Cowbells and making out: Switzerland and France. PLUS: READ A BOOK!

Bonjour mes amis!

OK, firOops, you can't see this picture! You can still read Nick's book, though. Get yourself over to amazon!st, please note a new segment on our page (to the right or below): “A word from our sponsors.” This is actually a message from me about Nick’s newest book, but I think I’m cute with the hilarious headings. Anyway, this book is sooooo good (I stayed up until 2am finishing it – this is behaviour usually reserved for Harry Potter).

Now onto the post:

Our usual m.o. on this trip is to do one – or two at a push – touristy activities per day. Activities could include such examples as adorable village stroll, adorable boat ride, guided tour of a site, castle visit, or hike. The rest of our time is spent faffing about, driving, or sitting on our behinds (on the terribly impractical but oh-so-squishy camp chairs Luke bought). However, I got all excitable  while sitting by the shores of Lake Geneva one evening, and I planned a day of touristing in the mountains above us for the next day. The day was to start with a winding mountain drive, followed by a gondola ride and hike, and then a second winding mountain drive to a fondue extravaganza, finishing up with a luxurious spa experience, and camping in the mountains. We actually did all this.

This is after the crying, but if you look carefully you can still see the fear in my eyes
This is after the crying, but if you look carefully you can still see the fear in my eyes
Luke is totally unconcerned by his wife's trauma. (J/k, he was actually very sweet of course.)
Luke is totally unconcerned by his wife’s trauma. (J/k, he was actually very sweet of course.)

The gondola ride was traumatic. I actually cried, there were actual tears. It turns out I’m really, really afraid of sitting still in a well-maintained Swiss engineered ski lift while it moves at a gentle snail’s pace no more than 10 metres away from the soft, grassy, wild-flowered ground. Anyway, we got there. We hiked up the rest of the way to the top of the peak, where there was still snow on the ground. Then we had to go down. We couldn’t find a path through the purple and white wildflowers carpeting the hills, so we had to walk right over them, which was sad. It started to rain. The fog swirled around us, and the mountain peaks took turns being obscured by it.  We started slipping down muddy streams that served as trails. Eventually, we reached some cow pastures (they have bells. The bells echo across the valleys. It is very Heidi.). The story will now come to an uprupt and unpoetic end with us arriving back at our car.

That little black dot is Lukey. He walks fast.
No pictures of the spa, for obvious reasons. But this is the hike. That little black dot is Lukey. He walks fast.

When I think of spa, I think of a few massage rooms and maybe a sauna. Of course with generic Tibetan/Enya/ocean-sounds music in the background at all times. This spa was not that. First of all, they only sell passes for three hours and five hours entry, with the option to extend for extra hours at an additional cost. I thought this was ludicrous, until I entered. It’s like The Chocolate Factory (of Charlie fame) for grown-ups with sore muscles from hikes for which they were physically unprepared. There is an enormous hot outdoor pool (overlooking an idyllic Swiss mountain town, snowy mountains, and a church with a freakin’ rainbow glowing above it). This pool has all sorts of underwater seats with bubbling jets, and hot waterfalls of varying strengths. There is an indoor heated pool with all the same shenanigans, plus two-story high glass panels looking onto the mountains, with reclining beach chairs to take in the snowy view from within the warm, humid air. There are a dozen different sauna and steam rooms, all with specified temps and humidity. And don’t forget the tiny Nordic pool – big enough for one person to jump straight into ice-cold water, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Luke decided to enjoy the naturalist (read: starkers) sauna. After soaking up the heat, he took stock of the various shower options available – standard shower, dip in a cool pool, or fun wooden barrel mounted high on the wall, with a rope attached to tip out the bucket onto one’s head. For funseys, he decided to go the latter route. It ended up being ice water, so, ouch.

Another thing about this spa: everyone was making out. It was gross. I saw two people actually start the approach with their tongues already out of their mouths. I would like to be crystal clear that Luke and I opted to quietly mock these couples, rather than getting into “when in Rome” mode.

With Berangere in Lyon- we found a barge on the Rhone river that was doing wine, beer, and food tasting. I had octopus in a crepe with herbs and cream!
With Berangere in Lyon- we found a barge on the Rhone river that was doing wine, beer, and food tasting. I had octopus in a crepe with herbs and cream!

