Tag Archives: netherlands

Walking in the foxholes

We got into the Novotel Hotel in Maastricht late last night — around 9:30 pm. Some of us scrambled for a bite to eat at the hotel bar. A mini-pizza was about the only choice, if you could get the attention of the frazzled and not-particularly eager barmaid. We had big lunch, so Dan and I said “screw it” and went to bed.

Today is another beautiful, sunny day in the Benelux countries, and by the time we are finished, we will see all three of them today. We started in the Netherlands; spent most of the day in Belgium; and will sleep tonight in Luxembourg.

One thing about this part of Europe is we can never be quite certain what language is being spoken. We started the day in Dutch, while in Bastogne, we encountered both French and German. None of us speak any of them worth a darn, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. Birdie has become an expert at dealing with waiters and shopkeepers by pointing and nodding.

This morning our first stop was the American Military Cemetary at Margraten, Netherlands.

The American Cemetery

We spent around an hour there and then headed to Bastogne. Dan commented how impressed he has been with the darn-near-perfect condition of the cemeteries we visited. There isn’t a stray piece of grass to be seen.

Our first stop in the Bastogne area was the village of Foy. (That was the village Easy Company of The Band of Brothers attacked in the episode “The Breaking Point.”)

Foy is not very large.

"The Gang" in Foy

Then we rode back towards Bastogne about a half mile to Bois Jacques (John’s Woods). This was the actual location of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge. We walked through the woods a few hundred yards to the exact position Easy Company occupied.

Treking through Fois Jacques

The foxholes are still evident. Very  cool.

Note the foxholes.

Dan in a foxhole.

We had one more sip of Birdie’s calavados brandy to commemorate the occasion.

(l-r) Ron, Birdie, Dan and Poolman

Our final historical stop of the day was at the American monument to the Battle of the Bulge, at Mardasson, near Bastogne.

From there it was back to Bastogne’s central square (McAuliffe Place) for lunch.

McAuliffe Place, Bastogne, Belgium

Dan, Birdie, Ron and I ate at Le Nuts Café. The restaurant is named for the reply the 101st AB Div acting commander, General Anthony McAuliffe gave to the German’s demand for surrender – not for the specialty of the house.

Some of our gang eating outside "Le Nuts Cafe."

(l-r) Poolman, Birdie, Ron and Dan

I had a Belgian version of a ham and cheese sandwich, but the other three guys all ordered a “croque a bleu,” which was essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with additional cheese melted on top. I had some of Dan’s and it was outstanding.

As I write this, we are on our way to Luxembourg City for dinner and the evening.

Tomorrow, we hit one more American cemetery and then a long (600 km, 360 mi) drive to Munich.

Two museums and the search for the lost arch

Our day started cool and cloudy, but later warmed up to a nice sunny day. What a difference a day makes.

Our first stop was the Wings of Liberation Museum in Oosterbeek. This was the site of the British First Airborne Division’s drop and most of its fighting during the Market Garden operation. The museum is outstanding. It is located in the Harkenstein Hotel, which was the site of German General Model’s headquarters before the air drop, and then the HQ for the 1st Airborne Div.

Ron, Poolman, Dan and Birdie

In the front is the apparently obligatory US M4 Sherman tank, although there were none of these weapons involved in this part of the battle. (The British paratroopers had no tanks.) The museum had the usual artifacts, with a focus on the Dutch population.       Its crowning touch was an “Airborne Experience”in the basement.

A mock up of a British mortor crew in the Airborne Experience

This was almost like a Disneyworld walk-though experience with projected images and sound effects, as if you were a part of the battle. Very impressive.

The museum left me with two questions.

The first – why are the Dutch so willing to remember and commemorate this battle? The battle was a debacle for the Allies, especially the British airborne troops who dropped in Oosterbeek to seize the Arnhem bridge. They didn’t keep the bridge, and only roughly 2,500 of the 12,000 troopers escaped death or capture.  For the Dutch, this short-lived liberation went very poorly in the long run. After the battle, the Germans expelled all the residents from the city. The coming winter of 1944-45 was extremely difficult on the Dutch. Food was extremely scarce. More than 22,000 died of starvation or malnutrition.

Yet they commemorate this battle all over Arnhem and elsewhere in the area.

