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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Arrived Houston 5PM, Home at 6PM

We were up and moving at 5:30 am (Copenhagen time), grabbing some coffee and light breakfast in the cabin.  Our bags were pack the night before and placed outside the cabin.  Princess takes them down and sorts them according to your departure and bus.  We departed the ship at 7am and we were at the Copenhagen airport by 8am.  Our bags were waiting for us.  We rolled them into the terminal, checked in with Continental, cleared security and went to the gate to board the aircraft.  Our flight left at 9:30.  MA had paid extra for the bulkhead seats for the legroom.  It's like sitting in 1st Class without the service.

This was a memorable flight.  After we got on board and sat down a Danish couple with a baby sat across the aisle from us.  They brought a car seat for the kid to sit in during the flight.  The mother moved to the seat next to me.  Halfway through the flight the flight attendant brought this bassinet and began mounting it on the bulkhead wall in front of us.  The bassinet trapped MA in her seat.  The mother then offered to exchange seats with MA.  They brought the baby over to our side and put him in the bassinet for him to sleep during the flight.  The kid would have nothing to do with that and began crying and yelling.  We were really upset at this point.  I grabbed my Bose quiet headphones and put them on but this guy could be heard through them.  The mother finally gave up and handed the kid back to the dad who put him in his car seat.  The baby went immediately to sleep.  From that point on the flight was uneventful.  

We arrived in Newark, NJ Airport with a two hour layover and went on the Houston.  We arrived around 5pm and got home at 6pm. We both brought head colds from Russia with us.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Aarhus, Denmark & Oslo, Norway: Last two stops

Wednesday was a full day at sea and I spent it nursing a sore throat, head cold and cough.  I felt so bad that all I wanted to do was sleep.  MA came to my rescue with a bottle of Robitussin cough syrup, the last bottle on the ship I’m told.  With rest and sleeping most of the day and all night I woke up Thursday morning feeling better.  MA said that some guys would do anything to get out of wearing a tuxedo for formal night. (Not true, I was really under the weather.)
The Emerald Princess sailed west from Tallinn, Estonia to Aarhus, Denmark, docking at 7AM on Thursday At Aarhus, MA decided not to go ashore so I took off, camera in hand, around 9AM.  My goal was just to walk around and find some photography subjects and walk back.  What I noticed about Aarhus was that, like Copenhagen, everyone rides a bicycle.  Life in Aarhus seems simple and satisfying to the Danes who live there.  I walked through a university and saw students going and coming to class and getting on their bicycles to get around town. 
After about a three mile circuit I made it back to the ship and met MA for lunch.  Later we got together two new friends, Heather and Dave from San Diego, for team trivial pursuit.  A gentleman from Long Island, NY joined up with us and after the twenty questions it was a two-way tie for first place, our team being one of the two. But we lost the tie-breaker question which was:  The Eiffel Tower is painted every seven years, how many tons of paint does it take?  The answer is 50.  We guessed 7, the other team 90.  They won the Princess water bottles. The questions we should have gotten right for the outright win were: Which country has zero exports? What does the H.G. stand for in the name H. G. Wells?  Answers were Vatican (we said Monaco) and Herbert George, we said Henry George. Who was it who said cruises weren’t educational?  J
On Friday morning I made a coffee run to the buffet and went back for a light breakfast and brought that to the room.  We had decided that if it was raining, as predicted, we would just stay on the ship. But although it was very cloudy, there was no rain so we set out to find the Hop-On-Hop-Off guided bus tour that takes you around the high spots of Oslo. 
We ran into Giovanni and Eleanor at the gangway and the four of us set off for today’s adventures.  We walked about three long blocks to the bus stop.  We decided to get off at Vigeland Park, a park with human statues by none other than a guy named Vigeland.  The statues portray human life in different stages.  One of the statues is of a small boy with his fists clinched and the statue is called, “The Angry Boy.”  It just so happens we came across a real life angry little boy while waiting for the bus.  His father kept his cool and calmed him down.
We made the entire loop of Oslo and came back to downtown getting off at “City Hall”.  MA wanted to go inside to connect with the free Wi-Fi but it was closed.  Instead we found a spot just outside where she turned on the I-Pad and got online.  She was quite tickled to find numerous happy birthday wishes in her email. 
We walked back to the ship walking along the waterfront where local fishermen were selling shrimp from the back of their boat.  I’ve included a couple of photos of them.  After lunch we set about packing for the trip home tomorrow. The crew takes our bags the night before and we next see them at the airport tomorrow.  The bus for the Continental flight leaves at 6:30am. The flight leaves at 9:05 with a layover in Newark and then “home sweet home”. 
This trip, like all the others, has been memorable, not only for the places we visited, but also the great folks we’ve met along the way.  We booked our next trip already, next year, Transatlantic from Ft. Lauderdale to the Azores, then Cork, Ireland, Southampton, UK, Normandy, France, Oslo (again), and ending in Copenhagen.
For now we are anxious to see our great friends in TLC, to see Susan and Jacob in their new home in Nashville, and Jim and Sue and kiddos up there in Chicago. 

