Friday, June 3, 2011

The Eiffel Tower, our last day in Europe

Jim and the Eiffel Tower, our last day in Europe.

Notre Dame, Paris, another beautiful day in Europe

The next to last day, a day in Paris

We decided that we should drive straight to Paris and see if we could check in to the hotel and take a train into Paris. We took the car back to the Europcar location in Terminal 1 at the Charles de Gaulle airport which was the strangest car rental return we have ever experienced. We drove up the ramp following signs that were less than helpful, only getting honked at once, and found no one at the Europcar location. We got a cart to haul the luggage and unloaded the car. The note on the Europcar office said if no one was there to go to the rental counter in the terminal at the arrival level. We told the girl that the car was on parking spot 125 and she wrote a note on the rental agreement that the car was returned at the current time to CDG airport. No checking of the odometer, no checking that the gas tank was full, no checking that there were no dents, scratches, or broken windows.

The ibis hotel is right next to Terminal 3, so we took the airport shuttle and were able to check in at 12:15. We were able to roll the cart directly into our room which will make getting our luggage back into the airport easier. We went back into the terminal and waited in line to buy a train ticket. The train station is also in Terminal 3, so everything could not be more convenient. We rode the very warm train to the Notre Dame station. We took a few pictures, then walked to the Eiffel Tower, then to the Champs Des Élysées then to the Louvre, and back to Notre Dame. We were lucky to get an express train back to CDG Airport. It started out being very crowded, but then most of the people got out before the express portion of the trip started.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, sitting next to a couple from Canada. We had a nice dinner and good conversation with this couple. He met his wife in France when he was stationed at a Canadian base located in France, before France told the US and Canada to get out of France.

Now back in the room finishing packing for our trip home. It has been a trip of a lifetime but we must get home. We miss family and REI has scheduled me to work this Sunday. Time to start saving for another trip!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Belgium chocolate comes in many shapes and sizes

Brugge under siege by crowds attending Ascension Day procession.

We toured both Ham and Sandwich before we saw this sign

Jane and her boys by her house in Ramsgate

Bacharach on the Rhine

Rhine is still pretty even though water level is very low

A day in the UK and then back to Belgium and France

We spent our one full day in England first going on a walk with Jane, the boys and the dog to the park and walkway near the channel shore. Then Beth and I decided to get out on the road and practice 'staying Left'. We drove to Sandwich, a cute old town, and had our snack lunch on the side of a canal. We then drove to find the city of Ham to take a picture of the new sign that has Ham and Sandwich on the same signpost. I guess many old ones have been stolen as souvenirs. The town of Ham is hard to find since it is only a couple of buildings. Some of the roads in this area are so narrow that we had to stop and move into the weeds to provide enough space for bicyclists to ride by. We are glad there was very little traffic so no one had to either drive into the field or back up.

We then drove to the town of Deal and toured the castle which was very unique, in the shape of a flower. It was fun for Beth to practice some of her French on some middle school students from a small town in France. After the tour, we attempted to drive along the coast thru Margate and on to Ramsgate. We only went in circles a couple of times. Things were a lot easier when we had the GPS. I was glad the sun was out so at least I knew what direction we were going. We got back at our scheduled time and Luke took us to his church which is over 900 years old. They had arranged a baby sitter so we could go out to dinner at a local pub without the minor distractions provided by a 5 and 3 year old. We had a nice dinner and got into bed at a reasonable time so we could make it to the ferry before 6 AM.

We were at the ferry a minute or so before 6 and waited until we loaded at 7. They made us get out of the car and searched through every door and the trunk before we could drive on to the boat. This boat was much bigger than the one we took to Ramsgate. It had 8 decks with space for over 500 passengers. There were only 15 or so car passengers and the truck drivers head to beds in cabins, so the boat was essentially empty in the passenger areas. We got into Belgium about noon and once thru customs headed to Brugge. We arrived at the large underground parking lot amidst a stream of cars. We later learned that they were having a procession thru town to celebrate the Passion and Assension of Christ, something that has been done in Brugge since 1339. The number of people made it difficult to appreciate the beauty of the inner city, but they did a very good job presenting the procession.

A note on their parking ramp. Besides signs indicating how many spaces were currently available on each level, they had bright LED lights above each stall that were red when a car was there, but blinking green when the stall was empty. That made finding an empty stall very efficient.

We left Brugge and headed for France. We stopped for the night in a hotel that used to be a Formula 1. Now called A1, it is exactly as we remember them from 20 years ago. But they are inexpensive and appear clean. We will see how we sleep and if the breakfast is worth 4 euros.