18 July 2007
6032 KM LATER we are back where we started from. We’re now at Babette’s (Yvonne’s sister) apartment in Landshut, Germany, after a LONG day of driving. The good news is summer has finally arrived in central Europe! The bad news is, the summer has finally arrived in central Europe…and it’s too damn hot! But, who’s to complain really…guess it’s too much to ask for it to be a perfect 23 degrees and slightly cloudy all the time, so we’ll take it and be thankful it’s not cold and rainy anymore.
Now back to our long day…we spent about fifteen hours on the road getting back to Landshut from Paris (yes, we returned to Paris, more on that later); we were dying and determined to sleep in a real bed and have a clean, private shower for a change. The journey home was broken by several rest stops (if not for us, at least to give Freda a break) and wasn’t without its dramas. Along the way, Yvonne lost a filling in one of her molars while enjoying some dark chocolate. Also, what we thought was just a rock in our tire turned out to be a massive screw piercing our rear right. Mercifully, Yvonne noticed it when she heard a hissing noise during one of our stops. Unlucky as this was for us, we were fortunate to be only six km away from the small town of Saverne.
Luckily we found a Ford service station that was open, willing and able to take us in almost right away. An hour later we were back on the road and only twenty-five euros lighter. We haven’t been doing any night driving; one reason being the headlights on the van aren’t the best. When the sun fell on us tonight, it was slow and concentrated driving the rest of the way. The last thing we needed, and which, of course, we got, was a massive thunder/lightning storm with driving rain. The hot road mixed with the cool downpour to make a low, swirling fog that gave the illusion the street was moving beneath us. At the very least, the lightning display we had through our windshield was fine entertainment, but it definitely was a bit hairy.
Between Mont St-Michel and today we’ve had some very busy and fun-filled days. In our traverse back across France toward Germany, we spent a couple of days in the Loire valley visiting big old chateaus. One day we cycled along the Loire River to Villandry where we explored the spacious and neatly manicured gardens of its chateau.
The next was spent at the chateaus in Chenonceaux and Chambord; the former a beautiful construction that straddles the River Cher over high arches, while the latter, in contrast, is a behemoth of a castle – the largest chateau in the valley with over 400 rooms and 200 fireplaces. In between we also made a brief tour of Tours, a nice laid back city with loads of young and easy-going people. There we also gave into our lusts and desires and ordered two pizzas from Domino’s!
It was the first one we’d seen on our travels and thought it might be our only chance, so we snatched it up. As soon as the pizzas were ready we were all over them like a fat kid on a Smartie, the guilt and slightly-nauseous feeling settling in not long after.
July 14 is Bastille Day, a French national holiday. It is celebrated with fervor in all cities, towns and villages. We’ve heard that everyone should experience at least one in their lifetime, so where better to take it in than the grandest city of all. Paris, we’re baa-ack! Before we got to our campground, about twenty km southeast from Paris central, we ran dangerously low on fuel. Being a holiday, almost everything was closed, and the 24/24 stations wouldn’t accept any of our cards. It’s strange how the mind can get tunnel vision when in these situations; a sign for “Fois Gras” was interpreted as “Free Gas” in my brain. We did manage to finally locate an open one and safely arrived at our destination.
Unfortunately, by the time we landed and cleaned ourselves up we missed the big military parade down the Champs Elysees (although we did get a glimpse of the fighter jets in formation), so instead of rushing in we chose to bike the distance and check out the scenery. It was a very leisurely ride; on the way we rolled through a big park that reminded us a bit of Stanley Park with a large forest and avenues cutting through. This one though had a few little lakes and a large one in the middle, and much more green space to lounge in. The French were out in hoards, enjoying their holiday in every nook and cranny of the park.
