Archives for the month of: August, 2017

There were several highways circling the city and we eventually found our way in the old town to drop Robert and Gay at their hotel.
We then got a little further lost on our way out to our campsite of ‘Bon Accueil’. It was conveniently located about 15minutes from the city and for 2 euros you could use any public transport for the following 2hours. Most of the buses were either hybrids or electic and the bus drivers were all very helpful as the stops were not shown on board most of the buses.

We decided on the hop on hop off bus to get our bearings which covered the old town and the very large newer banking area of the city.
The centre of the city was spectacular with the wide and deep Petrusse valley running through the centre. We walked along the high part of the city to the ‘Pfaffenthal’ where a glass lift took us down to the valley where we walked for a couple of kilometres and back up to the high centre of the city. The Ducal palace was very close to the edge of the valley. The views up and down the valley were beautiful and most of it was a green belt with many recreational facilities. There were some houses on the sides of the valley and down at it’s base. It was a tranquil and leafy area in which to wander and see the huge town walls and city from below.
I ventured down to the ‘Casemates du Bock’ which were a vast series of underground passages and tunnels. Apparently 17kms of tunnels still exist from the original 23kms and are accessible from two areas.
The narrow stone spiral staircases were a bit claustrophobic but the passages were not too bad. The ‘casemates’ date back centuries but were also used as shelters during the second world war.

The city was full of cafes, bars and restaurants many of which were Italian. Many Italian and Portuguese moved years ago to Luxembourg years ago and settled in the city and the many foreign workers have been an integral part of the prosperity of the country which numbers about half a million inhabitants.

Near the campsite was an enormous construction site of many tall buildings and a metro which was being constructed. The whole area looked like another city. We had great weather for the three days we were in Luxembourg and were reluctant to leave. The city had a great atmosphere and the people were very friendly and helpful especially those in the service industry.

Luxembourg is our favourite city so far this year.

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An old bridge across the river was blocked off as we tried to get to our camping site of Meersen and we eventually found our way after a large detour. The campsite owner was a dour fellow who didn’t like living in the village of Meersen because the people were very parochial and made life difficult if they could according to him. He told us that there used to be a bus outside the site but the council deemed it no longer necessary so we used his services for a fee to get into Wyck, just across the bridge from the centre of Maastricht which is a beautiful little city which was overrun with some of the 12,000 university students who were attending an orientation day in and around the city. The student associations were very vocal where they had set up on the banks of the river and one group running around town in a piaggio ape with a megaphone trying to cajole new students into joining their association. It was a friendly and sober atmosphere but it was early in the day!

Maastricht apart from being a university city attracting students from all over the world is known as a shopping city and there were many tourists doing exactly that. The cafes, bars and restaurants were very popular too. We met up with Tabea a friend we had made in India and she led us to a popular chocolate/cafe which had every conceivable chocolate spoon mixtures. I had a hot chocolate with vodka and lime which was very tasty. She took us to a restaurant which had cleverly built the restaurant below ground around some ancient Roman ruins. Very enterprising.

We had been given conflicting information as to where to get off the train the next day which found the four of us catching the train forwards and backwards to get to the main station over the river in Wyck which was a short walk down the road and over the bridge into Maastricht city.

We walked extensively through the lovely parks bordering the river and found our way to the Waldeck bastion, a fort built
originally in 1690 and to the statue of D’Artagnan. Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan (c. 1611 – 25 June 1673) served Louis XIV as captain of the Musketeers of the Guard and died at the Siege of Maastricht in the Franco-Dutch War. We learn something new every day! In the Aldenhofpark there was a statue of a girl caressing a dead giraffe. This was surrounded by a dry moat with other statues of animals. Very strange and we could find no explanation for it all.

We caught the train back to Meersen and found a Greek restaurant at which to eat which was lucky as most restaurants out of the city were closed on Monday. A lot of the local shops were closed until 1pm on Monday and closed at 6pm.