That’s all for this time folks! Thanks for tuning in! J

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tallinn, Estonia: A Walk around a Medieval Village

Our new Canadian friends Giovanni and Eleanor, whom we met on the St. Petersburg tour, became our guides for Tallinn, Estonia.  Our original plan was to meet them at 8AM; however, MA suggested that we delay that to 9AM.  I called their room and left a message which they never got. Fortunately they waited ashore for us, then Giovanni came looking and spotted us coming leisurely back from breakfast. We apologized profusely, got our things from the cabin and were off for a walking tour for this 14th century town.
Eleanor had found an online guided walking tour of Tallinn. We started out first on the shuttle bus ship to town and then began our walk going through the lower village, via the north gate and along the north wall.  This older village had a huge wall which surrounded it.  Eleanor had all our points of interest mapped out so I didn’t even have to think about where we were or where we were going next. This gave me a great opportunity to concentrate on my photography.  Giovanni and Eleanor did the guiding. MA kept track of me. 

Tallinn has some beautiful churches, two of which were being restored with scaffolding and tarps covering the exterior.  Most of the churches are Russian Orthodox; however, I did find one Lutheran church. 
Our walk then took us up to the upper village and the famous town square and town hall.  Tallinn was established in 1400 and the town hall was built around 1413. It is still used as the town seat of government.  I took MA into a local shop and bought her a pair of amber earrings for her birthday, amber being the gem of choice in this part of the world. 
We then said good bye to Giovanni and Eleanor who had more exploring to do and made our way to the shuttle bus stop.  All in all we found the Estonians to be cheerful and hospitable.
Today (Wednesday) is a day at sea and we are ready for some down time reading, playing trivial pursuit in teams with another great couple, Dave and Heather from our dinner table group. And did I mention lunch?  Today’s special is authentic British “fish and chips”, offered once on most cruises as a special lunch feature and something we look forward to.
Tomorrow the ship docks at a place I’ve never heard of, Aarhus, Denmark, then Oslo on Friday, and fly home via New York on Saturday, then back to Worship at Second Baptist Sunday morning!  Later!

St. Petersburg: From Russia with Love

We arrived in St. Petersburg on Sunday morning, August 14th and were off the ship
by 7:00 AM.  We had chosen an independent tour company called Alla Tours. They were less expensive than Princess Tours but more importantly, we would be a group of 16 instead of 60. Also they offered a night tour and at my request, focused ours on night photography opportunitie. We met our guide Anya and our bus driver, Vladimir.  Half our group spoke another language, similar to Russian, but we made friends with a couple from Toronto, Canada, Giovanni and Eleanor and a couple from San Diego, Jane and Harris.
Our first adventure was a drive around St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 when he defeated the Swedes.  He built a fortress there and then began designing the city. Russia was a monarchy ruled by Romanov Czars. The revolution began in 1905 culminating in 1917 with the abdication of Czar Nicholas who along with his entire family, was shot by the Bolshevists. Russia then began its communist history.
St. Petersburg was an epic battleground in WW2 when the Germans invaded. The Germans were stopped at the gates of St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad, and in retribution stopped all food supplies into the city for 300 days. During that time they waited and watched the people starve.

