Sunday, September 7, 2014

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

I don’t think I like the way they do things now.

Greetings from Chicago, where we’ve arrived back in the U.S. safe, sound, and a little disappointed.  You see, we didn’t get our passports stamped when we came back in.  You now get your pictures taken at a little machine, give those pictures to the Customs agent who then stamps those and NOT your passport, and you give them to another Customs agent who take them from you, leaving you with no stamp on your passport.  I'd show you exactly what i mean, but you're not allowed to take pictures in that whole area.

But it's a bummer anyway..

We had a very uneventful flight from France, which is always a good thing.  And I was even able to enjoy almost half a flight without the person in front pf me slamming their seat back into my knees.  And when he did, he only lowered it half way or so, so I guess I won’t complain.

Or at least complain too much.

Now that another one of these trips is in the books, I’ll miss things like driving through three countries in three hours, and scooting along the Moselle River, the border between Luxembourg and Germany, with the river right—and I mean right—at eye level.  I’ll also miss having pain au chocolat—chocolate croissants—for breakfast every morning, even if my waistline might not.

I also think one of the things I’ll kind of miss is hearing all the different languages being spoken.  Not just French, but many different languages, including the most common—English.  It’s amazing; you can go into a hotel where the staff speaks French and a guest speaks, say, Italian, but they can still communicate by using the language that’s rapidly becoming the default language of the planet, English.

You learn a lot by traveling the world, and one of the things you learn is that the language you grew up with is one of the best gifts a traveler can ever have.

Before we sign off for this year, I have a couple of pictures I didn’t get the chance to use, so would you mind if I shared them now?  Here’s another of the grave of Palmer’s Theodore Swanson—

Here’s one that shows what a, well, unusual place Bastogne can be—

Here’s the chocolate picture I know several of you have been waiting for.  And as far as I know, everything’s made it home safe and sound!

 That's not too much chocolate, right?  That's what a normal person would buy in 11 days, right?


One more animal picture, our dinner companion (courtesy of the zoo) at the park in Nancy last Sunday—

And, of course, one more flower picture, taken at the market yesterday in Chartres.

Wow.  Yesterday in Chartres, tonight in Marquette.  It really can be a small world, when you think about it.  Anyway, we hope you enjoyed the ramblings as much as we enjoy having to travel to write them.  We (along with both sets of our parents) are going back to Germany next year, so make sure your virtual passport is up to date!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Days of Wine & Faux-Chokos

A breath of fresh air was just what we needed.

We are in Roissy-en-France, the final stop for this journey, and after almost a week and a half of heavy urban living, with its diesel fumes and the scents of a city everywhere, it was astounding to step outside in the sun of this Parisian suburb and just breathe in, and breathe in deeply.

Aaah.  You know, I’ve always considered myself an urban creature, but even I have to admit the smell of fresh air is really something special.

More on Roissy in a second.  As you may recall, we stayed outside of Chartres last night, and before we drove to Roissy and dropped off the rental car we went into the heart of old historic Chartres.  And you know what?  That may have been one of the best decisions we made all trip.

Chartres is built around a 900-year old cathedral...this cathedral

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason.  The marble stone work was amazing, the buttresses were flying, and inside, every corner you turned revealed something amazing.

Equally amazing is the story about why the Cathedral is still standing.  In World War II the Americans were advancing on the city, and the colonel in charge, Colonel Welborn Griffith Jr.., was ordered to destroy the cathedral, lest the Germans be hiding in it.  Well, he felt that the building was too beautiful to be destroyed, so he defied orders, snuck in behind enemy lines to make sure the Germans weren’t occupying it, had the order rescinded, and as a result, people can still view the amazing architecture today.

Sadly, Colonel Griffith was never able to fully realize what he saved, as he was killed just a few hours (that’s right, a few hours) after saving this magnificent building.  But for the foresight he showed 70 years ago, I think we all owe him a big round of “thanks”.

So thanks, Colonel Griffith!

The rest of Chartres looks a lot like this—

And this—

And also has a nice town square where their weekly market was set up.  I bought raspberries, like I do every time we visit a market, and just gazed at the rest of what was for sale.

As my raspberries were being rung up, a band—complete with an oom-pah tuba player and a dude on the banjo—started marching through the market, led by a juggler in classic French juggler garb (right down to the mismatched, striped socks), and after making their way around all the stalls they set up camp right outside.

You don’t see that every day.

We found Chartres to be a great place, very much like we found Nancy.  It’s full of fun & wonder and with people who were mellow, health-conscious, and actually friendly.  We’re already talking about coming back on a future trip!

