On August 28th, Loraine
and I left for our third trip together to
Europe. For those of you who don’t
know, she’s a researcher looking into the 240-some men and
MarquetteCounty who died
during World War II, while I’m, I guess, her staff
flunky. (Actually, I just love traveling through
Europe, taking pictures and
exploring things like grocery stores, so it’s like we’re a
perfect team, right?) While we knew where we were going
and what we hoped to do, we had NO idea what the end
result would be.
Boy, were WE surprised!
What follows are blog entries
written leading up to, during, and immediately after the
trip, with pictures taken during our 10 days over in
Europe. I’ve left the blogs pretty
much as they were originally posted, to give you an idea
of what we were looking forward to, and then what we
actually experienced (often, and in a good way, not one in
the same). (I’ve just added a few comments between
entries to clarify to explain a few things). Now, the
blogs don’t talk about everything we saw or everyone we
met, but it might give you an idea of what the trip was
At least a half-dozen times a day,
Loraine and I get asked the same question--
“Are you getting excited about your
The answer, in a nutshell?
I mean, c’mon--we’re going to three
different European countries (perhaps setting foot in two
more), traveling around and doing what we both love--for
her, historical research on her “guys”; for me, buying
How can you NOT get excited?
Now, looking at that last paragraph,
I just realized something. We’re actually gonna be in
FOUR different European countries. You see, on the last
day of our trip, we fly out of
Munich, and have to
switch planes in
London, waiting four
hours in the process. And while we can’t really leave
there DOES kinda qualify as visiting a fourth country,
doesn’t it? While I haven’t been in the
Loraine has, and has actually been holding on to about 9
English Pounds in case she ever went back. Well, that 9
Pounds is now worth almost 20 bucks, so we’re thinking
that while we can’t leave the airport, we can certainly
have a nice British lunch, right? As long as it’s not
tripe or blood pudding or (gag) haggis, I’m sure we’ll be
(And, by the way, I do know that
haggis is actually Scottish. But Scotland IS part of the
Of course, in and around getting
excited about the trip lies the cold reality that one
actually has a lot of work to get done BEFORE leaving.
Luckily, I’ve been doing a little bit extra every day
since, oh, June. Thankfully, those little bits have added
up, and I’m sure that I’ll be ready to go once I walk out
the station doors one week from tonight.
Eight days to go, and thanks for
asking. I AM getting excited!
Two days to go before I leave for
And yes, for those of you who
wondered, I AM packed.
We’ve actually had our suitcases
sitting in our living room for a couple of weeks now.
Every time we think of something we may need, we’ll toss
in either into the suitcase (Loraine) or onto it (me),
just leaving the rearranging of the material until the
Well, now that the last minute has
(almost) arrived, the rearranging has been complete.
When you’re packing for 10 days on
another continent, you find yourself dealing with a couple
of things. The first is a 50-pound weight limit; when you
have to pack things like electrical adaptors and
batteries, the weight can add up pretty quickly.
Thankfully, we travel pretty light; since we’ve been there
several times before, we know what to expect in the way of
weather, and don’t have to pack clothing for every
contingency. So we know now to pack to be under the
weight limit. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from
weighing the filled suitcase, but we always have pounds to
The other thing you have to deal
with is your suitcase on the way home. We travel with a
complete set of disposable toiletries. We go to Target a
few months before the trip, and raid the 99 cent travel
section to buy everything from toothpaste to hair spray to
sunscreen to shaving cream. Then, the last time we use
them (usually on our final day there), we just toss all
the containers, most of which are pretty empty by then.
Unfortunately, that does leave a little side effect—
Too much room in your suitcase.
When you’re packing your suitcase
for your trip back home and realize that it’s only 2/3rds
of the way full, you start getting creative, trying to get
stuff to use as lightweight filler to make sure everything
in the suitcase doesn’t slosh around. Last trip, I ended
up buying a couple of rolls of paper towels in a German
grocery store; they filled up the empty spaces in the
suitcase, and allowed me to use Zumda brand paper towels
around our apartment for the next four months.
This time, though, I’ve thought
ahead. That’s why there’s a tightly-wound roll of bubble
wrap stuck in my luggage right now. When I’m ready to
come back home, I can unroll it, and have it fill the
space between things. Not only that, if I do end up
buying a TON of chocolate and bringing a box of a certain
French cereal I adore home with me, I can use some of the
bubble wrap to (try and) protect it.
