Our Grand Tour
Ch 1 Getting to France
Ch 2 Liverdun
Ch 3 The Old Trailer Park
Ch 4 Getting to Know France
Ch 5 The New Trailer Park
Ch 6 A New Arrival and Big Changes
Ch 7 Summertime Excursions
Ch 8 A Pleasant Autumn in France
Ch 9 Our Last French Spring
Ch 10 Our Grand Tour
Ch 11 Au Revoir
Ch 12 Going Back to Toul-Rosieres
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The summer of 1957 began with great anticipation of the vacation trip we had planned. I had plenty of leave time accumulated, and had asked for three weeks in July to take a long camping trip down to Italy. Everything was going fine at work, and a new sergeant had arrived who would eventually be my replacement, so my request was approved. This was going to be our Grand Tour; the culmination of our desire to explore as much of Europe as we possibly could in the limited time we had left.
In the 19th century, wealthy American families had sent their sons and daughters to Europe to make the Grand Tour of the great cities. They stayed in the best hotels and mixed with high society. The less affluent poets and writers often took a different tour; a walking tour of France, England, Switzerland, Germany or Italy. Ours was to be neither of these. We were going in our 55 Ford Victoria, but, because of our limited finances, we intended to camp most nights in an Army pup tent and sleep on air mattresses on the ground. We planned a rough itinerary of the places we wanted to see, but we made no reservations and just assumed that we would find a camp ground every afternoon.
We made our preparations - bought road maps, checked out a pup tent and air mattresses from Base Supply, and bought a small camping stove and enough gas coupons for a long trip - during the last weeks of June and the first week of July. With the exuberance and thoughtless confidence of youth, we saw no problems with our meager planning and assumed that everything would fall into place as we proceeded south.
I was working weekdays as the Crypto NCOIC, and attending University of Maryland classes two evenings a week. On those June and July weekends just before our trip, we always dressed up and went somewhere; sometimes to Nancy or some other nearby town, and sometimes just to the Base Chapel for Mass or to the Base Exchange on Saturday afternoon. We may not have been typical of most Americans at Toul Rosieres, but we liked the French idea of dressing up and looking our best when we went out in public, so I usually wore a suit and tie and Helen always wore a nice dress, stockings and high heels. People often assumed our daughters were French because of the way they were dressed. Those are customs that we have kept to this day.
On a Saturday morning in early July, we loaded everything in the car, said goodbye to our friends and neighbors, and headed south toward Dijon through the plains of Burgundy. We drove through mile after mile of lush, green vineyards as far as the eye could see. About noon, we stopped by a vineyard for a picnic lunch, then drove on along the Saone and Rhone rivers toward the industrial city of Lyon. Just beyond Lyon, we finally saw a camping sign and pulled into a campground by the river. We pitched our little tent, blew up the air mattresses, warmed some canned soup on our tiny stove, and ate a rudimentary supper. Very trusting of our temporary neighbors in the camp, we put the girls to sleep on the front and back seats of the car, and we crawled into our little tent. We slept, and awakened early the next morning to discover that our mattresses had gone flat.
Undaunted, we fixed breakfast and were soon on the road again. We continued down along the Rhone River through Valence to Montelimar where there were several stores along the road selling the local specialty, almond nougat. Of course we stopped and bought some, and Helen also bought a colorful straw hand bag which she used for the rest of the trip. After eating lunch in a small French restaurant, we continued south through Provence to Aix en Provence. We paused there to look around that beautiful, flower filled, old city and to take a few photos; then on to the coast. Late in the afternoon we found a camp by a beach at St. Raphael, and soon had our pup tent put up in that crowded camp full of people from all over Europe. We stayed two nights there, and enjoyed the small beach on that rocky shoreline. We bought French bread and some other items in the camp store, and managed to prepare simple meals. We were on the French Riviera.
