Europe, June 1999

In June of 1999, I toured Europe for two weeks with my friend Craig. A whirlwind tour of six countries, in a rented car.

Here is the diary I kept. Craig took many photos, but they were all on film and haven’t been scanned in.

Here’s a handy index of the cities we visited:

Europe 1999 Trip Diary

Day 1, Saturday June 5, 1999

Landed in Amsterdam (Schipol). Discovered fish-dogs, like hot-dogs, but with fish instead of a weiner. Craig had one, but I did not partake of this weirdness.

Closest hotel with a vacancy was in nearby city of Utrecht. Drove there. A friendly local drove to our hotel, so we could follow. It was the Ouwi Hotel on “FC Doonderstraat”.

Took train to Amsterdam. Saw the “Centrum” (city centre), got food, went through the sex museum. Saw many of Amsterdam’s famous ‘coffee’ shops (coffee is not the recreational pharmaceutical they’re famous for.) We didn’t partake. Discovered a Belgian Pub on a sidestreet.

Walked through the famous red-light district. Many busloads of gawking tourists go through there. Ladies stand in shop windows, trying to entice you to enter. One of them was a huge black woman. Disturbing! More cushion for the pushin’.

Train back to Utrecht. Nice local girl (Patricia) led us to bus terminal. Bus to hotel. Slept.

Day 2, Sunday June 6, 1999

Breakfast of mysterious meat and cheese. Lots of rain. Drove to Amsterdam, parked outside downtown area. Walked downtown, toured around, saw lots of pigeons. Returned to Belgian Cafe for photos. Saw canals (Amsterdam has many canals), took photos in red-light district (including the strangely out-of-place Catholic cathedral), had lunch in a “brown café”. Amsterdam has many brown cafes, so named because of the dark brown wood interior they all have.

Drove to Antwerp. Found train station, then the “old town”. Got photos of the Kathedral, found amazing beer stores, and found a nice little pub called Paters Vaetje. 100 Belgian beers, and the right glass for every one of them. Found hotel (cheap but nice) right beside Kathedral and Paters.

Had dinner of rabbit (Craig) and veal (Ron). There are billions of restaurants in the old town. Amazing.

Watched a busker for a while, Edi Hafner. She’s very good.

Went back to Paters Vaetje. Had a “Dulle Teve”. Cartoon of an angry screaming woman on the label. The waitress informed us that “dulle teve” is Flemish for “stupid bitch”.

Day 3, Monday June 7, 1999

Our hotel was a little weird. No washing facilities in the rooms. There was a room off the hallway with a toilet, but no sink. The sink was out in the hallway, shared by everyone on the floor. Whacky!

Ran out of money, couldn’t pay for Kathedral tour. Damn confusing exchange rate. Hunted for a working ATM. Lunched on spare-ribs beside the Kathedral. Took the Kathedral tour, very impressive. Went shopping for beer and chocolate goodies. Had beer and chocolates at Paters.

Ran into Edi Hafner again, Craig gave her 1000BEF to send him a CD. [As of May 30, 2004, no CD has yet arrived.] Left town for Brussels.

Brussels is a pit of despair. Horrible traffic. Streets going every direction, sometimes six or seven streets at an intersection. And the streets change name every block. We finally figured out one of the most important road signs: a solid green circle, sometimes with a slash through it, sometimes not. We thought they were supposed to be “parking”/”no parking” signs. But they’re much more important than that. They indicate whether your road is a “priority” road or not. Priority roads have the right-of-way at intersections, non-priority roads must yield. This explains why we never saw any stop-signs, and why we almost got creamed once.

Got the hell out of Brussels, eventually found a hotel south of Brussels (near the original Waterloo, but not in lambic country). The kitchen was closed, but the manager made us omelettes. Chatted with a Norwegian business man (plastics industry) and the hotel manager. Learned the true location of lambic country, and of a particular brewery, the Brouwrij Eylen Bosch.

Hotel manager offered to take us to Brussels tomorrow at 1900h for secret real lambic.

Day 4, Tuesday June 8, 1999

Slept late. Headed out to Brouwrij Eylen Bosch, a lambic brewery on the road to Ninove. Found Eylen Bosch, a very old, dirty looking place (as a lambic brewery should be), but it was abandoned. A very suspicious old French guy managed to convey that it was closed (or maybe it was his big dog that got the message across). From a gas station, got directions to Belle Vue, which makes Gueze. It was a huge modern brewery. They don’t give tours. Disappointing.

Got directions to another lambic brewery. Went there, but found no brewery. We did find a little small-town tavern in the heart of lambic country (Cafe De Linde). Had “De Neve” Kriek and Frambozen, both terrific. Nobody speaks English in this part of the country.