Now, the chocolate I’m sure you can
understand, but you may be thinking to yourself,
“cereal”? Well, it’s chocolate cereal from the
grocery chain. Actually, it’s more than chocolate
cereal. It’s chocolate cereal with mushy chocolate
filling inside of it. And it turns the milk in your bowl
a wonderfully flavored chocolate.
THAT’S how good of a cereal it is!
Strange? Perhaps, but I’m not
worried. Some people go to
France for the
wine. Some people go to
France for the
art. Some people go to
France for the
history. And I, apparently, go to
France for the
cereal. Well, I go there for the history, and the art,
and the people, but, apparently, I go to
France for the
cereal, as well. So, as you see, the bubble wrap I’m
packing in my luggage serves TWO purposes.
I’m hoping that, at least in this
instance, thinking ahead actually DOES pay off!
I’m planning on buying the cereal
when we make a quick stop in
only stop in
fact) to check out the sight of a temporary American
cemetery. However, some late-breaking developments may
make it anything BUT a quick stop.
Details and the reasons why it’s
blowing our minds (in a VERY good way) tomorrow.
It all started with an e-mail.
There’s a little town in
Grand Failly; it was where a temporary American cemetery
was placed at the beginning of 1945. Soldiers who had
died in the
Battle of the Bulge were
buried there until after World War II had ended. They
were then either placed in one of the permanent American
cemeteries that dot the European landscape, or they were
brought home to their families. The cemetery was turned
back into a farm field by 1950, and just a little monument
sits in the place where almost 3,000 Americans were once
laid to rest.
While we hadn’t planned on visiting
France at all
this trip, we found that our route from
take us near Grand Failly, and since two of the men
Loraine’s researching were buried there, we figured we
could stop, see the memorial, and get the lay of the land.
That, and I could then find a Super
U super market and buy my cereal.
Loraine had sent an e-mail to a
contact of hers in
whose uncle had been buried in the temporary cemetery and
who knew where we could find it. That contact forwarded
Loraine’s e-mail to a friend of hers in
France, a man
whose mother had cared for this woman’s uncle’s grave in
Grand Failly back in the 1940s. In fact, this man had
been named after the uncle.
Now this is where it starts to get,
This man (named Oliver) was quite
excited to hear that we were coming, and arranged to take
a vacation in the Grand Failly area at the same time we’d
spend a few hours there, all with the expressed purpose of
meeting us. He told his mother, who had tended graves
there 60 years ago, and she wanted to meet us, as well.
We thought THAT would be cool, and readily agreed. She
then informed the president of the group that put up the
memorial that we were coming, and he decided that he
wanted to have a little ceremony at the memorial while we
were visiting. He then, apparently, told the mayor of
Grand Failly, and now HE wants to have some kind of
ceremony honoring us at the Grand Failly village hall.
Huh? Our heads are still spinning;
how did this all go from meeting a guy to getting honored
by a French town? And why are they honoring US? It’s not
like we fought there in World War II; it’s not like we’re
even related to anyone who fought over there in World War
II. All we wanted to do is stop and look at a memorial
marking the place where a young man from Republic and a
young man from Sundell were buried after dying during the
Battle of the Bulge.
It’s funny; you hear so many times
from so many people that Europeans don’t like Americans
when, in reality, that’s the farthest thing from the
truth. Sure, they may not like what the American
government is doing at any given time (heck, even here
half the people don’t) but, almost to a person, the
citizens of France and Belgium and half a dozen European
countries still hold Americans in the highest of regards,
just because of what our grandfathers and grandmothers did
over there 65 years ago. And it’s not just the European
citizens who were around then; in schools all across the
region, they teach children what happened during the war,
and those children join their elders to thank American
vets whenever they come back for a visit.
I’m guessing they don’t get a lot of
Americans who go out of their way to visit the memorial in
Grand Failly; in fact, unless you’re as dedicated a World
War II researcher as Loraine, you probably don’t even know
it exists. So maybe THAT’S why the town is getting this
ceremony together. Maybe, just maybe, they haven’t had
the same chance to say “thanks” as other French towns
have, and because we just happened to send an e-mail to a
Pennsylvania who sent
it to a man in
can now do so.
And if so, we’ll accept those thanks
in the names of Elden Gjers of Republic and Leo Robinson
of Sundell, and the over 2, 900 people who REALLY deserve
the ceremony that seems to be planned for next Wednesday.
And greetings from O’Hare Airport!
I’m actually writing this Thursday
afternoon, as we’re waiting for our 9-hour flight to
Brussels. More on that
in a bit; first, we had a great time spending a few hours
WindyCity. We ate
the pizza we usually eat, we bought the cookies &
cornbread we usually buy (in fact, I just finished
scarfing down said cornbread) and now, we’re just waiting
for the flight.
