Part 4 - Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany

Trip Start Dec 10, 2005
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Thursday, May 4, 2006

Our European/Lampoons Vacation - Part 4


Belgium

Day 81 - Thursday 4th May 2006
After an early morning bike ride to the local bakery to buy some fresh bread we set of towards Gent, Belgium. Gent was a gorgeous town which in the Middle Ages was the second largest city in Europe. We walked around the many little streets and the inter connecting squares and found our way to one of the St Bavo's Cathedral and walked around the inside which was rather spectacular. We then walked the tiny streets and found our way to one of the main canals where hoped on a 40 minute boat cruise to see the rest of the town. We then headed towards Brussel which ended up being a bit of a nightmare as we got totally lost and hit peak hour traffic which was pretty much stop start. We were so lost and had no idea if the address for the camping site we got of the internet was correct or not so we ended up stopping for the night in a big car park at one of the road side restaurants. We got talking to an English guy who was also in a big motor home and was lost but needed to stop as he had driven over 450 miles that day from Cornwall.

Day 82 - Friday 5th May 2006
We decided to head back into Brussel to try and find somewhere to stay but again this was a bit of a nightmare as we got lost and were a bit stressed with all the traffic. We decided to skip going into Brussels and may come back on the way back to the Nederland's or by Eurostar. We decided to head towards Wallonia (bottom of Belgium) which is best know for the Ardennes the famous forest area where the Battle of the Bulge once raged). We stopped off in Namur for some lunch and had a brief look around. We then headed towards Bastogne which is a small town close to the Luxembourg border, and where thousands of soldiers and civilians died during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45. We walked through the main part of town and up to the Bastogne Historical Centre which had an amazing recollective display of what the Battle was like. From here you could see the huge star shaped American memorial on a hill which is dedicated to the thousands of American troops who died trying to fight off the Germans. We then had another leisurely walk through the main centre and then off to find the campsite for the nights. We were going to bike it back into town but the weather had other ideas and after a brief thunderstorm the rain came down so we stayed in for the night and watched a DVD and read.

Luxembourg

Day 83 - Saturday 6th May 2006
Today we explored more of Bastogne but before we got to town we hit the local supermarket and stocked up on Belgium Chocolate and Moet & Chandon and Belgium Beer. We are really driving the booze bus now - the bar and the storage areas are totally stocked. We walked through the main street and Wayne visited another Butcher/Fromage shop to stock up on his "special" hams and meats (he really is in heaven with the food and alcohol). We then went up to the top of the hill to visit the American memorial. Then we headed off to Wiltz which is just inside Luxembourg. Luxembourg is only 82km long and 57 km wide and it borders Belgium, Germany and France. It was absolutely beautiful driving through the little towns of Wiltz and Clervaux and the Ardenne forest. We stopped in the afternoon in Vianden which is a stunning little town best known for it's massive chateau and chair lift which climbs the hill next to the chateau. The campsite was absolutely superb - not only modern and very very clean but the location is superb as it is only a 5 minute walk to the town and we are parked right next to a flowing river with forest all around, ducks and swans swimming past our door and a fantastic view of the chateau which is lit up at night. People are fishing for trout in the river just out the front of their motor homes.

Day 84 - Sunday 7th May 2006
We had a bit of a sleep in this morning - it must have been the sound of the flowing river next to us!!!! Then we spent the day exploring the town. We walked up a massive hill to the chateau and spent a couple of hours exploring its many rooms. The view was amazing. We then walked back down to the chairlift and went up the hill where the view was just as spectacular. We stopped in at one of the local restaurants next to the river and had a lovely lunch and then back to Misty for a lazy afternoon of reading and drinking next to the river. We were going to move onto the next little town this afternoon but this spot is just so beautiful we decided to stay another night.

