Calais, France- A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe

  • Calais, France- A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe
  • Calais, France- A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe
  • Calais, France- A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe
  • Calais, France- A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe
  • Calais, France- A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe

At Calais France-September 2005 Calais, France-A Special Town in My Life and My 2002 Adventure in Europe

In 2002 and 2005 I stayed at the Hotel Bel Azur in Calais, France.  In 2002 I stayed in the hotel at least twice. In 2005 I spent my first night on the continent there….This balcony overlooks the town and precedes for me the morning walk to the SNCF Rail station. I would look out in the morning, excited for the journey and adventure….

So, here is my story…Europe in the Summer of 2002:

My Great European Adventure

Having assumed that I lost my travels journal I am compelled to write an exhaustive journal of my travels to Europe during the summer of 2002. Lost are drawings and on the spot impressions that I had of an amazing journey that spanned many different countries and cultures.

I will make my top writing priority to reflect on those times, probably with more clarity, more eloquence, but lacking the spontaneity that enabled the journal to have a level of ingenuity that I can only hope to partially recapture in this work.

After September 11, 2001, I decided that the long wait to travel overseas was foolish. What was I waiting for? World War Three to obliterate the opportunity? So not long after, I began planning a European adventure with my best friend Sean.

Sean and I left Orlando International Airport in June 2002. We enjoyed margaritas in the international departures atrium and waited for the delayed British Airways flight to begin boarding. It would be the last time my method of transport would be delayed (with very few exceptions) until I began my return to the states 6 weeks later. Everywhere I went I could count on buses, trains, and planes to leave almost precisely on time from Ireland to the Czech Republic.

So finally we taxi on to the runway just in time for the usual June rain storm…The pilot turned on a BBC newscast which profiled among its news stories a nuclear scare between India and Pakistan. Finally around a half hour later we took off. There is nothing like the lift off of a jet. We flew over Florida, reaching the beaches only minutes after take off, seeing the Atlantic Ocean, the coast from a plane is a sight to behold.

Eight hours later we approached Gatwick Airport. Looking down upon the landscape I viewed the greenest landscape I had ever seen in my life.

Upon landing, Sean and I waited in another international departures lounge awaiting our connection to our flight to Amsterdam

So what can I say about the Netherlands? In the air, looking down upon the Dutch landscape one can view it as a “Sim City”. I would, in my travels there discover the promise, prestige, yet perils of master planning.

I. Amsterdam Visit #1

Arrived in Schipol Airport. On the platform waiting for the first of dozens of trains we would use to traverse Europe, we met an American who commented on Sean’s outfit (hat, cigarette lighter and tropical shirt) saying as a lot of stateside people commented that he looked like the “fear and loathing” guy…I made the comment that now it was Fear and Loathing in Amsterdam…and so it was. The train arrived and we emerged into suburban Amsterdam. Talk about a breath of fresh air. Despite the jet lag, I was fascinated by the magnificent urban architecture. Buildings back in the states were mere boxes, while these buildings reflected creativity and uses of geometry that remind me of what architecture is all about. And so we arrived at Centraal Station. The Dutch, much like Americans, bustle through the station and the grand hall. When we came out of the building, the site of canal houses, trams, and bikes was punctuated by the diversity in culture and language that I experienced within 30 seconds of my feet hitting the pavement. Imagine hearing 10 foreign languages within a minute on a city street (and you don’t recognize many of them).

On The Damrak in Amsterdam 2002

It was a rich tapestry of all the world in one place. It was in a snapshot what diversity is. We found our hostel only blocks from the station off of Damrak (the main thoroughfare). The greatest danger I had to experience in Amsterdam were speeding trams (trolleys) (one almost hit me on my second visit), speeding bikes, and speeding pedestrians. Few cars were ever in that equation as Amsterdam represents what every master planner in the states dreams about in their sleep. Cars park and people walk or ride bikes, etc.

