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August 2007

America's education system at work

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because uh some people out there in our nation don't have maps and uh I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for."

--Miss South Carolina 2007

Rehoboth, Redux


Check out the sand castle we made yesterday!

After four straight days of rain in Rehoboth, the weather forecast today calls for a sunny day with temps in the high 80s. Naturally, it’s our last day of the trip.

The cloudy weather did not stop the chitlins from getting sunburned yesterday.

Baba Ganush would like to announce that he’s hungry.

Baba Ganush wants to go eat brunch at Starboard restaurant in Dewey Beach

Melony has nothing to say. She missed last night’s fireworks because she was tired.

Mr. Crab would like to smack Baba Ganush for taking over his brain with the preschool song “Jumpy Jump Jump, JUMP! JUMP!” from the TV show “Yo Gabba Gabba” on The Disney Channel.

Baba Ganush doesn’t want to blog anymore because he is still hungry.

Greetings from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Img_9556 Dela-WHERE?  As long as Mr. Crab can remember, he's been coming to vacation at Rehoboth Beach, a quaint little seaside resort about 2 hours east of Washington, D.C. Actually I used to go to Ocean Shitty, I mean Ocean City, until my family got smart. 

When Mr. and Mrs. Crab married, they began a new annual family tradition. So for the past five years, we've all rented a house in Rehoboth and spent a week at the beach with Mr. Crab, Mrs. Crab, Mrs. Crab's sister, her husband and their two kids, who shall hereforth be known as "Melany" and "Baba Ganush"

I don't have much to blog about today so the "chitlins", Melany and Baba Ganush, and Mrs. Crab are sitting with me and giving me suggestions, and I will type exactly what they tell me.

Mrs. Crab said I must mention a major life milestone I accomplished in Rehoboth. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I, Mr. Crab, purchased a box of tampons.  Alone.  Mission accomplished with only a small bit of embarrassment.

Melany would like to note that we just saw a car drive by with the license plate "PONIES."

Baba Ganush says he is proud that he found his two shoes.

Mr. Crab would like to brag about our great crab feast this weekend. DAG BUTCHIE are Maryland Crabs expensive this year. A bushel of crabs is currently running $240. But a crab feast with family? Priceless.

So far, our beach week in Rehoboth is turning into a wash-out. It has been chilly (high of 80) and raining all day. And more rain forecast for the next two days. Boo hoo.

Mrs. Crab notes that there is always sunshine in her world.

More later.

Greetings from Philadelphia!

Geno's Steaks, Philadelphia
Originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Hi ya'll! We're blogging to you from the City of Brotherly Love, where in a few short hours after arriving we hit the Betsy Ross House, saw Benjamin Franklin's "privy," had drinks at a bar located in the birthplace of Lawrence Feinstein (aka Larry Fine of the Three Stooges) and capped off the evening with a REAL Philly Cheesesteak at Pat's King of Steaks --which claims to have invented the iconic sandwich.

Mr. Crab has NEVER been to Philadelphia, which is sad considering I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. -- about a three hour drive away. And Mrs. Crab has only been here once for a wedding but never saw the sights, even sadder because she's from Baltimore, less than two hours away. From what I've seen so far, Philly is a pretty cool town! Lots of gorgeous old colonial brick rowhouses, cobblestone roads, green spaces, etc.

Day began at 6:30am, with Mr. Crab nursing a raging hangover from one too many pints at the 400-year-old George Inn pub in London. On the train by 9am for our noon flight. Uneventful flight, saw a few films (Breach, Blades of Glory and Wild Hogs), then sat in a holding pattern around Philly for an hour due to thunderstorms. We're staying at the Holiday Inn which, unlike most hotels, offers FREE WiFi Internet! I cant believe hotels have the nerve to charge up to $30 a day for internet access. WiFi should be a standard amenity in any hotel 3 stars or better.

Anyway back to Philly. Compared to London, where it was 70 and sunny when we left, Philadelphia is hot as hell, 95 and HUMID. And it's been raining HARD. Sucks. But still it's nice to be able to sit outside in the evening, unlike London where you need a sweater after dusk.

