September 11 in Europe this year

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

We're still working on the t-pod from our trip to Belgium. There's so much to share and we're trying to be as concise as possible without losing too much detail, so it's taking some time. Hopefully by the weekend an update will be available. Meanwhile, we would like to share our experience of September 11 in Europe.

September 11 was on the Thursday of our vacation, so we had been in Belgium for almost a week. Belgium has two official languages, Flemish (similar to Dutch) and French. One implication of this is that there is very little English language TV. It's mostly French or Dutch. This, combined with the fact that we had been staying at hotels and B&Bs without TV or TV channels in English, meant that we were very out of touch with what was happening back in the US and what was being done to remember Sept. 11. We were feeling very removed and really missed the ability to flip on the TV to any station at any time during the several days surrounding the events and find out what was happening.

The day before we had spent most of the day in Maastrich, a town in the southern tip of the Netherlands which dips down between Germany and Belgium. Late in the day, after surveying the hotel options and not finding anything that made us want to stay, we decided to drive closer to the next brewery which was in an abbey (Abbaye Val-Dieu). We ended up in the middle of farm country at a B&B only 2 km from the abbey. That night we went to the abbey restaurant but arrived at 9:15 and they had stopped serving at 9:00. The abbey itself was beautifully lit up, so we at least got to see it at night and also know exactly where to go the following day.

But, we were now in the middle of nowhere at 9:30 at night looking for dinner. On the smaller roads in Belgium there are little signs that point to attractions such as restaurants and lodging. So, we followed a couple of the restaurant pointers. All were closed. Finally we decided to drive to the next town, Aubel, and look for a restaurant there. We found a local pub - the only place open - where we could get what looked like Stouffer's French Bread pizza. We were really in the middle of nowhere.

The area around Aubel is very agricultural and is the beginning of the foothills to the Ardennes Forest, so it has beautiful rolling countryside.

On the morning of September 11, we borrowed bikes from the B&B and rode over to the abbey and on to the town of Aubel (where we had dinner the previous night).

We were surprised when we got there and saw American flags hanging on several buildings. Chris, the investigator, went to investigate and was surprised to discover that the town of Aubel and surrounding area had been liberated by the Americans from the Germans on September 11, 1944! So on this day they commemorate September 11 and hang American flags! It made both of us feel that something good and worthwhile happened on September 11.

It was also really neat to be reminded of America on that day as we really didn't have any sense of what was going on back home to mark the day and we were feeling very removed. So riding into a small town in Belgium and seeing our flag hanging (probably 5-6 of them!) was very special.

Near Aubel is the World War II Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial. Here rests 7,989 American military Dead, most of who gave their lives during the advance of the American Armed Forces into Germany during World War II. In general, we've noticed that gardens, parks, lawns and other greenery in Europe, including at the memorial sites, is very natural. There is minimal use of pesticides and herbicides, so things are quite beautiful in a very natural sort of way. This cemetery and memorial outside of Aubel was completely different. Like most things American, it was HUGE. The lawn was perfectly manicured - not a weed in site. It was gorgeous. The flag was flying at half-staff for September 11. Again, a wonderful way to feel a little more connected to home on this very significant day.

Here is a view from the memorial/cemetary:

This day was packed with lots of driving on backcountry roads. We saw lots of rolling farmland, the Ardennes Forest, and town of Bastogne that was made famous during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. We'll include the visit to Bastogne in our next travelpod covering the rest of our trip to Belgium.
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