The Italian Job 2 : ‘Veni, vidi, procedo’ (sic)

From the previous post;

And once we’ve accomplished that satisfactory happiness, slowly and hesitantly we turned our back on the beautiful ‘five towns’ (Cinque Terra) and the natural beauty linking them and headed for the famous leaning tower, the captivating Florence and the awe inspiring, history rich and fine cuisine of Tuscany and Amalfi.

The leaning Tower of Pisa
The leaning Tower of Pisa


One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination. – Debra Lavinson


To have the privilege to sleep in a country guest house, rather than in a hotel room, (or two-man tent for that matter), to eat and be pampered through a five course dinner specially prepared for your little group, and all this in the stunning, idyllic, sought after, much talked about, written about, and filmed about Tuscan countryside, remains in my mind one of the highlights of my now already three year long European sojourn.

And this pampering I furthermore had the privilege to share with my family on my son’s 16th birthday and very very good friends from South Africa. That was good.

Andrea, the owner and restaurateur par excellance of Tenuta Il Verone near Florence, Tuscany with the competent help of Nilce, his Argentinian girl friend is busy establishing a commendable guest house 30 kilometers outside of Florence with a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. They do, however specifically excel when they cater and serve. Starting with the traditional ‘Prosciutto crudo’ and melon platter, I soon realized I must keep my glass full of chianti’s finest red, go slow on each course of the meal as to enable myself to really get the best of the best of what this evening is promising to become. Not just the quantity promised to intimidate us, but the quality, the tastes, flavours and textures too was going to educate us tonight; ‘keep calm De Wet and go slow!’

After the platter of exquisite prosciutto we were presented with Andrea’s striking…… PENNE pasta dish followed by a exquisite chicken and vegetable dish. The wine was good and flowing, the food excellent and in abundance and I was getting really relaxed when Andrea entered with the most intimidating T-bone steak I have seen for quite a while. Note that I am South African; we are not easily intimidated by good steak, and I have had the best of the best Argentina and Uruguay could offer in terms of their famous ‘bifo de chouriso’, but this one was right up there with those world renowned ones. By the time that plate of steak was empty, I can vaguely recall that there was dessert and good Italian strong small coffee, but I could not remember the detail as the meat, yes the meat! Dimmed all further taste-bud senses. I do however remember that we still had the most interesting and friendly after dinner chat with Andre and Nilce. Thanx again you two, the stay at Tenuta Il Verone was one of the highlights. But, as is often the case with traveling, the real highlight is that we made some great new friends, in the heart of Tuscany, even through we communicate in a haphazard way, mostly through my daughter’s Spanish to Andrea’s Italian and Nilce’s Portuguese. That is one of the things that make traveling so fantastic!

Tenuta Il Verone is a gem in the Tuscan countryside worth discovering. Book dinner!
Tenuta Il Verone is a gem in the Tuscan countryside worth discovering. Book dinner!
Classic Tuscany
Classic Tuscany
Deep thinkers
Deep thinkers

And then came Praiano, in the heart of the Amalfi coast.

A week of bliss, scenic splendor and relaxation heaven, complete with dinners on cliff edges, swimming of the side of boats in the Mediterranean, canoeing into caves and early morning coffee and stuff with good conversation spanning from Koos du Plessis through to ‘what’s for dinner tonight!’

The Amalfi coast truly is one of the ‘must some day visit’ destinations of the world. The more famous Positano lies 18km further up the road from Praiano and yes, obviously we did visit Positano, walked the little streets and enjoyed the beach and sun. I will never ever say you can skip Positano, as it’s a must see in the same vane as is the Eiffel Tower, the leaning Tower of Pisa or even the Spanish Steps. But I do love finding the lesser-traveled roads and that slightly off the beaten track destinations which is not the mainstream, obvious tourist traps where you hear more English than Italian, for example. And though Praiano is still a very touristy and busy little town (just try to find casual parking!), it is slightly less crowded and more authentic than Positano. Think Fouriesburg over Clarence, think Bacharach over Rudesheim and think Hautvillers over Epernay and you’ll get my drift. That is exactly what Heleen found when she found and booked our stunning accommodation in Praiano, complete with ‘stoep’ (veranda) high on the mountain cliffs with its magnificent view over the Mediterranean, morning, noon and night, nogal! I mean, its here, in Praiano where I visited my first real Italian barber, complete with cutthroat old-fashioned razor and shaving cream (watch my short video). I can admit now that I was probably carefully scared, since I have seen many movies where these visits to the cutthroat barber turn out bloody, but I was okay, maybe because in the small-talk kick-off it came out that I was South African, and Senor Tomasso was a huge Gerrie ‘seer handjies’ Coetzee fan. Gerrie Coetzee was a successful South African heavy weight boxer in the early eighties.

