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From Maastricht to Belgium & France

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Tuesday, July 3 - Tuesday, July 10

Finally the day has arrived (six days of rain, and counting) to leave our friends in Holland and head south toward the sun and dry weather. . . we hope!  Marianne, our Dutch friend from Anniston, Alabama, left her Nissan car with us to use, and for 50 Euros we have collected sleeping bags, sleeping pads and a tent, in hopes ofClick here for an enlargement doing some camping during our trip south.   

Our first stop was Antwerp, Belgium, which we reached Tuesday night in heavy rain and heavier traffic.  We exited the main click here for enlargementfreeway and fueled up at a 24-hour Esso station, and decided it was a good, safe place to sleep.  We had plenty of room and gear in the car to be comfortable & warm, and setting up a tent in the rain was unthinkable!   We actually slept very soundly with the rain dancing on the roof.  Almost like being home in the Airstream!  Awaking Wednesday morning to a blessed break in theClick here for an enlargement weather, we walked around the neighborhood and discovered an amazing park.  We unwittingly stumbled upon the grounds of a castle, the "Kasteel den Brandt, with public jogging trails, rivers, WW II-era bomb-shelters, and an orchard of plum, apple & pear trees full of sweet fruit, open to the public.  The plums were especially ripe and prolific ~ they were falling on the ground.  We had an excellent breakfast before continuing past the manor houses, fountains, and statue of Michelangelo's David.   Click here for an enlargement

   Leaving the kasteel and Antwerp, we traveled east to one of the most beautiful cities in all of the Netherlands, the city of Maastricht.  It Click here for an enlargementwas even more beautiful than I remembered.  We walked & walked, through rain & sunshine, and took an array of photos as we ambled along the many canals & fortresses of the old city.  On the outskirts of Maastricht, on the Belgian border, we set out to find some cavesClick here for an enlargement and man-made tunnels which networked several hundred miles underground.  We met a man who gave us directions to the Belgian side of the tunnels where the Click here for an enlargemententrances have been left open, for the public to enter "at your own risk".  (The Dutch caves had been gated, and entrance was only allowed on tours.)  Armed with flashlights, we walked intoClick here for an enlargement one of the caves & found 20-foot ceilings, hand-chiseled and full of rooms and passageways.  It was an amazingly elaborate system which dates back 2000 years to the Roman occupation, but which we think was used by World War refugees to evade the German troops.  After a couple of hours of "spelunking",  we spent more time walking through the city, looking at the Click here for an enlargementbeautiful bridges that connect the old town to the newer (but still several-centuries-old) town. 

   After another night car-camping in the rain, we drove south toclick here for an enlargement the city of Strasbourg, France.  We arrived (in the rain) at 8pm, and after finding a good-but-full hotel, we found a cheap (30 Euros) and not-so-good "Hotel Weber".  However, the click here for an enlargementsheets were professionally laundered and pressed, and we had a bathroom with a good shower right in the room, which was wonderful after a few days on the road.

   We had been given a contact name by Percy Brooks, a dear friendClick here for an enlargement from Greenbrier Church of Christ in Alabama, and we gave a call to Alex McGaughy, from Ohio, who lives in Strasbourg with a AIM mission group out of Lubbock, Texas.  He met us in town that Click here for an enlargementevening, we went out for our first taste of Turkish "doner Kebab" sandwiches~yum!, and Alex offered to let us use their living room as our home for the weekend.  The group of four young men live together in a quiet neighborhood near the old city in a beautiful apartment just a short walk fromClick here for an enlargement the center of town, which is built around the Gothic Cathedrale Notre Dame, an exquisite cathedral with a 466-Click here for an enlargementft-tall spire, built around 1284.  Surrounding the cathedral are various squares, with hundreds of restaurants, canals, beautiful bridges & flowers.

The cathedral, being at the center of town, becomes the event of the summer.  Each evening in July & August, just after sunset (atClick here for an enlargement 10pm), the cathedral's stained-glass, intricately carved surfaces and spire Click here for an enlargementare illuminated by stunning spotlights of ever-changing colors, along with a classical music presentation which tourists & locals alike come to enjoy.  The surrounding bridges are also festooned with lights and flower boxes, and people come out for their evening strolls, visit their neighbors, and flock to theclick here for an enlargement restaurants and gelato stands (several non-dairy, fruit varieties like melon, peach, berry, mint and lime, as well as the creamy stuff).  And of course there are the bakeries!!  Sweets and breads Click here for an enlargementof all kinds are on every corner, it seems.  We tried a few delicacies, but mostly we enjoyed the Turkish kebabs. 

On Sunday morning, Robert discovered this sign post, which told usClick here for an enlargement how far away we were from Sydney, Shanghai, Vancouver, etc...  We took one last walk from our hosts' apartment (shown here), through the town of Strasbourg before heading off to church with Alex & "the Boys", as Click here for an enlargementthey are known. The worship service was in French, however, Joseph had spent the previous evening translating seven pages of Daniel's lesson into English, and presenting it for us via the overhead projector.  So we were able to easily follow along in a French worship service!  Very cool!  As our worship service came to an end, we left for the area of Autun, France and the village of Cussy en Morvan, in the Morvan Mountains. After a lovely day of broken sunshine and breathtaking scenery, we arrived in the area of Autun as darkclick here for an enlargement approached. Having fueled up and headed up the road we hoped to be the one that led to Cussy, the sky darkened and the rain came pouring down, and our already challenged vision was now almost click here for an enlargementnon existent! As we climbed the hills and passed thru villages that appeared on our map, we finally spotted a small sign with the name of Cussy on it. It was the correct sign that ultimately led us to our destination... in the rain! Arriving in the village all I could remember from my previous visit was the location of the house in regards to the church building in the center of the town. Sure enough my memory served me well and the rain broke justclick here for an enlargement long enough for us to be greeted by Joe and Suzanne Keesler, to park the car, unload and get in the house before the rain broke loose again! Their house was wonderfully improved since my previous visit and the ambiance was especially warm and click here for an enlargementcomforting... not to mention the gracious hosts that sat with us as we enjoyed a light meal and chatted with us late into the night.  After a great night's rest, we awoke to a lovelyclick here for and enlargement day of sunshine and fair weather. Suzanne made us a great lunch of spaghetti accompanied by a bottle of special wine from Joe's cave [wine cellar]. We talked of their involvement in the community and Joe's teaching of the "blacksmithing trade" to young people, and of the ensuing Tour de click here for an enlargementFrance route that would be coming thru Autun in three days. We said our good byes and headed south toward the city of Nice,click here for an enlargement taking the scenic route.  We drove until dark, noticing that the humidity was getting drier and the landscape was changing from lush green farmlands to brown rolling hills.  We found a place to pitch our tent along the road in a click here for an enlargementquiet rest area near the tiny town of Apt, just east of Avignon. 

Traveling south from Apt, we headed southeast on scenicclick here for an enlargement backroads, complete with lovely villages, fields of fruits, vegetables & herbs ~ entire hillsides of fragrant lavender!  A cool breeze was click here for an enlargementblowing and the aroma of lavender filled the air.  Heading towards Nice our excitement built at our first glimpse of water:  the beautiful turquoise Lac de Ste. Croix.  We stopped at the lookout over the lake and couldn’t believe the deep color ofclick here for enlargement aquamarine.  Jeanie decided it was worth a closer look, so we drove to the lakeshore and Jeanie took a dip in the cool water.  It was heavenly, and we both smiled with an exciting feeling that this was just the beginning of our summer!

click here for an enlargement- Robert & Jeanie      Click here for an enlargement




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