After our long but exhilarating day at the Normandy beaches, the Ramblers were ready for a relaxing dinner on board the Baroness. We did enjoy our dinner as usual, but Emmanuelle Bonneau, our cruise director had lined up another “can’t miss,” excursion for the evening. It was not in the program but the passengers of the Baroness happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was also relatively easy to add because our docking space in Rouen was just a few blocks from the heart of the city. For a change we could just walk to our destination instead of having to board a bus. This is somewhat unusual for a city the size of Rouen, with a population of half a million. Often the quays are at least a bus or tram ride away from the historic heart of the city in larger European cities.
Emmanuelle told us that, Notre Dame Cathedral, had a special music and light show on its facade at dusk during the summer months
. Fortunately the cathedral was just a short walk from the quay where the Baroness was docked and we were in luck. The show is held on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at dusk during the summer months, and it was Tuesday, and a very clear night. Admittedly the Ramblers had had a long day at Bayeux and the Normandy Beaches however this special event seemed too good to miss.
If you follow our blog, you already know which one of us was going to go and who would stay behind. The Senior Rambler felt he could indeed miss it, and decided to stay on board as his back was hurting. However, when we returned from Normandy, he got some very good news.The hotel manager on board the Baroness, Celina Sousa, had arranged an appointment for him with a Rouen oral surgeon the next day. At last his front tooth would be reattached. Because the dentist did not speak much English, a member of the hotel staff would accompany him to his appointment and translate if necessary.
We were both happy about how efficiently Uniworld had arranged this for us. We only had to wait until we docked at a town large enough to have the right kind of dentist. Although he wasn’t in any pain, having a missing front tooth was not pleasant for the Senior Rambler. He didn’t smile much until it was repaired. LOL
The thought of seeing the beautiful facade of the cathedral lit up at night was intriguing, and I knew the Senior Rambler would be quite happy on board. So with much encouragement from Emmanuelle, who said I shouldn’t miss it, I decided to join a small group of gentle walkers for an evening stroll to see the light show. I was not sorry I did.
It was a truly spectacular event for several reasons. The program was beautifully done and the cathedral facade is ideally suited to a light show.
Afterwards I learned more about the backstory of the show, but Tuesday night I only knew that it was not to be missed. When we arrived there were already a number of people waiting in front of Notre Dame.
Many were tourists; those who had brought chairs were obviously locals. It actually would have been nice to sit down and watch the lights leap upwards on the cathedral’s tall facade without fear of falling over backwards, but alas there was standing room only.
The sound and light show was divided into two parts. The first portrayed the Viking conquest of Normandy with a Norse serpent slithering up the stone facade and villages burning brightly.
This part of Normandy, so close to the sea was very attractive to the Viking sea raiders, and they happily pillaged the prosperous villages they found, Some Vikings decided to settle there, married local women and added a warrior strain to the mix of cultures in Normandy. Because it was impossible to capture the essence of the sound and light show with any kind of still camera and I don’t do video, I have added a link to a video taken by a spectator shortly after we visited. It covers the first part of the show about the Vikings. I hope you will watch it because it is truly spectacular. Imagine yourself standing in front of the Cathedral as a live-action tapestry unfolds before your eyes. In a way it is like a Bayeux tapestry of film.
Here is the link to the first part which features the Vikings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdOYZHHDXIE&t=7s
The second part of the show about Impressionism and the art of Claude Monet
. Rouen is not very far from Giverney and the gardens of Monet which we visited on Monday. It is not surprising that the sound and light show featured the work of Monet because he painted Notre Dame Cathedral many, many times in all kinds of weather and at different times of day and in all seasons. Again, I have added a video produced by the city of Rouen of the second half of the show which is equally spectacular in a totally different way. It is as gentle and soothing as the first was devoted to warriors and conquest.
Here is the link to the Impressionist half.
Finally, I have included a photo of one of Monet’s paintings of Notre Dame. Do you think the sound and light show captured its essence?
After the show we strolled back to the quay, climbed down an interminable series of stairs to get to the river level and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the Baroness to rest up for another action packed day along the river.
Not like in Saving Private Ryan, I thought as looked down from the cliffs at Omaha Beach on August 16. The beach that our soldiers had to cross to escape the murderous fire of the Germans on D-Day seemed impossibly far away on this beautiful day.
Some places retain a sense of their past history and this beach was one. Although now it was surrounded by golden fields of ripening grain not German soldiers. The cliffs were now covered in bright green grass and shrubs not bristling with weapons. Yet to many who come here, especially young French families, it is now a place for holiday fun by the ocean, or the land their family has farmed for generations.
Perhaps this is as it should be. Certainly the men who died here decades ago must be happy to see the living working and playing on the land they died to liberate. For the Ramblers and many other tourists who come to visit the Normandy beaches daily, it is a place to celebrate the sacrifice of those who came before. And a place we would never forget.
Our day didn’t start out in a somber mood, in fact, we had enjoyed a pleasant and more typical cruise experience, touring a small town in France on a sunny morning. Deeper emotions would surface later, but we didn’t realize this until after we boarded our bus at Bayeux. Irene, our guide was determined that we would get the most out of our day. She announced that even though we weren’t supposed to visit the other landing beaches because of our stop at Bayeux, we would still get a chance to see them, if only briefly.
Irene had asked our driver to drive along the shore on our way to Omaha beach and stop so we could at least see where the British and Canadian troops had landed. He kindly agreed, and it certainly made his job more difficult.
Did I mention that the coastal roads were narrow and packed with vacationers and their vehicles along with many bicyclists. Yet our bus driver patiently wheeled the large bus through traffic and parked at all the landing spots to give us a brief view.
This helped us understand just how difficult a task the Americans had been given on D-Day. As we soon realized, the other landing spots were flat, with no cliffs bristling with German machine gun posts to pin them down. Their sprint across the sand would not be nearly as long or as deadly.
We stopped at several places along the beach on our way to Omaha Beach, where we were able to walk along the coast to inspect some of the German gun emplacements and bunkers which remained, a rusting memorial to the futility of war.
The gun emplacements just sit there, slowly decaying, available for people to inspect at their leisure. We walked along the sandy, windswept paths, passing bicyclists and families on vacation who no doubt took these grim reminders in stride. Having spent time beach combing along the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic coast, I couldn’t help wondering what kind of potentially grim or dangerous mementos washed up after a storm.
Back on board our bus, we heard a brief history of the cemetery. The land itself , like all other American cemeteries in France, and elsewhere in foreign countries, is considered American soil, given to the United states in a perpetual concession. It is managed by the American government which provides funding for its maintenance and staff. Thus the American flag flies above the 172 acres that have been granted to the US. Not all American soldiers who died overseas are buried in these cemeteries. Of course, some were never found or remained unknown. For those who were identified, at the time of permanent burial, the next of kin were asked if they wanted their loved ones’ remains returned home or buried in the closest American cemetery overseas. Six-one percent asked for the remains to be repatriated while thirty-nine percent, for a variety of reasons, agreed to burial in a US military cemetery overseas, close to where they fell. The Rambler was not surprised to learn that over 200 families wanted their soldiers to remain where they had initially been interred, whether in a civilian cemetery or on the battlefield where they had fallen.
When we reached the Omaha Beach site, we quickly disembarked and headed for the cemetery where 9,387 graves, most marked with crosses , but some bear a Star of David instead. The white marble markers are washed three times a week and they shone in the bright sunlight.
The soldiers, all Americans, lie in long rows, not separated by rank or unit, race or religion, but with only the name and date engraved on the white marble marker. All but one died either during the June, 1944 landing or shortly afterwards. The one exception was Quentin Roosevelt, the son of American President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been killed in WWI. When his older brother, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, who had earned the Medal of Honor was killed in 1944, Quentin’s body was exhumed and buried next to his brother. This is, of course, the cemetery seen briefly in Saving Private Ryan.
Although the movie was fiction, it is based on a true story based on the experiences of the Niland family. Two of the Niland brothers are buried in this beautiful place. One was sent home alive, and the other, supposedly killed in the Pacific, ironically, survived the war.
