The Continental Tripping Journal 2010 Holland/France   # 1
  Lobby      Blog      Swag      Gallery  
 Our trip was always half-planned and expected to be a very lets just go and see what happens type thing.  I'd made up my mind I felt the need to travel and arranged annual leave from work in which to do it.  The Husband was due home from a long stint in Norway so we were reckoning on some time off together.  The oil industry doesn't always deliver the most likely outcomes however, and no sooner was The Husband in the door then he was going back out the door to work again.  However he was able to arrange that I was included on this work project, so we were happy we could make the most of the situation.
  Holland Gallery
Leaving Scotland
 We'd originally planned on visiting France in The Z4.  Just get over there and see where the roads and Mr Izzard on the Sat-Nav took us.  But it transpired The Husband's work took us to Emmen in Holland first. 
 The Scottish Viking is the current ferry, apparently custom built, providing the Rosyth to Zeebruger service.  I've taken the same trip before with The Husband, before the last company bailed out.  The boat back then was of a higher standard, classier.  The Scottish Viking is due to go by the end of this year.  News is that we'll loose the option of sailing from Rosyth, they intend to maintain a freight service apparently, but if folks want to sail from Scotland to The Continent we'll have to get down to England first.  That's depressing and a very sad reflection on the people who're currently running Scotland.  The current service is expensive, perhaps if they got the pricing right they'd find more people would use the service, and they'd realise it is in demand.
 Anyway, we arrived well on time, the ferry was late, due to bad weather.  We booked in and drove out, to North Queensferry for a snack and drink at the first suitable eatery we found.  There was a wedding party all over The Brook Queensferry Hotel.  When we were done and headed back out to The Z4 the majority of wedding guests and main players were standing about the front of the hotel, on the over-hanging balcony, at the front door and spilling into the car park.  As we left, jumped into The Z4 and drove off, well it's not very often the bride is a car.
 We took to the high seas, tucking The Z4 in for the night then going up to check out the ship.  It's dull.  The one lounge is plain and rudimentary, the one restaurant is plain and rudimentary, the one shop is basic, the cabin (which cost the oil industry an itsy-bitsy tiny fortune) was distinctly not lux.  Due to the last minute nature of our booking we were told there was nothing available, then ahhhh...but there is a "special" cabin available after-all.  Seems "special" enough and we'll give you one.  It was a distinctly un-special four-bed cabin, two on the bottom and two over-head bunks that could be pulled down if required.  Anyways, I'm not really complaining, just giving an honest customer review here.  We went in search of our dining options for the evening, there was one.  OK, there was two, you could have bar snacks, if you didn't want an actual dinner.  We reserved a table for the 9pm sitting.  It was a £25 a head 3 course menu which did unsettle us for a few seconds, not sure what that would exactly entail.  Initially all went well.  Table service for the starter and drinks, waiters doing what they should.  But then...OMG!  it turned into a self-service cafeteria!  We had to pick up a tray each and join the queue, wait in line to get our mains and sweets.  I've never known the like.  And that was £25's worth?  I think not.
 The guys loading the ship, directing the traffic, seemed to be Italian, though I had a sneaking suspicion they were Scottish putting on an Italian accent for a laugh.  I'm still not sure, but if you forced me to decide, they probably were real Italians, just not typically Italian in appearance.  The majority of the ship hotel staff were Filipino or summit similar, with the expected communication difficulties.
