So, Wednesday the fifth, as I vaguely remember, was a little over 28 hours long; beginning in Lisbon, Portugal at 5 am and ending at home in Dammeron, in bed, at 1:30 am. Our 81 day European tour was put to bed as well.
We visited 13 countries, 40 cities, 21 days on a Viking river boat, road the train 9 times and flew 5 times, including our flight home.
Getting around Western Europe, mostly by train:
We could have flown from city to city but wanted to see the country side. Also, train stations are much easier to negotiate than air ports, where we made our worst missteps. In Portugal, we were only in the one city, Lisbon and didn't travel by train. But I think their rail system is much like high speed French and Spanish railroads.
In Spain, we zipped along at 300 km/hr (186 mi/hr), Barcelona to Madrid, once and 250 km/hr (155 mi/hr) three times. Trains in the U K and France move right along, but I'm not sure of their maximum speed. Spanish trains are the newest and have an enunciator board at the front of each coach displaying the upcoming station, outside temperature, train speed and something else.
Another reason to use the efficient rail system is fewer hassles with security, except in Spain, where it's tighter. There, Baggage is X-rayed and tickets are checked a couple of times; we could not get on the wrong train. France takes a more laissez-fare approach. We would board a train with printed tickets in hand or an e-ticket on the cell phone. Sometimes a conductor would come by and verify our tickets, but not always. You could board a train with no ticket I suppose and have some chance of riding free. The trams in Tours were the same way. Our first attempt at buying tickets or billets, failed; the ticket machine was out of order. A passenger, who tried to help us get tickets, motioned us on to the tram anyway. We did and traveled free. But I couldn't see any way to control who had tickets and who didn't. If you had a ticket or e-pass, there was a machine that accepted either one as you stepped on board. But if you didn't have a ticket of any kind, you walked on and that was it.
In the U K the doggiest one was in Glasgow, called the Hampton Court Guest House. This is also the one I refer to as Grandmas room.
Many hotels in Europe are converted private Victorian residences, multi storied with a narrow frontage of 25 or 30 feet; picture the home in the tv series Upstairs Downstairs.
From the train station, we pulled our wheelie bags up hill for maybe a quarter of a mile to get there. The guy at the reservation desk was busy but gave me a key for room eight. At the end of the main hall way was a door, and it had a big eight painted on it. This seemed good, there wasn't an elevator, so no stairs to climb. This could be a nice place to spend the next four days.
I walked up to the door with key in hand, there wasn't a key lock, and it pushed open to a pitch-black room. Or so I thought. When I found the light switch, I was staring at a flight of 15 or twenty stairs with a door at the top emblazoned with a big eight. I drug, and I mean drug, the bags up the stairs and read, in small letters, that this was a fire door and must be kept closed. Turning to my left, there were more stairs, about four, leading to another door claiming it was room eight; it had a key lock, a last our long sought-after room. The room wasn't all that crumy. It was clean and the bath room was ok, plenty of hot water. But the bed was soooo hard. After a couple of nights, we asked management if they couldn't soften it up a bit. A duvet was added to the mattress which helped. Still I've spent nights on softer cement floors. The hotel was owned and operated by a family from Punjab India. They were helpful and wanted to make us happy.
So why do I call it grandmas room? The room and how we had to get to it reminded me of spooky movies. You know where there's a room at the top of a long flight of stairs, almost in the attic, always kept locked. But if you put your ear close to the door, you can hear faint scraping of feet shuffling around back and fourth, maybe some moaning, spooky. It's where they keep grandma and her horde of decapitated dolls. Johnna thinks it was the butler's room back in the day.
The only other room that gave us pause was in Amsterdam, about ten by 20 feet, including the bathroom. It felt like a jail cell. But the twin beds were the most comfortable we've ever slept on. So we forgot the other bad points and enjoyed the walk in shower and never-ending hot water.
Booking hotels was a crap shoot in any case. Information provided by the hotel, along with comments by previous guests, can be misleading. We never knew until we went into a room what we might find. But overall, we didn't have too many complaints. Hotel rooms were acceptably clean, there was enough hot water; maid service was adequate, and we always got along with management.
I've mentioned hot water three times. I was sure, going over, that some hotel someplace would have lousy showers with cold water. To my surprise, that worry was baseless.
Food: The best.
Pizzas -- Tours, France and Lisbon, Portugal.
Bacon-Ham -- Anywhere in Spain and Portugal, especially Iberian Pork.
Hamburger -- Lyons France, hands down the best I've had for years.
Italian cuisine -- Lisbon Portugal. A pizzeria next to our hotel. We had several meals there and everyone was exceptional.
Breakfasts -- American style, eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, etc., were served on the cruise ship. After the river trip, all but a couple of hotels had continental breakfasts -- fruit, bread/pastries, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt, sometimes tomatoes and espresso. Then there was the English breakfast. Well, really two types, a pint or two of beer or the other one. I tried the other one a couple of times but couldn't make my stomach like the combination of fried egg, bacon or sausage, tomato, some kind of potato bread, toast, and caned pork and beans. Ugh!
In Spain, France and Portugal, it seems the preferred breakfast is some variation of the sandwich. Hotel breakfasts usually included cold cuts, sliced cheeses, tomatoes and several kinds of bread. So you could make a decent open face sandwich with such ingredients.
