later, the line-up was about four times longer. So I stood in line. And stood. And stood. I kept wondering if I should give up and go back to Mom and Dad. But I stood. Finally, I was one person away from the ticket seller (again, really bad organization). That one person in front of me engaged in a classic, stereotypical Italian exchange. The woman wanted to buy tickets for two adults and three students. The seller explained the students had to have student ID. The woman insisted the seller could use her eyes and see that they were students. The seller waved the printed ticket rules in front of the woman’s face. They began to yell at each other. The woman dragged two of her kids to the ticket window and yelled that of course they were students, any fool could tell. The ticket seller yelled at the woman. The ticket seller yelled at her fellow ticket sellers. I simply watched in awe and hoped they wouldn’t yell at me.

Finally, it was my turn. I didn’t dare ask for seniors’ prices! I meekly asked if we could enter at any time (many tourist sights have timed entrances, where you can only enter at the specific time printed on your ticket). The ticket seller was very calm and told me any time today would do. I heaved a sigh of relief, grabbed the tickets and ran back to Mom and Dad, sending pigeons into flight with every step!

This adventure had taken so long, Mom and Dad were first in line many times! We entered the church and were really taken with the spectacular mosaics on the floor (they’re very famous), not to mention the rolling floor. It feels as if you’re walking on rippled ice. The years of winter flooding and the settling of the subsoil at this part of Venice has given a pronounced roll to the floor. The “peaks” of the floors are about 20 feet apart. It’s the most peculiar feeling. Dad keeps wondering about the basic structure of the building. We didn’t notice any other problems with the walls or ceilings at this location.

After admiring the church, we headed over to the Doge’s Palace and were really impressed with what we saw there. Big, big, big paintings, including the largest canvas painting in the world (by Tintoretto), lots of 24-carat gold ceilings, marble staircases, more paintings (travel writer Rick Steeves calls them wallpaper). Venice in her heyday had a larger city gross product 50% greater than the entire country of France at that time. It was the most powerful political entity in Europe. That was back about 600 years ago.

After all this walking (it was about 45 minutes to and from the piazze and hotel) we headed back to our room for a rest. (Lunch was a sandwich eaten on the cold marble steps of the piazza, again fighting off pigeons.) Walking in Venice is a challenge. There are innumerable canals, crisscrossed by small bridges that are always arched and stepped (hard for Mom). The bridges are always arched in order to accommodate the classic gondolas and other boats. We had hoped to have one of those expensive gondola rides but, after stopping on one bridge to watch them course past (with singing gondoliers!), we decided against it. We could smell a lot of fish. And other things. So, on we walked.

We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon riding the vaporetto — a great way to view the palazzos — and getting lost in the back alleys, before riding the vaporetto again. It was a lot of fun.

In the evening, we went back to a square we’d found, Campo San Stefano. It had lots of late afternoon sun and a restaurant that served food on a Monday! Most restaurants are closed Mondays. I can’t imagine what they think tourists do on these days. Fast? We had a great meal with live music (accordian, clarinet, & 2 guitars) and headed home to our room where we hung out our windows and watched the boat traffic.

Sunset on the Grand Canal

Sunset on the Grand Canal

The next morning, we rode the vaporetto like experienced Venetians back to the car park and headed across Italy to the Italian Riviera. We took some back roads and saw rural, pastoral Italy.

At one point, we stopped for lunch in a little trattoria, or cafe. I think it was the Italian equivalent of a truck stop. Mom and I had our first experience with a toilet that was just a hole in the floor. We opened the door, took one look, and hurried back to the table. “We can wait,” we told Dad. And we did! That town we discovered later was a walled city built in the 1500’s (I looked it up).

Soon after that, we got back onto the Autostrada (big toll highway) where they have much better bathrooms and headed through beautiful hills and mountains to the coast — where we are now.

The Cinque Terre (five lands) is a very old, very remote part of Italy at the bottom end of the Italian Riviera. These towns were first mentioned in some early Roman writings. They’re actually five tiny fishing villages that cling to steep cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea. The big attraction is their remote location, the beautiful coast and the trail that snakes from town to town. They’re barely accessible by car. Some of them aren’t accessible by car! Need I mention that Mom was seriously traumatized by the drive here? Probably not. I imagine you’ve noticed the pattern so far.