Four women are also buried here, although some sources say three. In doing my research for this blog, I found that information about just who the women were, was scarce. However, it seems that three were African-American WAC’s killed in a jeep accident after the landing and the fourth was a Red Cross volunteer. The WAC’s were part of a postal division from Connecticut, charged with getting the mail to the troops ASAP. Wish I had know about the lack of information while we were at the cemetery, it would have been easy to check.
The WWII Memorial in front of the cemetery is very impressive. Its heart is a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at east end . At the center is a 22 ft. bronze statue titled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the waves. Upon our arrival we were surprised and touched to learn that Uniworld had contacted the cemetery staff to arrange a memorial service.
It would allow our small group to commemorate the soldiers who lay there. The ceremony included a brief dedication, playing the National Anthem, laying flowers at the base of the statue, and finally the sounding of taps. The cemetery official asked if there was a US veteran present who would lay a floral tribute in front of the statue.
The senior Rambler found, to his surprise, that he was the oldest veteran present, he just missed WWII by a few years, serving in the USAF for 4 years during the Korean War. Another wheelchair bound VietNam War vet also came forward and took part in the ceremony.
To say that it was moving was an understatement. Most all were teary eyed at the end, even those in our group who were from Australia, Canada or Great Britain.
I later learned that the Memorial faces the United States at its nearest point to the cemetery, somewhere between Eastport and Lubec Maine.
We had one more stop, to view the almost side by side memorials tht stand on Omaha Beach directly on the beach not far from the high tide line. The first was the massive Liberation Memorial, built of concrete block with stainless steel letters. it commemorates the American Infantry who lost their lives near here. The second was titled Les Braves,
and is completely different from the first. It was commissioned by the French government in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the landing. It was supposed to be temporary but twelve years later, it is still there. You can see why. It captures the spirit of the place.
It was an afternoon the Ramblers will long remember, and the most memorable day of our cruise
Unlike some of our other cruises, the Grand France cruise was packed with activity from the beginning. The Baroness had sailed at 6:30 PM on the day we embarked, unusually early. Even then, we had taken a brief cruise of the Seine before we headed to Normandy. The second day was action packed with two separate stops, one for Giverney and the second for The Lion Hearts castle. In between, we had the traditional welcome dinner and were introduced to the staff and crew.
We were fortunate indeed to have an excellent hotel manager in Celina Sousa, one of the kindest and most caring we had encountered. She was very concerned by the Senior Rambler’s missing luggage, and lack of spare clothes and so we worked out a plan so that he could change into his robe and pajamas while the staff washed and ironed his one outfit. After wearing the same clothing two days in a row, he was very happy to have something clean to wear.
Emmanuelle Bonnier, our cruise director, was equally proactive in trying to wrest the missing bag from the clutches of Air France. She called them several times a day, getting the run-around each time, until finally they admitted, that the luggage had been at Charles de Gaulle all along. On the 9th day it would be delivered to Lyon after we had transferred to the SS Catherine. So even though we had a few problems on the cruise to Normandy, the kindness of the staff more than made up for our inconvenience.
The staff’s incredible service would continue on the second half of the cruise when we transferred to the SS Catherine. I will never forget the quick action of the Baroness’ lady butler, Valentina. The Senior Rambler takes a blood thinner and what would be a bruise on me, is a bleeding cut for him. He had evidently banged his arm somewhere on board and his arm was bleeding. She noticed it even before we did and appeared wearing plastic gloves and armed with peroxide and a band-aid. She quickly cleaned the cut, used the antiseptic and put on a band-aid with practiced skill. We were not in a suite and so technically, we shouldn’t even have been helped by a butler, but this was just a small example of their concern.
The action-packed schedule on the Baroness continued on our second full day of the cruise. This was the day we would visit the Normandy beaches which turned out to be the high point of the cruise for the Senior Rambler.
Again we had two options. The first was an all day tour of the Normandy beaches with stops at Arromanche and Juno and Sword Beaches. Naturally the British and Canadian cruisers joined this group. They would stop at Arromanche for lunch on their own after viewing a film of the landing in its 360 degree cinema. Arromanche also had many shops where they had an opportunity to buy souvenirs if they chose, as there would be no chance to do this at the beaches. We were surprised to find that these once bloody battlefields now served both an outdoor museum and a seaside vacation spot for the local residents.
The Ramblers on the other hand, decided to take the second option. This was first a stop at Bayeux to see the famous tapestry with time on our own for lunch in the pretty little town. We would then re- board our bus for the journey to Omaha Beach where the D-Day landing of the American troops was so graphically shown in Saving Private Ryan. Our guide Irene, however, made sure our bus driver took a route that went past Sword, Gold and Juno beaches on the way to Omaha beach and American cemetery there.
But first Bayeux. Our bus ride took us mainly through rural Normandy where many contented cows grazed. Irene proudly stated that they were a special breed, Norman (Normande) cows.
Those of us who are familiar with the Holsteins of Chic-Fil-A fame, thought they looked just like them until Irene pointed out that Norman cows, unlike Holsteins wear the marks of spectacles around their eyes. And so they did. I didn’t get a photo of any Norman cows wearing their glasses from our moving bus but here is one from the web. The breed had been around since Viking times and give rich milk that is well suited for the making of the many cheeses produced in Normandy. We did pass by an American tank en route, painted a bright green, and evidently a war memorial.
Bayeux, like many towns in Normandy, dates back to Roman times and is only 4 miles from the sea. Duke William of Normandy, later William the First, King of England set sail from the nearby shore on his successful invasion of England in 1066. The magnificent Bayeux cathedral of Notre Dame also dates from the 11th century, as does the Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of the Norman conquest of England.
It is displayed in a stone building in Bayeux that once housed a seminary. Legend says that it was embroidered by Queen Matilda and her ladies as they waited for the successful warriors to return. Like many legends, it probably isn’t true but it makes a nice story.Even today, historians are not sure of the exact origin of the tapestry. It may have been commissioned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux,
to commemorate the successful invasion as he played a prominent role in the event as William’s half-brother. It may even have been embroidered by English monks.
Wherever it came from , it provides crewel-work time capsule of life in Normandy in the 11th century. As a retired history professor, I was very familiar with the tapestry and was anxious to see it for myself. When I did, I have to say that I was disappointed. It looks just like it does in the pictures. The tapestry is displayed behind glass in a darkened room, and one shuffles slowly past its 60 ft. length as one of many listening to their audiovox players. Photos do not do justice to many things, the Grand Canyon comes to mind, but the Bayeux Tapestry was not one of them.
Fortunately the town of Bayeux was a great place to have a relaxing stroll. Since we were on our own, for lunch, we hoped to enjoy a snack at one of the many sidewalk cafes near the cathedral. Unlike the nearby town of Caen, Bayeux had suffered little damage in WWII as the Germans had concentrated their defenses in Caen. In fact, it was the first town liberated after the Allied landing.
The local specialty is a Galette or buckwheat crepe with various savory fillings. However we Ramblers are not fond of savory crepes, having grown up with their jelly or apple sauce filled cousins, so we did not try them. I know, no sense of adventure. We strolled down one of the main streets that leads to the cathedral although we didn’t go in.
After all the activity of the last two days, it was pleasant to just take a leisurely stroll. Some of our fellow passengers had already chosen a place to eat, but nothing looked just right. We went into the courtyard of one of the larger restaurants but it was jam-packed with families on holiday and we quickly left. The Ramblers finally settled on a tiny place, staffed solely by a friendly and attractive young woman. After looking at her tiny menu we settled on something very ordinary, deciding to share an order of fish sticks and chicken fingers. I know what you are thinking, you are in France and you order fish sticks!!! Well yes, and as it turned out it was an excellent choice.
Neither the fish nor the chicken were pre-packaged, they were cooked beautifully and came with two different and tasty sauces. It was a very pleasant lunch, just enough to fortify us for the rest of our trip.
We took our time walking back to our meeting place, noting the old mill as well and a more up-scale restaurant on the other side of the lazy river.