Day 85 - Monday 8th May 2006
We got up bright and early this morning and headed off to Diekirch which is a little town famous for its beer. There was really not much there so we kept heading towards Echternach where we stopped and had some breaky and a walk around the local mall. We then headed off towards Luxembourg (The City) but there was really not much there and it was raining heavily so we took a few wrong turns while trying to find out way out and ended up on a highway heading towards France which is not what we wanted to do as there were still some parts of Belgium that we wanted to see. We found our way to La Roche En Aredenne which is a little town famous its ruined castle below which the majority of the town is formed. We had a stroll through the town and found out that it really did not consist of much.... But despite this it had about 5 fromagery's (delis) so Wayne had fun buying some special meats and pates !!. We then headed towards Houffalize which again is another little town in the Middle of the Ardennes forest. It was cute but again very quaint and not much there. So we headed of again for the town of Durbuy where Gemeah was intent on visiting, as it has a famous garden full of over 250 topiaries that are shaped in many different forms (for those of you who don't know Gem has a love of topiaries and for the past 4 years as we have moved houses so have the many many heavy topiary trees much to the removalist's delight !!). We got into Durbuy quite late but it was a rather amazing looking little town that looked more like something out of a fairy tale book than real life. All of the houses are made of stone and have peaks and torrents and they sit aside a Grand Castle that is next to a flowing river amongst beautiful parklands. We found a great spot to park for night next to the river and near a big castle which is out the front of the topiary park. However, we had a bit of a sleepless night as despite parking near 2 other motor homes we thought we could hear someone outside trying to get into the storage boxes under Misty which are all locked anyway- it was difficult to tell as it was also raining quite hard. After we heard it a second time we took off and found a spot to park in the middle of town which was not ideal as the streets are so small. Anyway we survived and nothing happened to Misty either.

Day 86 - Tuesday 9th May 2006
We went to the topiary park this morning which was nice and it was rather amazing to see the shapes that are achievable. Some of the plants are over 120 years old. We then went for a walk through the town and all of the little surrounding streets. It was such a very small town (in fact they call it the smallest town in the world) but it had heaps and heaps of restaurants as it must go off during peak season as it is also an adventure spot that offers lots of biking, and canoeing. We then took off to Liege but we decided not to stop as our guide said that you would either love it or hate it as it is big, busy and gritty. What we saw we did not particularly like as it was dirty, so we kept driving towards Antwerpen. We stopped for the night in Lille (just outside of Antwerpen) at a massive camping ground called "de Lisle Bergen". This place was like a city, huge but beautiful as it was set amongst a pine forest and all the sites are surrounded by pine trees. In the middle of the park is a massive man made lake with a water park in the middle of it. People camp here for the summer but also lots just visit for day trips to the water park. We spent the evening riding our bikes around the lagoon just in time before a thunder storm hit. We had a lovely evening of relaxing, drinking more Moet and reading before getting a good nights sleep.

Day 87 - Wednesday 10th May 2006
We headed into the centre of Antwerpen today and found a great camping ground about 5 minutes out of the heart of the city. We jumped on a tram and went into the central part of the city. Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium (to Brussels) and is supposed to be more likeable than Brussels. It has a world port and is also where the Jewish run the worlds largest diamond cutting industry. There were certainly lots of Jews around the city with their funny little hats and curly bits of hair at the side. The central train station is a rather amazing and impressive historical building. From here we walked through the diamond quarter through the mall (which had some very impressive shopping) and into Grote Markt which is full of impressive old buildings and the town hall. We visited the Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedrall which is Belgium's largest Gothic cathedral. One thing that we have found interesting all around Belgium is a chain of ice cream stores called "Australian Home Made Ice cream". They are very popular and sell impressive looking ice cream and waffles - funny thing is we have never seen ice cream this good at home and certainly not the waffles. Wayne went to a pub tonight in the city to watch a soccer game and I stayed at home to listen to some music, update the diary and the photos and read.

