Intro

First, a disclaimer notice that you find on the Europe trip discussions on this website since I often get email on this subject.  You may notice that all of our trips to Europe seem to include a trip somewhere in the U.K. every year. There's a good reason for this.  We have been traveling to the U.K. from Denver, Colorado for years, mostly due to the ease of getting a non-stop flight from Denver to London, landing either at Heathrow or Gatwick (depending on where the airline arrives).  We really have the travel down pretty well and usually know what to expect, so currently we travel to London first, then on to other areas.

This year's trip was a little different than past years when arriving in London.  We only spent one night in London after arriving, and immediately set off for Paris via the Eurostar (Chunnel) where we stopped long enough to take a TGV train to Reims as we began our vacation in France and later, Germany.  We returned from Germany to Strasbourg in France where we dropped off our rental car, and took a TGV train to Paris where we did a couple days of sight-seeing.  From Paris, we took the Eurostar (Chunnel) back to London where we spent the night, then picked up a rental car the next day and drove to the south of England.  We made our home base in Canterbury where we drove to nearby sights, and eventually drove back to London where we wrapped up a couple of days before heading home to Denver.  This was a good trip that didn't feel too stressful and yet got to see many new sights.

The trip descriptions below reference these wonderful places and I hope that you find them informative and enjoyable. 

Quick Links

England - 2008
England Pictures - 2008

France - 2008
France Pictures 2008 - Colmar & Paris

Germany - 2008
Germany Pictures 2008 - Bacharach

 

England - 2008

We began our trip by leaving Denver, Colorado on Saturday May 23rd, arriving in London on Sunday May 24th.  We decided to skip the taxi ride to London this year (as opposed to past years), and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington.  Once at Paddington, we took a taxi to the Bloomsbury area of London to our hotel, the Holiday Inn at Russell Square.  The hotel is a nice hotel although they did have one instance of the air conditioner not working and of course, that was the day it was the hottest.  We left the hotel for Paris the day after we arrived, visited other parts of France, then on to Germany, back to Paris for a couple of days, then back to London where we stayed for one night at the same Holiday Inn.  Then we left the next day for areas down south of London such as Canterbury, Rye, Hastings, and Battle, and then we drove back to London for a couple more days before heading back to Denver.

Canterbury

After arriving in London from our trip to Paris and Germany, we drove to Canterbury which was somewhat hair-raising.  Mostly because several things went wrong with the rental car that was a Mercedes.  The car indicated a low tire for one of the wheels and its computer took over the speed that we could travel. The car limited the speed to 15 mph or so which resulted in cars beeping their horns at us as we navigated through downtown London. I ended up bringing the car right back to the Hertz rental location about 15 minutes after we began our initial trip to Canterbury.  I had only driven for 15 minutes, but we found ourselves spending at least that long making it back to the Hertz location where we asked for a new car. They gave us a new car and we were on our way, but the process took over an hour and we ended up driving through some of the worst traffic to head south towards Canterbury. Thankfully we had a TomTom GPS unit that saved us.  Hard to imagine what it would have been like without the GPS unit guiding us across London and surrounding areas.

Once in Canterbury, we checked in at a nice old hotel - the Castle House Hotel, which became our home base for trips to Rochester, Rye, Hastings, and other sites along the way. During our return trip to London we saw Hever Castle and toured Hampton Court (very nice).  We were lucky enough to get an apartment on the ground floor which was very quiet with a nice location close to the city.  William and Barbara were our hosts and the full English breakfast was great.  Very nice people with good advice on what to see locally and where to eat.  We made the mistake of driving to the Canterbury Cathedral which turned out to be unnecessary since it's maybe only a 10 minute walk to the city center of Canterbury from the hotel.  We didn't realize this until the second night when we wanted to walk towards the Cathedral towers which can be seen from the hotel.  The owners told us it wasn't that long a walk but it seemed further than it actually was.  We also attended an Evensong at the Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous cathedrals in England, which like many other cathedrals, is a must-do activity.  The acoustics are great and how many times do you get to see a Cathedral whose beginnings date back to 579AD?  The cathedral is famous for the murder of Thomas Becket inside the cathedral in 1170 and the final resting place of the Black Prince (eldest son of King Edward III) who died in 1376.  The stained glass found in the cathedral is absolutely beautiful with the oldest window dating to 1176.  The vaulted arches, the worn stone floor from centuries of use, the library containing 30,000 or more books, and the Romanesque Nave replaced in the 1300s make this Cathedral a very special place to visit.

