One of the things I love about this part of Europe is how close everything is. You can do so much in such a short time! And since we can, we did.
Battle of the Bulge (no, this is not about my midsection)
We are studying World War II with the girls so we decided to go to Bastogne, Belgium, which is the site of the famous WWII Battle of the Bulge. There was an extensive museum and war memorial, dedicated to the American soldiers who fought in that battle and lost their lives while successfully protecting the town from the Germans. The museum was very well done, if not a little overstimulating. I appreciated the audio tour but I can’t read AND listen to something at the same time! Zoe had a bit of a difficult time paying attention to it all but when I reviewed it with her later she definitely got the gist of it. She told us that she’s pretty sure she’s behind her American peers in math but way ahead in World War II facts. I think she was complaining, not bragging. And she’s not behind in math. She just thinks she is.
Since the tiny country of Luxembourg was just down the road, we decided to stay the night there. Now we can say we’ve been there, at least. We didn’t really see anything of significance but we went into the central part of town for an overpriced and undertasty dinner. The streets smelled like roses, and we learned that the city is nicknamed “City of Roses”, just like Portland, Oregon! OK then, now we’ve been to TWO cities of roses. The country is known for it’s high tech presence and several major tech companies (Skype, Amazon) have their regional headquarters there, probably for the tax advantages. That was about the extent of our Luxembourg study, other than looking up the fact that there is actually a language called Luxembourgish. I hope someday I get that question on Trivia Crack.
The next day we got up and drove a few hours to Cologne, Germany. There’s a lot to see in Germany related to WWII but we didn’t have the time to do the full tour of the country, of course. It’s a big country. But we decided to stop in Cologne for a night and see the very famous cathedral. We decided to change up our lodging for this particular night’s stay. Instead of our usual choice of an Airbnb or a hotel, we stayed in a hostel. This is not really a hostel like you might have experienced from your backpacking days. We booked one room with 4 beds. It was very comfortable and clean and the kids loved the little tents that you could make around your head. The bathroom was right next door and shared with other people on the floor but only one time was it not available when one of us wanted it. It was a great location since we could walk to the Cathedral and the Rhine river. The kids were not so sure about this hostel idea when we checked in but I think they thought it was new and different and worked out well. Zoe was disappointed there were no dogs staying there. Note to Dan: next time book a pet-friendly hostel. And pay extra if you can get a dog included in our room.
We walked to the central part of town and checked out the famous cathedral. Wow. It’s HU__GE! Construction began in 1248 but was halted for over 400 years years. It was finally completed in 1880 and although it suffered 14 hits in World War II, we learned that the Allies specifically tried to avoid damaging it when they destroyed the city. In fact, 95% of the city was destroyed in WWII so it’s really impressive that the church suffered so little damage. The Allied pilots actually used it as a landmark for their bombing runs because it was so prominent from so far away.
It was not the most beautiful church we have seen (I think the prettiest was in Malaga, Spain or outside of Puebla, Mexico) but it was huge and grand and impressive. Zoe was very engaged in this part of our journey, unlike the WWII museum, and begged us to climb the stairs to the top of the spire. We obliged and climbed – all 533 steps – as high as we could go. This was not the day to forget my Fitbit, I wanted credit for these steps! But the views on the way up were amazing and after 30 minutes of climbing we finally got as high as we could go, which was still only about 70% to the top. Wow.
Coming down was a lot easier but still made your legs shaky by the time you got to the bottom.
We did a little browsing in a never-ending shopping area on the way to dinner. We got a dose of that infamous German (lack of) hospitality when Haley and I were aggressively confronted by a male employee in a store called Media Market. We had cracked open a package of earphones to test the earbuds. We closed it up nicely and you could not tell it had been opened but we had 3 different employees barking at us telling us not to do it and now we had to buy it. Dan was on the other side of the store and finally noticed the commotion and came up and grabbed the package from Haley’s grasp, hung it back on the shelf and told the guy who was waving his finger at us that we’re not paying for squat. Then we slowly meandered our way out of the store. The girls really enjoyed this brush with crime. It was a good discussion on the difference between customer service in the USA and elsewhere. Oh, and how to open packages without anyone noticing.
While we were in Germany we just had to take a spin on the autobahn. This really got the kids’ attention. There are a lot more speed limits than there used to be (I guess) but we still found an open road, no cameras and no traffic and Dan did what he does best: speed. We have a brand new BMW rental car (it had 25 miles on it when we got it) so he declared the situation safe for a 200 km/hour romp through the German countryside (that’s about 124 mph for you ‘Mericans.) You’ll be shocked to hear that I did not cry or panic, but I said “that’s enough” – repeated a few times – each time increasingly more urgent – before he finally slowed down. The girls will probably remember those 15 seconds the most out of the whole trip.
Open Air Museum in Arnhem, Netherlands
On our way home to Amsterdam we decided to make one more stop. We made it to Arnhem back in the Netherlands to see an open air museum. I did not have high expectations for the museum but it sounded mildly interesting, it was on the way and it was free because of the museum cards we purchased at the beginning of our stay in Amsterdam. In fact it was the very last day we could use the museum cards so it just seemed like a good idea. This was a complete ANTI museum, although you could still argue it was educational. This area, like Zaanse Shaans, was a depiction of how life used to be for the typical Dutch family. They had small houses where you could see how the Dutch lived, there were working windmills, small boats on pull ropes to get you across the small canal, bakeries, old-time grocery stores, paper mills, a brewery and farm animals. There was a hedge maze that had no real exit and several different playgrounds. This was a great place for Zoe to burn off her road trip energy and we enjoyed wandering around and just exploring. Dan declared the fries the best he had ever tasted, I had the yummy peanut sauce that the Dutch seem to love so much on their chicken and we tried this dough ball thing that was really tasty.
It was a nice little road trip that was not too taxing but still very interesting and took us to 3 new countries. There is more of Germany we’d like to see but that will have to be during Europe 3.0, which will be at some undetermined future date, but you can bet it’ll be when it’s warm again in Europe. We don’t do cold very well. We were happy to have such good weather on this little jaunt.
We are now wrapping up our time in the Netherlands before we depart for our next destination (Barcelona, Spain) next week. There are always a flurry of blog posts when we are departing a country so get your coffee ready and skip your weekly trip to the library. We’ve got you covered.