Backing up in history, during the reign of the Romanovs, the Czars accumulated an enormous art collection which is housed in the Hermitage Museum AKA the Winter Palace.  Peter the Great also built a summer palace known as Peterhof.  Catherine, his wife, not to be out done, built her palace in the opposite direction.  We visited both palaces and there architectural style is what I can only describe as “Gilded Russian Decadence.”
Part of the day 1 tour was a subway ride.  To find the train one descends down, down, down on an escalator, at least 300’ below the surface.  As subways go it was about the same as Barcelona’s or Paris’, except everyone on the train looked tired or depressed.  We got off the subway and took the escalator up, up, up and walked across the street to a Russian market where merchants sell vegetables, fruit, meat, and bread.  I could have prepared a great meal with what was available. 
Church on Spilled Blood
Next we visited two churches: St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of the Spilled Blood. I thought the Spilled Blood referred to the Crucifixion, but soon found out it referred to the spilled blood of the Czar Alexander II who was assassinated there. I took a lot of pictures here because it is overwhelmingly beautiful.  
Our lunch stop was at a local Russian restaurant and we were served a coleslaw like salad, borsht (beet) soup, chicken croquets with a sauce, boiled potatoes, ice cream, coffee or tea.
Next was The Hermitage. Once a residence of the Czars. Today it is the State Museum of Art, housing the largest art collection in the world.  If you name any master artist in history, something from his work can be found here in the Hermitage.   Personally, I have never seen so much opulence and extravagance in my life.  I can see why the people revolted and how Communism came into being. 

Interior Church Spilled Blood

We made it back to the ship at 5PM on the first day and MA and I prepared for the night photo tour. In addition to us there were 10 others who signed up. For the tour, I had offered to share night photography tips with my fellow photographers, some of who had never even read their camera manuals. 
We met Alexis, our tour guide and Vladimir was again our driver.  It really didn’t get dark enough for good night photography until 10PM so in the meantime, we checked out some interesting bridges and a really beautiful blue and white chapel. It was there where we saw a glimpse into young-people’s idea of a night out.  They rent stretch limos loaded with champagne and drive around town seeing the sights and drinking. Things had apparently gotten a little out of hand and two of the guys got into a fist fight and were left behind when the limo took off without them.

While waiting for darker skies, we photographed the Hermitage from the outside, also the Teva River front.  Everyone had a great time. I hoped I had inspired some up and coming photographers.
Day two began at 8AM when we met Anya and Vladimir outside the passport control building.  Our tour took us to the river front where we boarded a hydrofoil for a cruise to Peterhof, another palace built by Peter the Great, said to rival Versailles.  It sits on a beautiful 300 acre manicured park that has at least 150 fountains.  I can only describe this place as “gilded opulence gone wild”.  We weren’t allowed inside, but from what I saw on the outside, I can only imagine what it looked like. 
We met our driver again and picnicked on the bus as we headed for our next stop.  Lunch was typically Russian: a sandwich of chicken between two soft “blinis”, (like crepes), an apple, apple juice and a chocolate bar.  The best part was the apple. MA liked the chocolate bar best!


Our last stop was the Winter Palace or Catherine’s Palace, about a 45 minute ride from downtown.  No expense was spared in building this place. Gold seemed to be the design theme.  There is a room with walls of amber called “The Amber Room” and we were told not to take pictures in this room, although I never figured out why.  There was a sleepy-eyed Russian woman guard in there who kept her eye on me.  I discreetly fired off several no-flash shots while she dozed off.  It’s what I call photo shooting from the hip.  I was expecting the KGB to stop me at the exit but I got away with it.
Amber Room

Our tour bus took us back to the ship in plenty of time for sail away.  MA and I were both tired of going and going and climbing and climbing stairs and were glad to be back on board.  The ship’s next stop was in Tallinn, Estonia, so stay tuned.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Helsinki Walking Tour: Short & Sweet