On the fourth morning, we began driving the winding, scenic highway along the Riviera coast toward Cannes. Hairpin turns, up and down seaside hills, vistas of the blue Mediterranean from clifftop roads, idyllic villas above or below us, and we slowly made our way toward the resort city of Cannes. We stopped often just to enjoy the view, and truly understood the fame of this south coast of France. In mid morning, we stopped to swim at a beach near Cannes for about an hour. When we had dried, we drove into the city, parked and walked the sidewalks overlooking the beach. On a little further, we found a very nice little Italian restaurant, and had a great mid-day meal there. Tired of camping, we found a reasonable hotel on the edge of the city, and stayed the night.
The next morning, we took the coast road through Antibes to Nice and Monaco. The views of the hills falling into the deep blue sea were even more spectacular than the day before. Again, we slowly wound our way along that beautiful coast until we reached another gem of a city, Nice. We stopped for a while and walked along the beaches across from the rich, old hotels and casinos. After a lunch there in a small restaurant, we continued along that azure coast to the Principality of Monaco. We stopped on a cliff above to look down on that old, seaside town; then we drove down the steep road, with one sharp curve after another, into the main plaza by the palace. We spent about an hour and had a snack at a sidewalk cafe; then we were off to look for a campground.
We camped near the Italian border, and slept on our mattresses that were losing air faster all the time. It's good we were young and resilient. After some coffee and cold cereal, we shortly found ourselves in a long line of cars and trucks waiting to clear customs at the border. I feared the car would overheat as it idled there for nearly an hour, but we finally had our carnet and Helen's passport stamped, and we drove into Italy. Another bougainvillea lined, twisting road above dark blue waters led us into the Italian resort of San Remo. We stopped to walk around the seaside park and had a good lunch in a small restaurant on the outskirts of the city.
That afternoon, we drove into rich farm country where there must have been peach orchards, because we bought a few extremely sweet, juicy, large peaches. We remember passing some farms near Grosetto, and at one of them we stopped near a large, freshly threshed pile of straw, and sat there on the soft straw drinking cold water from a spring and eating those peaches. Then we drove into Pisa, and visited the old cathedral and the Leaning Tower later that afternoon before we camped again in a nearby campground.
Early the next morning, we began the scenic drive down through the hills of Tuscany. Past very old, hilltop towns with castles and prosperous looking farms we moved toward the medieval city of Sienna, and drove into its main square late in the morning. We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for some coffee and a pastry, then journeyed on toward Rome. In mid afternoon, we drove right into the heart of Rome and somehow found a very nice, small, reasonably priced hotel very close to the Vatican. We remember that everything in the hotel seemed to be made of marble, and they served a nice breakfast for the next three mornings.
We spent two days seeing as much of Rome as we could. My brother, Lou, a Marine corporal, had been stationed at the American Embassy there. Even though he had been gone for several months, we made sure to visit the Embassy where he had worked. We picnicked by the Coliseum and walked through it. We found the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. We parked by the Victor Emanuel Monument to better view it, and walked around looking at many Roman ruins. Helen had to cover her head with a scarf and I couldn't use my camera when we visited St. Peters Cathedral and the Vatican. We also visited a couple of other famous old churches. We couldn't see all of Rome, but we were awed and impressed with what we did get to see.
We knew of the terrible battles that had occurred near Rome in World War II, and decided to visit the American cemetery near Nettuno the morning that we left Rome. It was a beautifully maintained, large cemetery, and all the graves were marked with marble crosses. We spent about an hour there before we drove north toward the Renaissance city of Florence.
We were surprised to find a very nice, large campground on a hill overlooking the old city. From the front of our tent we could see the dome of the cathedral and the Arno River below us. There was even a little restaurant in the camp where we got a spaghetti dinner that evening. The next day we explored as much of central Florence as was possible with two little girls in a stroller. We were especially impressed with the cathedral and the art museum where we saw Michelangelo's statue of David. In a couple of fashionable stores, I bought a silk tie and an a Borsalino felt hat.