We stopped on the way down to Luxembourg across the German border at Aachen or in French Aix-la-Chapelle. We parked in a very ordinary looking part of town but followed the signs to the old town which held a treasure trove of medieval buildings some which had been built for Charlemagne.

From there we headed back into Belgium and to Bastogne, a pretty town now with brightly coloured umbrellas hanging over the main street and a town which figured largely in Battle of the Bulge in WWII.
This was our last stop in Belgium before entering the country of Luxembourg and then the city of Luxembourg.

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On Wednesday 16th August we drove the quieter roads to our campsite in Grimbergen about an hour away from the centre of Brussels.
We left the van and caught a bus to a metro station half an hour away. Our tickets were valid for an hour and we tried to get down to the platform without success even getting stuck between two doors (luckily one opened). We then realised that our ticket was not valid on the metro so bought another one.
We (who had managed ticketing machines in various countries) could not see how to get a ticket and although we could change the language to English, nothing further was shown in English. There was no one around to ask for help so we went up the escalator into a small corner shop and the foreign shopkeeper was most helpful. He locked his shop and came down with us and showed us the strange method of turning a dial to the ticket that you needed. We missed a couple of trains in the meantime but made it into Metro Louize and down the Avenue Louise to meet our friends Robert and Gay who were staying in Brussels city.

We found a restaurant “Le Rouge Tomate” and sat in the garden for a long and delicious lunch and Robert and I managed a bottle of red.
From there we walked quite a long way to find the “Horta” museum which was Mr Horta’s house. He was an architect and the house was an amazing three storey work of art – beautiful woodwork, lighting, metal work and interesting stained glass. Every aspect of the house was beautiful.
We finished off the day at a small Brussels pub not far away and tried a few different beers – the cherry beer was the only one we thought was like fizzy cough medicine. Maurice and I were lucky to catch the metro back in time to catch the bus back to the campsite as there was only one bus an hour.
We had a lot of rain in the morning so we walked into Grimsbergen and around the quaint town.

Another rainy day in Brussels greeted us but we went into the city this time by bus and tram which took about an hour and we met Robert and Gay at the Grand Place, a beautiful square in the middle of the city. We met our guide together with many others who had braved the rain for our free walking tour. There are a lot of large squares in the old part of the city surrounded by interesting architecture. There were wide boulevards but a lot of the city had cobblestones which we were glad to get off later in the day.
We had a nice lunch at ‘Publico’ tasting another of the thousands of Belgian beers available in the city. One of the many museums had an exhibition of Matritte’s surrealist art. It was interesting to see but some of the surrealism was a bit too much for me.

On our way back to the metro we saw an acrobatic couple performing when the traffic stopped at a major intersection. The military were out in force all over the city and at that intersection but they didn’t seem to mind them there at all.

In the morning we picked up Robert and Gay and headed for Leuven and then on to Maastricht. It was market day in Leuven and it had a beautiful historical town centre with a very large church with interesting spires in the main square. We had a coffee (the Belgians make a strange cappuccino with a ton of cream on top). One cafe even refused to make it with milk and another one said that their barista was on holiday and was the only one who knew how to froth the milk. Very weird.
We bought some good fruit from a couple of Tunisian brothers and left for Maastricht.

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It was only about an hour and a half’s drive from Antwerp to Ghent. It was odd that we couldn’t find an open cafe or bakery on the way at 9am. We arrived at the campsite in Blaermoersen, an area by a canal with large sporting complexes nearby.
It was a well run, leafy campsite and we were there by 10am. We took the bus into the old historical centre – the ‘Korenmarkt’ and found a hairdresser to do the needful (as they say in India) for Maurice and me.