We’ll be getting into
this (Friday) morning, which is actually
Marquette. I doubt that
we’ll have had much sleep; if you’ve ever tried sleeping
on an international flight, you know what I’m talking
about. So our tour guide will pick us up after we get
through Belgian customs, and drive us two hours to the
that’s our home away from home for the first few days of
the trip. Officially, check-in time isn’t until
Marquette time) which
means that, at the worst, we’ll have been awake 26 hours
before we can hit the sheets.
Jet lag, though, doesn’t seem to
affect us as much as it does some people. We’ve noticed
that, as long as we can get a two or three hour nap, our
body clocks seem to reset to local time, and we’re ready
to go. Maybe we’re lucky that way; next time you head on
an overnight flight to a different time zone, try it out,
and let me know how it works.
So, just how DOES one kill 9 hours
on an international flight? Let’s see…I have three HUGE
magazines in my backpack; I’ll also pick up a newspaper
before we board. Loraine has a couple of books and her
iPod. MY iPod is also in my backpack, and among the
tracks on it are several episodes of one of my favorite
old-time radio shows ever, “Yours Truly Johnny Dollar”.
Most importantly, we both also have earplugs. They may
not work perfectly, but they DO allow you a little peace.
Want proof? The first time we flew over to
Europe, some idiot (uhm, me) forgot
his, and got to spend the whole flight listening to a
9-month old with an ear infection cry.
THAT was a blast.
The next time I write something, I
will (hopefully) be in the
rested and ready to go.
At least, I hope that’s the case!
AN ADDED COMMENT:
(And, for the most part, it WAS
indeed the case. Arriving in
then heading to
Holland, we had to
forego a little sleep, but as you’ll read in the next
entry, that didn’t seem to matter a bit. So let’s pick up
with the blog entries, the first written Friday night in
Holland for posting the
next day over here!)
On Friday in
Holland, we each made a
new friend. And it should come as no surprise to those
who know us that Loraine’s new friend is an older man,
while mine is a younger woman.
First things first. Loraine’s new
friend is the superintendent of the
It’s one of the places we visited Friday, and one of the
few European cemeteries in which we’d not yet set foot.
Loraine had let the superintendent know ahead of time that
we were coming; one of the things they will do, if you let
them know ahead of time, is to sand the headstones of
graves for you. That way, with sand in the white
lettering of the white headstone, you can see the name
Anyway, she had let them know we
were coming, and when we were able to meet with the
superintendent to head out to the grave of Marquette’s
John Hascall, he was all, well a-twitter. Now, in case
you don’t know, each of the American cemeteries over here
is run by an American citizen, and they don’t often get
the chance to talk to fellow Americans who know the
stories of seven of the people buried there (i.e.
Loraine). So when they DO get to speak to someone as
knowledgeable as she--well, let’s just say the next few
hours are shot. That’s okay, though; we didn’t have much
else scheduled today, and he was so happy (and helpful)
that we couldn’t say “no”.
So that’s Loraine’s friend.
Now, after the cemetery, we went to
dinner in nearby downtown
Maastricht, by the way,
is the major city in this VERY southern part of
Holland, and the pace
where the treaty creating the European Union was signed
back in 1992. Anyway, we’re walking through this
picturesque town, and in perusing some of the menues at
the various restaurants, I discovered a horrid thing—
I discovered we didn’t bother to
learn a word of Dutch.
I mean, I spent a lot of time
learning French. And between the two of us and Loraine’s
phrase book, we can get by quite well in German. Yet, for
some unfathomable reason, we did not even think of
learning ANYTHING in Dutch. Not “hello”, not “please”,
not “thank you”, and not “Do you speak English”, which are
the four phrases you MUST in the native tongue of anyplace
Yet we, for some stupid reason,
We finally decided on a restaurant,
and were seated by a young lady who, much like us and
Dutch, didn’t speak a lot of English (just a few words &
phrases, in fact). That’s kind of amazing in this
country; most people speak English as a second or third
language. Yet I never want to have to depend upon the
kindness of strangers who speak English. I figure that if
you’re traveling to someone’s country, you ought to at
least extend the courtesy of learning a few phrases in
their language. After all, you’re visiting THEIR country,
Thankfully, the restaurant DID have
a picture menu, and I was also to piece together enough to
know that I want to try the baked salmon in a dill sauce.
It has the Dutch name underneath it, so when she came to
take the order, I asked for it in Dutch. I’m sure I
didn’t pronounce it correctly, but apparently I’m close
enough that she understands what I’m saying.
