That's MeiMei, dwarfed by the enormous Battle of the Bulge Monument in Bastogne, Belgium.
We arrived in Bastogne hungry and tired from our busy day of touring (see Aachen and Blegny) and luckily we were staying at the lovely Hotel Melba, which is part of a chain (Best Western I think) but only for reservation purposes. Everything else about the hotel is one-of-a-kind, and the room was one of the nicest we've ever had.
We had the chance to choose two connecting rooms or a suite, and we decided on the suite--I'm so glad! Turns out the only suite in the hotel is under a peaked roof instead of a flat roof. Each room in our suite had double skylights right over the beds, so we literally slept under the stars, though we pulled the shades over the girls' beds so they wouldn't wake up too quickly.
The girls napped a bit more and played in the room until it was time for a group dinner in the hotel dining room. I wasn't expecting much, but we were so pleasantly surprised. Dinner began with Quiche Ardennes, named for the delicious Ardennes ham that was the main ingredient. The girls wolfed theirs down and were full, so I got them some little activity books to do over by a fireplace/lounge area in the dining room. One of the JMU students voluntarily kept them company while we ate our turkey dinners--I could have kissed her. The girls have to do a lot more keeping themselves occupied on these group trips, so it means a great deal to me that the students go out of their way to help--they certainly wouldn't have to!
After dinner I went up to tuck JieJie and MeiMei in, and by then it was absolutely pouring rain. I didn't realize til then how totally spent I was from all the touring...I sat and stared out the window at rainy Bastogne for a solid ten minutes, I think! John and Mr. K talked down in the lounge for a while longer and then we all went to sleep. I think some of the students actually went out looking for a good pub, despite the rain and their exhaustion, but if they did, I didn't hear them go out or return...I was dead to the world.
Saturday morning dawned rainy and raw. We had breakfast in the hotel, a lovely selection of meats, cheeses, and croissants, and we met Henri, the man who would be our guide for the day. Henri was 8 years old when the Allies defeated the German army in WWII's famous Battle of the Bulge, and he still remembers things like American GI's giving him chocolate. I have a bit of interest in WWII as both of my grandfathers served in the U.S. military, one in the Navy and one in the Army. My Grampa Defries, the Army guy, actually met General Patton, who was involved in the Battle of the Bulge. So I was excited for the tour, though not expecting to hear and/or see as much because I am Parachute Lady with the girls ("Tantrum! Tantrum! Eject! Eject!")
Our group boarded the bus and began the bus tour of Bastogne, where we saw more American flags than I remember seeing at home. There's a church that plays the first six notes of the U.S. National Anthem on its carillon bells, and whose stained glass displays an American Flag.
We arrived at the Bastogne Historical Center, watched an orientation movie (thankfully not too graphic) which the girls paid attention to enough that I could get the gist of it, and then went out into the exhibit areas, which I only wish I could have seen with Grampa. He fixed Jeeps, and there in the exhibit diorama were two full-size Jeeps and depictions of soldiers in uniform carrying out various tasks. I wonder what he would have been able to remember if he could see all of the artifacts collected in this impressive tribute to the Battle of the Bulge.
The girls got squirrely enough that I took them away from the group and we just looked at different tools, uniforms, canteens, and things having to do with soldiers' daily lives. Then we went back to the bus and hung out with Rene, the driver, who is a very nice grandfatherly sort of man. He let the girls sit in his seat and have their pictures taken "driving" the bus, I gave the girls some snacks, and read them "Rumpelstiltskin" which Rene said is called "Rempestentje" in Dutch.
We briefly tried to walk to the outdoor memorial with its view of the beautiful Ardennes landscape, but it was just too raw and rainy so the picture of MeiMei is about all that came of our attempts. When either of my daughters is tired of walking, it's no use trying to go another step (hence the invaluable STROLLER!) and once JieJie just whined "Coold! Tiiiired!" over and over, I knew it was pointless to argue.
John, Mr. K, Henri and the students returned to the bus, we drove out through the forest battle areas and looked at a "foxhole"--John says they can't be authentic because they had freshly broken tree roots as though they had been created or at the very least maintained much more recently than 1944. Still, it was moving to drive through the area and realize how cold it must have been, how hard it was to see through the dense pine forests. If you've seen "Band of Brothers" you know the terrain.
We said goodbye to Henri at the center of town, grabbed a Croque Monsieur (our standby for the girls - they will always wolf down a hot ham and cheese!) and got back on the bus for the trip to our final destination in this whirlwind overnight: Boullion, Belgium.
You might notice that it's taken me a couple of weeks to write about these two densely packed days of touring. I can't wait to finish with Boullion, which must be mentioned since it is so gorgeous. Still, this "assignment" has brought out my inner rebel, the part of me that drags my feet when I know I have something big to finish. I want to get caught up! I want to tell you about JieJie's birthday, about our little trip to Leuven, and today's daytrip wandering around Brussels. I'll get to it, and soon--I have to, because we've got five solid days of touring coming up later this month (including our first ever trip to Paris), and The Decks Must Be Clear!