IN SEARCH OF VACATION

The alien visited a travel agent in the foreign land where he had been stationed to find out what a vacation was. He was unfamiliar with the concept of taking time off from your usual routine to slow down. Where he came from that was never done. One was content with life’s breakneck speed. To be more content you just did more of the same.

The travel agent gave the alien several glossy brochures to look at. Pictures of pristine beaches ringed by high rises stared back at the alien’s puzzled face. “But what do you do at the beach?” He asked the travel agent.

Again and again he asked …”But what do you do in a church, castle or museum?”

The mute travel agent exasperated wanted to say many unkind things to the alien but didn’t.

“What do you do in a bus?…Or a rental car?” The alien asked the travel agent…

LIFE FROM THE BUG SPLATTER WINDOW OF A BMW

SATURDAY JUNE 10TH

It sure is easier to write about something with a beginning and an end.

We drove to the annual catamaran race around Texel, a frisian island. A million bunnies scampered away from the noise of our car as we drove through the public park beside our subdivision. We drove over Flevoland. The landscape could’ve been on Mars it was so unusual. Fog softened the edges of everything. The sky looked as if it had been airbrushed into the land. Appropriately Jean Redpath was singing ‘Lowlands‘ on our Blaupunt cassette player.

We left Flevoland via Lelystad and drove over the inside dike to Enkhuizen. The area is surrounded by bird preserves. Birds, birds, birds were everywhere. Swimming ducks and swans. V’s of geese in formation flew through the sky.

Medemblijk was celebrating a 700 year anniversary. Also it was the beginning of Ijsselmeer week, a week of sailing celebrations on the Ijsselmeer (the big lake we sail on). Lots of expensive boats were rafted 3 deep in the Medemblijk harbor. Boats with names like ‘Beer Crate’ and ‘The Golden Trident’ valued at approximately $250.000 each.

All the yards in Medemblijk were full of hokey decorations. Black and yellow banners lined the streets. A fakey castle gate went over the entrance road to the city.

We had to take a ferry to Texel. We waited on the beach for the race to start after we bought our T-shirts. The west side of Texel is all beach-about 15 miles of it. The starting line (in the water) was marked by coast guard life boats. A helicopter flew over to better mark the line. Probably a little under a thousand, every kind of catamaran from 14 to 30 feet, participated this year.

We saw a Prindle-16 being towed to shore. Nothing looked broken. As they got closer to shore it was apparent that they’d forgotten to put in their hull plugs. The pulled out the round plugs on the tops of the hulls and tipped the boat over sideways. Water rushed out of the top hull for a long time.

We drove around following the boats. Little poppy colored wild flowers lined the road. On the north tip of the island is a light house. At one point we sat on a high grassy dike waiting for the boats. I fell asleep in the cool breeze and sunshine.

On the ferry back a dixieland band serenaded us from the upper deck. We were sailing through the racing catamarans. A man tossed pieces of his sandwich up which were caught in mid-air by seagulls. The whole world was gray up there on top of the world. A monotonous surreal world of gray.

I want my company to sponsor me next year in the race. Of course the boat will be named ‘Fair Trade.’

A zillion swans swam by the dike on our way home.

THE LAMAZ LIFE AMONG THE RICH PEOPLE

SUNDAY JUNE 11TH.

It was too foggy to sail. We rode our bicycles through the park waking up millions of bunnies as they slept.

On my way to France I drove from Belgium into France. First we drove through Senlis, yet another quaint cute medieval town, only this one had hills.

For lunch we had French fast food, steak and french fries (‘I’ve seen cows hurt worse than that get up and walk away’) for 38 ff@. We ate outside after picking up our tray in the cafeteria style bar.

We walked around Fontainbleu. It’s a palace and a city. The grounds are kind of a municipal park now.

TOILETS OF THE LOIRE

We stopped for the night in Beaugency, it’s on the Loire river. They had mosquitoes and a nice municipal campground 19ff. After crossing the bridge on foot we walked through the cute old town listening to the church bells and then stopped for pizza 100ff.

