Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dijon Poupon

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Dijon Poupon
Dijon, France

Dijon, France


O.k., the experience with the Tour was fantastic but we were also lucky to move on to an absolutely amazing little place after that, namely Dijon. Definitely on our “most recommended” list. First of all the hotel: you enter into a beautiful stone and vine-covered courtyard, complete with courtyard restaurant. The room: beautiful old-world wallpaper and antique (in the nicest sense of the word) furniture. Friendly staff to boot. The town: smaller than Lyon but still cosmopolitan. Full of incredible architecture around every corner. Alsacian timber-frame beside art-nouveau beside incredibly old romanesque. Amazing. The Maille factory is also here – the makers of the famous Maille mustard. Another plus: this is the most tourist-friendly place we’ve come across, with free entrance to all major museums (and there are fantastic ones to choose from ranging from the Musee des Beaux Arts with Manets and Monets hanging on its walls to an amazing roman-gallic-celtic archaeological museum), as well as free shuttles to take you around the city. There are also bronze little owls which run along the streets to give you a free tour of all of Dijon’s major attractions, as well as bikes you can pay one euro for for an hour of zipping around the city. Perhaps our favourite son of Ottawa, Larry O., might want to pick up a couple of tips for our beautiful city!


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Stage 18

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Stage 18
Saint-Étienne, France

Saint-Étienne, France


Hmmmmm, what did we do today? Oh, that’s right, we went to the races! We took our time this morning, no point in rushing since the lads don’t actually start riding until close to Noon. We strolled up the road to the station and hopped aboard the train, two of the other passengers we could see were also headed out to see the race. The station at Saint-Étienne is quite nice and the tram stop is right across the square, Leisure Suit Larry could take a lesson from Europe in how to implement light rail, every town has some form here it seems. We took the tram for a dozen stops or so then Elke asked the driver where we needed to go and we hopped off and walked up the road. You could not miss the place, the podium was set up and the press trucks and porta-studios were ready to go, not many people around yet. We walked along the course to the 1km flag then turned back to go find a nice vantage point. They actually remove some of the “traffic furnature” as Phil Liggett would say and the last few hundred metres were freshly paved and painted. We took up our spots just past the 200m post and in front of the giant screen so we could see what was happening on the stage. Not much was happening out on the road but they do keep you busy at the finish line. All of the sponsors have youngsters passing out hats, Nesquik, Vettell water, more hats, Haribo candies, PMU green floppy hands (foam, no cardboard), and more hats. All of this is happening prior to the carravan passing through and that happens about an hour before the first riders arrive. People were trying to squeeze into our long staked out spots when the carravan began to arrive, loaded down with more hats and hand outs, most of it not worth the effort to grab, but people do. The carravan is staffed by pretty young ladies and nice young men, all harnessed into their rolling saussage cars/giant tire/recycle box/case of Panache/Cheese wheel. Everyone waves and smiles and has a good time which is amazing given they’ve been on the road for hours. Finally the riders approach, they’re 5km out, we’ve seen the pet food supply place just around the corner from the 1km flag so we know when to get the cameras ready. The crowd begins banging on the barriers as they appear and in a flash they’re there and gone by, very cool!! We watch the chase group come through then the mass of the Peleton and the Lampre team nursing their injured rider and that was about it. We bought some Tour duds, gathered up our foam hands and after Elke snapped a shot of the winner, a German rider, through the fence, we headed back to Lyon. Lot’s of pretty good shots were got so I’ll post them at the next stop. A trip to the Tour is well worth the effort, too much fun!


