Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why You Should Always Admire A White Rose


And the fish in our aquarium say “hi”!

Now, admittedly the fish are just floating by on the TV screen in our hotel room in Munich, Germany, but they’re nonetheless nice and polite fish and merely wanted to send a little German hospitality your way.

So now they have.

Today was what’s known in the travel biz as a “transfer day”.  We ended up driving almost 500 kilometers down the German autobahn from Strasbourg, where we stayed last night, to Munich.  You know all those stories you may have heard about crazy German drivers on said autobahn?  Well, they might be true.  Tony the Tour Guide wanted to see how well the rental car handled, so he got it up to about 160 kilometers an hour (about 100 mph).  And you know what?

People were flying passed him!

We did make a couple of stops today, one in the city of Ulm, which claims to have the tallest cathedral in the world--

You know, I guess it IS pretty big.  Ulm’s also the birthplace of this guy—

That’s Albert Einstein, by the way, in case you couldn’t tell.  Ulm can also claim this remarkable young woman as one its own—

Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans and their friends Alexander Schmorell and Christophe Probost, were part of the White Rose resistance movement during World War II.  Students at the Ludwig Maximilians University here in Munich, they defied numerous laws by printing up and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets throughout a big chunk of the country in 1942.  Although they were careful to cover their tracks, the Gestapo tracked them down, convicted them in a sham trial, and beheaded them, all in a vain attempt to show German citizens the error of trying to resist the government.  In the years since, the Scholls, Sophie in particular, have become symbols of freedom and the best that the German people have to offer.

They’ve become such symbols, in fact, that the University has all kinds of things set up to honor them, including this, which is on a sidewalk outside of a classroom building—

This display symbolizes one of their most famous acts, which involved standing in this hall—

And pushing hundreds of their leaflets over the railings onto the floor, where students could read the anti-Nazi literature.  Sophie’s also honored with a bust inside the hall—

There’s also a whole room in the same building devoted to their life story.  We need to thank the lady who runs it right now as she was getting ready to close it up for the day, and was persuaded by some glum looking faces to keep it open a bit longer.  So as our way of thanks, if you’re on Facebook, why don’t you “Like” the White Rose Room by clicking the little thumbs-up thingee at  Sure, it’ll be in German, but everyone needs a little German on their newsfeed, right?

Finally, we made our way out to the cemetery next to the prison where Sophie and Hans were beheaded and paid our respects at their joint grave—

If you wanna know more about the story, I highly recommend the movie “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days”, which deals with everything I just mentioned and was Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film to boot!

That was pretty much our day; we head into Austria tomorrow before returning to Germany to hang out in the Alps.  Here’s one final picture to wrap things up—

Until tomorrow!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Floor Show Is No Extra Charge!

TUESDAY, 8/30:

There is a drunken guy standing underneath our hotel room window, singing quite loudly and dancing quite poorly.

This guy, in fact—

And on that note, greetings from Strasbourg, France, where every street corner has its own entertainment!

Strasbourg is an okay place, although after the little piece of heaven last night known as Colmar, almost any place would suffer in comparison, especially a place with more than its fair share of street drunks and smokers.  It is another pretty old city, though—

With, I must admit, one of the most impressive pieces of sandstone architecture I’ve ever laid eyes upon.  You know how we think the sandstone churches in Marquette are impressive?  Well, how ‘bout this one—

Believe it or not, the cathedral here is almost 400 feet tall (I couldn’t even get it all in the picture) with an exterior constructed of nothing but sandstone.  The detail and the artistry in some of the sculptures on the walls are amazing; the inside of the building ain’t too shabby, either.

It almost makes up for the drunken guy (who, by the way, was just told to leave by the cops after trying to get a little too friendly with some young women walking past).

Today was the last day we were scheduled to follow in the footsteps of some of Loraine’s guys.  The first was this young man—

Republic’s George Ritola, who was with the 290th Engineer Combat Battalion, came into France on New Year’s Eve 1944, and then endured three weeks of driving snowstorms and brutally cold temperatures in the Vosges Mountains before being killed on January 23rd, 1945.  We found the mountain where we died, and I’m guessing it looked a little better this morning than it did on that wicked January day—

In all the trips we’ve made over here, I find it ironic that many places where massive destruction and brutality occurred are now some of the most peaceful and beautiful locations in Europe.

Ironic, indeed.

Following that, we zipped through more mountain passes to end up at this crossroads—

The crossroads themselves are nothing to write home (or a blog) about, but the crossroads in the picture are where this man—

Marquette’s Donald Young, died while trying to move into a nearby river valley on October 22nd, 1944.  What’s really sad about Young’s story is that his brother-in-law, Nels Hume, had been killed a few months earlier in Italy, while his brother, John, died on Okinawa a few months later.  There were a couple of Marquette and Alger County families that lost two members during World War II; the Young family was the only one who lost three.

