A large mileage today, discovered that by the sea added 50% to the room rate! What planet have you been living on Ivan? Ended up in Monpellier and have found a reasonable priced hotel that has all mod cons at about 28 including breakfast. That falls into my budget using NZ Pesos!
It started out cloudy today and by the time I was about 100k out of Toulouse the sky became blue. Temp high was 21d but it started at 10dC. For most of the 690k that I drove today I probably was not out of sight of a grape vine at any stage. That is one lot of grapes! Finally I found a computer in a Aire that I could work and checked all of my emails and only one needed answering immediately, could have used the hotel I am at tonight but I do not have the French plug, I almost bought the set in the States, but thought there has to be a limit on what you carry, bad choice Ivan! Will see if I can find a plug tomorrow.
Uneventful day started with cloud, moved to sunshine then to light rain, still plenty of grapes, now seem to be in the Beaujolais region. Visited two large super stores so large the supervisors move around on roller skates, It only have 40 checkouts we saw in Avignon one with 80 checkouts. They sell everything from 30inch flat plasma screen TV thro to the largest range of groceries I have seen. No pharmaceutical good thought you still have to go the pharmacy for that. Even the Vick's cough lozenge that you can buy in the Garage you have to go to the Pharmaceee!
To date I was able to get onto the internet to collect my email, 79 letters with about 50 junk mail, I will be glad to get home with all of the filters I have built into what I receive.
It has been good this driving I have thought up several new concepts and when, I should say if (because I do not know when) I will see if there is any practical merit in any of them.
It was quite a change to walk thro many bookshops so far in Europe without buying a single book, they are all written in a foreign language you know!
Have decided to drive to see Hank Buyck in Holland then may wander up to the top of Denmark and cross the bridge to Sweden!
My it is expensive driving on the toll roads of France Macon to Nancy 19.70, but it is fast with not much traffic you can cruse along at 130k and even at that speed you will have the smallest Peugeot's and Citrons & Renaults, even Fords passing you at a good speed
Today at Nancy, catching up on my emails and answering aspiring photographers as to if I think they should enter photography, usually if they have to ask the answer should be NO. These long drives are making me think, why should some one not enter the craft and I am putting together a article that no doubt I will publish at some time.
Last night I stay at a el-cheep-o hotel at Macron and while at least I could down load the email it was not worth it for the discomfort. Tonight I am paying 56 which will take a lot of NZ Pesos to pay for that every night! Must do another spreadsheet on viability of a RV of some sort again!
Fine day, fine driving, nothing to report, apart from the fact for the first time on this trip since leaving the States I have heard the news in English, it is pleasing to note the world is still there and nothing much has changed! Interesting news about the May Day protests thro Europe & Aust!
Mileage from Frankfurt 3331km
Yes it is May day in Europe as I discovered once I got onto the road, EVERY THING is closed today, large supermarkets, everything, except McDonalds that for once I was pleased to see. I think it should be compulsory for everyone to eat there once a month so they can appreciate good food.
Well I started off today to drive thro Luxembourg for the first time since I have been driving in Europe and started off fine heading the way that I thought was correct, yes I said that it where I am going I said when I saw the Dijon sign, then passed a turnoff on the right that indicated Metz, that is funny I thought I was sure I was going thro there! Now once you are started on the French motorway system it is hard to go back, by the time I realized I came thro Dijon yesterday it was too late but there was a sign to Reims & Paris to the left so I went to Reims. Did not travel on a toll road all day which made a big difference to the old wallet!
So from Nancy I went thro Chalons, Reims, Charleville-Mezieres, Charleroi, Namur which was full of May day protestors? So went back to Fleurus to the ibis hotel for a 70 room, #$@%&* expensive, to me! So I have yet to go to Luxembourg!
The weather started off overcast and moved from black clouds to bright blue sky to heavy rain all day, at the moment it is 16d at 6pm with light overcast, just in case you are interested!
