31 May ’04, Monday. East by North East…. That was the direction for the journey today. We left Dinant about 10:30am and finally set our destination to be Köln (Cologne), Germany. Louise and I had a great time in Dinant and met several couples that we definitely will be keeping in touch with (Pete and Sue, the “Old Speckled Hen” was fantastic !!! Thanks a lot). Just about every camping location has given us the opportunity to make long term relationships with couples from all ends of the map. Everyone of them has an interesting story to tell and we hope to see each of them again in one campground or another soon. “Happy Travels” !!! We took to the “Less Traveled Roads” again today as we headed into Germany. The countryside was really like nothing we have ever seen before. It is somewhat similar to the western side of Washington State. One big exception, in less than an hours drive we drove by 4 of the 19 Atomic Energy Plants in Germany. That was different!!! This was the last day of a 4 day holiday and yet the traffic on the roads that we traveled was very light. We had sunshine just about all day with the exception of once we settled down in our new “pitch” and went for a short walk it started to rain….Oh well…it’s just a little water. Our destination campground was going to be sooo easy to find this time…well that’s what we thought. The campground that we did find is really quite nice. We are again camping right on the bank of a river. This one is the River Rhine and is about 8km from Köln central. It is located on a long thin island and has a wonderful trail that goes from one end to the other. There are about 100 campsites here and right now is about 50% full. Tomorrow….Köln.
29 & 30 May ’04, Saturday and Sunday. Happy Birthdays to Trevor and Grandma Lois !!!! We will toast you with a glass of the bubbly tonight. It’s going to be a beautiful day with the prospects of rain tomorrow (Sunday) so we were off early to see “La Merveilleuse” of Dinant. Now in a simple language, we went and enjoyed the Cave of Dinant. After a long walk to get there I found out they didn’t have any elevators to take me down to see the cave….what kind of deal was this anyway? I think Louise is trying to kill me with all this walking…. Anyway, we caught onto a tour and had a good time overall. The cave was really quite deep and had two large arenas that we were able to see. In between we did see a number of nice displays of stalactites and waterfalls. It seems that the cave was used by the British and American Armies during WWII. The German forces were within a few hundred meters with their camps and never did know about the cave. On the walk back to the van, Louise spotted a trail off the roadway that went almost straight up. Well guess what…Yep, after lunch we set off again and found ourselves going through a pretty dense growth of trees and brush on a marked trail. The day was finished off by our finding our way back to the van and having a lite dinner. Tomorrow… It’s going to rain so we will hang close.
We woke to the sun shining again but you could tell it was going to be short lived. It has been quite awhile since we’ve had the opportunity to use a internet. Even to up-load, send and hopefully receive some emails would be great. Well off we went to the Ibis Hotel here in Dinant. They do have a internet connection that you can put a coin into and check email so, that is were we went this morning. After a casual walk into town and getting to the Ibis, we found the computer with a sign on it saying “OUT OF ORDER ! What is this, a conspiracy toward us? Well, we’ll show them….we stopped by a great little bakery and bought ourselves a treat. As it is, we should have bought 2 treats as it has started to RAIN!!! Tomorrow….On the road to somewhere in Germany (maybe).