But we had no regrets. We were well fortified for our visit to Omaha Beach. We later learned that there was yet another WWII cemetery in Bayeux, this one for British troops who died at Normandy
After a wonderful morning spent at Giverny, the Baroness set sail again for Les Andelys, a small town (9000) people that was settled over a thousand years ago. It is actually made up of two towns, Petit Andeleys and le Grand Andeleys which, although separated by a large marshy area, have been connected as one town today. We would arrive there in the afternoon with time to enjoy another tour.
Les Andelys is a sleepy place located about 69 miles from Paris and 25 miles from Rouen.
However, it boasts an ancient church, the Eglise Saint Sauveur , ca. 1202 and the ruins of Chateau Gaillard (Hearty castle) built by the order of Richard the Lion Heart in 1197. The castle is the main draw as it was constructed on the highest point available near the Rhine and even today, looks impressive from the river.
Chateau Gaillard has a somewhat unusual history. It was ordered built by King Richard I of England, better know as Richard the Lion Heart as he was a famous and successful warrior. Richard was also the hereditary Duke of Normandy. For this reason, he needed to protect both the city of Rouen just taken from the Archbishop of Rouen as well as the Duchy of Normandy from the armies of the French king.
The best way to protect this territory was to control access up the Seine by constructing a fortress to guard river access. Thus Richard ordered an impregnable castle-fortress to be built on a promontory overlooking the Rhone valley., which today broods over Les Andelys. Construction had been going on for little more than a year when Richard died at 41. Although he had been the leader of a crusading army, he died not in combat but in bed at Limousin France from an arrow
wound that had turned gangrenous. It is said he died in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (He was the favorite of her four sons.) Richard’s heart was entombed in Rouen Cathedral.
Although the Chateau Gaillard was almost finished, Richard’s brother John was now King of England and Duke of Normandy. John was not a seasoned warrior like Richard, and although he continued the building of the castle, he ordered two changes. These alterations in its design would be ill-fated. He ordered a window built
in the chapel’s outer wall, and a toilet added inside the chapel. The toilets in medieval castles were merely disposal chutes for excrement which piled up at its base.
As you can still see in the ruins left standing, Chateau Gaillard’s outer wall was formed in arcs of stone, this was Richard’s innovation new design in fortress building.
The rounded wall absorbed damage from battering siege engines better than the normal square walls, and arrow slits in a curved wall, allowed a better view of the approaching enemy.
Shortly after construction was completed, in 1203, the troops of Philip Augustus, King of France, took the castle after a long siege. Although they had captured the outer defenses by undermining the tower, they were unable to breach the inner fortress. Philip ordered his men to look for a weak spot in the castle wall, and they found it. By climbing up the toilet chute,
they were able to reach the chapel and set fire to the building. Only a few days later the English troops surrendered, ending the siege. Since there was no well inside the inner fortress, they probably wouldn’t have lasted too much longer anyway.
Chateau Gaillard was a strategic fortress and the scene of several major battles during the long struggle between the English and French over control of France. It even served as a royal residence for a time. At the end of the 100 Years War between England and France , the French were victorious with the help of another heroine who ended up in Rouen. Joan of Arc was burned to death in the square at Rouen and no doubt her spirit still has a presence there. However, the castle that had served France so well no longer had any strategic value when France was united, and King Henri 4 ordered the castle dismantled in 1699, after 400 years of service.
At Les Andeleys, the Ramblers had two choices. They could join a group that would hike up a substantial hill to Chateau Gaillard or ride a bus to the top of the hill. The Senior Rambler decided to stay on board, and I opted to join the group that would ride the bus. Part of me really wanted to hike up, but I knew I wasn’t really up to it, so I joined the bus tour even though I really wanted to walk inside the castle. When we got to the drop-off point, I knew it was just too far.
As it turned out, the view from the hill-top was amazing although I wished I could have gone inside the keep. As it turned out, there were stairs to the entrance and lots of little tents pitched in what would have been the castle bailey or protected area. Archaeologists were working at the castle while we were there.
Being France, there were no walls keeping folks from climbing down or falling off the hill, no barbed wire and no no-trespassing signs. From our viewpoint at the highest point of the hill, it was possible to see Les Andeleys below and the Baroness docked not far away. This was one of the most tranquil of our tours. It was a beautiful day, and everything moved at a slow pace, which was fine with us. This all added to the romantic aura of the Chateau Gaillard.
On our way back to the Baroness, our guide, Irene asked if we’d like to visit the historic Eglise Saint Sauveur, which was built about the same time as the Chateau, in 1202, before heading back to the boat.
As it turned out, Saint Sauveur was only a short distance from our bus stop and so a handful of us said yes. This was by no means a grand church, built out of local stone in a simple style rather than the more flamboyant Gothic churches that came later.
It was beautiful in its simplicity and spoke of less complex times. Barely visible on the wall of the nave were paintings of saints that had served as decoration in the middle ages.
As we entered the church, we were greeted by a statue of Christ holding a bunch of very green grapes.
Evidently this was part of an ancient tradition to ensure a good grape harvest. The stained glass windows inside Saint Sauveur were actually installed after WWII, to replace the medieval ones that had been destroyed during the war This tranquil place had been visited by the armies of both sides after the Normandy invasion. The windows were created by one of the master glass makers of Europe, Max Ingrand, (1908-1969) who designed windows for hundred of religious buildings until his death.
We were all glad we had taken this little side tour as we had plenty of time to get back to the Baroness before she sailed. A short stroll brought us to a wide pathway along the Rhone where our ship was waiting.
We would sail at 5 PM for Rouen, our jumping off spot for the D-Day: Normandy Beaches tour.
The River Baroness did indeed sail at 5:30 PM Sunday afternoon, so it was a good thing we changed our airline reservations or we might have literally “missed the boat.” Our Captain gave us a little treat before we left for our first stop. He took us under some of the most beautiful bridges in Paris before turning upstream towards Giverny. Some were quite low, and the pilot house was lowered into the boat during this part of the trip. Then the Baroness turned around and headed towards our first stop,
Paris has lots of urban sprawl, and we snagged window seats at dinner so we could watch the mixture of old and new buildings, barges and houseboats, until dark.
On this trip, we wouldn’t spend as much time cruising during the day. The distance we would cover on the whole trip was not that great, and it was sort of a round trip as we would end up back in Paris at the end of the week.
Monday we were scheduled to visit two places, Monet’s house and garden at Giverny. The gardens are the main attraction. Afterwards we would stop near the ruined castle of Richard the Lion-Heart, at Les Andelys. a little further up the Rhone.
Monday morning, the Baroness docked at Vernon, a few miles from Giverney quite early. around 6:AM. Our tour busses would leave at 9:00 AM. There were only two busses this time, as many passengers had cancelled their trips because of the recent terror attacks in Paris and Rouen. Our ship was half full. This cruise would visit the sites of both terror attacks, but the Ramblers never considered cancelling out of fear. We both believe that when one’s time on earth is up, it’s up and cowering at home won’t extend it by even a minute. The positive side of the cancellations for the passengers tho not for Uniworld, was that there was plenty of room on board the boat and on all the bus tours.
Before I go any further, when talking about room, having a small group did not make our cabin larger. The Baroness has the smallest cabins in the Uniworld fleet; even though we were level 1, our cabin was still 138 square feet. This seemed very small to us, but it made our cabin on the Catherine that much larger later on. We probably should have booked a suite, even though you don’t spend much time in your cabin. And if you are contemplating this sailing, start with the smaller ship and move to the larger one. It would have been much harder to move to the tiny cabins on the Baroness from the spacious ones on the Catherine.
Those who love gardens were all looking forward to the Giverny. The countryside was green and beautiful.
Normally it rains a lot in this part of France, but we had not a single drop of rain on either half of this cruise. Uniworld offered a Go Active Bike Ride for the athletically inclined cruisers. There were quite a few younger cruisers on this trip, and many had signed up to ride to Giverny instead to taking the bus. Uniworld provides very nice bikes for its passengers as well as helmets, and the bike ride really looked like fun. Alas, the surgeon who installed my bionic hip joints gently suggested that biking and jogging were a no/no.
