Three French cities

We left Paris in the pouring rain, which was fine because it cooled down a bit. We headed out with the express purpose of seeing three hand picked cities by Michel and JoAnn.  First of all Versailles.  It is a beautiful place but the crowds were outrageous so we decided to skip the indoor tour and take the garden tour.  Here are some pictures from outside the Palace and the garden.  The place is very large.  This is the courtyard.

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and the gates to the courtyard.

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Michel and Brigitte.

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This is the back garden — see the reflecting pool about 2 miles out.

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This is the pond looking back at the palace.

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And another pool.

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After that we went to Chateau de Rambouillet and walked through its gardens.  I think this was a more beautiful garden, although not as large.

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We then went to Orleans.  (this is the old one — not the new one)  It was interesting to see how the architecture was similar to the new one though.

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After this we ended up in Tours.  We got in late but walked through the old town and had a great evening with dinner and wine and we did not get home until after midnight.  Just exhausted.

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Evening in Paris and the morning after

We had a really nice evening at dinner last night. Michel selected a place called Les Ombres (the shadows) on the roof of the Musee de Quai Branley in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.  We ate a very nice meal and every hour on the hour, the tower twinkled at us.  The video will explain what I mean.  It was a very magical evening.

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This morning we headed to the D’Orsay museum and spent the entire morning there.  There are no pictures allowed in the museum, but I took a couple shots from the terrace and overlooking the museum from an upper floor.  The museum is a converted train station which adds to its interest.  Here are a few pictures from inside the Museum.

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This next shot is a view of the gigantic clock face looking out from the inside.  If you look closely you can see Montmartre in the background.  I thought that was a cool picture.

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From the terrace I took a couple more shots of the town.  This is another shot of Montmartre and another building which I am not sure what it is.

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We leave Paris tomorrow after breakfast.  We will be heading to Tours on our continued tour of France.

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Paris

We had a more relaxing day in Verviers yesterday.  After a relaxing morning we headed over to visit Michel’s parents.  I had not seem them in 25 years or so, so it was very nice.  We also saw Christine — Michel’s sister.  We then took a relaxing drive to see the town.  We visited the US soldier cemetery for soldiers that fought in WWII.


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Then we stopped in to visit Saffo, who is a leader in a youth camp.  She wanted to see us before we left so we took her out to a café for a drink.

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Michel and Brigitte were also kind enough to host Dominique Van Cappellen-Waldock for dinner so we could see her again.

This morning it was off to Paris.  Michel and Christine have agreed to give us a non-tourist tour of Paris so we will not be visiting La Louvre, Le tour Eiffel or the arch de triumph.

We got checked into our hotel and then we took a walk through the Bastille area of town.  Besides Michel and Brigitte, you can see National Archives and then we went to Place des Vosges and had a drink.  There are art galleries all around so we spent time checking out each gallery.

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After that we walked back to get ready for a special dinner Michel has planned for us.  Here are a few shots from our walk back.

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This memorial is the site of the bastille prison for those of you that are aware of your French history.

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Cochem

Friday we were at a small city on the Mosel river called Cochem.  It is a very picturesque place and a nice stopping point on the way to Belgium to see the Gondas.

We saw a sign saying Burgfest and thought that it may be nice to get a burger, but when we for there we found it was not Burger-Fest as we imagined– it was BergFest which JoAnn informs me is German for city festival.  We had to settle for a great restaurant with schnitzel and potatoes.

We took a boat ride up and down the Mosel River and the wine grapes were everywhere on the banks of the river.  There were beautiful homes and a Castle on the hilltop.

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We stayed in a small bed and breakfast, the lady only spoke German, so JoAnn had an opportunity to use her German from High School.  I was surprised, she did OK.

Yesterday morning we headed to Belgium via Luxemburg.  The Luxemburg stop was solely a push pin stop for JoAnn, but I managed to get a Latte and a Croissant out of the deal.  We pulled into the Gonda house around 3:00 and had drinks and relaxed a while.

Brigitte made a very nice lamb dinner and we drank some very fine wine.  I had found some flying blinkey lights in Florence that I brought along for the kids and we all had a great time firing them into the air and getting them stuck in the trees.  No Tripod so pictures are so-so.

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We are not very definitive on our plans for the next week.  We will likely stay here a couple of days and then take a roadtrip with Michel and Brigitte.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Rothenberg

Rothenberg is a medieval walled city.  This means driving in it is very difficult within the walls.  We had a nice guest house reserved within the city, so after we arrived, we headed out to explore the city.  It is a pretty city, much smaller than the ones I have reported on in prior blogs.  Here are a few shots:

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We had a recommendation to take the night watchman tour at 8:00 so we sat in the square and drank beer until the night watchman arrived.

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He was a funny guy and he told stories of the city starting from the 15th century when Rothenburg was at the crossroads of two main corridors.  East west was Paris to Prague and north south was Rome to Scandinavian countries.  It was a very wealth place as they made fine wool and had inns for travelers.

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The city has an interesting past which the night watchman provided us with in great stories but they are far too many to cover here.

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This morning we got up and walked the top of the wall that surrounded the city.  It is only a couple of mile walk but it was interesting.  With many great views of the city and the surrounding area.

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This is the gate I drove in through.  Fortunately I was not seen as a hostile force so I was not attacked.  I am pretty sure that tis is because I was in a BMW.