There was very little traffic on all the roads I was on today, very little traffic in the towns, in fact I wondered where everyone went on a holiday. May 1st must be the first day of Summer, their Labour day etc. every town had people sitting at small picnic tables selling little bunched of flowers at 2 a bunch. Seem to be doing a bit of trade. While the towns were quite the McDonalds was not, all the staff were working at top speed, I thought what a difference to the speed with which they "worked" in Cuba.
I am always impressed with the volume of agriculture in France, you pass by field after field, without fences, stretching to each horizon without a break, all cultivated, with good looking crops growing, they make our efforts in NZ seem as small as they are. It is the NO fences that impresses me!
Well the restaurant at the hotel is closed because of May Day, all the service stations in town are closed all of the other shops are closed except two Chinese take a ways, and two Turkish fast foods, almost as bad at NZ in the '60's
Mileage from Frankfurt 3821km
Left Fleurus with overcast weather that slowly got worst through out the day, again kept to the back roads going thro Namur, Hannui indirectly, on to Hasselt and then to Eindhoven where I had lunch and phoned Hank, who told me I needed to be on the A2 which when I was back on the road was the first road I saw, so it was on to Utrecht on a crowded motorway, it made me wish again for the French toll roads and the little traffic, so I was finally at Utrecht and drove towards the large massive aerial and when I rang again for more instructions I found I was within one block of the Konica headquarters which was fortunate at by this time it was raining reasonably heavy.
Hank showed me thro his area and what the Konica Digital mini labs were able to do and it made me think it was a pity they were not better represented in NZ.
Then it was off to Castricum a old Roman place name, which is the area of greater Amsterdam area, which is where Hank and Yvonne are now living.
Hank & Yvonne send their regards to all of their NZ friends, and have said that if were thinking of coming to Holland to see the Tulips this year you have missed them again. They have indicated they would be delighted to see any friends before or after Photokina.
Spent an enjoyable four days with the Buyck's as usual, with their very generous hospitality.
Sunday we went for a drive to Apeldoorn to look at some motor homes they had some interesting ones, a lot from Germany where they say they are cheaper, which is something to keep in mind if one sets out to buy one, It will be interesting to travel by car and B&B or hotels and see what it is like for travel and how much extra it will cost etc. I may have to review my thoughts on RV's!
Today I left my friends in Castricum, bought some flowers and took them to the lab where Yvonne worked, also some wine for them both. Them started driving and when it became obvious I was heading on the A2 towards Utrecht I decided to stop to say thanks to Hank, which I did, then back on the road, Broda looked like a interesting name so I took that road, but everyone seemed to think the same and soon we were down to stop and go driving, so off at the first exit, and took another Interesting road and ended up on the A2 again heading towards Eindhoven again, then another road looked interesting towards Venlo, where I am tonight about 5km from the German border!
Mileage traveled from Frankfurt 4501km
In my business consulting I always tell my clients "if you do not know where you are going any path will take you there" and "if you do not know where you are going do not complain about where you will end up"
Today was a wonderful illustration of these points. I headed out of Venlo thinking I will head I did not know where so I got onto a interesting little road, passed thro all sorts in interesting villages and ended up in Maastricht, so I thought I will go the back roads to Aachen and that was easier said than done, but I ended up over the Dutch border in Germany, had lunch, thought I will go to France, there was just one little thing stopping me they called it Belgium, but that was not a problem for long.
So it was thro Liege, Namur, Charleroi, Mons to Valenciennes, deciding on each as the names appeared on the road signs. Then looked for accommodation as it was getting close to 5pm. Could not find any, anywhere. Of course I did not try the cowards way out of stopping the car and asking someone, I am made of stronger stuff than that.
So it was back the way I had come to the little ibis hotel that I had stayed at several nights previously at Fleurus, at least I knew where that was even if it was quite a few Ks up the road. Now I had no intention of staying there the night I imagined a quaint little French hotel, but did not plan for it.
