Monday, January 08, 2007

Europe with the In-Laws Part II

This is the 2nd installment of the account of an extended European vacation with my kids, my wife, and her parents. At this stage of the trip, we are in Paris.

Day 5, Monday, April 9, 2001 – The first thing we had to do was take care of breakfast. We walked back over to the store and loaded up on groceries. We got breakfast and lunch supplies, as well as some ice cream. My father-in-law and my mother-in-law wanted us to pick up some coffee filters, but there were many different kinds. We decided not to risk it and just let them pick them up when they went to the store.

My wife and I were going to spend some time in Paris with the kids and let my father-in-law and my mother-in-law rest. We walked up to the subway stop at the Arc de Triomphe. We bought a book of subway tickets, a couple of 3 day passes for all of the Paris museums, and tickets to Disneyland Paris. Disneyland is right outside Paris, and we planned on visiting it the next day.

We checked in our Paris guide to see which attractions were open. The Louvre and the Orsay, the two famous art museums were closed on Mondays. We decided to hit these on Wednesday. Notre Dame Cathedral was open, so we decided to visit it first. We rode the subway over to a stop near the cathedral, and walked in the rain about 3 blocks. We had been building it up by telling the kids that Notre Dame is where the Hunchback of Notre Dame had lived. But, when they saw it, they weren’t impressed. I think they were expecting something out of the Disney cartoon. The building is very impressive, but I guess for the kids it looked just like all of the other buildings.

We went inside and looked around. It is a very impressive sight, but we have been in so many cathedrals (and I had been in Notre Dame once before) that we didn’t stay long. Our museum pass allowed us to climb up in the tower, which boasts a very good view of Paris (and the gargoyles). But, when we walked outside, there was a huge line of people waiting in the rain to climb the tower. We didn’t want to see it that badly, so we decided to go to our next stop.

We grabbed a bite to eat, and then go back on the subway. Our next stop was the Paris sewer tour, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris. The tour originated from the book Les Misérables, which took place partially in the Paris sewer system.

The sewer tour was pretty far off the beaten path. We had to change trains twice, and each time we had to walk quite a distance to get to our connecting train. My son got really tired, and I ended up carrying him on my back through the subway.

We bought our tickets and descended underneath Paris. We had to wait for some other Americans to show up before they would give a tour in English. We also had the option of walking through the sewer by ourselves, making use of English captions. We met an older American couple that had just finished the tour, and they said it would be worthwhile to wait for a guide.

Several other Americans arrived, and we started walking through the sewer system. The kids thought it was pretty cool, but several people (including my wife) were surprised that it smelled bad. I had to laugh at this, because it was the sewer, after all. One of the exhibits that I enjoyed the most was the history of the sewer system, which dated back to Roman times. At one point in the tour, we crossed a bridge over a river of flowing sewage. I stopped with the kids and watched for a few minutes, but I think my wife was pretty grossed out.

After the tour, we rode the subway back to the Arc de Triomphe. My father-in-law and my mother-in-law had only been to the store that day, and they were ready to explore a little. We ate a bite and then rode the subway over to the Eiffel Tower. We planned to ride the elevator up into the tower. But, when we got there, it was raining and there was a long line to get in. We took several pictures, and I let the kids play in the gravel underneath the tower. My father-in-law, my mother-in-law, and my wife went into a souvenir shop and looked around. The tower blocked most of the rain off of us, but I really wanted an umbrella. There were Arabs selling umbrellas all over the place, so I haggled with one of them. They started off at a ridiculously high price, but I ended up buying a couple for about three U.S. dollars each. My father-in-law had started haggling with one of them as well, and the guy just wouldn’t give up. We finally had to walk away from him.

We decided to come back in a couple of days to ride up the tower. On the way back to the subway station, my wife stopped in a little tourist place to look around. She wanted a replica of the Eiffel Tower, but I thought everything in that place was way overpriced. So, we passed on that and rode back over to the apartment. We had to rest up for Disney the next day.

