Chocolates and "Nuts!"

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Today was another sunny warm day in Belgium.  This time, I went to a famous WWII site, Bastogne.  I also tried out Belgian chocolates :-)
The grocery stores here have some really unusual flavors of chips.  Of course, there's Paprika (seems to be very popular), but there's also some I didn't expect such as "Heinz Tomato Ketchup", and "Pickle" flavored chips.  Not sure how well those last ones would do in America.
After eating breakfast and checking out of the hostel this morning in Ghent (De Draecke, "The Dragon"), I headed on the tram (much cooler and less crowded this time) back to the train station and caught a train to Brussels.  From there, I caught another train towards Luxembourg.  I didn't go all the way there, however, as my destination was Bastogne.  The trains don't directly go to Bastogne, so I got off in Libramont and caught a bus from there to Bastogne.  It was a very pleasant 45 minute ride through pastures and farmlands, with yellow and white flowers abundant in the fields, and white cows grazing in the pastures.
Bastogne was the center point of the American defense against the Germans during the Dec 1944-Jan 1945 Battle of the Bulge.  The book "Band of Brothers" by historian/author Stephen Ambrose chronicled the events as experienced by the 101st Airborne Division, one of the divisions placed right around and defending Bastogne as it was surrounded and besieged for a week.  An HBO miniseries was made a few years back based on the book, which was very well done, and prompted me to want to come see it for myself.  The battle was the last major decisive conflict of the war, and a major victory for the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Americans.
After arriving in town, I found my way to the hotel.  This is the first time in 3 weeks that I have my own room, no roommates, and my own bathroom and shower.  Kind of seems like a novelty, but it's so quiet.  It's small but clean, and in a great location right in the center of town.  This is the first place I've come to where most people don't speak English.  The bus driver spoke practically no English, and the lady at the hotel desk understood some, but spoke mostly French.  I managed to get by with my limited French, though, and so far it's quite enjoyable being in a place where all the languages are foreign.  This is also the first time I've had a TV since starting the trip.  I flipped through the channels, most of them are in French, some in Flemish, two in English (CNN International and BBC1), and a couple in Turkish.  One channel had what looked like the French equivalent of Jerry Springer on.  BBC1 had the British version of "Survivor" on.  I guess I haven't missed much not having a TV.  One of the stations had on the movie "The Village", dubbed in French.  It was weird seeing Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt speaking in French.  I'd seen it before, so I pretty much knew the plot, but when you don't understand the language, it's almost like a different movie.
I left the hotel around 3:00 PM and headed through the town of Bastogne.  The American memorial and historical center are about a mile to the north of town, so I walked right through the main business district and McAuliffe Square, then up past the pastures and cows to the top of the hill that the memorial is situated on.  They picked the best spot around, from the top of the memorial you can see off in every direction.  The memorial itself is in the shape of a 5-pointed star, with the names of the 50 states and all of the army groups and divisions that served in the Battle of the Bulge.  Written on the stone panels around the inside is the story of the conflict.  Next door to the memorial is a museum called Bastogne Historical Center.  It had a good audio tour that walks you through all the exhibits, including uniforms, weapons, vehicles, and supplies for both the Americans and German sides.  There was a half-hour film that used actual footage to show the story of how the battle progressed.  The Germans completely surrounded Bastogne and demanded that the Americans within the perimeter surrender.  The famous reply given back to the Germans by General McAuliffe: "Nuts!"  Hence, the nickname for the town today is "Nuts City".
After checking out the memorial, I walked back through town to the Patton Memorial.  It's in tribute to George S. Patton, whose army broke the siege on Bastogne and saved the city.  The memorial is in a nice walled-in grassy courtyard, and at that hour (around 6:00 PM) I had the place all to myself, so I chilled out there for awhile, just me and George, and thought about the 81,000 Americans who gave their lives to win the struggle.  Patton was known as a real SOB, but he was exactly the kind of SOB they needed right then to win, and it's him and the men like him that are the reason I'm here in a free country as I write this.  Having seen "Band of Brothers", I now have an idea of the countryside they were in (although that was Winter time, with snow on the ground, so it was a tad different).  After the trip, I'm going to read "Band of Brothers", then watch the miniseries again.
Tomorrow, I head for Paris.  Unfortunately, something big must be happening this weekend because everyplace there was booked up, so I'm just going to stay one night in Paris, then head for Mont St Michel and the D-Day Beaches for the weekend, then come back and do 4 days in Paris next week.  Looking forward to it!  Until then, Au Revoir!

P.S. Regarding the Belgian Chocolates, there's a reason they're famous: they are SO good.  I got some with hazelnuts and they just melt in your mouth.  Mmm... and you don't need to buy them from the expensive chocolate shops either, just stop in at a supermarket and get them (Cote d'Or is a good brand).
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