After our mountain experience, we headed into Lyon to stay with my old friend from University College Dublin, Bérangère (hi B!). It had been ten years since I’ve seen her, and it was excellent to catch up. She took us on a jam-packed tourist circuit of Lyon – it’s gorgeous, I had no idea – and we stayed at her lovely apartment in the city. She had to leave for Jordan the next morning (she does humanitarian medical work, so thank you on behalf of humanity, B), but she graciously let us stay on for another night at her place so we could get some chores done in the city that day. We did get stuff done (laundry! Sim card! Etc.!), which felt very satisfying. Plus, it was fun to sprint about a city like lived there.

As always, onto photos to tell the rest of the stories. We have not yet replaced our camera, so your visual suffering will continue.

A little bit more France, and then Switzerland 

Back to France

Belgium, Luxembourg, France: A totally honest post

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Hi from sunny Luxembourg City, your friendly neighborhood Duchy!

Hello dear friends and family! I’m writing this post from Riquewihr, a redonkulously adorable town in the hills of the Alsace region of France (which used to be Germany, and then it was France, and then it was Germany again, and now it’s France. So it’s kind of France-y/Germany.) Luke would like to add that this region is named after a dog (Alsation), which is definitely incorrect. The last couple of days we’ve been meandering down the Route des Vins d’Alsace, the Alsace region wine trail. It’s so lovely that we have grown weary. “Hilltop castle on the right. No need to stop. Only 50 more technicolour half-timber medieval villages to go, yes, this one is covered in blooming roses as well. Let’s not bother visiting that quaint boulangerie, I’m too full from the last one.” However, we did visit a market in the church square of Obernai that has been happening every Thursday since 1301, so that’s a thing.

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Ugh.

Side note – every person we’ve met in France has been lovely. Super friendly. We think the stereotype that French are jerks might be wrong.

As before, I’ll just give you a few anecdotes and then some photos. A word of warning: Felice the destroyer strikes again. I lost the camera, probably. So, you’ll have to suffer through some iPhone photos on this post, until we can get ourselves a new camera. I do apologize for any discomfort caused to anyone’s aesthetic sensibilities.

A friendly reminder: there is a panel on the right hand side (or bottom) of your page that lists our activities, so I won’t repeat it in this post.

The social media effect

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Story behind this photo: Luke is plotting my murder, for the exact moment that I tell him to pose for the next stupid photo. (Taken on the castle of Bouillon, a 10th century fortress in Belgium.)

I’m sure you’ve all heard me talk about how social media can be depressing, because folks only post photos of them looking happy in scenic places, surrounded by stylish friends and with their arms posed to look as skinny as possible. The photos don’t show the crap they experience that day. Given that I am only posting such photos (minus the arm thing – I don’t know how to do that), in the spirit of transparency, I would like to dedicate this post to: The Story Behind the Photos.

On our second night camping, we snuggled into our cozy blankets, our backs loving the full mattress, and drifted into peaceful slumber as we listened to the last bleetings of the lambs in a nearby paddock. A few hours later, I was woken by a bucket of water, directly to the face. I’m not, for once, exaggerating. It seems that water had pooled in the over-car tarp, and the wind caught it just right, and pushed the bucket o’water through the gap we had left in the sunroof (for lovely cool air and a delightful breeze!), landing on my face. Only my face. Not Luke’s face. Not the pillow, except for where it flew off of my face and onto the pillow. Not the front seat, not the doona, just my face. Thankfully, I was able to laugh at it almost immediately. We now keep the sunroof closed at night.

A few days ago we spent the day at a hospital in Nancy, and, despite being dismally unphotogenic, it was was one of our favourite experiences so far. Backing up, we decided to get our vaccinations for tick-borne encephalitis (it is as nasty as it sounds) here in Europe, as it was astronomically expensive in the good ol’ US of A. We got the first round in London, and decided to try our luck with the second round on the continent. This was a hilarious decision. I made an appointment over the phone in French (yes, I am very pleased with myself, thank you), and we accidentally arrived two hours early (no, my French is not as good as I thought, shut up). The doctor saw us early. When I asked “Parlez-vous Anglais, s’il-vous-plait?”, his answer was, “NO! NO! NO!”. This was not rude, it was just really, really true. We conducted the whole appointment in charades. There was lots of laughing, gesticulating wildly, and using words that I would describe as Franglais. At one point, the doctor was holding his ears with his fingers, shaking his head wildly – trying to tell us that when we take out a tick, we need to get the head out. He also once barked like a dog to try to explain rabies. He then mimed reaching his hand out to an imaginary dog (saying, “ahhh, mignon!! [cute]), and then, suddenly stern, slapped his own hand back, saying, “Non!!”. We took this to mean we should not pet dogs in Russia. In the end, we got our vaccinations (don’t worry, I triple checked it was right). When the doctor dropped us off to the administration lady to pay, he said, in French, “They do not speak French, but they understand very, very well.” I take this as the highest compliment.