Since coming home Johnna had pancakes at Dennis's, the one food she craved the whole trip and couldn't have. In Europe, pancakes are crepes with topping's, tasty but not, you know, pancakes.
We ate well. The language barrier resulted in several mystery meals in France. While in Spain, where we lived on tapas, we gobbled up a variety of unknown dishes. Johnna enjoyed tapas, even when we weren't sure what we had just eaten. It was fun trying to figure what the meats, and veggies were and what kinds of spices gave the best flavors.
Taken from our hotel window in Lisbon. This place has some of the best Italian food. We had several good meals here.
When it's not raining or cold, you eat outside and just about every restaurant has outdoor tables. We would wander up the street, stopping to look over menus, hoping to figure out what the food was. In France, there were seldom English menus. In Spain and Portugal, waiters spoke English well enough to give us a good idea of what was offered, or they would produce an English version of their menu.
We're already missing the open air way to eat.
Anthony, our ex Marine son, tells about his experience with MRE's in Desert Storm. They were bivouacked in the desert, camped out in tents, eating lots of MRE's. Some, they couldn't eat or didn't like, were fed to a pack of camp dogs. One meal, chicken al la king, even the dogs wouldn't eat. They would sniff at it and immediate cover it up with sand. Well ... our last lunch in Nimes France was something like that, a pizza; or that's what we thought we ordered. I can eat almost anything, but this concoction didn't deserve a decent burial. Pizzas in France, Spain and Portugal are different from ours in some respects. The crusts are very thin, light on tomatoes and cheese, not overloaded with toppings, and generally, spicier, crunchier and taster than our normal pizzas. But this one in Nimes was nasty tasting. I took a few bites of mine; Johnna played around with hers until we finished our beer and could leave. Anyway, that was probably the one meal we would rate as a -1 out of five.
From the minute, we stepped off the plane in Heathrow, until we returned home, we were seldom frowned at, snarled at, ignored or treated like the invading enemy. I had some issues a couple of times in France, which I managed to exacerbate in my usual impatient, uncompromising fashion. Otherwise, our inability to speak the language never mattered that much; we got along just fine with everyone. And although I whined and complained a lot, my griping had nothing to do with the way we were treated by hotel management, shop keepers, waiters or casual encounters on the street.
I wrote in one blog how we were helped through the Paris subway by a man who didn't have to go out of his way, but lucky for us did. I'm not sure I would do the same for someone visiting the U S from Europe. He wasn't the only one to stop and give us directions or show us how to operate the billet machines. I got a little spoiled. If we stood around looking stupid or distressed long enough, someone would ask if we needed help. Our trip was never hindered or made uncomfortable by the natives. Most of the time it didn't enter our heads that we were in a foreign country. Other than cobble stone streets and ancient buildings, we could be down the hill in St. George. A memorable experience.
To sum up:
I think our positive experiences were universal. I wasn't specifically looking for unhappy tourists; I doubt if there were many. I did see lots of smiling faces and open pocket books. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip. For a couple of old farts, we did good, even if I do say so myself. Our energy levels weren't like thirty years ago, and we missed some stuff. But what we did take in upped our level of understanding and empathy. Humans are basically the same everywhere; French, Spanish, English, German, Portuguese, all nationalities have desires, dislikes and want to live respectable lives. I don't think I met anyone whom I couldn't look in the eye and see a reflection of myself.
We'll do it again sometime but not eighty one days. There towards the end I was thinking we may have over extended ourselves just a little.
One other thing, traveling lite does work. Johnna and I managed the entire trip living out of one airplane cabin bag and one day bag each.
We were in Nimes France October 8th to the 12th. This is what we wanted to see.
The Arena of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheater situated in the French city of Nimes. Built around 70 AD, it was remodelled in 1863 to serve as a bullring. The Arenas of Nîmes is the site of two annual bullfights during the Feria de Nimes and it is also used for other public events.
The building encloses an elliptical central space 133 m long by 101 m wide. It is ringed by 34 rows of seats supported by a vaulted construction. It has a capacity of 16,300 spectators and since 1989 has a movable cover and a heating system.
Tunnels like this run at various levels around the arena.
My lens couldn't capture the entire arena but this is from the front row seats, looking toward the grand entrance.
Some structural detail. The arena is very well preserved, considering it's age. A testament to Roman engineering and building skill.
From the cheep seats. You would miss a lot of gory detail from here. The elliptical shape of the arena is obvious from this vantage point.
This is the seating. Each course is about 18 inches higher then the one below. I had trouble climbing around. How did the Roman's do in their togas?
The square holes may be modern.
Looking over the wall.
Roman engineers loved arches.
A look at the very top row.
Ground floor and the current visitors entrance.
It's amazing that the arena is still so intact. This much rock represents a lot of building material. Many other arenas and temples were dismantled for the stones.
Another pile of rock, the Temple de Diana, is located in a large park, called Les jardins de la Fontaine. There's not much left of the temple but enough to take pics and study Roman building techniques. I'll post images in a later blog.
Nimes is not a sprawling city and we were able to walk where we wanted to go.