I do love gardens, the Senior rambler not so much, but he was a sport and went along anyway despite the fact that he had broken a crown and now looked like a mountain hillbilly. We soon found that Giverny attracted lots of tourists. Even though it was a holiday Monday when all the shops were closed, people were streaming into the gardens.
Irene, our proud Norman guide, had a hard time keeping us together. Fortunately even before we entered the gardens, she pointed out our meeting place, should we get separated. This was at a pleasant cafe outside one of the museums. To give you an idea of how crowded it gets, the Giverny management had built a tunnel across the road going past the gardens to prevent wholesale tourist slaughter.
The crowds also posed another problem for us photographers. Many gravel paths wound around the pond that featured prominent in Monet’s paintings, and there were even a few waterlilies left and lots of lily pads, but it was very difficult to get good photos that weren’t absolutely filled with fellow tourists. It really was a challenge, but as you will see, I did get a few good ones.
There are flowers everywhere in the Giverny gardens and Irene asked if we saw any that were bloomed out. I looked really hard and could find none. Those of you who have gardens know how much work it is to cut off the blooms that have withered. Imagine doing it in a huge garden. Irene told us that Giverny employs at least a dozen gardeners who keep the extensive flower beds looking absolutely wonderful and I believe it. Certainly it makes these gardens a magical place. We couldn’t linger in the gardens, as hordes more people were arriving every minute. It is a good thing we got there right when the gardens opened.
Our last stop was Monet’s house. I didn’t spend much time there as none of the painting in the house are original and it was also very crowded. However the flower beds leading up to the house were in beautiful shades of red and pink. When we reached the house, we had some free time and so after walking around the quaint village, we headed for the meeting place. Our tour director, Emmanuelle Bonneau had handed out Euro coins so we could enjoy a cafe au lait in the little town. Sipping coffee in the museum courtyard was a pleasant way to end our tour of Giverny.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is anything about Monet’s life and importance as an artist. To do justice to his life and artistic career would take way too much space in the blog, and it is a travel blog not an art history blog. However, you might enjoy reading the Wikipedia entry on Monet which is quite good and includes many examples of his paintings
. Monet had a long and fairly complicated life. For the Wikipedia entry, click the following link.
However, for those of you who only want to know a little about Monet, here is a brief bio. Oscar-Claude Monet 1840-1926 was a founder of French impressionism painting.
He had quite a long and complicated life, was married twice but had only one heir, his son Michel. He moved to Giverny in 1883 when he purchased the house and property and began to develop and landscape his garden and pond. In later life his method was to paint the same subject multiple times in different seasons and water lilies were a favorite subject. He left everything to his son who donated everything to the French Academy of Fine Arts who opened the house and garden to the public in 1980. Of course it is a very popular attraction and brings thousands of tourists to Giverny.
On to Les Andelys and the ruined castle of Richard the Lion Heart. This would be an entirely different experience, but before I end, I have to share a photo of the senior rambler minus tooth.
Having once spent 5 weeks in France teaching in a study abroad program, the Ramblers had often thought of a return trip. However, the years have flown by and we never did go back. Now, after river cruising on the Rhine and Danube, we considered a cruise on French rivers, the Seine and the Rhone.
Since we had great times on our Uniworld cruises, we decided to book a trip they called Grand France. This was a double cruise on two different boats. The River Baroness would sail from Paris to Normandy and back. Then we would transfer to the SS Catherine, based in Lyon, for a cruise through Provence which ended in Avignon.The two cruises were linked for the Grand France tour by a TGV ride from Paris to Lyon. Although we have often ridden on trains in Europe, we had never been on the TGV and this sounded interesting as well.
Although I would book the Grand France cruise through AAA as before, this time I decided not to get our air fare through Uniworld, but instead book it myself. The main reason was that the Ramblers wanted some control over the times and dates of our flights. Cruise companies often put their customers on flights with arrivals that suit them rather than the passengers, especially for departures. All cruise companies need to get passengers off their boats quickly on the last morning of the cruise so that the cabins can be cleaned and readied for the next group of cruisers. Often it leads, as it did for us, to being driven to the airport at 3:30 AM for an early flight out. This had not been very pleasant, so I decided to see what I could do myself.
The internet has made booking air fare both easy and confusing. Once you investigate flights, you are bombarded with teaser ads or email promoting really cheap prices. Of course, the airlines all have their own websites as well, and most of these are fairly easy to navigate. Michelle Shirley, my AAA agent told me that generally the airlines have taken most of the insider perks away from travel agents and anyone looking to fly can book just as good a deal as they could get from a travel agency. Plus the airlines offer just as good prices although they may not last long, as the websites promoting cheap air deals.
Armed with this information I began my search for flights from Atlanta to Paris, round-trip. Before I go any further, it is really important to know exactly when your river cruise is going to depart on the first day of the cruise. Really important… Most cruises stay overnight that first day or sail later in the evening, but not all, as the Rambler found to her dismay. Right after booking a flight that got to Paris at 2 in the afternoon, I realized that our ship would leave at 5:30 that same afternoon! I had thought, without checking, that the River Baroness would sail later in the evening, so always check this first. Arriving at 2 in the afternoon was definitely not a good thing as Paris-Charles de Gaulle is a big airport and there would be little time to make our cruise. AAARGH This meant that I had to change our booking, a $300 per person charge which negated the pretty good deal I had found. So please do check. It might not even be a bad idea to arrive the day before, which would have saved us $600 minus the cost of our airport hotel.
Well, back to my booking experience. For those of you who don’t live in New York or Boston, there are often not many choices for a non-stop flight to Europe, depending on the city. One would think that Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, one of the busiest in the world, would have many choices for getting to Paris non-stop, but this was not the case. Atlanta is a Delta hub and for some strange reason, all the non-stop flights to Paris were either on Delta or one of its partners, Air France. If we had wanted to go to Amsterdam, we could have chosen KLM, another Delta partner, which would have been our first choice. Air France was not recommended by our travel agent, and the Ramblers followed her advice, and booked Delta, tho it surprised us. Unfortunately, we would later learn just how Air France got its bad reputation.
Since we were booking our own air fare, I had the bright idea of staying a few extra days in Avignon at the end of our cruise, to see more of Provence. Then we could travel back to Paris by TGV and catch our flight home the next day. Having talked the senior Rambler into this new plan, I booked the air, adding extra comfort seats, and began the search for a place to stay in Avignon. This would be moving out of our comfort zone, as we would no longer have Uniworld to move us around.
Again, the internet makes this both easy and difficult. There are so many choices and so many reviews on Trip Adviser and similar sites that don’t necessarily tell you what you want to know. Fortunately, a friend who had stayed in Avignon before, stressed the importance of staying inside the walls in the historic center of the city. This was really good advice, although I didn’t realize it until we got there. This decision narrowed our choices somewhat, but I had now to chose between a chain hotel and a small inn or B&B. Both had pluses and minuses. If you stay at a chain hotel and there is a problem, you can usually get it solved in your favor. However, if you stay at a B&B, once you pay, it’s hard to change things. Having read reviews for days, I finally decided on Le Limas, a B&B with a view of the Papal Palace from its 4th floor terrace. Le Limas turned out to be an excellent choice, but the Ramblers wouldn’t be sure of this until we arrived.
Next, was the task of signing up for several day-long tours of the Provence countryside that we wouldn’t be able to see from the boat. Again, after much reading of reviews, I decided to go with two tours advertised by Viator, a company my world traveling daughter recommended. The first was a day long highlights of Provence tour that would take us all over the Provence countryside, featuring both medieval and Roman highlights. The second was a day long tour of the wine regions of Provence which included tastings and lunch. The senior Rambler doesn’t drink, so this tour was definitely more for me, but as it turned out, he would enjoy it very much.