We settled into our hostel “The Flying Pig” and then daring to challenge jet lag, Sean and I began to walk down the wide pedestrian plazas surrounded by shops, restaurants, and hotels. We saw the old Palace, a cathedral, and just plain wondered around.

Museum art…canals…

After a couple days in Amsterdam, we ventured out to Haarlem, a small town to the west of Amsterdam. In our first day dealing with rain, we had to take shelter in a bar/restaurant where I had the best apple pie I have ever eaten made with real apples. It was a Dutch Apple Pie. We walked around a little bit and then rode back to Amsterdam.

After about a week, we were ready to leave the Netherlands to explore the United Kingdom. We began our Rail Europe pass with Day1 traveling from Amsterdam with several transfers including Lille train station.

Lille, France

Throughout the trip, transferring at the Lille, France train stations was a chore. Whether we were taking a regular SNCF (French Railways) train or the Eurostar TGV high speed, luxury train in the Eurostar terminal, we could always count on being misdirected only to discover (on our own or by announcement) that we were waiting for the wrong train at the wrong track. We traveled through Lille at least 4 times. By the 2nd time, we were wary as we approached, knowing that it was only a matter of how confused we would be to find our connecting train. Imagine running to a train not knowing if where you were running to was even the correct track. Several times

I. Calais

If you are a budget traveler going between England and France without using the expensive Eurostar train, you will at some point find yourself in Calais, France (if you are making the southern crossing). Calais was my most favorite town in all of Europe. We would spend a lot of time there. Calais was the reference point throughout the trip. Up’s and downs. Having plenty of cash and traveling on the skids. Fit as a fiddle and sore as could be. Happy traveler and homesick, Calais was the constant amidst a sometimes rough journey. I learned a lot about myself and my world view wondering around that town. I spent my first 4th of July on foreign soil in the town of Calais (more on that later).

The French are not as they are portrayed in American culture. They are a private people. They like precision. Expect to be corrected when attempting to speak the language. They do not suffer fools and loud people gladly. They like to relax and thus they are all on the 35 hour work week. When you really start to talk with them, be ready for an intelligent conversation. Of all the times during my trip, I felt most relaxed in France.

Several Interludes

Easy Everything.

My lifeline home to Dad, Mom, and John in most countries was an internet café. Mostly Sean and I used an Internet café called Easy Everything. We used branches in London across from the coach station, in Edinburgh, in Amsterdam. And Easy Everything had an excellent marketing strategy, market excellent rates for European airfare. Sean and I availed ourselves of Easy Jet from Belfast to Edinburgh.

The World Cup (Soccer)

Just about everywhere we went, people were celebrating a world cup victory or watching it on television. The U.K. beat Argentina as Sean and I landed in Dover, England. I will never forget the faces of the girls waving the UK team flag-the St. Andrew’s Cross and cheering as our bus flew by on the narrow town streets of South London. You may not know this but Argentina and the U.K. went to war over the Falkland Islands, and so people all over England were ecstatic for such a symbolic victory against a former enemy.

It seemed like everywhere we went people were talking about and celebrating the World Cup tournament. Windows of countless buildings had the team flag displayed. Soccer is really big. It’s the equivalent of American football. Later in the trip Turks in Amsterdam would be waving the Red Crescent flag on the streets following a 3rd place victory in the championship. Even Sean and I watched the final match in a pub in Buncranna, Ireland.

Sports as nationalism….

Americana cannot be escaped.

Breakfast at Mcdonalds in Cherbourg, France. KFC in Prague, Lodging at the Dusseldorf and Utrecht Best Western. Having a cup of coffee at the Edinburgh Starbucks

Even when experiencing all Europe can offer, the traveling American must sometimes succumb to the pleasures of home away from home.

Try sitting outside at an Amsterdam café hearing Eminem rapping from a young man’s car stereo and you will recognize that who we are is greater than what we think back home. It is simply that they look up to us and more often these days will also look down to us as well.