Temppeliaukio Rock Church

We arrived in Helsinki about eight this morning and the ship docked at nine.  We got ready for the day, had our usual breakfast upstairs and hurried off at 9:30.  We had no plans other than to get on a shuttle bus and walk around town.
We did want to see three churches in Helsinki because all three are unique:  the Temppeliaukio Rock Church, the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas and the Russian Orthodox Church.  The shuttle bus let us off in central downtown and after directions from a helpful Helsinki guide we started walking.  By the way, just like Copenhagen and Sweden, the Fins learn English in school and they speak it better than many of us do!  Said another way, I would hate to have to learn Finnish and try to pronounce some of the long, complicated words I’ve seen. 
Our first stop was to be the Temppeliaukio Rock church. We followed the guide’s direction walking down the main street until we came to a statue of a guy riding a horse, turned left and went up the hill. We spotted the church which at first glance looked like a flying saucer on the ground.
This is because it was constructed by blasting a huge underground hole out of rock and carving it into a giant bowl shaped facility.  A copper roof was installed which is what makes it look like a UFO.  We did not get a chance to go inside because it was closed until 12 Noon. We did hear that the acoustics inside were absolutely amazing.
From there we retraced our steps stopping at the local McDonald’s so MA could catch use their WiFi to update the I-Pad and send a new “Word with Friends” Scrabble word to her granddaughter Jillian.

Lutheran Cathedral

Our next destination was the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas, a huge white church on top of a hill dominating Senate Square.  It was magnificent. The interior has a central dome with other domes around it supported by huge columns. 
There is a gigantic organ at the back of the church and I could only imagine the music coming from its pipes.  Protestants are not into statues but there was one of Martin Luther inside the worship area.  As in Sweden, most Fins are Lutherans today.

Russian Orthodox Church

From there we walked to Market Square and found the local farmers and merchants market.  There were all kinds of vegetables for sale as well as fruit, clothing, fur garments, and souvenirs, sidewalk cafes and harbor cruises for tourists.  MA pointed out a woman who was knitting as fast as a machine without even looking at what she was doing, never missing a stitch. 

From the market we looked uphill to the Russian Orthodox Church.  We got to the front doors only to find it too was locked. Still, from the outside, it was another impressive church with its rooftop domes. 
At this point we headed back toward the shuttle bus stop, stopping at a sidewalk café for two small beverages that cost us $25!  Oh well, it’s the atmosphere and people watching we decided we were paying for. There was a van that stopped right by our table.  It was filled with Chinese tourists one of who seemed to point his camera right at us, as if we were natives who would show up on his blog. I gave him a big smile, aimed my camera back, and we all laughed with thumbs up signals. From there we popped in to Stockman’s which is the biggest department store I’ve ever been in.  Reminded me of IKEA times ten!

Next we made our way back to the ship for a late lunch.  MA took her book and headed for the pool (it was about 72 degrees today with full sun) and I worked on the photographs I wanted to show you here.
Tomorrow we arrive in St. Petersburg, Russia. In our wildest dreams did we ever think we would someday find ourselves in that country!!  Both of us are looking forward to the next two days of seeing some amazing sights.  I am doing a night photography class for our tour company tomorrow evening so we won’t blog again until Sunday night.
Next stop: St. Petersburg

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tour of Stockholm

Stockhom Harbor
Stockholm was one city where we opted for a Princess excursion basically because we didn’t know much about the place.   I don’t know if it was the walk around the Gamla Stan (Old Town) yesterday afternoon or being just a little worn out from going and going, but we both slept likes rocks and were eager to get going early this morning, looking forward to meeting new folks and to what we would see today.  
After breakfast we grabbed our tickets and my camera and met up with our group.  We would be in Yellow Bus 4.  MA and I ended up as the first two out the door and we managed to get a front row seat on the bus.  The panoramic view of the local sights is always best from there. Our group consisted of about 60 folks and our Swedish guide spoke perfect English. 

