Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Colorado and New Mexico

We left Moab after much rain and a minor warranty repair to the truck and headed for Durango. The purpose of going to Durango was not to ride the famous train (we've already done that), but to buy some Indian pottery at a store in Silverton that has a great sale at the end of the season. We managed to meet that goal and spent too much on some beautiful pottery. From Durango, it was on to Santa Fe, where we are now. After another trip to the Ford dealer for the same problem, (you can't expect them to get it right the first time) we took the day and drove to Taos and toured the pueblo. Once again we spent too much on Indian pottery.
Tomorrow we head south to Albuquerque to visit with friends and to take care of some business for son Eric. Then on Saturday we head home, hoping to arrive sometime Sunday afternoon.
We have no adventures planned until next April (Hawaii), so this blog might be pretty quiet, but you never know.
TAOS PUEBLO

SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS NEAR SILVERTON

SILVERTON - DURANGO TRAIN
WHICH RAN THROUGH THE MIDDLE
OF OUR RV PARK

Monday, October 16, 2006

Walk in the Park

Well, around 4:40 it looked like the rain would hold off, so we decided to hike the 1-1/2 miles up the slick rock to Delicate Arch to get a sunset photo. On the 45 minute hike up the hill, the clouds were approaching, but we figured we had plenty of time before it started raining. Rrrrright. We got the the arch and snapped a few photos before we lost the light. Why? Because the sun was covered by a cloud. A really big and ugly cloud. The photo of the arch is deceiving because the big cloud is in the other direction. When the thunder and lightning started we figured it was probably best to get off the hill. We started down with the lightning striking close and out in the open on the slickrock it got pretty hairy. About halfway down the rain started. Not just a little sprinkle, but the kind of rain that causes flash floods. It poured, the wind blew, and the lightning struck. Within about 30 seconds we were soaked clear through. The last 3/4 of a mile we walked as fast as we could, in hopes of getting to the truck before the wash we had to cross flooded.
We made it to the truck, dripping wet and cold. We crossed the wash just as the water was starting to run across the road. We drove to some high ground, and luckily we had some towels in the truck. We stripped off our clothes and wrapped the towels around us and drove back to town. Got some great pictures though.
Now you know why its called Gassaway's Adventures.

DELICATE ARCH
THE STORM APPROACHES

SUNSET AFTER THE STORM



THE STORM PASSES

THE FIERY FURNACE

CANYONLANDS COLOR
CORONA ARCH
LOOSING THE DRAWING

The Latest From Moab

I've been trying to download some photos to go along with this post without any luck, so you'll have to be content with an update without photos.

We failed after two tries to get our name drawn for the Wave. We promised ourselves that we would try again in the future. We left Kanab and headed towards Moab. This is one of our favorite places as evidenced by the fact that this is our fourth trip here in the past 5 or 6 years. It is red rock country and home to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. On weekends and holidays the place is crowed with mountain bikers and jeeps, both of which traverse the slick rock which is in abundance.

Over the past week or so Southern and Central Utah has been hit with some real down pours, some places getting as much as seven inches. Most every back country road has suffered some damage, making many of them impassable. Most of this area drains into Lake Powell and some of you may know that it is only about half full. This one weeks series of storms raised the lake level by 5 feet. If you are aware of how big Lake Powell is, you will understand that is a lot of water. Now the ground is saturated and any small amount of rain becomes runoff. They are predicting rain for tonight and tomorrow with snow in the higher elevations.

We've been taking hikes most everyday, weather permitting. This morning we went on a ranger guided hike in Arches in an area called the Fiery Furnace. It is an area of narrow slots between towering rock formations. The hike last about 3 hours and is guided because it is very easy to get lost in. You scramble up slippery slick rock, through small crevices, and along narrow ledges all the time hoping you don't embarrass yourself in front of your fellow hikers. We managed to come through with only one skinned knee (mine) and a sprained finger (Cathie). This evening we plan, if it doesn't rain, on hiking to Delicate Arch in hopes of getting some great sunset photographs. If you don't know, Delicate Arch is the arch on the Utah license plate.

In a couple of days, we will start heading south, first to Durango, Colorado, then on to New Mexico. We I get a WiFi connection that is good enough, I'll send along some photos.

Monday, October 09, 2006

We are currently in Kanab, Utah after a week in Zion National Park. Zion was beautiful as usual and we hiked to new places. We had a couple days of thunderstorms which dropped 3 to 4 inches in the Kanab area and prevented us from hiking in some slot canyons due to flooding. We did manage one where we waded up the canyon to a waterfall. The water was extremely cold making our feet numb, but the narrow sandstone canyon made it worthwhile.

Kanab is in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Monument is best explored via dirt roads, most of which are currently impassable due to the reicent thunderstorms. One reason we are in Kanab is to be able to hike to a sandstone formation called the wave. It is in a wilderness area and only 20 people a day are given permits. Ten permits are issued in advance on the internet and are grabbed up within a matter of minutes of offerred. The other ten permits are issued the day before you intend to hike. This morning we arrived at the ranger station in hopes of getting a permit and placed our name in the running along with 34 other hopefuls. Each person's name is given a number and the numbers are place in a bingo hopper. Ten lucky people got their number pulled. Tomorrow we will try again.

Check out the wave at this web site

http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/coyote_buttes/index.html

I've attempted to place some photograps here but the wireless web site I am on is very slow and I can't seem to get the photos downloaded. I'll post some when I'm able.

