The 9th Division WWII HPS trip to Europe
Earlier in the year a few members of the 9th Division WWII HPS decided to take a trip to see the battlefields of northern Europe. After obtaining all
written permissions in triplicate from our commanding officers (i.e. - our wives) we embarked on this grand adventure. We only planned our route roughly. We knew what we wanted to see and picked our spots and the order in which we would see them. We arranged a rental car and that was it. Wherever we were come evening that is where we would find lodging for the night. A great man once said that all plans come to nothing once the battle began. That goes as well for trips that are planned. And we wouln't have wanted it to turn out any other way.
This page is pretty busy. The group combined took over 3500 pictures during our 9 days there. We have whittled them down to just enough to show you the great places we visisted and the wonderful people we encountered and now consider to be our friends. The page starts you out on day 1 when we departed at Philadelphia airport and ends at our last night in Brussels. Along the way you will see the sites we saw in the order (more or less) in which we experienced them. In the pop up pages with the pictures there will be a link to open Google Maps showing you the exact spot where the pictures were taken. We will also tell you a little about what you are looking at. We hope you enjoy the photos as much as we had taking them.
This is a map of the route we took through Europe. It has markers of sites of interest we visited. Click on the map to open a high resolution picture in a separate window in your browser for a better view. It will help you follow along easier.
Leaving Philly, Arriving in Brussels
Just taking it easy on the way to our adventure! It was friday night at 6 pm Philly time when the plane finally left the ground. We arrived in Brussels at 7 am Saturday, local time. It was about a 7 hour flight. Matt and Gary entertained the airport crowds with their rendition of Captain Kirk fighting the Gorn. We are due to recieve an Oscar for our performance.
After leaving the airport we got our rental car and started our drive to Anrhem, Netherlands. With our fearless leader Louis and our trusty Sergeant Tom at the helm we knew we would hold to a straight and true course. Until we finally realized we got lost. LOL!!! Matt and Gary took over and Gary (afterwards known by the moniker "Magellan") figured out how to use the GPS that was in the car and we got back on track. We finally arrived in Arnhem. That is where the British 1st Ariborne Division were tasked to take the bridge during Operation Market Garden. Unfortunatly, that operation did not go as planned and they were forced to withdraw with heavy casualties. We arrived (after a small detour) and secured our lodging at the Old Dutch Hotel and the owner was one hell of a nice guy. After Matt almost tried to drive over a median strip with the police on the other side of it staring at us like we were nuts we finally parked the car. We then took a walk around the club district and Sean had a life changing moment after tasting a REAL Irish Coffee.
We stopped at the famous John Frost Bridge where the battle was fought and also visited the Airborne memorial at the foot of the bridge.
After leaving Arnhem we travelled into Germany and went down through Dusseldorf down to Remagen. This is where the Allied forces finally forced their way across the Rhine River into Germany across the Remagen Bridge. First across were the 9th Armored Division followed by the 78th and 9th Infantry Divisions. We also visited a WWI German cemetary and toured the city. Later in the afternoon we found a wonderful cafe on the riverfront and relaxed with some local brew. After that we hit the road to start towards the Hurtgen Forest.
Towards the evening we were at the town of Nideggen and figured we ought to look for lodging for the night. Fortunately for us we found the Ewige Lampe Hotel. Let me tell you - this place was really beautiful! We milled around this little medieval village for an hour or so and then it got dark. We went back to the hotel restauraunt to get a bite. THIS HAD TO BE THE BEST STEAK WE EVER HAD! WOW!!!! Relaxation was the theme for the evening and we took full advantage.
Stop 1 - Schmidt and the Hurtgen Forest
We made our way into Schmidt to get directions to the Hurtgen Forest where the 78th Division had one hell of a fight. We got to the forsest and walked the paths. We also got lost in the (DARK!!!) forest while looking for some bunkers. Eventually we got back again (obviously).
Dragons Teeth at the German/Belgian border
As we were working our way back into Belgium Gary yelled from the back seat "DRAGONS TEETH!!!!". We pulled over and all across the fields were rows and rows of dragons teeth. We had arrived at the Sigfried Line. These are anti tank fortifications all along the border. And they were still here!
On the road above Monshau there was a lookout that had a view of the whole town in the valley as well as remains of a castle fortification on a mountain across the valley. It was spectacular.
Around lunchtime we decided to stop at a local grocery market in Kalterherberg to get some food to take with us on the road. Across the street from the market was a church that looked pretty old so Gary and Sean went over to check it out. It was built in the 1700's and was beautiful inside. Outside was a memorial to the German soldiers that were killed in WWI and WWII.
We came across this British Tank at a circle (the same people who built the circles in Europe must have moved to New Jersey) near Camp Elsenborn. What a cool find!
We rolled into Malemedy City and went to the town Administration Center to ask where the memorial to the Malmedy Massacre was. The building was also a town museum and next door was a beautiful cathederal. There was a small memorial at the base of the cathederal to everyone from Malemedy that died in the war.
We left the town and travelled to the memorial. Many people still leave candles and rememberances to the soldiers that were brutally massacred there.
