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Bill's Travels

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by BillB, Jan 27, 2009.

  1. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Great news! Jackie's surgery went perfectly and she was back in her room by mid-afternoon. When I went in to see her she was still feeling the effects of the anaesthetic but was otherwise bright and chirpy. In addition, the technicians are arranging for her to have her pre-op tests for her knee replacement procedure while she is in the hospital, so that'll be the MRI as well, which she'll have either today or tomorrow.
    She doesn't have any pain apart from a little soreness at the site of the incision and she'll be coming home on Friday.
     
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  2. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    And now back to the cruise. The next morning we departed Koblenz at 7.30 and made our way onto the Moselle heading for the town of Cochem. This town is not far from Luxembourg and is also a destination where we have taken visitors so we chose the optional Moselle Wine Country tour instead.

    Our bus took us on a drive through the vineyards that help make up the German wine industry on the Moselle. This was a fascinating look at the extent of the vineyards, taking in Reichsburg Castle, followed by a stop at a winery where we had a wine tasting and an entertaining talk about the life of a vintner from the owner of the vineyard.

    Eiswein (ice wine) is a German product wheret he grapes are left on the vine, gradually shrivelling, until the first frost freezes them. The juice is thus greatly concentrated and Eiswein is expensive as the quantity of juice is greatly reduced in comparison with freshly ripened grapes.

    Neither Jackie nor I had ever tasted Eiswein so at the end of the presentation we bought a bottle. Sadly, I have to say that when we opened it at home, after leaving it in the rack to settle after its journey back, we both grimaced. It was the sweetest wine I have ever tasted and not having a sweet tooth I found it eyewateringly horrible. I watched Jackie as she took a swallow (she doesn’t have a sweet tooth either) and she had exactly the same reaction. I tentatively tried a second sip and it didn’t get any better. I knew neither one of us would finish the glass and you can’t give away an opened bottle of wine, so we poured it away. For that cost I could have bought a superb bottle of Burgundy. One of those legends I have known about for years was such a disappointment.

    The next day’s excursion was to Bernkastel, which is a beautiful medieval town to which we always try to take our guests. Its buildings have been carefully maintained, or restored where necessary and many of them are truly photogenic. Having been there many times over the years, and we moved to Luxembourg in 1972 so there have been many years, we have enjoyed its sights and its restaurants.

    This time we decided to pack our bags ready for the return home and then spend the rest of the day relaxing, reading, surfing the internet or chatting with other passengers. After dinner that evening there was a short briefing on the arrangements for the next day’s departure. The guest relations manager explained what was going to happen to the various groups as some had booked an extension in Paris while others were flying back to the States that day. He mentioned that two passengers lived in Luxembourg and would we put our hands up. We became an instant subject of interest as many of the Americans on board who hadn’t actually met us turned around in surprise.

    We had arranged that the Parisian extension group, who were having a tour of Luxembourg city, would include us until we reached the American military cemetery, Gen Patton’s burial spot, where we would leave the bus, collect our luggage and call a taxi.

    These plans went smoothly, with us leaving the bus, calling a taxi and arriving home before the cemetery had opened at 9 am.



    And bringing Jackie’s progress up to date, I brought her home from the hospital on Friday and took her straight to her favourite Indian restaurant. She still had some soreness at the incision and the following day she was in considerable pain, but since then there has been day to day improvement. But just to add to her travails, her knee replacement surgery is scheduled for the latter part of March. This should put an end to all the walking restrictions she’s been under.
     
    #342 BillB, Jan 29, 2020 at 4:05 PM
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
  3. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Seven weeks after leaving our Moselle river cruise ship we were on the motorway heading for Maastricht where we had tickets for front row seats at André Rieu’s first Christmas concert. At this time of year previously he toured the UK, but with the confusion surrounding Brexit at the time of drawing up his tour details it was decided to perform a series of Christmas concerts in Maastricht instead. Jackie got on the phone as soon as tickets went on sale and we found we had seats in the front row. For the very first time!

    We drove up the day before the concert to avoid the possibility of any delays due to snow in the Ardennes (always a risk at this time of year) and Andrée Rieu Travel had booked us into the Derlon Hotel for the first night. The Derlon had a valet service and one of their drivers parked our car for us in a nearby underground car park.

    We left our bags in our room, freshened up and went down to the bar for a drink and a snack.

    That evening we decided to have dinner in our favourite Chinese restaurant in Maastricht, called La Chine. We left the hotel and walked through the old town. It was a lively area with all the shops, cafés and restaurants open. Jackie had taken a couple of painkillers and was able to walk the whole way.

    After about 15 minutes stroll we found ourselves outside a shop selling Ecco shoes. I went in for a look at their stock as I find Ecco shoes very comfortable - and sure enough I found a pair I liked and were extremely comfortable when I tried them on. Jackie passed the time by trying on shoes herself, and she found a pair that she liked. We bought both pairs.

