A Travellerspoint blog

The Netherlands

rain

My mother always said “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything!”

So. Ummm... Here are the photos:

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The windmills at Kinderdijk, just outside Rotterdam

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Canal bridge on the road into Rotterdam

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The Kijk-Kubus Museum House in Rotterdam was even stranger from inside!

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The coat rack at Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans van Beuningen was quite ingenious

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We spent a night in Delft (just south of The Hague) and checked out the famous Delft pottery

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The Hague Department of Justice buildings (we think...)

… all we can say is thank God for Amsterdam!

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A multi storey parking garage for bicycles... Only in the Netherlands!

The Netherlands' one saving grace blew our minds and our budget (well, our budget at least...) Over two days, and despite the terrible weather, we managed to get to the incredible Anne Frank House Museum, the graphically confronting Sex Museum, and the slightly disappointing Van Gogh Museum – despite being very well laid out and fascinating from an artist's development point of view, we were hoping to see more of Van Gogh's masterpieces on display (especially given the ridiculous ticket price!)

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Chastity belt at the Sex Museum, this one incorporated a particularly good visual deterrent...

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Frittes!

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We did find a little English pub in the middle of the Red Light District (where else) to watch the third Tri-Nations test before heading to cafe overlooking one of the canals for our 11th anniversary dinner.

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Lunch at Hoppe - traditional Dutch fare including liver and raw beef sauasage. Unsurprisingly, this meal is not going to feature in our top 10 favourite meals while travelling...

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The Red Light District - the 'ladies' that usually occupy the windows tend to flee at the first sign of a camera...

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The view at dinner...

The following day we made a bee-line for the border and didn't look back until we got safely into Germany!

Posted by RobandEve 01:04 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Belgium

Beer, Chocolate, and Waffles... What could go wrong?

rain

After leaving a bleak and rainy Luxembourg behind we drove into an even bleaker and rainier Belgium. To make matters worse, we had a complete GPS fail with our TomTom navigating us to six nonexistent campsites around Brussels. The only redeeming feature of our first three hours in the country was that we managed to very quickly locate and patronise one of Belgium's ubiquitous 'fritteries'.

Due to our complete failure to find somewhere to camp anywhere even remotely close to Brussels we had to settle for a quick drive through the capital before continuing on to a camping ground just outside of Ghent. We quickly stopped feeling sorry for ourselves as, from the relative comfort of the dry Smurf Mobile, we watched a dozen teenagers get soaked in the rain whilst pitching their tents (OK... We admit that we may have got quite a bit of pleasure out of that....)

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The canalside cafe strip...

The next day the rain eased up enough (though not the monotonous grey sky) for us to enjoy brunch in Ghent and wander the old cobbled streets dodging trams.

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Needs no introduction...

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Ghent's famous graffiti street - don't ask us to spell its proper name!

Rob learnt that “no” means very little to Eve in a chocolate shop, and even less once she hears about all the different kinds of pralines on offer... While Eve maintains that she would have been happy with just one or two samples; Rob reckons he was lucky to leave having only bought the smallest mixed box available!

That afternoon we drove to Paschendale (also bombed to rubble during the war) and visited the town's fantastic museum, which includes a real underground 'dug out' to give people an idea of what it was like living on the front line at Ypres during the later years of the war i.e. when everything above ground capable of providing shelter had long since been blown up, and the only place left to live was underground...

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We also made the trip to the nearby Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery to pay our respects to the large number of ANZACs and others (including four Germans) either buried there or commemorated on the walls of the memorial.

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Every night at the Menin Gate (on the outskirts of Ypres' old town) at 8 o'clock sharp, traffic is stopped on both sides of the gate and the Last Post is played. We got there about 10 minutes early and were amazed at the large crowd gathered for the nightly event almost 90 years after the war.

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The Menin Gate - every wall inside and out is covered with the names of the unrecovered and unidentified dead

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Looking back through the Gate to Ypres' old quarter

An observation about Belgium – It is appears to be a good place to die: For the better part of two centuries, people have been coming to Belgium to fight and die for their causes (or someone else's, as is often the case). From Bastogne in the south (WWII), to Waterloo just south of Brussels (Napoleon's famous last stand, and an awful song by ABBA), and Ypres in the north (WWI – the scene of five major battles, including Paschendale), it is hard to drive along a country road without finding yet another cemetery or memorial.