The first stop was the Vasa Museum where a 300 year old warship is on display, having been restored after it was raised from the bottom of the Stockholm harbor. Its original purpose was a warship to do battle against the Catholic countries. (Sweden is strictly a Lutheran country.)
During the original construction of the ship the Swedish king insisted on some extra canons.  Unfortunately they added too much weight and made the ship top heavy.  And so on August 10, 1628, twenty minutes after the ship set sail on her maiden voyage, it tipped over and promptly sank in the harbor where it sat for three hundred years.
When the diving bell was later invented, divers went down and the ship was located. But the only things they retrieved at first were three canons which for some reason were sold to Germany.     The Ship itself was forgotten until it was located again in 1961 at which time it was raised and very carefully restored. The Vasa Museum was then built to house it and help keep it preserved. It is one of the world’s most visited museums.

The "Blue Room" where the Nobel Prizes are awarded

Our next stop was City Hall, Stadshuset in Swedish.  I thought the architecture of the place was outstanding.  There are columns, marbled steps, arches, in what the guide described as Neo-Romantic.  What is famous about this place is the “Blue Room,” which seats 1,000 guests for the annual Nobel Peace Committee banquet honoring each year’s winners. Upstairs is the gold room where dancing takes place after the banquet.  The walls there are intricately decorated with tiny gold tiles, 23 karat gold I might add, and no one dares try to steal even one tiny little tile off those walls.

Our last stop was the Gamla Stan, the Old Town, same place MA and I had walked around last night.  Our timing could not have been better because we caught the procession of Swedish soldiers for the changing of the guards of the Royal Palace. 

After a short bus ride back to the ship, we shared a lunch table with three ladies from Ventura, California whose main topic of conversation was the loss in real estate value of their homes there. I took it easy for the remainder of the day.  MA did a mile walk on the promenade deck, exchanged some library books, got a latte, and attended the tour lecture on Helsinki, Finland, tomorrow’s port of call.  Stay tuned!

Passing 3 Mast Sailing Ship

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stockholm and Cruising up the Archipelago

Stockholm at sunset

Our ship diverted continued north to Sweden and a cruise through the beautiful Stockholm archipelago.   As we approached the coast the weather was cloudy but the rain held off.  The Swedish coastline is rocky and tree covered with small islands too numerous to count.  I also lost count of the small sailboats and power boats that we passed. I heard the narrator say that more folks have boats here than have cars.
 There are small villages here and there with brightly colored houses with piers and usually some kind of boat moored there for transportation.  The clusters of homes are neat and give off a sense of peace and tranquility.  Emerald Princess docked at 6pm.

MA and I gathered with about 200 other folks by the cruise terminal to catch a shuttle bus into the Old Town, a preserved medieval village.  We managed to get on the bus but had to ride standing up! Although there were some interesting photo ops, Old Town was really not what I imagined it to be.  It was mainly for tourists, (Yes I know, that includes us!) and therefore crowded and I was mildly disappointed.
We walked around and decided to head back after about an hour, joining friends at our table for dinner. Tomorrow we take a Princess tour to the famous Vasa museum. Ship departs Stockholm for Helsinki about 3:30. Later!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday, Unexpected Day at Sea

Wednesday, Unexpected Day at Sea
We woke up this morning to a howling wind and high seas expecting to dock in Warnemunde, Germany. However, the captain announced on the public address that the winds were too high and it was unsafe to attempt to dock.  Two hours later he came back on to announce that we would be continuing on to Sweden instead with a tour of the Swedish coastline prior to docking in Stockholm tomorrow early afternoon. We would then remain overnight there. This was great news for me because it would allow some more night photography.
The day was spent relaxing and napping.  Well, I napped, MA went to see the movie “The King’s Speech” and she loved it. Earlier at breakfast we met a family from Mexico City, a place that is dear to MA because she lived and studied there during her second year in college. 
We strolled around the ship, read our library books and had lunch later meeting three ladies who take cruises together.  One of them was complaining to any who would listen about being upgraded to a $16,000 suite from her mid-ship mini-suite. She didn’t like the $16,000 one because it was too windy on the balcony, being at the front of the ship and then later she could hear the wind through the balcony doors while she was trying to sleep.  Some people not only examine a gift horse in the mouth they complain when it’s the wrong color. Her traveling companions were rolling their eyes behind her back. The rest of us at the table offered to trade places with her.  No dice!
Well, we are getting all dressed up tonight for formal night.  We’ll take our own photos and save $40.  See ya!