 We slept well enough, packed our bags and sat out on a small deck as Belgium got closer.  The signs said "no unauthorised personal" but some senior hotel man told us it would be fine for us...just not for anyone else...which seems about right.  Once we'd docked we headed back to The Z4, when we arrived on the appropriate vehicle deck it was far busier than it had been when we'd last seen it.  We came through a door and were immediately faced with the side of an articulated lorry container thingee, like 2cm from my face.  We were expected to walk down that tiny space, alongside the lorry thing, between lorry and ship wall, OMG!  Panic set in, I have a few fears, a major one is being trapped in a small space where I'd suffocate/be trapped/squashed to death, between...a rock and a hard place type thing.  A lorry and a wall, it's the same thing, I couldn't do it.  The Husband immediately recognised my primeval fear surfacing, took control and directed us to withdraw.  We had to wait at the front of the deck till a load of vehicles left.  How the hell all the Germans and Dutch folks got to their motor-homes I have no idea.  I don't mean to be derogatory, but they were all, well...a lot bigger than me, and most of them were bigger than The Husband, that's all I'm saying.  But anyway, enough about my phobias.

 Arriving on The Continent
 We left The Scottish Viking and drove straight through Belgium and it's dodgy paedophile reputation as fast as their speed cameras would allow for, to Emmen, up north in The Netherlands.
  We have a house in Emmen, but it has renters in situ at present so The Oil Industry put us up at Hotel Emmen.  A fabulously luxurious hotel for the prices.  This Van der Valk hotel is stylish and chic, offering good old-fashioned top-notch service and an eye for detail.  The general air and ambiance is full on high-class, standard of maintenance is exemplary, staff are Dutch and dressed to uniform perfection, the waiters are all sharp dressed men, the female staff in similar black and white, all very nice.  By the looks of things, no expense is spared, the abundant floral arrangements are fresh all the time and the many tiny candles in the à la carte restaurant are burning constantly.  All very lux.  
  The Husband had booked us a double room on the ground floor, which was very nice, the room had an ultra-modern bathroom/wetroom with massive shower and Jacuzzi bath, but more importantly, a door onto a peaceful patio area offering private bistro table and chairs with a wall of Maize in the adjoining field as a view.  Along the corridor was a room with both a chocolate and a canned fizzy drinks machine.  I visited every morning for my Diet Coke and M&Ms.  I got through my Dutch experience by learning quickly that sugar free cola drink translates as Cola Light, and that language knowledge served me well.  There was no sign of Pepsi, neither the Diet nor the Max version.  
   the loo  
  Pernod is Pernod, wine is wine, sugar free cola drink is "Cola Light"...that's all you need to know cos you can guess or point to the rest really.  You go shopping, the assistant may announce summit that makes you think they just cleared their throat, but the till display tells you the cost in numerals, so no problem.  Every time I had to communicate with the Dutch peoples they either immediately switched to English for my benefit if they were able, and most of them were well able, or they pointed and watched me pointing in return, and we got there.  
  One night as we were standing out front The Hotel Emmen we watched a couple of the immaculately dressed staff guys emptying the car park bins and such like, then they hung around The Z4, visibly and audibly admiring our little darling.  I'd never have thought of it, but The Husband playfully suggested...tell them it's I did.  I asked them as they passed, you like my Z4 boys?  Ohhh, the boys were well impressed, ohhh's's yours?  Does it go fast?  I'm jealous...just a few of the things they said to me.  The only down side was the next two days one of them guys kept bumping into me in the public areas of the hotel and smiling, saying hi, it took me a load of effort hiding that I'd lied.  Though I hadn't, not really, the rule is...what's his is mine, and what's mine is mine.  
  While The Husband had to go to work each day I took it easy, long lie-in each morning, sunbathed on our patio, listened to podcasts, ordered my online ASDA grocery shopping to arrive for my return to Scotland, wandered down to the restaurant for a Cola Light, that kind of thing.  I also visited Emmen, visited the zoo and went shopping.  
