Nancy – Fireworks, H&M and fine French food

DSCN3753At the crack of noon (we’re on holiday), Monday, July 13, it was a quick trip from Karlsruhe back to Kandel to pick up our charges, Delaney and Brett, and head to France. Destination for the next four days would be Nancy in France’s Alsace Lorraine region, with a short stop-off to see the cathedral and canals of Strasbourg.

DSCN3809_rz1Tuesday we helped the French celebrate Bastille Day. Place Stanislas with its incredible gilded gates and stately buildings was the focal point for the formal segment of the day’s activities. With the square decked out in French flags and bunting, squads of police and military troops were reviewed, the honorable were named and the requisite speeches were made. As the band played La Marseillaise–IMO the coolest anthem ever–a pair of Mirage jets made a quick pass overhead.

DSCN1669_rz1The kids spent a good chunk of the rest of the day checking out sales at H&M and Lacoste (for some reason the Euro versions are cooler than the US ones). Of course, no patriotic national celebration would be complete without fireworks and the Nancy show did not disappoint. Technology has added a lot to the art of pyrotechnic display.

DSCN3800_rz1Being in France, we had to do some fine French eating. Evening one brought quite good, but somewhat non-traditional fare in a kind of Americanized trendy joint with burgers, salads and steak tartare pairing nicely with a couple carafes of wine. Our last night in Nancy was Delaney’s 18th Birthday-eve and we celebrated, alfresco at Grand Café Foy in Place Stanislas. Balmy night, fab waiter, delightful wine, marvelous meal and D’s favorite; tap water.

Semi-interesting observation: Strasbourg is home to the Kronenbourg brewery. For whatever reason, I’ve always found it to be one of the toughest places on the Continent to get a Kronenbourg 1664. It’s kind of like  not being to find a Miller in Milwaukee.

Le Tour and other tours.

Saturday, July 4th

B & D on the trainNo fireworks for us–saving them for Bastille Day. Today it was back to Centraal and back on the train, this time to Utrecht to catch a bit of the prelim stage of the 2015 Tour de France and to visit our Gallant friend and Utrecht native Sophie.

Sophie and Randy

Sophie and Randy

More and more it seems Le Tour is generating less interest in its namesake county and more and more excitement in the non-French cities where the first couple of stages are typically held. Like England the year before, the crowds in Utrecht were enormous; could even get close to the circuit. As each rider zipped by you could catch maybe a quick glimpse of a helmet, followed by a team car, top loaded with bikes, but that was about it. The crowds were tough, but the pre-race ad caravan was in full silliness and it was really great to see Sophie.

Saturday night we shifted gears and went on a iPhone-played, Rick Steves Audio Tour of the Amsterdam area known as De Wallen, perhaps better known as The Red Light District. There really is a lot of rich history packed in this oldest part of town, and of course there are the various forms of commerce you just don’t find in too many other places. And not unlike Le Tour, the streets were PACKED with tourists.

De Wallen tour complete, the kids went for crepes, Laurel and I went for a beer in our fav local De Wallen dive bar.  Trading Spotify suggestions with the bartender was a hoot. The kids beat us home, but we all missed the last tram. Just havin’ too much fun.

The long blur.

Thursday/Friday, July 2/3

Travel day is travel day–long, tiring, a bit of a blur. Fly to Paris via Detroit; TGV/Thalys fast trains to Amsterdam (Amsterdam flights were really expensive); Thursday morphed into Friday. Anyway, the four of us made it. After 36 hours of being on the go, the fine Dutch beds felt pretty good.

Misc:

  • Delta’s got better, both Domestic and International, than they used to be. Nice flights.
  • Via text while we were on the train, I found out our AMS landlord had changed apartments on us. We we’d book a spot just across the water from Centraal station, but due to “a problem” we’re staying in the Leidisplein area—lots of shops, museums, bars, stuff going on. The place is a little funky, but it’ll do.
  • Delaney voted our post-travel dinner as her favorite part of the day. I concur.
  • Should you have any interest, all the L&R pix (unedited) are available through the Image Library link in the menu bar above.

Euro 2015 and yes, one more try at the blog

Since 2010, I’ve tried to keep a little running notebook–mostly for our own reference/enjoyment– during our Euro travels. Results have been spotty at best and generally unacceptable. Seems like we’re just too busy trucking around, drinking beer, trying to find someplace to do laundry… Anyway, after 2014 I said I was pau with paualready.com. Changed my mind. Gonna give it one more go.

Euro 2015 starts on July 2 with a bit of a twist. This year we’re adding two of our grandchildren to the passenger manifest. This will be sort of a high school graduation present for our granddaughter, Delaney. In a pay-it-forward mode, D’s younger brother Brett will be joining us, too.

The route this year takes us to Amsterdam, down the Rhine River in Germany, Nancy in France for Bastille Day and Paris for Laurel and Delaney’s birthdays. In Paris we’ll be putting the kids on a home-bound plane while Laurel and I continue on for a quick spin through Switzerland; finally ending up in Milan.

We all have brand new passports and they’re begging for a few visa inkings, however with the Schengen agreement, that’s just not as easy as it used to be.

