Nuts!!

Sometimes we get what I call “Bonus trips” while living in Europe. These are trips in which Nathan and I join Dan on a work trip and while he is working, we play. When the work is over we visit amazing sights nearby and spend the weekend in various parts of Europe-it’s one of the best benefits of living here (Sorry but Dan’s annual trips to Yuma just weren’t as exciting!).

So while Dan had business in a nearby town in Belgium, we decided to stay in Maastricht-in the Netherlands on the border between Netherlands and Belgium. This quaint little town had a lot to offer.

We stayed at Hotel Dis (http://www.hoteldis.nl/index-en.html) a little boutique hotel with 7 rooms. Our top room floor was incredibly spacious  with an added bed for Nathan in the corner. The breakfast was expensive but had a good amount to offer. The hotel lobby is decorated as if its an art museum (which made it only slightly stressful with Nathan wanting to touch the art) but the hosts were incredibly kind. We really enjoyed this hotel-centrally located but off a quiet cobble stoned street.

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Our first evening was fairly normal-exploring the town, finding dinner and of course eating waffles!!

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So Nathan and I had the day to ourselves the next day and our hotel was just two blocks from the natural history museum-filled with dinosaurs and a rotating Earth for Nathan to touch. It was all we needed, along with a room with free coloring books to occupy Nathan until lunchtime. It was a small museum and almost no one was in it-so Nathan could run around and touch everything and not bother anybody.

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I spotted a cupcake place that had sandwiches the night before and knew it would be our lunch spot. I had a delicious meal-it was a pate on toast with some apples and figs. Nathan had a vegetable soup and of course we had cupcakes!! But more importantly, they had a specialty of getting a latte and along with it comes this egg liquor with cream on top. It was quite spicy-which is why they served it with water I guess-but I downed it and enjoyed. When in Rome….

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Maastricht ended with a lazy evening after exploring a little more of the cobbled streets until we found a little hole in the wall restaurant with four tables and peanuts covering the floor. We had a fairly good meal and ended the night on a high note.

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The rest of the weekend we had booked a stay in a farmhouse near Bastogne so we could see the famous WWII sites. The farmhouse was amazing-one of my favorite places to stay. It was a three bedroom house that was modern but with all the character of the original farmhouse. The owner was sweet and brought in toys for Nathan (which was a big hit with him). The heated floors and quirky kitchen made this a favorite of mine.

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Here is a link to their farmhouse:

http://en.ardennes-etape.be/holiday-houses-ardennes/Habay/Holiday-cottage-105211-01/Weekend-0_4-20150320.html

Our first stop after dropping off our bags was to head to the Orval Abbey-famous for its trappist beer and gorgeous ruins. It did not disappoint in either aspect. The first monks arrived here in 1070 from Italy but the church was not completed until 1200. The Abbey was prosperous for five centuries until 1789 when the French Revolution destroyed the church and treasure seekers made out like bandits with centuries old items for over a century. It wasn’t until 1926 that the church began its resurrection, building was completed in 1948.

The new Abbey was built around the ruins and the area we visited was only the ruins and the museum, in fact the working Abbey itself was not open to visitors (I am not sure if it ever is). We left there with Abbey-made cheese and beer and a lot of great photos.

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That night we dined on this after putting Nathan to bed:

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The next day we visited the new Bastogne War Museum. Museums are challenging with Nathan and I haven’t perfected the art of engaging Nathan in such a heavy topic. In the beginning he ran around the museum while we attempted to listen to the Audio guide. The Audio guide followed four imaginary people during the war years in this specific region-a german soldier, a little boy, a woman and I think a soldier from Belgium.  It was difficult to focus on the events unfolding while Nathan distracted others, so we reigned him in with the stroller and his ipad. He did exactly what he did in the Nuremburg Museum-covered himself in his stroller and watched his ipad while we focused on the heavy topic at hand. It’s the only way to see a WWII museum with a four year old (well, with our four year old anyway).

There were two interactive events in the museum-one in which you sat in a room and it felt as if you were in the Battle of the Bulge-in a winter scene with gunfire (we took turns as its not meant for kids), the other was sitting in the basement of a cafe with all the people left from the community as they lived there for months on end with barely any food. The museum was incredibly well done and I am glad we were able to see it.

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They also have a huge memorial on site (in which Nathan had a huge meltdown), so we didn’t spend too much time there.

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Another new museum in Bastogne is the 101st Airborne Museum. Not knowing if we should push the limits of Nathan’s patience, I am glad we made the choice to go in.

It’s a small museum, just three floors, with all kinds of scenes laid out from the 101st Airborne’s fight throughout the war, and especially in Bastogne. When we walked in, the woman behind the counter introduced herself and told us she was the granddaughter of General Patton and was here for the weekend for a special exhibit on General Patton. We were excited to meet her and see the special exhibition.

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The basement of the museum is not meant for kids, so we took turns again and watched the grisly scenes unfold of soldiers in peril, all leading to the reenactment of a bomb shelter. You walk in and it starts off pitch black and takes you through a raid-complete with terrifying sounds of bombs dropping and people screaming, It’s extremely real and I don’t recommend it for anyone with wartime PTSD. I was more than happy to leave that room when it was over.

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We had read that actual foxholes still exist from the Battle of the Bulge so we headed out to find them before darkness set in. Not wanting to trek through the dark forest with Nathan who was happy in his carseat at this point, we took turns. Turns out, the foxholes were pretty close to the road and we could have taken him in. But I went in not knowing what I was looking for, not even sure the foxholes I was seeing weren’t just random dug out sections of the forest (they weren’t). It’s eerily quiet and you can’t help but think about the battles that were fought here. After seeing Band of Brothers, it was easier to imagine the 101st Airborne living in these foxholes for an entire winter.

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Speaking of, during that winter, when the Germans surrounded the 101st on all sides, the German Army sent word to US General Tony McAuliffe that if the Americans didn’t surrender, the 101st was doomed. The General sent a message back “NUTS!” they would not surrender. The Battle of the Bulge was the longest and bloodiest battle in all of WWII. It lasted a full year and there were 75,000 casualties.

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We left the foxholes and found the town of Bastogne-it’s not very charming and looks as if it was rebuilt with less focus on the past and more on a street filled with ugly shops almost like an American strip mall. There is a restaurant called “Nuts!” so of course we had to eat there. The menu has everything under the sun and after trying to get fish and chips, I went with a cheeseburger. I don’t recommend ever eating a burger outside the US. It was a rubber patty. Cheeseburgers really are an American delicacy. But the atmosphere and ice cream sundae made up for my terrible burger.

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On our last day we decided to check out a Castle in Luxembourg in a town called Vianden. Vianden Castle was constructed between the 11th and 14th Century and sits high on top a hill. It was sold off in 1820, piece by piece and was in ruins until 1977. Ownership was transferred to Luxembourg and was rebuilt as the museum it is today. It’s beautiful and in the middle of nowhere. The small town of Vianden was completely closed on this sleepy Sunday, so after the Castle we found the only open place in town-a hotel restaurant that was incredibly fancy. After an extra long lunch we headed back to the farm to relax for the evening and enjoy our surroundings, before heading back to our house the next day.

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Next up :Birthday weekend in the Black Forest!

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