TOAD STOOLS


CHECK OUT THE CRAZY PEOPLE


DOWN THE SLOT

SLOT CANYON COOOOLD WATER



ZION FALL COLOR

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Well, we've been home for about a month now, and that's long enough. My shoulder feels better after injuring it kayaking in Idaho, so as long as I don't have to carry a back pack, we may as well get back on the road. We are leaving on Saturday and plan on being gone just for a month this time. We intend on spending most of the trip in Southern Utah and the Four Corners area, starting with a week in Zion. Our last stop will be in Albuquerque, we think. As in past trips if a road looks interesting we will take it and try to avoid a planned itinerary. I've found 25 pages of hike descriptions for Southern Utah, so that ought to keep us busy. As in the past I will keep you updated via the blog when the mood strikes me. And as always it's great to hear from friends and family.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Vegas?

YELLOWSTONE NATIVE

YELLOWSTONE HOT TUB

A Short distance from or RV park is a working ranch that doubles as a summer camp for kids, giving them riding lessons and teaching them about cattle ranching. Two nights a week they put on a rodeo and dinner for the local tourist. So one night we went and enjoyed the rodeo and dinner. The little kids (not shown here) take part in the rodeo riding steers instead of bulls and competing in barrel races and the like. Not a bad show and the dinner, cooked over the fire and in Dutch ovens was pretty good too.

We started exploring Yellowstone, driving to the park each day. We saw the usual elk, deer, buffalo and grizzly bear. We took several hikes but had to cut them short because I was experiencing pain in my shoulder. I knew it was from paddling our kayak, and it was wasn't getting any better. Cathie was tired of my complaining and convinced me to seek medical help. We went to a clinic in Yellowstone and they agreed that it was probably from over my paddling, gave me some pain medicine and sent me on my way. We continued looking around Yellowstone but the pain wasn't going away. When we arrived in the Grand Tetons, I went the the E/R in Jackson and they took some x-rays and discovered that I had a separation in the A-C joint which appeared to be old. The doctor said the kayaking just aggravated it. They gave me stronger pain meds and put my arm in a sling. The shoulder seems to be getting better, but now my whole are hurts.
We decided to start heading home, but since we were passing through Las Vegas, we had to stop for a couple of days. (Hey, I only need one hand to play poker). We should be home by Friday.
All in all a pretty good trip, only too short.

Sunday, August 13, 2006




UPPER PAYETTE LAKE

We spent several days in the McCall area. At the recommendation of John and Janet Smith we stayed in the Upper Payette Lake Campground about 10 miles north of McCall. Being on the lake, we were able to use our inflatable kayak. Very beautiful country surrounded by granite peaks. About 12 miles down the road is Burgdorf Hot Springs, which had been in operation since the middle of the 1800's. You can rent one of the original cabins and stay a while or just pay your 5 bucks and take a dip in the springs. There is a small pool which is 114 degrees if you desire to cook yourself, but the large pool is somewhat cooler and you only come out medium rare. We went a gave it a try but after about 30 minutes, due to rapid heart beats, we decided to get our butts out.
Later the same evening we were sitting in the trailer reading when some thunderstorms passed by. From my chair I could look out the window and watch the lightning. I saw lightning strike the mountain on the outer side of the lake and thought, wow, that looked neet and went back to reading my book. (If you want to know it was John Grisham's The Last Juror). After reading another page, I looked out the window and saw that the mountain side was on fire! We watched as is spread, sending flames high whenever it encountered a tall tree. We were soon notified by the campground host, that two fire crews were on the way and we were in no danger. In Southern California we would have been, but fires tend to move slower in this part of the country. We watched it burn for two days, but it never really got too big. They brought in bombers and water dropping helicopters, but by the time we left it was still going.
We are now in Island Park, Idaho, just outside of Yellowstone. We are in a nice little RV park out in the middle of nowhere and this will be our base for about a week while we explore the area. They have WiFi, so I am able to post to the blog. Check out their web site to see where we are. www.8004redrock.com Will post more as information becomes available.
Dana and Cathie



BORATE BOMBER FIGHTING FIRE

CABINS AT BURGDORF


BURGDORF HOT SPRINGS


Monday, August 07, 2006

MONTANA AND IDAHO

Well, it's been awhile since we sent out a report, the last announcing our broken truck. The truck went to the dealer in Great Falls, Mt on a Monday with a promise that it would be ready on Thursday. Tuesday afternoon, they called and said it was ready. A new turbo and intercooler, on warranty plus a free car wash and we were back on the road.

We stayed at Cathie's brothers until Sunday the 30th and then headed west to Seeley Lake in northwest Montana. Did some hiking and just general looking about some real beautiful country. Stayed at Seeley Lake until Thrusday the 3rd and headed towards Idaho. We found a really nice National Forest campground on the Selway River. We got the last campsite available and decided to stay awhile. We have an inflatable kayak and gave it a try on the river. The water down river from camp was pretty shallow, but we managed to go about 3 miles. In order to get the raft back to camp, I drove the truck down three miles and rode my bycicle back to camp. After getting back the camp in the afternoon, we met John and Janet Smith, a retired couple from Spokane who had a couple of kayaks. They offered to help shuttle our kayak up river the next day. John, having floated this river before told us the water was deeper up steam. John and Janet it turns out has had lots of experience rafting the rivers of the west, including organizaing trips down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon and the Snake and Salmon rivers in Idaho. We figured with that kind of experance, we should probably follow them down the river through the rapids.