28 May ’04. Friday. Dang!!! IT WAS COLD last night !!! River valley or mountain top, it really got cold once the sun went down. We huddled well past 9am and we had to be tough on each other in order to get the day started. As it was, once we got our shower and breakfast taken care of, the sun had already warmed it up enough that we knew better than dress for winter for our trip to the citadel. Donning the backpack and camera we headed off on the same route to town that we had taken yesterday afternoon (there is only one way into town !!!). When we paid for our passes to the Dinant Citadel (la Citadelle Dinant) we had a choice of walking up the 408 steps or taking the cable lift…THE CABLE LIFT IT WILL BE !!! We were very lucky as the weather was absolutely perfect today. This also made the view from the top stunning to say the least. It seems that the name Dinant was first recorded in 800 BC. The first Citadel was built towards 1040. the main activity was the manufacturing of copper. Charles the Bold destroyed Dinant in 1466 but was rebuilt in 1523 and that is when they built the 408 step stairway that we “DID” walk down. This town was also occupied by Louis XIV from 1675-1698. During the struggle for independence of Belgium it was occupied as a penal battalion. In 1878 it was finally sold to the public but then it was taken during violent conflicts of both World Wars. It was very interesting to see the way it was designed to defend the city and the bridge below. The 2 meter thick walls and the slits that were made for the rifles and the larger openings for the canons. We even walled in the trenches of the Yser of 1914. We walked on the stairs and floor of the “collapsed shelter cave. Keeping your balance was tough. Well, time to grab a quick sandwich and head for the river and the trip down the Meuse. 45 minutes of beautiful visual entertainment...“sit back and let the world go drifting by” Tomorrow….Caves of Dinant
27 May ‘04, Thursday. We weren’t out of Averbode more than 15 miles, and heading South, when we started to see a lot more change in the countryside. When we arrived in Averbode we started to see more and more trees and the start of hilly country with some low hills here and there. The campground, and around the lake, was pretty well covered with tall trees. You could really see the flat lands, that we have been traveling in for the last 7 weeks, start to disappear. Now after 15 miles or so we are definitely into the hilly areas and will soon be in the Ardennes. We have also left the Flemish speaking Belgium’s and have arrived in the Wallonie area, which is the French speaking area of Belgium. Just before Namur, we started to drop into a long river valley that would take us all the way down to Dinant and beyond. The Meuse River meets and joins the Lellse here in Dinant. This seems to be quite a tourist destination. The water sports run from boating, water skiing, fishing, kayak and canoeing, jet skis, and onto caving, rock climbing, and of course sightseeing all the areas of history from the 800’s to WWII. After stopping for lunch along side the Meuse, we continued into Dinant and arrived here at the riverside campgrounds about 3pm. It didn’t take much time before we were all setup on the river bank and heading for town. It was about 25 minutes along the river and we had found ourselves walking into another very interesting town. We can’t wait for tomorrow so we can get started exploring this area. Right now we were on the hunt for the elusive “Internet Café” that we still haven’t found. Well, it looks like we will have plenty of fun? trying to be understood and understanding French…. it’s only the first day….
Tomorrow….The Citadel and a river ride….
26 May ’04, Wednesday. We had an early appointment at the Abbey this morning. Now I understand 10am is just about half way through the day for some of you but for us…it’s early enough. It took us just about 15 minutes to walk there and when we arrived it very quiet and no one was around. Now I know that we had been told that we would be joining a large group When we walked into the large reception area outside the chapel and we were the only one to arrive, I was wondering who may have made a mistake. As it was, the guide was just around the corner and the rest of the tour wouldn’t show for another 20 minutes. We had a great chance to get some one on one with the guide. The rest of the tour he would be speaking in Flemish so this time with him really helped us.
The Abbey is called the Averbode Abbey and was established in 1137. It still boggles my mind when we hear and see the dates that we are being introduced too. This is history with a “H”. The stories of the Abbey. The people, wars, how they lived, ate, taught, traveled and why….I wish we could record for you all we have seen and will see. One thing that we have found, Louise’s dad was put into a boarding school as a young man and the school was one of two that was established and run by the Norbertines. This Abbey was founded by St. Norbert in the 12th century. This Abbey is the oldest in Belgium and 35 priests still make their residence here on some very large and beautiful grounds. There is some restoration going on in the chapel but otherwise it was in wonderful condition. After our tour we walked to our newly found “ice cream wagon” and enjoyed a wonderful treat. The Belgium’s have the best ice cream…. We enjoyed this treat for the 2nd day in a row. A double scoop in a sugar cone was $1. Then on to the van and a short drive into Diest for the afternoon of lunch, internet café to catch up on email, and wondering the streets. Diest has a beautiful church that is really in need of restoration. It is the worst we have seen but we understand that there is going to be a big restoration coming soon. We hope so. The town owes it to it’s self to get behind this project. As we were arriving back to our pitch we had a very nice motor home pull into the pitch next to us. We had a chance to meet Cees (Case) and Els. They are expecting their family to join them for the weekend. They live just across the border into the Netherlands. With all their experiences camping Europe we were able to glean some good places to look for during our journey. We also received a wonderful gift of a Delft painted ceramic Dutch Wooden Shoe from Cees and Els. Thank you again!! Tomorrow… Dinant, Belgium.
