Sunday, August 31, 2014

Of Nutella Waffles, Joie de Vivre, and Other Things

We made a new friend today.

This young man, in case you couldn’t tell, was enjoying a waffle smothered with Nutella when we met him at the Parc de la Pépinière in Nancy, where we’re staying tonight.  Nancy is the capital of the Lorraine region of France (so named because they knew Loraine would be staying here), and it’s a place where, believe it or not, we saw the first real sunshine since we arrived here last Wednesday.  And now it’s supposed to be sunny and in the mid 70s to around 80 the rest of the time we’re here.

Ah, you gotta love it.

We left Belgium and tooled around Luxembourg for a while today, where we came across an interesting situation.  Luxembourg has the lowest gas prices of any country around here.  In fact, their gas is 20 cents a liter cheaper than it is in Belgium.  When we left Bastogne we noticed there wasn’t a gas station in sight, and you know why?  20 kilometers later, when we crossed the border into Luxembourg, there are six gas stations right across the border.  Belgians will drive 20 kilometers to save 20 cents a liter.

Of course, when your car may hold 50 liters, that’s (and I’m doing math here, so bear with me) 10 Euros you’ll save by filling up across the border.  And it’s a good thing you’re saving those 10 Euros, because right next to the six gas stations is a huge outlet mall.

I guess Luxembourger business owners know all about synergy!!

Then as we left Luxembourg to head into France we ran into a detour.  This was probably, oh, the 60th detour we’ve hit since getting here, but I have to admit this one was unique.  It’s the only time we’ve ever been detoured down a side street, and then through a parking lot to get to where we needed to go.  And that wasn’t the strangest thing we saw on the detour.  Nope; that would be the guy riding a bike while wearing a sports coat and boxer shorts.

Guess you don’t see that every day.

We wanted to make one stop before we arrived here in Nancy, and that was to visit Pont-a-Mousson, France.  Why, you ask?  Well, I answer, because a French missionary once studied there a long time ago, and he’s a French missionary the locals hold in high regard.   Who was he?

There is also a Lycee Marquette in Pont-a-Mousson, which is a basically a middle school named after Jacques Marquette.  In front of the school is a statute of our city’s namesake; unfortunately, the school is in the process of being renovated and we couldn’t sneak in to take a picture of it.  Hopefully, the city’s tourist office can take a picture of it for me.  After all, I’d trade them one of the statue on the rocks at Lakeside Park!

Once we made it into Nancy and actually found our hotel (without GPS, mind you) we checked out the two big attractions in this city.  The first is the Place Stanislas, which is basically the very big town square.  It’s ringed with statues accented with some rather impressive gates—

Plus, for today only, the square also featured Miss Lorraine 2014, posing with tourists.

No, I’m not quite sure why Miss Lorraine 2014 was posing with tourists.  Maybe contestants in Miss France do grip & grins in place of answering a question about world peace.  But go Miss Lorraine 2014.  Hope you win!!

The Place Stanislas, while a UNESCO World Heritage site, was nothing compared to the Parc de la Pépinière, at least for us.  The Parc is much like the English Garten in Munich or, I guess, Central Park in NYC.  There are biking and hiking trails, a statue by Rodin, and a zoo.  The goat says hi, by the way—

But perhaps the best part of the Parc was the rose garden, where we met the young man enjoying his Nutella-covered waffle.  There must’ve been a dozen different types of roses, all planted around a fountain area.  Here’s one of the blooms that smelled the best—

The Rose Garden was so impressive that Loraine and I continued our European trip tradition of having an Italian dinner date night.  This time, we got takeout from a restaurant right outside the park, and brought it back in to eat on one of the benches at the Garden.  We had pasta with three cheeses—Gorgonzola, Mascarpone, and Parmesan Reggiano. Oh, and the guy behind the counter, who was practicing his English on us once he realized we were Americans, threw extra Parmesan on top.

Let’s just say it was good.  Really, really good.

Speaking of things that are really, really good, we tried a new chocolate bar today, and it’s out of this world.  One of our favorite brands over here is Galler, and they have one that’s thick, rich white chocolate covering a creamy center of dark chocolate mixed with Cointreau liqueur, which gives it a very slight orange flavoring.  I wish I could share the taste of it with you guys, and then you’d know what I mean.

It was simply amazing. 