However, she also chuckled when I
said it, showing that, apparently, I’m not THAT close.
When she’s done, I ask her how to
say “thank you” in Dutch. She tells me it’s “Dank U”, and
every time thereafter when she brings us something, I say
“Dank U’. And she smiles. And then she laughs.
But at least I’m making the effort,
And for the record, “hello” is
“hallo”, “please” is “alstublieft”, and “do you speak
English” is “Spreekt u Engles”? Now the next time you’re
in The Netherlands, you’re all ready to go.
Up next? Another day exploring this
Holland, including the
meeting of a local man who helped put up a memorial
honoring, among other, a man from
Marquette killed in
If you could cram an entire
vacation’s worth of memories into one day, that would be
our Saturday in The Netherlands.
(And that’s not even counting the
fact I’m writing this watching a sunset from our third
floor castle balcony!)
I think I mentioned in yesterday’s
blog that today we were going to meet a guy who built a
memorial to 50 men of the 7th Armored Division
who died liberating the small Dutch town of
Ospel in 1944. One of
the 50 was
Marquette’s Jacob Nevala,
who was killed on a family’s small farm right outside of
the town. Well, we had quite the surprise when, as we
pulled up to the memorial, 6 surviving members of that
family were there to meet us.
They wanted to meet the people who
came from the same town as Jacob Nevala.
Even 64 years later, the Bijlmaker
family has quite the emotional attachment to Nevala; it
was they who found his body on their farm after the
fighting, and it was two of them who went to
Marquette 20 years ago
to meet with Nevala’s son, Mickey. And because we were
there to honor what he did all those years ago, they
wanted to be there, as well.
Although only one of the family
members spoke English, he told us about what it was like
living under German occupation for four years, how amazing
it was when they were finally liberated by the Americans,
and about how they still have a little trouble
comprehending how the U.S. sent its sons & daughters
over—some giving their lives—just so they could live free.
It was an incredibly moving moment,
and as you’re standing there, you’re thinking to yourself
that this is one of those events that very few people ever
get to experience in their lives, and that you just happen
to be right in the middle of it. It was mind-blowing, it
was touching, and it was something that I will never
Afterward, we were on our way to
lunch with the guy who built the memorial when he pulled
to the side of the road and asked if we’d like to see a
windmill. A working windmill. So, figuring we’re in
Holland, the land of the
windmill (and windmill cookies) we might as well. He
takes us over to the outskirts of Ospel, and brings us in
to a windmill that, after all these years, is still used
to make grain. The miller stopped what he was doing, and
proceeded to give us an hour-long tour of the facility,
built in the mid 1800s, showing us all four stories of the
building, explaining what’s done on each level, and even
sharing stories such as the town’s daredevil strapping
himself to one of the blades as it whirled around one day.
Now, each of those blades is about a
hundred feet long, so this guy was apparently whizzing
around 200 feet up in the air. Guess I still need to
figure out the Dutch word for “daredevil”. Or, perhaps,
for “fool”, if they’re not one in the same!
So that was just our Saturday
morning, believe it or not. The rest of the day went by
in a blur, leading up to me sitting out on this balcony
writing. I do have one more thing to tell you about,
though, especially as it relates to the fact that I forgot
to learn any Dutch. We were in a supermarket tonight to
grab some food, and we grabbed a package that looked like
chicken cut up in little pieces. The container said what
it was but, not knowing any Dutch, we didn’t know what it
said, and just guessed it was chicken.
Well, we guessed wrong. It was
pasteurized beef fat, as I discovered when I bit into a
Yum. Next time, I’m learning Dutch.
Sunday, we almost killed our tour
Tony’s a great tour guide; he knows
his stuff, and he’s always ready to indulge the more
bizarre requests we make (“Can you drive down this dirt
road so we can take a picture of this tree where someone
sat 60 years ago?” “Can you stop here so Jim can buy a
white chocolate, lime, & green tea bar? He needs it for
his collection.”). Yet on Sunday, I thought that, just
perhaps, we had pushed him too far.
You see, after leaving
Holland and driving
spent the day in
the sight of one of the deadliest battles of World War II,
one of the longest battles of the war (lasting several
bloody months) and one of the least-known actions of the
entire campaign, at least by the general public. But
since several men from
during the conflict, Loraine wanted to explore the area.
And since the area is now a German national park, renowned
for its hiking trails, we both wanted to take a stroll up
& down hills & through forest paths. And THAT’S how we
almost killed our tour guide.