On the site of the massacre was a museum named Baugnez 44 dedicated to the soldiers that fought in WWII that had TONS of authentic items in display. This place was totally cool!!!!
After we left the museum we rolled into Bastogne just as it was getting dark We found lodging at the Hotel Collin right on the General McAuliffe square where they have a Sherman tank on display and a tribute to General McAuliffe who famously replied to a German ultimatum to surrender with "NUTS!". We settled in and found a bar/grille on the square to get a sup and a bite. We visciously berated Tom for improperly holding the serving tray next to the watiress. Bad Tom!
Bastogne (Mardasson) Memorial
Our first stop of the day was the Bastogne (Mardasson) Memorial. On the site is a massive structure with the names of all of the Divisons that fought in the Battle of the Bulge as well as a crypt entombing some soldiers from the war. It was very humbling.
101st Foxholes in the Bois Jacques outside of Foy
The actual foxholes the 101st were in when they were shelled in the Bois Jacques forest as portrayed in the Band Of Brothers episode "The Breaking Point". There is a memorial in the middle of the forest where the foxholes are that the actual Veterans have erected.
German Tank in Houffalize
Next stop Houffalize and the German Panzer Mk III that they have set up as a memorial to the war.
Grotto of St. Michaels outside of Longvilly
There was a huge battle at the Grotto to keep the Germans from taking Longvilly. Louis found places where artillery and other ordinance blasted holes in the cliff faces.
Sherman Tank Turret outside of Bastogne
On the way back into Bastogne we found a Sherman Tank turret set up as a memorial on the side of the road.
101st Museum in Bastogne
Found a wonderful museum commemorating the 101st Airborne. The owner did the whole thing himself. It was great!
After a long day of sight seeing we decided to hit the town for a few drinks. This time we went out in uniform. Unfortunatley, it was tuesday and next to nothing was open. But we found the L'Explorateur Cafe. And BOY! were we treated like royalty. The locals loved us and constantly bought us drinks. We sat and talked to them all night. The people of Belgium still love America and are appreciative for what we did for them during the war. And we of the 9th love them! What great people! They even suggested everyone in the bar stand up and sing the American National Anthem! So we in turn suggested everyone stand up and sing the Belgian National Anthem. But dont pour your beer the wrong way. They will come over and berate and educate you on the proper beer pouring techniques! Beer is a national treasure to them and we have to agree whole heartedly!
A few shots of the square outside the window before we left Bastogne. We met our local friend Stijin here this morning. He was going to be our tour guide for the day. This man really knows his stuff and was the most fantastic tour guide. He took us to places off the beaten path that most people don't see on battlefield tours you get with travel agencies.
We passed through St Vith where a large battle had taken place during the Battle of the Bulge. We stopped at many memorials.
We visited the foxholes at Elsenborn Ridge. This is where the Battle of the Bulge started. The 99th Division was holding the line when the Germans blasted through the forest. The foxholes were still there as well as CP and aid station. We found many pieces of shrapnel, equipment and even remnants of blankets and clothing.
Henri-Chapelle American Military Cemetary
The next stop was the Henri-Chapelle American Military Cemetary. This hallowed ground holds the remains of hundreds of American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Humbled doesn't even come close to the feeling we had while there. The men interred here are heros. And we love them for it.
Bells at Henri-Chapelle 1
Bells at Henri-Chapelle 2
We stopped at the Belgian fortress of Eban Emael. This is where the Germans first attacked at the beginning of the invasion of Western Europe at the beginning of the war.
We found lodging at the Malpertuus Hotel in Reimst.
Dinner that night
We were graced with the wonderful company of Stijin, his wife and his 2 lovely daughter for dinner at their house that evening. Dinner was incredibly delicious and our hosts were the most hospitable and friendly people you will ever meet. After dinner (and a few beers!) Stijin showed us his collection of WWII arifacts. They were fantastic!! After leaving, our human GPS Gary (aka "Magellan") knew how to get back to the hotel. He had it all up here (pointing to his enebriated noggin). "Make 3 rights - ok go down here..ok now..wait, this doesnt look familiar". Oops. But we did find our way back to the hotel.
On the way to Brugge
The plan for the day was to visit the medieval town of Brugge. These are some comical photos of a bunch of huge stooges crammed into a small car. We had tons of laughs on the way there. Take no notice of the picture of the local speed limit and the speed we were travelling. It is just an optical illusion. But don't put your sunglasses on the dashboard when Tom is driving!
Although not a town of WWII signifigance, it was a lovely place to visit and then we could branch out from there for the next 2 days and see other WWI and WWII battlefields. How little did we suspect what this little town would do to us. Every one of us fell in love with the place and all other plans fell to the wayside. We decided to skip the battlefields and explore the town. Not one of us wanted to leave when the time came. It actually broke our hearts to leave. If we did not have resposibilities at home (work, wives, kids..etc.) we would have stayed. A few of us were actually thinking of finding a job and not coming home. AHHHH! BRUGGE!!! The jewel of our hearts!! These are some random shots of the streets of Brugge.