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso Windows

Monterosso Windows

Monterosso Door

Monterosso Door

Monterosso Street

Monterosso Street

The View from the Top of Our Monterosso Hotel

The View from the Top of Our Monterosso Hotel

We’re staying in Monterosso al Mare and it took about 20 km of snaky, skinny roads to get here. Sometimes there was room for two cars to pass, sometimes not. Mom’s one consolation is that on the way out tomorrow, our car will mostly be on the “inside” side of the road.

This morning, Dad and I planned to take the local train to town number 5 (we’re in number 1) and hike at least one or two parts of the trail. Unfortunately, a few minutes after we left the hotel, the skies opened and we had another heavy rain. We gave up on the trails and found this internet cafe instead. Oh well, we’ve enjoyed wandering this little village, with its crooked streets and very vocal residents.

Just in closing for now, let me tell you about supper last night. Our room includes not only breakfast, but supper as well. We arrived in the dining room on time and were shown to our own table. There was a menu waiting for us … tourist menu style. Our only problem was twofold: the menu had not a word of English and neither did the waitress. We finally deciphered enough to pick out meat vs fish dishes, but our primary way of choosing our dinner selections was, as Mom says, to close our eyes and put a finger to the list of options … “I’ll have … that one!” It worked pretty well! The tiramisu (dessert) was fabulous. I think I’ll have that again tonight.

Well, we’d better sign off for now. I think I see a little sunshine peeking into this dark hole filled with computers. (This place is so Italy … the music being played in this internet cafe is loud opera. It’s great!)

Love to you all!

Loire Valley, France
June 14, 2001

Well, this will probably be our last message from on the road. We have only three more nights here in Europe before heading home. I think sending these messages hase been as much fun for us as it has (I hope) been for you! In fact, I’ll bet Mom and Dad get their own computer pretty soon!

Now, let me bring you up to date on the last week of our adventures.

We left Monterosso early the nezt morning and snaked back out of the hills of the Cinque Terre. Our plan was to drive again on the Autostrada north into France along the Cote d’Azur. This highway is non-stop tunnels. If we went through one, we went through a hundred. This is no exaggeration. The countryside is beautiful in between tunnels. But, when you consider the alternative — driving up and down those snaky roads — Mom was just as glad to keep the tunnels.

We reached the French Riviera by early afternoon and checked into our hotel in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, just outside of Monte Carlo. The hotel has a very unFrench name: Hotel Westminster. Our room looked over the Mediterranean Sea and the hotel had a spectacularly beautiful garden of roses and cacti and bougainvillea and other semi-tropical plants clinging to the hillside over the blue, blue sea. What a place.

Monaco

Monaco

Cote d'Azur Rose

Cote d’Azur Rose

That afternoon, we drove the one kilometer into the town/country of Monaco and spent the afternoon walking around the old city outside the Grimaldi Palace. We also watched a short tourist movie about the history of Monaco. It was really quite interesting.

I also found it quite ironic that Dad loved this hotel location. When we were planning this trip, he specifically told me we should stay away from urban locations. I had planned two nights in Roquebrunne, but changed it because of his preferences. What did he tell me when we arrived here, but that he’d love to spend several days here. Too bad! What was really too bad was that on Friday, the day we left Roquebrune, Dad put his back out schlepping the luggage down to the car. His immediate thought was: “Oh, no. Dr. G. isn’t even in the office today!”

That morning we drove on along the French Riviera (lots of villas, expensive cars, and palm trees) and on into Provence. We were headed for the town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a town located near Avignon.

Provence, a famous district of southern France, is somewhat arid to our eyes, has many rocky outcrops and escarpements and vineyard after vineyard after orchard (apricots, pears, lemons, etc) after olive grove after more vineyards. It’s quite beautiful, especially around Avignon.

Before we went to our hotel, we made a slight detour to visit Les-Baux-de-Provence, the location of a medieval ruin. This ancient village and fortress is located at the top of one of those rocky hills (actually, the tail end of the mountain range known as the Alpilles). It was extremely windy and I had a lot of pebbles in my teeth by the end of our visit. However, it was a remarkable place. Apparently, one of the episodes in its history includes destruction because it was a stronghold of the Protestants during the religious wars.