Our next planned stop was Venice on the East Coast. We drove up through Vincenza and stopped at an American Army post there to buy a few things in the PX. That afternoon, we found a camp on a beach just north of Venice, the Lido of Jesolo. It was hot and humid when we put up our little tent, so we went to the beach which the girls really enjoyed. After days of traveling, they could play in the sand and wade in the water which was almost calm. We remember little lizards crawling all over our tent as we lay inside trying to nap. The next day, we drove to a large parking lot near Venice and took a ferry into the heart of the city. We got off right by the Doge's Palace and St Mark's Cathedral. We explored the city's narrow streets and numerous bridges crossing all the small canals that lead into the Grand Canal. We ate eel for lunch at a large, outdoor restaurant on the main plaza. Prices were high for everything, and we didn't take a gondola ride.
The next day, after we had driven to the small city of Jesolo near the campground to buy some groceries, the unexpected finally happened. Our car quit on the road back to the camp. We walked to a nearby hotel and they let us use a phone to call a garage in town. How we made them understand what our problem was I don't remember, but in a few minutes a tow truck came and towed our car to the garage. Someone there spoke English, and the mechanic quickly discovered that the rotor in our distributor had broken. They had to send to Vincenza to get one, but somehow it arrived late that afternoon, and our car was repaired. We had spent the day in that small resort town, and Helen had found a pair of white slacks that she really liked. How lucky we were that nothing worse had happened. All turned out fine.
Leaving there the next day, we headed up through Milan, where we stopped briefly, past Lake Como, where we couldn't find a camp ground, and into the foothills of the Italian Alps. Late that afternoon, we stopped at a roadside country inn. We had some money left and we were tired of our airless mattresses. We had a wonderful, Northern Italian dinner there with a huge tureen of delicious, creamy soup. After a good, hearty breakfast the next morning, we headed into Switzerland and up the south side of the St. Gotthard Pass. It seemed like that road wound up the sides of those mountains for hours, and it got colder and more barren as we went higher and higher. Near the top, there was snow on both sides of the road, and then we began to wind down the north side of the pass. Gradually, we came down to the tree line and then finally we saw a large town and the road began to level out.
That afternoon, we came into the Swiss town of Altdorf, and we decided to stay there for the night. We found a very nice, small hotel named for the local hero, William Tell. After we got settled in, we walked around town, and discovered the large statue of William Tell and his son. The snow capped peaks of the Alps towered over the town. That evening we had a great dinner in the old fashioned, rustic dining room of the hotel.
The next morning, we headed for Lucerne, another resort city in central Switzerland. It was a beautiful drive with mountains all around us. In early afternoon, we came to the sparkling, blue mountain lake where Lucerne is situated. We set up our tent in a hillside campground outside of town; then left it and went into town. The weather turned cloudy and rainy for the first time on our trip, and we ended up sitting at a sidewalk cafe under an awning all afternoon as the cold rain came down. We then made a very smart decision. We went to a gasthaus on the edge of town and got a room for the night. It was warm and cozy, and we didn't go back to our tent until the next morning. Everything inside it was wet. Some other campers told us that there had been a downpour, and water had been running through our tent.
That day, we drove on to Zurich and got a hotel room for the night. Helen surprised me then. She had some money put away in case of an emergency that I hadn't known about, so we went shopping in downtown Zurich. Helen bought a lightweight, red knit coat and we bought some things for the girls. The sun came out and it was a nice day. We discovered a nearby park, and our little girls enjoyed playing at the playground.
The next morning, we headed for Basel, where, a year earlier, I had picked up my brother and his girlfriend at the train station, and then on to the border crossing back into France. Finally, we drove up through Mulhouse, the winding road through the Vosges Mountains, and Epinal before we arrived back at Toul Rosieres that afternoon. Our Grand Tour of southern France, northern Italy, and central Switzerland was finished, we were very happy we had gone, and we actually had a little money left to go grocery shopping the next day.
End of Chapter 10