Our last summer in Europe
Jul 23, 2007
|We haven't just been sitting at Kjersti's watching the rain fall. We have gone on several short trips and watched the rain fall. I think it has rained about everyday since the beginning of May. However, April was hot like July should have been. At the time I thought it was much too hot. Oh, for April again! I am either too hot or too cold. Hmmmm, couldn't be my age could it?
In April Mikalanne and I went on a tour to Keukenhof, Holland. Flowers in bloom! I thought I would just see fields of tulips like I had seen in magazines. And I did. I also saw many differnt flowers. First, we went to a flower parade. Sort of like any other parade, bands, cars, tractors.....only they all had bouquets on them. The bands had bouquets on their hats, backs, and instruments. The cars and tractors had HUGE arrangements on the side, top, back, front...oh my, never saw such beautiful and enormous bouquets. Next, we went to the gardens. We wandered around for five hours. Think we saw it all but, could have spent more time just drinking in the sights. I took videos and Mikalanne took pictures. I just told her to look and push the button when she saw what she wanted. About three-quarters through the garden she said it couldn't take any more pictures. I thought the battery was gone. When we got back Michael said she had filled the card. She had fun! I will always remember not only the lovely flowers but her running from one grouping to another. She loves flowers and Michael has helped her plant some in boxes where she takes very good care of them. Right now she is fighting slugs.(Like everyone else in Germany.)
In May we all went to the Cologne (spelled Koln in Germany) zoo and aquarium. Both children had lots of fun but, I think it is the first zoo Marcus really remembers. He ran from animal to animal. He had just seen the movie, Happy Feet, about penquins and he would walk around like he saw the penquins walk and bob his head like he saw them do. It is a really nice place and even though it rained on us we all had a good time.
Paris. We had been there for a short stay when we first came to Europe but, I wanted to really see Paris so we booked a B&B for a week. It was located on the top floor of an apartment overlooking the Jardin de Plantes a ten minute walk from Notre Dame. Beautiful location, beautiful apartment! Like the size of the elevator? Actually, not that small for Europe. Our first night there we took the subway to Trocadero Square situated on a hill just to the north of the Eiffel. Actually, it looks down on the Eiffel. We got there before dark so we went over to a little cafe to have a cup of tea. We walked down the hill, under the sparkling Eiffel. Tea, $10 dollars a cup. View priceless!
We bought the Museum Pass where you can get into most all of the museums and get to go to the front of the line to boot. More time to spend in the museum! I was in heaven....Michael wasn't, exactly. But, I had some logic for him...........if it is raining why stand outside? We did have one beautiful day and we climbed the tower of Notre Dame, wandered around Paris, and took a nighttime cruise down the Seine (very romantic, even for old folks like us).
On the rainy days we saw several museums. We went to the Louvre (twice), saw the Mona Lisa along with LOTS of other paintings, Raphael, da Vinci...all the famous painters from the Renaissance to the Romantics. Saw sculptures, Venus de Milo, several Michelangelos, saw all those 'bought' by Napolean from Italy. Saw Winged Victory, Greek and Roman masterpeices, medieval jewels...it was mind-boggling. Paris has lots of museums and there was no way we could see them all but, we did try, Michael will tell you we did. I think my favorite was the Orsay. It wasn't in a jumble like the Louvre, easy to know where one had been and where to go. It is the best museum for Impressionism, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Gaugin.... My favorite picture was by Renoir, don't know the name but, it was a picture of a mother showing a child how to bake. I bought a mug with the picture on it. Michael said he liked the sailing ships by Monet. Okay, I'll take him to a museum of just Monet, Marmottan. Lots of water lilies. Whole floors or water lilies. His early work is beautiful but, he must have been about blind by the end, just a bunch of smeared paint.
We went to Rodin's home and studio. Learned a lot and it was fun seeing the statues sit where they were made. Even though it was raining we walked through his gardens seeing such masterpieces as The Thinker and the Gates to Hell.
