Wars and wines (minus cycles)

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Our Epernay AirB&B host’s champagne brand! Just the thing to help make packing up to go home a bit more tolerable.

WARS:

Four years ago, AGMA borrowed a friend’s DVD set of Steven Speilburg/Tom Hank’s WWII HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (some 13 years after it aired.) It follows Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airbourne Division from their training in Toccoa, Georgia (right up the road from us!) to D-Day through V-E Day.

Then we saw George Clooney’s 2014 movie, Monuments Men. Based on the book of the same name, it’s the story of a group of museum directors, curators and art historians who, toward the end of WWII, were tasked by the US Government with trying to recover art treasures stolen by the Nazi’s.

We got hooked. Now I know we’re came late to the game, but Hubs and I got hooked on WWII history in Europe. And some WWI history as well.

Soon after, Hubs and I went to Belgium and France. Sound familiar?

To make a long story short, we visited a number of WWII and WWI sites on our 2014 trip. It was eye opening, heart wrenching and incredibly memorable, moving experience.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

Return visit to Belgium and France. Here we go…

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The Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. It looks old doesn’t it? It’s not… The Ypres Salient was the scene of intense fighting in WWI with some 450,000 lives lost on both sides.. The entire town of Ypres was destroyed as was everything else in the area. It all became a No Man’s Land. Every building in Ypres dates from after 1916. The rebuilt Cloth Hall is the sight of the In Flanders Fields Museum which is excellent in explaining the WWI history of the area.

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WWI recruitment posters in the In Flanders Fields Museum. Anybody who thinks the rise in Nationalism is a good thing needs to learn more about the causes of WWI, and the devastation that the Nationalist passions back then wrought to Europe. And 16 million people died as a result.

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In driving from Paris to Ypres we passed probably 25 small WWI cemeteries. And there were dozens of small WWI cemeteries around Ypres as well. They just buried the soldiers as they fell in skirmishes and came back after the war to formally mark the graves. The past is very much present and in people’s minds in this part of Europe.

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In Bastogne in the Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge took place. The 101st was surrounded on three sides by the Germans during the brutal winter of 1944/1945. Supplies had to be air dropped to them and they prevailed until Patton’s Third Army advanced.

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A display of Patton memorabilia in the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne.

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Just outside of Bastogne is the Mardasson Memorial honoring the memory of 76,890 American soldiers wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The memorial itself is a huge 5 pointed star (one of the points can be seen in the distance) Each state name is carved in the parapet, the insignias of each participating battalion on the outside walls and carved in the inside walls are 10 passages describing the battle. They still remember…

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An uncentered photo (sorry…) of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna in the Church of Our Lady. In Bruges, Belgium. It is breathtaking (AGMA’s photography isn’t!) It was stolen by the Nazi’s in 1944, and was found a year later by the Monuments Men in a salt mine in Austria.

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A view of Saint Bavo Cathedral in Gent, Belgium. The Gent Altarpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) done in 1432 is located in Saint Bavo. This was another priceless work of art stolen by the Nazi’s and recovered by The Monuments Men. We saw the Altarpiece in 2014, but got to Saint Bavos too late in the day to see it this time. Dang…

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We’re at the Verdun Memorial in Verdun, France. Verdun was the scene for some of the fiercest fighting in WWI. There were anywhere from 700,000 to 1,200,000 casualties in the nearly year long battle. Again, the museum inside the memorial did an excellent job explaining the battle and its aftermath.

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Our rental car’s passenger side mirror and the Douaumont ossuary memorial (around the phallic looking thing…) that contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. It’s surrounded by a cemetery of soldiers who were identified. War sucks.

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Like Ypres, the area around Verdun was obliterated by the fighting and the bombing. The chapel at the end of the walkway stands where the church in the village of Fluery once stood. The entire village along with several others was completely destroyed, and was never rebuilt. The craters from the bombs (they look like ski moguls) are still visible all over the landscape over 100 years after the end of the war.

WINES:

Yeah we did!