Mileage traveled from Frankfurt 4915km
Today I proved even if you think you know where you are going sometimes you may have problems in finding the right road!
Today I decided to get back onto last nights road and follow it back to Venlo. Simple right, wrong I though I was going to Charleroi the next town on the motorway but somehow I ended up passing the Fleurus turnoff some 35 minutes later, I had been in a complete circle, how many do you know in business that seem to do that all the time, I know quite a few!
I stopped for breakfast at Spy, I did not feel like paying 8 for a European breakfast of two bread rolls, so I had that at the Aire and with a bottle of Coke it only cost 3.45. I am in good training for Scotland later in the trip!
As I was leaving and walking back to the car I saw the fattest, opps vertically challenged, person I have ever seen on a motor bike, imagine a short person who is so fat the waddle, now put them onto a 125cc two stroke motor bike, their stomach pours over onto the petrol tank and the bottom overflows the seat and hangs all over the edge, now imagine the sound of the two stroke doing it best to keep moving, it was quite a sound and sight!
Well at least I was now on the correct road, and decided not to go all the way back to Venlo for these super sox I had bought there, I am not so sure they are so good after half a day, so it was on to Aachen and to the Ibis hotel that looks so easy to get to with the non English instructions. It spoke of the Heerlen turnoff on the A4, or that is what I thought it was talking about so off I steamed to Heerlen, which was a few Klm's down the road, but it happened to be in Holland.
Somehow I do not think that was the turnoff they were talking about.
So now to get off the motorway to go back the way I came except it would not let me turn back once I was off so I ended up in Heerlen, round a few roundabouts to see a large Ikea store that looked interesting so I stopped, wandered through it, it was the largest furniture, home fittings etc store that I have been into for many a year.
After finding my way out of that I wandered around the rest of the large complex and it was all to do with the home, some wonderful furniture stores equal to anything I have seen anywhere, now remember this is Holland I am in!
I had always been told that because the homes were so small in Europe that large photographs could not be sold like NZ or the States. Well the furniture arrangement did not spell this out to me nor the size of the lounge suites or dining tables. So I spoke to the assistant who said "yes" the average and under were small but the average and over were buying this furniture. This was rather obvious to me that they were as with all of the shops and all of the room arrangements all spelt out, large houses. And they all spelt out Large Photographs, for the person who does not believe that people will not display large photos. OK the correct formula needs to be found, but the opportunity is there for all of Europe.
Then it was time for lunch and I saw a American chain called Applebee's, a restaurant I last dined in with Rick after the Monterey classic car races in the San Francisco area. It was full of American memorabilia, over done as only a American restaurant chain can do! But the food was OK, no instant cup of coffee or bottomless coke glass, but the rest was there, and it was interesting to see how they can drop in into Holland and only change the language on the menu!
Although the assistant did say that two had closed in Germany so it does not always work! But now I had to find a bed for the night, so it was back to Aachen and this time off to the Center. Drove to where I thought it made sense, not that I knew where I was, then turned back and went the other way, turned a corner drove a distance, and there it was the hotel, OK Girls, why do us men have to stop to ask for directions, we always find the hotel!
Yes they had a car garage, yes they that a room, and NO I did not want a 8 breakfast.
So it was leave the suitcases in the room and head for the center of town just down the hill. NO I did not ask for a map, NO I would not get lost, so down for a interesting walk all around the center, very interesting, start back, yes I have passed that, and that on the way down, and that, but wait a minute that looks strange, and so does that, and that, NO I am NOT lost, because I can see the other Ibis hotel across the road, and I need to go there to go to the WC. Yes they do have another hotel and it is just up that road over there and here is a map. OF course I was not lost!
The photographers I have seen and called on seem to be in the business of producing a few 14x11's but lots of very small photos for all sorts of ID's, the only really large photo I have seen was today in a Photo shop where they had a Epson 9000 and has a 30" square print hanging above it. Quite a few seem to be a photographer and photo store combined. All so far have at least been in town and on the ground floor so they must be doing something right.