That done, all we had to do was think about what we might pack, and how to make sure our plants got watered until the terrorist attacksin France , which occurred, as it turned out, in places we were to visit. Soon people began to ask if we were still going, or “weren’t we afraid to travel to France?” Honestly, the Ramblers didn’t think about cancelling our trip. We both believe that when your number is up, it’s up, and still looked forward to the trip. After we arrived in France, we did notice, particularly in Paris and Avignon, a very visible police and military presence, but no violence.
Many people obviously were afraid, because both of our cruises were half full, even though they had been completely booked months ago. Giving in to fear, in our opinion, is playing into the hands of the terrorists. We were thanked many times during our trip by the French men and women we met for having the courage to travel to France at this time.
Before we left, we also applied and were approved for Global Entry cards, although we are not sure if they were worth the $100. fee. It certainly makes entering the US easy enough, but seems to do little when you are going through security before you board. Be aware that if you have some metal in your body, as I do with two artificial hips, you will be x-rayed and patted down. Very humiliating for the Rambler, especially since the senior Rambler walked right through. This time they even made me take my shoes off and x-rayed them.
So much for the Global Entry card at this point. However, we did board our flight, it was uneventful and smooth, and we landed in Paris on time, at 6:10 AM. A Uniworld representative would be waiting for us outside the door after we collected our baggage. Well, my bag was one of the first ones on the conveyor belt, but after 45 minutes, my husband’s still hadn’t shown up. Air France had somehow lost it. We filled out several lost baggage forms, one person said it had been put on a later plane and we could get it later. We did get it later….8 days later.
Somewhat flustered, after filling out the lost baggage forms, the Ramblers headed out the exit and were relieved to find a Uniworld Representative still waiting for us after the luggage hassle. We climbed aboard the van and relaxed, Surely we would get the lost bag later in the day. On our way to the River Baroness, we noticed many cranes, high in the air, Paris was expanding its high-rise buildings. Our boat was moored withing sight of the Eiffel Tower and next to a park where a tethered hot-air balloon took crowds of people up to enjoy the view. We were not tempted to try it after our long flight, and spent the rest of the day relaxing until we left on the first leg of our cruise at 5:30 PM
We Ramblers have always loved heading down the open road, although today’s highways are much more crowded with cars and trucks than they were even 20 years ago. Crowded roads were not an issue when the Ramblers’ took their first long trip together. At this time, the Senior Rambler was stationed at March AFB, Riverside CA, and in January, 1954, the Ramblers were married in Chicago and drove back to the base in a 1949 Chevy without air conditioning. Fortunately it was January and we needed the heater rather than air conditioning most of the time. This long and sometimes chilly drive was our honeymoon.
Before the Interstate Highway System Act was signed in 1956, the main road west to California in 1954 was the now legendary Route 66, which was then a sparsely developed (by today’s standards) two lane highway. There were no fast food restaurants; tourist courts rather than chain motels, and truck stops which were bare bones fuel stops
Sometimes the truck stops had a restaurant which most times was a “greasy spoon,” with inexpensive but mediocre food. Those who wax nostalgic about the glamour of the old Route 66 might have felt differently about it if they had to drive it in the winter of 1954-55. It was really pretty bleak then, although we didn’t care. Of course, by the mid-fifties, the new Interstates and increased auto traffic brought development which included chain motels and restaurants. We traveled 66 a few years too soon.
Since we Ramblers left from Chicago, we drove south on an angle along Route 66 from its starting point.
Even today if you study a road map of the United States, you will see that most of the major roads run east-west, rather than north-south. Of course this map only shows Route 66, and there were others, but all were two lane and ran from east to west across the continent. Today we can zip along through the mountains on a four-lane divided highway, then you might crawl along on a windy, twisty road with no turnouts. If you were behind a truck or slow moving car, you just had to relax and take it easy and wait for a stretch where you could pass. Often when you did reach a passing zone, a car was coming the other way.
Truthfully I don’t remember too much about that first road trip west. Not only was it 62 years ago, but it was our honeymoon. I had not the remotest idea that I would be blogging about it decades later. Of course blogs and the internet were non existent then. Frankly 1954 seems even further in the past than 62 years. 1954 might have been 1934 or even earlier as most people still traveled long distances by train rather than car, not to mention flying. However our country was on the cusp of expansion and change in 1954. The transformation would begin shortly, we just didn’t know it.
You were pretty much on your own if you had car trouble on those lonely miles of Route 66. Yes, AAA was available, but cell phones were not. If you were lucky, you limped into the nearest garage and hoped its owner was a good mechanic. Of course, cars were not computerized then, and many men, including the Senior Rambler, were excellent mechanics. His skill turning wrenches came in handy on our trip back to Illinois a few months later when our Chevy developed valve trouble. A helpful garage owner let him use his shop to change the offending valves so we could get home. We had hoped to stay in California for a while but only a few months later, the Senior Rambler learned he was going to Greenland, courtesy of the USAF. I stayed with Mom and Dad for a year until he got back.
But back to describing Route 66 as it was then. There were no welcoming Holiday Inns yet; instead we stopped in Tourist Courts, usually a cluster of small, dank and chilly cabins, sometimes connected, sometimes not, that were rented by the night.
No fast food restaurants provided edibles that were a known quantity. Instead the Ramblers had to take their chances at truck stops or stopped in one of the towns en route to try our luck at finding something good to eat. Admittedly, it was a long time ago, but I don’t remember that there were that many restaurants to choose from then, even in the towns. People just didn’t eat out that much in 1954,
A few things stand out. One was our side trip to the Grand Canyon. It was truly awe-inspiring even on a chilly January day.
We were the only folks at the viewing spot where we pulled off, as the park did not yet attract the huge crowds of tourists that flock there today even in the summer heat. However, in less than 10 years, thousands of people would drive to the Grand Canyon National Park every year, eclipsing the Santa Fe Railroad as the main way to get there. The El Tovar Hotel had been built by the railroad in the early 1900’s to house the tourists who came to visit the Grand Canyon by train. However, in 1954, we didn’t even think of stopping there. We had a limited military budget and the Senior Rambler had to report back to the base. A few years ago, when we revisited the Canyon we drove by the El Tovar, thinking to have lunch but just walked through it instead. It was absolutely jam-packed with tourists
. Another event that we both recall was when the Senior Rambler wanted to show off by climbing down a similar incline in the Painted Desert. He really had a tough time climbing back up in the soft and crumbling sand.
In 2014, we left Marietta GA on I-85 S, turned onto I-65 in and ended up on I-10 in Mobile. We were not thinking at that time to re-visit our honeymoon trip of 1954, just to see family in New Orleans and then head west to the Texas Hill Country Our last stop would be Albuquerque, New Mexico as we love the high desert lands of that state. Without planning, we found ourselves close to the road we had traveled so many years ago and decided to investigate it. However, in order to actually drive along Route 66, we had to get off the Interstate and look for remnants of the highway in towns. This was not as difficult as it might seem as many towns actively promote their ties to Route 66 on ubiquitous billboards that line the Interstate.
In 1954, Route 66 usually went through rather than around most of the towns on its path.
Many of these urban sections have been preserved and are a source of revenue to businesses which promote the old highway as a place to “get your kicks.” Amazingly a few motels still remained on the old Route 66 that had been built in the 1930s when it was the main road west. Coincidentally,the Ramblers would stay in one in Albuquerque in 1954.
Look for more posts on our trip west in 2014.
No digital cameras or camera phones in 1954, so the photos in this pose were found on the Internet, mainly from Wikipedia Commons.
The Ramblers have always liked trains, and have ridden a few in various parts of the US including the Durango and Silverton RR through the mountains of Colorado. However, we had never taken an Amtrak train anywhere. Since we’re not doing road trips anymore, and we wanted to visit our new grandson in New Orleans, we thought about taking the Amtrak as something different. We could, of course, fly but the train had potential. We would see the route we had traveled many times by car, from a different angle, which could be fun. So, as the Rambler travel planner I investigated the possibilities. I did know there was a train that went from Atlanta to New Orleans so it should be doable.
I checked with AAA and found that Amtrak tickets were booked online, through the Amtrak website not at a travel agency. Here is the link. It is relatively easy to use after you play around with it.