The most beautiful Italian drive
The most beautiful Italian drive

One the must do’s on the Amalfi coast is to rent a boat for a day and visit the Isle of Capri! Yes, the island of the infamous student song ‘it was the Isle of Capri where I met here, ….’ and the non-repeatable rest. What this day on the boat offers is just simply a blissful and relaxing day in the sun, with friendly chatter, every now and then a dive and swim in the blue blue water and a visit to the Grotta Azzura or Blue Caves. A casual lunch in Marina Grande and then more casual sailing back with stops and swimming to wake up your appetite for the evening’s social ‘kuiers’ around the dinner table. I think these type of relaxing holidays are made better by the company you have and mine was just perfect.

Scenic splendour
Scenic splendour

And then there’s the drive! I can proudly say that I have driven the Amalfi coast in high season’.

National Geographic’s travel site introduces this drive as ‘The Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is widely considered Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline, a landscape of towering bluffs, pastel-hued villages terraced into hillsides, precipitous corniche roads, luxuriant gardens, and expansive vistas over turquoise waters and green-swathed mountains. Deemed by UNESCO “an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values,” the coast was awarded a coveted spot on the World Heritage list in 1997.’ They then go further to summarise with the description ‘The roads along the Amalfi Coast are famously winding, narrow, and challenging to drive. Add in drop-dead views and daring Italian drivers, known for their behind-the-wheel bravado, and this road trip offers one of the more exciting driving experiences in Europe.’ I think ‘daring’ is a soft word for the Italian drivers, especially the ones on their world-renowned scooters. Suicidal is probably a more accurate word, but it does add to the sheer enjoyment of driving while trying to catch a glimpse of the glorious scenery and in the same time keeping an eye out for the scooters and large busses that will simply push you off the road. On busy weekend days, they actually have road assistants who will try to guide the traffic (though the adherence of the motorists are very very low) and even help to adjust your vehicle’s side mirrors so that the vehicles can pass each other.

I say again, I have driven the Amalfi coast, in high season!

As wonderful as was the superb Cinque Terra, Tuscany and Amalfi, so disappointing was Rome. Make no mistake, Rome is a wonderful city, with so many awe inspiring historical sites and stories to get lost into. But it still was extremely disappointing to be exploited by the hospitality industry where its deemed standard practice to charge a 17% service fee, or when you order a beer and just want a beer, you are presented with a liter of beer at 18 € each. At 17% service fee, you pay more for that than what the average person’s meal and drink costs. And this service fee is not even the tip to the waiter, which creates that little ethical dilemma of true service versus fixed restaurant added cost before paying the service fee. They are very friendly in luring you into their osterias but once you’ve had your meal, you’re in for the surprise. The service fee is a fixed percentage added to the bill and which is payable to the restaurant (not the waiter), because you ate there. We had good waiters every time, and who added to the whole dinner or lunch experience with their jokes, mockeries and good service and who deserved their tip, which just means that dining out end on an exorbitantly expensive sour note every time. Watch out in Rome, someone who looks friendly, will eventually stab you in the back!

But for the rest of Italy, it is ‘magnifico, superbo, maestoso e grandioso!’ Go and travel the coasts and Tuscan rural areas at leisure and stop often, to grab a macchiato!

Stop often, find a spot with a view, sit down and chat and think
Stop often, find a spot with a view, sit down and chat and think

‘Johan is ook weg’ (Johan too has gone away), ….

…the simple words of a father laconically stating the obvious.

 When I decided to start this blog, it was about the excitement of a new life, living and traveling in Europe. And most of my posts so far focused exactly on that, so much so that I believe I actually lose readers as each story is about ‘yet another De Wet trip somewhere’. However, living in Europe also has its normality and mundane day-to-day tasks which need to be done to ensure a sane living environment. I do believe most people embarking on expat living realise this and prepare for it, maybe even going to the extreme of taking ironing lessons before packing your bags.

 However, it’s not always easy going. Distance in times of sickness is a very difficult thing and though the modern era of Skype, email, flat rate telephony and all the other methods of communication available, it still is no substitute for that personal touch often needed to console emotions.

