Europe 1984 – The Big Trip, Part Four

Florence is just an hour up the road from Siena and we arrived at our destination there, Camping Michelangelo and picked out a good spot.  Located just down the hill from Piazza Michelangelo, the campground sits high above the River Arno about a 20-minute walk from central Florence.  This would be my third stay; the first a short visit in 1977 and then that long two-week stretch in 1979 with Rendy.


Camping Michelangelo, the Duomo in the Distance

We passed four busy days full of sightseeing, hitting all of the well know sites including the Duomo, Church of San Lorenzo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi, Santa Croce and of course, the original statue of David.


Ponte Vecchio


Palazzo Vecchio

Days were hot and at the end of each, Francois and I would invariably find our selves sitting on the patio at Camping Michelangelo, drinking cold Peroni beer and eating multiple bags of potato chips.  Still present was the juke box that had also played when I last visited in 1979, although the by now worn out copy of Jimi Hendrix All Along the Watchtower appeared to have been retired from service.


The Patio at Camping Michelangelo

Needing to be back in Stuttgart, we drove the distance in two days, with a stop for the night at Lake Lugano.  Much like our time in Venice, we experienced monsoon like conditions.  As we were breaking camp in the morning, Francois and Hieke’s little two-man pup tent was a miserable soggy mess.  As Francois started to dismantle it for packing, Heike advised him, in no uncertain terms, to just leave it there as they weren’t going to be camping much more in the future.    And so we did, a small sacrifice to the gods of camping and rain.

We spent two nights in Stuttgart, this time sleeping at the apartment of Heike’s twin brother Joerg.  He would introduce us to Rauchbier, a type of beer with a distinctive smoke flavor imparted by using malted barley dried over an open flame.  From there we traveled north making stops in Bernkastel (where my Uncle Chuck was stationed in 1977) and Bitburg, spending the night wild camping at Sport Centrum in Idar Oberstein, the place Rendy and I had used during the last half of our stay there.


City Gate in Trier

We made our way back to Giessen the next day, with a long stop in lovely Trier, possibly the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 BC.  During our three-night stay at the Della-Rovere’s, we dropped the VW off at the dealer’s in Frankfurt so that it begin its journey back to the states.  On August 30th, we piled into Dave and Cindy’s Honda Accord, loaded down with their two windsurfers, to make the drive down to Lake Chiemsee for Memorial Day weekend at the Armed Forces Recreation Center there.


An Innocuous Pull Out in Germany Where Rendy and I Slept for a Night in 1977

During the drive, the Honda started running poorly.  I can’t recall if Dave had any inkling as to the depth of the problem, or whether it came on as a surprise, but what ensued was a wild drive of an hour or so as we limped the car to Ansbach (their former home), which was fortuitously located nearby.  Afraid that if we stopped the car the engine would die and not restart, we barreled along on two lane country roads, running through stop signs and the like.  We pulled into Ansbach and managed to get the car to a garage they had used in the past just before it gave up the ghost.

From there a phone call to a couple they knew in town, who lived in an old house in the country, netted us a spot to stay for the night, a nice dinner and later, some wicked home made schnapps that left us all a little foggy the next morning.  The next day, we left the car and windsurfers in Ansbach and took a train to Chiemsee.  Our original plan was to stay in the facilities at the Recreation Center, but upon arrival discovered that only individuals connected with the military could do so.

Personnel at the facility suggested that we walk into nearby Bernau am Chiemsee and see if we could find lodging there.  Within a few minutes we knocked on the door of a nice two story house, asked if they had any rooms free (Haben Sie Zimmer frei?) and booked our two rooms with the Schreckenbach family, at the princely sum of 32 marks a night per room.  At that time the exchange rate was 2.85 marks to the dollar, making each room just $11.23, with sehr gut Frühstück (a very good breakfast).


Gasthaus Shreckenbach

We’d head down to the Recreation Center each morning for a full day of windsurfing lessons, eventually acquiring just enough experience to actually pass the licensing test.  Like much in life though, having the license didn’t guarantee a true mastery of the sport as was witnessed our last full day, when late in the afternoon Joanna went out to get in one more run.  The wind had come up and in very short time, blew her way down the lake where she found herself unable to get the craft turned around and headed back to base.

We alerted the staff at the center and after a brief discussion, the head lifeguard/trainer, while fully clothed, blithely stepped off the dock onto a waiting windsurfer, pulled up the sail and took off in Joanna’s direction.  Not long afterwards, they both came sailing back, none the worse for wear.  The increasingly gusty winds pretty much put a halt to our windsailing adventure and as it would turn out, except for one brief afternoon using Dave and Cindy’s windsurfers when they had returned to the states, that would spell the end of windsurfing as a sporting endeavor for us.

Dave and Cindy returned to Giessen while Joanna and I took the train into Munich.  We’d contacted Agnes Schottner and she invited us to stay with her again.  On the seventh Agnes and her husband hosted a party that went on all weekend, culminating in our playing canasta for eight hours.  The only beer they would drink, the official drink of Munich in their opinion, is Augustiner, and it is still the first beer I drink when I get there.  We learned a valuable lesson on that trip, reinforced the day of the party when out of necessity, we needed to waterproof the floor of our tent.

This was the same two-man Adventure 16 (A16) I’d carried in 1979.  A great tent, it was worn out and we should have purchased a new one for a trip of this duration; knowledge we would use in the future when traveling for long periods.  It was a warm day in Munich and we set the tent up in the driveway and I climbed inside to apply the waterproofing.  Later on, we’d realize that we should have read the label more closely, particularly the part where it strongly advises that you should apply the treatment in a well-ventilated space, which the interior of a closed up tent is not.

It would take me a day or so for me to recover, cutting my participation in the party short that night but I would make up for it with a vengeance the next day, consuming more than my share of Augustiner during the marathon, cutthroat Canasta game.  For the coming trip this year, 2014, you can rest assured we bought a new tent.  I don’t think I’ll be waterproofing its floor any time soon.


Modern Art in Florence


  1. I’d never heard the windsurfing story before. Very funny!

  2. I’m printing all of your Europe blogs for Shirley.

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