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Europe 2019 Day 9

Morning kids. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of our school; it’s weird seeing stuff about it here in France along with green beer. Apparently everyone wants to be Irish for a day. Coming from Thunder Bay, I would be remiss without acknowledging St. Urho too! So what I’m deducing is that March 17th is a big excuse for people to party and drink…fair enough.

Anyway, I am feeling rather decent, but still tired. I think I slept okay, but yesterday was an exhausting day. And a long day; I was up before most of the kids at 5:30 and didn’t get to bed until after midnight. My math skills, as my wife will tell you, are subpar, but that works out to an 18+ hour day. Even though I napped on the bus, it would appear that it was insufficient given the situation. We were able to sleep in a bit today, but I won’t feel better until we start moving and get the blood flowing.

Sadly, today is our last day on the trip. Ten days seems a lot of time, but it goes by so fast! We have a busy day planned, with a bus tour in the morning, some walking in the afternoon and we finish with a boat ride on the Seine in the evening. We’re going to do our best to enjoy every moment, though it will be a long day again, since the river cruise doesn’t start until 8:30. I’m sure everyone will sleep well on the plane tomorrow.

Alright, so it’s midnight, I have to be up at 5:30 and I’m just settling down to finish this post. I am beat…it was a long day! My phone is telling me that I walked 17km and did nearly 25,000 steps. No wonder my feet hurt.

My walking began bright and early, as I had to find a nearby bank machine for a few last euros to get me through the day. It was a bit crisp, but it was a refreshing walk for a few blocks. From there it was on to the bus, which would take us downtown for our guided tour. The tour lasted about 2.5 hours, and we saw many of the important sights and attractions of the city. We made photo stops at the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Les Invalids. I think the kids got their fill of typical tourist photos!

Arc de Triomphe, March 2019.

Eiffel Tower, March 2019.

Les Invalides, March 2019.

Once the tour ended, we broke for lunch. The kids had about an hour to do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. Myself and Ms. Caza wandered down to a local street market, which was amazing to see. The fresh produce, fruit, meat and fish vendors had some unbelievable products for sale. We settled on a nearby restaurant where we had a very enjoyable meal.

Paris Market, March 2019.

Once we were back together again, we headed over to the Louvre, about a 20 minute walk away. Students under 18 have free entry to the museum, and most took the opportunity to see great works such as the Mona Lisa. Myself and Ms. Caza waited outside for the kids to return and then they had another short break to pick up some souvenirs at nearby stores on Rue Rivoli.

Louvre, March 2019.

Louvre, March 2019.

Since we were on free time, Sebastian had planned to meet us at Notre Dame. That meant we had to make our own way the 2km to Notre Dame, which was about a 30 minute walk. I was in charge of leading the group, which did cause me some concern, not about the route, but rather the potential to lose someone. Our route was fairly simple; east on Rivoli and then south on Pont Neuf, across the Seine, along the river then south to Notre Dame. We arrived on time with everyone in tow…mission accomplished! Maybe someday I could be a European tour guide-I know all useless information!

Paris, March 2019.

At Notre Dame, we took the opportunity to enter the cathedral and briefly see the inside. Afterwards, we let the kids look around a bit before we met Sebastian at the statute of Charlemagne for our walk to dinner. Our restaurant tonight was the Auberge Notre-Dame, a short distance south across the Seine. The meal consisted of chicken in some kind of sauce with mushrooms, rice and green beans. Dessert was apples in a rather runny liquid, which like dinner, was meh. Not the worst EF meal, but definitely not the best.

Notre-Dame, March 2019.

Notre-Dame, March 2019.

Statute of Charlemagne, March 2019.

After dinner we had some time to kill, so we spent it walking around the Latin Quarter of the city. The weather during the day had been all over the place; sun, showers, wind and cold. We missed a good downpour in the restaurant, but when we left, it was pretty cold. We wandered for almost an hour, and then made our way to the boat pier on the Seine.

St. Michel, March 2019.

I have done this boat tour several times before, but it never disappoints. Despite the chill in the air, it was a great experience for everyone. The highlight was obviously when we passed the fully-lit Eiffel Tower, which made for an amazing photo op. I spent most of my time outside the glass enclosure, recording video of the tour, until my gloved hands became so cold that I decided to call it quits.