Finally, here are a few more pictures.  We seemed to run into a lot of very interesting things today, and I seemed to shoot them all.  First of all, a nice street scene of Nancy—

Second, a group of sheep dog owners decided to take their sheep dogs on a walk en masse through the park because, well, they could—

Finally, there’s an impressive cathedral here, the Basilique St. Epvre, a cathedral made even more impressive by the fact that it’s ringed with statues, including one of a cow with wings—

And because I probably can’t top a cow with wings (or a kid with Nutella on his face) that’s it for today!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Everything But The Kitchen Sink (and Losheimergraben)

Even I have to admit that it does get a little surreal when the donkeys start braying every night.

More on that in a bit.  First, we had a great day in Belgium and Luxembourg courtesy of the amazing Carl Wouters and his equally amazing father-in-law, Dirk.  I’ve written about Carl in here before; today, he and Dirk helped Loraine follow in the footsteps of one of her “guys”, Carl Swanson of Ishpeming.

Swanson was in the 112th Infantry Regiment when he was killed on December 20th, 1944, four days after the start of the Battle of the Bulge.  When we were here three years ago we kinda sorta thought we knew where Swanson died.  However Carl, with his amazing encyclopedic knowledge of this area of the Bulge (especially of the 106th Infantry Division, which the 112th was helping out) was able to show us around the area where Swanson spent his last days, the towns of Ouren, Beiler, and Leithum, Luxembourg.  Ouren is so named because it has the Our River running through it.

As we were wandering around Ouren Dirk noticed they were doing a lot of logging on a nearby hill, and thought that because of the clear-cutting that we might be able to get a nice view of the town.

Dirk was right.

After exploring Swanson’s last days, we were to meet up with another local expert.  But first, we wanted to surprise Carl with something, and I think we did.  This is the second time he’s helped us track a Marquette or Alger County soldier who died in the war, and everything he helps us learn is information Loraine brings back home to share with members of that soldier’s families.  Well, we had mentioned this to John Kivela and he thought it might be nice to give Carl a little letter of commendation for the help he gives not only us but many people coming from the U.S.  So before we left Ouren—

While I don’t want to put words in Carl’s mouth, I think our surprise worked.  He says the letter’s getting framed and going up in his office, where I hope everyone sees it and appreciates the work that this fine young man does out of the goodness of his heart.

So once again, Carl (& Dirk), thank you very much.  And thanks for doing the driving, as well!

The four of us then left the area where Swanson died and met up with Erwin Peters and his friend Mark, who first wanted to show us foxholes of Carl’s friends in the 106th.

These things are everywhere in the hills outside of Schoenberg, where major portions of the Bulge were fought.  And then they also took us to see their pride & joy, the monument to the Wereth 11. 

This is a World War II story that more people need to know about.  Eleven African-American members of the segregated 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were trying to escape the German advance during the Bulge when they were given food & shelter in the house of a family in Wereth.  However, a nosy neighbor noticed the African-Americans, reported them to the German S.S., who then captured them, lined them up, shot them, and threw their bodies in a ditch, where they weren’t discovered until the next spring.  The memorial, which is located right next to the ditch where the bodies were found, was started by the youngest son of the family who took them in that December night, and is now kept up by an association that includes Erwin and Mark.

So now YOU know the story (albeit in summary form) of the Wereth 11.   Google it to find out more.

We had hoped to take care of one more thing while we were in the neighborhood today, but we had such an amazing time with Carl & Dirk & Erwin & Mark that we didn’t get to it, and that was to actually set foot in the mythical town of Losheimergraben—

We’ve been trying to get to the town (which isn’t mythical and does exist) for almost a decade now, but have never succeeded.  We don’t want to go there for any reason other than the fact that it’s named Losheimergraben, but that’s a good enough reason, right?

Well, maybe next time.

Finally, here’s the deal with the donkeys.  Each night we’ve been here in Bastogne we hear donkeys start to bray & hee-haw (or whatever it is donkeys do) when it gets dark out.  Even though our hotel is right in the middle of the city, there is a big field behind it, home of creatures like this—

As it turns out, there is a company here that uses donkey milk as the base of a lotion that helps cure skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.  Where do they get that donkey milk?

I think you know the rest of THAT story.

Tomorrow we leave Belgium and head into France via Luxembourg, a country that’s smaller than Marquette County but has sure provided us with a lot of entertainment & education these past few days.  So goodbye, Ardennes.  We’ll miss you!

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Detours du Jour

If I don’t see another example of two lanes getting cut down to one because of road construction any time soon, that’ll be fine with me.

We were scheduled to do a lot of driving in Belgium today, and we did a lot of driving in Belgium today.  In fact, we probably did a little more than we planned to, as (it seemed) every few miles there were detours because of road construction, or long waits while traffic going one direction on a suddenly one lane road stopped those of us heading in the other direction on the suddenly one lane road.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for road construction & repairs.  After all, I live in Michigan, where a road hasn’t been fixed since the early 1900s.  But when you have to go kilometers out of your way to get somewhere, or you find yourself going in the totally opposite direction from which you intended...