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The most charming, ancient town of Trier, Germany on the Mosel River. Trier is considered the oldest town in Germany. The Romans moved in back in 30 BC and things have never been the same since! Mosel River = Mosel wines! Cheers!

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No – this is not something in Disney World or Epcot although it looks like it. It’s Colmar, France in The Alsace. And our AirB&B was the white home on the right (NOT the pay toilet…) Our hosts started our visit off right by leaving a bottle of Pinot Blanc in our fridge!

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A canal runs through it…. This section of Colmar is called Little Venice!

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Some of the delicious Alsatian white wine from the Paul Schneider vineyards tasting room in Eguisheim, France. It’s exhausting work, but somebody has to do it….

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The enchanting town of Riquewihr, France. NOT Disney World. We did the Alsatian self guided ‘wine tour’ suggested by Rick Steves and it was nothing but one stinkin’ charming wine producing half timbered house village after another…

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More wine tasting in the tiny village of Hunawihr. We’d never heard of the Sylvaner grape variety, but it make some pretty nice wine!

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Our last stop on our trip was the Champagne region. We stayed in a charming AirB&B in Epernay hosted by the charming Michele who just happened to have her own small champagne house. This meant our fridge was stocked with 4 bottles of her champagne. AGMA did not want to be awakened from this lovely dream…. We had to pay for what we drank but at 14 Euros a bottle, it was an amazing bargain. And yes – Epernay has a glitzy Avenue de Champagne where all the YUGE, bougie producers have locations and you get to pay a premium for a tasting.

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This is ground zero for champagne lovers! This is the Abbey Church in Hautvillers, France where Dom Perignon sang hymns and did Benedictine Monk stuff. Legend says that after he got the fermentation process right for his sparking wine, he ran into the church and said, “Brothers, come quickly! I’m drinking stars…!” Yeah he was! He’s buried in front of the alter of the church.

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The big producers have vineyards everywhere!!

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AGMA and Hubs were very relieved that our precious cargo made it back to the US unbroken and unconfiscated. Four bottles in each of our suitcases. We pack pretty light when we travel so we have room to bring our booty home! There is always the wearing of sackcloth and gnashing of teeth when we drink the last bottle.

So there you have it…the good (wine), the bad (war), the ugly (my pictures) and the ‘makes AGMA’s heart sing’ (cycling!) It was an eventful 2 weeks with a lot of ground covered, great food consumed and fabulous wines tasted.

I’m so blessed.

But AGMA’s glad I’m home and staying home for the foreseeable future. Other than the 5 days in Chicago starting tomorrow…

Yeah we are!

P.S. After I published this, WP informed me that this was my 200th post! Where’s the champagne…???

Cycles, Wars & Wines

Frites all over Belgium.  All. Over. This was a shop in Antwerp that we enjoyed.  They have frites shops/stands like we have hamburger joints in the US.  Word has it that fries were invented in Belgium, but were given that name “French fries” because WWI soldiers got confused because the people in the Flanders part of Belgium speak French.

AGMA loves to travel.

But then you knew that.

Surprisingly, I’m getting a bit burned out on travel. Actually more than a bit.

WTF? Yes…

AGMA’s sure it’s just a temporary condition. AGMA HOPES it’s just a temporary condition.

But seriously….six weeks after I got back from a 2 week trip to Spain/Portugal with a friend, Hubs and I left for a two week trip to Belgium & France. Two days after we got back from Belgium/France last week, we left for a wedding in Nashville.

It was a beautiful wedding by the way…

We got back on Sunday and leave next week for 5 days in Chicago to visit the grands. And their parents. Of course.

Too much travel – definitely a 1st World problem and a really good one at that. But as Hubs can attest to, when AGMA gets pooped, she gets pooped.

And I’m pooped.

Today Hubs suggested a short getaway to NOLA in June because airfares were on sale. I told him to take Son #2, who will be soon unemployed (his choice – he took ‘the package’) and available for junkets. I hope they go.

I’d actually love to have the house to myself for a few days.