Rochester, Rye, Hastings, and Battle

Since Canterbury was selected as our home base, it afforded us easy trips to other cities and towns such as Rochester, Rye, Hastings, and Battle.  We visited Rochester and unfortunately missed a Charles Dickens fair that had taken place days earlier.  Not sure what happened in the fair, but I'm sure it must have been fun for Dickens' fans like us.  We decided to keep our visit rather short due to wanting to view several other towns and cities that were further south, but we spent significant time at the Rochester Castle which is in ruins, but still a beautiful castle.  We love ruinous castles since it allows us to conjure images of what it must have been like at the time of the castle's heyday.  The castle area dates back to Roman times in 604AD, but the castle as you see it today dates back to 1088, following the destruction of a wooden castle built during the time of William the Conqueror (Hastings and Battle are cities further south that are not too far from Rochester).  It overlooks the river Medway which is a major waterway artery of Rochester.  The back side of the castle has a great view of the Rochester Cathedral which is across the street.  Both the castle and the cathedral were built by Gundulf who began work on the cathedral in 1080.  His other claim to fame was the construction of the White Tower at the Tower of London.  The cathedral is the second oldest cathedral in all of England dating back to its origin in 604, but with the building that you see today constructed in 1080.  We were unable to attend the Evensong which we try to do at any cathedral we visit, but this gives us another reason to return.

We left for Rye (located in East Sussex) on our second day in the area to visit this ancient town.  The town at one time was on a bay connected to the English Channel, but after several rough storms in the 1200s, silting occurred and the town was left stranded nearly two miles from the sea.  What you find is an old sea town that's no longer on the sea.  Even still, it's a fine old town with many bookstores that dot the old city streets.  The 18th and 19th century facades cover buildings that date back to the 1500s.  One such building was where we decided to have a Cream Tea (our favorite short snack).  It think I banged my head at least twice on the old timbers while trying to move around. There is still a Rye seaport which is away from the town center, but the draw for Rye is its quaint streets and shops.  While there, we bought some old French books that date back to the 1700s for Steffanie.  The bookstore owner was talkative and a lot of fun and we felt like we could spend hours just listening to her stories regarding old and rare books.  Rye can be reached from London by train in about 2 hours if you'd like to make a day trip to this old town.

We left Rye for Hastings, another seaside town that dates back to prehistoric time.  Hastings has a history of getting hammered by violent sea storms.  It has also made an excellent landing place by Romans, and more famously - William the Conqueror in 1066.  Although William fought the Battle of Hastings nearly 6 miles away, this was the closest city where life for England's Saxons would start anew.  William conquered King Harold (famously shot in the eye with an arrow, which may or may not be true) who had earlier told William of Normandy that he would not claim the throne.  Harold had fought a hard battle against Vikings near York (which included his own brother who opposed him) and had to march down to Hastings to face William.  If you've driven to York from London, you can imagine the toll the march must have taken on battle-weary soldiers.  If he just would have out-waited William who needed food and shelter for his army, he probably could have won the battle.  In any case, Harold lost, and England was forever changed by the Norman ruler William.  If you get a chance, go to Bayeux in France where you can view the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the Battle of Hastings.  You get the French version of the truth, which views William taking what was rightfully his, but I imagine the people of England didn't see it that way.  Especially after William arrived and set up shop using trusted French friends to rule the land.  We drove to the beach and got out and walked around on it and found it to be quite different than other beaches we've visited.  Instead of sand, you find pebbles on the beach that make an odd sound as the surf moves in and out.  I got a little too close to the sea since we always try to touch the water wherever we go, and ended up getting my shoes soaked.  It was still worth the soggy shoes though.

After we left Hastings, we headed to Battle where the Battle of Hastings actually occurred.  There is a hill known as Senlac Hill overlooking the battlefield area where Harold probably got his first glimpse of what lay ahead.  Battle has a nice exhibition and theater where they depict the battle that took place and explain that there was probably multiple chances for Harold to have won the battle, but which Harold ignored.   William had around 8,400 men while Harold had around 7,500.  The problem was that William had cavalry, whereas Harold only had infantry soldiers.  The cavalry cut them to pieces (no pun intended), and were a key element in William's success at the battle scene.  Well, that and his weapons and disorder in Harold's troops.  There is an abbey known as Battle Abbey that has a plaque indicating where the Abbey stood and where it was thought that Harold fell.  This is an important battle area where you should visit if you find yourself in the south of England near Hastings.

We also chose to visit Bodiam Castle since it is relatively close to the Battle, Hastings, Rye area.  The castle was built in 1385 and is surrounded by a moat in a scenic area.  You can climb to the top of the castle walls to get a better view of the surrounding hillsides, and the castle is a beautiful sight that takes perhaps one hour to visit.  It was really more for show than for an actual defensive castle, but it's still a great example of a medieval castle that you should visit while in the area.

Hever Castle

We paid our B&B bill for the stay in Canterbury (which was quite reasonably priced by the way), and headed towards London.  We left early enough that we decided to see Hever Castle along the way, followed by Hampton Court.  Hever Castle is about 30 miles south of London and is near Edenbridge, Kent.  The road we drove to get there was very narrow and must not have been the "normal" way to arrive at the castle.  Hever Castle is probably most famous for being the home of Anne Boleyn who later became the second wife of Henry VIII. 