Click on the Flickr icon at the top-right to see more scenes from Phily.

Homeward Bound (or, Why I Hate Air Travel)

We're getting ready to fly home to Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia), the land of plentiful Wal-Marts and Targets, where everything costs 50% less than London prices!  And also the land of plentiful sun. It was 105F in Baltimore today!  (Just to rub it in, it was 72 and sunny in London today!).  We're looking forward to visiting with family and friends.

The only part of the trip we're NOT thrilled about are the transatlantic flights.  I hate flying. No, I have no fear of flying. I just hate the whole process of flying. We have to leave our flat at least 3.5 HOURS before our flight, giving ourselves enough time to make the 1 hour train ride to the airport plus additional time for any potential train delays, employee strikes, etc. We always check-in online, but you still have to stand in queue to turn in your bags, queue for security, subject yourself to invasive pointless searches involving confiscation of deadly hand lotions and water bottles, stand in queue for immigration & passport controls, stand around waiting for your flight to be called, get herded into a little pig pen at the gate, stand around and wait some more until boarding starts, queue on the jetway, queue in the aisles, sit around waiting for stragglers, then the entire plane queues up on the runway!   

But wait, there's more. Now you sit around for 7 hours, maybe watch a bad film (movie edited for the feeble-minded), eat a crap lunch, maybe sleep if a 400-pound man hasn't taken up the seat and armrest next to you, pay $5 for a crap weak American beer.  On approaching Washington Dulles Airport, the plane queues up in the sky, circling the airport until it can land. Finally on the ground, and more lines: queue to get off the plane, queue up for the stupid People Mover vehicle to get to the terminal, queue up at the luggage carousel, queue up at the taxi stand or car rental shop. Queues Queues Queues. 

Then there's the whole issue of airline ticket pricing. The base fare of my roundtrip airline ticket from London to Washington was $681.85.  Then the airline adds on a bunch of other miscellaneous charges. Check out this breakdown of my airline ticket, according to the receipt:

--BASE FARE: $681.85 RT
--Fuel surcharge: $119.34 ($59.67 each way)
--US international arrival tax: $15.10
--US international departure tax: $15.10
--United Kingdom air passengers duty: $79.55 (*A controversial tax recently added under the guise of fighting global warming)
--US immigration: $7.00
--US animal & plant health inspection service: $5.00
--US customs user fee: $5.50
--US passenger facility charge: $4.50
--September 11 security fee: $2.50
--United Kingdom passenger service charge: $15.91

That's right. My $951.68 ticket includes $269.83 in taxes and fees. That's 30% of the total cost of the ticket. THIRTY! FRACKING! PERCENT!  I can't think of many products or companies that gouge their customers with 30% markup in extraneous fees, and can legally get away with it. In the airline's defense, many of these fees are imposed by the governments.  But these too are ridiculous. Why do I need to pay for animal and plant inspections if I am bringing neither on the plane?  Or what about customs and security?  Don't our taxes go to fund these programs?  What the hell is a passenger service charge? You mean I have to pay to step foot into your lousy airport? Who comes up with this crap!?!

I could of been a contender! has been nominated as best travel blog 2007 by the Blogger's Choice Awards!  I don't know why on earth somebody would have nominated this humble little personal blog, but what the heck!  We have a whopping four votes at the moment...compared to 686 votes for the front-runner.  Please click on the link above and vote for us! Tell all your friends about us or you will never see your cat or dog again.  And  if you're feeling particularly generous, drop us a buck or two in the tip jar! (Paypal link on right-hand column)   Thank you for visiting and supporting!

**UPDATE**:  Click here to go directly to the voting page for our site:

Camping Europe: Trip-Report!


The Two Crabs recently returned on a week-long camping-backpacking-driving tour of the area known as BENELUX (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg), with detours in Cologne, Germany and the Champagne region of France. On all the photos here, click on the image to see the bigger photo, like this gorgeous shot above of Vianden Castle in Luxembourg (more on that later!). And as always, you can click on the Flickr icon on the upper-right hand corner of this page to go to our complete photo album! 


