After Mont St Michel we spent a couple days driving south. We spent one night near Bordeaux and then continued south towards Biarritz on the Atlantic coast. It had been rainy, but we were hoping for a sunny day so we could hit the beach in Biarritz. While waiting out the rain we made some mini pizzas in our toaster oven. Yummy!
Mont St Michel is a small island that lies a short distance off the coast of northwest France. It has been used as a stronghold and monastic settlement for over a thousand years. It’s a very popular tourist site, so we tried to get up early to get there ahead of the crowds. I’ve seen photos of Mont St Michel before, but it’s one of those places you really have to see in person to appreciate how impressive it is.
Twelve years ago I spent a couple days in Bayeux during a solo trip to France, and I was curious to see if any of the town would look familiar. We started our sight-seeing by biking into town to see the Bayeux cathedral. It’s an impressive structure, visible from miles around with its tall, thin spires. I definitely remember the cathedral and its colorful stained glass windows and lofty vaulted ceilings. The rest of the town is less familiar, but no less scenic. We walked and biked around a bit before finding a sidewalk cafe to have a long lunch.
How about those beautiful tulips in Caroline’s last post, huh? As beautiful as the tulips were, we both were eager to hit the road and really get this European road trip started. But first we had a little more shopping to do. We left our campground near Keukenhof, found a busy little retail district, and bought some basic household items for the camper at a discount store. We also bought a small electrical heater to use when we’re plugged into a power outlet at campgrounds. The nights are chilly and we don’t want to burn through all our propane just to stay warm.
Hurray, we finally get to pick up our camper! Yesterday morning we walked to Donna’s with our heavy packs to finalize details and sign our contract with her. There was a slight chance our camper wouldn’t be ready, but thankfully the dealer had called to say it was ready to go. We then hopped a train to Arnhem and our salesman, Willem, picked us up at the station. Willem and his mechanic took us through a quick walk-through of the systems of the camper. They were a little rushed with us, but we took some videos on Caroline’s phone in case we needed to review anything they covered. Hopefully we didn’t skip over anything too important.
Now that we had a camper picked out, we were eager to hit the road. Unfortunately, we had to wait several days for our wire transfer to reach Donna’s bank and for the camper dealership to get an oil change and an “APK” inspection performed on our camper. The APK is basically like a road worthiness certificate that you need before you sell a vehicle here in the Netherlands.
In previous posts we’ve mentioned how we were debating between traveling Europe by train, car, or camper. A rail pass would make for relatively hassle-free traveling, but the problem is we can’t easily get out into the countryside. Plus, we’d alway have to be schlepping our bags from train stations to hostels. Not to mention the eternal search for a nice hostel to stay in. We traveled by car in New Zealand and that allowed us to go where we wanted, but living out of a tent makes it a little hard to pick up and move to a new place. There’s a lot of packing and unpacking involved, and sitting out rainstorms in a small tent is no fun. So, we finally decided that we’d try traveling Europe in a small RV or campervan. Renting a camper is expensive, so we’ll see if we can buy one for about the same cost as renting one, and we might recover about half of that expense when we re-sell it.
Can you guess what Amsterdam has in common with Denver? No, it’s not the scenic canals or the red-light district. It’s the occasional smell of marijuana in the air. Beyond that, the two cities don’t have too much in common. After we found our hotel, we walked around a bit, and I was surprised at how many people were walking around the city. I guess a lot of people are traveling for the Easter weekend.
We’ve enjoyed our stay here on Cat Ba Island and in Vietnam in general. We wouldn’t have minded staying longer in Vietnam, but it’s time we moved on. We’ll probably be flying back to the U.S. in mid-July so it’s about time we get to Europe and see as much of it as we can before then. With a last look over the harbor from our $12 hotel room, we began our long day of travel.
The first thing we did yesterday was check out of our hotel. We decided to switch to another hotel that has good reviews online. Our new room has a nice view of the harbor and is only $12 per night! As we were checking in the guy at the desk asked if we wanted to attend a show that evening to celebrate the anniversary of Ho Chi Minh visiting the island. I got the impression he was obligated to bring a certain number of guests, including foreigners. We figured it couldn’t hurt to say ‘yes’.
Friday morning we ate the free (lousy) breakfast from our hotel and then walked up the block to join our rock climbing trip. The company is called Asia Outdoors and apparently they have a pretty good reputation for leading climbing trips. The location where we’d be climbing was a small island in nearby Lan Ha Bay. Even with the low clouds and mist it was a scenic boat ride to get there. Just beyond the boat dock we passed a floating village presumably inhabited by local fishermen and their families. After that we motored through some of the steep limestone rock karsts this area is famous for.
Taking another overnight train in Vietnam wasn’t our first choice, given our less than restful train ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Huế. However, we had already bought the train tickets from Huế to Hanoi so we decided to go ahead with another train trip. We didn’t leave Huế until the afternoon so we hung out in the hotel since Caroline wasn’t feeling great.