Now, back to Roissy.  This is the sixth time we’ve been here, if only because it’s where you have to stay if you’re flying out of Paris on a morning flight.  You see, it’s right next to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and its 6,000 hotel rooms are the main reason the town exists.  However, because they know it’s a layover for people on their way to and fro, the people who run the city make sure that your layover is a good one.

You know, a layover with fresh air.

They have a big park in the center of the town, and that was where we ate dinner.  Wanna see the view from our “table”?

It was while eating dinner that we decided that Roissy has been royally screwed, too.  Every French city is rated on a “flower scale”, one to four flowers depending upon how decorated the city is.  Well, even with the park, and roundabouts like this—

Roissy is only rated a TWO-flower city.  And that’s not right—we drove through 3 and 4-flower cities this trip that didn’t have the flower power that Roissy has.  I think the judges need to vote again, or at least vote when they’re sober and/or not taking bribes.  Roissy is NOT a deux flower city!

And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

One more thing to do today, and that’s to continue one of those dorky trip traditions.  Ten years ago when I first came to Europe I brought a bookmark that has a picture of my (then) 4-year old niece Mallory on it.  I did that just so she could say that “she” had gone to Europe.  Well, every time I’ve come back since I’ve brought the bookmark, and I don’t know if the now 17-year old Mallory appreciates it, but she just made her 9th trip to Europe.

Yes, I’m a dork.  What’s your point?

Tomorrow we get to spend most of the day flying back to the U.S., but I will be writing another one of these on the plane (assuming, of course, whoever’s sitting in front of me doesn’t lower their seat back so far that my laptop ends up stuck in my nose) and when I get to Chicago I’ll post it.  I have a ton of pictures and stories still to share, plus the one shot I know some of you have been waiting to see—this year’s chocolate stash.

Speaking of which, when I’m done with this I hafta figure how I’m gonna get it home.  Wish me luck.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Poux" and Pretzel Logic

Thanks to Loraine I learned a new French word today.

When we’re on the road over here we never turn on the TV.  We just seem to have too much going on and not enough time for it all.  The one exception, though, is when we wake up in the morning, and turn the TV on to France 2 and their showTélématin”, hosted by the curmudgeonly William Lemergie.  I don’t know why we do it; the first time we were both over here we saw this old guy hosting a TV show with a bunch of young reporters and anchors, and we were hooked. 

Anyway, we had it on when Loraine heard a word in French she thought she knew, “poux”.  She turned to look and saw that they were indeed doing a story about kids and their first day of school, complete with video of hair being combed and microscopic shots of bugs.  “Poux”, you see, is the French word for lice, Loraine knew it, and recognized it in “Télématin”.  Now I know it, and now you know it as well.

No, that’s okay.  You can thank us later. 

Greetings from Chartres (well, actually, the outskirts of Chartres), where we’ve now driven across two thirds of France in the past two days.  Today’s drive, though, was a blast, because this was all we saw in front of us—

No stops for road construction, only a missed turn or two because of the lack of road signs, and several stops to see a few interesting things, including this World War I memorial in the town of Piney—

Every French town has a World War I memorial to all of its citizens killed in the conflict.  This, though, is the first one we’ve ever seen in color.  I don’t know if it’s always been like this, or if they did it up for the 100th anniversary, but it was unique enough that we had to stop and take a picture.  So we did.

The other big stop was in a town called Brienne-le-Chateau, which was one of the favorite towns ever of one N. Bonaparte.  Apparently ‘ol Napoleon went to military school there, and after he bungled things royally (the song "Waterloo" may now be stuck in your brain the rest of the day; sorry about that) and was exiled to Elba he gave the town a million Francs, which they used to build this town hall—

A town hall that features the head of Napoleon, along with a little wildlife, carved into its walls—

There are also several statues of Napoleon, a museum in his honor, a gift store with his name, and, oh, this—

The town is also famous for, believe it or not, a kind of sauerkraut that’s doused in champagne.  In a few weeks, they’re even having a festival to celebrate!  (No, we didn’t get a free sample...)

Too bad we won’t be around for that, although if anyone wants to give us some extra money and convince our bosses that we should be allowed to stay over here until then, we would hang around and report on what goes on during the celebration.

I mean, it’s the least we could do for you guys.