We did go to places that weren't art museums. Saw Napoleon's Tomb. If the size of tomb has anything to do with one's ego that man's ego was mammoth! We went to Place des Voges, sat on a park bench, ate pasteries, and listen to a street orchestra behind us. We saw the prison where Marie-Antoinette was held, saw the oldest public clock ( a highlight? for Michael), and walked through Victor Hugo's house. We walked through the Deportation Memorial a very moving memorial to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camp. One walks down steps and enters a chamber with a long hallway. Flickering at the end is an eternal flame of hope. Lining the sides of the walls are 200,000 sparkling lights. Sent a shiver through me.
Then the churches. Michael found his favorite church in Paris although he won't put a picture in because he wants to forget that he ever said he found one he liked. It was called, Sacre Coeur and it was located high up on a hill in Montmare near the Moulin Rouge. Fantastic views of Paris. Too bad it was so overcast, we couldn't see very far. It is a five-domed Roman-Byzantine basilica. The reason he liked it so much was not because of the architecture but because it had foam-backed carpet throughout. Think he is missing the picture. At St. Sulpice, of The Da Vinci Code fame, we listened as Daniel Roth played a 25-minute recital on the pipe organ between masses. The church vibrates! Awesome. Then we climbed up this tiny staircase to watch him play. What a showman. He shook everyones hand, asked where they came from (not sure how many languages he speaks), and smiled for photos. Here he is playing the organ for Mass, someone points a camera at him, and he gives them this huge smile! My favorite church was Sainte-Chapelle a small church, maybe 15 yards across, 65 yards long and 20 yards high. The walls were all stained glass from about 5 feet from the floor to the ceiling. 6,500 feet of 13th century stained glass with over a thousand scenes from the Bible. "Let there be light."
One faux pas, that we know about, we committed. We went into a restaurant and ordered just a dessert. We weren't very hungry and dessert is always better than something too healthly. We don't speak French and the waitress didn't speak English. She was very nice and through lots of pointing we thought she understood what we wanted. But, said no. I think she owned the restaurant with her husband and she went back into the kitchen, he popped his head out, looked at us, and she brought us a small plate of potato salad. When we finished the potato salad our desserts were brought out. When we paid she gave us a big smile, pointing at the ticket to let us know she had not charged us for the potato salad. We thought she was just being nice and thought we should eat something before dessert. When we told the lady who we were staying with she got this horrified look on her face. "They gave you the dessert? You never go into a restaurant and only order dessert. You must order a meal. Desserts only are only for cafes." Oh well, barbaric Americans. We were very busy tourists and actually saw more but, there are more places I need to tell you about.
I took a bus trip to Brugge, Belgium by myself. Michael was pretty sure I would get lost. Maybe, not too far back in his mind, he was thinking if I got lost he wouldn't have to see any more OC (old crap, that's what he puts on the calendar). But, needless to say, I got back. Brugge is called the Venice of the North. Wonderful town to just wander through. I had a walking tour and then about six hours to explore on my own. Climbed the bell tower, took a cruise down the canal (rained cats and dogs in spurts, they had umbrellas, put up the umbrella, put down the umbrella, kind of funny). Saw the Basilica of the Holy Blood. A relic said to contain Christ's blood, washed from his lifeless body by Joseph of Arimathea. Not being Catholic I never really understood relics but, walking up and touching that phial, the symbolism of that phial, brought tears to my eyes. Saw lots of Flemish Primitives (before Renaissance) and learned they were the first to use oil paint. Saw tapestries, even a Pita by Michelangelo, the only one to leave Italy in his lifetime. Saw a giant crillon, a big barrel with knobs that plays the bells like a music box. Saw a memorial to the first, won, uprising of peasants agains nobles, footsoldiers against horsemen. And, of course, I ate french fries (invented by the people of Belgium NOT France), and, most importantly, ate Belgian chololate.
Michael said I had already seen the Koln Cathedral four times but, it was always from the outside. So, we took the train to Koln. Great train system in Europe. Kjersti took us to the train station and in about an hour we were there. Had no trouble finding the cathedral since as soon as you leave the train station you are at the cathedral and only have to walk up some steps. We went into Germany's greatest Gothic cathedral and climbed the church spire. We have climbed lots of church towers, this is the first one where people were going up and down the same steps...at the same time. No problem you may think. These are little triangular shaped steps curving around, around and up and up. The only hope we had was that there were so many people going up and down there would be no where to fall! We looked at Roman ruins, and Michael even picked a museum he said he wanted to go to. As I slowly recovered from shock I got another shock, it was a modern art museum. I swear, those artists are more salesman than artists, or much smarter than me. Heck, I could stack boxes. I just never thought of it as art. We walked all around Koln and them hopped the train back to Kjersti's.