Day 6, Tuesday, April 10, 2001 – My son really cracked me up when we woke up. We were sleeping together on a sleeper sofa, and he is always the first one awake. We had been playing a computer game called Starcraft before we left Germany. In this game, which is set in outer space, humans battle two alien races, the Zerg and the Protoss. My son hadn’t mentioned the game since we left home, but as soon as he woke up he said, “Dad, why are the Protoss so strong?” I told him that I didn’t know. Then, a few seconds later he asked “Are the Zerg the toughest?” I figured he must have had a dream about the game.

We got ready and hopped on the train that would take us to Disney. We weren’t sure that we were on the train that went all the way out there, so I asked an older man on the train if he spoke English. He smiled and told me he did, and that the train we were on stopped before it got to Disney. He told us to hop off at the next stop, wait one minute, and then the next train would take us the rest of the way. We thanked him, changed trains, and finished our ride.

It was raining when we entered the park. We took cover for a minute and planned our day. There was a Mulan show at 11:00, so we decided to attend it. It was at the back of the park, so we rode the train around to the other side. We passed several different sections of the park. One was made up to look like the old west, complete with scenery that looked like it came straight from the Grand Canyon.

It was a little early for the show, so we checked on one of the rides. We found out the kids weren’t old enough to ride that one, so we went inside to wait for the show. They had big screens set up where they were showing Disney cartoons, so the kids wanted to stay in and watch. I went and got us all something to eat, and we sat down and ate while we waited on the show to start. Before long the place was packed and the show started. I was afraid the kids wouldn’t pay attention, but it really fascinated them. It was a very impressive show.

After the show, we went to the Time Machine. We stood in a big room while we took a virtual tour through time and across the planet. It was really loud, and I don’t think the kids liked it much. It was still raining a little, so the park wasn’t extremely packed. We decided to try one of the most popular rides, Pirates of the Caribbean. On our way in, we saw a sign that said “30 Minute Wait from Here”. Since there was no line at that point, we assumed the wait would be short. We were still walking when a large group of Spanish people pushed their way passed us. They were very rude, and almost knocked the kids down. We finally got to the line, but we quickly found out we were still a long way from the front. More of the Spanish group came up and started trying to push their way past us. We all linked hands and wouldn’t let them pass. There was a British couple with children in front of us, and they were also upset with the people who kept trying to cut in line. Together, we held them back. Finally, after about 30 minutes, we got to the front. The ride was worth the wait. It was a boat ride, and took us on a trip through a Caribbean night. There were island scenes being acted out all around us, complete with a battle scene. The kids really liked it a lot. (They liked it so much that we came back later and rode it again).

The lines were getting longer as the day wore on. We checked out the Peter Pan ride, but the wait was up to an hour. We passed on that and went into the Alice in Wonderland maze. We were in there a long time, because we couldn’t find our way out. At 3:00, we watched the Disney parade. A lot of the characters from the parade marched by. The parade was delayed for a few minutes, though, because a rain shower moved through. We were pretty wet when the parade came through.

Next, we made our way over to the Buzz Lightyear Café. Buzz and Jesse, from Disney’s Toy Story, were to make appearances at 4:30, so we went in, got some pizza, and waited on them. We got their picture taken with Buzz, and then let them play in the play area. As we were sitting there, a German woman came up to me and started speaking German. She asked if we had seen her jacket, and I answered her in German and told her that we hadn’t. A few minutes later, Jesse came walking by. My son just froze in his tracks. He eventually got a hug from her, which we were able to capture on video.

After we left, we decided to go on the Star Wars ride. We waited in line for 45 minutes for a lame, 2 minute ride. From there, we attempted to walk back to the front part of the park. We were blocked by a show on Main Street. The crowds were thick, and it took us a long time to work our way through. We got to the front, and went through a haunted house. The kids enjoyed that one a lot. We looked into one other ride, but the line was too long. So we went into the shops, bought a few souvenirs, and headed back into Paris. Even though it was late, we let the kids eat some of the candy that we bought in the candy shop at Disney.