We had looked at the weather forecast and saw that the following day was going to be a rainy one so we spent the rest of the day
exploring the city (having been given a good map with a walking guide). In between we sampled one sort of famous Belgian waffles (a crisp affair with icing sugar – and apparently the tourist version with fresh fruit and cream). It was from the oldest establishment making waffles called “Max”and the price definately reflected this. It wasn’t our cup of tea so to speak but at least we had sampled them. The Liege waffles were denser and not crispy and they were more to our liking.
We wore good walking shoes as much of the city is made up of cobblestones, albeit rectangular ones but still not comfortable on which to walk.
It was a fine day and there were many tourists in the city and sitting along the waterways which gave it a festival like atmosphere.
To make the most of the day we walked our feet off and ended up at Citadel Park to the south of the city where I sampled another of the beers from one of the 1000 breweries in Belgium. We couldn’t visit the city’s tallest building the “book tower” which houses 46kms of books as it was being renovated. Before the renovation they had to move the books so excavated three floors underground to house them. The city pavillion in the centre was a contemporary structure with the bell tower on one side and St Nicholas’ church on the other. All throughout the city centre and along the canals were many medieval streetscapes.
We happened to meet up again with a lovely Romanian, Alin who we met on our walking tour of Antwerp. We caught the tram back to the city centre and made our way back exhausted to the campsite about 7pm while it was still light.

We were on the money as the following day it started to pour before we got up and continued for most of the day so it was a relaxing one with me doing the washing and Maurice washing all the van windows and sitting in the cafe which had some strange fare – dagsoep, spaghetti scampi curry and toast kaanibal garni. We had a snack of fries and I tried another blond beer.
We had a bit of a drama in the campsite one night. We were woken by a lot of noise around midnight. A large tree branch had partially fallen near our next door neighbours and they had called emergency services who set up their floodlights and used a long ladder and a chainsaw to cut down the offending
branch. We didn’t get a lot of sleep that night.

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Travelling through many small towns in Belgium it struck us that by far the most popular restaurants along the way were Chinese and Italian ones whereas in Antwerp city there was an abundance of every kind of cuisine. We even saw a shop selling Australian icecream which I never thought of as being an Australian specialty.
Our campsite was only 15minutes from the city and we met an 81year old Englishman who had been coming to the campsite for 37years. It may have been new at that time but now it was a fairly tired looking place.
We got into the old part of the city early and walked from Rooseveldplaat down to Groeneplaat or main square where the closing festival for Antwerp Pride was being set up for later in the day. We found a wonderful bakery/cafe one street away from the main square. We could sit and watch the baker at work at the back of the cafe while enjoying a glass of prosecco with my breakfast. A pity this isn’t possible in Australia with it’s liquor laws! There was also an abundance of Belgium pubs and Belgium chocolate shops.
We joined a small group on a two hour free walking tour and our guide Bart was excellent in showing us the most historically important parts of the city as well as giving us much information of the history of Antwerp and it’s legends involving giants,demons and their deeds.
At the end of the tour Bart our guide gave us coupons for a free beer and I wanted to try a Belgian beer so we made our way to ‘Elfde Gebod’ beer restaurant which was covered inside with the most amazing collection of religious statues. Very unusual to say the least but the blonde beer I had was excellent. There was a lot of music in the main square from 1.30pm and in various locations which made for a festival atmosphere. There were thousands of people in the city but it was still comfortable walking along the main shopping street which was very wide.

We retraced our steps to spend more time exploring the Unesco museum of the publishing house of Plantin/Moretus which was fascinating and very opulent with leather embossed wall coverings and extensive wood panelling in the myriad of rooms and to Pedro Paolo Reubens beautiful house with many of his works. We bought some Belgium chocolate from ‘The Chocolate Line’ a very
expensive establishment which was previously a rich merchant’s house until Napoleon took it over and had it remodelled as the Royal Palace however he never lived there. There was also a cafe with a lovely outdoor area and the chocolate shop and a room where you could see the chocolate being made.

We found it interesting that Van Gogh had to learn how to paint and with mental illness had a sad life with little reward whereas Rembrandt was a naturally talented artist who taught many students and was very successful as was Ruebens who had to refuse many students because he was so sought after and whose students after the initial sketch worked extensively on the painting only to be retouched by Ruebens. Only the more important commissions were done exclusively by him. His house was enormous with a beautiful garden which had been carefully recreated.