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We then headed off to Cochem.  A small city on the Mosel river that produces wine.  As soon as we left, JoAnn got the idea that she wanted to drive on the autobahn.  As soon as she started the car had that same problem — a very loud shrieking sound from the right side.

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Man — I thought I was bad.

I’ll talk about Cochem tomorrow.  For now — it is 8:00 and we need to go out and try some more wine.

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Last day in Prague

I really hated checking out of that hotel! We got up early and had our free breakfast (Hah)! We really wanted to spend some time on the other side of the city in main Prague, as we only were in Lesser Prague across the river when I last posted. Last evening we took a taxi over to Central Prague and went to the concert. Then we had dinner, shopped around, went to the Jewish quarter and looked for the Alchemy museum which we were unable to find. This kept us out late but the city was busy and vibrant and we found it gorgeous. We went back in search of the Alchemy museum this morning.

So first — Alchemy was not just limited to changing low value metals to Gold. Alchemy in the 15th century was really about studying herbs and elixirs looking for eternal youth, better sex and improving memory as well as spells, magic, the occult and of course changing metals to gold. Now, the Catholic church looked down on these types of dabbling in the occult even back in the 15th century, and most of your neighbors would have outted you as a witch if they new you were doing this sort of stuff, so it was kept pretty quiet.

Now, in 2002 the Danube flooded to a level not seen in hundreds of years and low and behold part of the street collapsed and uncovered a bunch of underground tunnels leading to one of the oldest homes in Prague. This was a previously unknown lab of a famous alchemist dating back to the 15th century.

The following pictures are a tour through these tunnels (now restored) where this work was done.  The first are the ground level known room — and yes those are devil heads in the chandelier.  This was the face of Moses, which we were told, due to a error in translation it was thought that Moses had horns.  Hmmm — I never heard that but OK…

This room was where visitors were hosted and there is no evidence of an underground laboratory.

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Of course, a secret lever releases a panel of the bookshelves and the underground tunnel is exposed.

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Since the bulk of the work performed was distilling alcohol and infusing herbs, the main lab was wood fired stills.

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Down the tunnel farther was a storage room for herbs and grains. And another storage area for wood.

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Finally, there is a glass blowing facility for making vessels to brew in.  This was to avoid raising suspicion by purchasing large quantities of distilling glass.  Everything is made in-house.

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Finally the staircase back up to the library, and an actual unopened bottle of elixir made in the 15th century found after the flood.  I did not want to try it.  The above ground was setup as an apocethary to help reduce suspicion about underground activity.

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This was the perfect moonshiners man cave!

After this we decided to take the couple mile walk back to lesser Prague as it was getting time to get going.  Here are a couple of shots.  A very beautiful walk.

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More castles and mansions and enormous cathedrals than you could possibly imagine.

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In the center square there is an astronomical clock.

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And a Harry Potteresque Castle.

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We crossed the river on the walking bridge (Charles Bridge)

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We checked out of the fancy hotel and headed off to Rothenburg, Germany.  We are making a 2 day bee line for Belgium.  We should be there by Saturday.

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Prague, Czech Republic

After leaving Auschwitz we had a 5 hour drive to Prague.  The drive went fine.  We decided to splurge a bit in Prague so we checked into our hotel — more about this later.

We got a recommendation for a nice dinner place from the front desk and headed out for a bite.  Good typical Czech food — meat with a side of meat and potatoes.

We had a very nice dinner — meat on a kabob for 2 with potatoes.  After we finished and were ready to leave, I asked for the check.  The waiter answered “Yes, may I help you?”   Hmmm interesting.

We got going again early this morning.  Armed with a city map and many recommendations from the front desk, we marched forth to the walled city at the top of the hill.  (just past the starbucks)

It is a very nice place.  The height of the walled city make for a beautiful panorama of Prague and the central square of the city is pretty stunning.

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We found a spot to stop and rest after climbing up to the walled city.  There is a hidden message in the picture — see if you can find it.

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After a rest we walked around the city and took in the sights.  As usual, street musicians, Statues and the castle guards.

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What I thought was some medieval cage for misbehaving commoners just turned out to be a well with a cage over it.  Note JoAnn behind the cage looking like a misbehaving commoner.

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We walked through the archways and we saw St. Vitus Cathedral.  This was another spectacular example of a cathedral as you can see.

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This is a very tall cathedral — the flying buttresses we so high and the roads so narrow I could barely see them.  Inside the cathedral was spectacular as well.

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After this, we walked down to through the town and looked around a bit — here are some general shots.

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Then we went to the Monks library, which again was pretty special.  These rooms are really big which does not really come through in the pictures.

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After a special afternoon beer that was prepared by the monks (one of them 16% alcohol) we continued to the KGB museum.  The guy there was pretty funny and had many anecdotes about Russia in the 30’s-60’s.  Lots of old devices and stories.  Pretty fun.  JoAnn guarded the place for us.

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We are going out to a Mozart – Dvorzak concert this evening.  But before I quit this incredibly long blog, let me tell you about our hotel:

This is a refurbished Castle at the foot of the hill of the wall city.  The outside is beautifully redone.

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Our Room is really nice as you can see with real glass chandeliers and a giant bathroom.

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Here you can see the common area and the spa.

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Living like a King and Queen in Prague.  Life is good. OK finally finished.  We now have wine and cheese at the hotel and then off to the concert.

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