Now for something darker: the Bastogne war museum

I’m embarrassed to say that three days ago, I knew almost nothing about the Battle of Bulge, one of the last big confrontations of WWII, which took the lives of a huge number of soldiers (German and American) and civilians. I’m not going to describe every museum that we visit, as that would be super boring. However, I will say that I was crying – like the wheezing kind – by the end of it. The museum is in chronological order, from the end of WWI to the end of WWII, and follows the story of four historical characters – a German soldier, an American soldier, a young Belgian boy living in Nazi-occupied Bastogne, and a young Belgian woman who works for the underground anti-Nazi resistance. This perspective reminds us of the very true cliche that war is not just numbers of people dead, weapons developed, or territories taken, but is made and lived by people who are really quite normal.

I was also touched by the monument outside the museum (the Mardasson), which pays tribute to the American soldiers who liberated Bastogne, and the rest of the valley, from the Nazis. I think sometimes we Americans are so insular that we forget we are tied in bonds of life and death friendship with peoples around the world.

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On the informational placard for the Mardasson monument

 

Let’s just hope their nice opinion of us isn’t swayed too much by a certain straw-headed potato. (Public service announcement – please tell everyone you know – trump means to fart in British English. Gratitude to Nick for this informative lil’ nugget.)

Lots of love to you all! Thank you very much for your comments, they make us very happy. Until next time!

France

Belgium and Luxembourg

 

A long overdue update, which is long

It was certainly not our intention to go this long between posts, and I pinky swear not to leave it this long again. Boy do we have some stories for you from our weeks of absence.

Mysterious introduction and synopsis

When we last heard from our dashing young hero and heroine, they had just arrived in Louth (Lincolnshire, rural England), where they were feeling all bright eyed and bushy tailed after having purchased a beautiful 2000 Mitsubishi Shogun (that’s a Pajero for our Antipodeans). Several weeks later, we find our protagonists sitting in a cosy campground pub in rural Belgium, a new 2004 Shogun set up for bedtime nearby.

Turns out we were swindled into buying a beater. It’s a long story, and we’ll probably go into in another post when we’re feeling more energetic. Anywho, with the legal prowess of our friend/host Nick, my overly polite negotiating, Luke’s understanding of cars, and our friend/hostess Louise’s understanding of everything, we were able to have the car returned to the dealers for most of our money back, and purchase a car that is wonderful and actually works. Yay!

This is boring, but necessary for our dear readers to stay with the plot of our story: A quick synopsis of our adventures thus far. In the future, I’ll create a section on the right hand of your page (or the bottom for mobile readers) entitled “Keeping up with the Shingle to Boggians.” This will have ongoing and frequent short updates on our whereabouts.

  • 6-20 May: staying with Nick and Louise in Louth. Including a few lovely days in Liverpool, but mostly experiencing charming Lincolnshire, sorting out our car(s), and setting up for the trip.
  • 20-22 May: Camping in the Kent Downs in southern England, fussing about and obsessing over the wittle lambs, goats, chickens, and horses.
  • 23 May: Crossed the Channel from Dover, UK, to Dunkirk, France. Camping and touristing in Bruges, Belgium, a medieval town with lovely canals
  • 24-25 May: Two nights camping in a funky campground in the sketchy/trendy/derelicte Eastern Docks area of Amsterdam, including a day of super intense walking tourism in Amsterdam
  • 26 May: Camping in Giethoorn, Netherlands, a little village accessible only by boat. Putted about on one of said boats the morning of the 27th, and took a 30k bike ride that arvo.
  • 27 May: Stayed with Zsofi, Eve’s college roommate and lovely person, in the heart of Brussels, Belgium. Touristing ensued.
  • 28 May: Camping at a campsite by a river near Bastogne, Belgium, a small town famous for the Battle of the Bulge

I’ll tell you about most of our travels through photos, below. Just a few stories to highlight.