You see, Tony’s used to taking large
groups of people around, showing them things and herding
them back onto a bus. He’s not used to having two highly
active people drag him around forest trails, especially
trails that are steeper than those at Sugar Loaf. And
since it was 80 and kind of humid in
Sunday, we realized that, by the time we were done hiking
for the day, we may have pushed him a little too hard. He
didn’t complain, though; everything we wanted to do we
did, and everything we did he went along with without
complaining. He may have sweated more than in the last
entire year, but he didn’t complain one bit.
That’s what you need in a tour
guide. And if you ever need one in this part of
Europe, we highly recommend
Tony Cisneros of Alpventures
. If he puts up with us, I’m SURE he can put up with you.
One more thing about
you’re of a certain age, you remember what Dr. Pepper used
to taste like before they changed the formula, and before
they started using high fructose corn syrup instead of
sugar. It tasted like, well, Dr, Pepper. Well, did you
know that, in
Europe, they STILL make Dr. Pepper
with sugar, and they STILL make Dr. Pepper with the same
formula they used back in the 70s & 80s? Yup, they do,
and trust me—two years between tastes is WAAAAAY too long
of a wait!
Tomorrow, we leave
Germany for a
few days and head back into
Belgium for a
couple of days around
Bastogne. I’ve been
looking forward to this the entire trip, if only for one
reason—I get to buy massive amounts of
chocolate at the world’s best
I’m so giddy it’s like I’m an 8-year
old on Christmas Eve!
And since I didn’t include any
pictures in today’s blog, I can’t leave without sharing
one. It’s the small German town of
with everything a small German town needs—a church and a
Monday, I paid a visit to the
Those of you who’ve read this blog
over the past few months know that I’ve been joking when I
say that the only reason I go to
Europe is for the chocolate. That,
of course, isn’t the only reason (or even the main
reason), but the chance to pick up chocolate bars that you
can’t get anywhere else is something to which I’ve looked
forward ever since we started planning this little
getaway. Specifically, I’ve been looking forward to
which seems to have the greatest selection of any store
Well, guess where I went today?
That enough of a hint?
We temporarily left
morning and made our way slowly to
Bastogne, where I’m
currently writing this. Along the way, we stopped in over
a dozen different places, including one very strange place
(an ex-Nazi induction camp), several very beautiful
places, and one very sad place, the memorial to the 333rd
Field Artillery Battalion in the Belgian town of
It’s sad for two reasons--one, it’s
a tribute to 11 Americans who became separated from their
unit during the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, were
captured by Nazis, and were then brutally murdered, their
bodies left out in a ditch not to be discovered for two
The other reason it’s sad? As far
as anyone knows, it’s the ONLY monument to African
American soldiers in all of
You see, the members of the 333rd
Field Artillery battalion were all African American, not
allowed to hold front-line combat positions during the
war. That was back in the days of segregation, when
stupid people enacted stupid laws, depriving other people
of opportunities and education based solely on the color
of their skin. African Americans were only allowed to
serve their country in service positions (like truck
drivers & cooks), not in combat, so when those 11
Americans were cut off from the rest of their battalion,
they hadn’t had the training that may have allowed them to
survive. As it was, they had to surrender to the Germans,
and since they didn’t belong to the German “Master Race”.
Well, that’s why they ended up
murdered in a ditch, their bodies not discovered for two
The memorial to the 11 was only
erected a few years ago, and like we said, may be the only
Europe dedicated to African
Americans. There isn’t one for the Tuskegee Airman, isn’t
one for the drivers of the Red Ball Express, isn’t one for
any of the other almost 500,000 African Americans who
served during World War II.
This is it—
By the way, here’s where we’re
staying these two nights,
Bastogne. Neat, isn’t
What’s up for us next? Well, we
stop at ANOTHER Super GB store (this one in Trois Ponts)
to, uhm, buy more chocolate, and we’ll also look at a
bunch of more memorials.
See? Loraine and I are BOTH getting
what we want out of this trip!
I guess the French lessons really
DID sink in after all.
Those of you who read this on a
daily basis may remember that I spent a good deal of time
this winter learning beginning French through the
software program. After finishing the first disc, I
thought I had the basic vocabulary and grammar skills of
your average French 5-year old. I say “thought” because,
after a few months of not using it, I wasn’t sure if it
had remembered ANY of it.
Well, you know what? I did!