We had also bought a pair light sabers, and we decided to try them out when we got to the apartment. I battled with the kids for a long time before we got tired. It was really late when we finally got in bed.

Day 7, Wednesday, April 11, 2001– I got my fill of Paris today. It was really cold and rainy, as it had been on our entire trip. This was not my image of Paris in the spring. We decided to see the art museums. My wife and I left the kids with my father-in-law and my mother-in-law and rode over to the Louvre. On the ride over, a teenage girl got on the subway and started shoving people as she pushed her way through the car. She stepped on the feet of a well-dressed French woman, and the woman turned around and kicked her in the back!

Since we had passes, we didn’t have to wait in line at the Louvre. We decided to spend only a couple of hours in there, because we also wanted see the Orsay, which has lots of Van Goghs, Renoirs, Monets, etc. I actually like it better than the Louvre. We saw all the major attractions in the Louvre – the Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa. We had to wait in line for a long time before we got to the Mona Lisa. I had seen it before, and I hadn’t been that impressed the first time. I really don’t understand why it is the most famous painting in the world, but my wife said she was impressed with it.

We saw a few more of the better known paintings, but we really wanted to spend more time in the Orsay. So, we crossed the Seine River and walked toward the Orsay. There was a guy selling paintings, so we stopped to look. I was really freezing to death, because I was not dressed for the weather. It was really cold and windy. My wife bought a painting, and we also got a couple of miniature Eiffel Towers for the kids.

We walked on down to the Orsay, and saw a crowd of people gathered around. I walked up to the door, and it said that the employees were on strike and the museum was closed. I was so mad. It seems like the French go on strike more than any other nationality. They always seem to have some segment of their population that is on strike.

We decided to ride the subway back down to the Arc de Triomphe. Our passes allowed us to ascend the steps to the top. This would give us a fantastic view down the Champs-Élysées. While we were waiting for the subway, 2 older British couples walked up. One of them had three grandchildren with them. We heard the two men discussing the Scottish people. One of them said, “The bloody Scottish, they like to pretend that they are not even British." I laughed, because that’s exactly what the Scots had told us when we were in Scotland. One of the grandchildren heard us speaking English and started talking to us. Then one of the men came over and started talking to me. We talked about the French. He told me that they are always on strike and in his opinion some of the laziest people in Europe. We talked about how funny it was that they glorified Napoleon, who in my opinion was not much better than Hitler. He said, “Well, he got his at Waterloo. The British took care of him.” We discussed Disney, and he said they had been there two days ago. He said that Disney in the U.S. was better. We talked politics, and he said that the Americans are the only country that consistently stands with the British. He said Britain is more aligned with America than with the rest of Europe. We finally discussed the American plane that had made the emergency landing in China. He asked how I felt about it. (At that time, the Chinese were still holding the Americans captive). I told him that I thought the Chinese had caused the crash, and they certainly had some nerve to detain the crew. He agreed with me.

We continued to talk as we got on the subway. I noticed a guy sitting near the door. He was looking down, and looked to me like he was homeless. I saw another guy get on, then he got back off, back on, and then just as the train was about to depart he hopped back off. About 10 seconds later, one of the older women said, “That blokes pinched me purse.” Translation: The guy who had been on the train had picked her pocket. She said that it was all the money she had. Her granddaughter said, “Oh Nanny, what shall we do?” She asked what I thought, and I told her I would get back down there and look around for the wallet. They don’t want to get caught with any identification, so they usually just grab the cash and ditch the wallet. This had happened to my wife in Germany, and this is exactly what they had done. So, we wished them luck and they hopped off at the next stop.

We got to the Arc, and found out that it was also closed due to striking employees. I was really irritated. We walked back down to the apartment. My father-in-law wanted to go and see some things, so I went back out with him. We went over to Les Invalides, which is a very good war museum. As we were walking from the subway stop, we saw a limo with darkened windows drive by. It was followed by a few other cars and had police escorts front and rear. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was visiting Paris that day, and the French Parliament building was close by. We wondered if he was in the limo, and we found out later that evening that he had been at the parliament building.