Ah, well.  That’s life on the road, I guess.

We actually did get to a lot of nice things today.  Loraine wanted to spend the day exploring the areas of the Ardennes where many interesting World War II figures came and went, and we did that.  And by doing so, we were able to visit a lot of nice little Belgian towns with names like Spa and Rachamps and Stoumont.  In fact, here’s Loraine in Stoumont, where their police station flies the flags of the Belgium, the E.U., and the 82nd Airborne!

Two of the towns, though, rate a little mention, and those would be Malmedy and Eupen.

Malmedy was a place we had quickly visited before and that I wanted to explore a little further.  It’s about half the size of Marquette, and one of those places where there is a TON of road construction going on.  Here’s what it looks like (on one of the few streets that wasn’t being repaired)—

Actually, in both population and the way it’s laid out it’s faintly reminiscent of Bayeux, our usual home in Normandy.  If you recall, we had planned on renewing our vows in Normandy this year, but that didn’t work out.  If it had, it might’ve looked a little like this—

This is the city hall of Malmedy, where a wedding had just taken place.  See all the stuff laying on the ground outside the door?  Those are red and silver paper hearts that everyone threw at the bride & groom (instead of rice).  So since we couldn’t get married again, we walked through the hearts.

I guess that’s the closest we’ll come this year.

The other thing we did in Malmedy?  We stopped at a bakery!

While Loraine was munching on a piece of rhubarb cake, I had a piece of triple layer cherry cake with a real whipped cream frosting.  The thing (pictured above) was bigger than my hand, and only cost one euro and 70 cents (about $3 American).  Gemma from Gophers—if you’re reading this, I know what you can try making some day!!


We had one objective and one objective only at Eupen, and that was to stop at the holy grail, which we did—

This is the sign to the Jacques Chocolate museum and factory outlet store, right on the grounds of the Jacques Chocolate factory.  It was an amazing place inside, filled with rows and walls and displays of chocolate of every kind.  Our jaws dropped when we saw something else, too.  Normally, a big bar that would cost 6 or 7 dollars was being sold for (gulp) a Euro and a half.

That’s when we realized that we had a problem.  No, not a “problem” with us being addicted to chocolate.  The problem we realized we had was that we forgot to bring an extra suitcase with which to bring home our chocolate.


However, because of all of our driving we didn’t get to spend as much time as we would’ve wanted in places like Eupen and Spa, places that looked like we should further explore.  And if we ever DO come back, we’ll know to bring the extra luggage.  In fact, Loraine’s already realized that when we travel she puts everything in her backpack, which means she only has one carry on.  And since on airlines you can bring a carry-on AND a personal item, and her backpack is technically a “personal item”, we’re already scoping out something along the lines of a hard-shelled mini carry on.

You know, so we can carry all the chocolate home.

Speaking of which, I know everyone always gets a kick out of seeing what we bought, so here’s my haul for the first two days—

That’s not counting what Loraine bought, and what we’ve already eaten.  And even with that, we still have nine days left to go. What do you think the pile will look like then?

No animal pictures today, so I’ll leave you with business here in Bastogne—

Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in again.  And for pizza and paninis, no less!!!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hmmm...Something's Missing

We made it to Luxembourg safe and sound.  Too bad we can’t say the same for our luggage.

Greetings from Bastogne, Belgium, our home for the next three days.  Well, it’s a “home” in the sense that we’re sitting in our hotel room with a laptop, a camera, a spare change of underwear, and not much else.  You see, our American Airlines flight yesterday from Chicago to London left Chicago 40 minutes late, and while we made it to the gate for our British Airlines Luxembourg flight just fine, our luggage, sad to say, didn’t.


Our luggage IS on its way; in fact, we just received a call saying it’ll be here before midnight.  While that’s a good thing, it means that we’ll be woken up sometime with a phone call saying it’s here.  And since we haven’t slept since 5 am yesterday morning; well, let’s just say that we hope it gets here sooner rather than later.

On, now, to things much more fun.  We had two important tasks to accomplish today once we reached Bastogne.  Oh, and speaking of which, here’s Bastogne!

Home of a chair in the shape of a giant shoe—

As well as one of our favorite grocery stores in the whole world, the former Super GB turned Carrefour.  Why is it one of our favorite grocery stores in the world?  You mean you need to ask?

Let’s see...I bought a dark chocolate and blueberry bar and an orange-cranberry bar, both from Jacques, as well as several of my favorite from Cote D’or and Galler.  Loraine picked up a bunch of her favorites, too.  One day of chocolate shopping down, ten more to go!