    Carrying our bags we continued on through the narrow, old streets, finding the festive atmosphere delightful and quickly arriving on the Market Square which has a feature, unique in my view, of having the town hall in the middle of it.

    On the far side of the square there is a row of restaurants, each of them with tables outside and on the square in good weather. The Chinese restaurant we were making for sits among these restaurants and we made a beeline for it. We hadn’t reserved but there were a couple of tables free and we were soon seated with our apéritifs and menus. The owner, who was fairly busy at that moment, stopped by briefly to greet us but came for a longer chat after the restaurant quietened down. As usual we caught up on each other’s family news, even though we had last eaten there the previous July. Members of her family came by the table to greet us and have a quick chat. We began to feel that we were members of the family. If this restaurant was in Luxembourg we would be regular diners there. As it is we always eat there at least once on our visits to Maastricht, and we left that evening promising to come back in July when we have tickets for another of André Rieu’s outdoor concerts.

    The walk back to the hotel was as enjoyable as our stroll to the restaurant had been, the Christmas lights were twinkling everywhere and the people we passed all seemed to be as amiable as on our walk to the restaurant.

    Our room at the hotel was comfortable as was the bed and we dropped off petty quickly. I wish I could say that I slept soundly all night, but our room overlooked a narrow street that had several cafés and nobody walking down the street seemed to have any inclination to keep their voices down. We were both woken at various times, the only good point was that we both went back to sleep quickly.

    Breakfast next morning was good, and made more interesting by the fact that the restaurant, situated in the cellar, has been created among Roman relics from Maastricht’s historical past. There were some pretty striking pieces on display.

    As we waited for our car to be brought back from its overnight sojourn, we had the idea of talking to the receptionist and asking for a quiet room on our next visit in July. She duly noted our request. We just have to wait and see whether our request will be carried out.

    We drove to the Kruisherenhotel where we would spend the rest of our stay in Maastricht. We checked in with the André Rieu Travel reps, who gave us our lanyards that identify us as VIP package members. They took our bags and directed us to the bar area where snacks and drinks were available. It was early but as neither of us was going to drive we both ordered Hendrick’s gin and tonics and availed ourselves of the light snacks on offer.

    Sitting near us was a lady we had met the year before and we renewed our acquaintance.

    Around midday a buffet lunch was served; in summer it’s laid out in the cloister (the hotel is in a deconsecrated church), but this being December in northern Europe it was served inside the hotel. And we thoroughly enjoyed it.

    After lunch is when it gets busy for us. The buses are outside the hotel and we board them according to our destinations. There are three choices for that - visit the André Rieu recording studio, a visit backstage at the Vrijthof Square, or a visit to André Rieu’s castle where the offices of the organisation are situated and André and his family live nearby.

    After two visits to the castle we were due to visit the recording studio where the orchestra’s CDs are recorded. I was looking forward to that.
     
  4. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    So we found ourselves making our way through Maastricht on a bus. People in the streets kept waving to us as they thought we were the André Rieu orchestra being transported to the concert venue. Since the buses were adorned with the words André Rieu with a large photo of the maestro himself on both sides all I can say is: well, they would, wouldn’t they?

    The recording studio was on an industrial estate outside the town. There is nothing to indicate what it is or who owns it - it’s just a very large shiny cube.

    As the buses pulled up and we began to climb out, André’s son, Pierre, appeared at the main entrance to greet us. As we reached us he remembered us from previous meetings and spent a little longer greeting us.

    We were shown into the interior from the lobby and given a tour with a commentary by Pierre. There was a large rehearsal room, set up with music stands, chairs, microphones and an array of instruments, the kind that were too large to keep transporting back and forth, such as tympani.

    It is here that the orchestra plays when they’re recording. Pierre explained about rehearsal, recording, and editing.

    The musical arrangements are written by André himself, and rehearsed until the orchestra has the notation off by heart. Basically, the musicians have the piano score in front of them while André directs them into the effects he wants to hear. It’s a very unorthodox way of scoring for an orchestra, but I suppose whatever works for you is the way to go.

    For the visit to the editing suite we were divided into 2 groups. We were in the group that went into the suite while the rest of the group went for coffee and cakes. After that we moved to the editing suite itselfwhere material for CDs and DVDs is put together from the raw recordings in pretty much the same way that recording studios worldwide operate. There were a number of screens where material for the DVDs is reviewed and edited before being finalised and a technician was there to demonstrate the work done to ensure optiimum reproduction, both aural and visual. I found this totally absorbing and was quite sorry when it ended and we made our way to the dining area for coffee and cake.

    Pierre joined us and invited questions. One very good question, I thought, was from an American who asked why the organisation didn’t seem too bothered when clips from their concerts appeared on the internet. Pierre’s response was that they regarded all exposure as good for their basic business of putting bums on seats, and it all helps to publicise their activities.

    After the Q&A session was over it was back to the buses and thence to the hotel. In reception we were given our room key and found our bags already in the room There was a bag of goodies on the bed, along with a beautifully illustrated programme, a box of Christmas decorations each, and a small flashlight.