So before AGMA turns into a total travel troll, for your entrainment and delight (I’m sure…), I’m sharing a few of the best pictures (not the ones of the ground, my lap, my fingers, etc…) of what I like to call our Cycles, Wars and Wines trip.

I promise it won’t be the 240 pictures that Hubs shared on Facebook. OMG….

First for the Cycles. And you know AGMA loves those young men in spandex!

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So the famous Cobbled Classic bike race, the Tour of Flanders (Ronde Van Vlaanderan) is a one day race that takes place in Belgium.  And it starts in Antwerp.  And at the frite shop that we went to in Antwep (pictured at the top of my post), this was ALL the sauces that you could put on your frites!.  Ketchup is so yesterday…

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Night falling on the Grote Markt (main square) in Antwerp.  AGMA loved Antwerp (over Gent, Brussels and even Bruges!)  The construction in the foreground became the main stage of the start of the Tour of Flanders where the riders signed in.

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A day of spring sunshine brought Antwerpians (??) out to the Groenplaats in Antwerp.  The sunshine didn’t last….

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We’re now in the tiny village of Kwaremont, Belgium where there is a very narrow , steep hill full of cobblestones (called The Kwaremont) that is one of the famous climbs in the Tour of Flanders.   Riders have to ride up not one, not two, but three times! AGMA could barely walk up it….  Oh – and the sunshine and mild temps of Antwerp did not show up in Kwaremont,

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Though a wonderful Belgian organization called Inter that promotes accessibility to sporting events and festivals, we had a GREAT view of the goings on at the top of The Kwaremont.  You know the riders are close when their team cars pass though.  AGMA’s excitement was building….

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My fav rider, World Champion Peter Sagan from Slovakia.  You can tell it was a cold day because the riders are somewhat (for professional cyclists) bundled up.  And so is the crowd.  And so was AGMA.  And Sagan didn’t win – he finished 6th.

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The main square of the town of Oudenaarde, Belgium.  The finish line is just outside of town.  We visited Oudenaarde the day before the race to explore the town, go to the Tour of Flanders Museum (yes there is!) and see the riders in the Tour of Flanders Sportive.  This event takes place a day before the ‘real’ race and allows any cyclist who thinks they have the right stuff to ride part of the course (some ride the whole course – 273km!) There were 3000 riders who rode the Sportive this year.  And I think they all stopped in Oudenaarde for a beer afterwards.

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The official finish line with Sportive riders coming in.  Son#2, the cyclist, rode the Sportive a few years ago and says the vast majority of the Sportive riders are MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Latex.)

Sunshine, mild temps, riders not bundled up…  Dorothy, I don’t think we’re at the Tour of Flanders anymore.  And you would be right!  We are in a tiny town in France called Maing.  This is another very famous one day Cobbled Classic race called Paris Roubaix.  We drove 100 minutes from Epernay, France and 100 minutes back to watch 5 minutes of bike racing in Maing.  Hubs is a total saint for indulging AGMA’s weird cycling compulsion!  Here’s Peter Sagan again.  And yeah – we were that close to the riders.  And he won!

The guy in the pink helmet is Taylor Phinney, the only rider from the US who was in Paris Roubaix this year.  One thing I adore about cyclists is how incredibly tough they are.  In 2014, at the age of 23, at the US Nationals Road Race, Phinney totally shattered one of his legs in a horrific crash.  He’s worked incredibly hard to come back from that near career ending accident to ride in the Tour de France last year and finish 8th at this Paris Roubaix.  And he is a total character.  When he’s interviewed, he sounds like a laid back California surfer dude, and has a never ending supply of wise sayings and smiles.

Sooo…yikes…this post has gotten way longer than I had intended so I’m going to give you a breather.

And let you heave a sigh of relief that that cycling “stuff” is done. Heathens…

Just kidding.  Not really.

Wars and Wine shortly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Racking up the Skymiles!