Found our way back to Waterloo, had dinner at Les Six Colonnes. Craig struggled with French, as the waitress had little English. How do you say “medium rare?”

Back at the hotel, the manager was unable to do the planned trip for Brussels for “real” lambic. But he did give us detailed directions and loaned us his Brussels map book.

We managed to get most of the way there without much trouble. We parked, to walk the rest of the way. A helpful local saw us perusing the map book, and immediately offered to lead us to the cafe (De La Bélcasse), only a couple blocks away. It was well-hidden at the end of a narrow alley in the old part of town. Their lambic was excellent. I had a Blanche Lambic, which is lambic spiced with wit-bier spices (orange-peel, coriander, etc). It was served in a small earthenware pitcher, with a small tumbler. Craig had a bottled peche (Timmerman’s, I think) and quite liked it.

Then, we walked around the old town for a while. The square Grand Place was nearby, and is bordered by great old buildings, including a huge cathedral. Larger than that in Antwerp, but not as nice. After walking about for a while, we settled at another cafe, La Chaloupe d’Or, for more beer and food. I had a Kwak, which had a nice delicate taste and a nifty glass with a wooden stand, and a Croque Monsieur (grilled cheese sandwich with ham). Craig had a salmon salad, which he didn’t seem to like much.

We then had a bitch of a time getting out of Brussels. We were lost within 30 seconds of leaving the parking lot. We couldn’t reverse our course because of one-ways. Even with a map and a navigator, we couldn’t keep our bearings. We got out eventually, and returned to the hotel.

Day 5, Wednesday June 9, 1999

Slept late again. Got directions to Strasbourg, France from hotel manager. As usual, we were lost within minutes. But we managed to navigate to Strasbourg by map. Found the Office du Tourisme, and obtained city maps and booked a hotel (La Maison Rouge).

Went to check out hotel, found it nice. Concierge gave us directions to better parking near the hotel, underground parking beneath Place Kleber. We moved the car, and finished checking in. Went exploring in Petite France, looking for likely dinner and photo ops. Brought tripod this time.

Took some photos under a tree, and across a canal from a cafe.

Had dinner at Aux Deux France. Fromage was Muenster, but better than I remember it being. Also, waitress claimed (en Français) that Muënster is local to Alsace.

We then took more photos including a bunch of the cathedral. Scaffolding all over the cathedral limited the available angles.

Found a late-night cafe for beer (Fischer, a local pilsner) and Sprite.

Back to hotel for night.

Day 6, Thursday June 10, 1999

François (Craig) took an early morning jog while Pierre (Ron) slept. At this point, we took stereotypical French names, and started talking in cheesy outrageous French accents (as long as the locals couldn’t hear us.)

Planned itinerary for remainder of vacation.

Went to Office Du Tourisme to inquire about a Rhine boat tour. There was one on Saturday, and it is all day long. We had to be gone before then. We also got a pamphlet for an Alsace wine-tour by car.

Then went to Au Petit Bois Vert for lunch, François had a roast duck with sauerkraut, Pierre had ham in beer sauce. We split a quarter carafe of house Riesling.

Then went into Cathedral, more photos, and up into the Cathedral tower, more photos. Got stamps at post office. Outside, watched a street artist complete a charcoal sketch of a tourist girl. Went to hotel to complete postcards. Dinner at Le P’Ti Max. Pierre had Quiche Lorraine, a spicy beef dish, and Creme Brullee, François had quiche, a paper-thin sliced salmon dish, and fruit salad. We split a small pitcher of wine.

Went then to a small brewpub for beer and tonic water. After this, too bed.

Day 7, Friday June 11, 1999

Woke up earlier than usual.

Concierge gave us a suggestion for a castle not to miss, Haute Koenigsbourg, which is on the wine route.

Got out of Strasbourg with surprisingly little difficulty. Headed for the wine route.

Found our way to Haute Koenigsbourg fairly easily. It is high up in the mountains near Strasbourg. The castle was impressive, great views in every direction. Many photos taken. Had lunch there of Choucroute (sauerkraut) and assorted meats, with wine.

Left for the wine route. We had some difficulty in recognising places for sampling, but soon realised that “degustation” means sample. Tasted and bought bottles from two vineyards, before we discovered, quite by chance, a “cave” operated by Earl Weinzorn (68 Niedermorsch) which was very good. Earl took a lot of time with us, opened a couple fresh bottles, spoke more English than many (but still quite broken up with French and German words).