Holland

Day 88 - Thursday 11th May 2006
Today we left Antwerp and headed towards Dreischor, Zeeland (one of the little Isles making up Holland) to catch up with Sacha and Cor who Gem met in Australia. Sacha is the cousin of Nellie (who is our neighbor and friend and mum's best friend and has Dutch Heritage). We did not realize it would be such a short distance... only about 100 km from Antwerp. The drive was interesting and to get to Zeeland we had to cross a bridge that was 6km long only to be stopped about ¾ of the way through so that it could open up to let through some boats. The other thing we noticed is that the land is very green and flat and you drive on top of the dykes with the land passing below.
We arrived to meet Sacha and Cor who are both retired artists and used to teach art and Sacha also did art for information signs drawing wildlife etc. They lived in a wonderful old home that was full of character and also had a 200 year old barn attached which they had converted to a living room, garage and workspace. They also had a separate A framed two storey art studio which also served as guest quarters. Gem was inspired as she has always wanted her own art studio where she can create a mess and not have to pack it away. Their house was contained many beautiful drawings and paintings and they had a beautiful cottage garden. They took us into one of the local towns called Zierkzee to have a look around and find a bedding place. Despite Misty having a comfortable double bed, Gem's back has been giving her heaps of problems and she needed to try and find an underlay - yeh she was successful!! which is good as we have been looking for ages but have not known the right places to look. We had a lovely walk through the quaint little town and also along the harbor which was beautiful. Then back home where Sacha cooked a wonderful traditional Dutch meal of white asparagus (the size of tree trunks), boiled egg that you mash and pour melted butter onto, potatoes and local ham. It was delicious!!

Day 89 - Friday 12th May 2006
We got up early this morning Sacha and Cor took us into another little town on one of the other isles to Veere. On the way Cor took us along the road where they have build massive sea arms to that they can put up and down as a barrier to stop the water from entering and flooding the land. Apparently the American's have been over here getting advice on how to build similar structures in New Orleans. It was a stunning little town with a great harbor. We had fun walking through the tiny streets and looking at some of the shops and the houses that were built in the 1500's. We went for a lovely walk through the country with the sheep and the cows and we also heard cuckoo birds cuckooing away which was quite unique( The Bavarians used the cuckoo for there clocks)!!!
We then went for a walk through one of the remaining barricades which was like a long tunnel crossing over one of the canals where they used to hide and shoot at the enemy to protect their city. This led us out to the water where we sat and watched all the sailing boats on the inlet and had a picnic. We went back home where Sacha cooked another lovely meal with fresh beetroot salad, quiche lorraine, Boccoli and clove cheese quiche. This woman can cook! Cor informed us of all the places we should visit in Holland and France all the time eating lovely pates and drinking wine. The weather has been amazing, lovely sunny days at about 22 degrees.

Day 90 - Saturday 13th May 2006
This morning we were going to head off early towards Amsterdam but we did not leave until after 1.00 as we had a wonderful breakfast and spent the morning talking. Then we decided to go shopping for some groceries and then Cor took us cheese shopping at the local farmer where we got to sample some more wonderful cheeses. Cor is so cute he bought us a heap of the cheese and some bread rolls so that we would not get hungry this afternoon. We were sad to go but headed off towards Kinderdijk which is a famous spot where there is a heap of old windmills. It was a nice spot to get some great pictures but packed with tourists!!! We then made our way along the canal road and made our way onto a car ferry to cross the canal to get to Gouda - this is probably one of the only ferry's Gem had not felt sick on as the ride lasted about 30 seconds !!. We then found Gouda (actually pronounced Howdah) and road our bikes into town. We got their just in time to find a big market in the middle of the town square but they were busy packing up. Wayne managed to find a cheese store thou and bought a little round wheel of Gouda cheese - O.K we now really have nothing else in our Fridge but cheese and pate!!! We had a great time riding around the streets and along the canals of Gouda which was a really pretty little town. We managed to get ourselves lost and ended up finding a canal with a heap of floating houses - they weren't really shaped like boats but like a house just floating!! We eventually managed to find the parking spot and then headed towards Amsterdam. We eventually found the camping grounds and got Misty parked and had a lovely dinner whilst reading all the things we could do in Amsterdam. We were killing ourselves laughing at some of the things it tells you in the tourist information. This is an excerpt of what the police tell you in the brochure.....

