France, 2018

Our driving trip through northern France


Saturday, May 19, 2018 — Haarlem

The traffic was very light on this Saturday morning as we left Cologne and headed for Haarlem in the Netherlands. The weather was cool and cloudy, and it rained off and on while we were driving. It was about a 3 1/2 hour drive but we stopped in the town of Leiden for a rest break. Rembrandt was born here and it reminded us of the church in Amsterdam where he was buried. When we visited Amsterdam a few years ago, we toured Anne Frank’s home where she and her family hid from the Nazis. She wrote in her diary about hearing the bells from the nearby church, which is Rembrandt’s final resting place. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has many of his works and the size of the paintings amazed us. We didn’t do any sightseeing in Leiden, but needed a WC, so we stopped at a McDonald’s and had coffee and cookies. It had large touch-screens to place orders. Do they have these back home? We haven’t been to one for years. We checked into the Carlton Square Hotel in Haarlem (the Harlem in NYC is named after this city) about 3:00 and watched CNN to hear the latest about THE WEDDING. We didn’t see it live, as it took place at noon, but it was fun to see the coverage. The bride looked more calm than the CNN reporters. Barbara enjoyed seeing all the dresses, hats and fascinators. We looked at places we could visit tomorrow, and were very disappointed when the guy at reception told us it's a holiday (Whit Sunday, 7 weeks after Easter) and many places will be closed. Many of them aren’t open today, either. We took a long walk and saw the Cathedral Basilica of Sint Bavo and then walked to the old town. We stopped at the Apple store and talked to a lovely gal about losing Jay’s iPhone. Don’t know if we have any insurance that will cover the loss. When walking, you have to worry more about bicycles than cars. There are all kinds of bikes that we haven’t seen before. We went to the Grote Markt where they were breaking down all the booths. We went by the Church of St Bayo that has an enormous pipe organ that was played by many famous musicians including Mendelssohn, Handel and Mozart, who was ten years old at the time. The organ is huge (wish we could see it) and Herman Melville compared it to the mouth of the whale in Moby Dick: “Seeing all these colonnades of bone so methodically ranged about, would you not think you were inside of the great Haarlem organ, and gazing upon its thousand pipes?” We decided to eat in the hotel’s restaurant tonight and had a delicious meal. Barbara’s grilled sea bass was excellent.



Leiden Pannenkoekenhuis

Leiden McDonald's

The windmills of Holland

Catching up on the wedding news


Cathedral Basilica of Sint Bavo

Unusual Bicycle


Church of St Bayo - home of the famous organ

Sunday, May 20, 2018 — The Hague

The last day of our sightseeing trip in Europe was a glorious one with lots of sunshine and temps in the upper 60s. We know it’s time to go home from our experience in the hotel restaurant last night. The waiter asked us how long we had been in Haarlem and we said we just arrived that day. He asked where we had just been and we looked at each other and said “Where were we last night?" Another waiter went by and said he had that problem, too. Barbara told him it wasn’t for the same reason and he just grinned. We eventually remembered we had just driven in from Cologne. This morning we had the nice buffet breakfast in the hotel and then watched some YouTube video before we went out sightseeing. Last night on SNL, Ben Stiller played Michael Cohen in a skit, while Kate McKinnon played Rudy Guliano and Robert de Niro played Robert Mueller. It was a hoot and was the final SNL for the season. Even though things today were closed because of the holiday, we drove about 60 km from Haarlem to The Hague and walked around for a couple hours. We parked in an underground garage and it was very high-tech. Every parking space had a small light over it and it was red for filled spaces, green for open spaces and blue for open handicapped spaces. It’s a great idea and saves a lot of driving around. The Hague is a beautiful city with many interesting old buildings. The Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery was one of the first buildings we saw and Vermeer’s famous “Girl with the Pearl Earring” is on exhibit here. We will have to come back to Holland if we want to see it. We also would have loved to see some of the medieval churches. We returned to Haarlem in mid-afternoon and did some re-packing of our suitcases for the trip home tomorrow. Then we walked to the old town in Haarlem again. There’s a windmill museum,De Adriaan windmill (Molen), and we took a guided tour that lasted about 1/2 hour. We had to walk up many steps on a spiral staircase and then climb up several steep ladders (down was harder) to get to the viewing platform. The guide showed us how windmills worked (they ground all kinds of things from rocks to seashells, pumped water and sawed lumber). The museum is a replica of the original windmill as it was destroyed by fire in 1932 and was rebuilt and opened again in 2002, exactly 70 years to the date later. The guide said there were once 15,000 windmills in Holland and now there are 1,000 that are still operating. We walked back to the hotel on tired legs. Between the walking and climbing we went over 7.7 miles today. We went back to the hotel restaurant for dinner, since we had such a nice experience and good food there last night. Our young waiter chatted to us a bit and said he wanted to travel to the U.S. someday. He probably won’t make it to MN but he seemed to know where it was. We’re looking forward to seeing our family, friends and our city soon. We’re scheduled to leave about 2:00 pm tomorrow and should be home around 6:15 pm. We’re flying Icelandair and will have a short layover in Reykjavik. We’ll get all the hours we lost on the ship back in one day.  

© Jay 2020