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Author: Wolfgang

Our journey began March 30th at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle.  We booked a non-stop flight from Sea-Tac to Heathrow in London (9 hours) and had made prior arrangements (through the Internet) to stay in London at the Kings Hotel at Kings-Cross Station until April 03rd, - our departure date for southern Europe.  On our second day in London we took the public buses to explore Central London.  This was a really great way to explore the city and we immediately got a feel for the entire lay-out of Central London.  On that day we also had to find our way to the Canadian High Commission to pick up the official invitations for Dagmar's reception at Windsor Caste the following day which were sent there from Buckingham Palace. 

The reception with the Queen was really a big event for Dagmar.  Here she stood in her new hat amidst the dolled up crowd gathering in front of St. George's Chapel for the morning service with the Royals.  And the Royals were all  present, - except for Charles.  How do I know this when spouses were not allowed to partake?   Ahh, - I had the luck of befriending a British chap (living in South Africa) whose wife was also being honored.  This chap managed to convince the Royal Guards to let us go inside the Palace Grounds since he knew that the family of a high-ranking Admiral had permission to do just that. This chap was very convincing and impressed me with his cool demeanor and typical British upper-lip approach.  Anyhow, - we were the only ones (besides the Admirals family of course) who were able to take pictures of the affair from inside the compound, - which included the arrivals of the Royals in their respective Limos.  Prince Charles was missing since he was released from hospital the day before and probably not up to it. Too bad, - because Dagmar knew him best and does like him a lot.  Following the service, the M.V.O.'s  went up the hill to the private Apartments of the Queen to attend the reception, which took all afternoon.  The Canadian delegation of four included an RCMP officer who, - according to Dagmar, - took the limelight on account of wearing his red serge.  He must have stood out in the crowd.  Dagmar had a ball and was able to speak to most of the Royal family members present.  According to her, the entire affair was very informal ....especially the Queen and the Duke were totally at ease.  I in turn spent the afternoon in Windsor pubs with my new found friend form South Africa ....which was also something to remember, lol.


....Dagmar arriving at Windsor Station                         ....leaving St. George's Chapel following the service


....delegation on their way to Windsor Castle                ...the steam locomotive "THE QUEEN" at Windsor Station

Well, - by the following morning Dagmars commitments were fulfilled and we took the EuroStar from Waterloo Station to Lille in order to catch the TGV going to Nice.  But when we arrived in Lille, no TGV was running ...because the engineers went on a 24-hours strike.  We called our hotel in Nice to let them know that we would arrive a day late.  They understood.  So we spent that night in the Europa Hotel adjacent to the Lille Railroad Station ....and part of an enormous shopping mall.  While strolling through the mall we found a Delicatessen selling Herring-Salad which turned out to be just out of this world.  The taste reminded me of my early childhood ...and I pigged out once we got to our hotel room. 

Next day (Friday) we rode the TGV to Nice and arrived at the hotel in late-afternoon. The hotel was very charming and only a short distance from the beach.  It was also only a short walking distance from the train-station ...so everything was very handy.  BTW, - I did look forward riding in the fastest train of the world ....and I was truly impressed.  Paris to Lyon was just a blur.  That stretch was so fast ....I will never forget the feeling.  It was like flying in a jet at ground-level....  We arrived late that day in Nice because east of Marseille the TGV train had to stop for over two hours since a hang-glider had crashed-landed into the overhead wires.  It took that long to get this guy off the wires.   


 ….Hotel in Nice                                                      ......and Dagmar in an adjacent park

We had a good night sleep and the next morning (Saturday) picked up our Citroen Xsara at the Nice Railroad Station.  We drove right away to Monte Carlo and came back in late evening.  BTW, we rented the car for 21 days so to allow enough time to travel the entire coastlines of the Riviera (French & Italian) and on return along the Adriatic Coast.  So early Sunday we departed for Genoa...Genova (as the Italians call it).  This is an industrial city not really fit to be situated in such a beautiful neighborhood.  The Italian Riviera (Flower Riviera) must be one of the greatest drives in the entire world.  I found it just as breathtaking as the Cote d'Azur ...which we traveled at the end of our journey. 


.....Citroen Xsara, a nice car to drive                             .....wrong impression, - Dagmar refused to drive!