"If you visit one of the women, we would like to remind you , they are not always women....... In case you have any problem with a girl or a pimp, don't hesitate to ask a policeman/woman, we know why you're here and you can hardly surprise us anymore"

Day 91 - Sunday 14th May 2006
We headed off towards the city this morning but did not manage to catch a bus so we walked and walked until we eventually came to ferry terminal which would take us across the main waterway to central station. We eventually found the tourist information and got tickets to the various museums we wanted to see. We went to the Vincent Van Gogh museum which Gem loved as she studied his art when she was at school. We then just walked through the streets and stumbled upon the Heineken Museum (not it is not an American beer as commonly thought it is Dutch!!) which was great fun. Wayne got very happy as Gem does not drink beer so as you get 3 free drinks he had to drink a heap of beer. We then kept walking and found a great little spot to have some lunch before finding the Ann Frank House - A Museum with a Storey. This museum was amazing as you get to walk through the actual house where the two families hid from July 1942 to August 1944 to escape the Nazi's. Gem had read both the book and seen the movie so it was great to actually see the staircase that concealed the hidden entry to the rooms that they lived in. Back home for some rest before another big day tomorrow.


Day 92 - Monday 15th May 2006
Into the city for another day of sightseeing around Amsterdam. We had to get Wayne to a doctor this morning to get his eye checked and then we just kept walking around some streets. We accidentally stumbled upon the seediest part of town that is next to the "Red Light District" and is basically full of drug and sex shops and "coffee shops" which really means "pot shops" and places to smoke whacky tobaccy. It was an interesting experience going into some of the drug shops as it was full of things that we would not even know what they were for!! We got offered heaps of drugs whilst we were walking through the streets but from the warnings in the tourist brochures if you want to buy drugs you should buy them in the "coffee shops" and not off the streets as it is just likely to be washing powder or rat poison. We were trying to find the "Holland Experience" 3D movie theater when we stumbled across one of the city "flea markets" which sold everything from clothes to antiques. We spent a couple of hours looking around and then eventually found the 3D theatre- only to realize that Wayne won't be able to see it in 3D anyway because he can only see out of one eye !!! We then found our way to the main shopping street where we spent some time walking around - thankfully by the time we got there most of the shops were shut which was good as it was tempting as they have some very beautiful shops.
At about 9.00pm we found our way to the infamous red light district and had a walk around. It was very seedy area that is difficult to describe ... there are so many adjectives you could use from sad, dirty, sinister, fleshy, interesting. There we lots of Asian businessmen, sex shops, places advertising live porno shoes, peep shoes and of course all of the women in the windows selling themselves. Many of them looked unhappy and it was sad to see them being pimped out by some very nasty looking characters.

Day 93 -Tuesday 16th May 2006
We headed into Lisse today, which is below Amsterdam, to visit the famous Keukenhof Gardens which is the world's largest garden. It is only open 8 weeks of the year (so we were lucky to see it but apparently it is better in April when all the tulips fields are blooming) and during that time attracts over 800,000 people. It was absolutely stunning and despite it not being in prime season it had thousands upon thousands of tulips and other beautiful flowers. We then headed into Alkamaar which is a little harbourside town famous for its cheese markets and men in white coats that cart the cheese around. It was a very cute little town with more cobbled streets and beautiful shops. Unfortunately, the famous cheese parade is only on Fridays from 10.00 to 12.00 so we will miss it.... It's not like we need anymore cheese though at present. Driving through this part of Holland was rather beautiful as although it is not prime season for tulips there are still fields that are completely alive in colour and are full of thousands of tulips. Tonight we amused ourselves by inventing a new game called "strip uno" as Gem can't remember how to play poker.... So uno is the next best thing. Whoever looses has to fulfill whatever bet was agreed upon before starting.

Day 94 - Wednesday 17th May 2006
We headed into the little seaside town of Hoorn this morning and explored it by riding around on our bikes. Again very cute... but all of the little towns are starting to look alike now. We decided to make our way towards Germany (as we have to be in Berlin for the 21st) so we went North and went over the famous "Afsluitdijk" which is a 30km long Dijk that they built in the 1920' & 30's to connect two of the isles points. It has been awarded a medal for engineering greatness and it was certainly an interesting drive. We crossed the border into Germany and found our way to spot just outside of Bremen for the night. When we got to the camping site we must have been the main attraction for the day as all the locals came out and stared at us....we think also they can't believe that Gemeah was driving the motor home... we confused them even more when Wayne stayed inside to cook and Gemeah washed the car.... While we were setting up Misty we heard kept hearing this weird noise... we finally looked up and right above us was a hot air balloon descending into one of the local fields.

