Our First Day

We all met up at the Brussels airport, only to find that the mobile hotspot wasn’t setup on the cell network, and that Avis decided that we didn’t pre-pay enough for our car…

Luckily, I noticed the huge screen in the dashboard, and pressed the button labeled ‘Nav’ and whaddya know, the car has built-in navigation! We headed about 100KM to Bruges directly, walked around a bit, and found the Half Moon brewery and restaurant. At the insistence of Erin, I ordered the Flemish Stew, and it was delicious. We had a couple of beers there, and found a hotel for the next couple of nights. We parked in the Hippo lot underground, and checked-in to our gorgeous room, which included 4 beds and a huge bathroom. After cleaning up a bit. We headed to the beer establishments here in Bruges, all under the cover of a steady rain, which is perfect for my new camera…

Paul knows the name of these places, but each has been incredibly charming and an absolute treat to visit. Two of them were hidden back in tight alleys, completely hidden from the tourists that roam the streets here. We’re now at a bar that’s Ben the basement of an ancient church, almost resembling a German beer hall, only smaller in stature. We’re all full of beer, and the other guys stopped to eat a 2 pound bucket of Mussels that smelled horribly of the ocean, we’ve had a lot of fancy and strong beers today, and when we finally make it back to the room, I’ll attempt to get some pictures ready to post right here. We don’t have free wi-fi at the hotel, so I’m not sure when the first batch will go up.

Also, I’m running on about 33-34 hours of no sleep, so. We’Ll see how far I make it. It’s been a lot of cool so far, and this is only the beginning. Tomorrow we’re catching a train to Gent for the day, and we’ll probably still hit some spots in Bruges tomorrow night if we’re not exhausted, Stay tuned for a bunch of pics as soon as I can get them converted and posted.
ZAVATAM!!!

2013 – The 99th Anniversary of the Start of World War I

It’s not getting too much attention yet, but August, 2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of WWI. On this trip, it will be interesting to learn of what events are planned in Europe for next year.

There’s an interesting website which is already memorializing this somber anniversary.  Check it out at http://www.1914.org/why_remember/

Recall that WWI was actually the major cause of WW2 and the two wars were only 21 years apart.  So, there were many soldiers and civilians directly involved in both wars.  For one, President Harry Truman fought in WW1 as an artillery gunner in 1918 and then dropped the atomic bomb to end WW2 in 1945.

Jeff

 

Two weeks to go!

Hedgehogs at Utah BeachHow time flies! Only two weeks to go.

For you WWII fans living vicariously through us, here are some of the key locations we’re planning on hitting:

  • Bénouville (Pegasus Bridge)
  • Caen
  • Sainte-Mère-Église
  • Sainte-Marie-du-Mont
  • Brécourt Manor
  • Utah Beach
  • Saint-Côme-du-Mont
  • Carantan
  • Pointe du Hoc
  • Maisy Battery (visit lined up with owner’s son)
  • La Cambe German war cemetery
  • Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer
  • Omaha Beach
  • American Cemetery
  • Colleville-sur-Mer
  • Arromanches-les-Bains (and battery)
  • Bastogne
  • Foy

Glenn, are you excited yet?

 

One month to go

Foxhole near FoyWe will be adding several new WWI sites to our trip this year while near Ypres, in Flanders. Jeff has been doing a lot of research on the area and we should be able to find some interesting fields to hike through.

We also have some exciting beer-related events lined up. We will be staying a night at the B&B at the St. Bernardus brewery near Watou. We also have a special visit lined up with La Chouffe.

Oh, and here’s a test photo for the new gallery plugin.

Podcast Test – #1

Just a quick test. The goal is for us to be able to record, upload, and post some audio logs from our trip, all from my Nexus 7 tablet.

It’s on – 2013 War & Beer tour coming

Jeff and I have been planning a return to Europe since the day we returned back in 2010, and it looks like this May it’ll happen. We’ll have a group of 4 this time, including a good friend who hasn’t been to Europe yet. We actually met playing WWII war games online, almost 10 years ago, so this should be an exciting adventure for all of us.

This time we’re going to fly into Brussels and take a counter-clockwise route through Flanders, Normandy, and the Ardennes, with many stops along the way. We have two more days as well, so we should be able to pack more in or take a more leisurely pace, depending on how we’re feeling.

