Nov. 2003
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Happy Birthday Denis! - Asthe ghouls and goblins gathered on Halloween, Bob's son Denis celebrated his 3_th birthday, and Dad finds it hard to believe how the years have flown by.  At the moment while we are goofing off in Europe, Denis is hard at work with Physics and Calculus problems - as we say in New Zealand, Good on Him!  We both wish him a Very Happy Birthday in Tallahassee, and many happy returns of the day!!

Week ending 1 Nov 03 (Bob)

Prague – This is one of the most beautiful and charming cities that we have visited – anywhere! In sharp contrast to the dull buildings in East Berlin, the Communist rule for 40 years apparently did little to destroy the classic beauty of the city. It has sculptures, gilded artwork, twisting streets with cozy cafes and boutiques, and museums of all varieties. The streets were full of people, even though it was the end of October. We visited for only 2 days (a week would have been easy to justify) and saw a few of the highlights:

  • Concerts - Classical music is big in Prague, and there were concerts everywhere! Every church, theater, and a few holes in the wall offered 1 hour concerts (apparently the attention span of tourists). If the Czech Republic turns out more than its share of musicians we could understand why.

  • Don Giovanni – Czech Rep. Prague Puppet show Don Giovanni.jpg (17791 bytes)Mozart organized his first performance of this famous opera in Prague, and Judi made sure we saw a performance. In this case it was a well-known puppet show, and it was fantastic! The ‘Mozart’ puppet drank wine as he conducted, and steadily became more drunk as the performance progressed. The puppeteers managed to turn this tragic opera into a side-splitting comedy that entertained a full house!

  • Art – The Czechs are very artistic, and it is on display everywhere. Paintings on the Charles Bridge, sketches at the Palace, handicrafts on the streets - we resisted buying, but barely! Exhibits abounded: one with photos by Jiri Kolbaba had outstanding images of many exotic places in the world and the multi-media "Post-Industrial Civilization" left us scratching our heads.

  • Beautiful Buildings – Czech Rep. Prague coach.jpg (26431 bytes)Prague is beautifully preserved, perhaps the most beautiful city we have visited to date. Theaters, houses, government buildings, palaces – many with sculpCzech Rep. Prague astronomical clock.jpg (26913 bytes)ted or painted fronts or gold-gilt emblems. In the city square the Town Hall draws hundreds of visitors with their camcorders each hour as the ornate clock stages a march of the 12 Apostles past windows before striking the hour! We walked to the top on the Town Hall to watch the sea of visitor heads looking up at the clock.

  • Prague Palace – This palace, still used as the seat of government, sits high on a hill overlooking the city. Ornate rooms, a banquet hall large enough to stage jousting matches on mounted horses, and the St. Vitus cathedral draw the tourists in droves. We climbed the 287 steps to the top of the bell tower and were offered fantastic views of the city. On the hill below the palace in Nerudova St., location of many famous old homes with ornate paintings to identify them.

  • Strahov Monastery – Above the Palace sat a monastery with a glorious view of the city, and a 13th century library. The library had beautiful rooms, and a collection of books that would make any museum envious. One room was devoted to Bibles of all ages and varieties.

  • Transportation – The public transportation system in Prague was outstanding – no cars or buses were allowed in the city center, but trams and the subway went everywhere one needed to go at reasonable prices and quickly. Many cities in the US could employ this type of transport system and improve the quality of life in the cities immeasurably.

  • Overall – We were very happy with our visit to Prague, people were friendly, we felt secure while riding the subway late at night, prices were reasonable, food was good, and the city was beautiful. Perhaps on another visit we can visit the country-side.

Munich – This well-traveled city in the heart of Bavaria is pretty, with lots of shops, restaurants, and museums. We did not find it as beautiful as others we have visited, but it has a charm of its own. In our brief stay we hit a few sights:

  • Glockenspiel – A local guide rates this as one of the most over-rated attractions in the world, but twice a day tourists stop to watch as figures twirl, knights joust, and roosters crow after the clock has chimed the hour. Of course, we had to join them.

  • Hofbrauhaus – Germany Munich Hofbrauhaus Ompah band.jpg (19098 bytes)No visit to Munich would be complete without a stop at this legendary beer-hall. We stopped for a beer and pretzels, and listened to the brass band play typical German tunes. Our only disappointment was being served by a young man of Mediterranean extract rather than a muscular fraulein as legend demanded.

  • Shopping – Munich is like most other large cities with a large pedestrian mall surrounded by shops of all varieties, with women’s clothing outnumbering all other.

  • Dachau – A somber visit, Germany Dachau iron gate.jpg (28907 bytes) but perhaps necessary for those of us who have some faint memories of World War II. They have retained many of the buildings, rebuilt some that had been demolished and augmented it all with sober photos and footage of the atrocities committed in this concentration camp. The sign at the gate "Arbeit Macht Frei" (‘Work Will Make You Free’) was particularly ironic since the only way the prisoners became free was to die, or be freed by the Allies who finally came in 1945, 6 years after the camp was built. Tim from The Original Munich Walks did a great job of leading our tour.