Anyhow, the Citroen we rented was a mid-sized car but I really would have preferred driving a smaller one (if I would have been able to fit into one, lol).  In Italian traffic, - small is definitely beautiful.  I mean, - those Italian drivers are something else.  They do have no traffic lanes and all drive like maniacs, - especially the guys on two wheels. Well, - I consider myself an above average driver (never caused an accident in 50 years of driving) but that kind of driving did take my breath away. And try to park in a city....  if you do find a spot, you are very lucky if you have a half a foot in front and behind you to get in and out.  It's nearly bumper touching bumper ....again, - no line markings.  But in all that chaos you hardly see an accident ...or somebody getting angry.  However, if you hesitate in traffic just for a split second, you get pushed aside or run over.  Nobody gives you an inch, - and especially not a car with foreign (French) license plates. 

To get an idea what I'm talking about,

Click here (then click "PLAY" and return to this page using the "BACK" Button)

So to Dagmar's utter consternation I converted to becoming as aggressive as they were ...and it worked.  After 21 days of traveling I returned the car in Nice without a scratch.  I still cannot believe my luck to this day, lol.

From Genoa , - where we stayed in a castle-like hotel surrounded by the Mediterranean surf a few miles east of the city , - we continued that Monday to Pisa where we stayed at a hotel two blocks away from the leaning tower.


 ....something crooked                                          .....something stupid

On Tuesday we drove through Rome to Lavinio for the night before heading to Pompeii to stay the following two nights.  Why did we not stay in Rome, - you may ask.  Good question...  And here is the answer.  When we arrived in Rome (coming from Pisa) at around noon, we were literally sucked into the city's traffic and were not able to escape the core area for close to four hours.  We've seen everything there is to see in Rome from inside our car at least twice ..and the Auditorium at least six times.  No matter what we did in trying to navigate out of the inner core of Roma, we always ended up in front of another sign pointing to the Auditorium.  Orientation was nil since it was high-noon and no shadows were giving directional hints.  Finally, - close to four o'clock in the afternoon we managed to hit the Tiber River for the second time and this time I managed to follow it and zick-zacked my way towards the Mediterranean.  That's why we stayed that night in Lavinio far away from the gravitational forces of Roma.  We skipped a planned sightseeing tour of Rome the following day since we did already see everything there is to see many times over .....and continued on to Pompeii.  Here we stayed at the Apollo Hotel right across the most beautiful Cathedral I've ever seen ...with a spectacular view of Mount Vesuvio.  Plus the hotel was only a five-Minute walk to the famous ruins. The Apollo Hotel is old and somewhat run-down ...but our room had the best view in town which made up for shortcomings such as not enough heat in the cool evenings.  After complaining about the lack of heat, the Manageress (with a twinkle in her eye) mumbled something about "caloria" which made us get the drift, lol.  Nevertheless, - we stayed there until Friday (45 Euro @night) and ended up doing a lot of sightseeing inside the old town....which is far bigger than we expected. 


..view of the Pompeii Cathedral from our hotel balcony....inside the old town

We also visited the "Blue Grotto" in Capri which I remembered from some of the old Sofia Loren movies.  On the way down to Pompeii while driving through Naples we had some bad luck. Driving into Napoli we decided to take the short cut along the "Autostrada".  Arriving at the toll-booth I noticed that the car slowed down noticeably without applying the brakes much. I thought it was the asphalt.  But on entering the highway the handling of the car felt real funny ....so I pulled over.  Darned, - I had a flat tire.  Now, - the instruction booklet was in French and we don't know French (neither Italian).  This being a new model car I had no idea where and how to retrieve a hidden spare tire on board.  I could not see any tire and the booklet did not show any picture of a spare-tire.  So Dagmar decided to walk back the mile or so to the toll-booth to summon help.  And low and behold, soon after a Carabinieri police car stopped by and without hesitation one of the officer went to work on finding, retrieving and changing my flat tire.  In the meantime Dagmar came back with an official from the toll-booth who immediately helped the officer in jacking up the car.  By that time it was raining very hard ...but those native Napolese were so cheerful that I don't think I will ever forget their spirit.  They were such a friendly and cheerful bunch and so willing to help a stranger, that I will never forget their kindness.  The police officer working on his knees on the car could speak a little English and he said after the tire was fixed that I should tell Canada that the Italian Carabinieri are *good*.  Well, - I certainly pass on this request any chance I have, lol.  