Lincolnshire: We almost stayed forever

We went to Nick and Louise’s house begging for three, maybe four or five days of their hospitality. It turned out to be 14. Yes, my mother did teach me better than that. But I can explain. Our time with Nick and Louise consisted of:

  • 17 different pubs
  • More different types of real ale than that
  • 6 or 7 new meat products? The English have great meat products. (Eg: Lincolnshire stuffed chide, black pudding [don’t be scared, it’s yum!], haslet, pork pie, scotch eggs)
  • 3 days in Liverpool, in the West of England
  • Visits to every hardware store and car part store in Louth as we set up our vehicle. Gratitude is owed to Louise for taking on the role of hardware tour guide.
  • Daily changes of plans while we dealt with the ridding of the rust bucket and the purchase of our brand new shiny Shogun
  • Incredibly delicious home-cooked gourmet meals. These folks know how to cook.
  • General admiration of Nick and Louise, who are good humans, and not just because they didn’t murder us. They are hilarious, kind, and ceaselessly helpful, and we miss them.

Intelligent and never-before heard insights about the Netherlands

And now, a list of Netherlands stereotypes that we found to be reality:

– Amsterdam smells like pot about 15% of the time. I feel that this is a lot for a major city. There were dreadlocked white dudes playing bongos and smoking the ganja in our campground. Living the dream, white dudes, living the dream.

– There was an manure-smeared actual farm guy WEARING WOODEN CLOGS in the grocery store in a small town a couple hours east of Amsterdam. They looked and sounded impractical. We do not understand.

– There are windmills everywhere. I got 74 in one view once, just turning my head. But of course they are the brand new ones, not the old little wooden ones. We didn’t see any of those.

– I personally believe that there are more bicycles than chickens, and apparently there are 10 chickens per Dutch person. Anyway, there are a lot of bicycles. Our dear Hindmarshes – we have found your utopia. Pedestrians apologise when they realise they are standing in your way, and cars always yield.

I just can’t help it

Let’s talk about toilets again. They charge for them in Europe. (I’m sure this is no revelation to most of you.) This was annoying at first, gathering a 50cent coin (and watching Luke fumble for change as he is “stinging for a piss” as he says), until I realised that many of the toilets have nice friendly ladies who say “thank you, goodbye!” after you pee. I like that.

Not actually jokes

We saw a refugee camp in France, we think. It was next to the freeway near Dunkirk, where ferries go to the UK. The tiny dwellings, arranged in neat rows, were made from what looked like unpainted plywood, and there were people sitting around on boxes. People asked us before we left whether it was wise to come to Europe during the refugee crisis; yet other than this one sight we’ve seen nothing. After all, we are going the opposite way than the flow of refugees and immigrants, generally. Our friend Louise tells us that people wait in Calais (30 minutes from Dunkirk) to get from France to the UK; apparently Britain has a better reputation amongst some immigrants, and of course it is an English speaking country.

I’m sure you all know about the terrible attacks on Brussels in March. I’m sure they are felt strongly in the psyche of the residents and those who were visiting at the time, but they were only visible to us by the uniformed, machine-gun toting military personnel patrolling the streets. They are really quite omnipresent, from what we saw. Our friend Zsofi, who works for NATO in Brussels, says they were first stationed there after the Paris attacks, then were drawn out slightly, and after the March attacks they came back with a vengeance. We are not sure what they are actually planning to do, and it’s difficult to find anyone with a machine gun comforting.

That’s all the writing I’ll do for now – instead I’ll give you a few photo essays below. Click on a photo in any of the galleries to view a slide show of that gallery.

Around Lincolnshire 

Setting up the car

Liverpool

Our first night camping: Kent Downs, Southern England. Plus a ferry crossing into France.

Bruges, Belgium

Amsterdam

Giethoorn, Netherlands

Brussels

It begins: Shingle Springs to Iceland/London

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The Shingle in shingle to boggie. In our heads is “We’re going to be ok, we’re going to be ok, ahhhhh.” (maybe I should just speak for myself there)

Our first impression of Iceland was this: this place looks weird. From the air it looked like a mud pie that was just starting to dry on top. On the ground, it took 30k of driving to see our first tree. The ocean is tumultuous, and looks like a different creature depending on whether it is under cloud or sun. Also, our first coffee shop had “please let it be Bernie, or at least Hillary” printed permanently on the menus.