We sold our camper. I had no tears although it was kind of like saying goodbye to a part of my life. We were going to camp with our friends, Ingrid and Eckhard, that we met in Spain. But, with no camper we just drove up for the day. It was good seeing them again. I wonder if we will ever see them again?
Amsterdam. Since we first went there I wanted to go again. We had floated up and down the canals but, we hadn't gone into any of the sights. I had everything planned out. I thought it was going to be fantastic (it was), Michael thought it was prepration for hell. On our last day there we were going through a market and I stopped to buy something. The salesman asked if that was my husband. I told him it was. He said, "He looks mad". I told him, yes, he thought I had taken him to too many museums. I told Michael what the vendor said and he told him, "She has drug me to 14 museums just today!" Lie! There were two museums I really wanted to see, Van Gogh's and the Rijksmuseum. The Van Gogh museum was awesome. It was laid out chronologically with letters he had written to his brother about each picture. Very informative and interesting. The man was tormented. Selling only one painting in his lifetime. Too bad he never realized a painting of his would sell for over $40 million! Next, the Rijksmuseum. Gigantic museum. Never saw Michael so happy to see a museum. It was closed for remodeling. However, 400 masterpieces were in the Philips Wing. My favorite was a painting called, 'Winter Landscape' by Hendrick Avercamp. He was deaf and mute but, his painting was like a symphony of action and sound. Saw paintings by Vermeer. In Spain, the lady that live upstairs from us, Edna, had done a tapestry of "The Kitchen Maid' by Vermeer. We saw the original painting so we took a picture to send her. Saw pictures by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, all the famous painters from the Holland's Golden Age (1600's). Went to Rembrandt's house. Stood in his studio. There were no paintings of his at his house but, nearly all the etchings he made. I never realized etchings could be so detailed and interesting. The house was furnished nearly exactly like it was when he lived there because he went bankrupt, couldn't make his house payment, and there had been a very detailed inventory of everything in his house.
Anne Franks House. One of the most moving museums I have ever been in. I cried as I watch the video of her father talking about his first reading of her diary. How he never know she had such deep thoughts, how he wished she had felt it was okay to share these feelings with him. Knowing we were going to Amsterdam I had just re-read her book. Over and over she kept saying how she wished she could let people, especially her father, know "the real Anne" not just the "happy-go-lucky outside Anne".
We walked up the tower of Westerkerk, the church Anne always mentions. The hourly bells reminded her of the outside world. We wandered all over Amsterdam, saw lots of churches and other museums, learned about Dutch history and generally had a fantastic time.
We took a trip with Mikalanne to visit some old, and some not-so-old friends. First, we headed up to Wulfsen to visit our good friends, Gisela and Herbert, wonderful people my
mother intruduced us to years ago. Everytime we visit them we learn something new. This time they took us to Bremerhaven where we learned all about emigration. Excellent museum. Set up on what looked, and felt (it rocked) like a ship. Each of us got a 'passport' and as we traveled through the museum we not only learned what it was like to be on the ship but, the stories of various people. We also went to the zoo there, pouring rain at times but really fun. Lots of water animals, big glass tanks where you could see them swim. Polar bears, sharks, penguins, Mikalanne had a blast. We got to stop in and see Herbert's parents who had just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Delightful couple. She doesn't speak English but her husband does a little because he was in an American prisoner of war camp. They were still very nice to us and gave us some beautiful socks she had knit. We all got socks, even a pair for Marcus. We are lucky people! Saying goodbye to Herbert and Gisela was really sad. Each summer we have been here we have visited them. I am anxious to get home but, I will miss not seeing them next summer.