If you have never had Belgian chocolate you have never really tasted chocolate. Especially Leonidas Chocolates. It is no lie that we actually went into a chocolate coma that night. If you ever have a chance to eat Leonidas chocolates you wont be sorry. Especially the Leonidas 3Gs: Gianduja, Giantina & Giamanda
Market Square, Day 1
We stopped in the Market Square for lunch. It felt as if we had been dropped into a movie. It was wonderful. Louis showed us the fine points of drinking out of one of the yard long bulb glasses (whatever they were called) and Matt has the most friggin amazing ravioli (it even beat out the steak we had in Nideggen). A funny thing happened when we were standing at the clock tower. Many time during the trip we saw people look at us on the street and whisper to each other. More that once we heard them whisper "Mafia". That was when Louis and I realized they were talking to us because of the hats we were wearing. LOL!! But when we got to the clock tower there was a street musician inside playing the violin. He stopped, looked at us, and then proceeded to start playing the theme from the Godfather. Louis and Gary almost fell on the ground laughing. Below are some videos of the streets while we were there that first day. On one or two you can hear the violinist playing the theme from the Godfather. The tower bells were ringing. The whole experience in Brugge was like a dream. Too bad we had to wake up eventually.
Tower courtyard 1
Tower courtyard 2
Brugge streets 1(having trouble with this video - will be fixed soon)
Brugge streets 2
Brugge streets 3
Brugge streets 4 (having a problem with this one too)
Church Of Our Lady
Lou and Tom went back to the hotel later in the afternoon and Matt, Sean and Gary kept walking around. We found the Church of Our Lady, a medieval Cathederal not far from the town square. We could not get inside because it was undergoing rennovation but we walked around it. It was really beautiful.
Our first night in Brugge was magic! What a town! We ended up in the club district. It was hoppin!
Breakfast at Humpty Dumpty
We had breakfast at Humpty Dumpty. It was delicious. Gary ordered a waffle. He didnt know what he was in for...
Brugge Historium Museum
We stopped in the Brugge Historium Museum to learn about the city. We were taken on a radio guided, room by room show about a 14th century artist and his problem with parrots. When it was over we looked at each other and asked "What the hell does the parrots have to do with the city??". We are still confused. The exhibition didnt tell you the history of the city, just the story about this kid trying to find a girl and a parrot. It was well done, but still... Luckily for us after you walked out of the exhibition there was a Duvel brassierie right in the museum. The view from the brasseries windows on to the square are beautiful. But dont ask any of us about parrots. You will just get a confused, deer in the headlights look. If you ask us where Frederico (the parrot) is we will probably punch you in the mouth.
Market Square, Day 2
A couple of the guys went up to the top of the Bell Tower. What a view! Wait till you see these pictures.
A treasure trove of Medieval and Renaissance art by some of the most prolific artists of their times. To be this close to such beautiful works of art was incredible. To be able to look closely at the brushstrokes and techniques was fantastic. The photos do not do them justice. This is something you would have to actually experience to appreciate it.
St Salvatores Cathederal
A HUGE medieval cathederal near the center of town. This was truly breathtaking. Earlies part was built in the 1100's. Several people are entombed there. There were medieval crypts in the floor covered in plexiglass so you could see them. Around the central nave were several smaller chapels that were owned by influential families of the city and many are buried in the floor there.
Just comical shots of us in the restaurant at our hotel.
We woke up that morning and found the plaza outside our hotel, which up till them was empty, filled with dozens and dozens of food and goods vendors. We walked around a while and we had what must be the awesomest meat on a stick food that has ever been devised to be meat on a stick. We tried several different kinds and bought a couple bags of them to take with us to eat on the way back to Brussels. This is where our hearts were forever broken. We did not want to leave. In fact, each one of us is still in Brugge in spirit.
Gas Station on the way back to Brussels
This goes to show that there are assinine people everywhere in the world as well as people too dumb to swing a hammer. We stopped at this rest stop/gas station on the way back to Brussels. We were approached by a bunch of kids who had no idea how to fill a gas tank. OK, so Gary went over to help them. All of a sudden there was the sound of something crashing. Some idiot with a hot shot ninja motorcycle thought he would burn rubber away from the pump after filling up. What he didnt count on was that big patch of oil on the ground right in front of him and then the metal grating immediatly after that. Needless to say when he tried to leave in a blaze of glory he went down in a heap of misery. Idiot. Then he had the nerve to yell at the gas station owner. She wasnt the idiot, he was. After we helped him get his bike off of him we laughed at him. Idiot. Sean found Paprika potato chips at this store. If proved to be an ill fated purchase.
Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Brussels Airport
Our last night in Europe. What a bummer. But when we got in we got great rooms and free use of the lounge with an open bar. They had no idea what they just gave us. After we wiped them out of the Stella Artois (Gary drank vodka and orange juice) we asked them to refill the fridge. The guy taking care of the room was gracious and an all around good guy. We tipped him well for having to take out the empty beer bottles. Sean ate the Paprika chips. Here is the result:
Sean on Paprika Chips(having trouble with this one too)
The next day we jumped on our plane and returned to the US and reality. Boy, reality really sucks. But we had a really really good time.
WHERE TO NEXT???