 

The scenery got markedly prettier as we drove into the tourist ring, called the Golden Circle. This is a roughly 4 hour ring incorporating Geysir (literally where the word came from), a big ol’ waterfall, a lovely unpronounceable national park, and scenic roads teeming with teensy little farms, teensy little horses, and snowy hills.

I will say that weather.com is on my list right now. 40F/4C, you say? WHAT ABOUT THAT WIND CHILL? “It’s icing my face” – direct quote from Luke as the wind deposited ice on our faces. Boo, North Atlantic.

 

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This is literally nicer than my house was.

Another important fact – you have to see these airport bathrooms. Seriously, the stall doors go ALL THE WAY TO THE FLOOR AND CEILING. It’s almost like they aren’t afraid that customers will OD on crack and have to get dragged out by the feet through the substantial gap under the stall door. (I always assumed that’s why our public toilets were like that – perhaps our kind readers could offer an alternative rationale.) The trust that Scandinavia places in me is heartwarming.

 

In Reykjavic we went to bed at 6:30 and slept for 10 hours. We were wide-eyed and happy when we woke at 4:30am, the sun shining brightly through our window. We were delighted to see that our host, a lady named Thor, had woken up to make us home-made waffles (as fluffy as the clouds of Valhalla), which we ate while looking out her window at the sea.

Click on the images below to see them bigger, if you’d like. You can also scroll over them to see some vaguely snarky comments.

Now to London: the joys of traveling slowly. A man approached me in Paternoster Square asking for directions to the local Fitness First, and I was able to give them to him, off the top of my head. Luke and I walked for miles and miles around London, allowing ourselves to get lost and take detours. So far we’ve done a decent job of Soho, Covent Garden, Westminster, City of London, and other places I don’t know the name of because we were vaguely lost.

Of course, some of our main observations have been architectural – how could they not be in a city like this? We are constantly surprised that there is yet another ancient (or at least super duper old) stone/brick building around the corner. By far the standout in beauty for us has been the Royal Courts of Justice, which is ornate and perfect. Luke was highly underwhelmed by Buckingham Palace. (How hipster of him.)

In San Francisco we like to debate the ethics of replacing heritage/historical buildings with modern ones. We’ve decided here that modern can fit in absolutely beautifully with the historical, with one important caveat – that the modern contributes something meaningful architecturally. A good modern building gives historical depth to a place, and keeps it alive. We’ve loved some of the modern buildings here, almost as much as some of the historical (and for Luke, more than the Queen’s house itself).

Also, our new name for crown is “queen hat.” It makes us giggle.

The constant chiming of church bells across the city makes me feel like I’m at college all the time.

Speaking of college, we wandered past my dad’s old study abroad alma mater, the London School of Economics! It is quaint and lovely and I could still feel my father’s brainwaves reverberating through the place, of course. Dad, 10 million photos will follow by email.

We are now in Louth (Lincolnshire, England – google maps it) being fed, watered, beer’ed (?), and thoroughly pampered by the hilarious and generous Nick and Louise. We’re seriously considering moving here forever starting right now. (Surprise, Nick and Louise!) Post with more to follow.

We love you all!

(P.S. – this post is written by Felice so you can blame me directly for anything offensive/stupid. Instagram pics courtesy of Lukeyboy.)

 

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Bonus photo! James and Rory in Coloma. As cute as cute gets.

Welcome! (Plus, a special bonus: Our route)

Hello to our lovely family and friends! Thank you for taking the time to come have a gander at our little blog. Obviously it’s not too exciting at the moment. But we hope that as of the beginning of May, when our trip begins, our blog and instagram posts will be suitably jealousy-inducing. 🙂

For those of you new to the whole blog thing, there are a few things I’d like to point out to you about this one.

  • If you’d like to get an email whenever we post something new on the blog, go ahead and enter your email on the right (or, if you’re on a mobile, down below).
  • The little photos on the side (or below if you’re on a mobile) are our instagram posts. You can click on them to see them bigger. And/or, you can follow us on instagram – feliceelena is my name.
  • We’d love to hear from you – click “leave a comment” to comment on a post.

Now, as a token of appreciation to you for reading a boring welcome email, here is our route plan so far. Of course we will be driving through China as well, despite this not being on the map (google still won’t give routes through Inner Mongolia).

If there is anywhere on or near our route that you think we should see, we would absolutely love to hear about it! Send us an email or comment below.

Lots of love!

Luke and Felice