Johan in Sorgfontein ‘walk with the lions’

And that is what this one is about. Its my tribute to my brother Johan, a 46 year loving father, husband, brother, child and friend who last week lost his fight against cancer, and the emotional dilemmas one experiences when you’re so far from loved ones.

 Johan was aware that he had stomach pains for quite a while, and have been at the doctors for a couple of visits. Bacteria, hernia, spicy food were some of the prognoses, but then suddenly in January it was diagnosed as cancer, and quite progressed already! That was the start of a scary and tough, though also in a sense fulfilling 10 months which followed. I have learned in the past 10 months how the grace of God works through adversity to bring comfort and peace. I have also seen how friends and family come closer and closer and the good in people come to the fore when someone is in distress. I have seen how my friends, not having met my brother, stand up in support and going out of their way to comfort us as a family. AND, I have seen how he, Johan, the sick and dying one amongst us became the strong one, keeping his smile and positive attitude and even, on his deathbed comforting and praying for those around his bed.

 I got the message three weeks ago, though not explicitly that Johan was dying, but that he was getting very weak. He has lost in excess of 30kg in the past 10 months and had very little strength left. At that point he was taken to hospital again and I had to make a call of visiting him.

 My dilemma to myself was that by going to SA to visit him; was I admitting that he was dying and that I must go and greet my younger brother? And by not going and not seeing him I will have to go and attend a funeral without any last words later!

 I chose to go and will forever be thankful to my wife, Heleen for convincing me to do so. I had 10 days of stunning time with my brother before he passed away on 22 October 2012. I had the privilege of braaiing with him, even watching an episode of Dallas (figure that!) with him and having deep serious conversations about life’s regrets and opportunities while we even solved the Springbok coache’s problems in those 10 days. Heyneke should now just listen!

And then, yesterday when I phoned home, speaking to my Dad as my Mom was not home, I asked him about the quietness of the house after the two weeks of many feet entering and leaving their house and his answer was simply: ‘yes its quiet. Everyone’s gone home, and ‘Johan is ook weg!’ (Johan too has gone).

 So, Johan, I know you’re sitting smiling at our grief in heaven and I know it’s a much better place to be. I also know we will see each other again, and I know how great and comforting God’s grace is. But still it hurts, it hurts with a burning heavy pain in the chest type hurt and we miss you.

 I do whish we had more time.

 Rest in peace Broer.

Rus in vrede Broer

‘(9) And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefor will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.’

                                                                                                – 2 Corinthians 12 : 9-10

Viva la vida, and then dance me to the end ….

‘Viva la vida’

 First we ruled the world, we lived life. We were probably the oldest people there, but it was good, it was fast and rocking at the speed of sound, the clocks stood still for a while and Chris and the boys gave as life in technicolor for one evening; it was paradise.

It was a long and warm September evening, the venue was Rhein Energy stadium in Köln and it was full, so full. From the stands we were watching and they, the band, did not freeze. They rocked. They jumped and danced. They sang.

Each and every person in the stadium had an armband like this which was controlled by radio frequency and integrated with the digital choreography; stunning effect

The stadium was full of energy and the technicolor armbands handed out at the entrance were all responding in syncronisation on the radio frequency orders transmitted to them by the show engineers. Flashing, multicolored armbands strapped to each person’s wrist became part of the choreography and was responsible for a spectacle of note.

The previous rock show of this magnitude I saw was U2’s 360° tour in Soccer City, South Africa and its understandable that the likes of these giants such as Coldplay and U2 can put together spectacular productions which include the full Monty of digital effects and no limits on volume control. We were on the stand a full soccer pitch away from the main action, and still the youngsters in front of us attended a rock show with earplugs deeply squeezed into there ears. Sissies!

As can be expected from German organisers, I was mightily impressed by logistical ease of getting to and from the stadium, with plenty of extra trams scheduled, the easy entrance into the stadium and the many food- and drink stalls serving the thirsty rockers. However, what I cannot understand living in the so-called first world is how far behind they are to South Africa on a health and consideration-for-other-people issue such as no-smoking rules in public areas and in presence of children. This is one really important area of community enhancement where most of Europe are still years behind South Africa.

‘The maestro says its Mozart, but it sounds like bubblegum ….’