Another local came in and talked fluent English as well. The wines were good, and François bought six bottles. Also, took some cool photos of the shop, and the cellar.

François came out rather intoxicée, so Pierre drove for the rest of the day.

We worked our way down to near the Swiss border on crazy winding mountain roads, with maniac European drivers pushing us to ever more deranged speeds.

The road we were taking looked like a nice straight shortcut on the map, but in reality it was very twisty, and probably cost us a lot of time. In the Alps, one should always stick to major highways.

We found ourselves almost out of gas, and unable to get any from automated gas stations. All our plastic was refused. No money, no gas, no hotel, stuck in a small mountain village (Les Rousses, which means “the redheads”). Most hotels here appear to shut down in summer, as it is largely a skiing town. We managed to find money and the one open hotel (Hotel la Redoute) for the night. It wasn’t too expensive, either.

Now sipping beer and Sprite in a local bar before turning in.

Day 8, Saturday June 12, 1999

The shower here, she is harsh, and cruel. She made us kneel before her, and only for brief moments would she spray us with her warm love. In between, we must suffer in the cold as we do our chores. François and Pierre are both poor broken creatures now.

Checked out of hotel, got gas successfully, and hit the road again, now with François driving on the twisties. Numerous excellent photo ops, too many to take them all. François took a few cool photos at one point.

Got past Geneva, stopped in French town of Sisteron for lunch. Pierre had vegetable soup and a brochette, François had a fish soup which he did not enjoy. Trop des yeux. Took photos of a big, cool cracked rock cliff.

Made it to Nice by 5:30, the tourism office still open. Checked into a couple cheap hotel rooms, right on the beach, and next door to the old area (Primotel Suisse). Went for a walk on the beach.

Pierre found an Internet café, and responded to some emails. RIM stock went over $30 on Wednesday.

Went for dinner at a beach restaurant. The waiter did not approve of well-done steak, nor of fromage as an appetiser. He found our Canadianness a source of considerable amusement. Apparently Canadians are always in a big hurry.

There are no bugs here at all. There were lots of flies at lunch in Sisteron.

Dinner, when finished, was our most expensive yet, due in part to the full bottle of wine we had with it.

Left the beach, and went for a walk in the old part of town. Probably the most narrow, winding streets we’ve seen yet. We found a large area lined with restaurants and cafes, and seemingly the entire population of Nice siting in chairs on the street. We were too tired to partake ourselves, so we returned to the hotel to sleep.

Pierre slept well in air-conditioned comfort.

Day 9, Sunday June 13, 1999

Woke up, showered. This shower here, she threatened to be another harsh mistress, but Pierre tamed her. He found a way to hang the showerhead between the wall and the curtain-rod.

Francois had a morning jog in Nice, including the flower market road. Where by night it was wall-to-wall outdoor cafes, by day it was packed with flower vendors.

Hit the road for Pisa. Took scenic route along seaside out of France. Long drive in Italy through mountains, but very fast, since they’ve got tunnels through all the mountains. Much of the way, the mountainsides were covered with greenhouses. We never found out what was growing in them.

Arrived in Pisa, got some Lire, and walked around. Found expensive banana splits (the Italians are nutty for ice-cream), and $6 Cokes. Then found the leaning tower, despite poor direction signs. No one goes into the tower anymore. It is surrounded by fences, and held up by support wires. Also toured the cathedral beside the tower.

Left Pisa for Florence. Uneventful drive. Found an available hotel quite quickly, but we spent some time looking around for something better. While looking around, got some photos of the cathedral (Il Duomo) from the outside. It was quite nice looking, even though it was not as large or imposing as some we’ve seen. Its main feature was a very large central dome (hence the name, Duomo).

Went back to the first hotel to book a room. Went out to a pizzeria suggested by the concierge. Apparently most restaurants are closed on Sunday. Pizza was good, and not as exorbitantly priced as some things we’ve had in Italy.

After pizza, we walked back to the Duomo to see it at night. Went to some other landmarks, and found them cool. Some statues were disturbing, with their images of naked old guys in peculiar positions. Moved on down toward the river, where a busker was playing violin with prerecorded accompaniment. He played Ave Maria and something more modern I couldn’t place. He was pretty good, and drew a good crowd. We gave him 5000 lire.

Moved back toward the museums, and inside a couple. At one place, guard had a machine gun. Weird. What, exactly, are they so worried about that they need machine guns?

There appear to be many tourists here. A large group of girls from New Mexico checked in shortly after we did. A school trip, they said.

Back to hotel to sleep.