Our guide told us that he thought the most beautiful train station in Europe was the one in Antwerp so after taking the metro in the wrong direction and then missing the stop (as it was not called ‘Central station’ on the platform but ‘Astrid”) we finally ended up in the station which was not only a magnificent building but it had platforms on three levels. One peculiar aspect on some of the metro lines was the use of trams. It did seem odd to see a tram on the underground.

Antwerp was definately a city worth visiting for it’s friendly people, the architecture and an interesting historical city centre.

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We had been told about the cheese market held on a Friday in Alkmaar (about 40mins from Amsterdam) and after blocking a parking area with several cars behind us -argh! we found a parking spot for the day. The parking lot took debit cards but it wouldn’t take foreign ones and many shops only took maestro cards even though they had credit card terminals – very frustrating – back to the ATM again.

We were glad that we got to the market early enough to taste cheeses without thousands of hands delving into the samples and we duly bought a few different cow and goat cheeses for Maurice. We were able to get a seat on the grandstand to have a more or less uninterrupted view of the weighing and movement of the large cheeses (15kgs each one). We couldn’t believe how many tourists came to the Waagplein or weighing square to watch the proceedings which have been taking place since 1365 with over 2000 cheeses to be weighed and made ready for sale. The men working there belong to a guild. The rest of the proceedings were a bit too touristy for us so we left and fought our way through the crowds to walk around the old town which was charming.

We couldn’t get over how welcoming, helpful and friendly everyone was in Holland. Most people chatted to us as well as giving you the necessary information which was very refreshing in a city like Amsterdam or town like Alkmaar so crowded with tourists.
Our saga of our flydoor continued so we went to DV Stelling, a caravan and motorhome seller and where repairs could be done. Half an hour later Richard had made an improvement to the door and he also made us a coffee/hot chocolate first and let us use their kitchen.
He didn’t charge us for the job so we gave him something and told him to buy himself a beer. Such prompt and good service!

Maurice was paid a compliment by the guys at Vodafone. He had bought a new phone in Wilemshaven and needed some assistance with it. The sales guy asked him if he didn’t mind telling him his age because he said that Maurice knew knew so much and could tell him a few things! From someone who could just open a computer and type an email a few years ago!
He told us that strictly speaking only the area around Amsterdam and the western coast was referred to as Holland. Further east and south it was known as the Netherlands.

We passed Schipol airport on the way to Alkmaar and we had both never seen so many planes landing, taking off and in the air at the same time. It is one of the busiest airports in Europe and has one the most sophisticated radar computer controlled systems.

We left Amsterdam to travel to Nijmegen (the oldest town in Holland, over 2000years old as documented by the Romans). It was a bit of a non event as there was so much rain we could see very little so decided to go on to Waalwijk where my maternal great grandfather was born. He later emigrated to England. I have a pipe bowl with his name and the date 1823 Waalwijk. I went there 22years ago with my mother and found the archive department where we traced in a couple of hours back to 1650 with the assistance of two staff there. The town had become very affluent and was quite different from 22years ago.
We had a good walk around town and then left to drive to Antwerp. People in the town said we were lucky that we were going south as the day was known as Black Saturday because people were returning north from holidays and school was due to start on the Monday.
We too were glad as there was little traffic southbound. It was still raining so we took the highway. The highways were in excellent condition but the some of the smaller roads were made up of concrete sections which were not so comfortable to drive on.

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It didn’t take us long to drive down to Amsterdam and to ‘Gaasper camping” an enormous campsite with 350 pitches and whhich was extremely well run.
We were near an area of thousands of highish rise appartments where a proportion of the 350,00 Surinamese descended population lived.
Suriname was part of the Netherlands kingdom until 1975 when mass migration took place with Surinamese moving to the Netherlands looking for better living conditions. Apparently most of the people have Dutch passports and have integrated into Dutch society.