Nice to Copenhagen: Challenges & Lightning

Monday was travel day.  Although our flight was not until 1:40pm, we left the condo at 9:45 to give us plenty of time to top off the rental car with diesel, return it and get to the SAS checking counter at the Nice Cote d’Azur Airport.  We returned the car at Terminal 2 but SAS was located in Terminal 1, 1km away.  We hopped on a shuttle bus like we knew what we were doing and rode over to where we needed to be.  When we found SAS we learned there was a flight delay but we were able to check in and go find MA’s favorite airport lounge using her Continental card.  Finally we took off with a reluctant goodbye to the south of France.

The flight to Copenhagen was unforgettable, but not how you might think.  For one thing SAS charges for everything.  I had wanted to bring some snacks from the lounge but MA presumed that, based on the great Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Nice, SAS would be serving us lunch.  Wrong!  Not only did they charge for snacks and lunch, but when we asked for some water we were told that they did not serve free water but would sell us a bottle for 3 € (Euros) – that’s $5 USD.  We could have afforded that of course but it was the principle of the thing. 
As we got closer to Copenhagen the clouds began to turn dark and we found ourselves flying through a major thunderstorm.  Suddenly there was a brilliant flash followed by a loud boom.  Sure enough, the plane was hit by lightning.  The captain immediately came on the intercom to reassure everyone that all was well.  The landing was no fun, even for my experienced former flight attendant spouse but God was in charge and we arrived safely at Copenhagen.  Now all we had to do was figure out how to buy train tickets to town, find the right train and haul the luggage and ourselves aboard. We did it just like natives, and when we got to town, it was only a 3-block walk to the Clarion Mayfair Hotel. 

The hotel was a great choice.  Included in the room price was a dinner buffet and hot breakfast.  The earlier rain had stopped and I wanted to get some photography in.   I had a destination in mind, Nyhavn, a canal lined with sailing ships and colorful home.  MA wasn’t so sure going out to a strange city at night was a good idea but I assured her I would be fine, would be back by 10pm.  I was!
The next morning we were up early. We had breakfast and set out on a 3km walk.  I showed MA the Nyhavn canal and the outdoor pedestrian mall. 
Bicycles rule Copenhagen, and not just Tour de France type cyclists, but locals, shoppers, vendors and commuters.  Almost everyone rides one.  Many of the riders were women in high heels, dressed for the office.  Others had coffee cups in hand, the obligatory MP3 plugged in and they were all ages, young and our age!

Where did I leave my bike?

There are specific bicycle-only lanes on all the major streets.  I saw people hauling all sorts of stuff too, stuff like: babies, dogs, people in bicycle cabs, hot dogs carts, even a maintenance tool boxes. For the most part, everyone obeys all the traffic laws; stopping for red lights, hand signaling, and staying in their designated lanes.  There are bicycles parked outside every building and only a few had locks on the front wheel.  My question is how you find your bicycle amongst all the others. Take for example, this bicycle lot in front of the train station!

 It started to rain on the way back from our walk, but we made it, packed up, and grabbed a cab to the Princess cruise terminal.  Cruise card in hand we boarded our ship. We knew we had been upgraded from our “obstructed view, no balcony room” but we were quite unprepared for Cabin R304 which is bigger than any bedrooms in our home, bigger than most hotel rooms. Turns out it is outfitted for wheelchair passengers but was not needed for that purpose, thus our upgrade.  After unpacking we went to the customary emergency drill, had dinner and met some new folks. 

