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Old 13th August 2013, 20:59   #1
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Default Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel

Iíve noticed several members taking trips to Europe and renting cars and going on driving tours all over Europe. Excellent! Having lived most of my life in Western Europe and having driven probably a couple of million kilometers I thought Iíd share how I tend to tour most of Europe. Iíve tried to include some information I hope you will find useful if you would ever consider traveling to this part of Europe.

Most of my touring of Europe, other than for work, tended to be in my 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider. I have a few other cars as well, but this is the car I prefer to go touring in. I have been very active in the Dutch Alfa Romeo Spider Register for many years. I sat on the board for several years, was chief editor of the club magazine, was part of the event-committee. Iíve organized countless tours in the Netherlands and all over Europe. Typically for 25 - 50 cars, varying from day trips to a full week away to for instance, Scotland, Lands End in the UK, Milan Italy etc.

Also, together with a very good friend of mine, Peter, for many years the two of us were the Club's technical committee. That meant we wrote technical articles for the club magazine, but more importantly we fixed all the Spider that broke down during our events. Remember, these are old cars, designed and made in Italy, not a good combination. So , let me tell you, we fixed a lot of Spiders all over Europe.

Peter used to work for Denso, the Japanese OEM car parts manufacturer, but started his own business several years ago as a professional classic car appraiser. So there is little he doesnít know about cars, parts and classic cars in particular. Between the two of us we have owned just about every imaginable car at some point in time. We have been buying, maintaining and repairing our cars together for many years.

Apart from the official Alfa Romeo Spider Register tours, we used to go out every year for 3-7 days, just the two of us, in our two Alfa Romeo Spiders. Weíve been all over Europe, including the Arctic circle, during the winter, in our Spiders, top down of course at -27oC. We always drive top down, no matter what the weather is like! Come rain, come snow, we drive top down. Whatís the use of an open top car if you donít open up the top!

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0477.jpg

Our two Spiders in the Ardennes, mine is the red 1986 Aerodynamica QV and Peter's is the green Coda Tronca. Both were built in Italy and exported to the US and were imported into the Netherlands in the early 90's where they both received full restoration.

As I have been living away from the Netherlands for the last four years we had not been able to have our yearly driving tour. But this year I spent two weeks in the Netherlands during July/August, so we took off!

The main purpose of our trips is driving our Spiders. We prefer little country roads. We rarely set out with a particular destination in mind. We just sort of play it by ear and plan 2-3 hour stretches, stop and plan the next couple of hours driving. When we see something we like, say a (car) museum, or a pretty castle, we might stop and have a look. So our travels are more about the traveling/driving then to get to a specific destination or see something very specific. We just enjoy driving our old Spiders, each others company, stopping for a nice coffee, lunch and finding some good restaurants in the evening . Also, we tend to end up fixing a few things on our Spiders too. At the bear minimum something will drop off, or the electrics will play up.

Iím a mariner, aviator and sort of a road warrior, so navigation, maps, GPS and route planning have always had my interest. I can still navigate by using a sextant if I have too! And I still own one too. I also own two TomTom GPS, a Grundig (!) GPS, and two Garmin GPSís. On these European trips we take the TomTom. Peter and I have different models, but we ensure we have the same, most recent fully updated map installed. Also, our TomTom make use of the HD Live Traffic and have speed and red light camera warnings installed.

So, hereís how we plan our trips:

First of all, the most important part is to ensure we have all the necessary tools and spare parts with us. Having toured together for many years we have this down to the last detail. Peter and I know exactly who will be taking what. We now which sets of tools each will be bringing, the hydraulic jack, the ďeasy-bleedĒ in case of brake / clutch issues, multi meter, the electrical stuff, the bolts/nuts, spare parts, hose clamps, duct tape, electrical wiring etc. So everything gets spread out a bit over two car boots so to speak.

If you just rent a car from a reputable car rental firm the above is not necessary. Modern cars rarely break down and if they do, you might as well call the break down service of the car rental. But when you take some 30 - 40 year old cars on a road trip, you better be prepared.

So for me, its a bit a ritual, the evening before we set off, I wash and clean my Spider, get all the tools and parts sorted and properly stowed in the boot. Fill up with petrol, check the tire pressure, check all liquids under the hood. Make sure we bring the hand cleaning cream and water to wash our hands when done fixing too!