Amtrak does offer several discount fares, AAA, senior, children’s’ etc., , but I quickly found out that I could use either the AAA discount or the senior discount but not both at the same time. No double dipping here. Since the senior discount was slightly better, I eventually used it to buy our tickets. I found that coach tickets were not that expensive, a little less than a good deal for an airline ticket, and all seats reserved. Of course the schedule showed that the train took a full 12 hour day to get to New Orleans rather than little more than an hour in the air. Unfortunately the Ramblers didn’t realize just how long it actually would take our train to get to NOLA.
Amtrak also offers 15 and 30 day passes which allows you to visit multiple cities during the stated time period, much like the Eurail passes in Europe. We didn’t consider this option since we only wanted to go to NOLA and back, but it might be something to consider in the future.
I purchased two senior tickets round trip for about $300. for a train that would leave Friday morning at 8:30 AM and arrive in NOLA at 7:30 PM. Not too bad, we thought, since we would have a different view of the journey from the train and the seats were supposed to be comfortable and roomy. The train also had roomettes available, but they were quite pricey and our trip would only take about 11 hours so we didn’t consider them. It turned out we seriously underestimated the time it would take to get to NOLA on Amtrak.
The day of our trip the weather was sunny and warm in Atlanta. Our only luggage was the backpack I had recently bought.
We were pretty sure it would hold enough clothes and other necessities for our week-end trip. I planned to use it as my carry-on when we next flew overseas and this would be a trial run. Consequently we packed fairly light but as it turned out, we had more than enough for our trip except for several items we hadn’t considered necessary for a summer week-end in the South.
The Ramblers had never been to the Atlanta Amtrak station and were surprised at how small it was, and how high up.
The station had a wonderful view of the Interstate highway and downtown Atlanta from its parking lot. I later learned that it had been built in 1918, almost 100 years ago, as a suburban station by a prominent architect.. Atlanta had then been much smaller and the close in neighborhoods of Decatur and Brookwood were then suburban and it was originally called the Brookwood station, but is now known as the Peachtree Station.
The main station of the Southern Railroad in 1918 was the Terminal Station, a magnificent 5 story building, in the heart of a much smaller downtown Atlanta. Atlanta was a city that had grown up around the Western and Atlantic Railroad, so it was not surprising that the city had a splendid terminal.
The Terminal Station had been built in 1905 to serve the many train travelers of the day. There was so much train traffic that the Union Station was added a few years later. Both were eventually torn down after Amtrak was created to handle carrying passengers while the private companies continued to haul freight. Railroad passenger travel began its decline due to the proliferation of auto travel before WWII , and the growth of air travel after 1950 sealed its fate. Terminal Station closed in 1970 and was torn down two years later, as were the Atlanta Union Station and many other once magnificent railroad stations around the country. Amtrak took over the passenger service to Atlanta, mainly the Crescent which travels every day from New York to New Orleans with stops along the way.
Since there was no overnight parking at the Peachtree Station, our daughter and grand daughter dropped us off on their way to a shopping expedition.
However, just as we pulled up to the door, another car was pulling out. The driver told us that the train was delayed 4 hours and they were going out to breakfast. In theory Amtrak was supposed to text me if the train was delayed. Unfortunately the text didn’t arrive until we were already at the station. After a brief discussion, we decided to wait there, as it otherwise would be an inconvenience for them. The station already held quite a few disgruntled passengers, even though the Amtrak clerk had set out coffee and donuts for us to munch on as we waited.
What was the reason for the delay? Well, the Ramblers hadn’t realized initially that the Crescent originated in New York. Earlier there had been some bad weather along the route which caused the signals to stop working along a stretch of track. Thus the Crescent had to stop until the signals were fixed. Another thing we didn’t know was that Amtrak does not own or service the tracks its trains run on. They are owned and serviced by the major freight-hauling railroads, in this case, the Norfolk Southern, which are responsible both for fixing any issues and giving the all clear.
The time seemed to move very slowly as we waited for the Crescent ,and the oak benches, though aesthetically pleasing, were very uncomfortable.
We soon moved to the modern addition which had slightly more comfortable chairs.The wait did give me a chance to go outside and take some photos of the station and its surroundings. To our relief, we noticed that there was an elevator down to the tracks, as well as a very long flight of stairs. When the train finally arrived at 12:45, we couldn’t board immediately as the passengers traveling to Atlanta had to get off.
At last we made our way to our train car, and the conductor gave us our seat assignments as we boarded. On the Crescent, the reserved seats are assigned as the passengers board, and you can’t change your seat without the conductor’s permission. The train was full, according to the conductor as more passengers would get on at other stops.
At last, we were underway. We left Atlanta behind and headed south. Thus began the most interesting part of the trip. You get quite a different, and sometimes fascinating, view of the countryside from the train. All the seats in the car faced forward, although they could be flipped over. The seats were very comfortable, much more so than an airplane seat. The Ramblers settled in for an interesting experience but were uncomfortably aware that we would be getting to New Orleans much later than 7:30. At this point, we didn’t realize just how much later. We had talked to our son in NOLA about the delay and told him we would text when we got close. It was also possible for him to check the ETA of the Crescent on line.
When the conductor announced that the dining car was open, the Ramblers decided to have some lunch. Dining on the Crescent is not a gourmet experience, but we have had worse food.
Seating was family style at tables for four, as space was limited. We didn’t mind and enjoyed the company of the couple from New York who were traveling to the west coast by train. This turned out to be a very good idea.
Back in our coach, we were enjoying the scenery when the train slowed and stopped. There was no station visible, and the train at this point was traveling thorough a heavily wooded narrow valley in the Alabama foothills. Now what, we thought??? What was a tornado in the area. Passenger trains have to stop if a tornado has been sighted for safety reasons. The conductor assured us that the train would be underway as soon as they got the all clear but this was very slow in coming. Time really started to drag, as the sky darkened and the wind blew rain against our car windows. The tornado missed us, passing across the tracks in front of the train. Of course the high winds blew some trees across the tracks. AAAARGH! of course we were going nowhere until they were removed by the Norfolk Southern. By now, many of the passengers were downright hostile, and if they could have mutinied, they might have. But we were Amtrak captives at the moment. By this time, we had been on the Crescent for 5 hours and still hadn’t gotten to Birmingham, AL which normally takes about 3 hours by car.
To pass the time, and gain a little good will, the Conductor announced they were going to feed all the passengers red beans and rice. I was pretty hungry as I had virtuously ordered a large salad for lunch, and even the senior Rambler was ready to accept the offer of food. We really shouldn’t be complaining, I thought as I watched a young mother with two small children manage them without tears and tantrums despite the delays. As it turned out, red beans was actually canned beef stew over rice with rolls and butter. Almost all the passengers ate their stew with few complaints and some even went back for seconds. Not only did it assuage our hunger pangs but it helped the time pass.
Three hours later, we were on our way again and chugged into Birmingham at dusk. The smokers, including the Senior Rambler, were allowed to get off the train and indulge their habit.
There is absolutely no smoking on the train. Unfortunately as the sun went down, the temperature in our car dropped like a rock. Most of the other passengers brought out fleece blankets and jackets and hunkered down. The Ramblers, of course, had neither and were really cold. The Senior Rambler got out some t-shirts and we put our arms into them which helped a little…If you are planning to travel on Amtrak in the future, bring a jacket and fleece blanket as otherwise you will be COLD. Most of the people in our car were frequent train travelers so they were prepared for this. No where on the Amtrak website do they mention the temperature of the cars, but our Conductor told us they had three settings, hot, cold and off.
The sunset that night was beautiful, but it didn’t really make up for the fact that we still had many hours before we would reach NOLA.
There was no more scenery to enjoy, just scattered lighted buildings and a few stations. We finally got to New Orleans at 3:30 AM, and our son was waiting for us. We didn’t get to see much of the station as everything was closed and we just wanted to get to a comfy bed.
Would we take Amtrak again? Probably, as it seemed that everything outside of a breakdown or collision went wrong on this particular run.