The oldest part of the castle dates back to 1270 and consisted of the gatehouse and a walled bailey. In the early 1500s, the Boleyn family bought the castle (Boleyn was also spelled Bullen) and added a Tudor dwelling within the walls.  It is the Tudor dwelling that became the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.  Henry VIII wasn't so happy with Anne Boleyn and showed this by having Anne's head removed after only three years of marriage.  I can imagine that she thought of this childhood home as the axe fell, and wished she was there on that fateful day.  Anne's body and head were buried in an arrow chest near Tower Green (at the Tower of London) in the adjoining Chapel of St. Peter. Her remains were later found during a renovation of the Chapel during Queen Victoria's reign, and at least there's a marble stone indicating where she is buried.

Thanks to Anne Boleyn no longer being around to contest Henry's decision, the castle later passed to Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  From 1557 onwards, a number of families ended up owning the castle until 1903, when the gazillionaire William Waldorf Astor spent some of his fortunes to restore it while adding the beautiful gardens and lake.  They say he hired 80 men to dig the 35 acre lake which took a couple of years to construct.  Now that's some dedication!  The castle is in superb shape and has been open to the public since 1983 when it was purchased by a private company.  You will find many treasures to view including some prayer books that include Anne Boleyn's writings.  There are collections of swords, an assortment of armor, and some rather interesting torture devices.  The castle itself is rather small compared to other castles we have visited, but it's in great shape and has large grounds surrounding the castle that includes the gardens, and even a maze where you can get lost.  I'm not doing this description of Hever Castle much justice, so visit their website to learn more.  I think it makes an excellent day trip from London, so add this historic castle to your must-see list of castles.

Hampton Court Palace

Well, if I didn't give Hever Castle justice with a description of its beauty, my description of Hampton Court will certainly be lacking.  The Hampton Court Palace is stunning, to say the least.  Hampton Court Palace is about 12 miles from London and is upstream of central London along the River Thames.  It's probably most notable as one of two remaining castles of Henry VIII (the other being St. James's Palace) who received the Palace from Archbishop Wolsey in the mid to late 1520s.  It was supposed to be a good will gesture by Wolsey who had fallen out of favor with Henry.  One notable piece is the astronomical clock built in 1540 that is pre-Copernican (meaning the sun rotated around the earth rather than vice-versa) and located over a gate entrance.  A lot of what you see at the Palace today is a good example of Tudor architecture since Henry remodeled some of Wolsey's home and added even more.

We began our tour by purchasing tickets for the four of us that allowed us to see everything we could plan to see.  Unfortunately, you can't take pictures in Hampton Court except in one small area where the Tudor kitchens are found and the courtyards.  Once inside the Palace, no more cameras.  The gardens outside the Palace seem to go forever and are well maintained.  If you like gardens, I think you could spend quite awhile just walking around looking at flowers, shrubs, bushes, etc., since the Palace resides in a 60 acre area.  Once in the main courtyard, you see that several floors of rooms surround the courtyard.  We were told they had a music concert in the days before our arrival which explained the many rows of seats in the courtyard.  Note that in October of 2008 workers discovered remnants of a wall under the courtyard dating to the 1300s which included lead pipes for water, so this site has been around for quite awhile.  We toured room after room viewing paintings and sculptures, a small church, etc., and quickly realized that this is not a sight that can be adequately viewed in a couple of hours.  It looks like you could easily spend a half-day or more visiting everything there is to see in the Palace.

Rather than going over the many rooms and artifacts we viewed, I suggest going here to learn more about Hampton Court Palace.  Suffice it to say that an entire website or two or three could be developed regarding this magnificent historical location.

Return to London

We left Hampton Court (which followed the Hever Castle tour) for London and determined rather quickly that there really isn't a fast way to get across town to our hotel.  It seemed to take forever to arrive in Bloomsbury, but that was mostly due to when we decided to end our tour of Hampton Court - rush hour!  Thank goodness we had our TomTom GPS unit.  The nightmare that journey would have been without it was thankfully avoided.  Once back in Bloomsbury, we dropped off our rental car and headed toward the Holiday Inn for a final couple of days before returning to Denver.  We did our usual hop-on/hop-off bus tour of London which includes a River Thames boat ride and relaxed as we knew the end of this vacation was finally near.  We took a taxi to Heathrow based on our encounter with a taxi driver that charged us less than the average price if we simply flagged down a taxi or had the hotel arrange the trip.  We saved the driver's info and plan to use him again next time since he was loads of laughs, a good driver, and we got there with no trouble.  All we had left to do was get on the plane for the trip back to Denver which turned out uneventful, but as usual, it felt long and we were jet-lagged pretty well for a few weeks once home.