So we had not decided on a destination other than somewhere south, Eiffel or Ardennes or at least something hilly and beautiful. Peter lives near Amsterdam and our home in the Netherlands is in a village near the Hague. Peter arrives at 0800am and we get out a Dutch map and decide weíll drive to Valkenswaard. All the way in the South of the Netherlands and close to the Belgium border. We want to get there as quickly as possible so we set the destination in our TomTomís using ďfastest routeĒ. Which means more or less motorway all the way. Since Iíve left the Netherlands four years ago, the legal speed limit has been raised to 130 km/h, but not everywhere. Of course, you need to watch the road signs, but our TomTomís will also indicate the maximum speed and any speed cameras and also all the parts where we have ďaverage speed controlĒ. With cameras and computers they measure your average speed over a long stretch of motorway (e.g. 5 - 15 km). If your average speed is too high, you will be fined automatically. Theyíll take a photograph of your cars registration. If the car is registered in your name you have to pay up! So better not speed. Anyway, top down in an Alfa Spider 130 km/h is really a little bit too fast. It gets very noisy. We typically cruise in fifth gear at 3500 RPM and that gets you around 115 km/h which is fine.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0502.jpg

Here we are stopped somewhere in the Eiffel and Peter is reprogramming his TomTom after some in depth study of the various maps and charts we carry.

Takes us around 1.5 hour to get to Valkenswaard. We stop at the first nice restaurant we see that has a terrace out in the sun. We bring a whole stack of maps and our TomTomís and order Cappuccinoís and pastry (Appel-gebak). Very Dutch, very tasty!

We look at the map and we pick a few points on the map that are on little, twisty road. We subsequently put those points in the TomTom and let it plan the shortest route.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0504.jpg

Now, if you use shortest route in town that will just get you endless left, right, right, left etc instructions. But out in the country in most of Europe using the shortest routes will get you into very rural and beautiful country roads. You need to look at the map and choose your waypoints a little bit intelligently.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0462.jpg

This is my Spider. I just fixed the indicator lens, because it fell off. It just does that. Its held in place by two plastic bolts, a yellow and a white one. For some reason the lens cap never really fits the body so there is always a bit of tension on it. So I carry sets of these yellow and white bolts. Itís always the white one that snaps first. We developed a little technique to get the snapped off plastic bolts out easily. Because they snap completely flush with the body, you canít get pliers on them. So, we heat up a small screw driver with a lighter, push it in the snapped bolt, wait for it to cool down and presto you can unscrew the snapped bolt from the body.

Also, my left light developed a problem, it did not work. This Spider had just passed itís MOT a week earlier so I knew only days ago every thing was working. Also, the brake light stopped working as well. Both were due to some slightly corroded contacts. Took us all but twenty minutes to diagnose and fix and onwards we went. These were the only problems we had. Weíve had much worse, e.g. several years ago having to replace a clutch at the side of the road still rates pretty high in our enroute-problem-fixing-achievements.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0482.jpg

We never plan our coffee or lunch stops. We stop when we feel like eating or drinking, or if we see something particularly nice or interesting and we want to explore. We ended up driving for three days in the Ardennes and the Eiffel. So we found ourselves in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Germany. These are all so-called Schengen countries and there is no border control whatsoever. In fact, as we tend to drive on very rural little roads we often crossed borders without even noticing. Only the main borders will have formal sign posts, so you know youíve just entered e.g. Germany. It really doesnít matter for all intends and purposes. Traffic rules across Western Europe are very similar. On mainland Europe everybody drives on the rights and the TomTom will tell us the maximum speed. Also itís one currency in all these countries: Euroís!

We do speak a bit of French and Germany, but these days, just about everywhere you go in Wester Europe you will be fine with English too.

In these countries you can go into any cafe and or restaurant and get good food. In fact, very often in these very little villages youíd be surprised on how good the food gets. Eating is a big thing in France, Belgium and Germany too. People like to take their time.
A small word of caution if youíre vegetarian. Youíre very unlikely to find a vegetarian section on the menu. In the big European Cities you will be able to find the odd vegetarian restaurant. But very few restaurants be it large or small have a vegetarian section. That shouldnít put you off, in these place people tend to be very friendly and theyíll make something up once you explain youíre vegetarian.