The next morning we visited another ancient location almost at the foot of the Baux hill, a ruined town named Glanum. Glanum was originally the site of a Celtic settlement and is so named because they worshipped a god named Glani there. This was about the 7th century BCE. A few hundred years later, the town became a Greek settlement and, by about 300 BCE, it was taken over by the Romans. It was during this time that it had its heyday. However, the barbarians (early French, I presume) destroyed it in the 4th century CE and eventually it was covered with earth. It was not really rediscovered again until about 1921. Today, you can tour the ruins and see the remains of the town. However, if you’ve seen something like Jerash in Jordan, as I have, these ruins are nothing to write home about.

Roman Ruins at Glanum

Roman Ruins at Glanum

Our hotel in Isle-sur-Sorgue, was quite modern (about 1960’s, we thought) but was located directly on the River Sorgue. Lots of ducks. This is a remarkable town. The river flows into town. It flows through the town. It flows out of the town. It flows around the town. There are many different branches. We had a lovely supper in an outdoor cafe that was right on the edge of the water (quiche and salad). We never really figured out if the river was coming or going, but it sure was interesting. It really reminded Dad of Venice, except the water was crystal clear and flowing very quickly.

Sorgue Street

Sorgue Street

We spent the rest of our afternoon washing our clothes. But not in the river!

The next day was a long one.

We were headed north to the beautiful Dordogne area of France, but stopped first at the Pont-de-Gard not far from Avignon. Pond-de-Gard was discovered and somewhat restored at least 200 years ago. It is the largest remaining stretch of Roman aquaduct in the world. Dad was mesmerized. It is very impressive. It spans a medium sized river — about 150 feet wide — but the aquaduct was very high and spans the river’s valley. It was designed to carry fresh water over 35 miles to the Roman city of Nimes and dropped 1 foot for every 300 feet it travelled. Truly fascinating.

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard

The rest of the day was spent driving on small, twisty back roads through very rugged country (the story of Mom’s life). It was beautiful! One stop we made was to visit the tiny village that has a museum of French Protestant resistence that took place during the 1500’s. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes after noon — it was closed for their mid-day break. The story of our lives! So we kept driving.

A Village in the French Massif

A Village in the French Massif

We finally reached our destination at about 7:30 pm. Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne is a tiny village deep in the French countryside in the Massif Central — a very hilly region. We stayed for three nights at Chateau d’Arnac (a few km north of town), a real fairytale castle. It was built orginally in the 11th century, and rebuilt in the 15th century. It has turrets, an incredible spiral staircase with stone steps that are extremely hollowed out by use; you can hardly walk on them. Our room was on the third floor — up the spiral steps (Mom made one trip a day) and looked out over the pond, seven geese, three cats, four kittens and one pregnant dog. Sheep and pigs were elsewhere. The owner is English and gave a really English breakfast of bacon and eggs! We rejoiced.

Castle Arnac

Castle Arnac

Castle Arnac

Castle Arnac

Castle Arnac

Castle Arnac

Castle Arnac Steps

Castle Arnac Steps

Arnac Roses

Arnac Roses

Our first day we had reservations to visit La Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, a cave with ancient cave paintings. They only allow 200 visitors a day due to our steamy breath and germy hands which contribute to the deterioration of the paintings. As we headed slowly toward the cave, we savoured the fabulous countryside, admiring the numerous castles and chateaux. Then, we quite unexpectedly noticed a long rock ridge running along the valley through which we were driving. It was high up the rock face and there seemed to be people standing on the rock edge itself. We starting wondering what it was. Maybe an archeological site! Then we realized the people weren’t working, just standing there. So we decided to check it out.

