10/6/00 Maurice's birthday. We drove on the auotroute into
Italy. It went through tunnel after tunnel. This road much have cost a
fortune to build. There must have been 30 tunnels. It became very boring
and it was tiring because I had to stay really alert. We went past a lot
of covered gardens, greenhouse type things covered in plastic-not attractive
at all. Once we got off the autoroute, it was pretty-little towns with
their churches. Because the roads were so curvy, we never got out of 2nd
gear. Finally arrived in Cinque Terra, at Vernazza.
It was too small for parking in the town, so we parked outside on the
road and walked in downhill. It was 4pm so we had trouble finding an empty
place to stay. We went to one place that was full. Vernazza is so small
that the landlady just leaned out the window and called down to someone
and in a couple of minutes another lady showed up to take us to a room
she had for rent that was reached going up ancient steps through a dark
alley where you could touch the buildings on either side. The room was
very modern and new. The land lady spoke no English, but we managed. We
heard the church bell and trains whizzing by all night but slept well..
Belgium, it turns out is not only very close to Paris-we were across the border in 1 1/2 hour- but it is a very small country. Maurice says that you can cross it and be in Amsterdam before you realize it as it is about 60 miles across. I had been in Brussels in the distant pass but my only memory there is of the Mannequin Piss which I believe is in Brussels.
We left at 8am to go to a little town called Crupet where we meeting some friends at a really nice hotel called Les Rameurs. We pulled into the parking lot at 11am. The hotel is near a small little village in the South of Belgium and in a beautiful setting of trees, green grass, and a little stream. It also possesses a great restaurant.
We set off right away, with Richard and Linda, in our car driving around exploring. We found a small town whose name I have forgotten with an interesting looking cathedral with a onion dome overlooking a river. It turns out that the inventor of the saxophone(last name of Sax) was from here. He died before it became popular with jazz musicians.
We then went to the site of the Battle of the Bulge. I don't remember much about this battle in W.W.II but I believe this was the turning point of the Allied victory. When the leader of the unit there was told to surrender his reply was "Nuts". There wasn't a surrender, they held on with help from Belgians and Germany was unable to take the area. There is a huge monument there in the shape of a star with the names of the 50 states engraved. I believe 10,000 Americans died here. Hard to imagine. France, I know, lost so many men, over 1 million, in W.W.I and II that every village has a little monument to someone lost from their village. Farmers for years after were digging up, not only body parts, but shells, bullets, and sometimes they were killed when something exploded. It's incomprehensible to imagine this when nothing like this happen to us. We came the closest to this in our Civil War. It was interesting to stand at the top of the monument and imagine what it was like to see the Germans approaching from just about every side in a "bulge", thus the name
We made a stop in another little town that was celebrating this battle with a band and men in uniforms marching. We found some American soldiers there, stationed in Belgium, but they could tell us much about why the celebration was going on. Maurice tried to find out with someone who spoke French, but got little information. I think that today's youth know very little about the past wars, even though they are serving in the military.
We arrived back at Crupet where we stopped to have a drink in the little village. I decided to cross the road and look at the church and cemetery across the street. I was wandering around when I came upon what I would call a grotto; this tall structure with a cave going underground. There were these figures here and there that looked plastic or acrylic in colors right out of a Disney cartoon, very bright and unreligious looking, in my mind. Underneath was a group of figures depicting a miracle, along with candles to light for prayers. I believe a miracle must have taken place here. Outside was a priest figure on his knees, above a crèche type scene with baby Jesus and angels.. In the back was a figure of a disciple holding up a cross to a cowering Satan who had black bat wings and black fingernails. For some reason I didn't take a picture of this. Now I wish I had. It was really ugly. The hotel across the street was called Le Petite Diablo, I guess after this figure. Back to a great dinner at the hotel.
The only picture I took there.
On Sunday, Maurice and I set out for Bruges. This is a beautiful town, that because of a major river silting up and closing an important harbor, is frozen in time. Bruges was once a major town in Europe, known for their wool, lace and tapestries. Before tourism struck, I read that 10,000 women lace makers tried to keep from starvation with their lace. We say a lady making lace there by hand. What an intricate process.
Everywhere I looked was something that I wanted to photograph. Beautiful buildings with their stairstep roofs, churches, town halls, cobbled streets, and all of this along canals which makes Bruges called the Venice of the North. In spite of all of the beauty there is a Disneyland feel because it is packed with tourists and lined with shops. I still loved it. We did a boat ride down the canals to get a view of the city from there.