I was able to test my French skills
at a restaurant in
Bastogne last night
(they speak French in this part of
When we walked in, I asked the waiter if he spoke English,
and you know what his reply was (en Francais)? “Not a
lick.” (Okay, I may be paraphrasing the “not a lick”
part, but you get the idea). No problem; I switched over
to what French I thought I’d forgotten over the past few
months, and was amazed when I discovered I apparently
DIDN’T forget it! I was able to order, answer a few easy
questions (he spoke nice and slowly, thankfully), and take
care of everything else no problem.
Sometimes, I amaze even myself.
Having spent 2 days now in a French
speaking region, I realize that while I have full
confidence in my ability to read a fair share of French
and (try) to speak a small amount, listening to people
speak the language is still WAAAAAY beyond my
comprehension. I mean, think of how fast we speak
English, and how it must sound like total gibberish to
someone who wasn’t raised in it. That’s how I feel about
listening to a native-born speaker of it. And since
everyone over here is a native-born speaker. . .
You probably get the idea.
Unfortunately, I won’t get much more
of a chance to practice, as after a few hours in France
this morning (where the strange (and as of yet unknown)
ceremony with the residents of a small village is
scheduled to take place) the rest of our trip takes place
in Germany where, last time I checked, they don’t speak a
lick of French (to quote my waiter friend).
Speaking of restaurants, I’ve
noticed something different over here since the last time
I visited--an explosion in the number of restaurantes de
chinois! Apparently, people over here have either
developed quite the taste for Chinese food in the last two
years, or I wasn’t paying as much attention as I thought I
was. Still, even if I wasn’t, I’m SURE there are a lot
more of them than two years ago. In fact, just walking
down the main street of
Bastogne last night, we
counted four of them. In a four block area. And Loraine
saw ‘em, too, so I know I’m not imagining it!
Oops--I noticed I didn’t stick any
pictures in this blog. So since we spent yesterday
traveling through the
Ardennes farm country of
title this section. . .
FUN WITH ANIMALS!
Actually, in this part of
Europe, you see a LOT of animals
wherever you go. I didn’t take pictures of, but would
also like to include, the geese, donkey, deer, and
antelope we saw. Oh, and the rooster that kept crowing
during a short stop in Werbomont. Even though the sun had
been up in the sky for 3 hours by then.
I think it just wanted some
The next time you read this, it’ll
be sent from somewhere in the heart of
following our little “party” in
can’t wait to see how THAT turns out. And by then, I may
have a box of my cherished cereal, as well!
If I hadn’t been there myself, I
never would’ve believed it.
You remember about our planned stop
in Grand Failly, France, right? The one where we wanted
to stop and see a memorial, and how Loraine’s innocent
e-mail asking directions turned into the possibility that
a handful of people would come out to greet us when we
visited the memorial there, right?
Well, scratch the word “handful”.
SIXTY people (in a town of about 100) showed up, in the
pouring rain, and had a ceremony at the memorial, complete
with flag raising—
And the lighting of an eternal
Then, the 60 people headed down to
the Grand Failly town hall, where they were joined by
other members of the community—
And treated to speeches by the town
mayor, the president of the association that tends the
memorial, and, well, yours truly (more on that in a
minute). Then after the speeches, champagne corks were
popped, and the celebration lasted for over an hour.
Writing this 10 hours (and four
different countries) later, I’m STILL overwhelmed by the
Actually, the phrase “this blows my
mind” popped out of my mouth more than once today. What
started as a simple note from Loraine to get directions to
a memorial turned into what I can only describe as one of
the most genuine outpourings of affection I have ever
witnessed. I’m not kidding; the people in Grand Failly
feel genuine affection for the Americans who fought, died,
and were buried on their soil 64 years ago, and even
though Loraine and I had nothing at all to do with that
fight and weren’t even born when it occurred, they wanted
to show their appreciation. So in the memory of the two
local residents (Elden Gjers of Republic and Leo Robinson
of Sundell) who were buried there, we accepted that
I had mentioned earlier that I gave
one of the speeches; actually, I just read a letter that
Bart Stupak had sent along with us, and then listened as
it was translated into French. I threw in a few words of
my own in French (mostly just saying “thank you”), and
then posed for what seemed like 2 or 3 thousand pictures.
EVERYONE there had a camera, and EVERYONE wanted a picture
of (and an introduction to) “The Americans”.
That’s right—everyone there came out
in the pouring rain just to meet “The Americans”.
See what I mean by “this blows my
mind”? It’s not like we did anything heroic or put our
lives on the line or anything. We just wanted to visit a
memorial and pay our respects. But this? This is, like;
I don’t know how to describe it. It’s unlike anything
I’ve ever experienced, and it’s probably unlike anything
I’ll ever experience again.
It just blew my mind.