In the same breath I have also noticed a lot of other trades people, fruit shops, butchers shop and the like still in the center of town, in a side street but they are there. Yes the do have the large supermarkets, larger than some other countries, but I put this feature of the butcher etc down to the fact that in Europe people live in the center of town, where the large hypermarkets are on the edge of town, quite a trip, so by default they are still needed on a daily basis and will be probably for some time!
Mileage traveled from Frankfurt 5273km
The second day in Aachen I wandered around the old city, visited the old museum where I saw a lot of the Charlemagne artifacts and a lot of the relics from churches collection, they have what is supposed to be the dress Mary worn at the birth of Christ, the swaddling clothes and the loin cloth of Christ and the shroud of John the Baptist and have three smaller pieces, the Belt of Mary, the belt and flagellation rope of Christ. They are supposed to have had them since the time of Charlemagne around 800AD. Where they had been for some 800 years it is not mentioned, that is a long, long time!
It has been a little bit of a quite day partially since all of the shops were closed, I believe for a Religious holiday. That is the second national holiday I have stuck since I have been in Europe. However I see on the news last night that Japan now has 50 national holidays, so I would have more complaints there!
When we went to the WC years ago we used to talk of spending a penny, because that was the coin you used to get into the cubical. In Europe it cost 0.30 to the attendant, shows how times change and the corrosion of the value of money everywhere.
Arrived in Koln, took me 90 minutes to find ate address, and when I could fins where I was on the map I found I was one street away from where I wanted to go. We then drove to have two of my films Dev only, while that was happening we went down to a book shop and bought a magazine on second hand motor homes, a lot that were listed had web sites so I will check those out & list them. Germany is supposed to be the cheapest place in Europe to buy them S/H.
Then on to Petersburg a hotel up on a large hill, that important people stay at with a wonderful view of the countryside, a enjoyable fish dinner then back to the house to repack my suitcases after two weeks of travel with half of my luggage.
The tobacco coys are having a wonderful run in Europe, but the cut may be starting as you can not get Non Smoking rooms, rentals, areas in Restaurants, but there are still plenty lighting up everywhere. There ever is a special counter in Supermarkets selling all type of tobacco, cigars etc.
It is always interesting having something that has been made for you fail in a new town or in a strange country, I have had two plastic parts on my glasses fall off in Christchurch, my new shopping town and both opticians charged me $10 to replace the plastic bits, they are of course off my list when I need a new pair of glasses, I Koln the optician replaced the plastic bit for nothing saying it was part of his service, I will remember him as much as I remember the other two so will the person I was with who wears glasses.
If you are in business what is your policy on the equivalent, or are your customers different! Oh yeah!
190 kms to the Airport at Frankfurt, and my host said 2 hours to the Airport and it was that exact! Found the petrol station and the hotel so was able to fill up and drop off my suitcases, drop off the rental, fill in the puncture report.
Mileage traveled from Frankfurt to Frankfurt 5568km not bad just to fill in the 19 days. Will show you the route on a map later,
Then wandered the airport looking at the shops, bought three English books as I was unlikely to find anything to read where I was going, and there was a Newsweek on the real Russian economy so I thought I should read that.
In my wanders I found about 30 or more booths selling cheap flights to most destinations. Some had web sites so I will list those, they are called "last minute flights" and they seem to be at least 33% cheaper than normal, evidentially Frankfurt is the only place that has these type of places according to one of the sales people.
Well this is the last newsletter before I fly to the edge of Siberia, fortunately with Lufthansa, there I will meet Vladimir, who is, I think, a part-time photographer, he has arranged a apartment for me, and will show me around Ekaterinburg, I hope he turns up to the Airport and the Apartment is not one of the Gulag's the Siberian area is famous for, Oh well if he is not at the Airport to meet me, I will get by, I usually do, fortunately he has motivation to turn up, as he as only received a fraction of the full fee.
If you hear of a major disturbance in the Siberian region do not worry it will only be the writer.