Now, here’s today’s moment to make you go “Hmmmm”.  Our next stop was the Epinal American WWII Cemetery, where Loraine had arranged to have the graves of three local men sanded, so we could take pictures of them.  They were, and we did, and received quite a shock when we got to the grave of Negaunee’s Joseph Thomas and saw this--

In a cemetery of over 5,000 graves, his was the only that had flowers placed on it.  We checked, and they had been placed on the grave by special order a week ago from someone in the United States,  At this point, we don’t know who that person was; as far as Loraine knows, Thomas doesn’t have any immediate family still around.  So this is a mystery that deserves a little investigation, an investigation that the cemetery staff is helping Loraine carry out.

Updates as they become available!

Finally, we did a lot of driving today, and as always, I noticed a few strange things.  The first, which I didn’t get a picture of, was a Wild West theme park out in the middle of Nowhere, France, complete with a cowboy-themed roller coaster.  Yes, a wild west theme park in the middle of France, where you’d expect, I dunno, a Camembert and Champagne theme park, instead.

( you even serve Camembert and Champagne together, or is that a gross violation of one of the natural laws of cuisine?  Let me know!)

Finally, here’s something I DID get a picture of—

It was an ad on the back door of a trailer truck.  I don’t know if the truck was hauling a bunch of Vegas showgirls, or if someone was merely renting out some available space, but it goes to never know what you’ll see in France!

Sadly, we’re leaving the country tomorrow, to spend the rest of our stay in Germany and Austria.  Au revoir, France. We’ll see you soon.

Hopefully, though, without the loud drunk people underneath our window!

(, who must make note of the fact that as I’m uploading this blog, an Oompah band has replaced the loud drunks.  In fact, they're currently playing a Russian-themed version of the theme from "The Godfather".  Once again, only in France!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Of Men & Mice

MONDAY, 8/29:

If for some reason I don’t end up returning to Marquette next Sunday, look for me in Colmar, France.

I’ve probably refused to leave.

We’re in Colmar as I write this, an enchanting city with an incredible old city section that I’ll fully dive into in just a moment.  We started out the day by following in the tank treads of this young man—

Private Robert Trottier of Marquette, who was an assistant driver in a tank of the 10th Armored Division and died near the German town of St. Wendel on March 18th, 1945.  And when I say follow in the footsteps, er, tank treads I do mean follow in the tank treads, as Loraine has gotten her hands on a report that showed what Trottier’s tank division did the final two days of his life.  So we followed the exact same route of Trottier’s tank, ending up at this roundabout on the western edge of St. Wendel—

It was at this roundabout—a road checkpoint back then—that Trottier’s tank was destroyed by German anti-tank fire.  Tony the Tour Guide then noticed WHY Trottier’s tank group came under fire--no more than 200 meters from the roundabout sat a German military camp—a big one--from World War II.  The buildings are still there, still in use (although now as an office park) and still have carvings on them like this—

It may just be me, but I don’t know if I’d like to work in a building that has something like THAT carved into it.

(And by the way, I have closer-up pictures of the statue that show much more of the detail carved into it.  Unfortunately, they show TOO much detail, if you know what I mean!)

The rest of the day was spent driving through the Vosges Mountains to get to our current base in Colmar.  Remember how we saw a guy carrying a trombone Saturday morning and I couldn’t get a picture of it?  Well, I was ready this time!!

No, I have no idea why this oompah/marching band was on the side of the road on a German town.  It’s just one of things you have to see to believe, I guess.

Okay, now Colmar.  You know how I LOVE Bayeux, France, which is why we make it our home base every time we’re in Normandy?  Well, Colmar is kind of like that, but on steroids.

It has this HUGE old town, filled with things like soaring cathedrals, centuries-old half-timbered houses, and a statue of hometown boy Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi.  If his pose looks a little familiar, it may help to know this Bartholdi is the guy who designed the Statue of Liberty!

Like Trier yesterday, Colmar also has beautiful sandstone buildings, and some rather interesting cars, as well—

If you’re curious, this is a delivery car for a Chinese noodle restaurant.  I think if you put four containers of noodles in it the car’s filled to capacity.

Finally, here’s our dessert for the night—

Sure, it may LOOK like a mouse, but it’s actually two pieces of very yummy yellow cake with a layer of custard crème between them.  I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. . .

French pastry chefs rock!!


Tomorrow, one more day in France, with a trip back into the Vosges Mountains, this time with a particular purpose in mind.  More on that then!

(, who apologizes for not getting yesterday’s blog up sooner.  I didn’t have internet access until tonight!