25 May ’04, Tuesday. A “Day Off”… actually, I’m going to have to change the name of Day Off to “Work Like Hell Day”…it is more realistic. The one good thing is we normally sleep in a little later, but otherwise, we start tearing everything apart, pull out the laundry, wash the van, pull down the luggage and sort through it to see if there is a chance that you have something you haven’t worn yet or was put away dirty (what me???). After we got the laundry all sorted and we headed up to the machines, we found that they were already in use. The manager told us it would probably be at least 3 before we could get our stuff in so, we lugged it all back to the van. While we waiting, we decided to take a walk toward the Abbey. The manager made a phone call for us and set it up so we could get a tour of the Abbey in the morning. So we wanted to test how long it might take to walk it. After a 2 hour walk to the Abbey and town, we made it back to do our washing. Oh yes, I had lifted a large bag and it caught my sunglasses and took one of the lenses out and twisted the frame. While on our walk we came across a great little optical shop and they jumped right in and fixed them just like new. Wouldn’t you know it but, they wouldn’t take any money for it….great people here in Belgium. Now, back to the laundry…it turns out that the machines that we had been waiting for hadn’t been in use after-all…but we could use them now… We have found that every campground has a completely different pair of washer and dryer systems that keep you guessing as to how to make them work. It’s not because we haven’t used a washer and dryer before but… It would really help if the instructions were written in ENGLISH. Wouldn’t that make everything better? Right !! Well, back to reality. It seems that the washing cycle takes 1 ½ hours for each load and the drying cycle takes 2 ½ hours for each load. We finished (actually pulled the load out before finishing) just after 11pm…our bed time. The final load that we pulled early included our sheets from the bed. Somewhat dry but, somewhat damp as well,… we put them on and went to bed. What can I say? Tomorrow…. Abbey tour.
24 May ’04, Monday. It was difficult to checkout of Antwerp this morning but we wanted to give the “Big Cities” a rest for awhile. Sooo, we headed south. We avoided going into Brussels’s (Bruxelles) for the time being. Our first stop this morning was at a market on the square, that we found as we were going through a small village. Our find for the morning was on meat for tonight and tomorrow nights dinners. Our next stop, was off a little trail that we happened to wonder onto. We followed it for at least 2 miles and when it came to the end we pulled into a small grass field and had our lunch….this is what it’s all about !!!