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Lyon, Out of the Rain at Last

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Lyon, Out of the Rain at Last
Lyon, France

Lyon, France


After a day of travel, we keep saying never again but it keeps happening, we arrived in Lyon. It was late and dark and we were both pretty much done in by this time so the plan was to go to whatever was close to the station and not worry about the LP suggestions. We walk out the door and all we can see is something flea-baggish called the Hotel Athena and a Raddison in a tower building that stands above all other buildings. We decide to walk through the local mall to the other side and there we find an Ibis. Ibis appears to be the chain in Europe so Ibis it is. We book the room for three days and cancelled the hostel beds. The restaurant was closed but the nice man at the desk directed us to a place around the corner where we had a steak haché with fries. Having a steak done haché style summons all courage as the item on the plate looked like an un-cooked hamburger patty. It tasted ok though. The next day it was up and out for some exploration. We found some food and headed towards the old city in search of old stuff…..Europe seems to have lots of old stuff. We find it in spades. More old excellent buildings although the situation in Lyon gives the appearance of things in need of repair. We wandered around the old town, walked up a crazy set of steps looking for the church on the hill overlooking the city before going back into the city centre to look for food and to rest. It’s sunny and hot in Lyon so our outside time ended in the early evening with a plan to go back up the hill, by tram, and to bring the guide with us. Tour coverage in France is excellent by the way. The start when the race starts and there are almost no ads. After the stage their is a post-stage show that goes over everything and has interviews with all involved. I still have little idea of the overall picture but its still fun to see it when I can. The next day we were back into the old city. This time we stopped at tourist info and got a map so we wouldn’t have to haul the France LP with us, tome that it is. Lyon was a centre for silk weaving back in the 1800’s and to protect the silk while moving it around the city a series of secret tunnels were built. The Resistance used them again during the 1940’s. The tourist ,ap has them marked but we had no luck finding one that was accessible. They want you to pay for a tour to actually see them. We took a fun, quick, ride up the hill in the tram to see the church, currently being cleaned, then walked to see the Roman ruins. The ruins include two ampitheatres actively used for performances. A rock band was busy checking instruments while we looked around. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to rest then gathered dirty underwear and headed back to a netcafe/laundry place to wash and surf. Food followed, pizza this time and Elke had gnocchis.


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Up Into the Mountains

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Up Into the Mountains
Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria


New day, new place – off to Innsbruck. What a picturesque little town. Actually, it’s bigger than we thought it would be but the old town is small. We basically got to our little pension (kind of like a mix between little hostel and b&amp;b), dumped off our stuff and went for a little walk through the town to take a look at the sites and eat some dinner. Mitch had a delicious ratatouille schnitzel (sounds “different” but it was really good) and I had a traditional local dish, a skillet with potatoes, cheese, ham and a fried egg tossed over the whole thing. Hearty Austrian fare. Took a little stroll after that and off to bed (Ikea bunkbed! – no honeymoon suite for us that night :). Oh ya, Mitch wants me to mention the pouring rain. Lots of it. For most of the day. Next day, sun – lots of it. But also tons of tourists in a tiny space. Innsbruck is really beautiful but it must be a thousand times nicer when the high season has ended (or hasn’t started yet). As luck would have it, the sun came out but we’d be spending the entire day on the train. Innsbruck to Zurich, Zurich to Geneva, Geneva to Lyon. Together with train delays, etc., we arrived in Lyon at about ten at night, totally exhausted. Time to book four nights in a decent hotel – and that’s exactly what we did. Goodbye Austria and Switzerland – bonjour France! (Photos to follow – no card reader in this place – and confusing French keyboards to boot) No mountain shots – sorry guys!


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Salzburg, Churchbells in the Morning

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Salzburg, Churchbells in the Morning
Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria


