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 01/08/2014 09:13 AM

Jim and Loraine's trip together to Europe. 

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 women from Marquette County 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 like.

 

Read on!

 

WEDNESDAY, 8/20:

 

At least a half-dozen times a day, Loraine and I get asked the same question--

 

“Are you getting excited about your trip yet”?

 

The answer, in a nutshell?

 

YES!!!!

 

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 chocolate.

 

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 Heathrow Airport, being there DOES kinda qualify as visiting a fourth country, doesn’t it?  While I haven’t been in the U.K. before, 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 fine.

 

(And, by the way, I do know that haggis is actually Scottish.  But Scotland IS part of the U.K., right?)

 

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!

TUESDAY, 8/26:

 

Two days to go before I leave for Europe!

 

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 last minute.

 

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 spare.

 

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 Super U 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 France (our only stop in France, 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.

WEDNESDAY, 8/27:

 

It all started with an e-mail.

 

There’s a little town in France named 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 Belgium to Germany would 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 Pennsylvania, someone 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, uhm, interesting.

 

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 woman in Pennsylvania who sent it to a man in France, they 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.

THURSDAY, 8/28:

 

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 in downtown Windy City.  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 Brussels at 7:30 local time this (Friday) morning, which is actually 1:30 AM in 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 castle-turned-hotel that’s our home away from home for the first few days of the trip.  Officially, check-in time isn’t until 2 pm (8 am 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 Netherlands, 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 Belgium and 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!)

SATURDAY, 8/30:

 

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 Margraten American Cemetery here in the Netherlands.  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 better.

 

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.

 

 

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 Rick Steves  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 you go.

 

Yet we, for some stupid reason, didn’t.

 

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, right?

 

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, right?

 

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 area of Holland, including the meeting of a local man who helped put up a memorial honoring, among other, a man from Marquette killed in 1944.

SUNDAY, 8/31:

 

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 forget.

 

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 piece.

 

Yum.  Next time, I’m learning Dutch.

MONDAY, 9/1:

 

Sunday, we almost killed our tour guide.

 

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 through Belgium, we spent the day in Germany’s Hurtgen Forest.  It’s 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 Marquette County died 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 Germany 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 Germany.  If 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 Galler  and Cote D’Or chocolate at the world’s best Super GB store.

 

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 Schevenhutte, complete with everything a small German town needs—a church and a bar!

 

 

 

TUESDAY, 9/2:

 

Monday, I paid a visit to the Mothership.

 

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 visiting the Super GB store in Bastogne, Belgium, which seems to have the greatest selection of any store over here.

 

Well, guess where I went today?

 

 

That enough of a hint?

 

We temporarily left Germany this 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 Wereth.

 

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 months.

 

The other reason it’s sad?  As far as anyone knows, it’s the ONLY monument to African American soldiers in all of Europe.

 

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 months.

 

The memorial to the 11 was only erected a few years ago, and like we said, may be the only one in 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 it?

 

 

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!

 

8-)

 

WEDNESDAY, 9/3:

 

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 Rosetta Stone 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 Belgium).  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 Belgium, let’s 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 attention.

 

 

The next time you read this, it’ll be sent from somewhere in the heart of Germany, following our little “party” in France.  I can’t wait to see how THAT turns out.  And by then, I may have a box of my cherished cereal, as well!

 

THURSDAY, 9/4:

 

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 flame—

 

 

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 whole event.

 

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 appreciation.

 

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?

 

8-)

 

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 France after 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. . .)

 

FRIDAY, 9/5:

 

This is the view outside of my third floor hotel balcony—

 

 

Some days, it pays to get out of bed, doesn’t it?

 

8-)

 

I’m actually in Berchtesgaden, which is the southernmost town in Germany (it’s actually on a little finger of land a few kilometers wide, totally surrounded by Austria), and it’s the gateway to a German Alpine national park.

 

SOME 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 and Spain, for some reason.  Of course, the fact that I KNOW all the E.U. countries shouldn’t be cause for concern, right?

 

RIGHT?

 

(In fact, everyone in the U.P. should be happy to know that one of the countries I spied on a plate was Finland; it was on an 18-wheeler, in fact, which made me think that driver had a LOOOOOONG way to go before he or she was home!)

 

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.

 

I passed on that one.

 

By the way, I know some of you have asked about Tony The Tour Guide, so here he is (with Loraine)—

 

 

He’s an American who grew up in Germany, 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 Loraine!

 

Finally, while I have the chance, I really do need to thank the people at AT&T  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. 

 

SATURDAY, 9/6:

 

You know what I did Friday?  I walked from Germany to Austria!

 

 

Well, actually, I walked about a dozen steps from Germany across the border into Austria, for two reasons—one, so I could take that picture, and two, so I could actually say that I had been in Austria.  I 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 Austria, at 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 background).

 

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 10:30 Saturday night in Marquette) and fly from Munich to London, then London to Chicago, then Chicago to 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 dispatches from 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 this—

 

Au revoir/auf wiedersehen from Holland/Belgium/France/Germany/and now Austria!

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 Marquette)

TUESDAY, 9/9:

 

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 Salzburg, Austria, 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 “Mozart Balls”!

 

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 France (you know—Normandy!), 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.

 

(jim@wmqt.com)

 

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