People we talked to on board said they usually enjoyed riding the train, so we shall see. The Ramblers didn’t go back to Atlanta on the Crescent. Our children had arranged a birthday surprise for me in NOLA. The shopping trip was a ruse and my daughter and grand daughter drove to New Orleans, leaving after they dropped us off at the station. Naturally they got there hours before we did. The next night I was mightily surprised when they walked through the door at dinner time.
Needless to say we rode back to Atlanta with them.
Although the Ramblers are leaving the driving to someone else these days, they spent many years cris-crossing the US and Canada by camper or car. We visited every state except Alaska and Hawaii by camper, and every Canadian province except the Maritime Provinces and Nunavit. Never kept count on total mileage, but it must have been over 50,000.
Recently a friend asked me for advice about choosing a camper. As I started to explain the various types available, I thought, why not blog on this topic. With the current low price of gasoline and the high cost of hotel rooms, the Ramblers are sure many people will be buying campers this summer. Picking the right model is not as easy as it seems, since there are so many kinds available. The Ramblers have camped in nearly every type of rv available from a borrowed school bus conversion to a 40 ft. diesel pusher motorhome and enjoyed them all. So here goes…
First off, campers are divided into classes, self- propelled vehicles or motorhomes, and tow-able campers or trailers. Motorhomes are again divided into three classes. class A campers are motor-homes built built on a chassis designed for them. Class B campers are van conversions. Class C campers are often called mini-motorhomes although they can be quite large, because they are built on a truck chassis and the truck cab is part of the rig.
The pull-along campers include trailers of every shape and size which are attached with a trailer hitch to the back end of a car, truck or SUV. The hitch for 5th wheel trailers is mounted in the bed of a pick-up truck which allows them to be towed smoothly on the highway and they have some over the truck bed living space. Finally truck campers are specially designed units that slide onto the bed of a truck. They are not strictly a trailer because they are not towed, but neither are they motorized. Trailers, no matter what the type, are not self-propelled. However, in order to camp in a 5th wheel or truck camper, you need to own or buy a truck that has enough power to pull the 5th wheel or fit the camper.
In recent years, another type of trailer has been added to the mix, the toy hauler. The Ramblers have never owned a toy hauler, but toy haulers are designed, as their name implies, so that an ATV or a motorcycle can be carried in their rear compartment. The forward area is fitted out as living quarters. Even horse trailers sometimes have a cabin area for their owners to sleep in these days.
So now you know there are even more varieties of campers to choose from than you expected. How do you zero in on what kind you want? If you have never camped or hauled a trailer or have never driven or camped in a motor home of any size, the Ramblers suggest renting a small version of the kind you are interested in first, to see how you like rv camping. Many dealers have campers for rent, and at least one company rents mini-motorhomes nationwide. You may find you hate either camping in or driving your test camper and that will solve your problem! The Ramblers have heard many folks scoff at RVing, saying the only kind of camping they like is staying in a luxury hotel. However, they have never looked at some of the high end campers on the market or visited a luxurious campground. Some match the luxury of the finest hotels. However, you don’t need a fancy rig to enjoy camping. Campsites range from free, with no facilities in a national forest or Corps of Engineers Campground, to a luxurious campground complete with pool, landscaping, paved roads and campsites and hook-ups for water, electric and sewer.
If you have tried camping and like it, the next step is to decide on what kind you might want to buy. HOWEVER, the Ramblers strongly suggest that you look for a used camper, not a new one. If you think cars depreciate quickly, motorhomes depreciate in value even faster. If you buy a new unit, no matter how good the deal seems, it will take a big hit in value the first year. Looking at used campers can be discouraging, as some are amazingly run down or the supposed non-smoking unit reeks of smoke and/or pet odors. However, if you persevere, you will eventually find what you are looking for. Most RVers these days travel with their pets. That makes camping attractive for those who have a beloved furry companion, but often times makes for a smelly unit. Also, if you want to camp mainly at state parks, don’t get too big of a camper. Most state park campsites were laid out 30 or 40 years ago when campers were much smaller. Very few state park campsites accommodate a 40 ft. diesel pusher motor home. In fact, the Ramblers have found that 28 ft is the maximum length for most. When we got our 35 ft 5th wheel, we couldn’t fit in many.
Another thing to consider for those of you who live in states with an Ad-Valorem tax; you will be paying several thousand dollars(or more) to license your motor home every year. Some people try to get around this by licensing their unit in another state, usually Montana, which doesn’t have an Ad-Valorem tax and actively encourages this. However, the police are wise to this ploy and while some get away with this somewhat illegal ploy, others have had to pay large fines and back taxes. State police often check to see where the folks driving that RV actually live. After all, Montana has a small population . When the Ramblers had their motorhome, they thought about trying this, but decided they didn’t want to break the law. If you can’t afford the tax, buy a less expensive unit.
Of course, you will have to insure your new pride and joy. Insuring a motorhome is more expensive than insuring a trailer. You might also check on the cost of on the road service as well. A good source of information on this and many other RV related topics is the Good Sam Club website.
Motorhomes depreciate faster than trailers and have more parts that can fail. However, many people enjoy being able to walk around inside their camper while they are rolling down the road. The down side is that during your stay at a campground, you have to un-plug your unit if you are hooked up to electricity or water, if you want to go to a store or sight-see. Thus quite a few people tow a car behind their motorhome, which they use to get around when they get to their destination. The main problem with this is when the car is attached to the motorhome, it is impossible to back up unless it is unhitched first. Obviously this involves some careful planning. The Ramblers were going to tow a car behind their motorhome, but then decided to plan their trips differently. When they stopped at a place which offered many side trips, they rented a car from Enterprise or any company that would pick them up at the campground. This worked very well for.. Another option is to carry a scooter or a motorcycle on the back of your camper. We toyed with this idea but felt that safety might be an issue as would riding one in bad weather.
On the other hand, if you want something inside your trailer, you have to stop at a rest area or parking lot so that you can go inside. Not so much fun if it is raining. And, if you have a pop-up camper that folds down for towing, you can’t get inside unless you open it up. Finally, the advent of the slide out, has further complicated the issue. A slide out is a part of the wall of a trailer or motorhome which slides out (you either do this electrically or with a crank) to extend the sides of the camper, giving you much more interior space. Slide outs are great, but when they are retracted, they often make it difficult to get around inside the camper. Be sure and see how and where the slide outs retract in any unit you like.
Oh yes, one more thing. Where are you going to keep your camper once you have it? Many subdivisions have rules against parking campers anywhere, and yes, your neighbor will report you. LOL If you are lucky, you own a place in the country, live in an unincorporated area or in a neighborhood without restrictive rules. If you don’t, you will have to find a place to keep it and factor this cost into the total upkeep.
Now comes the fun part, shopping for your camper. The best way to get a feel for what’s out there is to attend one of the big RV shows held through-out the year in many parts of the US. There you can not only see a huge variety of campers but go inside and check out the living space and furnishings. The dealers who exhibit at the show will have many seemingly great deals…resist them unless you have already done your research or money is no object. Keep in mind, it is far easier to buy a camper than it is to sell one.
The last day of our cruise was jam-packed with activities. Uniworld obviously wanted to make up for the low water problems by adding as many activities as could be squeezed into our last day in Budapest. Fortunately we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the Gundel Gardens restaurant after our visit to Heroes Square, which gave us time to re-charge our inner batteries.
On the way to the restaurant, I noticed a clunky little white car parked along the curb. It stood out among the sleek modern cars and I realized it was a Trabant.
The Ramblers have an interest in automotive history and I had read about the “car that was made out of cardboard in East Germany.” Actually while the Trabant frame was made out of steel, its body was formed of a hard plastic (Duroplast) in the days before fiberglass was commonly used in cars. While it wasn’t particularly study, the Duroplast was light weight. This was a good thing because the Trabant’s tiny engine (600 cc) produced perhaps 26 hp and slowly accelerated to its maximum speed of 62 mph.