Attack of the (Bellowing) Zombie Cows

SUNDAY, 8/28:

You know you’re in for an interesting day when the first thing that happens is a Belgian guy recognizing your wife in a hotel lobby.

That’s what happened to Loraine today as we were coming down to breakfast.  One moment we’re innocently getting ready to eat; the next, a very friendly man comes running over shouting “ that really you”?  As it turns out, the guy was a Facebook friend of hers named Ivan Steenkiste, with whom she’s corresponded many times about a tank battle that occurred near Bastogne, one in which Republic’s Elden Gjers died.  Ivan was leading a group of war buffs from Georgia (the state, not the country) on a tour, just happened to be staying in the same hotel, and recognized Loraine from pictures she had posted.

Small world, isn’t it?

Anyway, here are the friends after meeting in person the first time—

Then, believe it or not, just as I get done taking the above picture, ANOTHER Belgian guy walks up to me and says “Hi, Jim”.  Fortunately, we knew who THAT guy was, even if we had never met him in person before.  His name’s Pascal Hainaut, and he was showing us a few sites on our way out of town this morning.

He’s the one responsible for the zombie cows.

Let me explain.  He took us up to see a monument to the 35th Infantry Division, one of which the uncle of a friend of Loraine’s served in and was killed during the Bulge.  The monument—a very nice one, by the way—is located on top of a hill next to a farm, a farm that contains a large number of cows, all of which were on the far side of the field.  Because I know several of you are amused when I take pictures of cows, I decided to see if I could get the attention of one of them, and get it to come over and pose for me.

As it turns out, I got the attention of ALL of them, who immediately began bellowing quite loudly and moving toward me in the lifeless, herky-jerky manner made popular in “Night Of The Living Dead”.

Hence, the zombie cows—

They finally all made it over to where I was standing, where they all looked at me like they were either annoyed or disappointed that I wasn’t there to feed them—

All I wanted was a picture, cows.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sorry I didn’t bring any grub!

The next part of the day involved us getting lost in Germany.  Well, not lost so much as us wandering around without knowing where exactly we were.  We were trying to follow in the footsteps of this young man—

That’s John Zbacnik of Traunik, who died during the push into Germany in March of 1945.  We were trying to find the town in which he died, a little German hamlet named Schartzberg.  Tony The Tour Guide’s GPS system couldn’t find it, and none of the locals we asked knew where it was.  So as we’re driving around the middle of a huge German forest I pull out my phone and search Google maps.  Believe it or not, the town was on there, we found we were actually just a few kilometers from it, and three minutes later we found out why the village of Schartzberg is basically unknown to the world.

That’s right—it’s not really a village.  It’s five houses masquerading as a village.  Anyway, we found it, and were able to honor PFC Zbacnik’s memory.  And as an aside, if Kristi from AT&T is reading this, you were right—my phone CAN do amazing things in Europe.  Thanks for setting it up for me!

Lest you think we’re only over here for Loraine’s war stuff, we did take some time to play tourist today.  Our last stop of the day was the old (and I mean old, as in the first real city in Europe, or so the locals claim) town of Trier.  The town is built on a series of sandstone cliffs, which means that this town has something Marquette has—a TON of sandstone buildings.  Some were entirely constructed of the material; others just used it as trim, such as in this hotel—

By the by...recognize the restaurant that occupies the bottom floor?

Finally, we stopped by the 2,000-year old ruins of a Roman amphitheater, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This was a COOL place, still in pretty good shape—

It’s amazing how modern-day arenas take much in their design from the Romans, although all the newer arenas are missing one feature that this 2,000-year old model had.  To prove my point, here’s Loraine and Tony the Tour Guide walking down the path to the amphitheater’s Vomitorium—

See?  We do more than just war stuff and chocolate when we’re over here.  We throw in Vomitoriums at no extra charge!

Okay, that’s a little TOO sick of a note on which to end this.  I’ll do it by sharing the view from our hotel window—

Tomorrow, we go to France.  Not our usual part of France, but one that’s been part of Germany on many an occasion.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

What Did YOU Do With Your Saturday??


I'm still wondering why the guy was walking down the main street of Oudler, Belgium, wearing a black suit and carrying a trombone.

It’s thoughts like that that pop into your mind as you’re driving through three different countries in one day, much like we did today.  The three countries in question are Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany, but before you think this was a big feat on our part, realize that driving through those three different countries was like driving from Marquette to Munising with a side-trip through Eben.  They’re that close to each other. 