    We freshened up and rested for a while before going down to the lobby where we joined the rest of the group and then climbed on to our buses to go to the arena where the concert was to take place. In the summer we have dinner at the hotel and then take the short walk down to the Vrijthof Square for the concert. December weather being what it is, and the arena being a lot further away than the square, we were to have dinner in one of the dining rooms at the arena.

    Once again we found ourselves traversing Maastricht to pull into the arena’s car park. There were long queues at the multiple entrances but we were shown to an unoccupied entrance where we made our way inside. The people in the queues gave us resentful looks as we passed. They were somewhat misguided in this as the arena itself wasn’t yet open. What was open was a Christmas market which, from the little we saw of it, appeared to be quite an attractive way of passing the time before the concert. We, however, were not destined for the market but for the dining room where our 4 course dinner would be served.

    To get there we passed down a wide corridor lined with 100 Christmas trees fronted by couples dressed in Dickensian style. They were a jolly bunch of people, ready to chat with us or have their photos taken with members of our group. It took longer than we anticipated to pass them all as we all tended to dawdle and chat with them.

    Nevertheless we eventually found ourselves in the dining room where we seated ourselves at the tables laid up for us.

    Dinner was exceptionally good, as anything arranged by André Rieu’s organisation invariably is. We were at a table occupied by two other couples, one Dutch and one Belgian so we were a truly mixed group. We all chatted away together in English as that seemed to be the common tongue between us. We had a great time with them, the wine flowing freely livened up the conversation no end.

    As the meal came to an end Pierre Rieu and his young daughter came round and chatted with us once more. He really is an engaging fellow and chats with everybody at the tables where he stopped. Once more we got a special acknowledgement from him before he moved on to another table.

    Not long after that we made our way into the arena, which looked nothing like these multi-purpose venues usually do. There were wall coverings and hangings all around the walls, chandeliers hung from the ceilings.

    We made our way to the front row to our seats. A little disappointing to find them to the right of the stage set. Previously in the square our seats, although in the second row, were smack in the centre and gave us a perfect view. However, a front row seat is a front row seat, so we weren’t complaining.

    The concert itself was as entertaining as ever. There was a different programme, naturally, with a dance troupe waltzing in the aisles, the men in tails and the ladies in pale blue floor-length gowns. At the same time ice skating rinks had been created either side of the stage and the skaters came on, dressed in identical costumes to the dancers.

    Towards the end of the evening a group came on stage called the Golden Voices of Gospel. Now the crowd was already on a high from the entertainment already experienced but when this Black group came on and started singing the entire crowd lit up like supercharged Roman candles. The group’s second offering was When the Saints come marching in. They sang it with such swinging abandon, that the crowd was on its feet, singing, cheering, clapping. Those seated near the aisles were jiving furiously. I’m not sure whether the orchestra were expecting the reception they got but afterwards this section of the concert was the talking point of the evening.

    At the finale of the concert the dancers came back and as the orchestra played a Strauss waltz they each picked someone from the audience to waltz with. Yes, I admit I was one of them - invited to dance by an attractive young lady in a light blue dress. Here I confess that back in the 1950s, when I was a teenager I wasn’t bad as a ballroom dancer. Going to a Saturday night dance was a great way to meet girls, and I was as keen on that as any other youngster. As a consequence my friends and I used to go along to the local dance school until we were proficient enough not to make spectacles of ourselves, or trample on our partners’ feet.

    I was enveloped by a feeling of foreboding as she halted in front of me and smilingly indicated that she would like to dance with me. It’s around 60 years since I last danced a waltz, but I bit the bullet and climbed to my feet, took her in my arms and we began to waltz. Miraculously, my feet did my bidding and we made a pretty good show of the Viennese waltz.

    As the music ended I twirled her around (with her help, naturally) several times and then she sank to the floor in a curtsey. I bowed in response and thanked her. I’d surprised myself there. A TV camera was sited close to us, so I wonder if I’m going to appear on worldwide TV. Is the world ready for Bill the Bopper? Don’t send me answers, I already know.

    Next morning we enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and left for Luxembourg. It was a Sunday so the traffic was light and we made good time, arriving home just after midday.
     
  5. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    I thought I would treat Jackie for her birthday and take her to one of our favourite restaurants in France at Wimereux. We left on the morning of her birthday, driving through Belgium in the direction of Calais, and then carrying on towards Boulogne. We were too early to check in at the hotel so we stopped off at the outlets just outside the Channel Tunnel terminus. It was an odd thing to be buying but Jackie needed a charging cable for her iPad so we were looking for any shop specializing in electronic appliances.

    We both had a feeling that we had seen a branch of the French chain, Darty, in the outlets building and were lucky enough to discover that we were right.

    Finding the store was easy compared to finding recharging cables, but we eventually tracked them down and bought a 3 metre one which means that Jackie can use her iPad from practically any chair, table or armchair in the house while keeping it plugged in and recharging.