We floated down a little over six miles and the only person to fall out of their kayak was John. He informed us that there are two kind of river runners. Those who have been thrown into the water and those who will be. We had such a great time, that we repeated the trip the next day, only going up river a little further. We haven't been in the water yet, but as John pointed out after Janet had a spill, that we will be.

After exchanging addresses and phone number, we said goodby to the Smiths and we are now in McCall, Idaho. We are in a very expensive RV park, but it has all the amenities including wireless internet. This is the first time we have been on line since leaving Great Falls. We are here for two nights then we are going into the back country again near here for a couple of days to a campground recommended to us by the Smiths. On Saturday we start heading to Yellowstone.

Fell free to post your comments on the blog, or just drop us a line.

Till next report......

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Well we headed out Thursday morning a 4 am, the early hour chosen to miss traffic and beat some of the heat in the desert. It is our intention to be in Great Falls Saturday afternoon for a house warming party at Cathie's brothers new house. About 20 miles from home the "check engine light" comes on so we turn around and return home. I took the truck to the dealer and got it back in the late afternoon. I was told there was a problem with the turbo, but it was all better now. So at 6 pm, to miss the traffic and beat the heat in the desert, we started out again. This time in took only 10 miles for the "check engine light" to come on. Since the truck seemed to be running fine, we continued on.

Somewhere a short distance from Las Vegas, a tire on the trailer blew out. We didn't find this out until we stopped in Vegas for the night around 1 am. The tire took out the fiberglass fender skirt on the trailer and some wiring that shorted out the running lights. Luckily the wheel was not damaged, with the trailer being supported on the second axel and tire. I put the spare on and went off to bed.

After 4 hours of sleep, we bought a new tire and headed north. The truck was running great in the heat, 100+ degrees in Nevada and Utah. We spent the night in southern Idaho and got an early start on Saturday. About 30 miles south of our destination, the turbo stopped working and without it, very little power. We limped on, creeping up the hills at 20 MPH arriving just in time for the start of the party. Monday back to the Ford dealer. To be continued......

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Well there's been a change of plans, which doesn't mean we will be staying home. We have to be back by August 30th for an appointment, so we will be doing our next trip in two stages. We leave Thursday for Montana to see Cathie's brother. From there it's anybodies guess where we will be next, but most likely we will hang around Montana, Idaho, Wyoming. After August 30th we will decide where to go next, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006



GASSAWAY’S ADVENTURES
EUROPE – SPRING 2006


After much planning and internet research we set off on our long awaited trip to Europe on April 23, 2006. Luckily we had purchased our airline tickets in January. This was before the oil companies decided that we were still suffering from the effects Hurricane Katrina and with future potential problems with that pesky Iran started raising the cost of oil. We saved at least 25% by purchasing them early and on the Internet through AAA. We flew American Airlines to Chicago where we changed to British Airways. We again changed planes in London before reaching our final destination in Lyon, France. Since our trip didn’t include a visit to Paris we settled on Lyon because it is a much smaller airport than Paris and we felt would be less confusing. Turned out to be a good choice. Our scheduled arrival time in Lyon was 11:30 am, but due to a flight delay in Chicago of 3 hours, we missed our connection in London, we finally arrived in Lyon at 7:30 pm.



We leased a new Peugeot through Peugeot Open Europe. http://www.peugeot-openeurope.com/html/en/home/home.htm The way it works is, if you’re not a citizen of a European country and you plan to stay 17 days or longer, you don’t have to pay the value added tax, which is around 17% in France. The car is brand new and you can choose from various models. The price also includes roadside assistance and full insurance coverage with no deductible. We chose a turbo diesel with standard transmission. Although very small by American standards, it was surprisingly roomy inside and very comfortable. It performed extremely well, cruising the auto routes at 85 mph while getting over 50 MPG.

After picking up the car at the Lyon Airport, I mounted the GPS we had brought with us to the windshield. I had been warned that the GPS might take 15 or 20 minutes to acquire a signal after being transported from the U.S. Well it took a lot longer. After awhile and since it was going to be dark soon, we figured we better start heading towards our B & B. We promptly became lost. We stopped in a small town and I tried to find it on the map. No Luck. Now we were really lost. We decided we better head back to the airport and start over. Just before getting back to the airport the GPS began working, which was a good thing because we had been heading in the completely opposite direction. We would still be looking if it wasn’t for the GPS. It had been 28 hours since getting up at home and we were ready for bed.

Our plan was to stay in B & B’s as much as possible. We had made reservations for the first week of the trip, and it was our intention to either find something a few days before we arrived or on the day we arrived. More about this later. Our first place was located in the small town of Montagny, about 20 kilometers from Lyon.

http://www.oree-des-landes.com/index.htm Our hostess Florence and her family were in bed by the time we arrived at 10:30, but she had left the door open for us. The next morning breakfast was a welcome sight. The glass enclosed breakfast room was across the small courtyard from our room. Breakfast consisted of hot chocolate or coffee, juice, chocolate croissants (yummy), assorted breads, with butter and jams and fruit. There was also a cottage cheese kind of thing that we added sugar to. We communicated with Florence in our almost non existence French and her high school English along with gestures and shrugs. Florence, provided us with local information about what to see and where not to eat.


We were staying in the new section of the village Montagny. Our room was in one half of the converted barn with the main house, built around 1850, across what used to be the barn yard. The old town is located on the hill above the new town and most of the buildings there originated around the 1400’s.


