In 2000 my mother-in-law retired and took my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, husband and me to Europe! It was a what we thought was a once in a lifetime trip but afterward we knew that we had to go back sometime. To plan the trip my mother-in-law established a few rules:
- pack only 1 bag
- she would do none of the planning but each of the 4 of us planned 3 days
- no complaining of others’ choices
My brother-in-law’s wife, Judy, gave her 3 days of planning to Eric so he planned 6 days while Keith and I each planned 3 days. We flew into Paris, France drove to the Normandy area, into Belgium and flew out from Frankfurt, Germany. We were gone a total of 13 days.
Our kids were 8 years old and probably because of my fear of heights I insisted that Keith and I fly in separate planes that way if something happened one parent would be alive. My family joked with me that I was simply increasing the likelihood that something would happen. Somehow it gave me comfort. So, on the flights we were in 2 groups. I was with Eric and Judy and Keith was with his Mom, Irene.
During the trip I kept a very simple journal in a 5×3 memo book. I’ve transcribed those entries here and have a few photos to accompany the entries. There are many more stories that each of us could share of the trip and many more photos than I have included here. Perhaps over time I will add more as will Keith.
Day one, May 10, 2000:
Hotel d’Alma room 62. We stayed on the very top floor. Irene in 32, Eric & Judy room 3 on the ground floor. The airplane rides were, thankfully, uneventful. The international flight was long. The plane is huge. We were served drinks & peanuts shortly after, we watched a 60 Minutes special; had dinner; did some duty free shopping; had a drink; watched Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams. Then we tried, though unsuccessfully, to sleep. From 9:30-11:00 it was dark outside. By 11:00 pm Oklahoma time the sun started rising since it was 6 am Paris time. From 11:00-1:00 Oklahoma time took forever. We were so tired of sitting. About 1 1/2 hours before landing we had breakfast. We were so thrilled to have something to do.
Yesterday we rode a shuttle to our hotel. It took 1 hour to get here but it really wasn’t that far. The traffic was awful. Drivers here seem to drive where they want. The lines on the roads are meaningless. We drove through 3 circles where there are no traffic lines or lights. The cars go from the inner circle to turn down a road by just turning. The speed they travel is very slow and everyone doesn’t seem upset by the tight driving.
Our hotel here is nice. All the hallways and rooms are small. It is not ADA compliant. The lady at the front is real nice and speaks English. She told me where to purchase stamps and mail the postcards. We mailed 6 postcards – Kelsey, Travis, Grammy, David & Mom, Snodgrass, Robert Bullard. With any luck they will arrive.
Last night we bought wine, cheese, glasses of diet coke, bread and sat in the porch at the hotel eating. About 6:oo pm we finally went to bed. Keith and I slept until 12:30 woke up & shared Paris as lovers do. We watched a fishing show and went back to sleep about 2:30. About 7:15 we got up. We had breakfast around the corner. The buildings are all very tight to one another. People walk into restaurants, order, stand and eat then leave. They have very small cups with coffee in it, I think.
Now we are sitting in the lobby hotel waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport to get our rental car.
[Notes: Livarot – stinky cheese that we tried. La Marine, sauerkraut]
Saturday, May 13, 2000
We’re in a small French town on the way to Bastogne, Belgium. We left this morning about 10:00 and its now 7:00. The trip should not have been that long but we took several wrong turns and visited a few places along the way.
While in the Normandy area we went to a museum in Caen about war. We also went to Utah and Omaha Beach to see D-Day sites. At Point du Hoc there are huge holes from shells. These holes were 8 or 10 feet deep probably.
We went to the military cemetery at Omaha Beach. Eric has a friend whose great uncle was buried in this area, James Mack. Eric and Judy purchased flowers for his grave. His grave had been moved from near Utah Beach to Omaha Beach. We were escorted by an employee to James Mack’s plot where sand was rubbed on the name so we could read it. Then using remote control, the man had gun sounds and TAPS play. It was truly wonderful. He also took a Polaroid photo and gave it to us. That family will be so pleased.