Speaking of Eben, that was, in a way, one of the two reasons we did what we did today.  On our way to meet someone, we stopped in Beiler, Luxembourg, where this man—

Carl Swanson of Ishpeming, died somewhere in these hills—

On December 20th, 1944.  Swanson was in an infantry company trying to stop the Germans from advancing during their Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge.  This, by the way, was just as Swanson returned to his unit after being wounded in France several months earlier.  After we paid our respects in Beiler, we met up with an amazing young man.

World, meet Carl Wouters—

Carl lives near Antwerp, and is a (and I’m saying this with only slight exaggeration) world-reknowned expert on the 106th Infantry Division, in which Eben’s Toivo Alto served before he died on December 28th, 1944.

That’s Alto on the left, by the way, standing next to his brother Charles.

Carl led us to many places where Alto served during the final two weeks of his life, beginning with the woods where his unit had dug foxholes to guard a road.  How much of an expert on the 106th is Carl?

Well, he found the foxholes Alto’s unit had dug; I’m sure that if we’d asked him to look into it, Carl probably could’ve found out which foxhole was actually Alto’s!  He then showed us around a little more, ending the tour on the hill on which Alto died that fateful day, while trying to capture the town of Manhay, Belgium.  You can see both the field and the town in the picture—

By the way, I erred yesterday when I said Carl’s 26 and a law school student.  He’s actually 23 and a law school graduate.  Oh, and he speaks 8 languages.  Quite the amazing guy: we’re glad we had the chance to spend some time with him!

The weather today was weird; it would be sunny & 75, and then 3 minutes later the temperature would drop 15 degrees and the rain would just come pouring down.  So if the following pictures aren’t as bright and cheery as they usually are. . .well, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany weren’t as bright and sunny as they usually are.

But nonetheless, we did see nice towns—

Nice churches—

Nice rivers—

And a poster for a town festival, a festival in which the main musical act is a band named Stagefright.  I’m hoping the Germans who form the group named it out of irony, and not because of some misguided translation!

Finally, speaking of music, we never figured out why the man in the black suit was walking down the street of Oudler carrying a trombone this morning.  He just was, and we zipped by too quickly for me to get a picture.  It’s just one of those things where, when you see it, you think to yourself—

“Only in Belgium”.

Tomorrow, we head back to Germany, this time to stay for the night.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Roads Less Taken

FRIDAY, 8/26:

And greetings from a quarter of the way around the world!

We made it to Belgium just fine today, albeit an hour and a half behind schedule, thanks to a departure delay in Chicago and a weather delay in Brussels.  Never mind that, though...despite the loss of time and the complete lack of sleep, we achieved everything Loraine had on our jammed packed schedule.

We’re good, aren’t we?

Today was basically devoted to following in the footsteps of these two guys—

They are Eugene St. Onge of Marquette and Eino Kinnunen of Munising, both of whom died around this area in the Battle of the Bulge, St. Onge was killed trying while trying to re-liberate the town of St. Vith, while Kinnunen died of wounds received during fighting between the towns of Heid-de-Heirlot and Odrimont.  We traveled around quite a bit of Ardennes countryside so Loraine could get a better idea of what those two did during their final days, and so I could gawk at scenery like this—

It was cloudy and occasionally rainy today, so the weather didn’t allow for the greatest pictures, but I think you get the idea of what it was like.  I think I may have mentioned this before, but this part of Belgium reminds me of the Copper Country, for some reason, with a dash of the area right below the Mackinaw Bridge thrown in for good measure.  So many of the war-related sites we visited today looked very much like that—lots of farm fields, rolling hills, and trees.  Lots and lots of trees.

However, not everything we did today was war-related.  I wanted to take a picture of something I saw in the town of Stavelot three years ago but never had the chance—

That’s right; it’s a statue of a giant puppet, which we affectionately refer to as (what else) “Pinocchio”.  Until a few weeks ago, we had no idea WHY the statue was there.  As it turns out, Stavelot actually holds a big puppet festival every year, and the statue commemorates that.

Next comes one of the things you guys say you look forward to the most, today’s animal picture—

We actually had to stop the car and let these three roosters cross the street in front of us outside the town of Abrefontaine.  Trust me; they took their sweet time, and acted like they owned the place, which I’m sure they do, much to the chagrin of their owner.  So if you ever wondered why the chicken (or rooster) crossed the road, now you know--it was to make us slow down for a minute!

Since it’s Belgium and we’re only in the country for two days, we had to make Tony the Tour Guide stop at a few grocery stores so we could buy chocolate and Lotus Bimbos.  I picked up a brand-new kind to try out—

It’s a dark chocolate bar with a blueberry filling.  Yummy.

Finally, there was the aforementioned Tony the Tour Guide’s near brush with the Belgian police.  But we won’t go into that now...


Time now for a little sleep.  Tomorrow, we meet up with a 26-year old law student (and his fiancée).  Details then!