BedBugs

Big trip coming up tomorrow.  Again.  Whoo Hoo!  My husband and I are in a season of travel right now.  I like this season. Travel is one of my passions.  Don’t tell the Tea Partiers, but seeing the world can expand your thinking.  I know – I’m a Socialist…

We’re very fortunate to have the means. But only because we are “value” travelers.  Bargain airfares (mostly offseason), bargain accommodations (sans bed bugs!), bargain tours, bargain car rentals, bargain food.  I do get a bit tired of the doner kababs sometimes.  But they’re cheap and filling if the sodium content doesn’t cause a stroke…

We have the time.  Remember, I’ve been on hiatus.  And my husband has been working for the same organization for nearly 40 years.  He has something like 10 weeks of vacation every year.  You’d think we were French, right?  And because he’s the boss where he works, with a few exceptions, he can go when he wants.  Mel Brooks is right – it’s good to be the king.

We have the physical ability.  For now.  My husband has a neurological condition that’s robbing him of the use of his right leg. He can walk, but only very slowly and with a cane.  He can’t walk very far – about a half a mile in a day is it.  So I have to plan our trips carefully for easy accessibility to sights and transport. Sometime that ratchets up the cost of our lodging.  But, it’s still possible to get value digs without having bed bugs as your bunkmates.  It just takes a little extra time to research.  Okay – a lot of extra time.  Trip Advisor has become my travel BFF.

The upside of his condition – if there is one – is that flying is easier. Back in the day, flying used to be easy for everybody.  Now it sucks. Too many people, too few flights, too little space, too much customer “no-service” from the airlines…  S-U-C-K-S.

We get to board first because we need “extra time”.  Translation – guaranteed overhead bin space!  I look back at the teeming humanity in the gate area all pushing and shoving to get near the front so they can dash on when their zone is called to find a space for their roller-boards, and I think, “Suckers!”  But payback’s a bitch… When I’m flying alone, I’m part of that teeming humanity.  I imagine I’m a lioness getting ready to take down a wildebeest.  Zone 2 may now board – take no prisoners!!

We always need a wheelchair to meet us at our destination.  When you’re traveling to another country, this is handy.  Very handy. Actually, unbelievably handy.  You get to skip all of the immigration and customs lines.  Like totally.  They whisk you past all of the cranky people with whining children who have been up all night in the 12 inch economy seats.  Right to the front of the line.

Now I’m also cranky after an international flight.  And whiny.  And I look like sh*t because I’ve been up all night in my 12 inch economy seat.  But my mood improves significantly as we pass go and collect our passport stamps before the last person on our flight has deplaned.  Score!

After every trip, my husband says it’s his last.  He would gladly trade early boarding and our speedy trips through immigration and customs for the ability to walk normally again.  So would I.  He thinks I should travel alone.  He thinks he holds me back.  If I was honest, I’d say sometimes he does.  But I also think I see with wider eyes when I go slower.  I see things that I’d have missed going my “normal” breakneck speed.  A cat behind a lace curtain in a window in Dingle or a beautiful wrought iron doorway in a courtyard on Rhodes…  Poetic moments that you don’t normally notice when you rush by.

He really doesn’t do so bad.  He’s been able to climb the Acropolis in Greece, walk through the Alhambra in Spain, cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland, walk through the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and most recently, hiked the Grampians National Park in South Australia.  All very, very slowly.  But he did it.

So I continue to plan trips for us to new places to see new things. This time it’s the beaches of Normandy and the poppy fields of Flanders.  We love history.  We can’t wait.  It’s supposed to rain in Belgium.  The cobblestones in Bruges could get interesting…

How long this season or travel will last, I can’t say.  Maybe the means will run out before we anticipate.  These days it seems like no retirement income or lifetime of savings is a guarantee of financial independence.  Maybe our time will be taken up by other things like my restarted business.  Or aging parent care.  OR OUR FIRST GRANDCHILD WHO IS DUE IN DECEMBER!!

Oh – did I say that too loud?

Maybe in a few years he’ll not be able to walk at all.  I think we’ll still be able to travel, but it will look much different than it does now.  So I just continue to plan one trip at a time.  And we both continue to enjoy the hell out of each one!

I’m not taking my laptop with me this time.  I think I’ll go old school with a notebook and a pen.   How quaint…

See y’all in September!