England Lessons Learned

This year's trip in England turned out pretty well.  We were never disappointed with anything we experienced, and discovered that perhaps we should branch out to other areas in the south and east of London in future visits.  Past visits have landed us to the north, west, and southwest of London throughout England, but there's still much more to see.  Our stay in the old city of Canterbury was great, and it made an excellent home base for visiting historic areas such as Rye, Battle, Rochester, and the more close-in areas that are south and west of London.  We didn't get a chance to go to Dover, although we've been there before.  Even still, I'd like to return to Dover and perhaps drive along the southern coast of England towards Lands End on another trip.  Once again, England never gets old for us and we always look forward to returning.  I think that Canterbury, Rochester, and Battle were three areas we really appreciated due to their historic importance.  Rye was a nice diversion if for no other reason than to visit the many bookstores.  Hampton Court Palace was definitely a place to visit except we should have allowed more time for the visit.  Hever Castle is also a place I'm glad we visited and not that far from London.

 

 

France - 2008

We decided to go to somewhere different in France this time other than Paris.  It was our fifth trip since 1999 and we felt that we probably saw just about enough of Paris to last us for a few years.  We decided to explore the North Eastern region of France this time and it proved to be quite different, but fun.  It also placed us close to Germany so we drove to Germany to stay in Bacharach and see the Rhine River area.

Leaving England

In past years, we left London for Paris via the Eurostar train (Chunnel) from the Waterloo station.  This required a taxi ride to the Waterloo train station.  The Eurostar now leaves from the St. Pancras train station which is within a 10 minute walking distance from where we stayed in the Russell Square area.  We took a dry run walk from the hotel to the station on our first day's arrival and once at the station, I used my credit card to retrieve the tickets so we would be ready for the next day's travel.  It wasn't all that long a walk and we thought we would walk the trip the next day with no problems, but it rained the next morning when we were ready to leave for France.  We decided to take a taxi rather than get wet.  It was about 5 pounds which covered four of us plus two suitcases and a carry-on so it wasn't that expensive. 

Do you know how you aren't supposed to carry knives on board an airline when you travel?  You can put the knife in checked-in baggage with no problem, but you can't carry the knife on board the plane.  Well I don't go anywhere without my pocket knife, but when leaving England, I found myself in a real pickle when they discovered my knife in one of the suitcases as I was going through customs to leave for Paris via the train.  In past years, I've always left the knife in a suitcase that was checked in for the airline part of the trip and it was never an issue when riding on the Eurostar train.  Well, this year wasn't like one of those past years and it turned into a problem.

I came through the line just fine, but when the suitcase was scanned (you take your suitcase with you on the Eurostar train), the screener saw a pocket knife.  Flags went up, guards with guns were called over, a policeman showed up, and they asked me if I had anything in the suitcase such as a pocket knife.  I told them I had checked in my suitcase on British Airways the day before, and that I packed the knife in the suitcase since I couldn't carry it with me, but it had never been a problem when travelling on the Eurostar in past years.  They told me that wasn't going to work for them.  To make matters worse, the pocket knife I carry is for one-handed operation.  That means that it's basically a switch blade.  Not a flick blade, but a switch blade that automatically opens with the press of a finger.  The knife only had a two inch blade or so, but their eyes got wide when they attempted to open it and it automatically flicked the blade open.  They just looked at me when the policeman opened the knife and asked me "what's this?"  I told them that it's a Snap-On brand one-handed knife that's used for easy opening so you don't have to use two hands when using it.  They really didn't like this kind of a knife.  So there is Chris and the kids standing off to the side wondering what the heck I've gotten in this time that involves the police.  I walked near them and said they found my knife and it was a problem.  They took me off to the side and immediately frisked me for other weapons.

I told them to look at me, did I look like a terrorist?  I told them that I had taken this same knife for the last 10 years to Europe and it was never a problem despite being on the Eurostar several times in the past.  They told me that it was NOT OK to bring a knife on board the train either on me, or in a suitcase.  Besides, any flick blade was automatically considered to be a concealed weapon in the U.K. and mine was a switch blade which was even worse.  I explained that it was a Snap-On knife that's used by many mechanics in the U.S., and one of the policemen said that yes, he had heard of Snap-On tools and believed this was probably true.  They stepped off to the side and held a little conference and walked back and told me I would be allowed to leave for Paris, but they would have to destroy the knife.  Man was I bummed.  My cousin Mikey gave me the knife as a birthday present maybe 10 years ago and I always carried it with me.  I asked them if I could hold it one last time which they did, and I begged one of the policemen to please take the knife and use it because it had sentimental value to me and I hated to see it destroyed.  He said he couldn't do it but that it was either have the knife destroyed or leave in handcuffs, my choice.  I said goodbye to my pocket knife.  After thinking about it on the train to Paris, I felt even more bummed since I use a knife for all kinds of things like opening packages, or getting out a splinter, and all kinds of stuff.  I think I used the knife for something just about every day I had it.  The one regret I have is that I didn't ask them to break off the blade so I could at least take the knife body with me and then just replace the blade when I got back home.  I wasn't thinking clearly at the time though since it was quite the scene.  Lesson here is don't take a knife with you on board the Eurostar train.  Your bags go with you so there's no guarantee you won't fish it out of a suitcase and use it in a way they don't approve.
 