The after sunset from the bridge was spectacular.

MONDAY JUNE 12TH.

Birds woke us up peacefully. A cool morning promised us a hot day.

The first castle we saw was Chambord 22ff@. It’s huge with 440 rooms and 365 chimneys. All the little nooks and crannies I found very romantic. From the roof terrace they used to watch fox hunts.

Next we were only going to drive by Cheverney but we couldn’t see anything so we went on in. Cheverney 22ff@ is smaller and seems lived in.

We drove through Blois. It has a castle but we didn’t stop because it felt like a big city. By now we were hot and tired. We were very thirsty. Dutch weather has destroyed us for warm weather. Blois seemed all uphill on our walk. Cute medieval city. Everything was closed on Monday and/or for lunch.

Lunch 130ff. Three American men beside us were having problems explaining to the waitress that the three of them wanted to share one pizza. (I wanted to tell them that in Europe everybody gets their own pizza-but I didn’t). After they’d gotten their one thin European pizza and three plates they gobbled it down then got the waitress’s attention, “Miss, could we have another pizza?”

The last castle of the first day was Chaumont 22ff@. We had to walk uphill to get there. It was small. Because people had been exiled there to me it had evil overtones.

We took a tour of the stables. On the last part of the tour the guide rushed out of the stalls to wait at the exit. I heard the tinkling of money as everybody turned their backs to each other and got out their coin purses…for a tip to give to the guide. Weird. We’d already paid the usual entrance fee. Tip 2ff.

Spent 157.40ff on groceries in Tours at a Supermarche. Bought three kinds of bottled water and toilet paper. Every good camper-especially in France should remember toilet paper-I hadn’t.

Had dinner in a little undistinguished town named Amboise. The wine bucket holder was like a child’s seat that sits on the edge of a table. First course was salad, it had a few walnuts, some raw seafood and grapefruit sections on a bed of exotic (bib?) lettuce. Al got steak and little buttered potatoes for a second course and I got smoked salmon. The cheese was brie, camembert and goat cheese. We had strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. We put our water bottle in the wine bucket after we saw the couple beside us do the same. Dinner was 310ff.

We sat by an Australian couple on the terrace. Al guessed it was at least the guy’s second wife (a Tazmanian valley girl?!). We got to talking. The Australian couple had done five chateaux that day. As the couple on the other side of us got up to leave the man said to me. I’d been saying Belgium is a great place to visit, always a party-it’s true. Someone’s martyrdom anniversary or something is always going on. “I’m from Brussels. Thanks for saying such nice things about Belgium.”

The Australian guy said, “Your English is so good!”

The Brusselian said, “That’s because I went to Georgetown.” Then politely left.

That night we camped in Chisseaux at L’Ecluse 15ff between the river Cher and the railroad tracks right outside the next castle we were going to see in the morning.

The toilets in the campground were two wet footprints astride a hole. I just pretended I was a bear in the forest, my skirt in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other. I suppose the swing outside was for little girls who don’t quite make it…to dry off their skirts.

TUESDAY JUNE 13TH

In the morning we had breakfast on a picnic table right by the river. We played Bach on the car stereo. A swan swam by in the brilliant morning. We ate french cheese on croissants and shared a pear.

Chenonceau 30ff@ castle is approached by a wide lane lined with tall evenly spaced trees. Off to the right is a woods with the remains of Catherine d’Medici’s mazes. The chateau is built on the site of an old mill over the river Cher.

Nancy, what did you think of Chenoceau castle?”

“They had the nicest toilets, seats, paper, worth 1ff. Marble walls, clean hot water, soap…”

We drove through the countryside. It looked a lot like Wisconsin or Indiana, rolling farmland with crops of wheat or corn. We had another hot tired traipse through yet another hilly white stoned city. We lunched in Longue 80ff. What we ordered turned out to be French ‘haggis’. We spent 214.90ff on groceries.

Had a very long drive to Chartres. The cathedral is magnificent but we were pretty saturated by now. Bought some excellent quiche from a deli.