    From there it was back on the motorway to Wimereux where we found the road leading to the hotel was closed off for resurfacing so we had to drive tentatively throught the warren of streets surrounding the hotel, hoping that we would eventually stumble upon our destination.

    Luck was with us as we only made one wrong turn which I was able to rectify without getting lost or losing time. Many of the streets there are one way so it could have taken us much longer if we went round in ever decreasing circles. In addition to which a storm was howling through the streets, gusting so hard that we could feel it trying to push the car off course.

    So we pulled up outside the hotel, found a slot in the car park, and went inside to check in. Once in our room we watched the waves breaking on the beach in a fury of spray. The tide was falling but we could see where the waves had flung shingle from the beach onto the promenade. Not many people were about.

    We unpacked and I decided to set off on my usual daily walk. I like to walk briskly for at least half an hour a day, keeping up my regimen of diet, medication, exercise. Jackie relaxed while I put on my coat and hat and set off. All I can say is that my intentions were good, but the reality of facing a Channel storm quickly tore them to shreds. It was a freezing cold wind, fine spray filled the air and walking on the shingle-strewn promenade was difficult. Within ten minutes I was back in the room, and 3 minutes after that we were ensconced in the bar for a warming drink.

    Later, back in our room, I stood at the window, watching the waves. Even up here on the 2nd floor we could feel the vibration as the waves smashed onto the beach. Just below the hotel there’s a manmade pool where children can play in the water, even when the tide is out. It’s deep enough at the seaward end to swim, and I was astonished to see a man take the steps down to the beach where he took off his clothes to reveal his swimming trunks. He walked into the water until it was deep enough to swim, then went head first in and began swimming back and forth. I could imagine how cold it must have been, but he kept it up for at least 30 minutes before he came out, dried himself off, dressed and made his way back to the promenade. I was full of admiration. I wouldn’t have dreamed of diving into such cold water without a neoprene diving suit.

    We watched the waves crashing onto the beach, further and further out as the tide was dropping. Just after 7.30 we went downstairs to the restaurant for dinner. As you probably already know I always have a malt whisky for my apéritif but this night I noticed that there was a French malt whisky on the menu so I thought I’d give it a try - neat, no ice, no water, no Coke or any other pollutant, just whisky. And I was pleasantly surprised. French cognac I’m familiar with, but this was the first time I’d tried French whisky, although I’d tried German whisky and enjoyed it. Ihave a couple of bottles of Japanese whisky in my collection and they are impressive so I may well add French whisky.

    From the menu we chose the “Menu Gourmand”, choosing as our starter the carpaccio of Scallops, thinly sliced, raw, and served with Jerusalem artichoke, pistachio and truffle. The main course was turbot gratinée, with salsify, orange juice and licorice. This was followed by the cheese board and then dessert.

    The sommelier chose the wine to accompany each course, and we know each other well now after all our visits so his choice was very much to our taste.

    The dessert we chose was Biscuit with green tea, black lemon and sorbet. It was completely new to both of us, but boy was it good.

    That night I lay in bed, thoroughly sated with good food, good wine and a good whisky. Usually I read for a while, but tonight I didn’t. There I lay, listening to the wind whistling around the building and wasn’t even aware that I was drifting off.
     
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  6. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    I awoke just after 2 a.m. and, as I lay there, I could hear the gusts of wind hitting the seaward side of the building. It was almost high tide now and the roar of the waves was a loud accompaniment. I got out of bed and went to the window and what a spectacle I was faced with. The waves came rolling in to hit the sea wall with a rumbling thud, its force throwing the spray high into the air, almost as high as our room.

    On top of the sea wall outside the hotel a row of flagpoles had been set up many years previously. Their tops are level with our windows and the waves would come rushing in, hit the sea wall and be flung upwards, level with the tips of the flagpoles. Great screens of spray would hurtle towards me, completely blocking my view of anything behind them. The wind ripped the spray apart, splattering it against the window. The body of the wave washed over the top of the seawall and rushed across the promenade to reach the hotel’s facade. It poured back to the sea wall, leaving a layer of shingle across the promenade. I’ve never been so close to such a powerful storm, yet I stood there in my pyjamas and felt totally secure. Perhaps I was still half asleep.

    Next morning I went to look out the window, only to find them coated with a thin layer of salt where the spray had kept hitting them.

    The restaurant where breakfast was served was on the ground floor. Luckily, the tide had fallen considerably and thought he waves continued to smash onto the beach, very little spray was reaching the restaurant windows, which had been cleaned of their overnight coating of salt.

    Our target for the day was a visit to the Crécy battlefield, generally regarded as the first major battle of the 100 Years War, with the English army commanded by King Edward III. It took place on 26th August, 1346, and resulted in a crushing defeat for the French army, under King Philip VI of France.

    King Edward had claimed the throne of France after the death of King Philip IV. Naturally, the French contested this and the two countries went to war against each other.

    Without wishing to turn this into a long drawn out history book, I should like to avoid going into the twists and turns in the story and concentrate solely on the battle.