We went into the museum and looked around. We saw Napoleon’s tomb, which was pretty extravagant. It is really hard for me to believe how much the French revere him. We walked through the museum, and saw some really old cannons and some ancient armor from medieval times. We walked pretty quickly through the WWI exhibit, because we wanted to spend more time in the WWII exhibit. I thought it was really good, especially the D-Day footage. The last exhibit was a film covering the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. I stood there with a group of about 10 Japanese tourists and watched the film. I wondered what they were thinking.

After that, my father-in-law and I rode back over to the Arc. On the way, a young woman saw my father-in-law’s cap, which had the state of Oregon on it. She asked if he was from there. He told her no, that his son lived there. She said that she lived in Paris, but her parents lived in San Francisco.

We got back to the apartment, and decided to order pizza. My wife called the Pizza Hut, and the girl was extremely rude to her. They had some unusual types of pizza, so my wife spent some time trying to figure out what we wanted. She said the girl kept muttering under her breath, and my wife finally her that she thought she was very rude. I told my wife that she should never do that to people who are in charge of preparing your food. When we got the pizza, it wasn’t very good, and it was way overpriced. I was ready to get out of Paris.

Day 8, Thursday, April 12, 2001 – Today we would head to Normandy. I was really dreading the drive out of Paris. We got all of our things together, and I went to pull the van in front of the building. There was a parking place there, but by the time I got to the front of the apartment it was gone. I had to circle the block several times before another spot opened up.

We loaded up and headed to the Arc. I had to circle the Arc and come out the other side. I had been told that there are certain rules that applied when one drove around the Arc. When I got to the Arc, all rules went out the window. We were just trying to survive. It was pretty scary. Apparently we did something wrong, because a guy pulled up alongside us in a motorcycle and started glaring at us. My father-in-law looked over at the guy and started smiling, and this made the guy crack a smile. We continued in the general direction we wanted to go in, and we finally saw some signs pointing us toward Normandy. I made up my mind as we left Paris that I would never attempt to drive there again.

We drove for a couple of hours through the Norman countryside. The kids slept most of the way. My father-in-law asked again if I had checked the tires lately, because I was driving pretty fast. We got there about lunchtime, and had lunch at a McDonald’s in Bayeux. We let the kids play for a while before we headed to the American Military Cemetery.

The cemetery is set on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. As we walked in, we talked about the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan”, which was filmed there. We first stopped at the visitor’s center, and read about the cemetery. There are three Medal of Honor winners buried there, including Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. We noted their location and walked into the cemetery. On the way in, a black family walked past on their way out of the cemetery. They were speaking French, and there were tears streaming down the father’s face.

We located each Medal of Honor winner, and took some video of each grave. The kids would point to random graves and ask about this person or that person. Each time, I told them the name, and where he was from. I tried to get them to imagine a little bit about each man. I explained to them that he might have had kids at home that never got to see him again. I told them that each one of those men had a mother who never got to see them again. I wanted them to think about how tragic it was.

We left the cemetery and drove to Point du Hoc, which was just a few minutes down the coast. I played with the kids in the bomb craters while my wife walked around with my father-in-law and my mother-in-law. Once, we saw some German kids playing in a bunker. They were playing war, and I heard them shouting “Sie kommen, Sie kommen” (they are coming, they are coming). We spent quite a bit of time walking around, but part of the memorial was closed off. Apparently there had been some instability near the edge of the cliff, and they had it blocked off from access.

We left there and headed back toward Omaha Beach. On the way, we stopped at a little private museum. There was a Higgins landing craft on display outside, and we stopped and looked at it. I climbed up where I could actually look down inside it. I flashed back to the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan” and thought about the fact that this very boat in front of me had carried soldiers to the beach that day. There were also lots of other artifacts on display, many of them showing signs of heavy damage from the battle.