  Emmen Zoo is in the middle of town and rather special.  I wandered around, at ease, cos I'd taken a pair of my black Crocs Crocband Flats in my Topshop Black Leather Stud Slouch Bag.  After a Cola Light at Cafe De Brasserie I went shopping.  Emmen's main shopping centre offers a lot of good shops including H&M and C&A and V&D, they favour shops called a letter followed by an & then another letter.  I bought a C&A black ruffle dress/tunic and their grey wool argyle dress/tunic.  At Tally Weijl, which translates as Totally Sexy, I got a couple vest type tops.  If you shop at Tally Weijl...bit of advice, ignore the size labels...they don't stick to any system known to me.  The labels seem to be sown in willy-nilly, in some third-world sweat-shop no doubt, our UK shops provide much the same third-world sweat-shop garments, but I've never known such bad size labelling here.  The size "M" for medium, which I took to be my size, back at the hotel, turned out to be too small.  So I took them back next day.  One of the tops I changed for the next size up, the "L" for large, turned out to be my size.  The other top I had to exchange for the only bigger size they had in that style, reported to be an "XL".  Now, deep breath...I have never in my life bought an XL...when I got it back to the hotel, it turned out to be smaller than the "M" I took back!  
We had dinner one night at Hotel Emmen, lovely food, and the other nights we dined out.  Once, over the border in Germany, at a German Mongolian Chinese restaurant, I didn't even know them multi-cultural type eateries existed.  The best my memory can recall is that it was called Jingu, or Jing-Gu, or Jin-Gu, all I remember is telling The Husband, of course we'll remember the name, it's Pingu, like the penguin, but with a J.  Problem is, now I try to Google it, I can't find it.  Anyways, it's a German Mongolian Chinese with German speaking Mongolian staff.  It weren't my favourite dinner of the trip, we'll leave it at that and say no more.  My favourite Dutch meals were at Café Groothuis, which we visited twice.  I'd been before, the last time I was in Emmen.  It's a wonderful place with a large heated open veranda terrace type front, allowing for late evening sitting out in comfort.  They do a Mustard Soup starter I recall with fondness from my last visit, but this time I fell in lurve with their Sushi And Sashimi, Wasabi, Soy Sauce and Wakame starter and had it both times.  Mind out for the with a capital H, just a smidgeon dabbed on a large mouthful of food is way enough.  I discovered this after forking in a large dollop of Wasabi on a small portion of rice and tuna.  I discovered it's actually a hot green condiment made from finely grated Japanese horseradish root.  Delicious in minute quantities.  Wasabi can also be used as an excellent (though temporary) cure for a stuffy nose, which may explain the sneezing fits I had at dinner on both nights. The Wakame is the small pile of thin and stringy seaweed on your plate when you go to Café Groothuis and order the Sushi And Sashimi, it is sweet and delicious.
  On our second visit there was this waiter who looked like he should be on Bondi Beach or maybe a beach in California.  After his first contact with us, I do recall saying he was a breath of fresh air.  All blonde locks and tan, charming and hard-working, never in one place for more than 15 seconds, he flirted mercilessly with men and women alike, but put his best efforts in for the women.  He was very good, and earned himself a 10 Euro tip from The Husband, now that's a boy who could give waiter lessons at Waiter School in Waiter Town.  Checking on the cafe website...there's a photo of him.  Not his best look ever and hopefully not his favourite jumper, but you never can tell with The Continentals.  

  France Gallery  
  Set Mr Izzard for France  
When The Husband had done with business for the week we took off to France.  Z4 top down we traversed that bit of The Continent from Emmen to Bayeux in Normandy.  Oh la la.  Once I'd got used to the Frenchies attitude to other road users, which was a big bit scary, I calmed down and enjoyed the scenery on our journey to Normandy.  We arrived in Bayeux late at night searching for Hôtel d’Argouges, which was very easy to spot the next morning, it sits back from the main shopping street behind a high wall with lockable gates, but the arch and gates are still a prominent feature just across from the old square in Bayeux, but late at night, new in town, Mr Izzard couldn't pin point it exactly. 