The Trabant was built in East Germany from 1957 to 1989 and in Germany from 1990-1991. The Trabi, as it was called, was a joke in the West, but a prized possession in East Germany. Those who had Trabants took good care of them as if you ordered one, it might take years to get it. The average Trabant ran for 28 years. Today they are collected by some who appreciate a low cost way to buy a collectible car. Trabi enthusiasts race them in rallies and modify them in various ways. However, the one we saw parked in Budapest didn’t seem to have been modified in any way.
Gundel’s is located in the city park, near the Budapest Zoo.
The zoo seemed a little neglected although it has a famous history, in fact it is one of the oldest in the world, founded back in 1866. Many of its buildings seemed to be in an intriguing art noveau style. I learned later that the zoo is quite up to date, although the paint on the buildings was somewhat faded, like many others in Budapest.
I wish we could have had a chance to visit but our busses rolled right past and stopped at the door of Gundel Gardens.
Gundel’s is probably the most famous restaurant in Budapest. It was founded in 1910 by Karoly Gundel and taken over by his son in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, the Gundel family lost the restaurant when it was socialized by the communist government of Hungary in 1949. After the fall of communism, it was taken over by two Americans and restored to its former glory.
Gundel’s serves traditional Hungarian food and Hungarian wines. Would have love to have seen a menu, but Uniworld had ordered us a traditional Hungarian lunch and the famous palescinta or crepes with chocolate sauce for desert.
The wines were also Hungarian and excellent. The entree was chicken paprikasz, The food was tasty and efficiently served by waiters in traditional formal uniforms. We sat at large round tables with fellow passengers, who by this time, were our old friends. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience in a beautiful paneled dining room, and over too soon.
Gundel’s has a tiny gift shop where I was able to buy some equally tiny cook books as souvenirs for the cooks in our family and some Hungarian chocolates. The Rambler had finally realized she would be boarding a plane for home the next day and had bought absolutely nothing for her family and friends at home. However, our next stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church, and I knew from a previous visit that I would be able to buy some authentic Hungarian paprika there. Must be in the genes because we all enjoy chicken paprikasz and use lots of paprika. Most of the better Hungarian brands are not imported into the US, so it makes a great souvenir.
The sun had come out again when we reached our last destination, the Fisherman’s Bastion.
We had stopped there the previous December on the Christmas Markets cruise. However we didn’t bother to walk onto the viewing platform as the skies were pouring down chilly rain. Today the view of both Buda and Pest with the Danube in between, was wonderful. Many consider it the best view in Budapest. Despite its medieval appearance the Bastion was built between 1899 and 1905 of white stone. Its style can only be described as a meeting of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque.
it looks like something that might have been conjured up by Sleeping Beauty and King Arthur.
The Bastion has seven towers, representing the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian basin in 896 AD, which later became Hungary. To reach the viewing terrace from the lower level streets, you must climb a massive double staircase but if you were bussed to the top to view the Matthias Church, you need climb only a few steps. If you are wondering how this fairy tail confection got its name, it was built on the site of an old rampart dating from the middle ages.
This particular rampart was defended by the fishermen who lived in a town on the bank of the Danube.
The day we were there, a book fair had been set up in the square in front of the Bastion. The Rambler had a brief thought of buying a children’s book in Hungarian for her little grandson, however cooler heads prevailed and she later settled on a T-shirt.
We didn’t enter the Matthias Church, which is actually St. Stephens.
You can read about it in my Christmas Markets post on Budapest. It is beautiful both inside and outside and has an amazing tiled roof, much like the Stephensdom in Vienna we had seen the day before. The Ramblers decided they surely would not like the job of replacing the tile on that roof.
As we walked back to our bus, busses were not allowed at the top of the hill, I noticed a small supermarket. Just what I was looking for. I knew they would have a variety of paprika’s and at better prices than the souvenir stores. Sure enough, they carried an extensive line of what seems to be the Hungarian national spice and I was able to chose an excellent variety for the family at home. At this point, we hadn’t even seen our hotel yet but when we got there, we wouldn’t have time for the great paprika hunt, and I was right.
In Budapest, our friends from the MT were split up among four or five hotels, all close to the Danube. Ours, the Sofitel Chain Bridge, was visible from the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Pest side of the Danube, however we didn’t realize this at the time.
As we neared the hotel, we could see a number of police vehicles and police personnel in riot gear. Fortunately they were ready to leave and we were able to check into the hotel with no problems. We later learned that there had been a protest about the Syrian refugees right in front of the hotel. Luckily we didn’t get caught up in it.
The Sofitel was also a 5 star hotel but very different from the Ritz, much more modern in decor and architecture. However, it had one thing the Ritz did not, a wonderful view of the Danube and the Chain Bridge.
The Ramblers could have just relaxed in their room and enjoyed the view but that was not an option as we would be going to a folklore dinner in about an hour. We had a strong temptation to miss it, but if we did, we wouldn’t have a chance to say good-bye to our friends from the cruise, or eat dinner. Actually the Sofitel had a fine restaurant but we ended up going to the Czarda dinner with our friends from the cruise.
Getting there was half the fun.
We learned that the Szeker Czarda Restaurant and hall was on an island in the Danube and it was not easy to get there. We went quickly from urban to rural, and our bus driver had to carefully cross an arm of the river on a narrow old bridge. Wish I could have taken a picture, but it would have needed hopping off the bus, which wasn’t going to happen. The restaurant itself looked like a hunting lodge and its reception room was furnished as a rural Hungarian home would have looked around 1800. We were welcomed by smiling hosts who offered us a traditional shot of fruit brandy and a piece of salty cake. From there we were ushered into a large room with banquet style tables where we were served a home-style Hungarian meal accompanied by Hungarian wines.
From the beginning we were serenaded by an excellent Gypsy band and as the meal was winding down, the Honvel Dance Ensemble entertained us with traditional folk dances. The dancers were wonderful and the Ramblers were glad they had chosen the Csarda Dinner. At the end, the dancers invited some of the guests to participate, as I slunk back in my chair. Dancing has never been my forte. Not surprisingly some of our fellow passengers did step forward and at least one of the guys did very well.
When the performance ended, we knew it was time to head back to our hotels, but there was time to exchange hugs with many of our friends. On the bus, we realized how tired we were, and sank gratefully into our seats for the last drive to our hotel. We got a short tour of Budapest at night; it is one of the most beautifully illuminated cities in Europe.
When we finally got to our room it was almost 11 PM. The Ramblers debated whether to put on our jammies or just sleep in our clothes. The jammies won, but it was really hard to get up when the alarm went off at 3 AM. We had an early ride to the airport; our van was to leave at 3:45 AM.
One thing to keep in mind if you get your air fare from your cruise company, you are probably going to leave the boat early. They want to clean the ship ASAP as the next group of guests will be arriving shortly. So we with our luggage, sleepily headed for the waiting van. The Ramblers were the last to climb aboard which just shows how tired we were.
The Budapest Airport is small and this was early on Sunday morning so we were amazed to find a huge crowd already there when we arrived. As it turned out, they all wanted to leave because of the refugee situation. It was not fun to be part of a struggling mob, but Uniworld had a representative there who helped me print out our Lufthansa boarding passes. We got our bags checked and then managed to get to the back of a very long line of people waiting to get through security. The Hungarian airport personnel were overwhelmed by these unusually large numbers and for a time we wondered if we would make our connecting flight to Frankfort. Fortunately we did make it, although because of the metal I carry around, I had to endure a very unpleasant search. I have found that explaining that have had a double hip replacement makes absolutely no difference to the security people. The Senior Rambler must have looked harmless because he got right through. C’est la vie!
On the final leg of our adventure we enjoyed an uneventful flight on Lufthansa. Due to the kindness of a flight attendant, we were able to move to the Lufthansa extra comfort seats. I had tried to book them at Frankfort, but the representative was not very helpful. When we boarded we walked right past a bunch of empty extra comfort seats. As tired as we were, it was wonderful to move up for a long flight. We had bulkhead seats, and even though the same crying child was again on board, it gave up early on the return trip.
Again we were glad to see our daughter waiting after going through customs. As we didn’t have anything to declare except paprika, we walked right through with a “Welcome to Atlanta!” Another great trip for the memory bank….