Wednesday, October 17, 2007

2,000 kilometers of Europe and No Time

Well, here I am in Paris, finishing up the 21-day tour. After Haarlem our busdrive and (possibly) part time comedian Francois took us into Germany to the Rhine river town of Bacharach. We stayed in a 700-year old fortress-turned-hotel with two small defects: quirky plumbing (read: showers that suddenly become cold) and the fact that trains rumbled by my window all night.

Other than that it was a great introduction to historic Deutschland, especially with the local guide, Herr Jung (pictured), giving us a poignant and fascinating tour, complete with touching stories of, for example, his older brother who was lost on the Russian Front.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Holland-days sauce

Hello again. It's been 2 days since the post below. After that last night, I slept for quite some time, interrupted only to get up to eat the free breakfast buffet (I was starving). It was cold & rainy so I went back to bed. I missed the weekend market in the square, but there's always more of those in Europe.
Then yesterday evening I met the rest of the tour group at our first meeting. I nice bunch of people, just like the last ones. (Rick Steves tourists tend to be mostly like that, I think.) They include several couples (including a cute young pair about to get married, and their moms) and a few singles of all age ranges, 21 people in all. We immediately went out for a brief guided tour by a local, who gave us great info on the local architecture & history, along with some good jokes. Then we had a great dinner together at--of all places--an Indonesian restaurant! (We were a bit surprised but it was very good.) Afterwards some of us went to one of the many pubs around the square and tried a few Belgian beers (better than the Dutch ones). Yes, I had recovered enough to to a bit of tasting (in the name of international relations, of course).
Next morning my little travel alarm didn't go off and I nearly missed the group's guided trip into Amsterdam where we first went to the Anne Frank house (very moving), explored a bit, had lunch in a V&D food emporium, a quick look at the Rembrandts of the Rijksmuseum (their National Gallery), and a brief rest stop at a cafe before taking a canal cruise. The sun came out by then and it was very pretty.
Then we all went back and split up to have dinner in small groups, including 3 girls, my roommate Larry and me. (Turns out Larry snores like a buzz saw and, to help me out, is getting his own room from now on so I can get some sleep-- rather decent of the chap, I think.)
Then I had a last late-night gelato and a chat at a cafe in front of the cathedral with one of the girls. The square was almost empty and it was very quiet; not a bad way to start the tour.
Anyway tomorrow we finally board out tourbus and head into Germany for the historic town of Bacharach (google it). See you there!

Friday, September 28, 2007

One quite mad day in London town...

