Thursday, August 31, 2017

Chocolate, Pigs, Umbrellas, and More Chocolate!


How do you know you're staying at a fantastic hotel? You know when they leave mini-versions of the world's best chocolate bars on your pillow to greet you when you arrive.

Greetings from the aforementioned place, the Hotel Melba in Bastogne, Belgium. We arrived here a mere 26 hours after leaving Marquette yesterday morning, which means that in the over course of slightly longer than one day we were in two U.S. states and four different countries before getting here. But then, we saw those chocolate bars when we walked in and everything was all worth it.

Even having to put up with screaming babies right behind us on not one but two of the three legs of our flight.

It's funny; this is the sixth time we've stayed at this hotel, which is owned by a married couple, and when we checked in she looked at us like she had seen us before. Then when we told her she had (and gave her a copy of Loraine's book “Elden's True Army Tales”, written about someone who died near here), she was speechless beyond belief.

Maybe tomorrow we'll each get two pieces of mini-chocolate!

Speaking of chocolate, where's the first place we went after we checked in? How about the holy grail of choco-holics, the Carrefour store a kilometer down the street from here--

Sure, I drooled a bit and maybe even shed a tear or two, but, believe it or not, we didn't buy much today. That comes tomorrow when we visit the factory outlets stores for two of the brands (Galler and Jacques) that you see pictured above.

Loraine said she'll bring extra Kleenex just in case either of us need them.

One of the interesting things about flying today was that we had to spend a couple of hours in London waiting for our flight to Dusseldorf. And since today's the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, Loraine, who always thought very highly of her, took the opportunity to pick a few newspapers & read up on how people are feeling, two decades later.

That's basically the first day of our trip in a nutshell, unless you wanna be bored by the misadventure that was us trying to find where our rental car was parked at the Dusseldorf airport (and Deanna, as an aside, you were absolutely right). I was driving so I couldn't take pictures, but I was stunned at the transformation that occurs pretty much instantaneously as you cross the border from Germany to Belgium. Driving in Germany is like driving on an American interstate. You see exit signs, cloverleaf interchanges, and wild drivers treating the road like their own personal Formula One track. Then you get into Belgium and the road become a little narrower, the scenery a little more bucolic, and the drivers just a tad more polite.

THAT was interesting.

Okay, because we didn't do much today and I haven't slept for 30-some hours, I'll wrap this up with a couple of images from our walk down to Chocolate Heaven (excuse me, the Carrefour store). First of all, I notice that clothing stores around here are starting to develop some rather interesting names...

There's a new business that's opened since we were last here--

That (literally) translates to “Museum of Pigs”, but it's not a place where they venerate Porky or that one pig who built his house out of bricks. Nope; it's actually a museum dedicated to ham, some of which they produce in copious amounts around here.

And look what else they're doing in Bastogne!

The umbrella concept does seem to be popping up a lot around the world, and this may be the most extreme example. An entire city block is covered by the umbrellas, and as far as we could count there were over 1,000 of them hung in the air.

Almost puts the Rosewood umbrella display in Marquette to shame, doesn't it? Almost. Although my personal opinion is that our display has better colors to it. Maybe next year the Marquette DDA should try covering a whole city block with them. We'll show Bastogne!

Tomorrow, we do a little research for Loraine, visit a few places we haven't visited before, and buy a whole bunch of chocolate. If you behave, I'll even post a picture when we're done.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Try This One Again

We're hoping that the second time's the charm.

Welcome to this year's “Jim & Loraine” ™ adventure, a getaway which our resident trip planner has dubbed “Euro Wing Ding 2017”. If much of the itinerary seems familiar, that's because it is. We've taken elements of our cool & rainy 2014 trip, which we for good reason now call “The World's Smallest Hotel Room Tour”and it mixed with a little of the 2015 “Jim & Loraine's Luggage Didn't Arrive” trip with our parents. That's right—we're tempting fate and hoping things actually go right this time.

Any good feelings you'd like to send our way would be greatly appreciated.

We're flying into someplace new this year, Dusseldorf, Germany. From there we hop in a rental car and spend a few nights in Bastogne, Belgium, where we hope to do a couple of things—have Loraine get some research done, spend a day with our friend Carl, and visit the outlet stores of two of our favorite chocolate brands in the whole wide world, Jacques and Galler.

After all, to build a collection like this you have to start early--

From Bastogne, we'll spend the next several days following pretty much the same route as we did in 2014, with what we hope are two big differences, one under our control and one not. Last time we did this trip we thought we might stay in Ibis Budget hotels and see if we saved any money. Well, we did actually save a few cents, but seeing as how most of our rooms were little bigger than some people's closets--

This time around we decided to get real, adult-sized hotel rooms. That's the one change that's under our control. The other change? Well, in 2014 we got caught under a stationary weather system for the first week of our trip, which meant a lot of clouds, cool temperatures, and a couple of days of rain. While we know there's nothing we can do about the weather, we're keeping our fingers crossed. It's been the warmest summer in history in Europe, and we're hoping it stays like that. Of course, it was also like that in 2014, and look what happened. So just let me say this--if turns cloudy and cold when we get there...

Well, the people of Europe will know who to blame.

Like 2014, we're spending nights in Nancy and Colmar, France, at the latter of which we'll (hopefully) get to spend a little time with our friends Oliver and Marie-Rose. Before those cities, though, we'll be spending a night at a hotel overlooking vineyards and the Moselle River in the Luxembourg town of Remich. The view should be something like this--

Hopefully with lots of sun, though.

After France, we'll spend the rest of the trip in Germany, first for a few nights in the university town of Freiburg, with it's glorious sandstone cathedral--

And the nearby Black Forest. After that, we finish with a night in Heidelberg--

Where our parents were able to spend a day in 2015 sightseeing while Loraine and I spent the day buying clothes and toiletries because ours had been left behind in Philadelphia. From there we head back to Dusseldorf, and after that we play connect-the-dots on our way to London and Chicago and Marquette.

Another thing that we're hoping is different from 2014 is the road construction. We ran into all kinds of it the last time we tried this route, and it caused us to have to drop several things we wanted to do (including, sadly, visiting a chocolate shop). This time around we're hoping not to see many signs like this--

And instead have smooth and open roads in front of us. We have help this time, too, as we're traveling with a European GPS system for the first time. Seeing as how we'll be in some major cities this tour, and it'll be my first time driving on German roads, we figured it was probably the prudent thing to do. Thanks to a birthday gift from my parents, we get to be prudent.

So we have that going for us.

We're leaving August 30th; you have until then to get your virtual passport up to date and ready to go. I'll be posting things here each day of the trip, and if you've read them before you know that it's not necessarily the kind of stuff you see on normal trip blogs. But that's okay. If you've read these long enough, you know we're not normal travelers.

So until then...

(ps—if you're wondering where Loraine came up with the name “Euro Wing Ding 2017”, it's her tip of the hat to Tony DiNozzo, Sr, on "NCIS”, who once described a trip of his with that name.. We're hoping some of Robert Wagner's charm rubs off on us!)