9/18: Arrived in Brussels Airport in the morning after a long flight on a
Sabena "Airbus" - which offers a comfort level somewhere between a school bus
and a Trailways bus! It was very crowded with no room to stretch out, so
sleep was hard to come by. Since it was an overnight flight (like most of the
flights to Europe) we arrived very tired. Frank's daughter Susan met us at
the airport and drove us back to her apartment an hour away. She and her
husband Doug live next to the NATO base near Mons, Belgium.
Susan and Doug have a nice apartment with three bedrooms, one of which they
use as a dining room and another which they use as a guest room. We napped
for three hours and then Susan took us to the town of Mons (means mound, or
hill), where we invested in train tickets for our Paris trip and then walked
up the hill to see the center of town.
Susan took us to the town square, which is a large open plaza surrounded by
stores, restaurants, and a municipal building. The town's mascot is there, a
metal statue of a monkey of unknown origin, which we petted for luck in
keeping with local tradition. We ordered "frites," which are Belgian fried
potatoes. They are double fried and served with mayonnaise. Then we walked
around and visited the first of many old churches that we were to see in
9/19: Doug and Susan drove us to Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is an old town with
stone buildings going back to medieval times, and features tourist
attractions, shopping, and modern commerce - like Alexandria [Virginia] only older! We
especially enjoyed a boat ride on the canal, which flows between ancient
stone walls and affords a relaxing way to see the quaint buildings and
bridges - and a chance to rest tired feet.
9/20: Frank and I took the fast train from Mons to Paris. It's the Thalys, a
modern train featuring assigned seats. In no time we arrived at the Gare du
Nord, where we bought Metro tickets and museum passes. We took the Metro to
the stop called "l'Ecole Militaire" (school military). We had reservations at
a two-star hotel called the Royal Phare which was maybe forty steps from the
Metro. I spotted the hotel and was delighted to see that it was sandwiched
between a grocery store and a health food store!
(I have allergies to some common foods, so I use health food stores for
alternatives to milk and wheat. I'll spare you my frustration with ordering
meals in a foreign language but I will say that I practically lived off of
salad "sans sauce."
The hotel elevator was so small that the two of us could not ride with our
luggage - the floor was about 18 inches by 36 inches!
In the afternoon we walked about a block and found ourselves on the "green"
that leads to the Eiffel Tour. We strolled by the Seine, which is some sort
of requirement for the Parisian experience, I imagine.
I talked Frank into taking the sight-seeing cruise up and down the river.
9/21: Art museum day. The D'Orsay is still marvelous, with some great
impressionist paintings. From there we walked to the Louvre. Frank insisted
on seeing the Mona Lisa, which is behind glass and encumbered by large groups
of tourists. The painting is an icon so everyone has to see it, even though
there are many other paintings in the Louvre that are more interesting and
(dare I say) more beautiful.
9/22: Visited Napoleon's tomb, a grandiose place with a gold-plated dome.
Obviously he is still loved and glorified in France. Across from that
building we boarded an Opentour bus, buying a ticket from the driver. The
ticket gives you access for the day and you get off and on as you please. We
only got off only twice, the first time to buy a handkerchief so that I could
shield my mouth and nose from the air pollution. We got off the second time
at Luxembourg Gardens. Bought postcards, ate at McDonald's, visited the
park/gardens, and found an internet cafe so that Frank could communicate with
his office. Then the bus took us past various famous sites and back to our
starting point, where we visited the Rodin Museum.
9/22: Checked out of our hotel and dragged our luggage via the subway to the
St. Lazare railroad station, where we purchased tickets to Vernon, France. We
had reservations at a bed and breakfast in Giverny that we had found on the
Web. Took a taxi from Vernon to Giverny and found ourselves in a quaint
walled village. We turned off a narrow street into an even narrower street -
I don't think a large car could have made it. At the second gate in the wall
was our destination, an ancient residential compound turned into tourist
accomodations. Our host was working in the yard and knew enough English to
communicate with us. He showed us our "petite maison," a little white house.
The downstairs had a dining room, a tiny kitchen, and an equally tiny
bathroom. Up a ladder was the bedroom - and we actually passed through a trap
door to get there. At night we closed the door to avoid the possibility of
falling through it in the dark!
That afternoon we walked up the walled streets to the American Museum, which
features impressionist works by American artists. Giverny attracted scores of
American artists after Monet became famous for the works he painted there. We
had dinner in the museum's lovely outdoor cafe.