We next went to Berlin to visit a couple we met in Spain, Stefan and Conny. Isn't funny when some people you just meet seem like old friends? That is Conny and Stefan. We would have liked to do more sightseeing with them around Berlin but, the weather did not cooperate! But, that was okay. Just getting to spend time with them was great. Conny showed Mikalanne and me how to make sand flower cards and Michael got to help Stefan fix a pipe. Fair enough. Last time we were at their home Stefan helped Michael fix our camper refrigerator. We so hope they come to the States to visit. We didn't know exactly where to go on our way back to Kjersti's. Stefan suggested Meissen and called ahead and got us a room. Good thing he did because we never would have found it on our own!
I had never heard of Meissen but were told they made the best porcelain. I thought we would get a tea cup for Kjersti as she collects them. We were told it was expensive but, she has done so much for us. We went into the castle and learned how Meissen became rich from porcelain. A man, Johann Fredrich Bottger, told the king he could make gold out of iron. King sends for him, surprise, he can't so he is locked up until he can. Bottger is a chemist, and although he never makes gold from iron, he does discover how the Chinese made porcelain. It was called white gold and as I looked in shops I saw why. I saw a cup for $250! I have heard of Dresden china, same thing. Dresden is just the large city Meissen is near. We did get Kjersti a tea cup but not the original brand. Still, it was made from a small family-owned porcelain company and was hand-painted. We walked all around the town. Lovely little town. We had ice cream extravaganzas for dinner. There seems to be a pattern to our eating habits in this commentary.....Kjersti may never let us take Mikalanne for a trip again.
Ah, Scotland. I always wanted to go to Scotland. With a madain name of McCollom it seemed only right. We had played around with the idea of taking the camper up there but, we sold it and driving on the 'wrong' side of the road was not Michael's idea of fun.
Thought about renting a car and staying at B&B's, same problem plus the exchange rate would kill us. Two pounds equals one dollar. Gas was $9 a gallon! Michael found an American tour group giving a bus tour. We would spend a week in the Highlands. I wasn't so sure about a bus tour but, it turned out to be fabulous!
It only took us an hour on a plane and another hour on a train to arrive in Glasgow. We had taken a late flight so we didn't arrive in Glasgow until 10:30 p.m. I was a little worried about finding our hotel. I had the address and it was located just across the street from the train station on the NW corner. Luckily, there was a sign in the train station pointing to the direction of the hotel. Would you believe the lobby door opened up into the train station? Convenient it was. I read in a book that it was an old hotel in perpetual repair. That was a nice way to phrase it. I bet at one time it was an absolutely beautiful place. The problem being they never completely repaired anything before they moved on to the next repair. Oh well, it was clean and the people were very nice and it had an awesome location right in downtown Glasgow.
Oh, the places we went and the places we saw! We weren't to meet up with our group until 6:30 that night so we decided to go out exploring. We headed for the tourist info center to get information on some places I had read about. While there I asked the man where he would go. He said on a clear day (like we had) he would go up to the cathedral and necropolis because we would get a beautiful view of Glasgow. It was only about a half hour walk, all uphill. It was a Sunday and we got to the cathedral just as services were beginning so we walked up to the necropolis behind the cathedral. The necropolis is filled with crumbling monuments to the dead of Glasgow's wealthy and famous. The tallest monument is to John Knox, the Scottish Protestant reformer (told Mary Queen of Scots she had better practice her Catholicism in private). He stands looking down upon the cathedral and Glasgow... watching over everyone. We wandered around looking at the various tombstones. Lots of little children. Saw one with the name, Robert MacCallum. Pretty close to my dad's name, Robert McCollom.
Walked down and went into the St. Mungo (the patron saint of Glasgow) Museum of Religious Life and Art located next to the cathedral. Well, I went in and Michael waited outside on a bench. He wants me to add that he "very happily waited" outside. It was very interesting and informative, and like all the museums we went to in Scotland very well organized. Using art and artifacts it explores various religions and their impact upon Scottish life past and present. Just as I was leaving the museum the cathedral was opening to the public. What timing! The site the present cathedral, built between 1230-1330, stands on has been a place of worship for over 1500 years. It is the only cathedral on the Scottish mainland to surive the Reformation of 1560 intact. Downstairs contains the Tomb of St. Mungo. Rather creepy walking down into the bowels of the cathedral, rib-vaulting everywhere, dark, except for this tomb, all lit up, covered with a colorful tapestry, chairs all around it. Guess you are suppose to sit and look at it. Well, probably pray.