Amstel …..and other beers

To date, the only beer that can completely quench my thirst is Amstel beer.

It basically was what I subsisted on when I drank in the Netherlands.

I went to the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam. I actually went twice: in June and July.

Heineken was ok.

Tenet’s, a Scottish beer, was pretty good. I drank it whenever I could while I was in the U.K.

The Irish love Guiness…..To drink Guiness in Ireland in an Irish Pub is quite an experience. It is nothing like it is in the states. It has a silky, smooth taste, not as bitter as in the states.

Stella Artois seemed kind of bitter, but was ok.

What’s the Craic?

It’s the Irish equivalent of “good conversation”

Pubs throughout Ireland promise good food and good craic…

I. London

Arrived by ferry from Calais and saw the white cliffs of Dover.

Thanks goes to Mrs. Atwood my humanities teacher who spent a week having the class analyzing a Matthew Arnold poem called Dover Beach….Days spent watching videos and reading literature unexpectedly came alive on this trip. I remember we spent days watching a video on the dome of a building in Florence. Riding a train through Italy later during the trip I caught a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea

Our first visit to London was for only a weekend. 3 reasons why one of the oldest cities in modern civilization got such short thrift: The Pound, The Cold Weather, and Cold Personalities. We arrived on a Friday having taken a bus from Dover to London’s Victoria Coach Station. When we arrived we secured lodging in Westminster (Winston Churchill’s neighborhood.) The next day I got an early start and walked down to Buckingham Palace. Part of the blasé experiences on the trip. Nothing particularly memorable. Lots of royal guards and bobbies on patrol. When Sean and I ventured out, we stumbled upon an interesting street: Dean Farrar street within sight of the Parliament building. We did not go into many places. We were quickly realizing that we were going to be in London for a short time, so I felt like saving sights for a future trip.

We ventured out on to the banks of the Thames River. We took a boat ride and were able to see many sights up and down the river. We also rode the London Eye (a large ferris wheel, of all things) overlooking the houses of Parliament and downtown.

An English Lesson

Buses are Coaches

Plans are Schemes

An Exit is a Way Out

Mates aren’t pirates (They are friends)

Cheers can mean Goodbye

So why did we high tail it out of London?

The Pound

If you love spending exorbitantly for just about nothing in return, you’ll love London.

Went through $200 dollars like mad. Try spending a weekend in Key West, Florida and you will understand quickly the dynamics of an island economy.

Things can be backwards there. The W.C. was actually what it describes a water closet. Try shaving in front of a mirror and then falling in the shower at the same time. The food was unremarkable, and finding good places to eat was a task in itself. The Tube (the subway) was overpriced so often times we had to walk. One time part of it was closed.

Cold Weather

Not just cold, but damp. I was wet and cold. Sunlight was rare. The clouds were thick as I had ever seen them. I recognize that living in Florida is something not to take for granted.

Cold Personalities

With few exceptions, the people were chilly. They were chillier than the weather. Smiles and happiness were rare. You literally had to look for it and find it around Picadilly Circus (London’s Times Square) or on TV. Dark clothing and attitudes were the fashion.

War is a horrible thing, it destroys the spirit. It sets a people back. I saw some buildings that I swore looked like they were standing from the thirties. It’s like parts of London never changed. (That was just a taste of what to expect in Prague not that far away).

Often times while there I wondered what London would have been like, if the blitzkriegs of World War II had not happened.

I stayed in Winston Churchill’s neighborhood. In 1911 he lived only several blocks away from where we stayed.

We settled into our hotel in Westminster. We watched several hours of British TV. British TV is like what American TV may have been like in the 50’s or 60’s, few networks. In the U.K. there is the BBC and BBC2 (govt. owned t.v. stations), Sky tv Europe’s t.v. network, and Channel 4 an independent t.v. station.

It was kind of neat because Sean and I would get up in the morning with enough time to check out the morning shows. Between shows instead of commercials, BBC would have a catchy music song and a woman narrate the day’s schedule.