Although I love Indian food and when in Delhi I will eat Indian lunch and dinner nearly every day, I do love western food, meat and beef as well. Germany is well known for itís Schnitzels and I had several obviously.

Drinking and driving donít mix and just about everywhere in Europe there are stiff no-alcohol when driving laws. We like our beer and wine, but wait until evening dinner when weíre done driving for the day.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0465.jpg

We never make reservations for hotels. After weíve had our lunch we plan the next 2-3 hours stretch and decide where we will spend the night. We plan it in such a way that the end of the route will be somewhere around 17-1800pm. In all these four countries you will find sign posts for hotels and Bed&Breakfast places. Very often there will be a tourist information where they will be able to advise you where to go, how much the rates are, what are the best restaurants in town etc. And they will speak English as well, as well as at least two other languages. The above is the view from my hotel room early in the morning. Nice sleepy French town, still partly covered in low hanging mist.

Also, most villages/towns have tourist signs with maps and hotel locations, phone numbers etc. We spent on average around Euro 60 per night in hotels, including breakfast. Thatís per room. We only spent two nights in a hotel as this was only a three day trip. But every night the first hotel we checked had ample room. This is supposed to be high season, but it was pretty quiet. Even so, we rarely have had trouble finding rooms. Especially if you stay in smaller towns/villages there is usually a room to be found.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0493.jpg

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0497.jpg

Also, at the tourist informations, you will be able to get loads of information, brochures and maps with local attractions. Most of it is free of charge. Most hotels and B&Bs tend to carry a selection of tourist information leaflets, maps as a service to their guests. And nearly all will offer WiFi/Internet free of charge as well.

If you travel off season it might get a bit more tricky because a lot of these places shut down after September. But, I have yet to stay a night in the Spider. Always found a room. Two things when traveling in the Ardennes and Eiffel you might want to be aware off. Donít run the tank too empty. There are plenty of petrol stations, but the smaller ones close down for the evening and you might find yourself having to drive 20-35 kilometers to find one thatís open. Also, ATMís are not that common yet in the rural areas and especially B&Bs might not take credit cards, so make sure you always have Euroís on you. Or again, you might have to drive for 20-30 kilometers to the next village and back again to get cash.

Also, make sure you bring a debit/credit card which has a chip on it. Not just a PIN code, but a chip as well. More and more shops will not be able to accept a credit card without a chip. In fact in the Netherlands, other than petrol stations, I had real problems using my Indian Citibank Debit card without itís chip.

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Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0531.jpg

You will find that all roads are in excellent condition, even the very small rural ones, tend to be fully tarmac. Maximum speed on most of the Belgium/German rural roads is a blistering 90 km/h! See some of the photographs below. You will not be doing 90 km/h even though it might be legal to do so.

We also stopped in Trier, Germany. Nice old centre, excellent shopping and they have a very nice toy museum we wanted to see.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0511.jpg

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Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0522.jpg

On our last day we set off for a specific destination. We wanted to visit a place known as Euro-Technica, http://www.arstecnica.de/arstecnica/index.php/de/ The site is in Dutch/German/French but just click around youíll get a fairly good idea! Essentially, a place where men can be boys. It has a huge collection of model trains and model cars. You can buy everything and anything when it comes to model trains of model cars. In addition, they have these huge dioramaís, showing the trains rolling, cars on display. Iím not really a model car collector although I do own a few. But I like looking at them.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0535.jpg

Entering Monschau

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0538.jpg

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0539.jpg

Our last stop in Germany before we put our TomTomís on Ďfastest route HomeĒ was Monschau. A very picturesque little place. Quite touristy but still very nice, beautiful old homes, very pleasant environments, lots of good food. And Monschau is famous for itís mustard! So we stocked up on some mustard.

Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel-img_0541.jpg

From here it was a three hour drive to our homes back in the Netherlands. Nearly all motorway.

All in all, an excellent road trip, just like old times. Not sure when I will be able to be doing this again. Just before I left the Netherlands four years ago, Peter and I were planning a 6-day trip to Wales. We never got around to actually go as I left for the US rather unexpectedly, but it is still high on our bucket list. So weíll see. Itís good to have a well filled bucket list. Keeps you busy!