    The village of Crécy-en-Ponthieu is only about 45 minutes drive from Wimereux, mostly motorway with the last section cross country rural roads. There wasn’t much traffic so the drive was pleasant, passing through agricultural villages and hamlets.

    When we arrived in Crécy itself we began looking first for the museum, deciding that it would give us a clearer background to the action of the battle, although I had already done some research oniine. The museum wasn’t difficult to find and I was able to park nearby. But that was the good news.

    We made our way into the small couryard where the museum entrance was to be found. There were two signs: one giving the opening times of the museum, and the other informing visitors that the museum would be closing at the end of October. I knew the museum closed for the winter months so I wasn’t too concerned, but the more we looked around, the more convinced we became that it was permanently closed. There seemed to be no one around we could ask so we returned to our car and went looking for the battlefield itself.

    This proved a simple task as a couple of minutes’ drive brought us to a road sign that said: Champ de Bataille. We turned onto the road indicated and another couple of minutes brought us to the small parking lot for visitors.

    At the time of the battle there had been a mill almost in the centre of the English lines. This mill, naturally, no longer exists but the town has built an observation tower with three floors on its site which allows you to climb and see a different view of the battlefield at each level.

    One of the advantages that the English had is that the area where they lined up is at the top of a slope. When the French arrived they had a misleading view: the slope looked far less steep than it really was.

    The English lined up at the top of the slope, the longbow archers at the front, protected by sharpened stakes, while the mounted knights were situated behind. The Black Prince, aged just 16, commanded the right of the line. The English had spent time digging holes ahead of their position to bring down the French knights.

    The French vanguard was headed by Genoese crossbowmen who were at an enormous disadvantage in comparison with the longbow archers in that longbowmen could shoot 4 or 5 arrows in the time that the crossbowmen could fire one, reload, and fire again.

    The battle began in the late afternoon but before any movement took place a rainstorm drenched the battlefield. The English archers, experienced bowmen that they were, unstrung their bowstrings, rolled them up and protected them underneath their headgear. The Genoese could not unstring their bows easily, which meant that theirs were thoroughly drenched while the English bowmen had comparatively dry strings.

    The Genoese advanced, up the slope, and started shooting the bolts. Being shot with damp strings, their bolts fell short of the English lines, while the English responded with a cloud of arrows that wreaked havoc on the crossbowmen, who began to retreat under the hail of death that poured out of the sky. The forward units of the French cavalry began to advance ahead of the rest of the army. They rode down the retreating Genoese, killing them by trampling. However, the horsemen found themselves charging up a slope that was far steeper than they realised Their charges began to slow

    An armoured knight at full charge was a formidable opponent. A line of them was almost unstoppable, their weight, their almost impregnable armour, their heavy horses were fearsome and could smash their way through lines of pikemen or foot soldiers. They had one fatal weakness however: once unhorsed they were almost useless as the heavy armour made them cumbersome and slow with the likelihood of being pressed into the mud by following knights until they suffocated.

    The English bowmen knew precisely what to do - kill the horses. And at Crécy that is exactly what they did. They aimed their arrows high into the air so that they descended almost vertically and thus would pierce the horses’ neck or back. French knights began to go down as their horses took the arrows. Many of those who managed to survive that were then tripped and fell by the holes the English had dug the night before. Behind the holes were lines of sharpened stakes and no horse, no matter how much training it has received, will charge onto sharpened stakes.

    Charge after charge was stopped by the 10,000 English archers and by nightfall the battle was over, nearly a third of the French army lying dead on the battlefield.
     
  7. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    With details of the battle in mind I climbed the tower. Jackie was forced by her knee to stay in the car as the climb would have given her almost unbearable pain. I made my way to the top and gazed out at the battlefield. The broad sweep of the sloping ground just ahead of me was plain to see, as was the area where the French army lined up and ordered their crossbowmen forward. Just about where I’d parked my car was the spot where the Black Prince had commanded his men. After reading up up on the course of events on that late August evening almost 700 years ago the action was plain.

    I stood up there for about 10 minutes, studying the lie of the land, working out what had happened where. At the point, overlooking the main scene of the action on the sill of the tower is a diagram pointing to the areas where the French army lined up, where the Genoese advanced, the stretch where the French knights, clad in full battle armour, made their initial charge, riding down the Genoese because they thought they were running away. I was then looking at the view that King Edward III had had as commander of the English army. That was another advantage - his view was clearer and more comprehensive than the French king’s.

    Climbing down the steps I paused at each level, gazing out at the same view that had faced King Edward. Very little of the landscape has changed in the intervening years - no big buildings were situated nearby, no apartment blocks, no power stations belching smoke or steam.

    I went back to the car and we had a short discussion about how to spend the rest of the day. Our very loose schedule had been thrown out by the closure of the museum so we agreed to drive towards Boulogne and find a small restaurant where we could have some lunch.