I enjoyed talking the the ticket taker at the Chapel of the Holy Blood where a religious relic, supposedly some of Christ's blood, is kept in a ornate gold chest covered in jewels. He was so proud of everything and told us about all of the relics and said the box is brought out in a procession at Ascension. I'd love to come back and see that. He said the 3 times in history the relic has been buried, during W.W.I &II,and the French Revolution where problems reached even up into Belgium.
Chapel of the Holy Blood
At the Church of Our Lady are two mausoleums of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold, which were really beautiful. There is also a sculpture by Michaelangelo.
Mary of Burgundy, died at age 25.
Michaelangelo's Madonna and Child
Belgium is known for their lace so I wanted to buy some. We went into a really nice shop with beautiful lace, but I decided I didn't know where I would put it in our little place, so I got a T-shirt with handmade lace on it. I was taken by the tapestry in the store and we bought a pillow of a scene from Bruges that was handmade which I love. The ladies were so nice, and when I asked them about the tapestry hanging in the Cluny they were so excited to share their knowledge with me and took me around the store showing copies, made by hand, in their shop of those I saw in the Cluny, and others. I know so little about tapestry. I've decided to go back to the Cluny to look at the tapestries again, and get a book on the subject so I can learn more about it.
On the way back to Paris, we stopped in Lille to walk around the college Maurice graduated from, very old and stately-the school, not Maurice.
What an interesting city Prague turned out to be. I had no expectations but everyone I had talked to who had been there had loved it. Parts of it have that Moscow look of very sad, used looking buildings which I imagine were built during the Soviet occupation. The old city, however, is wonderful with many building painted in different colors, rather like in Italy with bright ochre, pink, light green, the whole color scale. There are a lot of roof lines that reminded me of Belgium and cobbled streets everywhere. In fact, all of the small streets were cobbled and many of the sidewalks were cobbled in smaller stones in black and white designs. It was great to wander around the little streets and just soak up the atmosphere.
One of the first things we noticed was several towers with sharp spiky towers thrusting up into the air and appearing black in color. I don't know if they were made that way or if it was from years of pollution. To me they reminded me of scenes from Dracula movies and I told Maurice they looked evil, so whenever we were walking around trying to find something we would say, "Where are the evil towers?" as direction finders. The Czech Republic, as it is now called, was known for years as a country where black magic and the occult were practiced and some of this must have rubbed off on me as I still remember a horrible nightmare I had there one night about vampires.
There is a wonderful bridge going over a river splitting Prague in two lined with statues and wonderful views either way of the city. It was lined with people selling things for tourists. Speaking of which, Prague was packed with tourists. It was like Disneyland. Prague is known for it's Christmas shopping and a lot of Czechs were there along with the rest of us. There was a Christmas market set up in front of the main cathedral where Christmas articles were sold, along with hats, glove and mufflers(it was really cold, -10C one day), hot dogs, and hot drinks. The whole time we were there, Christmas music was being sung by choirs on a stage set up there. A great air to get ready for Christmas.
The churches are something else. The architects and designers of Prague went in to Baroque BIG time. Everything is gilded and overloaded with angels with a feel that I remember seeing in Spain and Mexico. There is also a lot of Art Deco and Art nouveau here which I especially love. We found two hotels done in Art Nouveau style that were wonderful. We did a tour of a fabulous concert center done this way and the work was unbelievable. They didn't allow pictures, unfortunately. Most of the cathedrals didn't either, although I snuck a few, being an ugly American. I couldn't resist.
Some of things in Prague were very reasonable in cost, such as the tram fair-20 cents or food. Our average meal was usually about $10. The things sold to tourists, however, were not inexpensive. I bought a T-shirt that cost more than a meal that Maurice and I had. I imagine when the Czech Republic joins the Euro in a few years, everything will cost more. I was just glad to see them starting to prosper.
Right across from our hotel was a bar advertising country music. I don't know why, but I thought it would be American country music. We went in one night and were immediately in a fog of thick cigarette smoke and a lot of men drinking beer. The Czechs are know both for their beer making and beer drinking. A little band started playing at one of the corner tables. There were two guitars, a mandolin, a harmonica and the bass fiddle was one of those Appalatian type things with a metal bucket at the bottom to which was attached a broom handle and one string. The guy did amazing things with it. They sang mostly Czech country songs but I did recognize Rocky Mountain High. The bar itself was decorated with American objects such as the American flag, American license plates, and cowboy apparel.
The evil towers
Some interesting architecture
A great clock.Note the skeleton(death)telling us time is short.
The bridge on our first day when it rained.
Exterior of a church(one of over 400)with a profusion of angels.