Arriving In Paris

We arrived in Paris via the Eurostar (Chunnel) after leaving near where we were staying at Russell Square via the train station at St. Pancras on May 26th, 2008. Once in Paris, we continued via the high speed TGV train to Reims where we spent the night at the Holiday Inn Garden Center.  This was a nice hotel and we walked around downtown to view the various sights and eat our dinner. We also toured the Reims Cathedral where French Kings were crowned and really enjoyed this beautiful old Cathedral.

We picked up our rental car in Reims the next day and drove towards Metz while stopping at the Verdun battle fields along the way. Very interesting tour of the Verdun memorial center and got to tour a battlefield museum while in the area. We also stopped at Saint-Die to view their old cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows (I think the windows were made by Marc Chagall).  Once in Metz we checked in at the Escurial hotel which was just fine. We walked about a half-mile into town where we found a restaurant to eat and eventually headed back to the hotel. It was the trip back to the hotel where we got severely lost. We must have wasted over an hour trying to get back to the hotel because we got turned around on some of the many streets in the downtown area.  We passed several buildings several times in our attempt to find out way back to our hotel.  This is the first time I've been truly lost in a long time.

From Metz, we drove towards Colmar where we planned to stay at the Hotel Les Maraichers.  This too was a nice hotel not unlike a two story Holiday Inn except it had very good French food that was freshly prepared.  Along the way to Colmar we stopped in Kaysersburg which is a beautiful old small town with lovely historical buildings that look like they are straight out of Germany.

From Colmar we visited Ribeauville, Haut Koenigsburg, Strasbourg, Riquewihr, and Turkheim.  The smaller towns are surrounded by vast vineyards, each with a crucifix at the entrance to the vineyard. In Strasbourg we walked around the city and visited the Notre Dame Cathedral which is very impressive. I think this is the most impressive Cathedral I've seen in France, even more impressive than Notre Dame in Paris. If you go there, be sure and arrange your arrival time so you can see the clock display which is housed in the corner of the cathedral.  We also spent time walking around Colmar which is only about a 20 minute walk from the hotel although we drove to the area before we discovered how close it was.  While in Colmar, we also visited the Unterlinden Museum to see their very impressive collection of altarpieces that still have beautiful colors and rich historical depictions of religious scenes.  You can also see many artifacts dating back thousands of years in another section of the museum.  Rather than repeat what you can learn about these cities and their associated historical sights, check out details online or buy a book describing these beautiful towns and cities.

We also drove to Selestat (located half-way between Colmar and Strasbourg) to visit the Bibliotheque Humaniste.  You will find two libraries from the 15th century to the beginning of the 16th century.  There are numerous manuscripts, incunabula and 2,000 printings from the 16th century.  They also have manuscripts from the 7th century, Charlemagne's Regulations (9th century), the Book of Miracles of Saint Foy (11th century), and Beatus Rhenanus' school exercise book.  Manuscripts are under glass which is covered by velvet to protect them from light, and you can view the colorful typography that was used by scholars of the time.

We left Colmar and headed towards Germany for our stay in Bacharach where we planned to see local sights, but mostly to take a "romantic Rhine River tour."  You can read more about our trip in Germany by going here.

Eventually we drove back from Germany and dropped off our rental car in Strasbourg. Once in Strasbourg, we took the high speed TGV to Paris where we checked in at our favorite Paris hotel - Bersoly's.  We were disappointed that our old friend Saed was no longer at Bersoly's, but we did get to see our friend Sylvie (the hotel owner).  The kids had grown since we last saw Sylvie in 2006 and she was surprised how well they spoke French, especially Steffanie.

Once back in Paris we decided that we needed to see something we hadn't seen before, so we decided to take a tour of the catacombs.  There you are on a Paris street, and a small door leads to the entrance of the catacombs.  You wouldn't even know the catacombs existed if someone didn't tell you about it.  Once we entered the small space and paid our entrance fee, we started down some steps.  I thought the trip down the steps into the catacombs would never end.  It seemed like we walked down steps that went for hundreds of feet under the city and the only thing worse than the trip down, was the trip back up once our tour had ended. 