IV Amsterdam 2

Having decided to leave London, the logical route back would bring us through Amsterdam again….This was a brief visit. So we went back to our favorite place backpacks in tow and that evening we boarded a night train that would take us through Germany (Hannover, Bremen, Leipzig, and Dresden). As the train headed further east, the buildings, even the stations seemed to have a strange look to them. It would take me days to understand why I was feeling the way I was. What had happened was at some point during that night the train had gone into what was at one time the Soviet Bloc (Eastern Germany)

Basically what I was looking at was statist architecture…Buildings and places designed to control people. While I was sedated by functionalist and utilitarian architecture back in the states, the people of the Eastern bloc still have vestiges of the Soviet days when the main purpose of buildings was to impress upon the people subsistence to the state.

V Prague

President Ronald Reagan was known for calling the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire”. My week in Prague showed me that despite the end of the Soviet Union, I could see that the Soviets had foisted evil acts upon the people of their satellite states (in this case, the Czech Republic). The buildings from those times were menacing. The Czechs had a proclivity for keeping many of those horrible structures up as a reminder. Some of the older people, including those my age who until 1989, when were around 14, were raised by the Communists.

Another day, I visited the Czech museum which ironically looked a lot like the old Florida state capitol building in Tallahassee. There were interesting exhibits that profiled Vaclav Havel’s work as an underground operative against the tyranny of the Communists. One video, showed Adolf Hitler in one of his limos pulling up to the steps of the museum ( Long ago it was the capitol building of Czechoslovakia). When I saw that image, I had a chill run up my spine and my blood went cold, because I could look out the window and see the driveway he pulled up into. The same feeling would happen when I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, weeks later. The most evil man in the 20th century approaching the very building I was standing in, at the dawn of the 21st century. History comes alive at the strangest times.

One night Sean and I had dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the middle of the boulevard that overlooked the museum. The city was absolutely beautiful with splendid architecture despite what the Soviets had done.

Over a year later, I would be watching a music video by a band that filmed in Prague. I would recognize the bridge I rode over on a tour bus and the opera house that I passed by. These were the gems in my ordinary life, that despite how bad things were, I could be watching tv and see a band playing in the vondelpark I walked through in Amsterdam, a singer performing on a bridge I rode over in Prague. Back home, I would be in a movie theatre and see “James Bond” walking alongside the Thames River promenade I had walked.

Stayed at a hostel, first several days were in an attic room that was nice, but involved long trips.

The city was overrun by elderly, ignorant, tourist groups (catered to by the city). We found that it was best to sleep late and venture out around 4pm….then we had the run of the city until the wee hours of the morning.

Walking over the Charles Bridge over the Charles River in Prague

– In Jacksonville, the oldest bridge was the Acosta bridge built in the 1920’s.(since torn down and replaced by a new span) The Charles Bridge was built before the Europeans even discovered Jacksonville. Statues of religious figures line the bridge reflecting the piety of the Middle Ages.

There could be a language and cultural barrier at times. One day when I visited the palace that overlooked the city, I witnessed one of those dumb Americans that unfortunately I ended up being around once in awhile, misunderstanding a Czech clerk in a gift shop. He took offense that the man could not understand English, but did not bother to read his body language which could have helped him understand what was happening.

I had my own “ugly American” episodes, but those were few and far between.

Prague, is the one place in Europe that I will insist on going to with my future wife.

Night Train from Munich, Germany to Italy

Night time in Munich. Found the train, It was a long busy train being loaded up with everything imaginable. Sean and I were lucky , we found a compartment.

Hard to sleep, with the sounds of brakes. Steep inclines and somewhat fast declines. Emerged into the Italian sunshine and warmth. Wandered around vespa overrun Florence

VI Pisa

Pisa was a big lift during some down times after spending a week in Prague. The weather was warm. The hotel we stayed at was not air-conditioned. The first night we ate in a Chinese Restaurant. Ironically that afternoon we had pizza. (An actual pizza in Italy).