We left and continued toward the beach. We had made reservations at the hotel we had stayed at the year before. They spoke no English, so my wife had a friend call and make the reservations. The hotel, Hotel du Casino, stands directly over the beach. It looked ancient, but we figured that it had to have been built after the landing in 1944. We told the kids where we were going, and my daughter said, “Oh yeah, that’s the place with the pink toilet paper.” I didn’t remember that, but my wife confirmed that my daughter was right about that.

We got to the hotel and checked in. When I saw the woman at the front desk, I remembered her. This was the daughter of the owners, and she actually spoke a little English. She asked us if we would be eating dinner there, and we told her we would.

We unloaded our things in the room before going out to the beach. There was no elevator, so it took a while to get unloaded. We got one room with four beds and second room for my father-in-law and my mother-in-law. Both rooms looked right out onto the beach. My daughter was pleased to find out that they still had pink toilet paper. My wife stayed in to rest while I took the kids down to the beach. We were completely alone out there. We brought the light sabers with us, and my son was anxious to fight with them. I tried to talk to them about the historical significance of where we were, but he couldn’t get his mind off of a duel. So, we had a sword fight on the beach. I took turns fighting him and my daughter. I drew a big circle and stood in the middle of it. I told them that to win they had to force me out of the circle. My son walked over to my circle and started kicking it and messing the lines up. Then, he looked up at me and said, “Aren’t you ashamed that I messed your circle up?” I just died laughing.

Before going back inside, I tried to imagine the landing. The hills were still dotted with bunkers, and there was a really big gun directly outside the hotel. It was really hard to imagine the tragedy that unfolded on this peaceful beach. Looking across the wide stretch of sand between the water and the hills, I could see why so many men had lost their lives. They had to cross several hundred yards of sand while machine guns rained bullets on them. If they were lucky enough to avoid that, they also had to avoid the mines that were scattered all over the beach.

At dinner that evening, we took a dictionary so we could translate the menu. From the restaurant, we had a perfect view of the beach and the ocean. The waitress came up and started speaking French, but I asked her if she knew German or English. She said that she spoke German, so we started conversing in German. We spoke for several minutes before she asked where we were from. When she found out we were all Americans, she switched to English. She knew some English, she just felt more comfortable speaking German.

While we were translating the menu, the owner came out. He was 75 years old, and had actually been there on D-Day. He spoke not a word of English, but with the help of the waitress he talked to us a little. He told us that his family had owned this hotel for many years prior to D-Day. He said he was 15 when the Germans invaded, and they took the hotel from his grandfather. He was forced to move into town then. He said that on D-Day, the hotel was completely destroyed. He was 18 years old at that point, and he saw the invasion take place. He also kept trying to tell us something about Belgium. We gathered that he had gone to Belgium to work, but we couldn’t understand when. He would say “ship”, then what I finally figured out was “Belgium”, and then he kept making a cutting motion and saying “snip, snip.” We couldn’t understand his exact meaning. He told us that after the war, he rebuilt the hotel. He said that he stayed off the beach until 1946, because the mines weren’t all cleared out until then. He had tears in his eyes as he walked away. We were all in complete awe at the living piece of history we had just encountered.
It took us a while, but we finally translated the menu. My father-in-law was concerned about what he might get, so he ordered an omelet. I had red mullet, which was really good. Between courses they brought me a scoop of ice cream in cognac, which they had also done last year. It was hard to eat, but I was finally able to get it down. There were two American women sitting near us, and I could hear them talking about the same thing. They weren’t too crazy about it either. I finished all my courses, and had an excellent chocolate mousse for dessert. We finished up and went up to our rooms, where the kids watched French cartoons and played with their Game Boys before going to bed.