No baked goods today; I think our stomachs might be thanking us for that.  And as I type this, Loraine is trying to put her chocolate collection in some semblance of order (I don’t even wanna think about mine).  We did buy what we THINK is our last chocolate of the trip, although Loraine still hasn’t found the coffee flavored bar she was looking for yesterday.  It’s quite weird, in fact.  You used to be able to coffee-flavored bars in France by every brand; now, though, they’ve disappeared, with the exception of one by Nestles.

Hmm.  If we had more time, it might be another mystery to try & solve.  In fact, it's almost as strange as being in a LeClerc grocery store today and hearing Perry Como's "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow". pop up on the store sound system.

I guess the French are trying to get into the holiday spirit a little early!

Okay, since we have no pictures of baked goods, how about a flower picture?

And your animal picture, as well—

Tomorrow, we head to the Paris suburb of Roissy-en-France to drop off the rental car and spend one more night over here before we head back.  We'll play around the town (which has an amazing park) and figure out what I’M gonna do with my chocolate.

We’ll also see if we can come up with another French word for you to learn, as well.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Moonlight Over Troyes

It took less than 100 feet to see the difference between night and day.

I think I mentioned about how the weather in Colmar yesterday was nothing like it was forecast.  It was supposed to be sunny and 75 and ended up being cloudy and 60.  Well, when we woke up this morning, the forecast said sunny and 75 again, while reality was something different.  We weren’t too concerned; today was mostly a driving day.  But we were still curious as to why it was happening, and we found out when we crossed the Vosges Mountains on the way to Troyes. 

Driving up the mountain it was cloudy, cold & gloomy.  As soon as we hit the summit of the mountain and started the drive down, and I’m not kidding about this, the sun came out and the temperature jumped 15 degrees.  One side of the mountain was horrid, while on the other side, no more than 100 feet away, the weather was beautiful.  So THAT’S why Colmar was gloomy yesterday!

Speaking of which, driving up & down the mountain roads was quite interesting, even with two big trucks in front of us, as evidenced by this picture Loraine took

Anyway, greetings from Troyes, where it IS nice outside.  In fact, here’s the view out of our hotel window, a view that prompted the title of the blog—

It’s a bit of a shame that we didn’t get to enjoy the weather more, but like I said it was mostly a driving day, with two very important stops.  The first?

This is the final grocery store chain at which we needed to stop and buy chocolate and cereal, and it took us until today to find one. I think I’m now completely stocked up, while I believe Loraine needs one bar which was usually available at a Super U.  Either the one in Munster didn’t have it or they don’t just don’t make them any more. 

I think she’s hoping for the former.

The other stop was at the Epinal American Cemetery—

Epinal, in my humble opinion, is probably one of the most beautiful of American military cemeteries.  It sits in a valley between a couple of hills, and just has green as far as the eye can see.  And you know what’s a shame?  It only gets about 5% of the visitors of, say, the Normandy American Cemetery.

That’s just not right.

We stopped here because of this guy—

And because of the two people surrounding Loraine and her geeky sidekick. 

That’s Nathalie Colin of Chantraine (near Epinal), joined by her mother, who are two of the people who’ve adopted the graves of individuals buried in the cemetery.  One of Nathalie’s “adoptees” is the dude pictured below, Gerald Morin of Munising.  Loraine had provided Nathalie with information on him, and when she found out we were gonna be in the area, she offered to meet us at the cemetery and say “hey”.

Which is exactly what happened today.

As with everyone we’ve met so far on this trip, the kindness and generosity shown by Nathalie and her mother was amazing, whether toward a guy from Alger County who died 70 years ago or two Americans who stopped by to pay their respects.  So to Nathalie and her mom, merci beaucoup.  We hope to see you again.

We then made our way to Troyes, the old town portion of which is shaped like a Champagne cork.  No, I’m not kidding.  This is the heart of the Champagne region of France (apparently, the only place in the world where you can actually make sparkling wine and legally call it “Champagne”) and when the old rich dudes who founded the city hundreds of years ago were putting it together they decided to do it in the shape of a cork.

So the next time that topic comes up in conversation, and I’m sure it will, you’re all ready to go.

Here’s what the old town looks like—

There are a lot of old, leaning, half-timbered houses and a big public square in front of the town hall (no parks, though).  And as you’re walking through Troyes you start to notice a few strange things, including this guy outside of a store—

And the fact that you can buy shirts just like the one on the right in France—

Speaking as a Michigan State grad, I’m appalled.  Just appalled.