Img_8526 From London, we took the train to Dover on the southeast coast of England (£12 each with Network Railcard, 90 minutes), then hopped on the SeaFrance ferry for the 70 minute journey across the English Channel (£15) to Calais, France. There, rented a tiny Citreon compact car from Alamo (150 euros per week).

Img_8538Our goal was to make it to The Hague (Den Haag) by sundown but as we lolly-gagged getting to the ferry port, we didn't arrive in France until late afternoon. Hit the road and our trip was uneventful until we reached Ghent and got HORRIBLY lost. Belgium street signs -- or lack thereof -- SUCK ASS!  I have never seen such a horrible city for drivers. Even BAGHDAD has better road signage!  Where there were signs in Ghent, they were tiny and tacked atop a pole about 50 feet above the road, so you had to drive while looking up at the sky to watch for signs!  We also saw a motorcyclist get hit by a minivan.  We had intended to stop in Ghent but after our two hours of circling the city looking for a way out of this rat maze, we gave up and continued north to....

Img_8539_2 THE NETHERLANDS.  Southern Holland to be exact. Holland was night and day compared to Belgium: Great wide roads, excellent street signs. By this point we realized we were not going to reach the Hague so we stopped at the first campground we saw: Braakman Family Holiday Resort in Hoek, Holland. Huge resort mainly full of families and kids but it had several bars and a bingo hall where, oddly, everyone was playing Bingo in silence. When you won, you simply stood up and took your card to the caller. Go figure.  The campground bar attracted local drunks, including an ex-convict who insisted on becoming our new best friend, and a guy who kept lifting up his shirt to show us his nipples and kept trying to hit on Mrs. Crab!  We got there quite late (9pm) and just barely made last dinner service. This ain't Spain!  They eat dinner early here, not good for us night owls.  Camping was only 19 euros a night TOTAL! 

Img_8575 We woke up early and packed up and stopped in "downtown" Hoek, an area about 2x2 blocks looking for an ATM. Cute town with a windmill and church in the heart of the town. NOTHING was open as it was Sunday (except for the church, of course), so we ended up having brekkie at a gas station. Surprisingly, European gas stations have great croissants, coffee and my personal favorite, pain au chocolate (crossaint with chocolate center!).  The road through western Holland was gorgeous, and mainly deserted except for the occasional tractor on the road. Everything was fine until we got to the Hague. The first two campgrounds were completely BOOKED. We didn't realize that the Hague was a HUGE vacation destination for its beautiful Scheveningen beach. We asked around and finally found a campground with a cheezy little town called MONSTER.  This campground SUCKED. It was basically just a big open field with a few mobile home toilets. And they had the nerve to charge us 16 Euros a night for this dump. Not even toilet paper!  The only nice feature was that it was right on the beach, so it was nice going to sleep hearing the surf.  Set up our tent and then went into downtown Hague to sightsee and enjoy a great steak dinner at Argentinos Restaurant, great food but lousy service.  Mrs. Crab beat me in usual.  Someday I shall get my revenge. 

Img_8627I'm a night owl yet when we camp, we always tend to wake up with the sun. We were up by 7 and by 9am we were in Delft, a GORGEOUS little town about 20 minutes east of The Hague. The city is best known for its remarkably tall cathedral, huge square, canals and cobblestone roads. One of the town's churchest leans like the tower of Pisa!  Yummy breakfast of an Omlette with cheese and a pancake with bacon, mushrooms and port wine and Stroop, a kind of maple syrup but not as sweet as your typical Aunt Jemima syrup! 

Img_8730Random thoughts on Holland: Dutch people are BEAUTIFUL. Men, women and children, they all look perfect! Tall, blue eyes, blonde hair, educated, everyone speaks at least 2 or 3 languages. And the Dutch public transportaiton system is bar none. Every town with at least 5,000 people has a tram system. And even the most tiny rural villages had access to a public bus service. All roads have bike lines, which are marked with street signs just like roads.The Dutch also seem to be the most fervent campers in Europe. Every other camper and trailer we saw in Europe had NL license plates.  I've developed a new love and appreciate for the Netherlands. 