Wisteria was everywhere, growing on most of the old buildings and homes. Before breakfast when I first got up, I followed the smell to the local bakery and made my first purchased in France. A loaf of bread for 70E or about .90 cents. Besides the bakery there is a small restaurant/bar, a hardware store, the Hotel de Ville, or the town hall, and on certain days, the butcher who appears in a large truck similar to a roach coach and parks in the town square.


On our first full day in France we drove to the Mid-evil city of Perouges, about 50 kilometers away. The town was founded in 1236 and has been restored. Its existence today is for the tourist, but luckily due to the time of the year, there were few. We ate lunch in the new part of town at the bottom of the hill. We had the plat de jour which consisted of chicken, rice, vegetables, salad, wine and desert of a chocolate and banana crepe. I think we missed the cheese course due to the language problem. To order food we use our menu decoder and Rick Steve’s phrase book, but sometimes it’s a guessing game. We look around at what other diners are eating and point. Total for lunch for both of us was 23 euros.

We next stopped at a supermarket and stocked up on picnic items. The French supermarkets are much like ours only with a much larger cheese department. You bag your own groceries and pay extra for the bag. The cashiers sit at their cash registers, what a novel idea. Our plan is to eat our main meal out at lunchtime and picnic in our room in the evening. Our hope is to stay within our budget of $200 a day.

To get back to our B & B, I programmed the GPS to take us the “Shortest Route” instead of the “Quickest”. Since our destination was on the other side of Lyon, the second largest city in France, the GPS guided us, should I say attempted to guide us right through the middle of Lyon. To make matters worse, it was rush hour. By the time I realized my mistake we were in the depths of the city. Of course being a city, it has tall buildings which tend to block the signal to the GPS. We were having fun now! Wrong turns, one way streets, bus only lanes, dead ends, you name it. The last time I broke so many traffic laws was when I was in a pursuit. In the end we made it safely back to our room and still suffering from jet lag we went right off to sleep.

The next day we went to Lyon on purpose. Driving to the nearest subway station, we took public transit. You purchase your subway ticket at a machine, which allows you to select your language making it a piece of cake. The old center of the city is closed to traffic and the narrow streets invite you to explore.


We took the funicular to the high
point of Lyon and the Fourviere Basilica. Constructed between 1872 and 1896, the interior is richly decorated with mosaics, marble and stain glass windows. The Basilica over looks the city and the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. We walked all over the old historic part of the city. Found a restaurant and ordered from the fixed price menu, but the waitress attempted to overcharge us for the coffee we did not order. In most of France and Europe, the tip or service charge is included in the price of the meal. When I asked the waitress she told me it wasn’t. I then made her adjust to bill for the overcharge and left a very small tip. In all the meals we ate on our trip, the service charge was always included. This was the only time someone tried to rip us off, at least that we discovered. It was obvious we were in unfamiliar territory, and she just tried to take advantage of us. Travelers beware!

The next morning we left the Lyon area and headed southwest for La Melaine in the Gorges du Tarn, also known as the Grand Canyon of France. The road runs along the bottom of the Gorge next to the river Tarn. The villages in the gorge are constructed ofnative stone and are very picturesque. Our B &B in La Melaine sits against the cliff and overlooks the rooftops of the village.


In the morning we continued our drive down the gorge until it was no more. We head for our next stop, Albas, which is in the south central part of France. This will be our base for the next five nights. Our hosts, Robin and Justin Sanders (she’s American, he’s English) we extremely helpful in answering many questions we had saved up since arriving in France. Robin runs the B&B plus two vacation apartments in their large home which was built in the 1750’s and is built on the face of a cliff overlooking the River Lot. There are places in the house where the cliff face is exposed. Our room is in the tower to the rear of the house and opens onto the terrace. Justin commutes to England, working 10 days at a computer mapping business he owns and then comes home for 4 days. He says he can live in France much cheaper than in England and the weather is better. http://www.lotfrance.com/

Up to this point in our trip, eating as been an adventure. We try to stay away from items on the menu that we a unsure of, like foie gras, which is goose liver, and confit de canard, which is duck that has been marinated in it’s own fat. Justin convinced me that I should try both because according to him they are delicious. That evening for dinner, I ordered both. Wow! What a surprise. The foie gras was just like Justin described it. “It’s melts in your mouth like butter.” The duck likewise was very good, falling off the bone. Cathie continued to be a chicken and wouldn’t try it for a long time. By the time she did, we were leaving France and it wasn’t available anymore.



The house in the center is our B&B

Our room is in the square tower to the rear


Each day we would explore the surrounding countryside and towns. This is wine country and there are vineyards everywhere. The wine is excellent and cheap. We visited several mid-evil towns (seems most towns in France are that old), St Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour. Racamadour is interesting as it is build on the face of a cliff.












Cathie checking out the spice vender

at the farmers market in Cahors

The fortified bridge over the River Lot

in Cahors

It was interesting to visit the local farmer’s markets whenever we encountered them. Most every kind of food item is available, from vegetables and fruit to meat and cheese. When we were able we would purchase our dinners here, buying strawberries, sausage, chocolate croissants and whatever else looked good. At the end of a long day sightseeing and shopping we recovered in the local sidewalk cafĂ© in Albas with beer (Cathie) and wine (Dana) while watching the local men play bols.