It was only a 7minute walk to the metro station and about 25minutes into the centre of Amsterdam. There was much construction of units and a lot of reconstruction underway in the city which was full of tourists. First we went to the ‘Bloemenmarkt’ which was for me a disappointment as apart from many tulip and other floral bulbs for sale they had only one very poor fresh flower stall. We did an hour’s boat trip around the canals and got our bearings and then did a three hour free walking tour which we find to be the best way of seeing any city. Tijs was an excellent guide for the 12 of us on the tour and we got our exercise as it was done at a good clip to get around much of the inner city. We had to constantly dodge bikes,cars and other tourists and we crossed over a few of the 1000 bridges in the city. He showed us the Desso 40metre carpet runner in the Schutter museum with each patch representing the 179 nationalities living in Amsterdam and of course the red light district with the girls in the windows as well as part of the University which was previously the headquarters for the Dutch East India Company. He told us that Dutch society was a very tolerant one however that it was more tolerant years ago and not so much today.

It was cool in the shade but warm in the sun and we had a mostly blue sky for the whole day.
There were hundreds of legal boats moored in the canals with electricity and water supplied but the water was a dirty brown colour everywhere. Not what I would like to wake up to in the morning.

Rain was forecast for the afternoon the next day so we went into the city and walked a good half hour and found “Bocca” coffee bar which had been recommended to us. There were several Aussies working there and the coffee was great. From there we walked to the vast ‘Vondelpark’ and had our picnic lunch before heading nearby to the ‘Van Gogh’ museum. We had luckily bought our tickets online as there were hundreds of people lined up waiting to buy them. The 3 floors covered a lot of what Van Gogh had sketched and painted and there was much information about the man,his life and his paintings. We learnt a lot that we didn’t know about him.
We spent a good three hours there before setting out in the rain to Mazzo restaurant to meet a friend Claudine, a dutch lady who we had met in India.
It was still raining when we left so we caught a tram back to the central station and the metro back to ‘Gaasperplas’ station near the camping ground. We could buy 24/48 or 72hour transport passes from the camping ground and although the metro lines were quite limited, the bus and tram system was excellent.

Wednesday was spring clean the van day in preparation for our friends who will join us in ten days time and the weather was kind to us.
Back to the city on Thursday to the Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandt van Rijn’s works and other Dutch masters – a wonderful building and museum. A lot of artifacts were from the Dutch East Indies and wonderfully intact wooden panelling and furniture from an Amsterdam house.
A whole room was dedicated to doll’s houses which were not for children but for wealthy ladies who wanted to show what was contained in their homes or what they wished for, for their homes. The craftmanship was amazing especially given the complexity of the minute items. We got there before 9am so managed to get around a couple of floors in about 3 hours before the masses arrived, again long queues for tickets. I don’t know why more people didn’t buy tickets online to avoid standing in a queue for hours

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Maurice wanted to visit Bremerhaven and after a visit to the fisherman’s harbour for lunch and to see the amazing array of seafood for sale we caught the bus to the centre and spent a few hours in the “Auswanderungs” museum which documented the emigration of Germans to all parts of the world. It focused mainly on the USA but Canada, Australia and South America also featured. It was very innovatingly set up with you being issued a boarding card with the name of two people and then you climbed the gangplank into the ship where you found information about the persons you became. It was thoroughly interesting and we really felt we were on a ship as much of the construction was from various ships. We stopped for the night south of Wilhelmshaven at a pretty and very well set up camping site on the Koenigsee a small lake. I wasn’t going to venture into the lake like one brave woman did.

The landscape in the north of Germany was very flat with vast tracts of crops of various kinds. This continued in Holland with many cows/sheep and horses grazing in the fields.

The weather for the previous two weeks was very changeable and very like Melbourne weather – four seasons in a day but at least it wasn’t really cold – around 19-25degrees. We had rain mainly at night and it didn’t stop us from any of our activities. The locals all said it was a lousy summer and unusual for the time of year. Seem to be a similar comment in the rest of the world too.