These tunnels and quarry mines that make up the catacombs existed for years under the city of Paris supplying much of the limestone that was used in construction.  It was also a place for hiding, and even the Nazis used the catacombs for their bunkers during World War II.  As you walk through the endless bones that are neatly stacked in a macabre design of sorts, you can still see much of the graffiti on the tunnel walls that dates back to the 1700s.  The skeletal remains that you see in the catacombs appear to go on forever.  At first, it's startling to see so many bones, but after awhile, you wonder if it will ever end.  It's estimated that nearly 6 million people were buried in the catacombs.  The catacombs were used to store bodies that were dug up in the late 1700s.  The local churches in Paris had many of their dead buried around the church or somewhere nearby, and due to the population growth (and death), the graveyards became overburdened with bodies near the center of the city that caused all kinds of health problems.  Graves were leaking into the water and sewer system, there were open graves with rotting bodies, and bodies emitting dangerous gases as they decomposed.  It had become so much of a health problem that something had to be done.  The conclusion was to dig up the bodies in the main graveyards and move them to the tunnels and quarries known as the catacombs.  The official name of the Catacombs by the way is l'Ossuaire Municipal.  You aren't supposed to take pictures inside the catacombs, but I did manage to take a few as there was always an employee nearby watching for camera flashes.  I couldn't see going down all those stairs and viewing so many bones and not having at least a few pictures to remind us of a rather bizarre collection of skeletal remains.  The amount of bones was staggering.  Skulls too.  All were neatly stacked one on top of the other and in any particular section of the catacombs it looked like there must have been thousands and thousands of them.  No names of people of course, just painted letters on the wall indicating the area of the city where they were removed.

If you get a chance to visit the catacombs, you should take it.  It will leave you in awe of the many skeletal remains and remind you of the sheer number of the dead from the past in a single city that we don't normally see in daily life.

Leaving Paris For London

You would think we would have everything in order and have no surprises when leaving Paris for London.  But nooooo, that isn't how it would go this year.  You see, way back on the day we arrived in London, we did a trial walk to the St. Pancras station where I got the Eurostar tickets.  Like the rest of the family, I too was suffering from jet lag.  One of the things I "forgot" was that when I got the Eurostar tickets, I got all the tickets.  That means the tickets to return from Paris as well as the tickets to leave from London.  Well, I forgot this little fact, and we found ourselves standing in line at the Eurostar counter at Gare du Nord to get tickets for the trip back to London.  The only problem was, they don't issue duplicate tickets once you've picked them up.  I swore that I did NOT get the tickets for the trip back to London.  To make matters worse, the Eurostar staff acted like they work in an American bank (not enough people, move very slowly, ignore the long line of people standing in line, etc.).  Although we had arrived in plenty of time to make the train ride, the Eurostar line simply wasn't moving along.  We eventually got to the counter and that's when chaos broke out.  The problem was that the train was leaving in less than 30 minutes and we hadn't even been through customs yet.  They quickly voided the tickets that I had (but that I swore I didn't have), and we ran for the customs check-in.  They got us through very quickly and then we ran like demons to the train.  Of course the train is about a mile long and our car was way down the line of train cars.  We literally ran and the conductors were closing the doors just as we got on.  There was no place to store our luggage so we piled it up the best we could.  We sat down in our seats out of breath and wondering what the heck happened and how we found ourselves in this position.  It was thanks to old Steve again and his bad luck with trains just before they are ready to leave forcing everyone to run for their life in order to make it on the train.  I checked the main suitcase when we finally got back to London and sure enough, the tickets were right where I left them.  Sometimes I'm just an idiot.

France Lessons Learned

The main lesson I learned when travelling to France was not to bring a pocket knife when travelling on the Eurostar from London to Paris.  Joking aside, this trip was very interesting since we got to see many new sights we hadn't seen before.  The cathedrals were very impressive, and the area as you approach Colmar and Strasbourg from the northwest near the Vosges mountains was quite scenic.  The small towns we visited near Colmar look like picture postcard subjects due to the towns being intact and quite pretty.  The Verdun Memorial and the sights near Verdun reminded us of the mass destruction that occurred in World War I.  You can still see bomb pits from where mortars and bombs were dropped on the entire area leaving nothing alive.  It lasted for years and it makes you wonder how countries would ever want to get in a war again after viewing the pictures of soldiers and the local landscape found in local museums.  Notre Dame in Strasbourg is a must-see along with the Reims cathedral.  Touring the city of Colmar and viewing so much of a rich historical past is a must-see as well.  And don't forget the Unterlinden while in Colmar.  The altarpieces they have saved and are on display are beautiful.

 

Germany - 2008

We decided to give Germany a try since we were somewhat close due to being in the Strasbourg area of France which is on the border with Germany.  Really glad we did.  We got to tour the Rhine River on a boat and see some local sights as well.  After gliding down the Rhine River, we realized this would make a great place to spend a few more days than we had planned (we only planned for two and a half days). We decided to make our home base in the town of Bacharach and we visited the town of St. Goar where we spent the day visiting sites, riding up to the top of the mountain to Rheinfels Castle, and then driving toward the Moselle River where we visited the still-intact Burg Eltz castle.  When I think of a fairy-tale castle, Burg Eltz comes to mind.  Such a beautiful castle that is around 500 years old and everything still looks as it probably did in the past.  We enjoyed our trip to Germany and we all agree that we should visit Germany again.  The people are very nice, often laughing, so they must have a good sense of humor, and I love their food which was reasonably priced.  Although we arrived in Germany on Saturday, May 31st of 2008, I began making reservations in late April of 2008 to ensure we would have a nice hotel as our base.