Well, I made it! I'm in the Netherlands now, but had a crazy 24 hours in London first. After a quick flight I landed at Heathrow and the Express train took me into London in no time. But right away my luck started to change. It's cold there, not that I mind so much, but the locals said it was warm up until just yesterday! And (of course) most of the Underground subway lines were down due to the usual strike, so I had to find a cab from the station to my hotel. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea-- there was a HUGE line waiting for cabs. So I started to walk, and (not knowing I was walking in the wrong direction) I happened on a special private cab company guy who took me there; but he wanted me to call his company first to ask if he could take me! Strange, I know, but that's Europe for you: they do things a bit differently here.
Anyway, my hotel was right near the London Eye, that huge ferris wheel-on-the-Thames. I had only gotten maybe an hour of sleep but, as usual on my first day back in Europe, I was too excited to sleep and hit the ground running. I had 3 goals: to do the Eye, which I did, meeting some nice Swedes who were so interesting we almost forgot to look around while up there), finally tour Parliament, which I also did, although footsore by now and sleepy-- and what a grand old building it is! It puts the Capitol to shame. I was standing right where I saw Tony Blair debating in the House of Commons.
My last mission was to tasted some great old English beers and most especially, to find some scrumpy, an almost impossible task. You see, scrumpy is a rough farmhouse fermented cider that is normally only found way out in a very few country inns up in the English countryside. And there's not too many farms near Waterloo station in London. But I started asking bartenders, stopping in several pubs near the hotel (and feeling obligated and not forgetting my other mission, trying a beer or two at each place). I met a real cockney bloke who looked kinda like brother-in-law Wayne but sounded just like Alfred P. Doolittle, Liza's father in My Fair Lady. We had an interesting chat about how most Americans dislike George Bush (and most Europeans too).
Nobody knew of anywhere in London I could find the cider, but I found a reference in a Rick Steves book to a "Cider tavern near Victoria Station". I jotted down the address, jumped in the Tube and went there, thinking someone there would know. Well, I asked everybody, including a guy who said he'd worked right there at the pub across the street for 15 years, and even a cabbie (they have to pass a 3-year course on studying the London streets) and they both had never heard of the place OR even the street!
Now here's the strange thing: after studying a little map of London, I finally found it myself, and guess what? It's not four blocks from Victoria station! Does that tell you how maze-like this city is?
Anyway, I have to report that I failed in my mission, because although they had many ciders, including one actually called "scrumpy", it really wasn't (although it was quite good nonetheless).
And while doggedly sacrificing my sobriety in tasting many of them (for the cause of research) I had a fascinating conversation with a man in his 70's who, if he was from My Fair Lady, would have to be Henry Higgins. He was very posh and well-spoken, but was drinking with me (and keeping up) and had some great stories to tell, especially about his childhood during the war.
So the evening wasn't a total loss, although I did have a bit of trouble getting back to my hotel: what had seemed effortless while relatively sober, was now a confusing, blurry jumble of train stations and mischievous trains that cleverly took me to anywhere but my destination!
I kept getting off at the same wrong station, and after the attendant saw me return for the third time and wearily ask directions again, patiently drew me a map and wrote down the different trains I needed to take. You see, at some stations, they have four different train lines all intersecting. This means there can be up to ten tunnels to choose from (two for each direction and two exits), and they're not level, oh no, they go up and down and sideways and slantways and more ways than Willie's Wonkavator. And try it barely able to walk or see. (That cider was stronger than I thought). Go on, I dare you!
Anyway, I finally did make it back, and had to get up in 5 hours to catch my Chunnel train to Amsterdam. While the EuroStar trains are sweet-- quiet, fast, and even serving a better breakfast than any airline, it was another train journey destined to be fraught with disaster. I didn't realize that mainland Europe time is one hour ahead of the Brit's; in Brussels I missed a connection, then another one because of some faulty info an attendant gave me. Tired and shamefully hung over, I spent WAY too much time at that station. I never want to see it again. But I finally got to Amsterdam and then to Haarlem, a cute little nearby town, where the Rick Steves tour is meeting tomorrow. (The Dutch liked this town so much they named a certain settlement in America after it that you may have heard of.)
After a shower to wake me up I zipped back to Amsterdam to explore, getting an opportunity to talk about Bush again with some Dutch locals. They seem amazingly well-informed about U.S. politics (more than some Americans I could mention); when I remarked so they replied that what the U.S. does affects the rest of the world. Funny how you don't really think about that until you come here.
Anyway, to get back to Amsterdam; well, you've probably heard about how "relaxed"the city is. Let's just put it this way: What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam; it's pretty crazy there, at least at night. But our group will go there day after the morrow, so I'll get to see it in the daytime. Meanwhile I'll stay here in quaint little Haarlem tomorrow and continue my convalescence from The Great Scrumpy Hunt. Maybe I'll be ready to try some Heineken tomorrow-- after all, this is where it's made. This is Dave the Voyager signing off for now. Tune in soon for more juicy tales from the Old Country!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gotta get back now!

Ok, so the housing market is slow... does that mean I have to wait forever to go back to Europe? Apparently not-- since I'm leaving Sept 26 for another Rick Steves tour, this time from Amsterdam to Rome & back to Paris, stopping at some great towns along the way, like Rothenburg Germany, Venice & Florence, the Cinque Terre, and Reutte, Austria (I never heard of it either, but I'm sure it's nice.) I should even get into Munich for a bit of Oktoberfesting.
If you feel like looking at a map of the route, here's the link:
So, watch this space for pictures and notes of the trip, and try not to be jealous!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Still here... like an unwelcome guest

Now it's September and I'm STILL trying to sell the house! As you no doubt know, the market is as slow as __________(insert your favorite cliche here). But I'm getting some bites and I'm hopeful I may be able to leave by the end of this month. Wish me luck!
P.S. Meanwhile, I've taken a quick trip to Vegas, (pictured here on Fremont Street with nephew Kevin) and am planning another maybe to Colorado this month. Also, I've added some reading for you on the Grand Tour, below on the right. Thanks for visiting.

"The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say."
-- A walking song by Bilbo Baggins

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Still waiting...

Well, it's April and I'm eager to go. I'm researching where in Europe I'd like to go (see my list link in lower right) but there's just too much for one year. I'll try to get to as many as I can. In the meanwhile it all depends on when the house sells. As soon as it does, I'm outta here!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Dave Does Europe

Welcome to my blogsite!

I'll be adding to this as I travel around Europe. Follow me as I wander the "Continent", and I'm sure it will be entertaining...

~Dave (Voyager)