Bavaria – We zipped through this beautiful country, home to the Garmish ski area, and many other attractions but did not tarry long enough to see much. We did stop at:

  • Fussen – The attraction here is Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany Fussen Neuschwanstein Castle.jpg (10337 bytes) said to have inspired Disney-lands around the world. With its towers and turrets, high on a hillside, it is spectacular. Unfortunately on our day it rained, so we only saw the views on the postcards, but we will return!  The town sported another castle and scads of restaurants - it was busy the rainy day we visited so we can only imagine what it must be like on a sunny summer day.

Week ending 8 Nov 03 (Bob)Austria mountain scenery.jpg (29325 bytes)

Austria – Bob had to return to the site of an ‘80’s ski trip so a short drive through Fern Passe, a cleavage in the Alps south of the castle and we found ourselves in Sound of Music land. The mountains were still majestic, the valleys green, the fields dotted with neat farm houses and winter feed bins for the livestock. In our haste we made only two stops:

  • Austria village near Innsbruck.jpg (27047 bytes)Innsbruck – Another beautiful town, with narrow streets, chic boutiques, and 360Ί views of the Alps. We had lunch at the restaurant at the top of the on Olympic Ski Jump that has spectacular views of the entire city and took a cable-car ride up another hill to get a good view of the Inn River, that flows through the heart of the city.

  • Zell Am Zee – After a couple of days of Innsbruck, we headed east, through the scenic mountains to a small lake community, where they were already skiing – in November! We took a long walk into town and back – and just relaxed for a day. The caravan park is one of the nicest we have been in so far.

Italy - After a too short visit in Austria we felt it was time to move again, this time across the Southern Alps to Italy and that fabled city:

  • Venice – Italy Venice San Marco square.jpg (26599 bytes) This old city-state held us captive for three days, one while it bucketed rain, and we really enjoyed it. The narrow streets and alley ways with no vehicles, winding canals with gondolas and work-boats, shops where you would least expect them (and Heaven help you if you ever Italy Venice canals and gondolas.jpg (26352 bytes) want to find your way back to one) - it all conspired to make a memorable experience. We heard a gondolier quote 60 Euros for a ½ hour ride, and decided it was not in our budget – but we enjoyed watching others get their 15 minutes of joy under the Rialto bridge or beside the Piazza San Marco.

  • East Coast – We decided to drive down the east coast, expecting to find beaches and scenery. Wrong! The roads were packed with traffic (and this is NOT vacation time), the air was hazy or smoggy, most accommodations along the way were seedy, and it was not an enjoyable ride. 

Week ending 15 Nov 03 (Bob)

Republic of San Marino – Never heard of it you say? Neither had we until a few days before we entered this "…oldest and smallest independent state in the world…". The fact that it happens to be completely surrounded by Italy, speaks Italian, and appears to be controlled by Italy in most ways seems odd, but hundreds of years ago the Pope of the day decreed it should be independent, and so it is. The caravan park was first class and the Old Town of San Marino is a walled city and capital of this tiny republic, with tiny streets, a cross-bow archery range, its own army, and the tackiest souvenir shops in the world. Apparently a vacation spot for Italians, it offers things not available at home – like an AK-47 look-alike and many realistic handguns. We would have been more amused, but friends had just been mugged in Palermo (Sicily) and the mugItaly ferry crossing to Greece in motorhome.jpg (22410 bytes)ger used a handgun, perhaps a toy one bought here.

Sounds Like Greek to Me! – Yes, we finally have been able to use that worn-out line for real as we crossed the Adriatic Sea from Ancona, Italy to Patras, Greece on an Anek Line ferry. This was a neat trip where we ‘camped’ on deck - we plugged in, slept on board, ate in the restaurants and read in their lounge chairs as the miles flew by outside under clear skies. So far in Greece we have visited:

  • Patras – This is a small but important port with lots of ferry traffic from Italy. It also is a center of ferry runs to Central Greece, and to watch scores of cars, vans, trucks, and tractor-trailers jockeying for an opportunity to reverse onto these ferries as they fill and leave every 15 minutes is more exciting than an evening watching professional wrestling. While trying out our first Greek caravan park, we met Margaret and Barry, a dynamic retired couple who make a habit of bicycling across continents: Australia, the US (3 times), and Europe in several directions – we felt exhausted just thinking about the prospects of biking across the Rockies!

  • Corinth – The southern mainland of Greece known as the Peloponnese, connects to central Greece by a narrow isthmus – a spot ripe for an engineer to insert a canal. In the 1800’s a ditch was finally dug, 4 miles long and up to 300’ deep so now ships are towed through and sailboats do in an hour what would otherwise take several days.

Week ending 22 Nov 03 (Bob)

More Greece - We continued our touring, stopping at:

  • AthensGreece Athens Acropolis.jpg (9054 bytes) – Home of the famous Acropolis, we had to stop and see it, before the throngs of visitors come for the 2004 Olympics. Aside from the brand-new Metro (subway), the city does not seem ready for prime-time – we’ll see how it looks next Summer. Meanwhile, it was really exciting to visit the Acropolis with the beautiful Parthenon and surrounding buildings. It was a fantastic piece of design and construction a full 2300 years ago. Time has taken its toll, and the scaffolding from ongoing repairs is a little distracting, but it is still awesome.