Of course, we’re here for more than just chocolate.  Well, let me rephrase that.  Loraine’s here for more than just chocolate, and that was our other activity for the day.  As some of you may know, Loraine’s wrapping up work on her second book, one that deals with the life and untimely death of Elden Gjers of Republic, who died around these parts on December 23rd, 1944.

Elden was part of the 4th Armored Division, which was racing toward Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, only to be stopped by Germans in the very tiny town of Chaumont.  We visited Chaumont for the fourth time today, and also drove along the (very) narrow and winding roads that Elden’s division drove to get there.

Mind you, the picture doesn’t show just how sharp that curve is and mind you, that picture does not show a Sherman tank trying to get around that corner at full speed on an icy December day, but trust me—it was wicked.

Finally, I have something for you I haven’t been able to share for the past couple of trips—

I know that for some reason some people enjoy seeing pictures of cows, and since there was a curious bunch of them looking at us as we explored Elden’s last days, I was able to convince one to pose for you.

That’s it for now.  I’m just hoping I can get a nap in before the luggage arrives, and then change out of the clothing I’ve been wearing for almost 36 shower-free hours.  Tomorrow, we buy more chocolate.  Oh, and do some other stuff, too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Here We Go Again!

This was the trip to Europe where we were going to Normandy to get remarried. Unfortunately, several thousand horses got in the way.

Welcome to another “Jim & Loraine European Adventure”, a journey that marks several milestones for us. For me (Jim) it’s the tenth anniversary of my first trip to Europe, while for Loraine, it’s her tenth journey to one of our favorite places in the world. And seeing as how this year also marks our 25th wedding anniversary, Loraine had come up with a cool idea—that we’d go to visit all of our friends in Normandy and renew our vows. We even had the mayor of St. Georges-de-Bohon looking into all the legalities of it.

And that’s when the horses got in the way.

Those of you who’ve followed along on these journeys know that we have a limited window of time in which we can travel every year, and that window usually falls around the Labor Day weekend in the U.S. So as we were setting out to plan our “Euroversary” trip we ran smack dab into something going on at the exact same time in Normandy, the World Equestrian Championships, a three-week long gathering of thousands of horses (and their riders, and support staff).

Every single hotel we tried to book was either full or charging several hundred Euros a night. Even the fine staff at our usual home-away-from-home, the Bayeux Novotel, couldn’t make it work.


So with those plans (and Loraine’s great idea of getting re-married) thrown out the equestrian window, we (or should I say mostly she) put together the excursion on which we are about to embark. It’s chock full of WWII research projects, rendezvous with old friends (along with the meeting of several new ones) and a chance to buy chocolate in not one, not two, but FOUR different countries.

And I’m thinking that ALMOST makes up for the fact that the horses got in the way of our original plans!

Our journey starts in Luxembourg (where we’re arriving this time around) and consists of several days in Bastogne, Belgium, several in the wonderful town of Colmar, France (click HERE to read what I wrote the one day we were there in 2011), and then a few nights here and there as we slowly make our way toward Paris, from where we’ll heading back to the States. Throw in a day trip to the Black Forest of Germany, and there you have it—four countries (and four different places to buy chocolate) in eleven days.

Sounds like a typical Jim & Loraine trip, right?

In Belgium, we’ll be focusing on several of Loraine’s research subjects, including Elden Gjers, who’s the “co-author” of her soon-to-be-released book “Elden’s True Army Tales”. We’ll also meet up with Carl Wouters to see what happened to Carl Swanson of Ishpeming during the Battle of the Bulge. And we’ll be spending one of our days around Colmar with our friends Olivier and Marie Rose Pernot; if you read the Mining Journal about a year ago, you know that Loraine and Olivier helped the Ritola family of Republic find out where their brother and uncle George was killed in 1945.

That’s the war related stuff. We’re also planning on visiting parks and recreation areas, strolling through the beautiful streets of places like Colmar and Nancy and Troyes, and (hopefully) will get to visit to the factory where they make Jacques and Callebaut chocolates, among the best in the world (yum). And just so the folks at home don’t think we’re forgetting them, we’re also planning on checking out Pont-a-Mousson, where a young French missionary named Jacques Marquette was educated four and a half centuries ago, and where a school (complete with statue) named after him still exists.

Those are just the highlights. If this is like every other one of journeys to Europe I’m sure many wonderful, whimsical, and occasionally downright strange things will also be happening. This will be your front-row seat for each and every one of them. And who knows—maybe one or two will even involve horses.

So get ready!