Day 9, Friday, April 13, 2001 – We wanted to stay longer, but we were going to have to leave today. I walked out on the beach with the kids before breakfast. It was freezing. I saw some golf balls lying in some pools of water, and fished one out. I figured it would be a good souvenir for my father-in-law. I walked around on the beach for a while, and then met the others for breakfast. I gave my father-in-law the golf ball, and told him that there was another one, but the water was too deep. I told him I would try to fish it out after breakfast.

During breakfast, the owner came back out. He started trying to tell us more stories, and then pulled out a photo album. We were all amazed. He had lots of pictures of the invasion that I had never seen. He also had close up pictures of Dwight Eisenhower, and he had a signed letter from Eisenhower thanking him for his hospitality when he later came back and stayed in the rebuilt hotel. They had pictures of their daughter, then only about 4 years old, standing with Mamie Eisenhower. This was the same “little girl” who had checked us into the hotel. He told us that he had met Eisenhower on more than one occasion, and that he had stayed right there in that hotel. We were just floored by the things he was telling us. If he advertised these things, he would keep that hotel sold out year round. But he seemed to me to be the kind of guy that wouldn’t want that kind of attention. He also had a 1920’s postcard of the hotel, which showed what it had looked like prior to the war. It was very similar to the rebuilt hotel. My father-in-law asked if he could take pictures, and the man said yes. So, my father-in-law took pictures of most of the man’s pictures. My father-in-law asked if we were going to be behind schedule, and I told him maybe, but it didn’t matter. These were the kinds of memories vacations were for. This experience was priceless.

After a while, we had to go ahead and get ready to leave. I walked back down to the beach to get the other golf ball, as well as some sand from the beach. The ball was in about 2 feet of cold, clear water, but it was about 3 feet from the edge. So, I had to walk into the water on my hands and get it out. The water was barely above freezing, so by the time I finally got it out I was shivering. I scooped up some sand and then we were on our way.

We were behind schedule, so I once again had to drive fast. Of course my father-in-law had to ask again about the tires. We wanted to visit Patton’s grave at the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg. It closed at 5 p.m., and I thought there was a chance we would make it. We had to drive all the way across France to do it, and Paris was directly in our path. Confusion once again set in as we neared Paris. We were not sure about where we were. We tried to work our way around the city, and we finally saw a sign to Disneyland. That was good, because that meant we had worked our way to the opposite side of Paris. It was past lunchtime, so we actually took the exit at Disney and ate in Disney Village. There was a Rain Forest Café in there, so we decided to try it out. We ordered our food, and then my wife and I left the kids with my father-in-law and my mother-in-law and we stepped outside to buy some souvenirs at the Disney Store. We bought some t-shirts, a set of drinking glasses, and a few other things, and then got back to the café just as lunch was served. The kids really enjoyed the setting, and we all enjoyed being able to relax after rushing halfway across France.

After lunch we continued on our way. I was estimating that we would get to the cemetery right at 5, assuming we had no problems. As we neared the Luxembourg border, we began to see snow flurries. At first the others didn’t believe me, but then we saw a few more. Just a few miles from the border, we encountered a traffic jam. It was about 4:45, and I was afraid that this would cause us not to make it in time.

We pulled into the parking lot of the cemetery at 5:22. Everything was closed, so we were forced to just look through the fence. We could see the graves from where we were, but not up close. There was a German war cemetery a little further down the road, so we decided to check it out. It was open, so my father-in-law and I walked into it. It was pretty gloomy. There were also some children buried in there, but I wasn’t sure why. My father-in-law and I walked around a little while the others waited in the van.

When we got back to the van, we discussed what we should do. We were on the German border, so I suggested that we cross the border and stay at a Bed and Breakfast. However, we were only 2.5 hours from home and the others favored driving back home. It was not yet 6 p.m., and we would probably be home before it got dark. So, we set off.

My wife wanted some souvenirs, so we stopped off at a couple of places in Luxembourg City. She was looking for a couple of beer steins to complete our collection. We stopped at a number of places before reaching the border with Belgium, but we had no luck at all. We stopped at another place in Belgium, but couldn’t find anything there, either.