    The traffic was light and our progress smooth, even Boulogne’s streets being calmer than usual, and we were just wondering where to park to find a restaurant when we came to a sign pointing to the Old Town (La Vielle Ville). We had once had a very pleasant lunch in the old town where there were a goodly number of places to eat and right behind the sign was a parking area with plenty of slots free. Naturally, I turned in, parked in the nearest empty space, and read the official sign telling me what the charges were. Surprisingly reasonable, I thought, considering we were in one of France's major ports.

    We strolled slowly, Jackie’s knee allowing no faster pace, through the old gateway leading to the Vielle Ville. We passed the cathedral and carried on to the street where most of the restaurants were situated. At one point I spied a familiar facade and stopped. “Isn’t that the place where we had moules à la provencal some years ago?” I asked Jackie. She was studying the frontage of La Belle Epoque, as the restaurant was called. She agreed and as we only wanted a light lunch we went in.

    As soon as we stepped through the door I knew that we had eaten there before - the decor consisted of many photos of the adorable Audrey Hepburn in all sizes and at all stages of her career. However, our appetites drove us to reading the menus and though there were many temptations we both settled for the Salade Nicoise, which turned out to be a delight. We chose the house white wine to accompany it and I should say that I have never been disappointed by the house wine in any French restaurant and La Belle Epoque was no exception.

    On the way back to the car we once again passed the cathedral and decided that we’d try to have a look at the interior, our last effort some years previously having found it closed. This time it was being renovated but we managed to sneak in for a quick look and were totally ignored by the workmen.

    That evening the hotel offered us the menu we had enjoyed the night before, but with a change of dishes. We accepted but insisted that the starter should be the same as yesterday’s - the carpaccio of scallops.

    I chose the French whisky again as my apéritif and it reinforced my initial impression. Later on, after our return, I bought a bottle for my collection.

    The storm had subsided so I slept soundly all night. After breakfast we began our drive home

    When we crossed into Belgium we found the coronavirus lockdown had begun. Every motorway stop had closed its restaurant and was serving snacks such as slices of hot pizza. Being regular customers at an Italian restaurant in Luxembourg which is owned by Italians and the pizzas are made in a genuine wood-burning oven by Italians we never order pizza anywhere else. So we had to settle for a cheese and ham sandwich.

    A few days after our arrival back in Luxembourg we received a call telling us that Jackie’s knee replacement surgery had been postponed indefinitely. Having undergone one procedure on her spine which had successfully banished the pain she was suffering, she is now faced, for the foreseeable future, with the agony of a knee joint that has lost all of its cartilage. How I wished I could take her pain onto myself.
    However, in May surgical procedures were once again reinstated and Jackie received an email with an appointment a few days later for her knee replacement. The operation went ahead successfully and after several weeks of rehab treatment she is now virtually back to normal.
     
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    #347 BillB, Apr 10, 2020 at 6:31 PM
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
  8. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Just had the greatest news!!! The lockdown on surgery has just been eased in Luxembourg and certain procedures can begin again from Monday, 4 May and Jackie is scheduled for her knee replacement on Monday morning, which means that she will enter hospital on Sunday evening. At last, an end to her pain is in sight (she will still have pain from the op fora while, of course). She has recently been reduced to 100 metres before the pain became too much for her. After the op she will have 22 sessions of rehabilitation therapy which, once it is finished she will be well on her way to being free of pain.
     
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  9. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Life during the lockdown is not quite as busy as before the pandemic began but it’s not exactly boring either.
    I drove Jackie to the clinic after lunch on Sunday and dropped her off at the entrance. I wasn’t allowed to accompany her inside, nor was I able to visit her during her stay, but we were able to chat on Facetime or What’s app, so she wasn’t isolated.

    The operation went ahead as scheduled but was notable for the fact that she was in considerable pain, not from the old, badly damaged joint but from the incisions and trauma to the leg caused by the surgery.

    Every afternoon or evening we would speak to each other and she would relate her progress to date. Her leg was swollen, but her surgeon reassured her that was normal after major surgery. He prescribed pain killers which helped quite a bit. When she asked when she could go home he said what he’d said on her earlier replacement surgery, “You’ll know when you’re ready to leave.” And as with her previous stays, she did know.

    The beautiful new rehab centre which she’d attended after her earlier surgical procedures was closed, due to two cases of the Coronoavirus being discovered there. The good news stemming from that was that she would be assigned to the medical centre in our village which would be responsible for her rehab. And to make the arrangements even simpler for her the doctor specified that she would receive the treatment at home. And as I write her first visit will be tomorrow afternoon.

    Germany reopened its borders last Saturday and yesterday we drove over the Moselle for a little shopping in a village called Perl. We picked up some Italian wine, a Pinot grigio, some German wurst called Bierschinken and a couple of other items. It made a nice change to be able to travel and we’re looking forward to the end of the lockdown to go by car for two weeks or so, maybe to Brittany, maybe somewhere else. It depends on how busy the resorts are with a large chunk of the European population probably having the same idea. One of the possibilities we have mooted with my cousin and his wife is that they come over to Calais, we’ll pick them up from the ferry or the Eurotunnel terminal and then tour the Somme battlefields. We’ve been tossing this about for several years but never managed to put it together. First he was running his own advertising agency in St James, then when he felt burnt out and exhausted, he volunteered with a homeless charity in Canterbury which took up a great deal of his spare time. So we’re hoping that this time our plans will come to fruition.
     