 Leaving Colmar For Bacharach

We left our hotel in Colmar and headed toward Staufen in Germany where we made our first stop.  We considered walking into the city, but once we began to walk, it was raining and we had the suspicion that Bacharach (our destination) might be further away than we expected.  Besides, I wanted to see the German Clock Museum in Furtwagen and I have a tendency to stay pretty long in museums.  So we stopped, turned around, and went back to the car to head on to the next destination - Furtwagen.  Along the way we drove through the Black Forrest area and found it to be very scenic with beautiful pastures and roads that revealed a picture-taking moment at every turn.  Once we arrived in Furtwagen, we headed to a local eatery where the food was good and the prices were very reasonable.  Furtwagen is a rather small town and you wouldn't expect it to have a world famous Clock museum, but it does.  The museum is modern looking inside and well laid out for viewing tons of - you guessed it - clocks!  You'll find some of the oldest clocks made as well as pocket watches throughout the ages.  It had a steady stream of visitors but was never too crowded so we got to enjoy spending time just reading about the clocks on display.

Once we finished touring the Clock Museum, we headed for the Autobahn where speeds were high, but the drive always felt safe.  There were several times we exceeded 100 mph but I find that folks drive pretty fast, and safe, in European countries.  The Autobahn has no speed limit and you would think there would be some nasty wrecks, but we never saw a one.  I'm glad we were able to drive on the Autobahn not only for an unregulated speed thrill, but we also needed to make time so we could arrive in Bacharach before 6PM.

Bacharach

We finally arrived in Bacharach, and found our way to the Pension im Malerwinkel Hotel for our stay.  The hotel looks like a majestic ginger bread house and is quiet with a nice full German breakfast and friendly owners. We highly recommend this hotel for your stay while in the Bacharach area. They only take cash, so you may have to visit an ATM if you didn't bring along enough cash.  You can walk along a babbling brook towards the center of town which is maybe 5 minutes (if that) away from the hotel, and take in the beautiful old houses and stores with plenty of flowers in window flower boxes.  Food in the area was good and relatively inexpensive when compared to France.  Check out the stores, restaurants, and houses in this small medieval town.  They are beautiful and old with timber style framing.  One of the buildings dated to 1380, so it's nice that the local town members keep up their small, but impressive town.  It was at one time a capital city in Germany which consisted of hundreds of small "states."  Bacharach also housed the residence of the Holy Roman Emperor and although it may have had several thousand people living in the town at one time, today you will find it to be a small touristy town that makes a good home base for trips along the Rhine River.

Rhine River Tour

We chose Bacharach as our home base thanks to a recommendation by one of Chris's co-workers who is originally from the Strasbourg area of France.  He had stayed in Bacharach in the past and was very impressed by its beauty and location, so we decided to stay there too.  The key to this home base is that it's within easy walking distance from the hotel to the Rhine River tour office of the KD Line river ferry company.  We walked down to the river and found a small station to buy tickets for the river tour.  We decided to go as far as St. Goar since we planned to see the small town (larger than Bacharach) and then take the train back to Bacharach.  The trip down the Rhine is a lot faster due to the current than the trip back which is upstream.  Some of the boats going upstream looked as though they were barely moving but that was because they had to overcome the swift current of the Rhine.

There are deck chairs on the ferry boat and either side of the boat has plenty of views of the surrounding hillsides where you will see castles and vineyards.  Some of the vineyards are on steep slopes and I have no idea how a person can even stand on them, much less use machinery of any kind.  One thing you should remember is sunscreen for your face, neck, and ears.  I didn't do this of course, and I got severely sunburned (as many others did too).  The cool air as you glide along the river is misleading when it comes to getting a good sunburn.  It was only after arriving in St. Goar that I realized that I was quite burned.  You will see castles on the hillsides and even one in the middle of the river that was used for collecting tolls for river traffic.  They would raise and lower chains across the river to ensure river traffic paid its toll and there is still a castle in the middle of the river known as the Pfalz Castle that was used for this purpose.  Many of the castles date from the 11th century and are used as hotels or for tourist visits.

Once at St. Goar, we walked into town where we got on a "train" that took us to the top of the hill overlooking the river and town of St. Goar.  There is an old ruinous castle located there named the Rheinfels castle which was built in 1245 and was part of the river traffic ruling scene.  It stood for many years until the late 1700 when the French revolution army finally destroyed it.  Now it's a castle ruin that is great for viewing the river and distant scenery where you get an idea of how vast the area is and the amount of river traffic that exists as part of commerce today.  We stayed at the castle for over an hour and then headed back to town where we walked around and saw some local sights.  We also had a small lunch, some ice cream, and some huge 1 liter steins of beer that made us want to sit and relax even longer.  Derek was 18, so he too could drink beer, and when in Rome, do as the Romans do, so he got to drink some good German beer.  We finally decided it was time to head back to Bacharach so we walked to the local train station.  Once there, we realized we didn't have enough cash on us to buy tickets and our credit card wouldn't work, so we got on the train anyway.  Thank heavens there wasn't a train conductor because we had no tickets at all.  I would have gladly paid for the tickets if confronted, but this was the last train for awhile and we needed to be on it.