Next, we headed out to the River Festival celebrating the importance of the River Clyde. Because of the Clyde River Glasgow became the most important industrial city in Scotland. With recession it became the slums, now it is experiencing a rebirth. Think there were about a million people there. Walked around looking at the different exhibits, saw lots of different types of ships and boats. We watched Zapcats, rubber catamarans, racing. Found out they get up to speeds of 50 mph and pull in excess of 2G's when they go around the corners. Michael said that looked like fun and we could do it in our little boat. He would steer and I could lean way over and be ballast. Thanks lots. I asked him if that meant I was suppose to start eating more. I think he was actually thinking more along the lines of me falling out so he would be relieved of museum and church watching.
We headed back to the hotel, got ready for dinner and meeting the rest of the tour group. The group consisted of about equal amounts of people from India, Australia and North America. Some of those people were really suffering from jet-lag! There was a total of 31 people going on the tour. Not a full bus which made it nice for us.....not so nice for the tour company. Found out the next scheduled tour was combined with this tour as not enough people signed up. Later, talking to the bus driver, Stevie, we found out that the exchange rate was really effecting tourism. Our tour guide, Andrew, said that we were to put our bags outside our room doors at 8 a.m. the next morning, come down for breakfast, and we would load into the bus at 9 a.m. to begin our tour. I was afraid riding in a bus several hours each day would be extremely boring. However, Andrew filled the time with terrific commentary and music. I learned all about the history of Scotland and the meaning behind several of their songs. He talked and played songs as we past the corresponding areas. I found it fascinating and would gladly share it with all of you. Lucky for you I only have 9902 charachers left before this web-site won't let me type anymore. So, highlights.
"You take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll get to Scotland before you. But me and my true love will never meet again, long the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond." Know that song? Highland belief was that if you die you must be buried so your soul can travel back to your home. That is why they had a jewel imbedded into their knife. If someone found them dead they would bury them and take the jewel as payment.
Inveraray Castle, home of the nasty Campbell Clan. The Massacre of Glencoe. For centuries there was a Highland custom. If someone came to your door you would feed, clothe, and shelter them for a year and a day. Nasty times with England back in 1692. All clans were made to sign an oath of submission to William III. The MacDonald's were 5 days late. Later, 130 soldiers, led by the Campbells sought shelter at the MacDonald's. Thinking everything was okay, they had signed the oath, the Macconald's welcomed them in. After ten days of hospitality, at dawn on February 13, the Campbells turned on their hosts mudering them. A terrible breach of trust. One of the final blows to any form of Highland unity. According to Andrew this is why you never see Campbells soup served at McDonald's. Just to give you a taste of the humor we heard (only the last sentence).
We traveled to several islands,the nicest, I thought, was Iona. Very quiet, slow, peaceful, beautiful..... Iona is the site of where St. Columba fist landed from Ireland bringing Christianity to Scotland in 563 AD. Iona is also a very honest place. When we got off the ferry we stopped and sat on a bench on the beach and had a little picnic. Later, at the abby, I went to get my glasses out of our bag to read something. Whoops, left my purse on the handle of the bench on the beach. (Michael's fault. He keeps insisting I carry a purse.) I ran back and found a note on the bench. Someone had taken it to the tiny post office (about 30 sq, ft.). See, going into all those churches is paying off!
Another beautiful town is Oban. Look at the view from out hotel room. It seemed like everywhere we stopped there was a bagpiper playing for tips. Okay by me, I like the music from the bagpipe. Michael says I can practice my bagpipe in the trailer parks we will be staying in when we get back to the States. I swear, he keeps thinking of ways to get rid of me.
Do you see Nessie? Think we can sell the picture? Mikalanne wanted us to get a picture of Nessie. Her favorite color is pink. She gasped when she saw the picture. She asked me if I had seen Nessie. I told her it was very foggy and her Papa took the picture. Her reply, "Well, if it was real I don't think it would say, 'Where's Mikalanne'." The picture or color didn't bother her at all.