Actually, our drive took us due East from Antwerp and this evening we are camping in Averbode, Belgium. Today’s trip will keep you busy in finding Averbode on a map. We found this campground only by stopping at a gas station and asking if there was any camping around the area. Our map and the guide book we use didn’t show anything in the area and it was getting later than we like. Now, I must explain “late”….we try to find our “pitch” prior to noon or maybe as late as 2. But today we were still on the road without a stopping place at 5pm. Anyway, we found this great campground right next to a lake. It has at least 3 restaurants right on the lake that we can have a meal or a drink. Also, if the grandkids were here, they would go nuts with all the activities here. We heard there is a beautiful Abbey just down the road that serve their own ice cream at 6pm to those that come by. Now that sounds good to me !!! We have planned already to visit them in the morning. Probably not much luck they will have their ice cream then… Today was a day of travel and the weather was sunny with a few large clouds. Our stay in Antwerp was sunny with some clouds and COLD !!!! Tonight is much better. After dinner tonight, Louise and I were discussing the different toilet facilities that we have found since starting our journey. So, I thought I would let you in on the conversation as well. Now Louise has a lot more experience to expand on than I do in putting this information out. The number one most disgusting toilet for her (I wouldn’t go in) was at the bus station in Luxor, Egypt. I won’t go into detail except that it was a squat toilet, she couldn’t hold her breath long enough and….let’s just say “not the cleanest” in the world. Then you’ve got just the other side of the “toilet rating”. This afternoon she had the opportunity to use her first toilet that fully cleans it’s self after each use. The seat makes a complete circle through a cleaning area and at the same time, the bowl get’s a special cleaning as well. Then, there are the campground toilet/shower(douche) areas. We thought our first campground was an example of what we would find pretty much all around Europe….we were mistaken !!! It turns out that that campground (in Utrecht) was our worst so far. It was not clean, if you know what I mean, and it smelled bad. From that point on we have only had one other that could have been better. It too needed a better ventilation system and a good cleaning wouldn’t have hurt. The big difference was what we paid per night. Utrecht was 3 times more expensive and they seemed to have cared less just how bad it was there. Tomorrow….The Abbey and…
22 May ’04, Saturday. There is nothing like a good walk (but sore feet !!). We left for the underwater tunnel at 10:47 this morning and we were in the mart (one of the many city market areas or plaza’s) by 11:18 or about 30 minutes. Now I must tell you, as I write this my feet are starting to finally feel like they belong attached to the bottom of my legs. Our plan this morning was to explore a couple of museums and churches. “Well made plans are made to be changed”, and that we did by taking a self-guided “walking tour”. Lucky for me we took the shortest of the two tours available. In addition to our walk through the streets of Antwerp, we did see 2 really beautiful churches. In the Cathedral of Antwerp, we were able to be a part of an English spoken “guided tour”. Louise and I had already taken our own tour through the cathedral before we heard the announcement that a tour was available. It was really amazing just how much more you get when a professional is there to guide you. I guess we haven’t taken too many guided tours because we are TOO CHEAP!! One of the big draws that we were interested in was the works of Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens is Antwerp and Antwerp is Rubens. P.P. Rubens started to be really recognized when he was taken as a court painter for Archduke Albrecht and Archduchess Isabella in 1609. From that point on the English, French, and Spanish monarchs sought his services. We have been very fortunate to see some of his best work here in Antwerp and there is more to see in the next day or two. It really is quite stunning. We learned that where the cathedral now stands and is part of the foundation, was a small chapel of the Virgin that was started in the tenth century. This cathedral was first established in 1124 and has gone through enlargements from that time to 1520. This was then and is today, the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries (Benelux countries). Today, because we are receiving such a great deal (price) on our campground pitch, we splurged on a wonderful lunch in the main Grote Markt. I wont go into a lot of detail of what we had but, I just wanted to mention that I lost my visor….I really liked that visor too. Well anyway, after lunch and having a chance to let our feet rest, we walked to St Carolus Borromeus Church. This church also has 2 Rubens and a number of other fine art on display. They also have 9 suspended “Punching Bags” printed with illustrations of 17th century ivory preciosa. This is to give form to the religious dimension of present day life and hang as a sort of life preserver for dealing with emotions that could arise in life. Tomorrow….Different Shoes !!!!