Salzburg is a beautiful place to stop after a day on the trains. We’ve figured out that the best way to find a place, when all you can think of is food or sitting still, is to lock the bags in a locker at the station and find a bed after food. We walked into the Altstadt looking for one of the listed places in the LP guide, stopping but for a moment at another, just long enough to see the line up of American students, all sporting University of Vienna tees, waiting to get a room. We continued up the road and Elke, using her superb German, was able to wrangle us a bed in what looked like the perfect place. A bit smelly, smoking is still cool in Europe, but otherwise a great deal at 65 euros. We took a stroll around after that, stopping to eat, and getting a good look at the altstadt. Remarkable buildings and a huge fortress perched as usual high above. Very cool! We were out until it started to rain then went back to the room, refreshments in hand, to try and find some TdF news and otherwise relax. Asleep around 11:30-ish, to be awoken by voices in the hall. An argument was taking place between the innkeeper and a guest of a guest. The innkeeper was explaining that a single is for one person and the other person would have to leave, the person was not getting the concept, until the mention of police and then it got quiet again. For about an hour it was quiet, then those young American’s began returning to their rooms after having their fill of good Austrian beer, proclaiming to all who would listen, and the rest. This went on until 5-ish at which time the big bells in the church steeple, conveniently situated across a narrow street from our bed, began to call the people to church. There are a lot of churches, all with bells, in Salzburg. So, up we get and out we go. Damn those bells, damn those drunken hooligans, damn them all! We locked our bags up at the station again then went to find eats at a local restaurant. The poor girl waiting tables complained of being overworked. So sad. After food we headed back towards the Altstadt to book a tour. I got to spend a bunch of time in the fantastic military museum in Brussels so Elke gets to go on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, where much of the movie was filmed. Stop laughing Mom. The guy who was the guide for the large bus filled with SofM fans was a hoot. He knew his stuff, and along with Markus, the Austrian driver, took turns singing along, with some of the patrons, to the music piped onto the bus as we drove to each stop. To the house used as the model, then never actually filmed inside, to the convent, the gazebo, and finally to the church where the wedding took place nearby where we had strudel with vanilla sauce and more great coffee. We were dropped off at the hauptbahnhof so we could catch our next train to Innsbruck, enroute to catch up to the Tour.


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Vienna, Here We Come

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Vienna, Here We Come
Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria


Ah Vienna. The city of elegant living, excellent tortes and classical music. Our start there would not, however, include any of these. The first place we stayed was actually a great hostel but they`re sometimes rough places to stay in, no matter how well they`re run. Six of us in one room that night, two of those snored loudly most of the night and then once the rest of us finally got used to that, drunk North American (could they be Canadian??) girls came home from partying. The conversation and noise seemed to go on forever. Here`s a sampling of some of what was being said in the wee hours of the morning: “God I`m sooo drunk. Hee, hee, hee. Nathalie, get up. Get off the street: A car`s coming. I can`t get up. More giggling. Come on. I’ll help you up. Oh God, I think I just fell in my own urine” (at this point I (Elke) feel like I’m going to burst because I’m laughing so hard but am trying to not add to the noise) “Ugh, Nathalie, I’m not going to touch you for the rest of the trip (insert more giggling here).” Add very bad food and even worse service before we went to bed and you get the picture. So next stop the next morning = check out of the hostel and into a hotel we spotted the day before. An excellent move since we desperately needed sleep at that point, along with a decent, slow shower. We also went around the corner of the “Fursty”, our hotel, to eat a delicious breakfast at a little organic bakery. Delicious coffee, a yummy mango milk beverage and apple pockets – definitely hit the spot. Next, we were off to explore the city. We started out by walking down one of the main shopping roads which take you from our area in the west straight into the museum district and then to the old town. We took lots of pictures of the bombastic buildings and monuments we saw there, ate a quick seafood bite at the German seafood chain “Nordsee” and continued ambling along, soaking in the sites. Another “compulsory” stop in Vienna is the Sacher Cafe with its famous chocolaty and jam-filled torte. Two excellent viennese coffees (always served in Austria with a side of water) and we were off once again. A compliment to Mom Sprague here because Mitch said that this world-famous cake tastes like the ones Bernice makes for birthdays. Time to open up a cafe of your own Bernice! 🙂 Maybe the two moms can get together for that one – Heidi makes some fine cakes as well, eh mom? 🙂 We then ambled back up the shopping street, looked into a couple of stores (bought a couple of much-needed t-shirts and checked out a fantastic store called (translated) “Green Earth” which specializes in furniture made from only natural fabrics – nice stuff) and headed back to the hotel to relax and watch a bit of the Tour de France. Once rested up, we decided to take the metro out to see the famous Riesenrad (huge ferris wheel) and adjoining amusement park and then took the tram to the part of Vienna which houses the “Hundertwasser” buildings. Hundertwasser was an artist who was allowed to transform a number of houses into pieces of art. His style includes lots of colourful and curvy mosaics and playful extra details like trees which grow right out of the sides of the buildings. After that, a quick metro ride back to the hotel and a good dinner at the viennese restaurant on the corner. A quick note about our hotel, the “Fuerstenhof”: it’s compared to the Chelsea Hotel in N.Y. because it’s an older building with a sort of faded-chic feel to it and also, we read in our Lonely Planet guide, houses rock stars and other celebrities when they’re in town. There are photos of some of them hanging on the walls in the main lobby but we had to laugh because we recognized hardly any of them – judging from the German/Austrian-sounding names, they must have been more “local” celebs. A neat place to stay though with super-friendly staff and reasonable prices, considering the location. Next day, we packed our bags, left them with the concierge and walked over to the nearest cyber locale to update the blog, etc. and then jumped on the train en direction Salzburg. A very nice stay, all in all.


