Thursday, September 25, 2008

'Planes and boats and trains...

Stuff's always happening. Marian's nieces in England have birthed another couple of rug-rats this year, bringing their total to six, we have discovered a seemingly low stress and economical way of becoming Euro-campers and I have to complete the involuntary task of osseointegration which takes its own sweet time. How many more compelling reasons could we possibly need to warrant a trip to check things out and while away the fall? None, we decided! Thus it was that we boarded the puddle-jumper to Chicago to meet up with the big plane that would overnight us to London. Here, a few dizzying tube rides later, we ferreted out our daughter's apartment in the Marylebone district, proving once again, that there is nowhere to hide from determined senior citizens. Now, for the next few weeks, we just had to concentrate on supporting Europe's financial crisis - a refreshing change from supporting our indigenous one back home. Hopefully, we'll have occasional Internet connection while in Europe and will be able to follow the surreal fandango of American politics, the economic Armageddon and the election melodrama. From overseas it seems a tawdry and somewhat embarrassing spectacle.
Anyway, enough of that twaddle. Middle daughter, Michelle, who shredded two husbands in pretty short order and is now a confirmed spinster, is on assignment as corporate attack dog in London for a couple of years or so and we seized the opportunity of having free digs in the heart of the city for a while.
Marian, who has some kind of genetic weakness for ankle-biters, shortly boarded a train to Nottingham and sated her maternal needs for a few days among the horde of grand nieces and nephews gathered for that purpose. I missed this excursion on the grounds that I didn't want to go. Instead, I had to visit the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Tower of London and a bunch of other places - a sort of penance I suppose.
The second purpose of the trip was to check out a business we had discovered in the Netherlands that promised to resolve many of the administrative problems associated with owning and operating a vehicle in Europe as a non-resident. Rather than do things the easy way we had decided to take a train to the English east coast port of Harwich where we had booked a cabin on the ferry to the Hook of Holland. Upon arrival in the Hook the following morning we took a train to Rotterdam, picked up a rental car and struck out for Utrecht. Cutting to the chase, we spent a fascinating week in Holland and ended up buying a nifty little RV before hopping the ferry back to England.
After that, we continued with our exploration of London restaurants, shops and other attractions. Finally, discourtesy of United Airlines, we arrived back home in the middle of the night thoroughly exhausted.
Next up is the Thanksgiving get-together - more socializing than a chap can handle - so we plan to slink away on a Caribbean Cruise in December before returning home again to face Christmas. When that's finally over we will be heading south to escape the imminent cold stuff that will be heading this way.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

May 18th, 2008 - Lisbon, one of several

This is a tricky place to visit since there are four or five "Lisbons", each with a distinct character, architecture and personality. Situated on the north bank of the river Targus, about ten miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is the westernmost European Capital that, including suburbia, is home to around 2 million Portugese. The major campsite for Lisbon is a about ten miles away from the gawking areas and thus a bus ride into town was required.
The oldest part of town is built on a hill around the Moorish
Castelo Soa Jorge and is known as Alfama. In 1755 a monster earthquake flattened large areas of the city, and Alfama, that had previously been the "in" place to live, was quickly deserted by the "haves" and left to the fishermen, hookers and small shopkeepers - the "have nots". Enough of Alfama survived however, to perpetuate a Casbah ambience based on its Moorish roots. The castle has been reduced to a walled park. We trolled around Alfama quite extensively. To the west of Alfama is a small valley that runs several miles north into the hills and to the west of that is another hill. The earthquake devastated most structures in the low lying area and the Marquês de Pombal decreed an earthquake proof reconstruction of wide boulevards and a rigid grid like layout. This area is known as Baixa and Avenida and, apart from a large square half a mile inland and an impressive area by the waterfront, is pretty ho-hum. One ostentatious oddity is an elevator that transports its riders from the Baixa level up to the hill on the west side. Now there's a novel way to use up surplus revenues.
The western hill is home to "another Lisbon", this one comprising the areas of Bairro Alto and Estrella both of which were likewise reconstructed in a grid pattern following the earthquake. Finally, on the river five miles or so to the west of original Lisbon, is yet another "Lisbon", this one known as Belem. As maritime trade grew over the centuries, the original port area around Alfama and Baixa proved inadequate and the facilities were gradually relocated to Belem, taking with them many merchants and other wealthy families to build a grand upscale community. To see more sights around the area, click here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

May 16, 2008 - and on to Portugal!

Shortly after leaving Cáceres we ran right off the edge of Spain and found ourselves in Portugal. Not much to mark the border except a couple of long abandoned, grime covered booths and an occasional scrofulously uniformed official wandering around clutching a beverage. Certainly no attempt was made to inspect us or our vehicle so the European Union seems to be working.
From our
perspective, Spain had been a distinct step down from France and, as we were to discover, Portugal is about an equal step down again from Spain. Ugh! At 35,645 square miles it is about the size of Indiana and is home to 10.5 million people - about the same as Michigan - 94% of whom are Catholic. With just 170 campsites - about the same number as Indiana, which is not known as a destination state - and just 850 miles of good class highway - compare to 50,000 miles in the US - Portugal is generally scruffy, crowded, ill-organized and boasts the highest number of road accidents per capita in the whole of Europe. How exciting!
Our first Portuguese
stop was in Évora, at a tacky campsite on the southwest edge of town. The visit day did not start well. After a noisy night of heavy rain augmented by a barking dog, we were preparing to cycle into the old town when we discovered that the key for the padlock manacling the bikes to Heidi, was nowhere to be found. Rats! Using available implements we finally gnawed through the industrial strength cable and then identified the whereabouts of the local Bricolage (hardware store). This was quickly added to our route for the day and off we went to buy a new padlock in Portuguese. That done, we pedaled into the old town - another UNESCO World Heritage site - and had a great day. Click here to see more.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bucyrus, Ohio

Having spent a restless few weeks in the steamy mid-west catching up on maintenance items like eye-glasses, teeth and great-grandchild worship, we realized that the year was rushing by and we had better start paying attention. We are booked into Lazydays at the start of January for yet another "final assembly" of the new coach. We haven't really driven it since we picked it up in July and have never dry-camped at all, so we needed to complete our evaluation. Thus we find ourselves in the middle of a 10 day Wal-Mart and Sam's Club tour of the country's heartland. It has been thoroughly likable so far.
Today we are in the Bucyrus, Ohio, Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot making like geriatric gypsies. According to a former editor of the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum, the name "Bucyrus" was derived from “Beautiful” and “Cyrus the Great", King of Persia, by the fellow who platted the community. The population is around 13,000. Click here for some pictures.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

May 14th, 2008 - Caceres, Spain

Cáceres, with a population of about 91,000, is the capital of Cáceres Province in Extremadura Spain. Founded by the Romans in about 25 BC, it seems that people have been living in the area since about 25,000 years BCE. The old town still sports most of its "original" walls although they surround a rather sterile Medieval town with few visible signs of the 21st century and even fewer signs of life.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was occupied by the Visigoths, at which time it went seriously downhill until being conquered by the Arabs in the eighth century. Finally, after the Arabs had fixed the place up again, it was reconquered by the Christians
in the 13th century. With its mix of Roman, Islamic, Gothic and Italian Renaissance styles, Cáceres was a shoo-in for World Heritage classification in 1986. Check out more scenes around this odd city.