All of these beaches have very few shells but tons of rounded rocks. I am taking some back.
The B&B we stayed in was built in 17th century for priests [note: Ferme de la Tourelle]. There was a church nearby that had been destroyed in a storm. It was fascinating. The old broken grave stones were there. Some had been broken into several pieces and were piled up in about 4 or 5 separate piles.
There was lots of fog yesterday and most of today. It was chilly. About 2:00 we drove out of the foggy area. We stopped in a town and bought bread, cheese, pastries, wine, Coca Cola light then drove until we found a beautiful rest area where we had our picnic. Originally today we were going to go to Bruge but to reduce time in the car we’re going to Bastogne.
This morning at the B&B near Omaha Beach a group of 2 Belgium couples was there and we had breakfast together. The 2 men spoke English so we were able to use him as a translator to learn more about the area. The night before a young Belgian man and his girlfriend came and they spoke English. We had a nice visit with him. Keith, Eric and Patrick had wine while Patrick told us about Belgium. Patrick now lives in Ireland.
The toilets here are different in every location. Sometimes they flush by pushing & button, pulling a button on the top. Sometimes they flush loudly and with gusto; sometimes they suction it out with water; sometimes you must squat. The men’s restrooms are frequently open. Once they had water spraying on a wall with a drain and they were to pee on the wall. Frequently there is 1 bathroom with 2 or more areas for both men and women. One had urinals in an open area and then a stall. Whoever was there when the door opened would be seen. The sign did say children must be accompanied by an adult.
Today, while driving, we experienced the rudeness of the French. 1) we turned on the wrong light so the man pulled up beside us rolled his window down and yelled at us. Rolled his window up then down again and yelled some more. 2) Keith pulled into a parking lot the wrong way. The drivers were telling us we were going the wrong way but would not pause to allow us out.
[Note in Keith’s handwriting La ‘Maison Blanche, a restaurant with a star. Also the words 20 km St. Hubert. ]
May 15, 2000
We arrived yesterday afternoon. We drove to another Outhre about 15 minutes from here then discovered our error. This place is beautiful. We ate at a Hotel Le Moulin des Trois Points. We are the only guests here in fact the pub next door I asked if they have many American tourists, Allen, a man who speaks English, said “no, 1,2,3,4,5 (counting us)”. Later Benny (Benoire) the owner, said the last American here was Patton. Benny’s wife, Bridgette came to talk with us. She speaks a little English. We learned that the pub has been in Benny’s family. Benny showed us his invitation to his friend’s wedding on June 6 in Frsico, TX (near Dallas). He also showed us a photo of him 15 years ago jumping with a horse. Apparently, he was the Belgium champion and won lots of money.
The hotel owners have given us the key to the front door and complete access to the bar. They leave the hotel for long periods of time and we’re the only guests still. Breakfast was good. The coffee wasn’t as strong as the French coffee and we had a roll that was soft and heated with dark chocolate in it. Of course, throughout France bread is all good but it is cold and hard.
We need directions in Luxembourg so we stopped and Keith asked for help. After leaving the cafe a man followed and told Keith he overheard and he would escort us to the American cemetery since he still had 15 minutes before work (This was at 11:15 or so).
Everyone in France & Belgium seems to begin their day late. They close business in the afternoon then reopen. Dinner starts about 8:00pm and lasts 2 or 3 hours. When we ordered our meal at the pub yesterday it was 6:00 and the man asked if we wanted it at 8:00. Keith said no, now. So, they said “no problem”. We started eating about 6:30 and finished about 9:15. Benny brought us a drink after our dessert and coffee. He said it was a surprise. He gave them to us. It was English coffee – even I like it but it was very strong with alcohol.
Right now I’m about 40 feet or so from Patton’s grave sitting down waiting for the others to finish looking. Tonight we will stay in the same place. We have internet access – free – so I emailed Mom and the kids.
Yesterday, apparently, Keith and the others ordered beer in Benny’s place and then realized we only had French francs and American dollars. Benny graciously allowed us to pay with a mixture of money.