Although we would usually eat dinner in our room, at both Robin and Justin’s urging, we had dinner at La Recreation. This is the local favorite in a very small village of Les Arques, about 20 kilometers from our B&B. Located in the town’s old school house, it was a great place to dine. The 28 Euro, 5 course feast is a tasty bargain. American author Michael Sanders wrote about this restaurant in his book, From Here You Can’t See Paris. We had an excellent dinner with Cathie sticking to what she knows, scallops and steak, and I foie gras (of course) and duck prepared 3 different ways, including the heart. It was all delicious. With wine and a before dinner drink it came to $100, the most expensive meal on the trip, but well worth it. We even managed to stay within budget for the day.

After five nights in Albas, it was time to leave and head north. A visit to this area of France is a lot like settling into a favorite armchair, after a satisfying meal. You give out a contented belch. It’s a pleasure you will willingly repeat.

Our next stop was the town of Montresor in the Loire Valley. This area is south of Paris and full of Chateaus, several of which we would visit. The 400 kilometer drive from Albas was done mostly on the back roads after programming the GPS to avoid the toll roads. We really enjoyed the back county drives, many on one lane roads. At times there were delays for slow tractors and flocks of goats or sheep. As we traveled north we began seeing bright yellow mustard fields, and continued seeing them into Germany. There were areas where there was a vast patchwork of yellow and green.


Our B&B in Montresor was in an old water driven mill. The stream which powered the water wheel runs underneath the building and for your entertainment the dining room floor is made of glass. http://www.specialplacestostay.com/search/display.php?FileID=FBB1965


The next day we visited Chateau Chenonceaux. As you can see from the photo the chateau extends across the river. The surrounding grounds are meticulously kept by an army of grounds keepers. This place is quite a tourist attraction and became very crowded by mid morning with bus loads of Japanese and blue haired ladies. Tours were self guided with the assistance of an I pod providing us with the English translation.


We started having problems with the GPS. It wasn’t working and it took a while to learn that it wasn’t getting any power. We figured out that the plug was defective so in the town of Loches started looking for a replacement. Having no luck, we started to panic. We finally managed to find an electrician of sorts at an electric appliance store. He discovered that the plug had a fuse hidden inside which he replaced. When we plugged it in the car, it promptly blew the new fuse. We finally got it working after several more fuses by being careful not to touch the wire and to just leave things alone.

Our next stop was Normandy near the city of Saint Lo. Our B&B is owned by a retired English lady and is an old stone farm house built in the mid 1800’s. Very comfortable, but small room. http://perso.orange.fr/sigrid.hamilton/ From this base we explored Normandy and the surrounding area.

Our first stop was Mont Saint Michel, a rocky cone shaped islet in northwestern France. It is an island at high tide connected by a causeway with the mainland. The islet, celebrated for its Benedictine abbey, has small houses and shops on its lowest lever. Above these stand the abbey’s buildings, many of which date from the 13th century and are considered outstanding examples of Gothic Architecture. The islet is crowned by the abbey church, about 240 feet above sea level. The place was loaded with tourist and the shops catered to them. We shared our first bad meal with about 75, or one bus load, of Japanese at one of the 10 restaurants below the abbey.

We next drove to Arvanches walking around the center of the city. Here there is a memorial to General Patton. On to Omaha Beach with more memorials to the D-day invasion. Lots of American flags and monuments dedicated to the Americans who died there.
The next day, Sunday, we went to Sainte Mere Egliase, a town several miles from the coast. For those of you who saw the movie The Longest Day about the D-day invasion, you might remember this town. In the movie a paratrooper, played by Red Buttons, gets his parachute caught on the church steeple. If you didn’t know, that actually occurred and there is a manikin dressed as an American paratrooper in full battle dress hanging by his parachute from the church. Monday, May 8th is VE day and a major holiday in France. While at the church, a brass band came marching down the street followed by French WWII veterans. They all marched into the church for Sunday services. From the church it is a short drive to the American cemetery at Omaha Beach.

The cemetery is quite impressive with over 5000 Americans buried there. The French government has deeded the land the cemetery is situated on to the American people and the grounds are maintained and operated by the US government. There are present US government employees who live on the cemetery grounds and oversee and manage this hallowed ground.

While at the cemetery, I noticed men in WWII era army uniforms. I spoke to one of them who told me he was a member of a US Army demonstration parachute team and they were escorting WWII veteran paratroopers to places they had fought at during the war. In the photograph below you see these veterans resting on a bench with one of their escorts (3rd from the left)

We visited several other D-day sites including Utah beach and Point du Hoc, the latter where US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to attack and destroy the German gun emplacements. Several things really stood out while visiting these sites. One was that there were American flags everywhere and the other was these historic sites were packed with Frenchmen and their families. It was obvious to me that the French have not forgotten the sacrifice made by the Americans who liberated them.
http://battlefieldsww2.50megs.com/normandy_american_cemetery.htm
The owner of our B&B, Ms Hamilton, is very finicky. She is very worried of our eating in our room. She is afraid the food and the trash will cause the room to smell and insists that we empty the trash each day. I asked her where the trash can was located and she gave us directions to the local dump. She tells us about the three choirs she sings in and then complains that she is stretched too thin. She does make croissants each morning from scratch, so we didn’t judge her too harshly.
One of the things we noticed about the French is they love their dogs. They take them everywhere, including restaurants and tourist attractions. There is dog poop everywhere and no apparent effort to clean it up. It is advisable when traveling in France to wear smooth soled shoes.
We have been in France for 15 days and it is time to head north. Our next stop is Brugge, Belgium. We stayed for just two nights in a very nice B&B in the suburbs. We just spent one day walking the old city of Brugge, a very beautiful city.