London August 15 &16, 2002
We had a nice trip on a hover craft across the Channel to England with our car. It went very smoothly and easily. THEN we tried to drive into London. What a nightmare. It took us over three hours to finally find our hotel. Our hotel turned out to be a dump and it was unair-conditioned with the temperatures getting into the 90's. Unfortunately, we paid before we looked at the really small, awful room so we had to spend one night there. We checked into a Hilton the next night. We are amazed at high the prices are in London. Our dumpy room cost over $100 and would have cost maybe in $40 in the States. Anyway, we took the subway to look at Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. They didn't allow any photos inside Westminster. It was really packed with interesting sculptures and "Poet's Corner" where many famous English Poets are such as Keats.
The next day, after a bad hot night that was also noisy because we had to leave the windows open for fresh air, we walked around the Tower of London. It was packed with tourists. It was interesting to walk around.
This guy gave a demo of armor
A guard there that must have been really hot
Tower Bridge outside of the Tower of London.
Dorset-We had a horrible time getting out of London as they don't have freeways leaving the city. You are required to take roads once used by local traffic and wind your way through tiny towns and around round abouts. It was hot and expected to get hotter so instead of heading inland and north to Cambridge we decided to go down to the coast where there would be a cooling breeze. I got out my Frommers and read about 3 little villages on the coast of Dorset. It turned out to be another long drive but as we got closer there were rolling green hills and, finally, the ocean could be seen. We went into a little place called Lyme Regis and found a nice B&B and parked the car. The village reminded me alot of those I've seen in Brittany in France with hills, steep roofs and rocky coast lines. The only thing missing was the arches into the water. The cliffs around here are lime and filled with fossils and when the tide goes out you can see many people out looking for them. I thought they would be easy to pick up, like sea shells, but it turns out you need a hammer and chisel. I may try and find some.
View of a seawall there.
Proof we are in England
View of Dorset coastline in the distance
Cat in window and hand blown glass next to him
We are staying 2 nights in Lyme Regis to save ourselves from any driving for a day. I had wanted to go onto the beach and look for fossils but we missed low tide and so decided to do a hike along a coast path. At one time you could take a walk along the cliffs and see the ocean the whole way but since a "land slip" it isn't considered safe so the walk goes pretty far inland. We caught glimpses of the ocean every once in a while but mainly walked through a forest that had so many ferns that it almost seemed tropical. The walk to the next town of Seaton turned out to be 7 miles. It got to be pretty hard, all up and down paths and by the last mile I was so ready for the walk to be over. We finally made it into the town and, thank God, there was a bus back to Lyme. We had what is called an English cream tea first which is biscuits with jam and clotted cream which seems to be cream that is beaten until just before the cream is turned into butter. We hadn't had lunch so it tasted really good along with hot tea. It turned overcast and cold by afternoon. For dinner we had a rather bad meal, which seems to be usual in England. The meal last night was horrible. We were wiped out by the walk and made an early night of it.
Interesting thatched roof in the area.
We went to Salisbury today, the home of a wonderful cathedral with a well known steeple. The cathedral was built in 35 years or so, instead of the usual hundreds of years, so is pure in one style.
We spent the day and night here and then went on to nearby Stonehenge. No one knows why this was built but they do know that it was started 5000 years ago and was possible for sun and star navigation and/or some sort of worship. A very interesting and moving place.
Here is a drawing of what they believe Stonehenge once looked like
Part of what is left today
Afterwards we stopped in the town of Wincester to see the famous and beautiful cathedral. Jane Austin is buried here.
Her tomb on the floor next to a brass memorial
Next to the town where our ferry left from is a neat little village I read about called Alfrington. We had an English tea here and wandered around until it was time to catch our ferry back to France.
Neat little church there with the typical spread of grass
Tombstones next to the church
September 10-13th, 2004
I was invited by a friend to England in the Cotswold region. She was house sitting and cat sitting in what turned out to be a castle. It was fabulous, a real castle converted into 36 private apartments. It was like being in a fairy tale when we sat at the huge dining room table for dinner. The region is especially lovely as well.
This is where we stayed. Note private church next to it.
The view from my bedroom.
The fireplace in a large room they call the dining room.
Where we suffered and ate dinner every night.
We could have played billards.
The ceiling in the dining room.
This is the view from a gambling house built by the once owner of our chateau. They watched dogs race by chasing a deer and made wagers on the fastest dog.
This is the conservatory behind our castle where plants are grown.
A little courtyard there.
A cemetery lies next to the chapel.
Error on a tomb stone inside the chapel-oops!
The lord of the manor.
A great mansion was nearby in a village called Snowshill-part of the garden there.
Lovely gate in the garden.
View of mansion from below.
Closeup of some berriers growing there.
A view of another cemetery from a church in Snowshill.
Castle of an American in a much grander scale than ours.