Dinner tonight was from this amazing bakery—

And since a few of you have sent me comments about the stuff we’ve been eating, here’s your bakery beauty shot of the day—

After eating the cherry custard/flan/whatever-it-was piece of heaven (as well as some real food, Mom) we had to go back and tell the guy running the bakery just how good it was.  Now, I know I’ve said this a lot over the past week, but it was amazing.  Simply amazing!

Here’s your animal picture of the day, at least an animal picture of a sort.  See this drain pipe attached to a building in Troyes?

Well, this is how the water comes out of the bottom.

Because, really, would you expect anything different?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Speed Bumps

Loraine just sat down and poured herself a good stiff drink.

There’s more to the story (a lot more), but it was that kind of day here in the Alsace region of France.  We had two major goals for today, and we did accomplish them both, but in between we saw so many signs like this—

And we were stuck in so many road construction zones and traffic tie-ups that we guess we lost somewhere in the vicinity of two hours today, and had to bypass a few places we wanted to visit.  I really love driving in Normandy, with nice roads and little villages to putter through.  But here, with all the tie ups and detours?  Not so much.

But that’s life on the road, I guess.
Our first stop, and the first time we ran into construction and detours, was Freiberg, Germany, where we had one goal and one goal only—to buy chocolate AND cereal.  And we did...we walked out of Rewe and Muller stores with loaded bags and big grins.  We then decided to look around the place, which was a good thing, because they were having a market in front of one very impressive sandstone church!

Loraine, being a good German girl, bought herself a bratwurst.  Well, technically, I bought the bratwurst for her, and here’s the photographic proof!

I have a weird shaped head, don’t I?  Anyway, the beef bratwurst, bought from a vendor who spoke English, was actually seasoned with curry.  I only had one bite, and the flavor lingered for the next hour.  I think Loraine was quite happy with her purchase.  Oh, and so our friends Oliver and Marie Rose aren’t disappointed, you’ll be happy to know that I have started to eat again after yesterday’s calorie debacle.  In fact, here’s what we had for lunch!

Believe it or not, our “lunch” cost just over 5 Euro...less than eight bucks.  It was worth every penny.
With our car weighed down with chocolate, boxes of cereal, and baked goods, we left Germany and headed back to France, eventually ending up in the very pretty little tourist town of Bergheim.  We drove through here on our way to Colmar Monday, where it was packed to the gills with tourists.  When we came back today?  Dead.

We don’t know if it was just because it’s Wednesday or because it was overcast, cool & windy today (the forecast, by the way, called for sun & 75) but we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It’s a really nice place, too, with a big sandstone church built in the 1300s, and a park that’s called “The Garden of Music”.  Think you can figure out why?

Bergheim also provides our animal picture for the day—

 We have no idea why this horse was tied up on a street corner.  What we do know is that every time the horse would whinny (and it whinnied quite often) a nearby rooster would answer with a crow.  It got to be quite the symphony after a while, seeing as how this went on for five or ten minutes until we left.
Once again, I guess it’s just part of life on the road. 
That reminds me—Loraine poured herself her good stiff drink for a reason other than the fact she was driven crazy by the final road interruption of our day.  She actually brought a couple of airline-sized bottles of rum with her because she wanted to re-create the favorite drink of her college days, a rum & Coke.  And since Coke in the U.S. has been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup for years now, and as a result doesn’t taste like it used to, she wanted to get some French Coke—sweetened with real sugar and tasting the way it used to taste—and have her rum & Coke taste the way it used to.
It worked, because she gave it a big thumbs-up.
Finally, let me introduce you to two characters we met today, the first being the lobby guy at our camper van/hotel—

We heard him speak and be comical in four different languages while we were eating breakfast, and congratulated him on his skills.  In response, he called himself a “French Superman”.
And who says all French people are quiet & reserved??
Secondly, meet Mr. Accordion Player—

He was just sitting outside of the market in Freiberg, plying his trade.  And believe it or not, he wasn’t the only accordion player around the church.  That must be the big thing on their market day.  In fact, it was almost as strange as the guy we saw in Colmar yesterday, standing outside of a restaurant with a guitar singing enthusiastically (if not very well) the song “Guantanamera”.
Think maybe they should team up for a duet?
Tomorrow, we leave Colmar and start to slowly make our way west toward our final destination of the Paris area with a stop in Epinal to meet someone before we eventually wind up in Troyes (pronounced TWAH for those keeping score at home).
That, of course, is assuming we don’t run into any more road construction and can’t get to Troyes.  These days, you never know!

(p.s.--Loraine had mentioned to some friends that we were gonna try & visit the Audie Murphy memorial in Holtzwihr today, and we did!)