Day 12. Bastogne and Luxembourg.
Antwerp is an attractive enough city, but it was raining again when we woke, so we decided to pack and leave town. I wanted the kids to see some memorials to war (and the futility thereof), so we set out for a two hour drive to the town of Bastogne.
While we drive, I'll talk about driving and navigating in Europe. You can skip down if you'd rather not here a map nerd talk about maps.
It's hard to understand how difficult it is as an American to drive here unless you've driven here. There are the aggressive drivers and the incomprehensible roads that twist hither and yon. Streets change names, sometimes in the middle of a block. The nice grandmother you met at the museum will cut you off at the exit of the parking lot if you aren't riding the bumper of the car in front of you. I'm quite certain it's an aspect of living so close together and nothing personal. I see the same driving in San Francisco and Boston and there I suspect it's quite deliberate.
Being away from 4G data coverage has been a bit of a eye-opener. They have 4G coverage here, but since we are roaming, we have to manage our access. Jackie and I bought 300MB plans for ourselves and 120MB for the kids along with phone and SMS. For the four of us for the trip, that cost us about $200, which isn't too bad. However, leaving the phone on for one night without paying attention could eat all that data up, so we had to get all the settings on our phones correct before leaving. I turn on 4G when I absolutely need it and then turn it off again.
The biggest issue has been the lack of Google Maps and the ability to search online wherever we happen to be. Google Maps has a way to cache their maps for small sections offline, but it's really badly done and not worth the effort.
Fortunately, there's a solution and a pretty good one at that. Better yet, it's free. The Open Street Map project has map data in great detail and it's all accessible without charge. Companies use the data and there are tools to customize the data and convert to different formats.
Think of OpenStreetMap as the Wikipedia for maps because anyone can edit it. In fact, if you look around Hydro you will see some of the work I did. As the school has built buildings and City Hall has moved, I edited those things. I also correctly placed most of the churches and removed some roads that are no longer in service. This actually benefits the people in our community as the maps that Apple uses in the iPhone are based on the OpenStreetMap data.
I paid $5 for an app on my Android phone that has custom versions of these maps suited to driving and navigating. There is a free version of the app as well, but I was happy to pay the authors to have quality map data stored on my phone so I didn't have to rely on 4G networks.
Jackie has been the navigator on this trip. After a bit of a learning curve, she was able to use Osmand on my phone to locate places we are traveling to and give me accurate turn-by-turn directions. The car we rented has a built-in navigation system, but the information on the phone is better and more easily accessible. The thing Jackie especially likes is the OpenStreetMap data tells us which lane to be in to make a proper turn. Even Google Maps doesn't do this very well.
The only problem with using OpenStreetMap is it hasn't been sufficiently "dumbed down" to allow non-technical consumers to use it. Apple has done a pretty good job, but if you remember when Apple Maps first came out, it got a lot of bad press and the stories of drivers doing stupid things with the data made the news often. It's better now, but there's a lot more that could be done by a company that wanted to invest in making it a usable consumer product.
Alright, that's enough on that...
We made it to Bastogne easily enough. We stopped along the way to get petrol and this is the one place where the strength of the US dollar hasn't helped us one bit. To put 8 gallons of gasoline in our car cost roughly $53. Gas is priced by the liter and I put €50 worth in the tank. It didn't quite fill it up from the 3/8 mark.
The Bastogne War Museum is a modern building set amid the beautiful rolling hills of the Belgian countryside. There is a 3 story granite monument next to the museum that dominates the site.
The museum walk-through sets up the political situation in Europe that led to the outbreak of World War II. As the museum is in Belgium, some of the narrative is about events in Belgium specifically that we never learn about in the States. However, it's important to understand why the country capitulated to the Nazis so fast, which led to the overrun of France only a few months later. Had Belgium held firm, Great Britain and France might've had time to properly defend the rest of the continent from the onslaught.
As the tour progressed, we listened to stories in voices as if they were narrating events in real time. We heard a schoolboy, a young school teacher, an 18-year old American soldier from Georgia, and a German lieutenant. At each juncture, their stories change to reflect the dominance of the German army and then their retreat after D-Day. The story culminates in a theatre with some lighting and sound effects to give viewers the feeling like they were in those woods, freezing to death and eating tree bark for nourishment.
I'll seque out and mention that if you haven't seen Band of Brothers, you really should. It's a great series and it follows a unit of the 101st Airborne from their training to the end of the war. It's on Netflix and you can probably find it on HBO Go if you're a subscriber. Speaking of band of brothers, here is Kenneth Branagh as Henry V, doing the monologue that gives us the phrase.
During the culmination of the tour, we find the four narrators all in the same place. The German officer was wounded and captured by the American soldier. The young boy and his teacher were sheltered in the basement of a restaurant as the shelling hits its' finale. The soldiers, walking through town to the US headquarters duck into the basement with the others and enjoy their first meal in three days.
The last part of the tour brings you to how the narrators lives were changed by the war. The German soldier returned to Germany but escaped the Russian influence zone that eventually became East Germany. He became a respected member of the West German parliament and lived to see German Reunification. The American soldier lived a long life, as did the teacher. The young boy was still alive as of last year and still runs his fathers' bicycle shop in the town of Bastogne.
As you leave the museum, you're faced with the monument. Elijah and I both walked out at the same time, into bright sunlight. We saw the monument for the first time, almost as you see here. We both let out "huh, wow" at the same time. Perhaps it's not so obvious here, but if you click on the picture to the right, you might understand.
The "crypt" under the Bastogne War Museum has a chamber dedicated to when the memorial was created in 1950. There were some fresh flowers in there as well as some notes written and special items left by visitors, perhaps with their grandfather in tow. It's a somber place, but not without some life. The view from the side of the monument is beautiful.
We didn't know if we would see any veterans at the museum. Those young men, what few remain, are in their 90's now. We lost my uncle Ernest, who was wounded at Normandy, two summers ago. He never talked about his experience there in my presence, but he was quite the talkative old fart in most every other subject and I miss him still. There were older gentlemen around, mostly in their 70's, and none looked to be reliving the most horrific moments of their young lives.
From Bastogne, we had a very pleasant hours drive to the city of Luxembourg in the country of Luxembourg. We talked about what we saw in the museum and our ideas about how the war went the way it did. The countryside in eastern Belgium is gorgeous.
We crossed into Luxembourg to find an IKEA. Whadyaknow. The entire country could fit inside the county where we live, so it didn't take too long to find our hotel on the outskirts of town. The hotel is a Best Western, which at first gave me pause, but it turned out alright. It wasn't fancy, but we've stayed in a lot worse. It was a 4 bed dorm room with a shared bathroom. We each had our own bed in the same room, which we've come to expect on this trip. The room for 4 was €86 or about $95.
We had a nice meal at a local restaurant. The waiters didn't speak much English but they were friendly. We were able to get meals ordered for everyone and everything was great. The one thing I'll mention is that I had a Filet du Cheval. I ate every bite. We all had desserts--sorbet, creme brulee, and an apple tart and they were all delicious.
Everyone crashed about 10:30 PM. Early for this trip, but Friday we're heading toward Paris after some sightseeing around Luxembourg. A short day, walking wise, with only 6,700 steps, but long on discovery.