+++

What does the average American living in Holland wear to France?…Loud flowered knee length chiffon split shorts lined in cheese cloth.

Camped that night in D’Azay-Le-Rideau 19.60ff.

D’Azay-Le-Rideau 22ff@ is a small city and sweet chateau.

We back tracked towards Tours to try to find lead free gasoline (sometimes difficult in rural France). We did. Mission accomplished. Everything was fine.

Al stopped to turn right behind a German car. A french truck hit us in the back pushing us into the German car. Two hours and three insurance forms later we were on our way. A French lady with three dirty little boys mediated at the garage on the corner where the accident happened. The German lady was very friendly- we felt it was her fault. She asked if anyone wanted anything to drink. I went to ask her passenger who had stayed in the car for the drinks and the German passenger said there wasn’t anything to drink! She must not have realized who I was. Weird.

Usse’ castle 34ff@ seemed very magical to me. It was supposed to have inspired the story of Sleeping Beauty. Some of the displays were pretty corny. But I could easily imagine a young lady in a burgundy velvet riding habit running away to her lover on her horse.

That night we stayed in a pizza place with a room in the back. The morning market seemed very poor after Dutch open air markets. The city was Samur, the room and dinner together cost 350.50ff breakfast included.

WEDNESDAY JUNE 14TH

Chinon castle 18ff@ is more fort than anything else. They seem to be trying very hard to be interesting. The guide seemed very surprised and pleased when Al tipped her. She was dressed very smart, with a hat. Maybe she was new.

I never got around to counting but there must’ve been quite a few zippers in our trunk. 5-7 in the tent, at least 10 in my backpack. One in each sleeping bag and pair of pants. Not to mention the athletic bag with our clothes, who knows?

In Angers we saw yet another church. Lunch consisted of for Al: Onion Soup, quiche and a cream caramel. I had fish soup, it reminded me of the fish emulsion fertilizer we used on our plants in Plainfield. Maybe they made it with a bass-o-matic. We saw the Appocolypse Tapestry that illustrated the book of Revelations.

We were surprised with how touristy Carnac was. I was surprised to find Carnac in France. I thought it was in Egypt.

First we stopped in Vannes, a nautical seaside town. We bought a framed picture of a couple swimming together turning into a catamaran.

We walked among a bunch of old rocks. They were just as inexplicable as Avebury.

We camped at du Dolmens 53.80ff for two nights. It was very secluded and empty.

We ate at La Trinite another seaside town. Al ate a mountain of seafood while I had langostinos (little lobsters). Al had sorbet and I had chocolate mousse for dessert 500ff. We looked out over the harbor full of ocean going multihulls.

FRIDAY JUNE 16TH

I figured out the origins of the hokey pokey. It was in a cold shower…

We drove to Locmariaquer. It’s another huge pleasure harbor, also a working harbor where you can catch ferries to islands. We saw a tumulus, a stone grave you can walk inside.

We ate crepes and drank cider by the seaside for lunch 79ff.

We went to an active archaeological dig. The people looked very hot and dusty 6ff@.

We stopped at Supermarch√© de Druids, couldn’t resist. It was full of British buying Guiness. We got ripped off.

We saw more inexplicable ancient rocks.

We ate dinner at the campsite, strawberries, pain (french bread), french cheese-Camembert and red wine.

SATURDAY JUNE 17TH

I finally got one of my hot shower tokens to work. You buy them at the campground office. We breakfasted on dinner left-overs as we packed up camp.

We drove to Concarneau. We walked around the ramparts and in the tourist restaurant district. We ate frites (french fries). They came in six different sizes.

It was pretty hot. So we decided to head inland to the mountains to escape the heat and tourists.

NOTE: A Michelin map makes a pretty good sunshade in the front window of the car when it’s parked. Groceries 92.05ff.

There was a reservoir in inland France. We camped there in the municipal campground. Very nice, amid forest walking paths. Some Swiss hoods camped close to us.

The bank machine in Pontivy wouldn’t accept our bankcard. There seemed to be a festival on the shopping street. We saw a high school bagpipe group. Apparently they were raising money for the local high school.