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    #349 BillB, May 21, 2020 at 5:04 PM
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2020
  10. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Some disappointment, but with a silver lining. We had reservations for one of the André Rieu open air concerts in Maastricht in July, which has become a regular stop for us for some years now. We always reserve the VIP package which apart from a stay in a very luxurious hotel includes a visit to either the André Rieu castle, a visit to the recording studio or a visit backstage and watching a sound check for that evening's concert. Having done the castle and the studio we went for the backstage visit and soundcheck this year. And probably the best of all - seats guaranteed to be in the first three rows.
    The bad news was that the concerts were all cancelled for this year, but the silver lining was that all reservations had been carried over to 2021. We will be missing out this year but our reservation will be good for next year. And we don't have to do anything as André Rieu Travel has taken care of all the changes. I love companies which are super-efficient!
    We're just waiting to hear of any changes to our cruise in the Mediterranean with two friends we met on our last Rhine cruise. They persuaded us to join them as we got on so well, and they have a similar sense of humour to mine and Jackie's. The husband is a retired neurosurgeon and his wife is an OR nurse. We'll be in good company. The cruise is not scheduled to sail until late October, so the pandemic situation may change in our favour. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
     
    #350 BillB, May 25, 2020 at 2:02 PM
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2020
  11. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    As most of us know holiday plans are being scuppered worldwide, and our cruise in the Med with friends from Chicago whom we met on our last river cruise on the Rhine has been cancelled. I have to say, though, that Viking were generous. They have given us a voucher for 125% of our deposit which we will be able to use whenever the Coronavirus allows.
    For us, I made a reservation at a hotel adjacent to the Chateau du Chambord for the two of us for 5 nights and we shall be exploring some of the chateaux in the region. Our son will be driving up to join us for a couple of days from his home on France's Atlantic coast. We shall be leaving home on Tuesday, providing no new restrictions are put in place, and returning home the following Sunday. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
     
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  12. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    So the time came to set off on the Tuesday morning. Traffic was very light on the French motorways, even around Paris on the péripherique, although we only drove a short stretch of it. We arrived around the time the GPS indicated, although we stopped for a coffee and later for lunch at motorway services. We were relieved to see that all precautions were being taken, including greater distances between tables, hand sanitisers freely available; staff were masked, gloved and worked behind clear plastic screens. Customers were not allowed to handle the food, the counter staff would pick up the rolls, etc., with their gloved hands and place it on a plate which would then be placed on the customer's tray. We felt pretty well protected.
    When we arrived at the hotel the bags were removed from the boot for us and were delivered to our room within a few minutes of checking in. We reserved a table for dinner that evening in the Bistrot as the gourmet restaurant is closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings.

    Our room was fairly large with a magnificent view of the Chateau de Chambord. That riot of towers and chimneys always stops you dead in your tracks, no matter how many times you've seen it. We spent the time unpacking and then relaxing before we went down to the terrace for our apéritif .
    Dinner was excellent, even though social distancing was being observed with the tables, and we thoroughly enjoyed the food and the attentive and friendly service. We ordered a bottle of local wine, a white Cheverny, which we liked so much that we drank it almost exclusively when we had dinner or lunch in the hotel.

    We had a leisurely breakfast next morning but as our son wasn’t due to arrive until the afternoon we had a morning to pass. We walked over to the line of restaurants and the gift shop to do some browsing, which is where I ended up buying a miniature bottle of Chambord liqueur, whose story has already been recounted on this thread.

    We made our way back to the hotel’s terrace, settled ourselves at a table in the shade and ordered a glass of Cheverny which we drank as we chatted and waited for our son. We hadn’t seen him since January, so even though we talk to him and his wife every week it’s never quite the same as face to face. Running his own rental business doesn’t give him much time to drive to Luxembourg very often.

    He had been delayed for a while as he was picking up some spare parts for appliances in a couple of his flats along the way, but when he arrived it was great to see him so he sat himself down, ordered a local beer, and we passed the afternoon catching up on each others’ news over the intervening time.

    We’d reserved a table in the restaurant for the three of us and had a splendid meal in the warm evening as darkness slowly crept up on us. My son and I finished with the cheese course followed by a cognac.

    Before going to bed we arranged to meet up with our son the next morning. He was staying in a nearby Air BnB and we planned to visit two chateaux not very far away, Cheverny and Blois - one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

    He turned up shortly after we finished breakfast and it wasn’t long before we were tootling down the road heading for Cheverny. Part of the route took us along the banks of the Loire River and I could see clearly why it is known as the only non-navigable river in France. The river itself is shallow, very shallow, and always one can see sand banks within the river, creating ever-narrower channels.There are areas where even a punt would run aground, let alone a small cabin cruiser.