  When we found the mansion built by Duc d'Argouges in 1734 and drove The Z4 up the hotel's enclosed gated driveway, was like The Z4 had found it's spiritual home, that's a drive truly deserving of a Z4. The building is absolutely beautiful, the grounds take you away to  a place in the country, that is peaceful and a million miles away from being in a city only yards away from shoppers, market stalls, restaurants, bistros, bars.  It's a delight that has you drawing a long deep sigh of pleasure.  To sit at a table out in the back garden surrounded with flowers, sipping on a glass of red, or white, any wine, is another moment to bring a surge of most delight.  The main reception staff had élan, by the plein seau.  They looked, dressed, were manicured and coiffured, to a French couture fashion house level, that particular style that looks effortless on them, it comes naturally with the birth certificate.  They could only be French.  The bedrooms and bathrooms aren't as sensational as they would be if I was the owner.  But the beds are comfortable and the public rooms exquisite perfection.  There's a way of styling this old building to make it just as historical but a lot more à la Marie Antoinette luxurious with a fabulous finish.  Modern class could be worked around the wooden floors and beams.  But that's a minor matter.  Our stay was fantastic, the history, the charm and magic of pure French historic style.   
  We checked in, dumped the bags and went out.  It was midnight.  The chap who'd waited up for us told us where we would find what we wanted.  When we got to the bottom of the drive we found he'd been out and locked the gates.  He obviously didn't reckon on us leaving again so soon, but The Husband really fancied a beer after the drive, and I never turn down the opportunity to enjoy a late night Pernod, failing that, a Ricard will do.  
  We found the recommended place and rang the buzzer.  Great idea to control the late night clientele, we don't want no undesirables.   We were warmly welcomed by a boy with soft skin, an angelic face and facial hair, reminiscent of a younger, softer-skinned, more beautiful and innocent looking Jesus.  What is it with waiters on this trip?  They've all been so damn attractive and, well...nice.  We were in La Paillote at 25 Rue Montfiquet.  A very trendy bar and gig venue with hut decor and terrace space. Cocktails et rhum arrangés. It was all cocktails and Bayeux youths, all slightly squiffy. petite salle privée capacité de 20 personnes. And we were considered trendy and attractive enough to enter, and for that, I'll be forever grateful, thank you the young peoples of Bayeux, your all very lurverly.  
  Bayeux is a small, intimate and beautiful city, centred on Place Saint-Patrice, a large tree-lined market square with a fountain.  We were lucky to be there on a Saturday morning and found ourselves visitors at one of France's official best 100 markets, straight across le rue from our hotel.  It is renowned for fresh local produce, but there's a load of usual market tat like you'd find at any market in the UK.  And for some strange reason they have a lot of samurai swords, fancy knives and replica guns, I think they were replicas.  We returned to watch the market over lunch, sitting on an over-looking terrace of a local cafe.  
  La Tapisserie   
  But first and most importantly - La Tapisserie.  The tourist office woman told us to follow the river, but we found it easier to follow the plentiful signs pointing the way.  We did have a look at the River Aure, very pretty in places, but The Husband says, very smelly.  The 70 meter long tale of the events surrounding The Battle of Hastings in 1066 told in stitches is housed in the 18thC Grand Seminary.  No queue and for some reason entrance was free, though it's quoted at €7 and some change everywhere I've looked.  They set you up with a hand set and a very proper English gent explains the panels and delivers the history lesson, his voice is most pleasant.  For an old bit of material, it is magnificent, awe inspiring.  Walking slowly along the entire length takes you down one side, as seen in the picture here, then round a gentle wide bend and right along another side of similar size.  It reads like a comic strip, it's stylised and extremely well designed with amusing and expressive images.  Some of the hands, the way the fingers are outlined in black, make the characters appear to be holding hand guns, which puts a totally different slant on the story.   
   just a bit of the Tapestry  
   you lookin at me punk???  
  Another Notre-Dame  
  It was a short walk from La Tapisserie to the rather impressive Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux.  We passed a wedding party coming from a near-by building, then they were into cars and a procession of about 6 cars trailed past us down the road, horns blasting.  The last car had a male and a female blow-up doll tied to the back.  Must be how they do it down in France.  