The second questions echoes historian/biographer William Manchester who observed that historians tend to glorify battles that result in heavy casualties.

For example, everyone knows about the Alamo, where all the defenders were killed. But how many people outside of Texas can describe the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto, that was a decisive and overwhelming victory for the Texans with relatively low casualties.

For history, it seems “the bloodier, the better.” And if it is a defeat (like Arnhem) even better still. Market Garden was a tremendous battle, but the other guys won.

From there, we went to central Nijmegan for lunch, only to find we were at the wrong place.

Oops! Wrong address.

Back on the bus and drive to a suburban resort hotel for an outstanding lunch of curry soup, steak with a Bordeaux sauce, fries, vegetables and ice cream sundae. It was not a rushed meal. We must have been there for two hours.

We had one more museum near where the 82nd Airborne Div drooped at Groesbeek.

We then went off in search of “the arch.” In the book Band of Brothers, there is a photo of Dick Winters standing in front of an arch.

Dick Winters in 1944.l

We ended up driving around for the better part of an hour looking for this thing. We finally found it, and the owners of the house were most gracious to allow us to tramp up their driveway for everyone to pose at the arch.

Poolman, Dan, Birdie and Ron at the arch

The arch is part of a 100 year-old farm house on a still-working farm.

We are on our way to Maastricht. Tomorrow we are on to Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge.

Revisiting Operation Market-Garden in the Netherlands

It was a cold, blustery day here in the Netherlands. Overall, the weather had been pretty good. Several of our days in Paris were great, and the day at Omaha Beach was actually quite warm. Since then it has cooled off, but we have had no real rain to speak of.

When we arrived at the hotel last night, it was after dark, so we didn’t have any perspective of the surroundings.

The Lower Rhine from our window

It turns out we are right on the Lower Rhine. This is the view from Dan’s and my room window. It’s not that impressive a stream.

The hotel is quite nice – just about a mile out from the central downtown area of Arnhem.Th NH Rijnhotel, Arnhem

We piled back on the bus and drove south to the Wings of Liberation Museum near Son, Netherlands.

Arriving at the Wings of Liberation Museum

This is a small museum, but they did a nice job, especially using mannequins in historical settings.

That's Dan on the left.

It also contained a bunch of guns, planes, etc.

From there, we went to the farm where the 506th PIR (Band of Brothers regiment) was dropped on September 17, 1944, and we took a group picture in front of the house.

That's our guide, Steve, in front. Poolman behind him. Ron and Birdie, front row left, and Dan in the back left-center.

The only person missing is Laura, the travel agent, who was manning the camera.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in central Arnhem for some of us to exchange money at the train station.

Near the Arnhem train station

Here we saw very visual evidence of the Dutch’s love of bicycles. People ride them everywhere. Just look at this. This the main parking lot at the train station – no cars, but about a thousand bikes!

Need a bike?

For some reason, the John Frost Bridge, actual “bridge too far” that was the point to the whole battle, was not on our itinerary.

John Frost Bridge -- A replacement for the one destroyed in Oct 1944.

We had time when we got back from our bus excursion, so Ron, Dan, Birdie and I took a hike down to the bridge and (most of us) walked to the other side.

Birdie and Ron at a memorial near the bridge.

Me on the bridge

A view of Arnhem from the south end of the bridge.

We definitely got our exercise for the day, and we can use it.

Tomorrow, we visit two more museums in this area and then finish the day back down south in Maastrich.

It’s been a good trip, but I think everyone is feeling the fatigue. We have four more days of touring then a day of travel back to the US.

A bird’s-eye view of Paris and a bus trip through three countries

The weather is fairly dry today, but a bit on the cool side.

After gathering everyone this morning, we took our bus to the Eiffel Tower – planned to take up the entire morning.

As Dan said, he was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by the tower, but that didn’t happen. It lives up to its hype.

Most of us went all the way to the top and spent most of the morning there. Birdie went up to the second level, about 200 feet up, but stayed there.

Poolman and Dan at the top

After spending the better part of two hours on the tower, we returned to one of the lower levels for lunch at a very nice restaurant there.