Eiffel Tower, March 2019.

From the Seine it was a short walk to the Metro station for a short ride to our transfer point to the RER, which took us to our hotel. We arrived back just after 10:00, which meant we were out for more than 13 hours. Many kids the kids were falling asleep on the train, which told us they had thoroughly enjoyed the day.

On that note, I going to bed. I have to be up in 5 hours and I still need to finish uploading this post. I am going to be very tired tomorrow. I’ll be back in a matter of hours with all the info on our final day of the trip. Until then…

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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 8

Europe 2019 Day 8

Good morning kids. Ya, my usual wit escapes me right now, so nothing smart or clever to say this morning. I thought I got enough sleep, but it was hard to get going after the alarm. I don’t know, maybe there was more time sitting on the bus than in previous days and we were up half an hour earlier than usual, but that shouldn’t matter. I could be just old, but then again the young people on the trip are also tired. So I’m just going to say we all suck and that should cover it.

Alright, so what’s the schedule for today Dave? Well, let me enlighten you shall I? Haha, I guess that was fairly clever for 630 wasn’t it? Clever, sarcastic…it really depends on your perspective right? Okay, I know, I know, get to the point. So we’re obviously in Caen, about 20km from Juno Beach, which is the objective for today. Did you see what I did there? Today’s “objective,” since we’re going to Juno Beach…I know you chuckled, or rolled your eyes. Anyway, we’ll be visiting the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, the Juno Beach Centre, Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer before leaving for Paris.

One of the best things is that we’re supposed to see the sun. Yes! The forecast calls for +14C and mostly sunny, though very windy again. That should be interesting given the fact that we’re going to be on the English Channel, which is typically windy on a good day. I predict an interesting visit and some messy hair again…but not for me!

Okay, so we’re on our way to Paris. I know the kids are super excited to visit the city of lights. I myself much prefer the quaint, rolling countryside of Normandy. But that’s just me. It’s about 250km, so we have some time to relax on the bus. Yesterday the kids were a little messy, so the “Heinzelmänchen” or little dwarves of German folklore had to come out at night to tidy things up.

As I mentioned, our first stop was at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. The cemetery contains the remains of over 2,000 Canadians killed on D-Day or in the weeks following. Unlike Groesbeek, we didn’t assign the students individual soldiers, but rather we gave them a list of graves they could visit. The cemetery has a very notoriety in that there are 9 sets of brothers buried there, such as the Westlake and Branton brothers.

After a a brief prayer service, we spent about 40 minutes wandering amongst the graves. However many times I go, these cemeteries are still so sad. Today though, there was an air of serenity at Beny; the birds were chirping, it was windy but sun trying to come out. It like God was trying to thank us for honouring the sacrifice of these young Canadians all those years ago. One of the graves I made a point of visiting, was that of Rifleman Sulo Alanen, a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who was killed in action on July 5th, 1944. Alanen was born in Nolalu, and I know his nephew, which made it very personal.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

From there it was a short drive to the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where we had a 10:00 appointment. We actually received a full tour, which I did not experience in my three previous visits. It began outside, where we were brought through two German bunkers, one a command bunker and the other a observation bunker. It was neat to see some new things and get the full explanation. Once that was done we moved inside for a visit to the museum. Having been there before, I raced outside and walked a short distance east, to Graye-sur-Mer where there was a tank memorial and another bunker, known as Cosy’s Bunker, captured by 10 Platoon, B Company, RWR. This area of Juno Beach is known as Mike Red Sector.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Juno Beach Centre, March 2019.

Once everyone was through the museum, we had another short drive, this time to the east. Our destination was Bernières-sur-Mer, or Nan White Sector. Here the Queen’s Own Rifles landed, and took very heavy casualties in the process. Their efforts are commemorated at Canada House, the first place captured by Canadian troops that day. Just to the east is a preserved German bunker, which caused many of the QOR’s casualties.