By the time we left Pompeii on Friday, the sun was shining bright again.  We continued South along the coast until Salerno when we took the Autostrada to Brindisi on the other side...or the heel of Italy. When you look at a map of the Golfo di Manfredonia you can see the Adriatic side being dotted with small villages along its entire coast.  Coastal roads are just wonderful to travel and mostly you can drive right along the shores where of course you find the most interesting and spectacular sights. But hugging the coastlines in Italy is surely not a leisurely pursuit, - as a matter of fact, - it's outright frantic ...but worth every single mile.  From the South (where tempers are high-strung and people make up new traffic rules as they drive along) we proceeded to Bari, Pescara and on to Rimini, - which at this moment experiences another German Tourist boom comparable to the one in the Sixties. 


......on the beach                                                        ...having fun

On our way North we again stayed mostly at low-priced hotels (two Stars or less) close to the beaches.  Dagmar did the choosing and that meant economy, lol.  By the time we got to Venezia we did spend so much time on the beaches that we sported a nice Adriatic tan. Venice nowadays is much more commercial than it was in the Sixties, - but what isn't?  We did spend three days in Venice but did choose a hotel outside in Mestre where we could safely park our car and take the bus or train into the Lagoon each morning. We enjoyed every moment in that one-of-a-kind city and had a lot of fun.  However, I could not convince Dagmar to hire a Gondola for memories sake.  Too expensive a memory, - she said.  Oh well, - at least we went on ferry rides from the Grand Canal back to the Station. 


.....Canal in Venice                                                    ....Dagmar at Rialto


.....and feeding the pigeons                                       ....while I enjoyed some vino

From Venice we initially wanted to drive to some place in the Dolomite Alps which I knew from the past.  But time was running a bit short.  So we decided to drive instead to Lake Garda and stay there for a few days of rest... and continue from there back to France.  We found a very nice B&B in Bardolino (famous for it's superb red wine) and stayed there for five nights. During our stay we did drive around the entire lake twice in opposite directions.   On our first drive we stopped at Riva Del Garda on the North-end of the lake, which is a beautiful and very interesting town .....but a bit of a nightmare to get to and from.  Anything like buses or trucks are not allowed to drive south from there along both shores since all tunnels are way too small and narrow.  Even an American SUV would for sure be in trouble in some of those tunnels. I know now the true meaning of the saying: "seeing the end of the tunnel". Some of the tunnels on the west side (Mountain-side) seem endless ...and without any lights inside.  Regardless, - the drive around Lake Garda is simply spectacular ...if not a bit unnerving for a stranger.  During our stay we had fantastic weather and therefore took our time to discover most significant sites.  Like one afternoon in Salo, where we strolled for hours through the old town visiting their numerous museums including their middle-aged cathedral ...which did hold an interesting art show that day.  While later resting our wary bones at a restaurant on the lake shore we were entertained by no less than a junior high-school band from England.  Those boys and girls did surely put on a fantastic show.  And whenever they played an Italian tune....the natives went absolutely crazy.  In retrospect, our stay at Garda Lake was one of the highlights of the entire trip, - which took us through France, Italy, Switzerland ....as well as the southern part of the UK.  


....the B&B in Bardolino, Garda                                   ......street scene in Garda


....behaving like a Bavarian in Bardolino                       .....while drinking Bardolino's famous red wine in Garda

From Garda See our next stop was the border town of Menton within sight of Monaco, where we stayed at the "Hotel Orlay" right on the beach.  Menton is the most picturesque place imaginable ....and we took a lot of pix while there.  The location is breathtaking and when the sun goes down and you are in a location to see the city as a backdrop, the color schemes seem improbable and dreamlike.  Unforgettable!!!