We happened upon a large Street Art competition and exhibition in Wilhelmshaven and the art gallery featured street art from Berlin which was quite interesting. We also bought a new Tom Tom as our old had had it. Many improvements had been made so it was a pleasure to use.
We travelled to Harlesiel on the North Sea and along the coast for a while and on to Nessmersiel where the tide was out. There was a string of islands off the coast of Germany and which continued along the Dutch coast. There was not a lot to see apart from the sheep grazing along the dyke.
We crossed the border into Holland the next morning on the 6th of August and drove down to Groningen which was an interesting town but being a Sunday morning the city was fairly empty. We had been recommended to go to Harlingen on the Waddenzee and were rewarded with seeing a lot of old Tall Ships coming into port after their racing weekend. The port was buzzing with people and there was a lot of traffic on the Afsluitdijk which crosses the inland sea and over to mainland Holland again.

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We took all day again to travel up to our next stop of Travemunde where we met up with an old friend. Again the countryside was full of hay bales or fields of crops either being harvested or waiting to be harvested.
The only drawback of travelling on the country roads was the likelihood of meeting up with tractors or farm machinery being driven on the rather narrow roads. We luckily were only stuck behind a tractor or truck for a short time. We arrived into Travemunde at 7.30pm and it was still a pleasant 27
degrees and sunshine.

We met with Baerbel and had a nice fresh fish meal at a very good, local restaurant just down the road from where she lives – being on the Baltic meant fresh fish!
We did a bit of shopping and then had the compulsory German tradition of coffee and cake later in the afternoon before catching the bus back to our campsite which was filling up. There must have been about 300 campers in caravans/motorhomes and tents. The next day,the 21st July was the start of the “Travemunde Woche” now a 10day event which has been a tradition in the town for 128years.

It involves sailing competitions with young to old sailors and all along the Baltic were more campers from the sailing fraternity.
There were many stands along the waterfront selling all sorts of food and drink and it turned into a sunny,hot day. We caught the passenger ferry
across to Prival. There was a lot of new development of blocks of apartments.

We had more fish for lunch (pickled Matjes herring for me) and walked to the “Passat” a steel barque Windjammer dating from 1911. Our friend Olaf in Norway sailed on her for 3months in 1961 when she was a training ship.
She now is a tourist attraction and stands in the harbour and cannot sail any longer. We caught the ferry back across the river and then went for afternoon coffee on the 35th floor of the “Maritime hotel” where we got a great view of the whole area. There were thousands of people enjoying the festivities down below.

The next day was a different kettle of fish with steady rain from 12noon. We managed with our friend to get a walk in along the rocky coast before it started. After lunch there was no point in staying in the rain so we caught the bus back to the campsite and chilled for the rest of the afternoon. We felt sorry for the poor stall holders.

On Sunday we left and made our way to the Schmidt hotel in Hamburg where our friends from Lohne – Marianne and Franz were staying before leaving for France the next day. It was great to have a catch up with them after a year.
We then went back up to Lubeck to stay with our friend Ruth and her family and catch up with more friends there. We had a week of eating, drinking, shopping, a cruise down the river and a visit to the “Hansa” museum, an extensive and very interesting multi level museum describing the trade and movement of people around Lubeck and the Baltic area over hundreds of years.
Lubeck is a beautiful city with many original and renovated old houses with a very particular style and there are many lanes and small streets to explore.

Unfortunately for us and many other foreign tourists, many shops and establishments do not take any credit cards other than a German EC card. Some shops traded in cash only and receipts were issued sometimes still using carbon paper! This meant frequent visits to the ATM which was sometimes a real nuisance. We even went to the trouble a couple of years ago to get an Irish bank account with an Irish debit card but that wasn’t accepted either. Shops other than the bakeries are all shut on Sunday and even service stations. A lot of shops in towns also close from 1-3pm on weekdays as well. Very frustrating at times when you forget and are not used to it.

Our next stop was Dollern to our old friend Helga who at 82 and after breaking her shoulder in three places and her wrist was back in top form and she still drove extremely fast and well. We had a lovely five days there and visited the other three generations of her family as well as our other friend Helmut (a former ship’s captain) and his family.

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