And then, two days later, we were probably the youngest groupies at Hockeypark, Mönchengladbach for another brilliant show, but this time at completely different pace, to nostalgically get carried away by that master Leonard Cohen. Leonard was born 78 years ago in 1934 but he still gives a performance (including a singing voice of unmatched caliber), which is remarkable, and adding the timelessness of his music, it made for a perfect nostalgic outing for Heleen and me.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Leonard and believe that the poetry in his lyrics is already worth raving about, and then he adds his voice. This was proved to be correct at this show too. Many of the people around us were not English speakers at all, but from the singing and pure joy it was evident that they all new every word of every song Leonard performed. I was taken back to Heleen and my visit to Budapest way back in 1994. We stayed in the real local suburbs after we brokered an accommodation deal with Kati at the Budapest train station after arriving early morning from Vienna. The added advantage of this accommodation was that it meant we could go to the suburbia local restaurants, far away from the known tourist areas. That night in that restaurant it was not Leonard Cohen, but Chris Rea’s ‘The road to Hell’ playing over and over again, with the waiters singing along in perfect English. However, when we ordered, it was clear that they did not understand one word of English; not even ‘one’ and ‘yes’ was understood. The result of the evening was a stunning outing with good music and excess excellent food. I ordered a whisky, Heleen and Lizette ordered wine, I ordered goulash soup and Heleen ordered salad for starters, we received three of each! After our amused giggles the waiter and us learned and we all ordered the same main dish, schnitzel, and we only received three dishes for three people. They were humungous, but delicious. Talking about that night, I wonder what eventually happened to our R10 note, which we donated to their collection of international currency behind the bar, counter.

‘I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,

walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme

you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,


Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’

But this time it was Leonard and the Germans and Dutch singing happily along in very good English, especially when ‘we take Berlin’.

Leonard, you’re a legend!

‘I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this

The fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah’


‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’

I’m not yet qualified to write this commentary, I know. But the one standard question I get asked the most so far is ‘how are you guys doing?’

The one thing I have realised already is that living abroad is different. Whether it is Brisbane, London, Bonn or Beijing, its different and has different challenges than the familiar surroundings built up over 25 years living in Pretoria. OK, I do think living in Chifeng has a few extra un-pleasantries! Language, culture and all the little variations to what you’re used to add to confusion, challenge, learning and sometimes hilarious outcomes and experience.

Before reading this commentary, please take note of my disclaimer. I am simply stating a few things on face value at the moment and am not (yet) comparing countries, decisions or any such issues. I comment on my personal current reality.

The Good was known as Blondie. He was a man of few words, but he stuck to his guns. In that sense, living in Germany is sometimes similar. Rules are rules. If some or other standard operating procedure or governance principle states we do it this way, its done that way. Zat iz ze rule! And there are appropriate consequences if rules are not adhered to. Pedestrians walk because the car will stop and we wait for the green pedestrian light, whether there’s a car coming or not, nearly in a nerd way. Cyclists use hand signals. My experience is mostly that the rules are there to govern order and discipline, probably the thing most lacking where I come from. In business, there is a process, everyone knows the process and as long as you comply, there’s no problem. Quality of education and the discipline of delivering on education, for example and not the length of a boy’s hair is success factor. The result is a society that is responsible for the strongest economy in Europe, with all that German precision and quality that we are so aware of.

We all know about the autobahn, where there is sometimes no speed limit. It works simply because there’s no-one cruising in the fast lanes due to either stupidity or arrogance. All heavy vehicles stick to the slow lane. Society understands the logic and the bigger scheme of what needs to achieved and they adhere.

Furthermore, and obviously, the safety is good. It can never be entirely safe and I appreciate that we can make a huge mistake thinking there is no crime, but old people walk in remote parks even after dark and its OK. Kids travel alone by train, tram or bus from Bonn to Cologne and back to visit their friends and its OK. I think we have lost the belief that that is the way its suppose to be, by default it should be safe, not the other way around.

Some other ‘Goods’ include Kölsch, bratwurzt, autumnleaves, the Rhine, daylight saving, rauchhaar daschund and the fast lane on the autobahn.

The Bad (Angel Eyes) spent most of his time following the other two through the harsh cowboy terrain, sort of with the hope of scavenging from them when they make a mistake. There’s no scavengers here, or at least very few. Coming from South Africa I experience an obvious lack of diversity. That means in practice that you have 82 million people of which only about 7 million are “different” by being foreigners (and bring diverse thinking). That is bad. Diverse thinking is crucial in my mind. To understand this in real life I can share two recent examples.