Here’s a picture of Loraine with the
president of the memorial (on the left) and the mayor of
Grand Failly (on the right).
And here’s a picture of me with the
lady that started it all. Her name is Josy, and when her
son mentioned to her we were coming to see the memorial,
she got a hold of the president of the memorial
association, who got in touch with the mayor, and, well,
let’s just say it just grew from there.
By the way, Josy would not let me
leave before giving her a kiss, And who am I to say “no”
to that, right?
AN ADDED COMMENT:
(In fact, my mind had been blown so
much by the event that it really didn’t matter that, by
the time we left
our 4-hour visit, I didn’t have a chance to pick up my
cherished box of cereal. Oh, we tried—Tony drove around
the town of
Longwy looking for a
Super U that was there SOMEWHERE—but I never did get to
buy the box.
But you know what? After a day like
we had that Wednesday, I don’t think the cereal really
mattered that much any more. . .)
This is the view outside of my third
floor hotel balcony—
Some days, it pays to get out of
bed, doesn’t it?
I’m actually in
Berchtesgaden, which is
the southernmost town in
actually on a little finger of land a few kilometers wide,
totally surrounded by
it’s the gateway to a German Alpine national park.
In all honesty, it’s a nice way to
end the day. We spent the morning in Nurnberg, which is
where they held trials after the war (in fact, we got a
private tour of the courtroom where they held the trials),
and it’s also the place where the Nazi Party held those
huge rallies, with hundreds of thousands of people, back
in the 30s. Parts of one of the stadiums where they held
those rallies still exist, and you can actually stand on
the spot where Hitler made one of his infamous speeches.
I almost felt like I had to take a
shower after that.
Aside from Nurnberg (the proper,
German way to spell it, except for the umlauts (the two
dots) over the “u”, which Microsoft Word won’t let me
use), we spent most of the day driving down here, but I
really didn’t mind it—not even getting struck in traffic
outside of Munich for half an hour. Being the geography
nerd we all know I am, I spent most of the time writing
down all the license plates I saw from various E.U.
countries. And I actually saw plates from all the
countries, except for two—Ireland
some reason. Of course, the fact that I KNOW all the E.U.
countries shouldn’t be cause for concern, right?
(In fact, everyone in the U.P.
should be happy to know that one of the countries I spied
on a plate was
was on an 18-wheeler, in fact, which made me think that
driver had a LOOOOOONG way to go before he or she was
Another thing I wanted to talk about
today was breakfasts. You see, at most European hotels,
you get this really nice breakfast buffet, including all
kinds of cheeses & cold meat, eggs, breads, cereal,
juices, coffees, and fruits, to name the staples. Then at
some hotels, they throw in a specialty of the house. At
the hotel we stayed in last night, in Rothenburg, their
breakfast specialty was blood sausage, which Tony the Tour
Guide described as pig’s blood wrapped in pig intestines,
then boiled just until it becomes chewy.
He’s an American who grew up in
speaks the language fluently, and knows more about this
area than people who were born here. Not only that, but
he may know more about World War II than anyone I’ve ever
met. THAT’S why I was sitting in the back of the car
looking at license plates. I can’t keep up with Tony and
Finally, while I have the chance, I
really do need to thank the people at
for setting up my phone to work over here. I’ve been able
to call back into the station with no problem, and it’s
been amazingly handy having my phone (with internet on it)
over here. In fact, I don’t know how I ever lived without
it on my previous trips here!
Tomorrow, we drive around the
Alps some more. I can’t WAIT to
see what kind of pictures I get to take.
You know what I did Friday? I
Well, actually, I walked about a
dozen steps from
the border into
two reasons—one, so I could take that picture, and two, so
I could actually say that I had been in
figured that would be the extent of my travels in that
country, but as it turns out, we did so much on Friday
that we have time Saturday to spend a couple of hours in
Salzburg, no more than 20 miles from here. It’s famous
for its medieval architecture, and for the fact that one
of those famous classical composers (Mozart) was born
there, so why not, right?
Then, I can actually say I WAS in
least for more than 10 seconds, 12 footsteps, and one
click of the camera lens.
Otherwise, Friday was mostly a day
in the Alps, either hiking, or visiting historical war
sights, or, more often than not, just looking around at
scenes like this—
And, of course, also going “Wow”.
You find yourself saying that a lot in this area, and for
good reason. Not only did we do all that stuff in the
Alps, but we hiked up a trail with six impressive
waterfalls, stared at the beautiful water of an Alpine
lake (with the Alps in the background), AND ate dinner at
an outdoor restaurant at an elevation of about 4,000 feet
(with, once again, a nice view of the Alps in the
THAT’S why you find yourself saying
“wow” a lot around here!