Hello Morocco – 9/9/2014

I did comment on the tough driving in Spain, but oh how I jumped the gun. In retrospect it was a probably a good idea because it helped me prepare for what is the unabashed chaos of Moroccan motoring. Signage means nothing, lane markers even less and meshed into the motorbikes, buses, trucks, donkey carts and taxis is a constant flow of pedestrians. ‘just a little extra excitement in our day.

Food in the south of Spain was wonderful and the street show that accompanied the alfresco beverage breaks in Granada was the best!

While refueling on our way to Gibraltar, the convenience mart at the station was offering a liter of Spanish olives for the same price (€1.79) as a small bag of Lay’s chips. I should have opted for the olives.

Gibraltar was a mix. This British protectorate is very compact and very densely populated. Short of using the Google to find out, I’ll assume they’re mostly retired folks from the motherland. Other than tourism, I didn’t see a lot else to drive the economy. Update: Laurel informs me only 17% of the population is 65 and over. I have no idea what all these people do for a living.

Laurel's special guide

Laurel’s special Tangier guide

The Rock is a spectacular piece of geology/geography. After a tram ride up, we hiked the six, sunny, hot kilometers back down and the views on the trail are wonderful. Beyond that, it was colonies of Barbary macaques, the small apes that are quite adept at mugging tourists for food and a rather amateurish collection of “exhibits.” The mugging part is quite true. As we exited the tram, an ape leapt onto the back of lady a few feet in front of me and relieved her of a plastic-wrapped mint. Obviously, she was terrified for a few seconds; the critter left as quickly as it arrived. Not cool.

With Tangier being just a 30-minute ferry ride from Spain, it’s a popular spot for tourists on day trips—what I believe Rick Steves’ refers to as “cultural voyeurism.” We made a quick pass through the medina here and now it’s onto the drive to the relatively small town of Chefchaouen, best known for its blue walls and buildings.

Another travel day “ruined.”

SevillaLaurel has a fondness for ruins of the Roman variety. We’ve hit many of the biggies; Rome, Pompeii, Arles, but also several smaller, less-known empirical remnants. Leaving Zagreb a couple of years ago, we zigzagged over a series of two-lane suburban roads until, just across from the Croat equivalent of a 7-11, was this cool little collection ancient foundations, ovens & gristmills. Friday, just north of Sevilla, we added Italica to our list of ruin sites. Nice mosaics, huge amphitheater, all under an incredibly blue Andalusian sky.

The exit from Sevilla was interesting.  I’ve driven in busy big city traffic in a lot of the world, but getting out of this little burb was the toughest I’ve been through and the GPS seems to have gotten quite unable to differentiate between a corner and a traffic circle. The trip into Cordoba wasn’t a lot better. Maybe I’m not cut out for Spanish motoring.

Can’t we all just get along?

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for over a week. We’re on our second day in Sevilla in the Andalucía region of Spain.

DSCN0336Sevilla is filled with reminders of how, at some points in the past, people of different religious ideologies really did get along. Granted, at times blood was spilled, tribes were banished, etc., etc. Our Thursday visit to the Seville Cathedral provided a pretty cool look at a structure that began as a mosque in the 1184 and was consecrated as a cathedral in 1248 and after a few hundred years of build-out, grew into the behemoth it is today—third-largest gothic structure in the world. Lots of wealth concentrated in one place. See, things really haven’t changed.

Monday of this week began with a quick drive from Lisbon to very picturesque and incredibly tourist-laden town of Sintra. Sintra is palaces, gardens, castles, but mostly very steep hills. We walked for miles and I’m pretty sure 95% of the slopes were in the up direction. At the end of the day, the dogs were shot; another reminder we’re just not as young…

On Tuesday’s drive to Faro, on Portugal’s south coast, we got peek at just how many giga-hectors of grapes and olive trees there are in this Indiana-size country.

Dining on Euro+ 2014 has been fantastic and thus far, very economical. A modest tapas dinner around tenish fits the L&R lifestyle very nicely.

Off to Cordoba! Pictures are partially up-to-date. Link is above (next to the search thing).

Noted:

Two cameras, two toothbrushes, razor, iPhone, iPad all charged up. Lithium Ion heaven.

Bus trip from Faro to Sevilla was not nearly as comfortable, or fun, as last year’s shotgun-riding dash from Riga to Tallinn.

365 Ways

Of the thirty or so diners in our restaurant of choice Sunday evening, I think there were only two not speaking Portuguese. This was definitely a local ‘family’ spot and most certainly our kind of travel eatery.

Evening in LisbonOrdering was accomplished with lots of gesturing and pointing and not too many words The result was a delightful grilled cod drizzled with olive oil for two, accompanied by a mix onions, fingerling potatoes, broccoli and a chilled carafe of vinho verde, a young local wine with just a hint of bubbles.

This completed another fine day in Lisbon, including a quick trip to cemetery, a trolley ride to St. George castle and a stroll around the Ribeira district (Laurel snagged some river bank sand for her collection).

Tomorrow we pick up the car and head just west of Lisbon to Sintra.

Portuguese will tell you there are 365 ways to fix cod; one for each day of the year. Tonight, we sampled one of them.