  On into the Cathédrale, well worth a visit.  The massive organ, fnnar fnnar, played throughout our visit, which was lov-er-ly.  Nothing funny happened in there, we just wandered around wondering at the immense grandeur that religion can inspire.  The churches and cathedrals of the world are the one thing I like about religion.  

  After lunch back at the square we went back to the hotel to pick up The Z4, and top down in the sun, headed to the Normandy coast to visit a couple of the DDay beaches.  Omaha, where the Americans took a thrashing and Juno where the Canadians came ashore.  Difficult to believe when you run your fingers through the soft clean golden sand that the blood-shed, carnage and loss of life happened, but I guess the sea eventually took care of the last remnants of the bloody mess.  We visited two museums, the Museum Mémorial d'Omaha Beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer.  These places are full of historic items from the day and a testament to the bravery of the people who lived and died through them awful times.  It's a very moving experience visiting these places.  New additions are seemingly added to the museums here and there as they're still uncovering items from back then.
  The Husband knows his WWII history and was able to keep me informed throughout.  He knows a lot of stuff The Husband, one of the things I admire and lurve him so much for.  
  Omaha Beach on 6th June 1944  
  Another Dead Man  
  On leaving the Juno beach museum we couldn't help but notice there was an incident at the harbour in Courseulles-sur-Mer.  When we first saw the activity on the harbour side closest to us and the crowds watching on the far side, it had to be either a serious incident or an emergency services display event.  At the time The Husband guessed it looked like a fatal diving accident.  Next day on the Z4 radio, a French news bulletin announcer said a load of French I didn't understand, but I picked up on three words that were so similar to the English version and it sounded like, decompression, accident and plongée, which sounded like plunge, which sounded to me like dive.  Back home I Googled.  A 50 year old man died that day in a diving accident.  He was the blanket covered body we watched being driven off in an ambulance, the helicopter took another man off to hospital, in shock, not seriously injured.  La Manche off Juno Beach had claimed yet another victim.  A sad and poignant end to our coastal visit on a beautiful September day in Normandy.  
  On the drive back The Z4, The Husband and I nearly met our own sad and poignant end when a Frenchie on an adjoining road drove the nose of his unremarkable car too far over and protruding onto our lane of the road we were travelling on.  The Husband executed a perfect emergency stop procedure and saved us all.  Another thing I lurve so much bout him...he's good at driving.  
  Finest Dining  
  Getting back on jolly holidays vibe we returned to our 18th C Mansion bedroom to prepare for our evening out.  Life is for the living, and very important to make the very most of it while you have it.  Another thing I lurve bout The Husband is he always does things in style.  He makes sure I get what I want in the best way available, we do have some fantastic experiences.  
  The evening chill was descending, so in faux fur Leopard coat with my Big Buddha star wristlet clutch bag, we stopped by the hotel back terrace for a glass of wine and a long look and soaking-in of our surroundings before heading off to hopefully chance upon a great dinner.  
  And we did.  My favourite dinner of the entire trip was at La Taverne des Ducs at 41 Rue Saint-Patrice, just a few steps from our hotel.  French cuisine in a beautiful restaurant, an actual real pianist tinkling on the ivories, and our waiter...trés bon.  A lovely young man, warm and friendly, professional and precise, with French chic, good looks and a stunningly noticeable glossy hair-gelled quiff, reminiscent of Tin Tin's blonde version.  He was never annoyingly hovering, but always present when required, a real skill.  This is the type of restaurant that delivers the in-between surprises, I love it when they do that.  Little tasty treats between courses.  We had a small slice of delicious baguette toasted bread smothered in some pate, later came a small glass, like a heavy-bottomed shot glass, filled with some type of light meat flakes and a topping of some delicious white wine sauce.  For my entree, at last I experienced lobster, with the nutcracker and lobster pick.  It was rather easier than I'd always expected, not daunting at all, and I carried off the procedure entirely incident free.  The delicious sweet meat came with an appropriately fancy citrus salad.  The Husband made me mildly jealous with his Onion Soup, but I got a big cheesy spoonful of that too.  I was intrigued and tickled at the name of my main course, it translated as Saddle of Cod in a Swimming Crab Sauce, delicious with a half small potato, asparagus tip and some salad leaves, loads and loads of, absolutely swimming in, simply scrumptious, crab sauce.  And for sweet, had to be Crème brûlée for me.  Three glasses of their finest Chardonnay and I was done.  5 stars c'est magnifique!   