More route information to follow.

Ypres/Iepers

Ypres or Iepers, or, as the British soldiers called it, “Wipers”, is one of a few Belgian villages that defines the utter devastation of World War I.  Even today, nearly 100 years later, you can feel the war’s impact on the village by simply roaming its charming rebuilt streets.

Iepers laid on the Germans’ path to conquer France (it’s just 45 minutes driving from the French city of Lille), and so they surrounded it and shelled it continually from 1914-18.  By war’s end, it was a pile of rubble.  (Ieper’s sister city is Hiroshima.)  It was completely rebuilt in the 1920′s, and fortunately wasn’t again destroyed during World War II!

A trip to Europe to learn more about World War I wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Iepers.  The battlefields around the village saw the death of hundreds of thousands of soldiers - German, English, French, Belgian and Canadian and fewer Americans than other parts of Belgium and France.  The Menin Gate is a memorial – an evening ceremony held every night at 8pm – to the 50,000 missing English soldiers – a testament to the large number of casualties experienced by all nations involved in the Great War.

Sainte-Mère-Église

The purpose of the midnight airborne operations (Operation Neptune) which preceded the early morning amphibious landings of D-Day (Operation Overlord) was to capture key towns, access roads and bridges, so that infantry forces could progress further inland with minimal German resistance or counterattack. The 82nd and 101st American Airborne Divisions were tasked with securing and protecting the right flank of the allied landing forces of Utah Beach.  Heavy cloud cover and intense German anti-aircraft fire caused the majority of the paratroopers to miss their intended drop zones, many not able to locate their units until days later.   Sainte-Mère-Eglise was one of a number of towns strategically targeted for capture that morning, because it was on a major route that the Germans would have used for a counterattack.  In fact, it was the first town liberated on D-Day, at approximately 5am.

A dramatic situation occurred in the center of the town, as 82nd Airborne paratroopers who missed their dropped zone just west of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, landed around the town’s main square and church.  A bucket brigade of French locals was putting out a house fire on the east side of the church, the fire itself illuminating the area sufficiently for German and Austrian ground troops to shoot at and bayonet landing paratroopers.  One soldier, John Steele of the 505th PIR, caught his parachute on the spire of the church and dangled for a couple of hours pretending to be dead.  The Germans took him prisoner after which he escaped to rejoin his division.  The event was recreated in The Longest Day.

Sainte-Marie-du-Mont

Sainte-Marie-du-Mont is a quintessential Normandy village just a couple of kilometers south of Utah Beach.  A beautiful, centuries old church is at the center of town and it was a key landmark for both sides in the conflict for control of the village.

It was quite unremarkable in terms of major D-Day events, but that is probably what makes it so appealing; it’s like so many other French hamlets, villages and towns in this region.

That’s not to say Sainte-Marie-du-Mont isn’t full of stories and experiences of the fighting forces on D-Day.  You have to go there to experience what it was like to be a paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division roaming the village in the early hours of the invasion.  Going from street to street, house to house in search of the enemy.  The village walls around the centre ville are full of historical markers and plaques telling these individual stories of D-Day.

Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

Upon your first visit to any stretch of Omaha Beach, but especially at Colleville and St. Laurent-Sur-Mer (site of the American Cemetery), if you do not, as an American, at least have your eyes well up with tears, then you are truly made of stone.

It’s more an experience than something you read or watch a movie about, although Saving Private Ryan comes the closest to visually depicting 6:30AM on D-Day.  I’ve been there twice and still cannot get my head completely around what happened here.  American combat soldiers typically don’t share much, except long after it happened, and only in small doses, and usually just the good times. Omaha Beach was so awful that it was rarely shared by those who lived through the experience.  It was such a mess that they still don’t have accurate casualty statistics, but the latest research puts the estimate at approximately 3,000 dead, wounded and missing after a single day of combat along a 5 mile stretch of shoreline.

St. Laurent-Sur-Mer is a small village at an area called “Les Moulins” – an apocalypse depicted in the The Longest Day.  The main Omaha Beach Memorial, Les Braves, is on the oceanfront, a beautiful stainless steel structure fanning toward the sea and sky.  So, with that, watch all the movies and read the books (including D-Day by Stephen Ambrose), and then go there.  If you have a teenage son, bring him too.