Roque Chrystophe

Roque Chrystophe

As we approached the location on very narrow roads, I noticed a a small sign indicating it was the site of troglodyte dwellings. These, for the uninformed, are cave dwellings. We decided to learn more and spent a fascinating hour learning about how people have lived on this barren rock ridge for centuries, if not millennia. Some of the more recent residents included, our friends, the Protestant Resisters. Earlier residents included people who organized an incredible warning system They had positions located down the valley and could, using horns, send in about five minutes a warning signal over 18 km to let their people in the valley know that the Vikings were coming and give them time to reach safety in the rock dwellings! This is the largest troglodyte location in the world. It is over one kilometer long, five levels in height and had over 100 dwellings. It is definitely worth visiting: La Roche Saint-Cristophe.

We did finally make it to the cave drawings at the Font-de-Gaume. They were also fascinating and included beautiful drawings of many bison and deer. It was moving to try to imagine the effort the artists took to create these masterpieces. The people who run the cave believe they were made 14,000 years ago. Whenever it was, it took true artists. As I mentioned earlier, visitors to this cave are very restricted. We were not permitted to touch the walls and certainly not the paintings. About once a year, they use some kind of antibiotic to disinfect the cave. They expect that this cave will be closed to visitors altogether sometime in the not too distant future. I’m glad we had the chance to visit it.

The next morning, after descending the scoopy stone staircase, and walking carefully through the goose poop to the car, we drove to yet another cave. This time, Mom waited in the car while Dad and I visited the Gouffre de Padirac. Mom knew she’d had enough of dark enclosed spaces and too many stairs. She read her book and had a nap in the car while she waited.

Gouffre Padirac

Gouffre Padirac

The Padirac cave is actually a gynormous sinkhole, at the bottom of which is a spectacular underground river. The sink has existed for thousands of years. It is 35 meters across (about 100 feet) and about 100 meters deep (a meter is about a yard).

After Dad and I walked down the 455 stairs to the bottom (we could have taken an elevator, but wanted to feel the distance), we walked about 400 meters into the cave along the river. At this point, we joined other tourists in small boats that were poled like gondolas in Venice. The guide poled us along the river another half a kilometer (we’re guessing at this distance) where we disembarked and were led through the caverns. They are nothing less than unbelievable. The largest cavern could hold an entire cathedral. It is huge. The stalagmites and stalactites are larger than you can imagine. I won’t event try to remember the measurements.

We returned again by way of the boats and then wimped out and took the elevators back up to the surface. Dad noted that, while the Font-de-Gaume artists were wonderful, they were nothing to compare to The Artist Who created this masterpiece.

This whole region is full of tiny villages perched precariously on rock faces, sometimes built right into them. Everywhere we turned, we saw further marvels. Words fail.

A Village Near Arnac

A Village Near Arnac

A Sleeping Dog Near Arnac

A Sleeping Dog Near Arnac

Today we left our fairytale castle with regret and drove further north into the Loire Valley, a region famous for its elegant chateaux and vineyards. Tonight and tomorrow night we’re staying at Chateau de la Voute, a 15th century chateau that is much more elegant than the previous castle. Our room’s theme is Napoleon, and we actually have a two-bedroom suite. This means I don’t need to listen to anyone’s snoring but my own. As soon as we finish this message, we’re going to head back to our very elegant B&B and, tomorrow we’ll tour at least one of the most famous chateaux in the region.

Chateau de la Voute

Chateau de la Voute

Chateau de la Voute

Chateau de la Voute

One last note. We forgot to tell you about a fightening sight we saw in Germany just by the Ludwig castles. We were driving past them, back to our hotel when we stopped to watch some parasailers. One was flying much higher than the other and, just as we watched, he made a quick turn and seemed to lose all the air from one side of his parasail. He began to spin and careen out of control and fell very rapidly. It only took moments, but all we could do was cry out: “Oh, oh, oh, he’s falling”. Just as we instinctively prayed that the Lord would save him, he fell behind a hillside and then we caught a brief sight of a parachute. We think he made it down safely, although perhaps with some injuries. We were quite shaken by this experience. It was horrifying I don’t think Mom plans to parasail too soon.

That’s all for now. I’ll make a final report when we return home this weekend. Five weeks have passed by quickly but wonderfully.

Love to all.