Jeroen

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Last edited by n_aditya : 22nd August 2013 at 09:28.
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Old 13th August 2013, 21:37   #2
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Default Re: Touring the Ardennes and Eiffel

Thanks Jeroen.
That's one sweet log.
Missing my good old days in Germany almost a decade back.
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Old 13th August 2013, 21:48   #3
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I love it, being a lover of unplanned drives on an open top 2-seater myself. Thanks.
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Old 13th August 2013, 21:54   #4
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Very nice log indeed.

The Ardennes region is notorious for WW2 history enthusiasts as the scene of The Battle of the Bulge where old Toothbrush moustache's Panzers barged in and squished the Allies.

Thanks for sharing your pictures and log. I love the Alfa Spider and would love to rent and drive one in the UK or Europe some day.
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Old 13th August 2013, 21:59   #5
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Brings back memories of our trip from Paris to Spa for the F1 weekend a few years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend around Liege and some other small towns around. We also encountered the heaviest rain we have ever seen, visibility was down to a few feet and it was like being in a heavy car wash cycle!

I haven't seen the pics as I am posting from my phone, but your words reminded us of the fun of traveling without worrying about food or a bed. Or clean toilets
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Old 13th August 2013, 22:44   #6
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Originally Posted by selfdrive View Post
Brings back memories of our trip from Paris to Spa for the F1 weekend a few years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend around Liege and some other small towns around. We also encountered the heaviest rain we have ever seen, visibility was down to a few feet and it was like being in a heavy car wash cycle!

I haven't seen the pics as I am posting from my phone, but your words reminded us of the fun of traveling without worrying about food or a bed. Or clean toilets

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the rain. The rain in the Ardennes can be monumental. In fact we encountered such a heavy, heavy shower as well. It was really bad, especially as we keep driving top down. During these heavy showers the most important things is to have wipers on the inside of your window screen. Which Spiders don't, so you need to improvise with rags and shammy's.

Yes and the toilets are always clean! And you can eat all the food and drink water from any tap in sight anywhere without any problem.

Jeoen
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Old 13th August 2013, 23:33   #7
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Originally Posted by shankar.balan View Post
Very nice log indeed.

The Ardennes region is notorious for WW2 history enthusiasts as the scene of The Battle of the Bulge where old Toothbrush moustache's Panzers barged in and squished the Allies.

Thanks for sharing your pictures and log. I love the Alfa Spider and would love to rent and drive one in the UK or Europe some day.
Yes, there was some very heavy fighting and notorious battles fought out in the Ardennes/Eiffel area. Still lots of WW2 cemeteries around. The American ones are always beautifully kept.

And of course, the battle of the bulge would not be complete without making a reference to the most brilliant reply ever made by an American general when asked by the Germans to surrender: Nuts.

See: http://www.thedropzone.org/europe/bulge/kinnard.html

Jeroen
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Old 13th August 2013, 23:39   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post

Yes, there was some very heavy fighting and notorious battles fought out in the Ardennes/Eiffel area. Still lots of WW2 cemeteries around. The American ones are always beautifully kept.

And of course, the battle of the bulge would not be complete without making a reference to the most brilliant reply ever made by an American general when asked by the Germans to surrender: Nuts.

See: http://www.thedropzone.org/europe/bulge/kinnard.html

Jeroen
So sad indeed. The terrible waste that is war. And Belgium is such a beautiful country too.
I always feel terribly sad at the sheer waste of human and animal life and property when I watch the movies - The Battle of the Bulge and A Bridge too Far.

But you re right. That reply was laconic and brilliant, just like something that perhaps Clint Eastwood might possibly have said in one of his films...

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Old 19th August 2013, 19:45   #9
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It was a joyful experience reading your Travelogue, i thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.
It really is amazing to know that your can drive down to almost any country(Please correct me if I'm wrong) in Europe. Lovely machines you've got there. Just one question though, How does the speed limit system really work there? I'm guessing that there isn't any speed limit because of the fabulous roads

Cheers ,
Zohaib
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Old 19th August 2013, 20:39   #10
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Dear Jeroen,

Most interesting and informative travelogue - bravo!
Keeping the top down in all kinds of weather is really extreme in my opinion though.
Wishing you loads of more trips.
Drive safe.

Regards
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Old 21st August 2013, 20:40   #11
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That's a great thread, Jeroen! You are really living it up. Wandering through Europe is something I dream about too (but haven't done it yet!). The Alfa Romeo Spider is one of my favourites when it comes to car design. I have to confess though that the ones I had seen on tv were later models. You cars look great! I also couldn't help getting reminded of the Jaguar E type !