Birdie and Ron at lunch

We had wine and water to drink. The meal consisted of a smoked salmon appetizer (or entre, as they call it in Paris), roast chicken (again) and scalloped potatoes for the main course, and an outstanding cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake was garnished with a small, orange fruit that we could not identify. Kumquat? Persimmon? Any ideas?

After lunch, we got on the bus for the trip to Arnhem. We started in France; drove through Belgium; and ended up in the Netherlands. We got in around 9 o’clock. After getting squared away in our room, we retired to the bar and restaurant for beer and sandwiches.

Tomorrow, we start two days of concentrating on the Operation Market-Garden (A Bridge Too Far).

Back to Paris

We had a slightly slower day today. The first half was spent driving back to Paris. We got in around 1 pm and picked up our local guide at 2 pm.

Our first and, as it turned out, our only stop was Les Invalides, the site of the French army museum and Napoleon’s tomb.

Les Invalides

Our guide seemed overly interested in impressing us with the grandeur of Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle, which created some friction between the group and the guide. Eventually, he guided us to the World War II section.

We spent about an hour there, and then Dan, Ron, Birdie and I split off from the rest of the group. We walked north across the Seine, by the Palais Royal exhibition hall to the Champs Elysee.

Walking along the park section of the Avenue de Champs Elysee

We walked up the boulevard to the Arc d’ Triomphe, and then did a little shopping in some of the shops. We thought about climbing to the top of the Arc, but none of us had any legs left.

The Arc

Inside the Arc

We decided to head back to our hotel to have dinner. It was probably a mistake. Our hotel is in a business district, and the only restaurant open on a Sunday night (aside from the hotel restaurant) was an overworked pizza place next door.

One nice thing happened. After dinner, we were standing on the sidewalk talking with Steve (the military guide). The restaurant owner came out and offered us all a shot of calavados if we would go and sit in his outdoor dining section.

“It’s good for my business.”

So we did, for awhile.

Tomorrow, we visit the Eiffel Tower and then drive to Arnhem, Netherlands.

Bon Voyage!

This blog is going to take a different slant over the next two weeks. I am joining my brother and two friends on a two-week tour of Europe. We are visiting Paris, Normandy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Bavaria. I am going to use this blog platform as a way of keeping our families up to speed on our “adventures.” Here is the story.

Last Memorial Day weekend, my friend, Birdie, pulled me aside at a backyard pool party at our house and said that he and his wife were planning a trip to Europe in 2012. They were looking for another couple to go along. Like me, Birdie is a bit of a military history geek. The prime purpose would be to visit the D-Day beaches at Normandy, but with additional travels from there. Details to be worked out later. We agreed in principal that we would go along.

Less than two weeks later, I got a call from my brother, who is an attorney in the Harrisburg, Pa. area. He told me about a tour he had read about in the local newspaper. He then went to an introductory meeting. Essentially, this tour is a “Band of Brothers” tour. The official title is “In the Footsteps of Maj. Dick Winters.”

For those of you who might not be aware, the book by Stephen Ambrose and the subsequent HBO mini-series followed the World War II action of one specific company of paratroopers in the 101st Airborne Division, from Normandy, on through Holland, Belgium and Germany. Dick Winters was the company commander for much of the war, and the center point of much of the narrative. Winters was a resident of SE Pennsylvania, and something of a local hero. All that explains why a historical society from Hershey, Pa. would put together this specific of a tour. (FYI – Winters died just a few weeks ago.)

So I got off the phone and talked with Mrs. Poolman. She said she had no interest in going on this military history tour, but I should call my brother back immediately and tell him to count me in.

That put me in the awkward position of having to go back to Birdie and tell him that “I have a better offer.” To make long story short (or shorter, anyway) Birdie found himself a roommate, Ron, and the two of them joined up with the Band of Brothers tour.

(l-r) Birdie, Ron and Poolman

As I write this, I am sitting in the Charlotte (NC) Airport awaiting our flight to Charles DeGaulle Airport.  Birdie, Ron and I will be spending two extra days on our own in Paris before meeting up with the rest of the tour group on Thursday.

None of us are world-travelers, so this should be interesting. I already described my less-than-successful efforts to learn a little French. The only other time I went to Europe was on an Air National Guard junket back in my TV news days. So this should be interesting.

I’ll be posting more updates and photos as time and WiFi access permit.