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Bamberg

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Bamberg
Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg, Germany


Another trip on the train, this time just a short trip up the line to Bamberg. Like all German towns/cities you usually have to walk a ways to see the cool stuff. The hauptbahnhof is possibly in the centre but you can be certain to find the gems shortly after ditching your pack in a storage locker at the station. We walked about ten minutes to find the town centre and the rathaus perched above the two rivers that bisect the city. Derrin, they’re waiting for you here. Some white water and poles strung above for the kayak crowd were right next to the building. It wasn’t anything special that day, the water, but it rained a lot the days that followed so I can imagine the water was higher and faster. We took some photos of the building then worked our way into the town and through the tourists to get to the good stuff. We walked to the top of one of the hills in the town, almost, to get a look at the residences of the king and one of the cathedrals holding the buriel place of the only pope buried North of the Alps. Saw a creepy bit of finger all dressed up and protected in glass. Apparantly you want a bit of the important person’s body to reside in the place. Ick. It doesn’t matter how many of these places I see they never fail to amaze. A stroll through the rose garden and we went back into town for something to eat. More delicious deserts, more delicious coffee, some resupply at the local apoteke and then onto the train for home. We were out with Uwe for some schnitzel and beer tonight then home for some visiting and off to bed.


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Dinkelsbühl, Off the Beaten Track

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Dinkelsbühl, Off the Beaten Track
Dinkelsbühl, Germany

Dinkelsbühl, Germany


We picked a location from the guide book today that would require some travel off the normal train routes and tourist busses. A place guarenteed to be less crowded with the usual camera snapping bunch. Fantastic stuff. We took the train as far as we could then piled into a local bus with a dozen or so school kids on their way home for the day. The drive was as confusing as it was beautiful, narrow, winding roads through farm fields and forests and small towns punctuated with huge wind turbines slowly spinning away in the sun. It was a perfect day to travel. We finnally arrived at our destination and walked the half kilometer or so into the town. Dinkelsbühl is an old walled town, fourteen towers stand around it, each one a bit different from the last. The LP guide says you can walk the walls to see the town but we failed to find any access to the top of the walls that was not either locked or obviously not intended for casual access. The town is part of the Romantic Road and is probably the jewel in the crown of these places. All of the houses within the walls are beautiful, tall, colourful houses. The shops and restaurants are the same and but for a handful of other tourists and backpackers, and a couple of cyclists, we had the place to ourselves. We stopped at a local place and had more delicious food and a couple tall cold glasses of tasty beverage — cola light and not! After the siteseeing we piled back on the bus, back into the closest rail stop and back onto a train to go to Poelling to see Uwe and Simone who offered us lodgings for a couple of days. Things of note: Germany has the solar power/wind power thing figured out. Many of the houses we see on our travels have solar arrays covering the roofs. Lots of commercial buildings have the same. Everywhere we go we see giant wind turbines, ones and twos, off in the distance slowing spinning away. All of the windows, or most, have roll away blinds that provide both protection and privacy. They’re easy to use and help keep sun out in the day and the light out when you want to sleep in complete darkness. Very smart construction. I have to mention again about the value of the eurorail pass. We’ve been able to use it on the highspeed trains (ICE), the regional trains, the U and S Bahn trains, the trams, and busses. With only a couple of exceptions we have paid no extras for any of our transportation on any of the legs of our trip.