We drove through very beautiful country. The surroundings were very hilly with lots of trees on the hills. This was the area that the Battle of the Bulge had been fought in. We worked our way into Belgium, and it started to snow pretty hard. Once we passed a herd of deer standing in a meadow. My father-in-law commented on how neat and clean everything was. He said if this was in southeastern Oklahoma, then you would see lots of cars on blocks, junkyards, etc.

We pulled into St. Vith, which is famous for a massacre that took place during the Battle of the Bulge. A number of German soldiers had executed some American prisoners there. We located a memorial in the town, and pulled off to take pictures. As I started to drive off, everyone started yelling at me. I stopped, and realized that my father-in-law hadn’t gotten back in the van. He was running to the van, apparently afraid that I was about to leave him, freezing in Belgium.

The rest of the drive home was uneventful. We came home to a very cold house. We planned to spend the night at home, and then leave for a day trip to The Netherlands the next morning.

Day 10, Saturday, April 14, 2001 – It was the peak of tulip season in The Netherlands, so we were excited about experiencing some of the things that the country is famous for. We had originally planned to see Holland at the beginning of the trip, but I was advised that the middle of April is the best time.

I think my father-in-law and my mother-in-law were surprised that it only took us 40 minutes to get to the border. We crossed the border, and drove toward Kinderdijk. This is the location of a large concentration of windmills. We drove mostly cross-country to get there. Once, we did take a wrong turn that I only realized about 15 minutes later. So, we lost time backtracking. Regardless, we were in the vicinity of Kinderdijk only about 2 hours after we left home. We made another wrong turn, though, and had to stop and get directions. My father-in-law, my mother-in-law, and I walked into a store, and I just walked up to a woman who was shopping and asked her if she spoke English. She looked at me with a very surprised look, but she spoke perfect English. She told us how to get to the windmills.

We first stopped at a little souvenir shop at Kinderdijk. Almost everyone had to use the restroom, which required Dutch coins. Since we didn’t have any, we waited by the door until others were coming out and caught the door before it closed. We bought a few souvenirs in the shop (they accepted dollars and Marks, and the exchange rate was pretty good), and inquired about the location of a nearby wooden shoe factory. We had heard that they gave free demonstrations, but we were told that they were not open on Saturdays. So, we bought some wooden shoes from the shop, and then went outside to take pictures of the windmills.

We left there, and headed toward the Keukenhof, which is the heart of Holland’s flower industry. There is a huge exhibition there in the spring, and we wanted to visit it. On the way, it started to snow pretty hard. This weather was really terrible. I had always pictured a warm, sunny day for viewing Holland’s tulips. Instead, we got snow. It was the day before Easter, for crying out loud! We passed several colorful fields of flowers, and pulled off and took some pictures and video of the flowers in the snow.

We got to Keukenhof, but nobody was interested in getting out and going through the exhibit in the snow. I got out and went and got some information on the exhibits. I was told that there were some things indoors, but most of it was outdoors. When I took this information back to the others, they weren’t interested in looking at the flowers in the snow. So, we decided to work our way back toward Germany. On our way out of the parking lot, though, we encountered a parking barrier. Apparently, we were supposed to pay for parking, and then put our ticket in the meter to be let out. Since we didn’t see the exhibit, and we didn’t go inside, I didn’t have a ticket to pay the meter. So, I drove up behind the car in from of me, and quickly drove through right behind them. It was a piece of cake.

Due to the epidemic of foot and mouth disease, the border crossing back into Germany was closely monitored. We were stopped at the border and asked if we had any beef or dairy products. The guard was a member of the German military, and waved us through when I told him no. We stopped in the snowstorm on the German side of the border and ate at McDonald’s, before driving on home in the snow. It looked like we would have a white Easter (we did).

We did have a good covering of snow when we arrived. I had to fly to the U.S. early the next morning, and my father-in-law and my mother-in-law were traveling to Berlin. It had been an enjoyable, but rushed 10-day trip.

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