Unfortunately, like all good things,
this trip is soon coming to an end. Like I said, we spend
the first part of Saturday in
Salzburg, then head to
Munich for the rest of
the day. Then Sunday morning, we wake up VERY early
(actually, it’ll be
Marquette) and fly from
London to Chicago, then
Marquette. With any
luck, we’re scheduled to arrive in
Marquette at 8-something
Sunday night, which means we’ll have been awake and
traveling for almost 24 hours.
Then Monday, both Loraine and I get
to go to work!
I hope you’ve been enjoying these
Europe; I’ve heard from many of you
saying that very thing, and I thank you for the comments.
I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to do another one of
these until I get back, so if I don’t, just let me say
Au revoir/auf wiedersehen from
AN ADDED COMMENT:
(We did make it home no problem, but
many people wanted to know what we did do the actual last
full day of the trip, so the following blog was written
the day after we returned to
Je suis fatiguee.
I guess 11 days of traveling through
7 countries (and 6 different time zones) catches up with
you after a while. When I woke up yesterday morning, I
had a brief moment of complete disorientation; even though
I woke up in my own bed, for just a flash, I had no idea
where I was. And when I did come to my senses (something
I’ve been told I ever rarely do) it seemed like the whole
week and a half was a dream. I know it wasn’t, but it
seemed like it.
I’ve had many notes from you guys
wondering how the last day of the journey went and, well,
it went fine! We spent Saturday morning in
and that was a complete joy.
It’s a beautiful old city, and we
happened to be there just as a big outdoor city market was
occurring. So Loraine and I wandered around, buying and
eating white nectarines, raspberries as big as golf balls,
and a local delicacy called “Mozart Balls”.
Now, get your mind out of the
gutter. Like I mentioned before, Mozart was born in
Salzburg, and they have
these chocolate treats they make in honor of that.
They’re balls of marzipan (ground almonds) dipped in
chocolate and stuck in a foil wrapper with Mozart’s face
on it. They’re yummy, and THAT’S why they’re called
After Salzburg, we headed to Munich
for whirlwind tour, then flew back on Sunday, getting up
at 4 a.m. local time (10 Saturday night back here in the
U.P.), flying to London, hanging out in a VERY busy
airport there for a couple of hours, making our way to
Chicago, and then ending up back home in Marquette a
little after 8 p.m. Sunday night (making for 22 hours of
traveling in one day).
And now, like I said, it almost
feels like it was just a dream.
Trust me; I know it’s not, if only
because of the luggage and chocolate strewn all over our
apartment. But I think it feels that way because we did
SO much over the 10 days that we never had time to sit
down and mentally process it all. I mean, one day we’d
meet a Dutch family who wanted to tell us what they went
through during the war 65 years ago, then we’d go hiking
in a German forest the next day, and then get honored (for
reasons I still can’t fathom) by a French village the day
after that. There wasn’t a lot of time to sit down and
mentally review the amazing adventures we’d just had.
But that’s actually what was so
great about the trip. We were constantly going, but we
were constantly doing these incredible, once-in-a-lifetime
things. When we left on this little expedition, I had no
idea what we’d be able to experience. Now that I’ve had a
small chance to look back and start to processing it a
little, I’m just stunned at what we did, and grateful that
I had the chance to do it all. It’s an adventure that I
hope EVERYONE gets to experience.
And like I told her before we came
back home, it’s all because of my traveling companion.
Loraine was the one who put together the itinerary,
Loraine was the one who researched all the places we hoped
to visit, and Loraine was the one who sent out e-mails
that led to some of these adventures. It’s because of her
that we had a once-in-a-lifetime experience every day we
were over there.
And I know THAT’S not a dream!!
ONE MORE ADDED COMMENT:
As we were traveling through
Europe (and even after we returned)
we received notes from people all over the
U.S. who were
reading the blogs and following along on our little
“expedition”. Just let me say that the comments and notes
that you sent along meant a lot to us, whether you were
sharing your joy that we visited a place that you had
previously visited, or liked the pictures we posted, or
just said, in the words of one person, “thanks for taking
me along on what seems like a dream vacation”.
Well, we’re glad that you could join
us. And with any luck we’ll have the chance to share
another one with you when, in September of 2009, we hope
to spend a week driving around the Northwest section of
seeing what we can see, finding what we can find. . .
Oh, and maybe picking up a box of
cereal and some chocolate all at the same time.