  Eurostar...I know, but thank you very much anyway  
  All my scariest nightmare and day-time phobias in the one place all at the same time.  That's what I imagined of The Chunnel.  Underground, under that weight and amount of cold water ready to drown and/or freeze a person, whatever happened first, or maybe it'd be simultaneous.  Under that weight and amount of...ground...ready to crush/suffocate.  An obvious target for al-Qaida or other such extremist Muslim terrorists, there could be an explosion, maybe a high-speed train crash, a fire, terrible internal injuries along with horrendous skin destruction...and then if I was lucky I'd die before they got to me and I'd have to be treated while the paramedics, doctors and nurses all immediately recognised my poor prognosis and privately all knew I was a write-off because no-one ever survived such decidedly awful trauma, not in any way that they'd be capable of enjoying just one moment of life ever again.  First thing they'd do when I got to hospital would be to write out my DNAR.  OM-feckin-G!  However, I survived and quite enjoyed the experience.   
  We drove onto The Eurostar train at Calais and parked The Z4.  With the top down we spent just 20 minutes from one tunnel end to the other.  I concentrated hard and played Solitaire while listening to podcasts on my iPod.  We heard over the tannoy that Eurostar wished for us to complete their customer satisfaction survey, if we didn't mind.  A lady conductor came round and gave us a copy.  A little later she returned, asking if we'd completed it already, she was running out of time for it's collection.  The Husband explained we hadn't filled it out.  She didn't go with the idea that it was a personal choice to complete or not, she insisted she had to have it sooner rather than later.  The Husband gave it to me.  I completed it, you don't want to be a nuisance, annoy anyone or even slightly put someone out when your fearing for your life.  
  There were two tick box multi-choice Qs...grade your satisfied are you with your current Eurostar experience?  How likely will you be to recommend Eurostar to others?  I had to tick the most favourable option for both, knowing that I'd let them know what they have to do further down the questionnaire.  There was one open-ended question at the bottom, asking...what one thing would improve your Eurostar experience?  I told them...improved security.  The opportunity to take explosives/chemicals or whatever else terrorists and other such nutters would need to kill a lot of people and make their mark on the international news for a couple days, seems too easy for my liking.  They could at least run a sniffer dog down the line of vehicles before they let us on.  They took a look at us and our passports then let us drive on, we could've had anything in the Z4 boot.  We wouldn't of course, but I take it everyone with a seemingly valid passport is treated to the same amount of good will and blind faith.  Jeeez!  
  Big Lurve   
  A huge thank you to everyone that made The Continental Trip 2010 so pleasurable.  Especially my companion, lurver and driver, The Husband.  He takes my suggestions on board and runs with them, bringing my dreams to life in a more expensive and dreamy form than I'd initially imagined.   
  To all the Dutch peoples who were so sweet and nice to me.  The Hotel Emmen guys who admired my Z4.  To Monique, our Emmen neighbour/friend who we visited on the evening we went round to check on our other house.   To all the French peoples we spoke to, they have a reputation for being difficult with British people who make no effort to speak French, but everyone I met had no problem with speaking English for me.   To all the waiters who did such a good job, good job boys!  I think it's cos you remind me of my son and his youthful young man-in-the-making sweetness.  To Bayeux and that particularly wonderful bit of the planet, I could see myself living there, no wonder so many Brits do so.  
  Gauw tot ziens and au revoir you all, we'll be back.  
    Back to top
mmmm  mmmm