We took some back roads back to the campsite. We had to stop for a cow being led in for the evening milking.

Mur de Bretagne the closest town was dead, evidently because everybody was at a wedding.

With just a little money we could only afford more crepes and cider for dinner. The wedding party celebrated noisily in the restaurant next to us.

SUNDAY JUNE 18TH

We laid around in the morning reading. We drove through a lot of little back roads by ancient little churches and single dolmens out in the middle of nowhere.

A truly happy traveller has a full stomach and an empty bladder.

St. Malo lies on the north coast of Brittany. It is a walled city with several harbors. The city is full of cute shops selling nautical things.

The campground was expensive 30ff! and crowded. A Dutch guy saw our plates and came over but was disappointed to find out we weren’t really Dutch.

We drove along the coast (big cliffs) to Fort La Lotte. It was pretty neat right on the coast. A German guy’s dog had escaped over the wall and was walking around on the rocky cliffs. On the walk back to the car a French child sat down in the middle of the path refusing to take another step.

MONDAY JUNE 19TH

We went through the aquarium in St. Malo. Cashed a eurocheck 1400ff.

We drove to Mont St. Michel. We drove all over looking for a room. Kept finding places with a Bates Motel feeling to them. We finally found a lovely room in a logis de France, ‘The Little Penguin’. It had French blue patterned wall paper. We splurged and got a shower in the room. It had a bidet but the toilet was still down the hall 175ff.

After a lovely nap we went back to Mont St. Michel. It took one- half hour to walk from the car to the Mont. We watched the tide coming in-literally at around 7 o’clock in the evening. We ate salmon, salad and cider 200ff.

We drove back with the sun setting behind the Mont.

TUESDAY JUNE 20TH

The sun woke me up very early so I hung the bedspread over the window. The hotel rung our room at nine thirty and said we’d better hurry (toot sweet) if we wanted breakfast. As we were dressing to go downstairs there was a knock on the door. When Al opened the door, there was our breakfast! French bread, butter, coffee and strawberry jam. They must’ve thought that we were honeymooners.

We got to Mont St. Michel about 11. The next English tour of the abbey was at noon. We poked around in the shops and enjoyed the view as we waited. It was a pretty neat place. Mont St. Michel is exactly want Walt Disney wanted Disney World to be. But there is no way. The Mont is real. Disney World isn’t.

We gassed up in Avranches, where Patton started. We did a hokey little WWII museum and a grocery and then drove to Utah beach.

The camping we found was by a chateau 77ff. They had a crepery that delivered to your tent.

*We had dinner in Bayeaux. There were a surprising number of hoods. American college kids tested the patience of our waitress who refused to speak English.

Two overgrown sheepdogs greeted me as I began my walk down the lane between the empty volley ball courts in the campground.

WEDNESDAY JUNE 21ST

We started the day in Bayeaux. There is a marvelous tapestry describing the event leading up to William the Conquerer’s victory over Harold of England and the battle of Hastings. It was very well presented, first a written explanation, then a film then you go see the actual tapestry with a hand held tape recorder.

Next we went to the Museum in Arromanches, where a temporary harbor was built after D-day.

We visited the American WWII cemetery on the sea. It was immense and extremely well groomed. There were lots of Dutch license plates in the parking lot.

Rouen was a nice sized city with good shopping and a so-so cathedral-by European standards. If it was in Indiana it would be a wonder of the world.

Amien’s cathedral was much more impressive. We stopped at a French grocery around closing time to bring some goodies home, cookies, cider, brie etc.

As we drove home we drove by many, many WWI cemeteries and monuments evidently from the battle of the Somme.

Our last stop was in Brussels for mussels. There was a big party on the Grand Place. There was a Brazilian (Brusselian?) singer, ‘Amazonia‘ giving a concert there with a live big screen TV of across from her. We drank a 1 & 1/2 liter bottle of the Belgium mineral water that we get in Holland.

We got back to Naarden at about 2:00 am, tired and ready for a few days rest (vacation) from our vacation.