....Menton is fabulous                                                 ......specially at sun-down

Before we left our hotel in Nice, we had made another booking ..but now still had two days left.  So we went past Nice and continued our journey west along the Cote d'Azur to Cannes and all the way to St.Tropez. The French Riviera is of course totally different.  Instead of all the small romantic fishing villages with their vineyards on the hills you'll find here the palaces of the rich and famous strung along the coast and hillsides.  Instead of vines you find red rocks like in Sedona, Arizona ....and still a lot of timber.  In St.Tropez (very expensive) we walked all afternoon to see the many sights and smell the aroma of that one of a kind town.  In the evening we had dinner in a harbor restaurant.  This we followed with a stroll along the piers where those billion dollar yachts are tight up.  Very impressive indeed.  After that we could not find the place where we had parked our car.  St.Tropez is like a labyrinth.  We went in circles and ended up at the harbor again and again when I said to Dagmar, - you go and find the car.  By that time I was pooped.  While sitting outside a waterfront pub downing a beer it dawned on me that the car had to be right in the blocks behind the pub ...when Dagmar showed up in the presence of two women from Germany who helped her find the car (we vaguely remembered the street name being something like 'Rue de Commerciale' but probably could not pronounce it correctly for natives to understand, lol.)  Well, - as it turned out, - the car was parked only a hundred meters from where we sat.  There was now a reason to celebrate with those two nice ladies from Germany ....but eventually we took off to get to our hotel which we had booked on our way into town in a place called St. Raphael.  But when we arrived there ....we could not find the hotel either. Inside that city were many detours and one-way streets and I was again going in circles. By this time it was getting close to mid-night ...and I was getting close to blowing a fuse. One recognizes a lot of sites ...but one cannot remember if they are located before or after a particular point.  Finally we recognized where we were and found the hotel.  It was actually located in an adjacent town called St. Raphael dÁgay.  Boy oh boy, - get the hotel's brochure before you leave ...and when you park anywhere unfamiliar, go into the next business and asked for their business card. That I've learned, lol.


....evening stroll in St. Tropez                                       ....breakfast in St. Raphael

By now it was Thursday and we had to drive back to Nice.  Once there we first dropped off our luggage at the hotel and then returned the car at the railroad station (without any scratch, of course).  I felt like someone should slap me on the shoulder....but that feat went unrecognized.  The following day (Friday) was my birthday and we took a very informative sightseeing trip through Nice and the surrounding area in a Double Decker.  That tour was really cool and I felt like slapping the driver on his shoulder once we returned.....  But I guess for those guys it's a piece of cake maneuvering such monster buses through the tiniest streets and around the sharpest corners.  I sat on top right up front to the left ...to get a feeling what it's going to be like to steer from such a location ....since this will be my place to drive my next Bus-Conversion.  I think I can handle it......

Alright, - having celebrated my birthday royally with a lot of vino at a local hang-out that evening, we departed Nice the next morning with the TGV for Geneva. Up to this point we only had used up one day of our four-day EuroRail Pass (London-Nice) and still had three days left to travel the rails.  First leg was Geneve, where we stayed for two days until Monday, when we departed for Paris. In Paris we stayed until May 1st (Thursday) when we continued to Lille and from there took the Chunnel Train back to London.  Here we had until Monday May 5th before departing for Seattle where our car was parked at a Motel close to the airport. What can I say, Geneva, Paris and London are places where you can stay for weeks and not having seen a fraction of what they have to offer.  But we managed to do a lot.  And we have memories we will never forget.  It would take another ten pages to even scratch the surface of what we experienced during those beautiful days in Europe's most exalted places.  I will leave this to another time. 


......our tour-boat at Lake Geneva                               .....and a view during the cruise                  


....view from the tour bus           ....and from the river Seine       ...Dagmar looking for the Kloeckner of Notre Dame


....London's Oxford  Street                                         .....Buckingham Palace


....Westminster Abby                         .....the Houses of Parliament              ....and BIG BEN


.......the Tower Bridge just opening (rare sight)            .....TGV, - the world's fastest train (record speed 542kmhr)  WoW!!!

Europe is amazing and unforgettable, but one thing I can say for sure now, - I'm glad to be Canadian.  Yes sir....I was always the one who favored everything European ....since this is my background.  But times have changed tremendously and today I can say only that we're really blessed to live in a country like Canada.  I never again think that the Europeans have one up on us.  Untrue, - everything is better over here.  As you know, - the UN has voted Canada to be the best place to live in the world three times in a row ....and they got that right.  We should count our blessings, - that's what I say.  Europe is very nice to visit, - but I would not like to live there anymore.  Everything is too hectic, too crowded, too expensive ...etc, etc.  Here it's clean, one has open spaces, people are more friendly, prices are more reasonable.... etc, etc.  We find life to be much better here....

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