So anyway, by lunchtime it started raining. And raining. And raining. It rained for the next 24 straight hours. And not just a sprinkle. We're talking torrential downpours. DELUGE.  Horrible. After Delft, we nevertheless went to Scheveningen Beach. Awesome beach that looks like Atlantic City with a concrete boardwalk, dozens of beach-front bars, pubs and restaurants. We even won 7 euros at a cheezy casino on the pier.  We met a friend for drinks at the Sahara Club, followed by SCRUPTIOUS dinner at Bora Bora restaurant.

Img_8687_2 We arrived back at the campground about 11pm, completely soaked from head to toe, only to find that a group of LOUD DRUNKS had set up their huge mansion-like tent next to our tiny REI pup tent.  I'm not going to stereotype these people's nationalities, but let's just say we've had bad past experiences with tourists from their particular vodka-swilling country.

Our new neighbors -- kids and adults -- were EXTREMELY LOUD (even by loud American tourist standards!), and the more they drunk, they louder they got. We pulled out the "American card", yelling for them to shut the hell up but it never worked. I finally fell asleep about 2am to the sound of rain.  I only got about 4 hours of sleep.

Img_8777   At 6:30am we woke up to silence. No rain. No Wind. No drunks. That should have been our cue to leave but we decided to sleep in. But about 30 minutes later, all hell broke loose. WIND ROARING LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN. RAIN PIERCING SIDEWAYS FROM THE NORTH SEA. DEBRIS FLYING THROUGH THE CAMPGROUND. Tent flapping. It was like being inside a hurricane. Even seagulls were being tossed around like plastic bags. We decided to make a run for it and started taking things to the car, rain be damned.  Which was a really stupid thing to do. Without the weight of the sleeping bags and clothes, our tent began to blow away. The Two Crabs got inside the tent and just sat there hoping we would not end up in Kansas.

Finally after 15 minutes, the wind relented a bit and I ran out, pulling up stakes, only to discover that the IDIOT DRUNK NEIGHBORS HAD TIED THEIR TENT TO OUR TENT!  What the hell were they thinking? Now the wind started picking up again and I wasn't going to take the time to nicely untie and re-tie their tent down in the middle of a tornado. So I yanked up our entire stake, along with their line, which caused half their tent to collapse (their brown tent seen in the photo above!). Too bad for them and that's what they breaking the camping code of honor-they-neighbor.  I grabbed our tent, shoved it in the trunk and we got the hell out of "Monster."  Appropriate name, huh?

As a result of the storm, one of our two tent poles was damaged. The pole is considerably bent, and as a result the entire tent now stands lopsided!   

We drove until we got to a rest stop where we changed out of our wet clothes and then continued driving east to COLOGNE, Germany. Now things began to look up. We stayed in THE nicest campground: Campingplatz der Stadt Koln. It was so nice that the moment we arrived, we decided to stay two nights. And we didn't even leave the campground for the rest of the day. Washer & Dryer, big clean restrooms and showers, shady grassy tent spots, cheap local Reissdorff Kolsch beer. We really "felt the love" for this campground. We stayed in and did laundry and enjoyed the little pub. Brilliant, simply brilliant!  A Greek traveler insisted on feeding us everytime he spotted us: fish, bread, pickles, coffee, etc. The campground was run by a nice old man on an honor-system. "Just pay me when you can or when you leave," he said when I pulled out my wallet.