Thin, flaky, oven baked crust.

On our first night we were walking through this quiet town of Pisa, turned a corner, and saw the nighttime profile of the unlit Leaning Tower of Pisa. For a split second, it was as if Sean and I were in a moment of timelessness. It could have been 1602, 1802, 1902 or 2002. One cannot describe that moment but can only experience it for themselves.

What I admire about the Italians, was that they were friendly, approachable and in Pisa, things were a lot less overly commercial as in Prague.

a Sunday morning in Paris

Horrible train ride from Amsterdam to Paris…trying to sleep amidst florescent lighting, and a loud French or Belgian travel group…. French transit workers were striking on that Sunday morning, so when we arrived we were lucky to be able to use subways and regional trains that were not affected by the strike. We waited for our train sitting on the cold, concrete floor in the terminal. The French did not have many decent waiting areas in their stations. Saw the tip of the Eiffel Tower from the train. It was a melancholy Sunday morning. Headed to Cherbourg. We arrived and immediately set up lodging at the Hotel de Gare, (The Station Hotel) right across from the train station.

Cherbourg: Town of the Big Gulls

Walking around Cherbourg, I was limping, my eyes peeled for a drug store that was open. Open drug stores in Europe were rare. When we finally found one, I got this really bad muscle ointment (the worst I’ve ever used). It did little for me. We had dinner in a small restaurant. With my sirloin, I was served authentic French toast. The sweetest toast I have ever eaten. Outside the restaurant we would see these huge gulls (fortified by the harsh conditions of the North Atlantic) We browsed through a bookstore and napped in the hotel and then watched the news with imminent warnings about Al Qaeda terrorizing the 4th of July (the first since Sept 11th). Later that evening, we walked around, ending our excursion in a casino around midnight on Sunday, having an almost two hour conversation with the bar manager that ranged from the British to America, to the American Civil War…..

The Irish Ferry

On the next day, we boarded a ferry to cruise overnight through the cold, North Atlantic to Ireland. Met some sociopath Californians whom we steered clear of until the following morning. Listening to a live band’s rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline….Standing out on the deck around midnight hearing the waves. Sitting in the lounge writing postcards home as the ship buoyed back and forth with the waves.

I got several hours of sleep. The cheapest way to travel was in coach in a recliner. However, the temperature of the North Atlantic was very frigid and the ferry did not run heat. So by this time my ankle was killing me, the pitiful French ointment was doing no good, and I was enduring some really stupid British morning show, trying to keep warm by drinking coffee and standing in the sunlight. At one point one of the sociopath Prozac cases approached and asked me in a tone which I always impersonate when I recount the experience: “why aren’t you smiiiiiillllingggg???

Ireland

We arrived midday in the Republic of Ireland and had to endure a bus ride from the southern coast to Dublin with the sociopaths. Another low point, one of those stupid Californians said “look it’s a fruit stand….” And both Sean and I groaned. Ireland is absolutely beautiful. Arriving in Dublin there was a chaotic hustle and bustle, we intentionally lost the sociopaths that were planning to stalk us throughout the Emerald Isle. We stumbled into the Hotel Isaacs, where by some traveler’s fluke we got a hotel room at the hostel budget rate (one of the first of many pleasant experiences I would have in Ireland). I was out for the count, so I stayed in the room for the evening, and watched tv while Sean rendezvoused with his friend Joseph at a pub.

That afternoon Sean ripped into me for daring to go to an Irish store and buy the London Times. The next day, we took a British style black taxi driven by a nice, elderly, gentleman to the hotel where Joseph and his friend Sean were staying. We passed by Edwardian and Georgian style buildings that lined the river. When we arrived at the hotel, Sean and I jumped into a car driven by Sean (Joseph’s friend and myself) and sped through the Irish countryside. At some points I swore we were going to crash, my first experience riding at high speeds on the other side of the road. With the exception of southern Ireland, I was to encounter only two – four lane roads. It appears by the signs surrounding massive road projects that the European Union is bankrolling ancient Ireland’s foray into expressway building.