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Germany to Belgium

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Germany to Belgium
Leuven, Belgium

Leuven, Belgium


Well a lot has happened since we last blogged. Where to begin?? Our next destination after our Ritter Sport Day was Schwaebisch Gmuend, a beautiful little town east(ish) of Stuttgart. We went there for sightseeing but also to check out two more factories: the Weleda plant (Weleda is a company that makes very high quality, natural skin and body care products) and Schleich, which manufactures figurines like smurfs (for all those 80’s people out there), as well as replicas of animals and people (like knights, dragons, princesses, etc.- stuff you find at Chapters, etc.). Colin was supposed to come with us but decided he’d take a break from train travel and hang out with his oma and opa for the day. The town was beautiful. Lots of great architecture to admire and beautiful nature surrounding the town, as well. We enjoyed a nice walk around the town, some fine cuisine and a good cup of coffee, with a shared goblet of ice cream to round things off. We then bussed up to the Weleda plant just to find that it was closing a few minutes later. Too bad but no matter. Instead, we took the opportunity to burn off some calories and took a nice hike through the beautiful nearby forest back into town and off we went, back to Stuttgart. The night was then spent resting up and getting all of our bags ready for the next leg of our trip, namely a quick jaunt to Belgium. No factories had been viewed but the with the nice weather we had that day, we were not disappointed. On the 11th, up early, we’re given a kind lift to the Stuttgart Bahnhof and off we go to Leuven, Belgium. Colin, Mitch and I are subjugated to a long and pretty complicated day. Most of the high-speed ICE trains have been pulled from their tracks due to technical problems with one of them the previous day, so we need a good dose of patience and running around to get from point A to B. But we finally arrive at our destination, only an hour later than originally planned. Not bad for a crazy day. The three of us head to my friend Anja’s to say a quick “hello” and then off to the Hotel Binnenhof to drop off our things and rest for a sec., then off again to explore the pretty town of Leuven and grab a bite to eat (Italian tonight with a great view down onto one of the main squares in the town). It’s been raining a lot today but luckily, we seem to have been able to escape being in the middle of the intermittent downpours. The 12th: Overcast but we still decide to head into Brussels for the day. Great city but too much rain that day… To make the best of the situation, we check out a couple of things on foot before boarding a bus for a 2 and a half hour city tour with two photo-op stops. None of us are big on the “packaged tour” thing but this does the trick under the circumstances. Our tour guide is great and we get a thorough explanation of the city’s history, main architectural and cultural attractions, as well as gain a good understanding of the politics surrounding this country. Problems between the two main linguistic groups: sound familiar?? There are some pretty comparable issues going on within both Canada and Belgium. At the end of the day, we head home pretty exhausted. Mitch decides to stay at the hotel to snooze while Colin and I head to my friend Anja’s to finally get to meet her significant other, Jan, and their new baby daughter, Anne. A delicious meal is cooked for us – a thoroughly enjoyable evening for sure. The 13th: Thank God the weather has improved!! And we’re off, back to Brussels to check out what we missed the day before. The three of us start out by taking the metro to the military museum and spend a good hour and a half in there. Talk about fantastic! The place is huge and crammed with a phenomenal selection of weapons, uniforms and lots of the bigger things too like tanks from all over the world, ships (most are smaller replicas but there are also a few full-sized ones), as well as a huge hanger filled with fighter planes from everywhere, including Canada. Suddenly, all three of us feel our patriotism come out 🙂 We could have stayed in there much longer, of course, but the rest of Brussels beckons us onwards. So back onto the metro and into the city center to see the famous Manneken Pis (the little guy peeing) and little, he is. It’s a tiny black sculpture of a little boy peeing into a fountain. Like the Mona Lisa, you expect something bigger, with all of the fame surrounding these things and then you get there and laugh and wonder what all the fuss was about. Well, it’s a must-see so a five minute pit-stop to snap a photo is still worth it. Then off to eat some delicious Moules et Frites (mussels and fries) with a pint of Kriek (cherry beer – don’t knock it ’til you try it!) for me and Croque-Monsieurs (grillled cheese with ham sandwiches) for the boys, with a beer for Mitch and a taste from our beverages for the younger man (when in Rome 🙂 ). We then head back to Leuven to join Anja, Jan and Anne for a walking tour of Leuven (thank you J + A!) and then a delicious plate of tapas at a local resto-pub in downtown Leuven into the night. Nice conversations were had and Colin spent some time honing his drawing skills and showing us his art work. A perfect way to round out our trip. The 14th: Time to eat breakfast and check-out. Mitch, Colin and I grab our packs and head back to the train station to begin our journey back to Germany. The trains are all running normally again and so we make good headway. In Cologne, we stop to see whether we can still jump on a boat to tour down the Rhine together but we find out that the tour we want only runs once a day and we’ve missed it. We grab a brochure with the goal to take this trip before we leave the continent. Back on the train and it ends up being a beautiful, scenic ride anyhow. We travel along the Rhine for miles and admire the castles, palaces and beautiful monasteries scattered on both sides of the river. Finally, we arrive back at Stuttgart, jump on the S-Bahn to Plochingen and the train back to Wernau. Once there, we settle down to beverages, coffee and mineral water and wait for the rest of our party to join us. Mitch and I then head back to our living quarters to get organized for our departure the next day. The 15th: Lots of hugs and “good-byes” as Mitch and I leave Colin with his dad for their time together. And now to Mitch’s entry….