The most notable thing was how you and your friend are so much in sync with each other and your cars. It's like you are four close friends who go on these great tours around the countryside - friends who not only have mutual respect, but also know each others foibles and eccentricities and have 'accepted' them for what they are.

I loved reading and looking at the pictures. Its so good to have the rich variety in our membership and the types of travel our members undertake and then share!

Keep them coming!
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Old 22nd August 2013, 02:03   #12
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Absolutely beautiful pictures there.. Excellent writing to accompany it as well

It's quite good to know of your history with classic cars, and that of your friend as well. The great companionship that you share with him also shows.

And your last few words on the bucket list are so true. I can only hope that I can continue to share this thought as life goes on.

Cheers,
Sam
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Old 22nd August 2013, 09:11   #13
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This is what I love about Tbhp the diversity of members and the coverage of places and stuff that all you can think of. Jeroen excellent pen down, I loved the pics! And like othes said you four buddies are in great sync. I always admire Italian cars, they set a standard on design, drive-ability, performance and reliability. Great thread please keep them coming, and all the very best for the miles that you are yet to cover. Thank you.
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Old 22nd August 2013, 09:33   #14
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Brilliant thread Sir.

Hats off to your passion - enjoying the journey and beautiful countryside with no concrete planning on the destination does make a fun and memorable trip.

Europe has always fascinated me and I dream of living in an European country someday.

Rated 5 stars for this thread.

I am glued to this thread now. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 22nd August 2013, 21:56   #15
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Quote:
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It was a joyful experience reading your Travelogue, i thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.
It really is amazing to know that your can drive down to almost any country(Please correct me if I'm wrong) in Europe. Lovely machines you've got there. Just one question though, How does the speed limit system really work there? I'm guessing that there isn't any speed limit because of the fabulous roads

Cheers ,
Zohaib
Thanks everybody for the very nice and encouraging comments. With respect to the above questions:

Yes, you can drive anywhere in Europe. Within Europe a large number of countries have signed the Schengen treaty; in essence there are no border controls between Schengen countries. For those Europeas countries that have not signed the Schengen treaty, again, you can travel anywhere without any restrictions. That is, if you have an EC passport. If not you need to have the appropiate visa. I'm not sure how it works for Indian Nationals, but I believe these days you can apply for a "Schengen Visa".

There are 26 "Schengen Countries these days: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area

With respect to speed limits, or more general 'traffic regulatation'. Each Euopean country has its own traffic laws and regulations. Having said that, they tend to be very similar, with the exception of the British, who insist to this day to drive on the wrong side of the road! I honestly don't think anybody in Europe even worries about the differences when travelling across Europe. There are a few pecularities that are well advertised and "just known" to Europeans when you travel across Europe.

For instance: In France, by law, you are required to have one of these high visibility vests with you, and you need to wear it in case of a break down when you get out of your car. Also, as I mentioned, France doesn't allow your GPS to provide speed trap / camera warnings. Another example, in Germany, by law, you are required to have a first aid box on board.

Every year, especially during summer holiday, there will be a few articles in the local press, warning about these things, so you can get prepared, or pay the fine! Most Europeas countries have excellent Auto/Motorbike organisations that provide all that sort of information.

With respect to speed limits: Again, every country has it's own rules and regulations on Speed limits. Germany being the exception that to this day there bits of the Autobahn (Germam Motorway) that have no speed restriction at all. Here you can go pedal to the metal!.

You will find that in all European countries there are extensive traffic sign on just about everything including speeds. In addition, the TomTom GPS we use have very accurate speed limits displayed as well. You do need to ensure you have the most recent/updated map, but then it will tell you with a very high degree of accuracy what they maximum speed is at any road you drive on!

Thanks for the comments on how Peter and I are in sync! It's nice some of you picked that up. Because that's how it feels. You need somebody very likeminded to drive for several days like this. I had been looking forward to it immensely. My wife and I do enjoy our corporate expad live, but there are things that you do miss, this being one of them.

I'm not sure yet how, but Peter and I were planning for a trip to Wales just before I left the Netherlands in 2009. We have decided that no matter what, we need to ensure that trip takes place in the not to distant future, no matter where we live or work!

Jeroen
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