Once in Paris we cycled aimlessly, since we’d already done all we wanted to do here a couple of weeks ago. Taking a bicycle into the city is so much of a different experience, we explored areas we would never think of going otherwise. We just got on our bikes and it was like they took us for a ride – no second thoughts, no decisions to be made – it just flowed freely. All around the city, the sounds of firecrackers, from small poppers to deafening canons, rang through the air. No one paid any mind to the young teens and even small children who were the cause of this, lighting them in public spaces, down alleys and in parks.
The main event for the celebrations was the free concert and fireworks show in the Champs du Mars Gardens below the Eiffel Tower. We parked the bikes a short distance away and joined the already forming stream of people heading toward the venue. Nearer the grounds, the Gendarmerie were out in full force dressed head to tow in uniform complete with leg armor, wearing menacing looks on their faces. This was a good thing since, according to our campground receptionist, there would be about one million people attending the event, and they would be needed to keep the spectators in line. Inside the gardens we jockeyed for position in the vicinity of the stage.
We were told that a popular French artist would be performing, but we were completely shocked when Nelly Furtado took to the stage to open things up. She played a five song set in front of a raucous crowd before making way for the local favourites. After the concert we found a spot with a view and watched the fireworks dance to the music in precise choreography, beside a lit up Eiffel Tower. To be honest, they weren’t all that impressive, but I guess having the Celebration of Light on our doorstep every year has spoiled us a little. Once they were over we joined the masses and biked our way to the train station, dodging traffic and pedestrians alike, to head back to camp.
Here’s a riddle: How quickly can a fabulous day turn sour? Answer: As fast as it takes to miss the last train at 1:00 AM, that’s how! Faced with the prospect of a 1.5 hour bike ride back to Freda through the dark streets of Paris, we silently mounted up and once again bared the still-heavy traffic and crowds of people. On the way we did pass some interesting sights to keep us on our toes. Under a bridge, along the Seine River, a row of stationed caravans with gypsies still hanging about greeted us with barking dogs. Closer to camp, we noticed campervans lining the road opposite us, each one with a candle burning in the window and a woman in the driver’s seat. It didn’t take long to figure out they were prostitutes, some with customers freshly arrived or departing. We quickened our pace and made it safely back to camp, showered and were asleep by 3:00 AM.
Paris Disneyland was the final French destination for us, where we used up one of Yvonne’s Oma’s wedding gifts to us. For both of us, it’s been fifteen years since the last visit – of course, this being my first trip to the European version. We briefly felt self-conscious, being one of only a seemingly few adults sans children, but soon the kids within us were stirred and we ended up having a blast. We spent the entire day and night here, from opening to closing (10:00 AM – 11:00 PM), taking in the classics like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘It’s A Small World’ (which Yvonne loves, but kind of gives me the willies). The ‘Buzz Lightyear’ ride was one of the more modern ones we enjoyed – you sit in a pod that you can turn 360 degrees and both have laser guns to shoot at enemies as you go through space.
Big-boy roller-coasters ‘Big Thunder Mountain’ and ‘Space Mountain 2′ were exciting, although Yvonne couldn’t see much with her eyes shut tight, clinging to my arm like Velcro (on the latter, it was literally breathtaking — she couldn’t even muster any screams). We were entertained by a stage musical of ‘The Lion King’ and a 3-D experience showing of ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Audience’, which was actually pretty funny and starred Rick Moranis and Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame). The night ended with the light parade and a fireworks show. The parking for campers was pricey – twenty euros – but they allow you to sleep in the lot, so it was nice not to have to drive anywhere after. There are even bathrooms with showers, which are actually nicer than many of the campgrounds we’ve been to.
So we will spend a few days here recuperating, eating lots of tasty German fare, doing laundry in a real washing machine, and drinking lots of beer before we hit the road again. The plan is to head into the German/Austrian Alps before we catch a ferry from Livorno, Italy to the French island of Corsica for 18 days. Trust us, every minute of comfort provided by a cushy bed, unlimited access to Internet, television (although only European CNN is in English), and just general cleanliness will be soaked up. Nothing is to be taken for granted!