Our first port of call was to be Warnemunde, Germany (for Berlin).  We are up early this Wednesday AM in order to be ready for our tour but the captain has just announced that due to 30-40 knot winds there, he could not safely navigate the ship to port, and “to stay tuned for Plan B.”  MA’s not too unhappy. She likes days at sea and the mysteries she reads on vacations. And we may get an unexpected new shore experience from this weather detour.
Until tomorrow then, God bless.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday: Rest day and last full day in France plus driving tips

Road signs are small.  The road number is at the top D2 taking you to  Vence and Nice.
 No plans today other than pack and bring lunch up to Coursegoules and say our farewells to Nola and Randy.  The morning started off with thunder, lightning and a little rain.  It didn’t last long.  MA began sorting and arranging clothes between summery France and the frosty Baltic ports.  SAS allows two checked bags as long as they weigh less than 50 lbs each. We carry a small baggage hand scale just for times such as these.
Last night I prepared potatoes with sautéed onions and garlic and yellow squash with sautéed onions all in preparation for our lunch. We also brought sausages and shish-kabobs to grill. 

Before we left for Coursegoules, we walked into Vence to say goodbye to Yves, the waiter and Cecile at the Hotel Diana, two friends we made here from last year.  A trip to the Boulangerie to pick up two baguettes and newspaper for Nola and one last coffee at Henri’s and it was walk back up the hill and head out for Coursegoules.

For the last two weeks I’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like to drive here and I thought I would share some thoughts and observations.
If     1.  If you plan to drive anywhere in France or any other European country, bring a GPS with you.  Make sure you get a European SD card.  I bought mine for Europe for $65 on E-Bay.
2        2. Rent a diesel car.  It will come with a standard transmission but there is substantial savings in fuel cost between gasoline and diesel (the French call it gasoil).

You can see the chain link that keeps the big rocks off the highway.
3.      3. French roads are asphalt and in great shape.  I never saw a pothole.  What I would change are the super narrow lanes on mountain roads that at times do not accommodate simultaneous traffic from both directions. But drivers are generally considerate and we work it out. On the positive side they have done a great job of fencing the rock walls to prevent loose boulders from falling.

The road makes a sharp 180 at the intersection.
             4. Driving in a foreign country takes TOTAL concentration.  The roads are narrow and there is no room for mistakes.  You either have a car coming at you, solid wall of rock on your right or a several hundred foot drop-off on the other side.  You are constantly shifting between 2nd and 3rd gears and on really steep grades or sharp turns into 1st.

A bicyclist on the left means watch out for more.
This guy peddling uphill had the entire inbound traffic stopped until he cleared them.
This guy zoomed right around me not caring if another car was coming.
5.    5.  France and the rest of Europe are “bicycle friendly”.  Bicycles are everywhere so expect to meet them on the road.  They will be on the right hand side of the road so it’s just like passing a car.   If you are driving slower than cars behind you the protocol is (when safe) to turn on your right signal and slow down to let them pass.  That tells the driver behind you to go ahead and pass.

There are emergency phones along the highway.

The sign says it all.
6.     6. Road signs are self explanatory, except of course when they have information you need but it’s in French.

7.    7. Toll roads are usually designated “Peage”. I took that to mean “you pay”. Have plenty of Euro coins and get in the line with the sign showing a basket with coins going in it.  Otherwise you’ll be in the wrong line, the one that requires a card.  An attendant will have to come out and take your money.  We did this once but the cars behind us never honked or got mad.  They probably figured we were foreigners who get in the wrong line occasionally.

8.      8.  Motorcycles and motor scooters are as numerous as cars, especially in big cities.  They like to drive between cars that are stopped at red lights and they will come right alongside of you.  Just expect it.  Go with the flow.

You have to know where you're going.  The GPS will tell you which exit to take.
9.      9. The French love traffic circles.  Vehicles already in the circle have the right of way.  Entering a traffic circle you must yield.  There are almost no red lights.

1     10. While we didn’t see all that many red lights, there are plenty of traffic cameras.  Watch your speed on the Auto-route, designated A-8.

In the village of Coursegoules

An intersection of 5 streets.  At the stop sign the cars on the left have right of way.

At narrow streets the traffic is one way controlled by who has right of way.  The  other guy has it.

One lane bridges are also controlled by right of way signs.

When leaving a village, you see the name with a red line through it.
 We are all packed and ready to go.  Our next destination is Copenhagen, Denmark where the Emerald Princess takes over the transportation skills.  Au voir! Thanks for tuning in!