Burg Eltz Castle

We decided to take the advice of another family staying at our hotel and visited the Burg Eltz castle which is maybe an hour or so away from Bacharach.  It was a nice scenic drive to the castle which is near the Mosel river (known as the Moselle River in France).  It's still owned by an original branch of the family that lived there in the 12th century which is roughly 33 generations ago.  Two of the three families have homes in the castle and you will find their homes open to the public.  You park your car at the top of the road that twists and turns steeply downhill as it approaches the castle.  There is a van that can take people down the road to the castle, but we didn't know they existed until after we walked down the rather steep twisting road.  I think the road leading to the castle is the steepest road I have ever walked on.  The road takes one bend and then the castle comes into view.  The castle is breath-taking in its beauty.  It looks just like a fairy tale castle and is beautiful, not only from a distance, but even up close.  I would estimate the road to be around a mile long so if you have bad knees like me, you will probably want to take a ride down to the castle in the van (for a fee of course) rather than the long, but beautiful walk down the steeply inclined road.  Once we arrived, we headed for a small eatery that was outside the castle.  The prices were OK, and we got to rest our tired feet before we went inside to tour the castle.  Once inside the castle, we had a guided tour of each of the rooms that are open to the public.  There is lots of history with Burg Eltz castle which you can find online so I won't go into details here, but this is definitely a must-see castle in Europe.

When it was time to finally return to the car, we decided right then that there was no way we were walking UP the steep twisting road to get to our car.  Kudos to the people that did it, but there was a line of people waiting for the van that would take us up the road to the car park so we weren't alone on this one.  After arriving back at the car, we drove back to Bacharach, driving along the Rhine River through small towns that dot the river.

Return To Strasbourg

We didn't go as far downstream as Koblenz on this trip, but this leaves us something to look forward to the next time we return to this area.  It finally came time to return to Strasbourg in France where we were to drop off our car at the Hertz station, and then take the TGV train to Paris.  We had a nice breakfast at the hotel before we left, settled the bill, and got in the car for what we thought would be a long drive to Strasbourg.  The drive from Bacharach to Strasbourg didn't really take all that long compared to the trip from Colmar to Bacharach.  Then again, we didn't stop at a museum which is a sure-fire way for me to get side-tracked and spend a few hours curiously looking at anything that is old.  Once we got to Strasbourg, we had no trouble dropping off the rental car and walking to the train station where we waited for our train to Paris.  The process was pretty uneventful, except the train is rather long and we get a little nervous about finding the correct train car that matches our tickets.  That's because we almost didn't make a train when in Amboise in 2006 because we (when I say "we" I should say "I")  headed towards the wrong end of the train and it was running late.  These high speed trains try to meet their schedules and it's up to you to get on them in time to make the trip.  They have no problems closing the doors and rolling away whether you are on the train or not.  The train ride to Paris was OK and we felt glad to be back in Paris where we have spent many days hanging out in a familiar area.

 

Germany Lessons Learned

The main lessons we learned about Germany is about its citizens.  The Germans are very friendly, and they love to eat and enjoy drinking beer and socializing.  We were quite surprised by how happy they appeared to be.  We've often viewed Germans as staunch rather dry people, but that was far from the case in the areas we visited.  They were quite nice and we look forward to visiting their country again.  The other lesson we learned is that we don't speak German and in some of the towns, they don't speak English, so we were somewhat at a loss when it came to speaking their language.  One thing that helped is that the kids speak French fluently so they were able to ask questions in French.  Being Americans, we often forget that everyone else doesn't speak English, especially when in their own country :o)  In general though, we were able to get around more easily than we do in France and the Germans were always helpful.


 

Conclusion

I think Germany, and in particular, the area we visited - the Rhine River area, makes a great place to visit to view historic sights, beautiful scenery, and meet wonderful people.  The northeastern and eastern parts of France were very nice and I'm sure there's more that we could see if we spent more time in these areas.  We still need to go to the south of France as well as to Brittany so we look forward to these visits in the future.  The southern area of England towards Canterbury and along the coastal area was very interesting, and we would like to take a trip through many of the coastal areas heading towards Lands End in a future visit.  We still need to visit East Anglia, but there's many years to come for these tours.  This trip was one of the better trips we've made in the recent past, and although we visited three countries, the Rhine River area of Germany was very close to Colmar and Strasbourg so it didn't seem as though it was much of an effort to include this beautiful part of Germany.  I'm sure there is much more to see in Germany and we would like to extend our visits to other cities, as well as perhaps to visit Austria and Belgium.  If you'd like more info on what we saw and our recommendations, send me an email and I'll try and answer your questions.

Remember to check out my page on European trip advice to align expectations that you may have about traveling to Europe from America as well as ways to make your travel experience a little simpler.

 

 

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