  • Heleen had the opportunity to subscribe and the first 50 entrants would receive the Steve Jobs ebook for free. She was quick and enthusiastic and was one of the first 50 and yes, she did receive her free copy, a German version!
  • I bought my new laptop and obviously had to buy the Office suite as well. After sucessfully installing the software I realised it was in German as well. And after various Google searches on how to rectify the problem I came to the conclusion that that’s the ‘vay’ it is. Thus I am navigating this edition of my blog using Word functions such as Datei, Bearbeiten, Anzicht, Einfugen. I did not include any Fußnote to this document.

This non-diverse phenomonen creates a funny kind of feeling that the people of Germany are sort of old fashioned. Its contradictory Iknow, since with certain things they are very liberal, but I still experience a sort of 70’s type feeling. But then this one of the leading nations of Europe. The country and the individuals don’t always seem to match up!

Again what this means in practice is that there’s few cafes or coffee-shops with the variety of Bugatti’s, Cappuccino’s, Tasha’s or Cafe41. There’s plenty beer, wurzt, kebab, pizza type restaurants, but that one-stop-get-all café scene is scarce.

Well, if you start missing the familiar things back home, best is to do them here as well, or at least try! We decided we’re gonna Sunday braai before the real winter sets in.  Bought meat, (but stuck to pork as the rump steak price tag was a hefty euro 32.90 per kg (times R11 at the moment!)) and bought a little through-away braai! Charcoal is definitely not on par with the rooikool or hardekool wood I’m used to or even the charcoal. But after heating the chops on the braai the stove and pan quickly finished the braai job.

The well dressed chef
Best effort to braai four pork chops

And then there was the Ugly,  Tuco (Benedicto Pacifico Juan maria Ramirez) played by Eli Wallach. We don’t talk The Ugly here. Its in the past and ended in suicide in a bunker in Berlin in 1945. Its all about looking forward now.

So, when I’m asked how we are doing I can honestly still say that we’re good. Sometimes we struggle with language, different ways than we’re used to, unfamiliar substitutes and simply new things we haven’t seen before, but we’re enjoying the learning curve and are learning at rapid pace. We have settled into the American Protestant Church in Bonn and the kids are well settled into their school. We have by this time also realised that its not an European holiday as was the previous visits but a new home and that requires chores and tasks which may even be new to us spoilt Suffas.

Human beings are very very adaptable. ‘Its an adventure Harry, is good for you’

“Je ne regrette rien”

Well, not yet.

Its only been three weeks since we arrived in Europe.

It’s the kids’ first week-long break from school and Heleen took two days’ leave to give us our first long-weekend. And it being the rugby world-cup final, the logic destination must obviously be France, that clichéd beauty of a destination. Heleen and I have toured France on a few occasions before and know Paris well, have done the Nice, Antibes and Monaco stretch more than once and have camped in the Bourgogne areas of Dijon, Grenoble, Lyon and the Alps of Mont Blanc, Annecy and Megeve. The north east however, which is the world of champagne we have not visited and thus it was also perfect that Champagne/Ardenne was the nearest part of France to our home in Bonn.

Epernay is the main champagne town and this is where we headed. Now the one thing about the French is that they are passionate and classy. Though they have true passion here it did not prove to be a rugby area but maybe more the Café scene and champagne sipping passing of time. So for me, a true rugby-loving-All-Black-hating Afrikaner a slight disappointment to have only about 8 other people in the café (not bar or pub) actually watching the rugby and they were from Aus! It was France in the final remember! The rest of the café were just happy to sip their champagne and “mange” on their cheeses and croissants! But nonetheless, we did watch the rugby final in a beautiful brasserie (gemembeg to “g” your “r” when in Fgance) before starting to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of Epernay. This obviously is where champagne is still legally called champagne (and not bubbly or “vonkelwyn”!) and where the likes of one Claude Moet first produced champagne in 1743 which was served to kings and emperors across the world, and still is!

We visited the Moet et Chandon cellars, which is in the town and not in the country side as we are used to in the wine farms of the Cape. But the surprise here is that you enter the cellars in the middle of the town (picture, say Dorpstraat in Stellenbosch) and then find yourself in 28km of underground cellars and pathways in the chalk underworld of Epernay where the production happens. I must admit that the term “production” is to me a harsh term when talking wine and champagne, as production in my understanding conjures actions of sweat, hardly synonymous with the long slow process of eventually sipping on these delicacies!  In these same cellars the likes of Napoleon visited and drank champagne with Messieurs Moet and Chandon.

