Paris - Ah, back to gay Paree! We spent 2 days sightseeing and sharing one of our favorite cities as Bob walked the city with Denis, climbing the Eiffel Tower, sprinting by the Louvre, and biking through the streets to see the highlights. Then Judi's sister, Sharon and her friend Linda arrived and we did it again, but with less emphasis on speed and a little more on culture with a visit to Montmatre and the omnipresent artists. One of the surprises of their visit was a French-American parade on the Champs Elysses and listening to a band playing the Star Spangled Banner under the Arc D'Triumphe on the 4th of July!
Meeting Sharon - But first, we had to meet Sharon and Linda, and all we had was a 3-week old email that hinted that they might arrive in Paris on the evening of July 3rd at Gare d'Nord. After days of unsuccessful attempts to establish contact with them in Germany we went to the train station - where thousands of travelers were rushing to and from trains. Judi's instincts took over and she went to meet a train from Cologne, and sure enough Sharon and Linda walked off just as if we had planned it.
Denis returns to US - Denis had made his original booking to fly from Tallahassee to London and so had to return to London for his flight (rerouting would have tripled the price of his ticket). By way of excitement he missed his Eurostar connection from Paris to London but caught the next one and spent his last night in another 14-person to the room hostel in London - and the rest of the trip was uneventful.
Versailles - After 5 days in Paris we moved to the country, Versailles in this case, an extraordinary palace built in the 17th century by Louis XIII, a symbol of decadence that was finally abandoned after the French Revolution. We roamed the rooms that are open and can only imagine what else may be hidden in the scores of rooms that are still closed to the public. Versailles as where the Allies signed the peace treaty with Germany after WWI - and thus set the stage for Germany's resentment and return to warfare in WWII.
Brittany and St. Malo - After the heat of Paris and Versailles we drove north to the Brittany coast, a beautiful coastline with green farmlands and rugged cliffs. Our stopover point was St. Malo, a picturesque tourist port town with a caravan park wrapped around the base of a 700-year old fort strategically placed to defend the harbor. In fact, the harbor is now protected by a set of locks so that most of it remains at a constant depth despite the 20' tide swing along the coast. We just happened to be there during a stopover of a Tall Ship race that was due to leave for England the next day. Judi and Sharon got to show off their Polish heritage by posing beside one of several Polish ships in the race while the streets were busy with shoppers and performers. We could see why this is such a popular destination for British tourists.
Mont St. Michele - One of the images we saw by accident turned out to be a world-famous monastery, so we decided we had to stop for a visit. Mont St. Michele is a city/fortress/monastery built on a small island connected to land by a causeway at low tide. It also attracts thousands of tourists these days so although it was interesting it was quite crowded. There was the promise of excitement in the afternoon as the tide was due to rise and cover some of the parking areas where hundreds of cars were parked - but we left before the exodus started.
Normandy - One of the stops that Sharon really wanted to make was at the beaches of Normandy, site of the D-Day invasion which began the final downfall of Nazi Germany. Utah Beach, Omaha Beach - they were all there and we could understand how the Germans might have been surprised since the cliffs seem unclimbable - yet the Allies managed to scale them in short order despite taking many casualties. The thousands of soldiers who died in the invasion are commemorated in an American cemetery near the beaches - it was a sobering visit for all of us, especially given the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
Medical checks - We crossed the English Channel on LD Ferry lines from Cherbourg to Portsmouth in England, unfortunately arriving late in the evening so we introduced our guests to the joys of spending the night in a service area on the motorway - not too bad if you can ignore the traffic noise. Bob had a follow-up exam with his surgeon and dermatologist and all seems to be order - another one in 3 months.
Bath and Wales - Traveling north we decided to introduce Sharon and Linda to the cute town of Bath before continuing to Wales and it unpronounceable names and beautiful mountains. We drove through the Snowdonia National Park with its lofty mountains and lush green valleys and tarried half a day at Carphilly Castle so that Sharon and Linda could get a taste of medieval living - they enjoyed the outing but were disappointed at the lack of luxurious furnishings - so we promised them a visit to Blenheim Palace in London!
Dublin - It was too quick, but we notched up another country in our passports! With Sharon and Linda on a tight schedule we decided to go to Ireland for the day, and the ferry crossing from Holyhead, Wales, to Dublin, Ireland only takes a couple of hours so on a bright Sunday morning we boarded Stena Lines for breakfast and a smooth crossing of the Irish Sea. In Dublin we took a city tour, wandered the streets, visited a pub for a Guinness stout and generally had a pleasant day. Dublin seemed like just another big city; nothing special and no real Irish 'feel'. Next trip will have to be longer and go deeper into the country.
Stratford-Upon-Avon - After returning from Dublin we spent a day touring the castle and town at Conwy and then turned south to the place made famous by Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a cute town with every imaginable gimmick to extract tourist dollars by using the great Bard's name. Shakespeare's home, a museum, an animated entertainment center, bookstores, and gift shops - Stratford had them all! We walked a bit, the ladies took a boat tour on the Avon river, and by late afternoon it was time to move on.
Blenheim Palace - Sharon and Linda had a hankering to see a 'real' palace, complete with furniture and paintings and Blenheim fit the bill. In 1704 John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough lead British forces in the defeat of Germany and France at Blenheim in Bavaria, Germany. The Crown was so grateful that they gave him several thousand acres and built him a Palace that cost £20M, a fortune in today's money. The palace had splendid paintings, carpets, furniture, and sculptures. Winston Churchill was born here (prematurely as his mother gave birth after a party) and spent much time at what was his grandparents home while his parents partied in London. The palace had an interesting display of Churchill historical documents and memorabilia - and good ice cream cones to recover from the very hot day.
Salisbury and Stonehenge - Back to the South for a final medical check for Bob and then a day of history study as we visited the Stone Age site of ceremonial stones known as Stonehenge. It is certainly unique and our guests enjoyed wandering about the 4-5000 year old mystery. There are 100's of stone circles and similar sites in England and France, but none as impressive as this one.
London - The final stop on Sharon and Linda's 1st European Tour - London is our favorite city in Europe and we tried to wear them out with bus tours, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, walks through the Tower of London, Big Ben, and SHOPPING! We stayed at Chertsey, a small caravan park near Heathrow and caught the train each day to London and spent all day being tourists. By the end of the 3 days muscles were sore, suitcases were full, and the ladies were ready to return home and relax for a bit - wearier and perhaps a bit wiser.
Sharon and Linda return to US - On 25 July we got up early and a taxi conveniently took us straight to their terminal. Since we are used to muscling our bags onto buses, train, and up and down stairs in the Underground, this was a bit of decadence that might spoil us for future flights! Their flight was uneventful and by the end of the day they were back in Oregon and familiar surroundings.
Preparing to sell our 2d home - Now that our European travels are nearing an end, we need to prepare for our migration across the Atlantic so we will need to reduce our fleet of vehicles. First to go will be our 2d home, the Hymer motorhome that has taken such good care of us for the last 3 years. If any reader wants an aging but excellent vehicle for touring Europe feel free to visit our Hymer For Sale website and check it out.