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Is That Chocolate I Smell?

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Is That Chocolate I Smell?
Waldenbuch, Germany

Waldenbuch, Germany


We set out late again today, the weather looked ugly, but we managed to catch the usual train at the Wernau stop and make our way into Stuttgart where we switched to a S-bahn (essentially the same train as before) and worked our way South of the city towards Waldenbuch. We got as close as we could by train then switched to a bus and at the right curve in the road the driver let us off to walk a few blocks to the factory. You could smell the product in the air, hmmmmmm, chocolate! They mentioned that fact in the guidebook and sure enough, its true. Around the corner you could see the Ritter Sport sign high on the factory and a crowd of schoolkids coming back from a trip to the place where so much tasty stuff is made. We walked just past the factory entrance to the building housing the Ritter Sport museum, another related art museum, a cafe, and the Ritter Sport factory outlet store. We missed out on the factory tour, kids only, but the museum was most enjoyable and gave loads of details on how chocolate is prepared and the care the Ritter Sport people take in preparing some of the tastiest chocolate you can buy anywhere. Speaking of buying, we bought 10.90 euros worth of the stuff which equals 2.2kg or about 15 bars. We’re eating tasty chocolate for the next few train rides I think. After the chocolate was purchased we sat at the outdoor cafe and had some of the best, its all good really, food you can find in Germany. I know it sounds like we’re not doing anything but eat but we’re walking, walking, walking as well. Gotta refuel right?


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