Interesting fact is that not even these large cellars own all the vineyards from which they get their grapes. They also buy in from independent little farmers, but there is a grading system which applies to the villages from which the grapes come. And these villages declare their status when you enter the town. The highest quality or status is Grand Cru while the next best status is Primer Cru. The term “cru” actually refers to town or village. I never knew that.

Grand Cru
Town boasting its quality

A ten minute drive out of Epernay is the most gorgeous little cru (village) Hautvillers. Please, concentrate on this pronunciation for a minute! The pronunciation is (try with Afrikaans in mind) ”Owieje”. Stunning!

Hautvillers (Owieje) is the home of the original Dom Perignon Benedictine abbey and this is where we experienced one of those quick little travel gems which you afterwards realise you did not make enough use of. But then it’s too late! After strolling through the abbey and still enjoying the incredible history and age of the building before us, a man suddenly starts babbling away to Heleen and me. He just returned from a 10 km run, is totally out of breath and sort of stretching after his run while telling us the tale of two of the pillars of the abbey before us which are original and more than 800 years old, the tiles in the entrance as well and the roof being fixed after the 100 year war (1337 to 1453, I know its not 100 years) with money donated by Louis IV. Then he disappears through one of the side doors into the abbey. It seems he is the current clergyman servicing in the abbey. I wish we could sit down and chat to this man for hours more.

Reims is the larger town of the area and though we preferred the little roads I needed to visit the Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral. I’m not a historian and don’t know all the facts, numbers and stories, but as I grow older (becoming part of history according to my kids) I enjoy understanding “what happened” when I visit new places. In Europe, I should probably refer to “first visits” rather to new places! The construction of Notre-Dame de Reims started in May 1211! On the same site and on ancient Roman baths, a Paleochristian cathedral was erected which was the first building in the western world which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. From the coronation of Henri 1st in 1027 the kings of France all came to Reims to be crowned; that is to say 30 kings in total except Louis VI, Henri IV and Louis XVIII. And the funny thing about this cathedral, which is more than 800 years old, is that it was never finished! Work stopped in 1516 before the spires that had been planned were erected. It is still not completed.

Back onto the country roads is where we found a number of World War cemeteries where numerous battles took place.

'Dit mag nooit weer gebeur nie, jy mag jou eie keuses maak'

Cruising through this part of France it is truly evident that it has always been an area where conflict, destruction and deep emotional pain reigned, though the current setting is stunningly beautiful with planted fields of various agricultural produce and scattered little villages all over. The trail of Louis XVI fleeing from Madame Guillotine leads through this lanscape. Louis and Marie Antoinette attempted to escape and where en-route to Varennes when they were recognised in Sainte-Menehould apparently from his face on the French coins. A short distance from here is where a year later in the battle of Valmy the new French Government (post the overthrown kingdom by revolution) successfully stopped an attempted invasion from Prussia which led to the birth of the Republic of France. More recently, many World War 1 and 2 battles took place here and there are many graveyards in remembrance of the many men who lost their lives here. As Johannes Kerkorrel so eloquently sings “miljoene jong soldate het gebloei in hierdie klei, en elke keer as die wereldoorlog afspeel is dit hier!” (Europhobia, Getransformeer).

Since I was very small I truly enjoyed the smaller roads, lesser travelled and through the little towns. It takes longer I know, but I regard that as so much part of the enjoyment, the clichéd “it’s the journey not the destination”. So I must admit that I feel truly blessed when my kids demand “klein paadjies” on weekends like this. And “klein paadjies” it was al the way back through rural Champagne/Ardenne and Belgium to Bonn – 9 hours to cover 430km in the company of mainly Valiant, Koos, Jan and Johhny K. It did include a sit-in “plat de jour” existing of duck for Cara and me in Vouviers and delicious sugar Belgian waffles known as gaufre in the French areas in Durbuy.

So, after three weeks in Germany, we had our first weekend away, one of the reasons we embarked on the Europe opportunity. We enjoyed a bit of France and Belgium and I realised that we have so many things to see, read and understand.

Furthermore, its not about ticking off destinations on some list. There’s centuries and generations of serious history to be discovered, there’s many different happenings to attend and there’s photos to be taken, many many photos to be taken. After the initial change shock, I’m now seriously looking forward to discovering Europe.

And I realised that the clichéd beauty of France is not clichéd at all, its truly deserved!