Img_8904 Wednesday morning, we took the tram to downtown and spent the day in Cologne. We didn't have enough coins for the tram so we rode illegally until we spotted ticket agents, so had to jump off and break bills to make change.  We spent most of the day hopping beerhalls!  German beer rocks!  Every region brews it's own distinct style of beer. I actually don't care for the Cologne Kolsh beer as much as, say, Bavarian ales, but it was still beer. Yum.  We strolled through the famous Dom Cathedral, where, according to legend, the remains of the three Wise Men are buried. Mrs. Crab hung out at an outside cafe while Mr. Crab decided, against better judgement, to climb to the top of the cathedral tower. 509 steps straight up through a narrow spiral staircase. By step 250 I was already knackered, but spurred on by a lazy American sitting on the steps who was having a panic attack.  Cologne was not a particularly attractive town from above. Not from the ground either.  Most of the city was destroyed in WWII and was replaced by hideous 1960s-type concrete blocks. 


Img_8955 Hit the road early towards Luxembourg when we decided to make a detour to Bitburg to visit the world famous Bitburger Brewery! This was the favorite beer of Mrs. Crab's late father, so we did it for him!  Oh how he would have loved this town. Bitburg was so much nicer than Cologne. Quaint little town. We were really feeling the love for Bitburg. Unfortunately the town smells like a giant fart as a result of the wort cooking in the brewery. Mrs. Crab calls Bitburger "Fartburger" because of its, well, after-effects. But damn is it a good beer!  We had an awesome lunch at the restaurant on the brewery grounds, the Brauerie-Ausschank zum Simonbrau. Fantastic meal of wirsthausbrezel-by-nature (a GIANT pretzel topped with a salad and butter) and Bitburger Riesenbratwurst (grilled sausage with cold potato salad and mustard). Much cheaper than Cologne. Unfortunately the brewery only gives tours on Monday, and only in German, so we were outta luck on that front.

From Bitburg, we continued west on the scenic highway of rolling green hills and pastures that reminded me so much of the Shenendoah Valley. Finally in late afternoon we reached the border of Luxembourg, where we had to pull over and take the obligatory photo next to the sign. (This was the 47th COUNTRY Mr. Crab has stepped foot into!). We got to Vianden in the late afternoon and set up camp at Camping de L'Our, a cute campground on the River L'Our. I think we were the youngest guests by about 30 years! 

Img_9064 Now I must digress into my love for VIANDEN: WOW! WOW! WOW! This was a GORGEOUS village. As Mrs. Crab described it, Vianden is like a Euroepan town you read about in books but don't really believe it truly exists.   It's what we Americans think of when we picture Europe: a quaint little town on a small river, medieval architecture, cobblestone roads, cute cafes (some guarded by poodles), and above the town, on a craggy rocky hilltop -- a magnificent castle in the clouds! 

We took a chairlift to a mountaintop cafe with spectacular views of the castle and enjoyed the local Dietrich beer. Dinner at Hotel Victor Hugo was perfect, one of the best meals of the trip: escargot and beef. Too many beers and asleep by 11pm.

Img_9025 A very long day of driving.  After a very late start, we went up to the Vianden Castle, worth every penny of the 4.50 Euro admission fee. The beautiful 13th-century castle has been meticulously restored since 1979. Dined on lunch of salad and ice cream sundae!

Then we hit the road headed to the opposite end of the country to the capital, which took us all of 45 minutes.  Yup, it's a tiny country!  Unfortunately, Luxembourg City did not live up to expectations.  It was a crowded mess of one-way streets and bad parking. Some nice buildings but even the main town square had been turned into a hideous monstrosity filled with Pizza Hut, Chi-Chi's, McDonalds and other crappy American fast food joints. We did NOT feel the love for this town. We had one drink and got the hell out of dodge.

After that letdown, we headed west towards France. Our goal was to reach Reims, ut we soon realized we were not going to make it by sundown. It was a lot further than we estimated. Mrs. Crab quickly scanned the camping guide and found us a cute little campground in Chalons en Champagne, right in the heart of the Champagne province.  Every major city has a municipal campground. And Chalon was no exception. It was well-marked with signs everywhere.  We dined on tough beef, bread, brie, salad, French fries and a bottle of champagne. Oo la la! The campground also had FREE showers (every other campground had coin-op showers), a TV and game room, pub, laundry facilities and more. The French sure know how to camp in style!