    We duly arrived in Cheverny, found the chateau’s car park with plenty of space and made our way into the grounds. As we approached the chateau Jackie said we had been there before, having visited it on a previous visit when we toured the Loire Valley, visiting numerous chateaux when on our way back from two weeks in Brittany. I was completely blank as I didn’t remember a thing about it, not even when we were faced with the beautiful facade the chateau, surrounded by its carefully tended gardens.

    We walked down the gravelled drive, up the front steps, sterilised our hands at the distribution point and went on inside. This is utterly beautiful, with period furniture, upholstery and curtains. I’m firmly convinced that the attractiveness is the result of the chateau still being in the hands of the family that built it. And members of that family still live there, as they have for the last 600 years.

    We were quite enchanted by the chateau and as we emerged at the back of the building to make our way to the Orangery where a snack bar has been set up I suddenly remembered that I had indeed seen this building before. I have no idea why the view of the Orangery should awaken my memory when the glorious facade of the chateau didn’t. But I’m now in no doubt that we had visited Cheverny on our previous visit to the Loire Valley. Well, that’s life, I suppose, when you’ve passed your 80th birthday.

    After Cheverny we had tickets to visit Blois Chateau where we started heading, but as our hotel lay between the two chateaux we decided to stop there for lunch. Jackie and I had both discovered a weakness for the Bistrot’s Cesar Salad, which came with lots of chicken slices and a fair helping of Parmigiano shavings. The day was hot and sunny but we found a table in the shade and enjoyed lunch which was accompanied by, yes, you guessed it, glasses of Cheverny.

    After coffee we headed for the town of Blois, where the chateau is situated in the centre. Another piece of god fortune is that there is a large underground car park within easy walking distance. I think it’s true to say that Blois Chateau is more a castle than a chateau, both in size and in architecture.

    We began by climbing to the top of the spiral staircase which is situated in the courtyard and working our way downwards. There were lots of paintings and much about the assassination of the Duke of Guise by the King’s Bodyguard.

    There were works of art, statues and historical artefacts but by the time we had descended about halfway Jackie began to experience aches in her knee, the one recently operated on, so she made her way down to the courtyard to seek a bench where she could rest while our son and I continued the tour. I didn’t make it to the end of the tour either, so I rejoined Jackie and we relaxed until he appeared in the courtyard. As Jackie said later, “It was a chateau too far,” and we vowed to keep to one chateau per day.
     
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    #352 BillB, Sep 29, 2020 at 5:08 PM
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
  13. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    That evening we decided, as a change, to have dinner at a restaurant we’d passed that day. It was called Le Relais d’Artemis and wasn’t too much of a drive from the hotel. We set out together, this being our last evening with our son who had to return to his business the next morning as they were expecting more people to rent their properties on Saturday and they had to prepare two apartments for new arrivals.

    The restaurant, as is so often the case in France, was excellent and we had a delightful meal on the terrace. The service was friendly, the food was outstanding and I got the distinct impression it was family run.

    We drove back to the hotel and sat on the terrace, having a couple of drinks before we said our farewells. We arranged with our son that we would come and visit the Ile d’Oléron for a week or two in April or May next year. We’re now hoping that the pandemic may be mostly finished by that time. Or is that a wish too far?

    The next morning Jackie and I were discussing how to spend the day when she mentioned there was a chateau that we had passed a couple of times while driving along the Loire which sat high up on hills above Chaumont-sur-Loire. It looked spectacular and, we thought, worth a visit so we put its address into the GPS and headed off.

    The GPS, for some reason, took us across country so we arrived on top of the hill and had to drive down to the chateau. Close to the top of the hill was a car park but it was a considerable drive to the chateau, which was about halfway down. There was nowhere to park close to the entrance so we carried on down. At the bottom of the hill was another car park. And this presented us with a dilemma - whichever car park we used we would be presented with an easy downward walk and a steep upward walk. We didn’t really fancy either option as if we used the uphill car park we would be faced with a steep climb after walking around the chateau, and the lower car park would necessitate a steep walk before even beginning the tour of the chateau. So we took the easy option and drove back to our hotel, had lunch and then went around the Chateau de Chambord which was just a short, level stroll from the Relais.

    Despite its outer looks, which are astonishing, Chambord’s interior is best described as disappointing. One outstanding feature, however, is a double spiral staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who spent the last three years of his life in this area, and died in Amboise. The staircase is two spirals together and has to be seen to be truly appreciated. The reason for the disappointment felt by many visitors is because the chateau is the property of the state and though the French government pay for renovations and upkeep of the structure, they seem reluctant to pay for period furnishings, arms and armour. There are curtains and paintings but little else and a tour of the building is unsatisfying, to say the least.

    We had dinner in the gourmet restaurant of the hotel on the terrace that evening. We have travelled so little compared to previous years that we didn’t mind spending more on dinner. After all, who’s going to spoil us if we don’t?
     
  14. Diawara

    Diawara Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    [​IMG]
     
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