May 16, 2000
Today we went to Bastogne. Keith, Eric and Irene went to a war museum while Judy and I shopped. I bought a Belgium doll for Kelsey, a wood car for Travis and a porcelain type figurine with candy. Later we all met and Eric and Judy decided to stay in Bastogne while Keith, Irene and I went on. We agreed to pick them up later.
Next we came to another beautiful town La Roche. This town is in between two mountains. On the side of the mountain is the remains of a castle. Legend says the castle is haunted by a ghost (a woman killed there). Keith walked up but, due to time constraints, I stayed down.
I asked at information for lace and chocolates. One kind of the chocolate was there – the Leonidas, which are many varieties of chocolate. The other was a big bar that would only melt. The lace is a specialty only in Bruge, Brussels & Marche.
We had no time before the stores closed in the nearby Marche so we went to Malmedy to the American monument. There was a massacre of about 90 soldiers here by the Germans. They were prisoners of the German’s .
May 17, 2000
We went to Marche, Belgium today where we visited a lace museum. It was in an old watch tower. The lace was beautiful — all different, elaborate, intricate designs. We all bought some lace in the tourist information center that was made by the local lace makers. I bought something for Mom and for myself. On Saturdays in a big local hotel across from the information center they have people making the lace with those wooding bobbins. Judy and I enjoyed the museum.
Next we drove back through La Roche and ate lunch at a Greek restaurant because they accept VISA and the banks were closed for lunch. Most stores open at 11:00 close for lunch from 12-2:00 open from 2-5. Dinner seems to be from 8-11:00. We then continued on to Germany.
Tonight we are in Cochem on the Mosel River. We’re staying in Gaestezimmer Husgen. The rooms are big and sterile. The lady who works here speaks great English. Breakfast is included and we have assigned tables.
We managed to get here with my photocopies from the road atlas from the library. We ate at a restaurant called Noss. Eric, Judy and I ordered the sausage potatoes & sauerkraut plate. The sausages included blood sausage and liverwurst. I tried both not knowing what they were. The blood ones looked like cooked blood and tasted horrible. The liverwurst was bad but much better than the blood. Keith tasted the blood one and said it was horrible. Eric thought it tasted bad but ate it anyway. He said the goat cheese was much worse.
We are in room 2 on the 2nd floor. Eric and Judy in 1 on the same floor. Irene’s in room 15 on the 1st floor. She has a shower and a shared toilet.
[notes: K-D boat line 1 hour trip from St. Goar to Bach (round trip 18.80 dm) Rheinfels Castle – in St. Goar. Bacharach – best Rhine wines; Jost beer stein; factory outlet; walking tour; Fritz Bastian; liveliest place in town after dark. St. Goar – Rhine guidebooks under Hotel Montags fine steins 10% off. Rheinfels Castle]
May 18, 2000
We saw St. Goar where Castle Rheinfels is. This was quite interesting. We used our Rick Steves guidebook and noticed someone else using it too. It took about an hour to do that. Then we ate lunch at Market Hotel. Next we drove on to Bacharach. On our way out of Cochem we turned where the sign said but it was a bike route that was very close to the water and the walls got smaller and smaller. We got through but it was tight.
Bacharach is a very pretty town. We shopped for an hour before the stores closed. We bought a nice cuckoo clock and stein from Jost. We paid about $250.oo for it and are having it shipped home.
Lettie, the owner of the nice pension we’re staying in, phoned the wine tasting place and asked if we could do that tonight. She said yes but she speaks no English. When we got there we said “Lettie” and the woman finally understood. For about $6.00 we tasted 6 sweet wines made here. We voted and the winner was Kerner Spatlese by Weingut Karl Heidrich (and I saved the label). A nice German man tried talking with us but not with much success. He did take a couple of photos of us.
After wine tasting we went to Kanentun restaurant. I had an absolutely wonderful mushroom soup. There was the Rick Steves tour group there. We visited them for a while and will be able to join them on a walking tour by a local man. Keith and I took a walk around the city looking at the castle lite up. The city is so clear and safe feeling.