Needless to say, the following day we were more than ready for a break from the battlefields of Europe so we made our way to Bruges for some self indulgence.

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Bruges' famous bell tower

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Whist Bruges is now extremely touristy and a bit kitsch, if you stretch your imagination (and cock your head to the left and squint a little) it is not hard to imagine the town as Belgium's answer to Venice. Quaint, stepped, red-brick houses crowding the busy streets, interlaced with canals, and the ever-present smell of waffles make this a really worthwhile spot to visit – and that is even without mentioning the chocolate and beer.

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A Belgian Venice?

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Eve's new favourite drink

The most unfortunate side effect (as in 'the most directly applicable to us') of Bruges' popularity was the horrific cost of campgrounds close to the old town area. If we weren't having to fork out 25 euros per night (about twice what we paid in France!) it would have been tempting to stay a bit longer.

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Rob's favourite drink remains the same...

Posted by RobandEve 14:37 Archived in Belgium Comments (2)

Luxembourg

A small blog for a small country...

To Luxembourg City from the French border, is only a 20 minute drive, so we arrived quite early and found a campground to use as a base from which to explore the city itself. The weather gave us little chance to venture out so we sorted our washing and planned a walking tour of the city for the following day.

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The Grand Palace

The weather cleared enough for us to take a couple of hours exploring the old city and in a rare stroke of luck, the rain held back until we were safely inside a bistro ordering lunch.

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The rain eased just in time for us to enjoy our walk around Luxembourg's balcony.

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The next day we headed towards Echternach, near the German border, stopping at General Patton's grave at the Luxembourg American cemetery on the way.

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Echternach is a beautiful little town surrounded by thick forest and a cobweb of popular walking trails...

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One of the buildings in the town square

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The view back to Echternach from the E1 trail

We found a campsite near the start of a trail and set off on a beautiful four hour walk through the forest.

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The entrance to the Labyrinthe...

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Flora...

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Fauna...

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The next morning the weather again turned sour although we were able to admire the Chateau de Bourscheid through the fog before heading to the Belgium border.

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Posted by RobandEve 12:23 Archived in Luxembourg Comments (1)

Over The Top!

Brittany and Battlefields, Crepes and Champagne

After spending the night at a venison farm (and getting a severe case of van envy at retro fitted VW combi van with a proper fridge powered by solar panels!!) we drove to Carnac, hoping to conjure up images of Asterix and Obelix. The menhirs look as impressive as they do in the cartoons and there are literally thousands of them arranged into neat rows which adds a surreal aspect to the landscape.

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If you needed another reason to come to Carnac other than to look at giant rocks, there are also lots of wonderful creperies in the area.

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We took the time to share three fantastic crepes at this traditional Bretagne longhouse.

That afternoon we had a much longer walk than expected to catch the Tour, having to walk about 40 mins each way from our campsite to find a bar that was: (a) open; and (b) playing the Tour. Now that's dedication. In the end the effort paid off and we managed to catch most of the final stage to toast Cadel in style.

The next day we abandoned the idea of driving out to Brest and made straight for Normandy via the fairytale-esque Mont St Michel...

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After avoiding the tourist trap and settling for taking photo's from a distance we spent our money much more wisely at a France Passion Calvados distillery/cidery/apple orchard/donkey farm where we spent the night. Needless to say, the van cellar continues to expand...

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How about them apples?

The next morning, aware of what she was about to be put through, Eve seized the opportunity to visit the Dior museum in Granville after finding a brochure at a nearby coffee shop. Showing husbandly support in true man-style, Rob opted for coffee in the garden while Eve visited the museum solo. The current exhibition showed the inspiration for several of Christian Dior's designs based on works by the great artists of his era like Picasso, Monet and Dali. Unfortunately for Eve (fortunately for Rob), the gift shop was limited...

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Circumstances were reversed at our first D-Day stop at Carentan (this will make more sense if you have seen Band of Brothers) where Rob checked out the Dead Man's Corner Paratrooper Museum. Eve played solitaire in the car, wishing she had a coffee!