The people here use public transportation and ride their bikes. This is one quarter of the bike parking at the main train station. There are bike paths along every road and most streets. They are everywhere and it makes it difficult for a foreigner to drive without running them over. Almost everybody we came in contact with in Belgium spoke English. It seems to be their second language. The only trouble occurs when asking directions and you get the names
of the local streets as evidenced here. Anyone of you who can pronounce this, give me a call. I could never figure it out.

Brugge is a beautiful old city with narrow cobbled streets and canals which were once used for commerce, but now are used to transport the tour boats. We visited the market place in the town square with all its sights and smells. Some of the vendors such as the butcher and the cheese vendor have very elaborate semi truck trailers that convert into their store on wheels.
You can tell we are out of France by the breakfast we were served this morning at our B&B. It started with juice and coffee and continued with yogurt, pancakes, eggs, assorted breads, cheeses and meats. You just couldn’t eat it all. These types of breakfasts continued into Germany and Austria.
Day 18 of our journey and we are in Cochem, Germany along the Mosel River. On our way here we traveled by freeway from Belgium, through Luxembourg. For the first time since beginning our trip we stopped at a Quick Berger for our first European hamburger. Not too bad and not greasy at all. We’ve had rain off and on for the past week, but so far it hasn’t prevented us from sightseeing.

Cochem is situated on the banks of the Mosel River, with a castle on the hill above the town. Narrow little streets which are closed to vehicles during the day, are filled with the day trippers from the tour boats and buses. In the evening the town empties out and the streets become peaceful, with occasional sounds of music coming from the local beer taverns. Our B&B is a short walk uphill from the center of town on a quiet residential street. http://www.pension-hendriks.de/

The area along the Mosel River is extremely beautiful, with vineyards climbing the steep valley walls and a castle around every bend of the river. We hiked to Burg Eltz, no vehicles allowed, one of the few castles left untouched by Napoleon’s army and pretty much original. After touring a second castle above Cochem, we had a late dinner at a balcony table overlooking the street and the river beyond. What a life! We spent several more days exploring the Mosel and Rhine River Valleys, some of the most scenic areas in Germany.
Next stop was to be Bad Wimpfen on Germany’s Castle Road. The word Bad in front of a towns name indicates that there is a spa with natural springs in the town. We went to the tourist office for assistance in finding a room only to discover there were none available in Bad Wimpfen. The gal at the tourist office located a B&B about 10 miles away in Gundelsteim. Frau Zchtziger spoke very little English, but we managed to agree on a price for our room, breakfast, and use of the washing machine. This is the first room we have had with the bathroom across the hall. As there we no other guests while we were there, it became a private bathroom across the hall. The house was on the hill overlooking the town with a view of the barge traffic through the locks on the Neckar River. Across the street from our house is the community center. In the evenings we were entertained as the town band had their practice. We liked the area so well and our B&B was comfortable so we ended up staying and extra day and pretty much did nothing. Took a drive on some of the back roads and found a small village restaurant for lunch. There was only one other customer. We had a great meal of liver soup (you gotta try it) salad, sausage and sauerbraten, with dessert and wine for 30 Euros for the both of us.
May 16th and we are in Dinkelsbuhl, a medieval walled town that I visited as a child in 1957. We have a B&B just outside of the walled city. This later became known as the Bates B&B. The owner’s son Andy, who is about 40, is still living at home with momma. He speaks some English, chain smokes to the point were his fingers and moustache are yellow, and speaks real LOUD. He seems a little off and perhaps is a brick shy of a load. The house smells of cigarette smoke, but our room is somewhat better. We have reserved a place in another town just in case this one doesn’t work out. Cathie thinks Andy will come in our room and kill us tonight.
It’s morning and we’re still alive! About 3 AM we could hear Andy, whose room was next to ours, on the telephone talking in his VERY LOUD voice. He was speaking in German, so we don’t know what he was saying except repeating, “yah, yah”. He went on for about 30 minutes. Unsure if he was receiving instructions on what to do with the bodies, we never went back to sleep. We had noticed before going to bed, some freshly dug areas in the garden, so we figured it was time to move on.

After leaving Dinkelsbuel, we headed towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber where we had reserved a room in case the Bates B&B didn’t work out. On the way there, we were taking the back roads and happened upon Schillingfurist, which is on the Romantic Road and surrounded by a nature park. http://translate.google.com/translate?sourceid=navclient-menuext&hl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eschillingsfuerst%2Ede%2F

We stopped in at the small tourist office on the off chance we could find a nicer place to stay that was non-smoking. The women at the tourist office told us she knew of just the place and called the owner. At first the owner, who only spoke German, didn’t want to rent to us because of the language barrier. We said it didn’t matter to us, and she agreed to take us in. We drove a short distance to the house and found Gunter and Christine Rohmer standing in the street in front of their home with an English speaking neighbor. The place was huge covering the entire second floor of the home. Our room is really one big room with the bedroom in one corner, living room in the center (with recliner), and the other end the dining area and kitchen. This is by far the largest place we’ve had, and ranks right up there with the best. We agreed upon 42 Euro including breakfast. Our hosts couldn’t have been nicer, and although we didn’t speak each other’s language, we still managed to communicate.


http://translate.google.com/translate?sourceid=navclient-menuext&hl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eschillingsfuerst%2Ede%2F

Each morning, Christine set out a spread fit for a king and queen. We could never eat it all, but each of the four mornings we were there, she would set the table up with copious amounts of bread, meat, cheese, fruit, yogurt, butter, jams and of course juice and coffee. Both Christine and Gunter made us feel comfortable in their home. One night we took the Night Watchman tour in Rothenburg and we returned late, around 10:30. I guess they thought we suffered some misfortune as they were both waiting up worrying about us. We showed them the brochure from the tour and they were obviously relieved that we were ok. One afternoon when we returned for the day, we were met at the door and they were holding two bottles of the local wine and two bottles of beer for us.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a must see in Germany. Of course it is a must see for everyone else too. We are lucky to be traveling in the spring as we are told it gets really crowded in the summer with all the tourists. The walled city, with its museums and historic sites could take several days if you want to see everything. For a unique view of the city, you can walk on top of the wall most of the way around the old part of town.