Loire Valley, France & Heading Home
July 3, 2001

Due to popular demand, we’re finally offering the final chapter to this travelogue. We’ve been home a couple of weeks, recovered from our jet lag, enjoyed some favourite North American foods (like toast-buttered-hot) and hearty fresh salads, connected (in person!) with family and friends and savoured our souvenirs. But we still haven’t told you about our last few days in France …

The day after we wrote our last transmission, we spent several hours at the Chateau Chenonceau in Chenonceaux, France. This chateau is also known as the Chateau of Women. It was built in the 1500’s, and, in a time when men had the primary role in fields such as architecture and finance, a number of prominent women were involved in the life of this chateau. One was Diane de Poitiers, a court favourite of Henri II. This French King gave her the chateau. (Interestingly, she also once stayed at our hotel, Chateau de la Voute!) One of the renovations she ordered was to have the chateau, which was located on the edge of the River Cher, connected to the opposite shore by a bridge. After the death of the king, the Dowager Queen, Catherine de Medici, re-took the chateau for the crown and had the bridge enclosed; it remains enclosed to this day. The chateau was cared for by series of royal women and it is considered to be the purest surviving example of the French Renaissance.

On the Grounds of Chateau Chenonceaux

On the Grounds of Chateau Chenonceaux

Rural France

Rural France

Chateau Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceau

We enjoyed our visit to Chenonceau. We didn’t rush our self-guided tour and peeped into every possible room, nook and cranny. It’s hard to imagine the lives of the people who lived here. You’re shown glimpses in the paintings and furniture, not to mention the floor tiles that were worn smooth by the queen’s Scottish guardsmen. But they seem so distant.

I felt this often during our weeks in Europe. Sometimes it was like watching TV only by reading the TV guide; you know something about the broadcasts, but not the details. I feel that I’ve studied the broad facts and trends of European history, but I’ve only seen hints of the many facets and nuances of European life. Sometimes we were separated from more intimate understanding by the limitations of travel (such as language barriers), but more often it was the separation of time (as in centuries).

Ah, well …

We’d made up our minds not to have any more late evening dinners; they don’t contribute to easy sleep. Instead, we decided to enjoy our main meal at noon at the Chenonceau restaurant, l’Orangerie. It’s located on the chateau grounds and is surrounded by beautiful lawns and trees. We sat on the patio in the shade of large umbrellas and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. I lost count of the silverware the waiters and waitresses brought us during the meal. There was a different piece of cutlery removed or placed for every course. We noted that, perhaps because tipping is not customary in much of Europe, we tended to be served by several individuals, not just one waiter or waitress. This made it much easier to obtain help during a meal. Not a bad system!

Driving to and from Chenonceau, we had a good view of the famous Loire Valley. I must admit that we weren’t terribly impressed. It’s lovely rolling farmland, but we appreciated the beauty of the Dordogne hills and valleys much more.

During our last full day in Europe, we drove north to Paris through more rolling and then quite level farmland. The only stop we planned was in Chartres to see the world famous cathedral. The cathedral is, indeed, spectacular. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and has unbelievably stained glass windows. They were actually removed and stored for safekeeping during the last wars. I was particularly struck by the difference between the ones that have been cleaned and restored and those that haven’t — almost night and day. However, the restoration work is a slow process, partly because of the cost involved: many millions of dollars.

Chartres

Chartres

Chartres

Chartres

A Catacomb

A Catacomb

As beautiful as the cathedral is, we found it rather disappointing; it seemed little more than a tourist attraction. It has become a focus for man’s achievement rather than the glory of God. In addition, the English tour guide recommended in a number of tour books and websites, was an enormous disappointment. Although he obviously knows everything there is to know about the cathedral and delivers his information in an easy-to-follow fashion, we found him to be rude, petty, inconsiderate of both paying tourists and other cathedral visitors, mocking of other countries and disrespectful of other faiths/faith practices (including the faith of those who built the cathedral). This experience put a sour note on this last day of our tour. We do not recommend the English tour guide. Go for the recorded audioguide or a good guidebook instead.

We spent our last night in Europe at a Comfort Inn near the Charles de Gaulle Airport — packing and enjoying our last hotel room picnic supper (camembert cheese on biscuits). I won’t even mention the evening rush hour traffic we fought our way through as we travelled through the Paris suburbs.