  • Delphi –Greece Delphi Athena temple.jpg (14493 bytes) About 150 km northwest of Athens is a site with temples, theater, stadium and other buildings built by the ancient Greeks to honor the gods of the day: Apollo, Athena, Zeus, and others we all remember from Greek mythology. The Oracle of Delphi operated from the Temple of Apollo, providing ambiguous predictions after being plied with gifts and sacrifices. The site hangs on a steep hillside with great views of the valleys below and the Corinth Gulf in the distance. We were lucky to find a campsite (Camping Apollon) perched on a nearby hill with views even more awesome – and still open this time of the year. On a crisp Autumn day we walked the mile in and out of the new Delphi town to window-shop and have a Greek lunch with a $1,000,000 view.

  • Greece Meteroa monastary.jpg (12176 bytes)Meteora – Greece Meteora monastary and autumn foliage.jpg (24174 bytes) An amazing place – imagine 24 sharp peaks sticking 1000’ out of the valley floor, then perch a monastery on top of each one and surround the lot with bright Fall foliage! That is what it looked like years ago. Now the 5 active monasteries retain the mystical aura of the 14th century when they were built. Fortunately, a road has been built to provide access where ropes and vertical ladders used to be the only way up, so we could enjoy the vistas the monks and nuns had many years ago.

  • Alexandroupolis – Greece Mt Olympus.jpg (24608 bytes)We drove over a high range past Mt Olympus – this is the peak where the gods played in Greek mythology, Zeus threw thunderbolts from here and all sorts of mysterious battles took place between the gods. We saw none of this, but from the sunny west side, we passed through a pass and clouds boiled up from the Aegean Sea, and we were one with the clouds until we descended to more earthly altitudes. Two more days of driving found us at a cute coastal town of Alexandroupolis, the last significant outpost of Greek civilization before entering Turkey. We met a young Dutch couple who gave us a forecast of what the caravan parks would be like in Turkey – ‘primitive’.

Week ending 29 Nov 03 (Bob)

Turkey - The border crossing was uneventful, except for the paperwork.  Greece let us out with no problem, but Turkey extracted its pound of flesh by making us go through 4 paperwork stations, with no instructions in a language we could not understand.  At the end, Bob ended up with a stamp in his passport requiring him to take the motorhome with him when he leaves, or pay big time!  We drove to:

  • Gallipoli – Turkey Gallipoli Lone Pine cemetary.jpg (22039 bytes)Nothing sticks in the craw of Australians and New Zealanders more than the battle of Gallipoli, where Britain sent antipodean soldiers to capture the Dardenelles from Turkey in WWI. Thousands died, and Turkey Gallipoli Ataturk monument.jpg (40128 bytes) after an 8-month stalemate the Allies gave up and withdrew. The battlefield cemeteries are another somber reminder of war, where men tried to claw their way up steep hills under withering machine-gun fire from above. The memorials and their tributes, particularly President's Ataturk's shown at the right, are inspiring evidence that Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand are now friends, and have much respect for each others soldiers who fought there 88 years ago.  

  • Ferry Ride - After a night at the local park, we hopped a 15-minute ferry to cross the Dardenelles, the straits that make Turkey the guardian of the Black Sea. In the next 4 days we then drove down the West coast to:

  • Cesme - We visited our friends on Herodotus who have settled into Cesme for the winter, a harbor in a typical Turkish town.  Locals are reported to be friendly, and our meal out was enjoyable.  We managed to wrangle a spot inside of the marina for the night.

  • Marmaris - This is the largest marina town on the south coast, with at least 3 marinas and hundreds of boats.  We found a small caravan park with a great view and groddy facilities and stayed for the night.

  • Kas - A beautiful town with a quaint downtown and beautiful clear water.  No caravan parks in sight so we parked on a bulkhead under construction - we worried about unwanted visitors but had no problems.  After a stop at Park Kemer marina to see who was still there we made a beeline home.

Back on Long Passages - After 3 months and 10,000 km we are a mite tired of driving and daily scenery changes, so we are glad to be back aboard.  While we were gone the main circuit breaker popped, and our house battery was totally flat - we hope it can recover.

Autumn in Europe – Our Experience

  • Not Crowded – The August vacationers have gone back home, and we have places (almost) to ourselves. The biggies (like Prague and the Acropolis) have tourists, but it was not uncomfortable. Out of the way places like Delphi have been delightful.

  • Unpredictable Weather – We have had great weather in Greece, warm and sunny. Austria was clear and cold, and in Germany we had rain and thick frost – so weather has run the gamut, just about what one would expect for October-November. So far, it has been quite tolerable.

  • Facilities Closed – This is the worst part of this time of the year, caravans parks are closed, or open with reduced amenities (e.g. no restaurants), museums are closed for remodeling, Information centers are closed, etc.

  • Overall – The lack of facilities takes some of the fun from a few locations but we dislike hordes of tourists even more so we like it so far and are glad to be traveling now!

Last month we traveled thru Scotland, England, Holland, and central Germany to Berlin - check out October's log for this

 

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