If you are ever in Rothenburg, the Walk of the Night Watchman tour is a must. It is held every evening at 8:00 and is in English. This was by and large the best tour we took on our entire trip. You, and about 50 other tourist, walk with the watchman on his rounds as he takes you back in time to the beginnings of Rothenburg and returns you to the present day. The watchman was informative, very knowledgeable and funny. A must see!


Another must see, at least for me, was the criminal/torture museum. It had on display many of the instruments of torture used to obtain a confession from a suspected wrongdoer. Seems to me that they were pretty civilized because a confession reached through torture could not be used against the suspect unless there was other evidence pointing to his guilt. Works for me.






May 22nd and we are in Oberammergau at the foot of the Alps. This German town is know for its’ woodcarvers. The work they do on small figures is unbelievable and so is the price to buy something. Very beautiful setting with the snow covered Alps in the background and the murals painted on almost all of the buildings, including private homes. We have found a very nice B&B in town with the help of the tourist office. Our host, Christel Unruh and her husband Wolfgang, speak very good English and are both a wealth of information about the local area. We have rented their “suite” for a week. Bedroom, bathroom and a small living room with couch and TV.

We have had rain off and on for the past week, and Oberammergau is no exception. The mornings have been cold, around 48 degrees, so its sweater time. We visited two of Mad King Ludwig’s castles, which are a short drive from our base. The first, Neuschwanstien, is the castle Disney copied for its’ castle in Disneyland. The Second, Linderhof is much smaller but very ornate. All the rooms except for one were done in gold leaf. The exception was done in silver.

After a hard day of castle hopping, we ended up in a restaurant down the street from our B&B. The owner is a magician and entertains the guests with tricks. He speaks excellent English and it turns out he worked at Sea World in San Diego in the early 80’s. The food was great and I was able to try some German staples such as pigs knuckle. Not too bad.

Not far from Oberammergau, is the small town of Rottenbuch. The 900 year old abbey built by Augustinian Monks has to be admired. We visited many churches and cathedrals because they are so beautiful and full of great works of art. This one in Rottenbuch was the most elaborate with it’s’ painted stucco decorations on the ceilings and walls. What was truly amazing to me was something so grand would be located in such a small town, perhaps a population of 500. There were many small town churches we visited built 300 to 600 years ago that were beyond description with their religious icons and art.

While in Oberammergau, we managed to get in a couple of hikes in the mountains between rain showers. We took the cable gondola to the top of the local mountain and then hiked back to town. Very scenic and green countryside.

Next stop Austria.








May 29th. On our way out of Germany, we stopped to do laundry at a cost of 5 Euros a load. (About $6.50). There was a McDonald’s down the street, so as we were leaving we stopped for a soda with ice. Ice is a rarity in Europe. If you ask for it in a drink, you might get 2 cubes if you’re lucky. They just don’t serve it here and McDonald’s is about the only place you can get it in a cold drink like we are used to.

Our drive to Austria, near Salzburg, was via the autobahn. It is said the German autobahns are the best freeways in the world. It is also said if there is a pothole, they are fixing it right away. We discovered they were always fixing something on the autobahn, causing huge traffic jams. This appeared to us to be the norm. Except for the tolls, the French auto routes were far superior to the German autobahn.

Our B&B in Austria is in the town of St.Gilgen, which is situated on am Wolfgangsee (a lake) in the Salzkammergut district. This is an area in the Austrian Alps with numerous lakes. In the summertime it is a favorite vacation area for many Europeans. Our B&B sits above the town and from our balcony you have a view of the lake and town below.



It continues to rain with snow at the higher elevations, but we tried to keep up the pace and see what ever we could. We were disappointed that we were not able to do more hiking.

We toured the oldest salt mine in the world, so they say, in the small town of Hallsatt. To get to the mine, you ride a funicular up the mountain, and then walk about a kilometer in the rain to the mine entrance. Everyone has to put on coveralls before entering the mine. A very informative tour that included several slides that you slid down to lower levels. At tours end, a mine train ride back to the outside.

The town of Hallstatt itself is very picturesque, situated on a lake on a narrow strip of land between the waters edge and cliff face. Land is at such a premium that once buried in the church cemetery you are only allowed to stay for 12 years. You are then dug up to make room for the next occupant.
http://www_alt.hallstatt.net/besucher/index.php3?lang=en



You might be able to tell by the photograph that it is still raining. We spent part of a day in Salzburg, but with the temperatures high 30’s and constant rain we’ve been confined to the car or short sojourns under an umbrella.

At lunch in Salzburg we were sitting next to three collage students from Tennessee. They told us they were traveling with a group of about 60 students and a professor, who each year takes a group of students to Europe. By the way they were ordering from the menu and sharing their food, it was obvious that they were on a tighter budget than we were. So we did our good deed for the day, well actually for the entire trip, and bought them lunch. They were very appreciative and we were happy for the chance to help them out.