Day 10, Monday June 14, 1999

The bathroom at the Florence hotel was nutty. The door handle was nutty. The shower was just an area at the end of the room with a curtain to pull across. Nutty. The showerhead was mounted at shoulder height. Nutty. The towels were nutty.

Even the TV was nutty, with the picture tube sticking right out the front.

Craig wrote 3 more postcards. I went to get stamps and mail them.

We went out to see more sights. First stop was the Duomo, to go inside. No admission fee. They had silly rules prohibiting tripod photography. I guess the idea was to force people to buy their books, etc, because your own photos could never come out well. Anyway, the cathedral was impressive, as befits a European cathedral.

We paid admission to go up the dome. Some 400 steps, very tiring. The inside of the dome was painted with Christian imagery. There was a nasty Satan eating some guy, and a devil ramming a flaming stick into a guy’s ass. Craig got photos.

Paid admission for the Battista, across from the Duomo. It was impressive, but small. The dome there was painted with scenes from all through the Bible, chronological, I think.

We then went to the Palazzo Vechio, an old nobleman’s residence and court. The ceilings and walls throughout were opulently decorated with scenes from Bible, mythology, and history of Florence. The first hall had a bunch of sculptures (by De’ Rossi) depicting Ercole (Hercules) fighting different people. One in particular got my attention, because the victim, about to be thrown and desperate for a hold, grabbed Ercole’s cock. Craig got a photo. Again, no tripod allowed. In the rest of the museum, I came down with a serious case of “pictures of people standing around doing stuff” overload.

We then sat around Orcagna’s Loggia, looked at more sculptures. Had lunch of pizza.

We then went down to river. We both bought book about the Uffizi, another museum, unfortunately closed on Mondays. This museum contains many of the things we really wanted to see (ie, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus).

We decided to stay the night in Florence, so as to see the Uffizi on Tuesday. Spent more time exploring. Saw the Church of Santo Spirito, which was rather plain outside, but cool inside. Less cool than the richer churches, however. They had really tacky coin-operated electric candles on their altars.

On the way back to the hotel, we checked out a store selling statues, hand-made reproductions in various materials and scales. One in particular, “The Dancer” caught Craig’s eye. But they are all quite expensive.

Returned to hotel to book another night. Rested a short while. I called Bao at work to retrieve Jeff’s contact information from my inaccessible email.

Had dinner at a restaurant recommended by the concierge. It was good, albeit a bit expensive all together.

Day 11, Tuesday June 15, 1999

Woke up later than planned. Nutty showers.

Went to the Uffuzi, but stood in line a long time. Got in by 11:20, only to stand in line for another hour inside. Note to self: make reservations for Uffuzi tours in the future.

Eventually, we got in for real, and saw many paintings and statues. Original Botticellis and Michelangelos.

Got out about 1:30, looked unsuccessfully for gifts, then went to Il Cavallino for lunch.

Retrieved our car, and hit the road for Venezia. An uneventful drive, and a surprisingly easy time finding the tourism office in Venice. Reserved hotel. Drove car to parking garage just past the big bridge to the mainland. Took ferry #82 (they have ferries all around town instead of busses) from La Roma to Accademia where out hotel is.

You would think a ferry would be quiet and peaceful, but it is a cacophony of dock collisions, and screaming engine sounds when the driver reverses the engines to slow down.

Checked into hotel, and went for a walk. Venice, away from the ferry, is quiet. There are no cars, motorcycles, or even bikes. You can walk the streets without risking your life. We found a large square with a cool cathedral, and open-air restaurants with good live bands. Moved along a bit, and found a wide sea-side street.

Fearing rain, we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. Easily our most expensive dinner yet. But it was good, with antipasti, two courses, Chianti, cheese plate, dessert and cappuccino. A good time was had, lubricated by the full bottle of wine. Occasional bursts from a nearby buzzer provided much amusement.

Walked the streets some more, and Craig’s expert navigation kept us always on track. Not. Actually, this place is a first-class maze.

Eventually we found our location on the map, and managed to retrace our steps. Got back to the large square, and sat listening to the live restaurant bands for a while, and resting our feet.

Went back to hotel.

Day 12, Wednesday June 16, 1999

I do not understand these Europeans. How hard could it be to put in a curtain rod and shower curtain, and shower on your feet like a human being, not on your knees like a slave? Why is this so difficult for them?

Walked about getting cool photos of the church tower while the sun was right.

The Venetians are wacky for glass. Glass-shops are everywhere, and their wares are very cool.

Shopping, Craig found wax seal kits in a shop. He has long wanted one, so he could not resist. Bought another kit as a gift. Total expenditure large.