Img_9256 Uneventful but long and tiring trip home to London began with a three hour drive to Calais, dropped off the car and hopped on the ferry for our trip back to Mother England. We had planned on perhaps staying a night in Dover but we quickly had second thoughts. DOVER SUCKS.  Do NOT go to Dover. The only reason to go to Dover is to catch a ferry to France, or to make a day-trip of hiking the beautiful White Cliffs of Dover. But as for Dover itself, it sucks. I can't say enough about how much this town blows.  We got off the ferry, half-starving and looking for food but NO PUB IN TOWN SERVED FOOD. The only places serving "food" were corner chippy shops (fish & chips, greasy kebabs and chips), or Chinese food. No thanks.  We started walking back to the train station and happened upon a cute restaurant, whose name I cannot remember, but they served a fine duck and chicken. We were the only patrons in the restaurant. I was surprised that Dover even had such a "posh" restaurant because none of the locals seemed to be the type who would dine at such an establishment. I give them 2 months before it goes out of business. Anyway, we hopped on the train and were back home by 11pm. Asleep by 11:01.


Overall, a great first camping trip across Europe. This was Mr. Crab's first European camping experience; Mrs. Crab has previously packed in Amsterdam. I had forgotten how much I love camping!  Unfortunately, we also quickly realized that our equipment is seriously old and obsolete.  Sleeping bags and tents, for example, are now half the size and weight of our current models yet still keep you just as warm and dry as the heavier models.  Our little REI tent is more than six years old and showing its age, and the windstorm in Holland did not help. Besides the bent poles from the storm, one of the tent flap zippers is wearing out and the mesh has small holes (luckily there are no bug problems in Europe like in American camping!).  Also we wish we had done a longer trip. One week was just too short. On the next trip will likely be longer, and hopefully with better equipment!  We might consider caravan/camper trip, but it's hard enough to park a tiny car on the narrow streets of Europe, let alone a giant camper!

Img_8789---If you are tent camping, you usually don't need reservations at campgrounds. Even if it's full, they can usually find a spot to put up a small tent. The exception is for campgrounds located near beaches, where reservations are mandatory unless you enjoy sleeping in your car at a rest stop.

--PACK LIGHT!  I can't stress that enough!  Not only will you be more comfortable and have better freedom of movement, but you won't have to worry as much about getting your bags stolen or lost.  We only took 3 changes of clothes apiece. We found coin-operated laundry facilities at most of the campgrounds we visited. And this is where good, modern equipment comes in play in keeping down your pack weight.

--Pick up a copy of the AA Camping Europe guide, which lists several hundred campgrounds around Europe. Unfortunately, despite being published by the Automobile Association, their directions suck. You might need to call ahead and get directions. Our Lonely Planet Western Europe guide was also proved useful with its camping suggestions.

--A tip for Americans living in Europe:  When you rent a car in Europe using the car rental website, put down your (or a relative's) U.S. ADDRESS!  Why? Because, for reasons that defy logic, it's much cheaper to rent a car if you claim that you're coming from the United States. Our rental was 50 euros cheaper simply by changing country of residence!  When you pick up your car, simply show your valid U.S. driver's license, US passport and pay with a US credit card.

Img_9300 --Gasoline (petrol) is very expensive in Europe. We paid about 60 Euros everytime we filled up our tiny 10-gallon gas tank of our rental car.  Drive with a light foot!  Park and walk when you can.  Tolls can also take their, err, toll on your wallet. A short drive from Reims to Calais set us back 18 Euros ($26)! You can usually avoid tolls by taking side scenic routes.

--Buy a regional map of the area where you plan to spend the most time. Our Europe-wide AA Atlas (1:800,000 scale) was pretty useless inside cities. You need at least 1:300,000 scale or better, which are sold in any gas station for about 5-8 euros apiece.  Even better, if you have the extra cash, splurge for a GPS system with your rental car. 

--Dining out can get expensive. Stock up at local grocery stores on cheap bread, meats and cheeses to make sandwiches.  Many gas stations in Europe offer free coffee too!