21 May ’04, Friday. A great morning to sleep in after yesterday’s busy day. We finally pulled the side door of the van open just after 9am and stumbled out toward the toilet and douche (shower). After I made our coffee and had our breakfast of a energy bar we pack-up and moved onto Antwerp. There were 3 different routes that we could take and you would think that finding anyone of them would be a snap…..well not exactly!!! I really don’t understand it, but we are having a heck of a time in some of these cities getting out and around in them. After circling Ghent, and going I don’t know where, we finally found one of the routes that we were looking for. It happened to be the route that went through every little and big “burg” possible. Overall, it was well worth it. A couple of days back we found a new grocery outlet that really is quite a bargain house. The only problem is, they don’t carry a lot of items and the items they do carry are no doubt off brand. The flavor and the quality are still very good and the price is really unbelievable. A couple of examples… Piato Ribble Potato Chips, standard medium bag is $0.39 and a box of really good coffee 500g is $2.15. Good Premium Pilsnier 6 pack @ $2.10 for longneck tall bottles. Well anyway, on our way to Antwerp we came across this store again and had to make a special stop and stock our refrigerator and shelves once more. Our trip today was about 60 km. With all of our stops (the grocery store, a beautiful castle, lunch in a parking lot of a park, feeding a flock of chickens and roosters and getting lost) we still got into our campground and were heading out on a walk into town by 4pm. Antwerp is basically across the Sheldt river from the campground we are staying. We were told it was just a 15 minute walk into town but it really turned out to be just over 35 and we weren’t just taking our time. The route takes us through a really nice park, over looks a boat marina, and takes a turn at the tunnel that is a pedestrian only tunnel under the river. There are 2 escalators, each about 3 to 4 stories long (high) that take you down to the tunnel and then it is a straight shot of about 7-800 miters (it took us 13 minutes to walk). They have a very large elevator that you can take to the bottom as well. This is used primarily by the bikers (bicycles). When you arrive outside on the other side you are right in the city. We were looking for that “Internet Café”…. And we found one !!! Well, tomorrow…. Antwerp (Antwerpen, Belgique).
May 20, Thursday. Up early and off to the train, we had to take the bus part of the way and walk the remaining 700meters. We bought our tickets to Brugge for the Holy Day procession.
We had to decide which train to take, the stop train (which stops at all the towns in between Ghent and Brugge) or the express that goes direct to Brugge. After some discussion it was decided that we would take the stop train. So off we go !! It was a very nice train, plush seats for comfort and so smooth and quiet you really couldn’t tell we were moving. When the conductor arrived to take our tickets, we were in first class. Unfortunately we had paid for second soooo…. At the next stop we had to move to the second class car. It was very nice as well, but a bit more noisy and bumpy. When we arrived in Brugge, the St. Salvador’s bell was ringing. A very persistent ring but it still sounded great. Following the sound and we made our way to the church. They were getting ready for mass and the church was packed. Standing room only. After waiting awhile we soon heard what sounded like trumpets coming from a distance. The sound drew closer and then entered the church. It was a honor guard carrying the Relic of the Sacred Blood. There were dignitaries both from the church and the city. The smell of incense was everywhere. Sometimes words are not enough to describe the events of the day, and this is one of those days. The sounds and smells are overwhelming. The ceremony was in Dutch, so we couldn’t understand much. When leaving the church, we saw hundreds of chairs set out in front of the shops along the street. We were told that these chairs were for viewing the Parade later in the day. For 7 euros you could reserve one for the day. We decided that was for us. There were already thousands of people milling around and we wanted to be sure we would have good views of the procession. It was 11:00am at this time and the procession stated at 3:00 so we headed out to St. Jans and the internet café. We had our trusty map but still lost our way. Tired and hungry we spotted a lovely little hotel and café on the canal and had ourselves a treat and some coffee before heading back.
This time we found the internet café and got some emails sent. The whole city was now teaming with people and it was getting hard to move around. So we found a wonderful French deli, bought a baguette sandwich, a wonderful apple raspberry tart, and headed for our reserved seats. We had a great lunch while watching the people. It was so interesting. At 3:00 the street was still filled with people. What? Well they do not clear the streets until the procession is upon them and then they have to dart off wherever they can. Interesting to say the least. The parade started with much heraldry, trumpets, horns and drums. The costumes were rich and colorful. They started with Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses , Pharaohs to the Birth of Christ and his life
It was all very colorful and dramatic with herds of sheep, camels, donkeys and lots of magnificent horses. Many bands, all dressed in medieval costumes. And the Relic of the Sacred Blood came toward the end with all the church bells in the city ringing. Wow!!!
We headed back to get the train to Ghent. This time we took the extra train. Extra is for; flying back to Ghent. Very fast!! We walked back to camp, had some wine, and a dinner of Schnitzel. What a day!!!!