We have decided to head back to France, where according to the weather report it is not raining. We have 10 days left before we fly home and we would really like to get out of the car and see more sites on foot. We decided to head for Colmar, France in the Alsace region, an area known for its wine production. Also Rick Steve’s in his book, Europe Through the Back Door, describes Colmar as one of his favorites. The drive there took us through the Austrian Alps. Very beautiful, but to keep from traversing the mountain passes in the snow, and it was snowing on this the 1st of June, the road passes through many tunnels, the longest of which was 14 kilometers long.

After one night in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the home of the Zeppelin Airships, we arrived in Colmar. The old center part of the city if full of timbered buildings, with narrow cobbled streets and clear skies overhead.

The tourist office would only provide us a list of B&B’s, the first time one would not actually make the calls and find us a place to stay. The first one we found we stayed only one night. It was clean, but was lacking in any amenities, such as a chair, or heat. We were planning on staying for a week and wanted something a little more comfortable. The next day we found the perfect place about 30 kilometers south of Colmar. It was actually an apartment in the upstairs of a home in the small town of Lautenbach-Zell. The price, a very reasonable 49 Euros. We had a full kitchen, living/dining area, separate bath and of course a bedroom. Each morning, breakfast was left just outside the door promptly at 8:00.

http://www.bernard-frick.com/Pages/UK/LgmtbatimentUk.html

This is the downtown area of our little village and the yellow building is the only restaurant in town. We decided to go local and have dinner with the natives. Turns out they were not all native. Our Willie Nelson look-alike waiter with ponytail and all was from England, but has been living here for the past 25 years. We asked him why he moved from England, and he just shrugged. We never did get an answer. We asked Willie what was on for dinner, and he told us it was some kind of fowl, perhaps turkey. When the meal arrived, it was only fowl if pigs could fly. The pork was delicious so it didn’t really matter. There was only one other family eating when we arrived, but about halfway through our meal a large group of Italians arrived. There was much kissing of cheeks and hugging going on between the Italians and the French owners and between more Italians who kept coming. Willie explained that it was festival weekend in the village and they Italians come every year. When we asked what the festival celebrated, Willie just shrugged.

The next day we visited the festival where there were singers singing and dancers dancing. We spied some good looking pastries at one of the booths and tried to buy a couple. We were told we had to purchase a ticket from the ticket table first and use the ticket to purchase the pastry. So we took two steps to our right and purchased the tickets. We then traveled two steps back to the pastry lady and gave her the tickets in exchange for the pastries. Never did figure out what they were celebrating, but it seemed like everyone was having a good time.

We like this wine growing region so much, we’ve decided to stay here until it’s time to go home. We just need one day to drive to Lyon to catch our flight, so a week in Alsace, without rain is a welcome respite.

June 6th and we drove to Strasbourg, home of the European Union and its parliament buildings. Just across the Rhine River from Germany makes it a destination for German tourists. Most of the restaurants serve German food and is a disappointment to us because we were looking forward to some more foie gras and confit de canard. We looked everywhere and couldn’t find any. Strasbourg is a beautiful old city and was very crowded with tourist. We have encountered very few crowds since arriving in France, but the summer tourist season is starting and it looks like we will be leaving just in time to avoid most of the throngs.

















We paid a couple of Euros for the privilege of climbing up the 332 steps to the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral. This photo was taken about halfway up. You can’t get to the very top, but end up just below the clock tower. The view was superb looking over the roof tops of the city.


These types of scenes were all over Europe. This photo in Strasbourg caught my eye with the different colors.

June 9th and we are up early for the drive to Lyon. We end up eating lunch at the same restaurant we ate at on our first day in Europe in the town of Perouges. We then went to the local supermarket to by some fore gras to take home with us.

We checked into our hotel, the first of the trip, next to the airport. The room was small, hot and uncomfortable. To top it off it was the most expensive room of our entire trip at 73 Euros. Tomorrow our plane leaves at 7 in the morning, returning back through London and Chicago. We are tired and ready to go home after seven weeks of living out of our suitcases. We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world except perhaps a trip to Italy and Spain, but that’s another story.

FACTS AND FIGURES
AND OTHER INTERESTING STUFF

Trip prep time - about 5 months

Money spent before the trip for clothes, maps, GPS, and stuff we really
didn’t need - who knows

Total days including travel days, 49

Amount budgeted for trip (excluding air fare and car) $200 per day.

Amount actually spent per day $147 per day

Including air fare and car - $213 per day

Cheapest room per night – 39 euros or $48.80 a night, at the Bates B&B
Most expensive room, B&B type, 60 euros or $72 near Brugge, Belgium

Best B&B – Schillingfurst, Germany with Christine and Gunter Rohmer

Worst B&B – take a guess

Best food – it was all good with only 3 bad meals on the entire trip

Favorite food – confit de canard

Weight gained – Dana 4 lbs, Cathie – it’s not polite to ask a lady.

Most expensive diesel - $5.30 a gallon in Germany and Belgium

Cheapest diesel - $4.91 a gallon in Austria

Best Mileage – 54.89 MPG

Miles driven 9750 kilometers or 5850 miles

Problems with car – none – I wish I could have brought it home

Traffic laws broken – too many to count
Traffic tickets received – none – where is a cop when you need one.

Favorite place – Albas, France

Worst experience – Customs in Chicago took away my fore gras.