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The museum is set in the former German command post

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The bottom floor is laid out approximately how it would have been on D-Day, and the window shutters and interior walls still have bullet holes in them...

Next stop was Utah Beach...

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Utah Beach through the wire

...followed by Pointe du Hoc and the Ranger Memorial.

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The cliffs are about 30 metres high - imagine being told that your job on D-Day is to climb up a rope ladder and capture a German stronghold at the top...

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The shell craters from the aerial and naval bombardment prior to D-Day have been left unfilled...

The next morning we headed into Bayeaux and visited the amazing (almost 1000 year old) Bayeaux tapestry, depicting the Norman invasion of England. Despite everyone being handed a free audioguide in their chosen language, and spaced so there was no chance of people overlapping, well... you can guess what happened. No photos inside, so here's a picture of the building.

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After the tapestry we headed to Omaha Beach. Walking along this peaceful beach it is hard to imagine the D-Day carnage. Hitler's Atlantic wall has given way to residential development and there is, quite surprisingly, very little to see here. A couple of memorials and a self guided walking tour is pretty much it...

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After walking along the beach, we drove up to the American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer (think opening scene of Saving Private Ryan). We managed to track down a few Medal of Honour winners amongst the thousands, including Theodore Roosevelt Jr (a very interesting man and well worth a Google...)

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And then on the the remains of the second Port Winston off the beach at Arromanches-les-Bains.

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After dragging Eve around the D-Day beaches for two days, Rob was punished by way of Monet's garden in Giverny. Eve was happy to see the old house, the waterlilies, the Japanese bridge and the huge flower gardens; Rob was happy to see the exit.

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We then traveled to the outskirts of Paris and spent two wonderful nights staying with our friends Martin and Isobel, whom we met on the cruise in Egypt. It was great to have a bit of a mini-break from the van and sleep in a real bed for a change.

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An amazing lunch

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Notre Dame

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Paris Plage (Paris Beach) manages to be absurd and absurdly popular at the same time...

Our hosts spoiled us rotten with a fantastic lunch in Paris and a whirlwind, personal driving tour past all the main sights. We can't wait to get back and explore Paris properly in September!

On our way towards Luxembourg we spent two nights in the Champagne region and enjoyed sampling the local drop and further expanding the van cellar.

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Champagne Chateau

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Our France Passion stopover in the Champagne region, in the aptly named town of Bouzy!

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On our last day in France (for the moment, anyway) we headed to the WWI battlefield of Verdun (quite by accident, Eve found a France Passion stopover that specialised in sugared almonds - we wouldn't want you to start thinking we're war junkies or anything...)

We drove through the battlefield tourist route and checked out a few of the monuments, including the huge Ossuary which contains the unidentified remains of about 30,000 soldiers who died at Verdun.

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The battlefield itself is now an established forest (replanted in the 1930s) and access is restricted due to the danger of unexploded artillery shells and the fact that the ground still contains the remains of an estimated 100,000 soldiers who died where they fell.

We also visited the nearby ruins of Fleury, a village captured and recaptured no less than 16 times during the war! Not surprisingly, Fleury no longer exists. The ground the village formerly occupied is now a large overlapping network of shell craters and nothing remains of the village other than ruined foundations and twisted steel.

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Apparently this used to be a farmhouse...

One of the most moving places we went to was the 'Trench of the Bayonets' where an entire French company was buried alive during an artillery bombardment while waiting to go over the top. The fate of the missing company was only realised years after the war following the discovery of rows of rifles with fixed bayonets sticking up out of the ground, still at the ready.

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Posted by RobandEve 11:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

As Easy as ABC

Armagnac, Bordeaux, & Cognac

After forcing ourselves to abandon Le Tour, we made a bee-line straight for the Armagnac region. On the way we stopped for some supplies and Eve was entrusted with the grocery shopping while Rob went to see about a hair cut. This turned out to be a monumental mistake with Rob racking up his second French language fail, and an unsupervised Eve picking possibly the most difficult dish to cook on a single gas burner...