Went to St. Andrew's. We were told if you need to ask the membership fee you needn't bother. We didn't ask. A golf tournament was going on when we went past the Loch Lomond
Golf Club, on the news it said to join that golf club was $60,000.00. St. Andrew's was much more.
Out of the Highlands. Edinburgh. We had the afternoon to see the city on our own. The next day we had a guided city tour, tour of the castle and the afternoon free. Michael wanted me to put my head in front of the cannon but, I am on to him! One of the places I wanted to see was The Thistle Room of St. Giles, home of The Most Ancient and Noble Order of the Thistle. As we were leaving I looked up at the stained glass window and asked Michael to take a picture. The picture does not do justice to what I saw. It must have been just the right time of the day. The sun shone right through the halo above Jesus' head. It looked aglow. Went into a museum and got a free tour. The guide handed out different web-sites to look up genealogical information. A man looked in a book for us to see what was the original name McCollom came from so I could get a tartan. They had MacCollom listed, close enough. I did look in a phone book and found a business with the name spelled the same as we do. Wrote down the phone number and FAX number given. It was too late to call and it was Sunday. We walked all around Edinburgh. Wish we had more time. That night we went to a special show, Jamie's Scottish Evening. Lots of fun. Terrific music, dancing and ceremony of the Haggis. Pretty sure we had a tourist version of Haggis, the Scottish national dish. It tasted delicious.
Stirling Castle of Braveheart fame. I was very sad to hear the movie was not historically correct....Mel was so moving in his speech. William Wallace was real and is considered a Scottish martyr. He did gather the people to fight against England and did win a great battle and was betrayed and taken back to England where he suffered a horrible death (just like in the movie). Robert the Bruce took up the cause and at the Battle of Bannockburn, outnumbered 3-1, won Scotland's independence from England in 1314.
The speech Mel delivered in the movie was, in reality, taken from Scotland's Charter of Liberty that was sent to the English. Tremendous passage about freedom, I bought a card to frame I like it so much. "For so long as only a hundred of us stand, we will never yield to the dominion of others. We will fight not for glory nor for wealth nor honour, but for that freedom which no good man surrenders but with his life." Well, Scotland is still trying to get independence from England and they feel it is very close. They now have their own Parliment and can decided everything except taxes and forgien policy. They believe on the next round of voting they will even get that and be an independent nation once again.
Back to Glasgow. Final dinner and goodbyes. It was a most enjoyable trip and I would travel with this company again. They have tours worldwide so who knows? Our flight didn't leave until the next day at 9 p.m. so we still had a whole day of sightseeing left. Oh boy! Went to Kelvingrove Museum that had recently been reopened after an extensive remodel. Fabulous museum covering everything from how Scotland was formed to the present. One thing wonderful about Scottish museums is that they are almost all free! Also, they are set up for families. Not just one place where children can interact but nearly every room. Original Picasso's hung three feet off the ground so children can see better, stations where they can feel, see, hear, draw, experience.....we could learn a thing or two from them on how to set up museums. After several hours in Kelvingrove I thought I would take Michael over to the Museum of Transport. All sorts of cars, trains, all manner of transport. He had to admit it was an interesting place but, his true colors came through, I know for sure, all of you who were worried I would kill him....................
We didn't have great weather for this trip. But, Scotland is an absolutely fascinating and beautiful country. I do so hope we get to come back.
We only have one more trip scheduled, a week in Rothenburg where we can explore down the Romantic Road. We also will go to Dachau. On August 28 we will fly back to the States, visit with Michael's family and then down to Colorado before the end of September. Michael already has the fifth-wheel picked out so I guess we will be on the road again before the new year. We saw so much during our time in Europe and met so many wonderful people. There are places I wish we could have gotten to and other places I wish we could have spent more time. But, I am extremely anxious to get home. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe we will get back. Whatever happens we will have incredible memories.
..........For all of you that got to the end of this. I still have 2198 characters left. And Michael has the nerve to say I am too wordy!