While we were eating the waitress came over and told Irene that Lettie had phoned giving instructions on how to turn the heat on to a comfortable level. We wonder how she knew where we were. Our room here is a big one with a hallway with a twin bed and terrace. Also a good sized WC (water closet).
May 19, 2000
We were able to join a Rick Steves tour to hear Roff Jung’s walking tour of Bacharach. It was very entertaining. Bacharach was once a very big and important place. Today there are about 1000 residence.
We drove on to Bad Wimpfen. This is a quite village with cobblestone streets. We ate at a Greek restaurant that was good. Outside the restaurant was a daughter of the Greek restaurant owner who was about 5. Keith and the little girl played a game for a while. The girl said something to Keith and he replied “I don’t speak your language.” She stopped and looked at him for a moment wondering what he was saying then she yelled something and smiled and started playing with him again.
The hotel is part of the wall leading to a castle. All houses in this area look pretty old.
Saturday, May 20, 2000
We had breakfast in Bad Wimpfen then drove about 1 hour to Rothenburg. We arrived about 10:30 am and shopped until 5:00. Keith and I went to the Crime and Punishment museum. That was about an hour and it was quite awful what they did to one another
There was a lot of tourists here – like Disneyland. I’d not like to be here in high season. I enjoyed myself shopping. I bought a schneeball and didn’t think it was very good. The French Germans like their breads hard. As a matter of fact I got a small cut on my face when my bread cut my skin as I tore a piece off to eat.
We did the Night Watchman’s tour at 8:00. The Watchman was entertaining and informative. Bacharach and Rothenburg have similar histories. They both had about 6000 people at their heyday. They both had tremendous loss during the plague and never regained the size. Rothenburg survived until the cannonball was invented and no walled city could survive. During the 30 years was Rothenburg surrendered and never regained its wealth. [Note: after this tour we wanted to go to a German pub called “Hell” but it was full and we were kicked out.]
I enjoyed the Christmas shop – spent an hour there. We’re staying in the Hotel um tur just off the Market Square. It’s very nice in the 2nd price range on the TI list.
Sunday, May 21, 2000
Rothenburg never sleeps. The clock chimes nearly every hour all night. People walk the streets all night. Then by 6:00 am the workers are moving bottles over the cobbled streets. Quite a noisy night. Our hotel was at least as old as 1830. We found in one of the guest rooms a listing of the owners of the place from 1830-1935. It was a fascinating place.
We left Rothenburg at 9:30 and arrived in the Frankfurt area by 11:20. The drive was all on the autobahn. We ate in Floreshein in the only place open that had a restroom and a restaurant. The restaurant, Apollon, was Greek. So 3 times we’ve eaten at Greek restaurant – twice by accident.
We finally found our Hotel Darmstaeder Hof in Kelsterbach, which is 5 minutes from the airport. By 2:30 we were unpacked and repacked for the trip home. The weather is chilly and wet. Since it’s Sunday in a small town only 1 place is open. By 5:00 we went to the 1 place for coffee and dinner. Eric and Keith bought some beer glasses at the restaurant for 5 marks each. In the evening Judy, Eric, Irene and I visited Irene’s room. Keith read in our room and went to sleep early.
I called Mom today to check in and see how Grammy was doing [note: she had hip replacement surgery]. I’ve lost track of time. All is well at home. Mom said the kids are having to get used to her parenting style. When she tells Travis to do something he apparently doesn’t do it. He told her “Gramma Donna, you don’t understand, we get 3 chances!” She said “Travis, you don’t understand.” Kelsey was upset because she got in trouble since her Thursday folder wasn’t signed. Mom told Kelsey she doesn’t know what a Thursday folder is. Kelsey began repeating its her Thursday folder. Mom finally said “if I ask you to get my 8-9 and you asked what it was and I yelled it at you again how would you feel?” Kelsey began crying.
I’m anxious to be home and see the kids. I’ve had a wonderful time. It’s like a dream in many ways. Now I’m ready to wake-up from my dream and have my children in my arms and Keith by my side.