Apparently Rob's attempt at French for “number three clippers through the sides and back, blended up and textured across the top to a peak in the middle, short but not too short and low maintenance, thank you,” translated directly to “please make me look like a neo-Nazi skinhead...”

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At least we have a lot of hats...

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Our first stop in the region was at a small family run distillery near Montreal called Le Boubee (no, really). When we arrived we were greeted by a deaf old dear with two walking sticks and a mean hunchback. Of course, we didn't know she was deaf and were quite frightened by her shouting at us while brandishing two sticks. Thankfully a young French couple came to the rescue and explained that she was trying to say (at full volume) “yes, you are welcome to stay here, please park your van over there.”

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At least dinner was successful...

We later learned that we were not the only ones a bit frightened of the old dear... Her (we assume) long suffering husband spent more time out of the house, talking to his chickens, than it it, and the shouts of “Michel? - Michel? - MICHEL?” echoed around the property whenever she realised that he had snuck away.

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This is where the magic happens... Or, at least, where the Armagnac is made.

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The following day we shot into Condom (sorry) and checked out the town centre. The town is pretty enough but there is not much going on... We tried to check out the prophylactic museum but unfortunately found it had been closed down. We left as quickly as we came (sorry again...)

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Just outside of Condom, we visited the Chateau de Cassaigne, one of Armagnac's more famous Chateaux, before heading into the Bordeaux region.

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The Chateau de Cassaigne

Later on, we spent a fantastic evening at a winery in Cadillac, just south east of Bordeaux. The delightful lady who ran the place treated us to a full tasting before handing us a free bottle of red to go with our dinner! Needless to say, we walked away with a couple of bottles for the van cellar.

The next day we drove to the coast to see the Dune de Pilat, Europe's largest sand dune. It is difficult to gauge how big the dune actually is when you're standing on it (especially with the wind doing its best to knock you off) and it is constantly growing – it has already swallowed a small hotel and a motorway exit!!

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A staircase on a sand dune?

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At the top

After spending the night at another great winery we ventured into Bordeaux city and managed to find a free parking spot on the outskirts of the old town area... Almost the entire town centre of Bordeaux is UNESCO listed, making it the largest heritage listed urban area in the world. The buildings are beautiful and have been really well restored and maintained.

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Cathedral Saint Andre

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The classical French architecture was incredible

We traced the river up towards the main pedestrian square, managing to get lost and caught in a downpour on the way to the bastion of Bordeaux wine, the Maison du Vin, where we shared a cheese platter and sampled some of Bordeaux's finest while waiting for our umbrellas to dry.

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After the wine tasting we shared a dozen local oysters for lunch at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant nearby...

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We spent the night at the Chateau Coustelle (below) and after tasting their range, grabbed two bottles, polished one off with dinner and had to go back the following morning to replace it...

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Chateau Coustelle

Early the next morning we headed to Saint Emilion, one of Bordeaux's more famous AOC areas. We wandered around the cobbled streets of this beautiful little town (again in the rain...) We also checked out a monastery famed for its sparkling wine, and one of the large underground wine caves before carrying on to Cognac.

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The next stop on our tour of the region was a great little Cognac distillery that also had its own guest rooms. One up-side of this was that we were able to have a shower (a luxury not usually available when free-camping) and postpone our inevitable campground visit for another couple of days. Of course, the other up-side was their fantastic cognac!!

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The front door at Hennessey

When we got into Cognac itself, the first thing we did was book a tour of the Hennessy distillery, which has been producing the local fire-water for over three hundred years (which is surprising really, considering Hennessy was an Irishman and you know how the French can be...) The tour involved a barge trip over the Charente River to one of their cellars which has been retrofitted into an interactive museum.

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The actual cellar/warehouse was amazing and the oldest Cognac that we saw dates back to 1800!! If you like Cognac, one of the best parts of the tour is the smell of the 'Angel's Share' in the warehouse – approximately 2% of the distilling spirit evaporates through the oak barrels each year (equal to about 5 million bottles of Hennessy alone!)

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1981 - A damn fine vintage that one...

With the van cellar fully stocked, we started making our way north to prepare for our own invasion of Normandy...

Posted by RobandEve 11:05 Archived in France Comments (0)

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