We then checked out the Cathedral here. It was by far the most opulent we’ve seen. The entire ceiling was gold-leaf. They have an altar some 5’x6′ in size, all gold encrusted with jewels and pictures done with semi-precious stone marquetry. They have a treasury, full of chalices and treasures, and relics of saints. Very rich, this city.

Stopped at a small restaurant for lunch, spaghetti and lasagne.

More shopping, Craig found the “CC” seal that he had ordered at the first store. We went to find the first store again to cancel the order. Looked at glass along the way. Craig got refund of postage, and exchanged the cost of the ordered CC stamp for more wax.

The Venetians are also wacky for paper and masks.

We kept shopping, Craig bought a couple vases, I eventually found a glass sculpture I liked (a female nude) that wasn’t too ungodly expensive. I bought another glass sculpture (a dolphin) to bring the total up to VAT refund threshold.

Somewhere along the way, we bought tickets to a medieval music show for 9:00pm.

We found our way back to the hotel room, and rested.

Then, set out to find the theatre for the concert. A gondola trip there was prohibitively expensive, considering the shortness of the trip. We walked, eventually found the theatre, and then found dinner (pizza again) nearby before the show.

Walked briefly on the other side of the Rialto bridge, but the shops were closing, and it was substantially the same as we’d already seen. Returned to the area of the concert hall for ice cream. Then went to the concert hall to wait for door opening.

Concert was a small group in medieval garb, with stringed instruments. Lead violinist had really angry expressions on her face whenever she played a solo.

Day 13, Thursday June 17, 1999

Got out of Venice without difficulty (except for excessive baggage). Hit the road for Chur, Switzerland, via Milan and Lugano. The Swiss Alps were very beautiful. Stopped for photos a few times.

Near San Bernardino, we drove through an incredibly long tunnel, probably 10km or so. Near Thusis, a truck spilled rock all over the road, but delay was minimal.

Reached Chur. With much effort, we located the Giger Bar. It was open. Their menu is limited, so we just had bottles of Cardinal Draft, and schnitzelbrots (schnitzel sandwiches).

I also had an “Alien 1” cocktail, a fairly uninteresting orange-juice drink. A large slice of pineapple was probably meant to resemble the Alien head.

The bar itself is very cool, as expected. There’s an angled mirror in the urinal so when you look down, you see your own cock. Instant living Giger art.

Drove on to Konstanz without much fuss. In Konstanz, finding Jeff was a bit of a challenge. The university was hard to find because of inadequate signs, and it’s actually quite far out of town. Jeff was not there.

The student residence was easier to find, and someone pointed out that Jeff was in the kitchen.

We gathered up Jeff and went to the Beer Garten for glasses of Hefe Dunkel and chat. It was good.

We then set out to find a hotel at midnight. Found one, and then searched for better parking. Found that as well. Then drove Jeff back to his residence.

Planned to meet Jeff at the university the next day for further celebration.

Day 14, Friday June 18, 1999

Got up for breakfast. Toured the town for a while. It’s mostly pretty boring compared to what we’ve seen. We spent a while in a music shop, Craig playing on some German pianos.

Found Jeff at the lab. We gabbed for a while about stuff. Jeff showed us around the facilities. Craig took pictures of the flight room for Jeff.

More pictures of the field between the University and the residences.

Hung around the lab for a while gabbing. We were invited to a big foreign-student party for the evening.

Went to dinner at the Brauhaus, a local brew-pub, recommended by a number of locals. The beer was very good, as were the pork ribs Jeff and I had.

Walked downtown a while more, but Jeff came down with a nasty headache. We returned to the hotel room for Tylenol, then drove Jeff home.

Returned for early sleep. Tomorrow is our flight home.

Day 15, Saturday June 19, 1999

Repacked suitcases for the return flight.

Got a little bit lost on the way to the airport back in Switzerland. But we got there on time. Returned the car.

Exchanged left-over European moneys to Canadian dollars. We were unable to get our VAT refund forms stamped, as Switzerland is apparently not part of the EU.

Short flight to Amsterdam.

In Amsterdam, we got our purchases stamped at customs. There was a bit of fuss over the fact that some items were in our checked baggage, but the customs agent stamped us anyway. Some trouble finding our connecting flight, as the gate was changed.

Incredibly long line up for the return flight. But somehow, everybody fit in the plane.

Long flight back to Canada. Watched “Blast from the Past”. The guy beside me had trouble with his dinner tray falling open on him whenever the guy in the seat ahead moved. I jammed a folded-up napkin into it to keep it closed for him.

Upon arrival, found the gang waiting for us. Went to Tony Roma’s for ribs.

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