Germany

Day 95 -Thursday 18th May 2006
As we were driving into Bremen this morning we took a wrong turn but it was actually a fantastic opportunity for Wayne to fulfill his bet from loosing strip poker... he had to frolic through one of the yellow maize fields naked... it was very amusing and I got it all on film (but you can't see his bits as the maize is up to his chest, so it just covered them up!). We have been driving past fields that are just yellow for miles and miles and they are full of maize and we kept betting each other to run through one... today it came true. We then headed into Bremen which is the home of Beck's Beer and after Hamburg has one of the most important harbors in Germany. We walked through the old part of town and into Bottcherstrasse which is a re-creation of a medieval ally and full of brick houses, galleries and restaurants. We also walked through Schnoorviertel which is a beautiful little area featuring historic fisher cottages. Bremen is also famous for a storey called the Town Musicians which is a storey about a donkey, a dog, cat and rooster and there is a famous statue of them in the square which was created in 1951. The town hall in Bremen is also a rather amazing building erected in 1405-1410 and has a Renaissance façade from the 17th century. It is apparently one of the most impressive town halls in Germany. The centre of town also has a beautiful cathedral called the St Petri Cathedral and it originated in the 13th century.

Day 96 -Friday 19th May 2006
Today we drove into Hamburg and it was afternoon by the time we found the camping spot and got settled. It was terrible (scheiβ...shit weather in German) as it was raining and windy. However, we decided to go out and find the tourist office in town to see what we could do tomorrow. Hamburg is a big place (second biggest city to Berlin) and we eventually found our way into the city centre called the Rauthmarkt. Hamburg is known for it's port (second biggest in the Europe in volume) and it was impressive. We then went for a walk and stumbled across the area of St Pauli, which is Hamburg's most seedy area and is famous for its red light district. It was indeed very seedy with some very weird people hanging around and lots of freaky shops and also lots of beggars.

Day 97 -Saturday 20th May 2006
Today we thought the weather had cleared up a bit but unfortunately when we got into town it started to rain again. We decided to take a tour of Hamburg by one of the double Decker sight seeing buses - it was O.K but there is not a great deal to rave about this city. It has an impressive town hall and lots of museums but that is about it. We decided to get off at the main shopping strip and have a look around... they do have great shopping here. We got some Aussie flags from one of the sports shops selling the World Cup Memorabilia and proceeded to have a good time just checking out the shops. We stumbled up a big street festival that was going on and got to each lots of the bratwurst sausages that they cook on big rotating BBQ's... they were great. We had a fun time as there was also a big stage show going on and most of the songs they sing are in English.

Day 98 -Sunday 21st May 2006
Leaving Hamburg on our way to Berlin approx 350k's we went via Neuengamme Concentration Camp (from 1938-1945) approx 1hr out of Hamburg. We had a nice old man who was a volunteer guide from another town a short distance away who took us on a fascinating 3 hour tour... he was rather amazed to be able to speak to Australian's and practice his English. It was the main concentration camp for 500km's. Holding all nationalities. It was run by the SS and contained the largest brickwork in Europe at the time, Factories for the making of fuses for bombs and torpedoes, assembly of weapons and the making of furniture for the SS. There was over 200 people gassed, small amount compared to the likes of Auschwitz (in Poland) but over 55,000 people lost their lives under the SS motto of ' Death by Work' working them over 12 hours per day with only 1 bowl of hot cabbage water and 200gs of bread. It was a beautiful area but so sad to think about the atrocities that had gone on here. Our guide was quite horrified and saddened about the horrible things that the Nazi's did during their time... and expressed concern that there are still so many people in the world who deny that this ever happened.

Day 99 -Monday 22nd May 2006
We have spent the morning at Flugel (A Hymer Dealer) in the outer suburbs of Berlin. Finally we have the driver's side door and 2 main window locks fixed. We feel safer and Gemeah's a little less paranoid that someone will break in, well it sure feels safer than some rope around the door handle and seat anyway!. Then onto Christina and Holger's where Wayne was a little embarrassed as he broke the tail light on the gate reversing in to the gate. Oh well that's another trip to Hymer for a part!
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