Giverny reminds me of Harper's Ferry - quaint, filled with tourists, and
basically famous because of one person. I recommend it as a place to stay -
9/23: Visited Monet's home and garden. Unfortunately, there were busloads of
tourists parading through, but that does not keep the gardens from being
beautiful. Even though it was late September, numerous flowers were blooming.
We had lunch in the outdoor cafe of an old hotel and visited the ancient
church where Monet is buried.
That evening the town became quiet as the tourists left. We went looking for
dinner and discovered that the restaurants are pretty much closed on Sunday
evening! Fortunately we had brought along some food, so we ate in the little
dining room of the little house.
9/25: Left Giverny by cab. The station employees in Vernon took our luggage
into their office so that we could tour their town. Vernon is a city compared
to Giverny, and it is on the Seine. We enjoyed exploring it for a few hours
and had good carryout food at a "Kebab" restaurant of Turkish ownership.
Unfortunately the local museum was closed because it was Monday (as are many
attractions in France).
Back at the station, we met a group of women who had been on a painting
tour. They were from the US and Canada and had been allowed to paint in
Monet's Garden that morning.
We took the train into Paris.
The train goes into Paris and stops, then backs up and goes back out into the
countryside. There are several stations ("gares" in French) at different
points on the edge of the city. Thus we arrived at the Gare St. Lazare but
had to leave from the Gare du Nord to ride back to Belgium.
So we took the Metro to get from one station to another. The subway stop
turned out to be a long walk from the station through underground passages.
At several points we had to pass through gates or turnstiles because there
are interconnecting passages. At the final turnstile, I passed through with
my carry-on suitcase and Frank struggled to get through the narrow gate with
the larger suitcase. A man crowded up behind him and Frank looked just in
time to see a hand reaching for his wallet, which was in his FRONT pocket for
safekeeping. Frank reached for the hand and the man backed off just as the
gate closed between them. Now Frank did not have valuables in his wallet,
having a money belt for that purpose, but still the incident was unnerving.
Still, that is a typical Parisian experience! We reached the busy part of the
train station and rested on a bench for a while. Our train was not due for
over an hour so we went out to the busy street and found lunch -- at
While eating my salad I felt tightness in my chest and thought it must be
nerves. Later on the train, there was real pain on the left side of my chest.
I explained to Frank that I thought it was pleurisy, which I had a couple
times previously. The clue is that the pain goes away when I breathe out, but
gets worse as air fills my lungs. I believe it was caused by the air
pollution on the busy street, which was bad enough that Frank noticed it
(although I was not paying attention to it, being preoccupied with dodging
cars and potential pickpockets).
The pain lessened over the next few days and is gone now. Susan and Doug met
us at the station and we returned to the comfort of their home.
9/26: A day to rest and do laundry. In the afternoon, Doug took us to the
post exchange to pick up a few groceries.
9/27: Susan took us sightseeing. I said I wanted to see a castle, so she
drove us to Bouillon Castle, Belgium. Turns out that
Godfrey of Bouillon sold this castle to raise money for the first crusade.
It's a neat place - reminded me of the first time I explored Fort Washington
[Maryland] as a kid.
Susan then drove us across Luxembourg (doesn't take long) and into Germany to
visit the city of Trier. We saw the Roman gate and the remains of the Roman
baths. Like the castle, the baths had underground passageways to explore, and
lots of ancient stone arches.
9/28: Susan drove us to the Netherlands for a brief visit. We had to be back
in the evening because she and Doug had a dress rehearsal for a short play
that they had agreed to be in. Our plan was to visit Delft, but we got
delayed in the traffic so I picked a nearer town from the guidebook that
sounded quaint. It was Dordrecht, and Frank liked it a lot. Think Annapolis
but older: water, boats, old buildings that are kept in good shape. The
museum was closed for renovation, so we toured the old church. It was really
interesting and had a memorials dating back to the early 1600s plus a set of
stained glass windows that depicted three major events in the town's history
-- a fire, a flood, and an attack by Norsemen.
On our way back to Mons we stopped for lunch in Waterloo, Belgium. It was here that Napoleon met his... well, you know the story. We visited the museum briefly but did not cllimb the Butte de Lion to see the view. Maybe another trip...
9/29: Back to Brussels Airport. Crowds, noise. Take-off was delayed for an
hour. Mercifully there was an empty seat next to me on the plane, so I could
spread out a little.
At Dulles, we sailed through customs without the officer even noticing that
Frank had carefully written that he had bought the Eiffel Tower! Well, I had
advised him against buying it, but it was only six inches tall, and he had
bargained down the price with a street vendor.
It is good to be home.
Most of my other rolls were developed and scanned onto CD at Photo-60 in Woodbridge, Virginia.