I was riding behind the driver who was on the opposite side of the car and I had an excellent view of oncoming traffic as he was speeding. Talk about nerve wracking. But that wasn’t all. Miles from our destination, I experienced my first police-criminal car chase ever!. The Guarda were chasing a car speeding to the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.

After several hours we arrived in Buncranna. Buncranna is a small town actually to the north of Northern Ireland. If you ever go to Ireland, in many places there are no addresses. So when we were trying to find somewhere we had to do as the Irish and look for landmarks. We secured a bed and breakfast room at the home of a devout Catholic. In the sitting room were several pictures of Pope John Paul II. On the next day, after Sean and I argued about how to work the shower system, we had an excellent Irish style breakfast and met Joseph and his father in law in Buncranna where at one point we separated for a time. Sean and I went into the Donegal County Public Library, where in order to use the computers, we had to sign up for library cards. I still have my Donegal County Library card which I intend to renew when I return to that town on my next trip.

Then we met at a pub and even though I really did not care for the heavy taste of Guinness, I downed several and we rode out to the house overlooking the Lough Swilly where Sean and I would vacation for several days. Standing outside overlooking the mountains and the lough (a cross between a lake and a river) with the bright sunlight pouring through the clouds, I saw probably the most beautiful sunset in my lifetime.

The Sun Setting Over Lough Swilly near Buncranna, Ireland, July 2002

It was very cold in Ireland, I had to borrow an even heavier coat then what I brought because it was so cold.

We spent a lot of time walking along the road. Things were so informal there, that an elderly lady driving by stopped and asked us for directions. Another time, we were offered a ride (at 5am). Imagine being offered a ride in Orlando or Jacksonville…not a chance…

We also would hang out with Joseph in the caravan where he was staying. Caravan is U.K. for camper or r/v except smaller than in the states. One night we were walking back to the house where we were staying in the darkness and it was so eerie and mystical that it is easy to understand why Ireland was the land of leprechauns. We walked under an old arch and it could have been hundred of years ago.

Visited The Grianan of Aileach in Donegal, Ireland, July, 2002

Fairy Water

On roads in Ireland, we would cross over bridges with signs that said fairy water. It was important that you not step in to fairy water…one of those superstitions…..

The transition from Ireland to Northern Ireland.

We traveled across the border into Derry, Northern Ireland. The ride was illustrative of the change, we went from individualized houses to row houses like the ones in Philadelphia. We stayed in a Travelodge in Derry, which had a plaque in the lobby recognizing the dedication of the hotel by an MP (member of Parliament) It would be like a Congressman dedicating a Holiday Inn in the states.

We had dinner at a nice place. It was interesting looking out at the plaza because the people were dressed circa 1980s . The last time I saw so many people with jean jackets on it was 1985 Jacksonville.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland may be the only country that I have visited or will visit in my lifetime that gave me an impending sense of authentic danger. I was traveling (through) an occupied country. By the time I left, my already dim view of the U.K. was darkening considerable. Maybe it was the propaganda on the t.v. and on murals throughout the city. Maybe it was the bleak attitude in Northern Ireland (a lot like Southern England) contrasting with the friendliness and carefree attitude of the Irish.

Imagine you are riding in a bus on a highway and an armored personnel carrier drives past you and when you arrive at the bus station you see the police station across the street is encased in a huge cage to prevent firebombs from being thrown at it. Welcome to beautiful downtown Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Imagine you are watching the local news and you are seeing several stories that are written intentionally to inflame passions between the Protestants and the Catholics. It’s the BBC Northern Ireland.

You are riding along and as your bus turns a corner you see a mural that depicts the struggle for Northern Ireland independence. There were rows and rows of brick apartment buildings that seemed to go on without end. A lot like the row buildings in Philadelphia. Like most of Europe, the northern Irish tend to not mind the anonymity of collectivity. While in the Republic of Ireland, and in the United States people tend towards individualism.