The next morning, we headed to the airport and went through the usual rigamarole. We opted to buy a upgrade for Mom’s ticket and got her booted forward to what passes for first class on Air Transat. While Dad and I sat with the plebes, Mom sat right behind the cockpit. Dad said that was so she could help them fly the plane, just like she helped him drive through Europe!

After an uneventful trip home (except for the change of planes in Montreal — don’t ask!), we were very, very happy to show our passports to the Canadian customs guy (he was actually friendly and smiled) and were met by a jubilant Krista. It took us about four or five days to readjust to this time zone, but readjust we did.

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to distance ourselves from our five weeks away, there are a few things that stand out in our minds:

  • The amazing places we found to enter our Internet travelogue, including a hot, airless attic above a dog grooming shop (we had to walk through the dog hair and up a dark twisty staircase to get to it).
  • My surprise at actually seeing Frenchmen wearing berets and riding bicycles home with their baguettes in the bicycle basket.
  • The frightening way motorcyclists drive — up the white line between lanes of fast moving traffic. They do this a lot!
  • The enormous help we had from the maps I’d downloaded from the computer. I used http://www.mapblast.com, but there are others. Check them out for both Europe and North America. They were more helpful in some countries than others, but they really saved us from huge map frustration on more than a few occasions.
  • The rain in Venice.
  • The Brenner Pass.
  • The frustration of typing on non-English keyboards.
  • My delight at being able to understand and communicate in European French.
  • The glow of the setting sun on the Germany mountains across the lake from the Ludwig musical theatre at intermission; everyone who saw it gasped.
  • The thrill of hearing Norwegian Beurlings speak of the family that moved away to Canada 100 years ago (that’s us!).

I posed a few questions to Mom and Dad last weekend. Here are our answers (Norway was not included because our visit there was in a class by itself!):

WHAT DID YOU MISS MOST WHILE IN EUROPE?

Mom … A good salad.

Dad … Knowing what was happening with family and friends.

Janice … Good coffee.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO ONE REGION OF EUROPE FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

Mom … Switzerland or Holland.

Dad … The rural areas of France.

Janice … Normandy or the Dordogne, France.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE SIGHTSEEING SPOT?

Mom … The Schilthorn in Switzerland [believe it or not!], Ludwig’s castles and the Wies Church in Germany, the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

Dad … The Schilthorn in Switzerland.

Janice … Zaans Schans and the Frans Hals Museum in the Netherlands. [Actually, it’s impossible to pick. Most were wonderful.]

WHERE WAS YOUR FAVOURITE SCENERY?

Mom … Germany (hills and trees).

Dad … Germany (hills and trees).

Janice … Dordogne (hills and trees).

[Slight pattern here!]

WHO WERE YOUR FAVOURITE EUROPEANS?

Mom … the French.

Dad … the French.

Janice … the French.

[More pattern! In fact, we were surprised to find that the French of Europe do not deserve their famous reputation for being rude and uncooperative. We found them to be unfailingly helpful, courteous and friendly.]

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE HOTEL?

Mom … The bakeoven house cottage on the farm in Gelderland, Holland. It was private, clean and comfy with everything we might need at hand. Also the cows were friendly!

Dad … The bakeoven house cottage in Gelderland.

Janice … It’s almost impossible to choose; but I was delighted with the hotel in Venice. It was much better than I’d anticipated. I also loved the hotel in Austria.

WHAT WERE YOUR FAVOURITE EUROPEAN FOODS?

Mom … The cheese and breads, venison, fish, ravioli, gelato.

Dad … Breakfast rolls with butter [he really liked those tough baguettes], cheese and meat on bread for breakfast [Of course, he’ll eat anything if he can get a piece of bread under it!], sauerkraut.

Janice … Great fish dinners and the different cheeses.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE OVERALL COUNTRY?

Mom … Holland, Switzerland.

Dad … Holland, Germany.

Janice … Holland, France.

So that’s it. We’ve run out of reminiscences to share! Actually, there’s a lot more we could share, but we don’t think we want to overload you any more than we have. If you want to know more, invite yourself over to watch Dad’s seven hours of video, or look through my four books of photos, or just drop me a e-line!

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