Needless to say our stay in Belfast was only two hours, enough time to catch lunch in a pub across from the bus station, and hop back on a bus to the airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland. I called Dad from the airport and told him about some of the experiences I was having.

Scotland

There was a coming together of sorts for me when I spent a day walking historic Edinburgh. I suppose it was then that I began to conclude that my predominate heritage is Scot. We arrived at the Edinburgh Airport and took a double decker into Downtown. We walked around in the twilight looking for a hotel. We finally found one right of Prince St., the main thoroughfare. Princes St. in my 24 hours in Edinburgh, was unusual in that there were hundreds of cars passing us, but only one time did I ever hear a horn honk unlike New York City and other major metro downtowns I have visited.

The next day, we got up and with Sean in tow, the reluctant U.K. traveler, we explored the city. We walked up to the heights and climbed a tower where we could look down upon the city and beyond it, to the North, the Firth of Forth an inlet surrounded by rolling hills. We walked through the old town, where I snapped some pictures amidst the sound of a solitary bagpiper playing. There was a chord in my heart which was touched by the playing of the bagpipe on the street. I bought a tartan reflecting the Stewart clan that I gave to Aunt Wendy when I returned.

At 10pm that evening Sean and I boarded a National Express bus (the U.K.’s version of Greyhound) bound for London, we drove past fields of sheep in the darkness and the Scottish countryside. Around 3am we drove through the brilliantly lit industrial city of Manchester. We finally arrived in London around 6am Finally we boarded a bus for the port town of Dover. I had one last look at Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye.

X the 4th of July in Calais, France

The 4th of July found me spending almost the entire day wondering around Calais. I encountered a Nazi bunker that is now the Musee de Occupacion (Museum of the Occupation) On that 4th of July, the first following September 11th I viewed exhibits reflecting the French (and the Allies) stand against the Nazis. Imagine seen proclamations written in French demanding Americans appear before German officials for review. Letters from captured leaders of the French resistance to the Nazis written to their families expressing their patriotism and letting them know they were scheduled for execution.

I wandered around the town. It was a lot like St. Augustine, where small shops and trees line the streets

My last week: Dutch travels:

When you travel for five weeks on a budget your sixth week is bound to be all hell.

But despite that, I had an OK time In one week, I went from Utrecht to Rotterdam to Schveningan, to the Hague, to Haarlem and finally back to where it all began.

The Last Days…in Amsterdam

Meeting a friend at the Amsterdam Airport and playing tour guide in a foreign country…..

There is nothing like waiting for a friend in an airport and getting ready to show him the sights of a country that weeks ago you got lost in. Joseph’s plane was late, delayed by an unruly passenger. We finally got back into Amsterdam from the airport and began an interesting week, marked by my stay at several hotels (and I use that word loosely), that caused me to question the wisdom of sleeping on a mattress and to be confounded by the inavailability of hot water for the shower.

One afternoon I spent some time in the Old Royal Palace of Amsterdam. In one chamber I could see enscribed into the floor a map of the known world of the time. The Americas were almost unrecognizable as the world depicted was the world of the 1600s, when the Dutch were at the height of the power.

History Comes Alive

Later that day I went to the Anne Frank House. The interesting thing about that house was of all the canal houses I had been in this one had the highest ceilings. The neat things was that you walked behind a bookshelf floor up narrow stairs into the world of this family who managed to hide from the Nazis for several years. I looked out the window of Anne Frank’s bedroom and wondered what it must have been like to have lived in fear inside her own country. There was a film in the museum that showed Hitler walking across the palace square in Amsterdam. As I watched the film my blood for one of the few times in my life, went cold. For what I was seeing was Hitler walking across the very square that Sean and I had light heartedly and jubilantly gallivanted across throughout the trip.

Six Weeks, Quite a time. But always glad to be back home in the US of A.

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