Canada House, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Another short drive east brought us to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the eastern most part of Juno known as Nan Red. New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed here, supported by tanks of the Fort Garry Horse. There is another German bunker at Saint-Aubin, complete with the 50mm gun that knocked out several tanks on D-Day before it was silenced. After a short visit to the beach, we paused a for a quick lunch. My croque monsieur was awesome!

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

One of the great things about today was the weather. Eventually the sun came out, the clouds disappeared and it was gorgeous. Obviously, it was a little cooler by the English Channel, but it was still +15C…a heat wave! Now, on the road to Paris, it’s up to 18. With the sun and the balmy temperatures, you know what that meant. Well, I guess you wouldn’t know because I didn’t say anything about it, so I’m telling you now. Warm temps=shorts weather. So let me explain the background to this, as it is a going joke. All I normally wear on these trips are convertible plants; they are not the epitome of high fashion, but they are comfy and I love them. On past trips, when it gets warm, I’ve unzipped the bottoms and rocked the shorts. Therefore, with all the cold weather I have been waiting patiently for an opportunity to unzip and today I got it. Vive le shorts!

Enjoying the heat, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Okay, so we’re finally back at the hotel just before 11:00. What a long day! We arrived at our hotel at 5:00 and we had enough time to get to our rooms, freshen up quick and head to the RER (train) station at La Rueil-Malmaison. I always get a bit anxious riding the Paris public transportation, simply because it is so busy compared to other places. However, it is a good life lesson for the kids. Anyway, from the RER we transferred to the Metro to take us to our dinner destination. Our meal was at “Le Saulnier,” which consisted of a cheese pastry, beef bourgeon with potatoes and a puff pastry for dessert.

Afterwards, we were back on the Metro to go to Montmartre, and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The were a few hectic moments, as the Metro was packed with people, but we made it okay. Montmartre is a hill in Paris, and the church is illuminated at night. It is quite the climb up the stairs to the top, which leaves your legs burning and rubbery when you’re done. The view is spectacular from the hill, and the kids really enjoyed it. From there, it was back on the Metro and RER to the hotel.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, March 2019.

Paris, March 2019.

 

Anyway, It’s time to turn in soon. I’m pooped! We have another busy day planned, our last day, which will keep us hopping. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 7

Good morning les enfants! As you can tell by the greeting, we are now in France. Dave is rather chipper this morning; I got some sleep! Okay, let’s be clear though, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I definitely feel decent. Maybe I’m finally finding my travel stride. In any case, we do haves one bus  time again, so I can always have a little nap if I need a recharge.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? Well, we’re about to leave the hotel for the 30 minute drive to Vimy Ridge. We will linger there for a while, visiting the trenches and memorial before we hit the road again. The next stop will be Beaumont Hamel, in the Somme area. After that, we have about a 4 hour drive to Normandy and our hotel in Caen.

“🎶…Here I am, rock me like a Hurricane!” Alright, so we’re on the bus for the hour ride to Beaumont Hamel and the Newfoundland Memorial Park. If you’re wondering why I’m quoting the classic 1980s song by the Scorpions, I’ll tell you. It’s not raining today, which is fantastic, but it is a tad windy. Like how windy Dave? Well, bowl you over tornado force winds windy. People like me with aerodynamic hairdos don’t have to worry, but many of the girls are now rocking the messy hair look. But hey, it’s not pouring rain, so I will not complain.

We had a great visit. The broke us up by school, with each group doing a separate tour. Our guide took us first into the subway system, tunnels dug by engineers through the soft chalk. They were used to move troops and equipment to the forward trenches away from observation and fire from the Germans on the ridge. This one was known as the “Grange Subway” and is an amazing piece of Canadian history. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure why, maybe because of flooding, our tour of the subway wasn’t as long as it was in 2014. Regardless, it was neat for the kids to see.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

After exiting the subway, we made our way through the preserved Canadian and German trenches. When they were constructing the monument, they decided to keep portions of the front line trenches in the park. To retain their shape. Sandbags filled with cement were stacked along the trench wall, which later deteriorated, but left the cement like stone pillows. They are amazing in the sense that it gives the kids an idea of what it would have been like to live and fight in the these glorified ditches.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

From the trenches, we hopped on the bus for a short ride to the monument, located on the summit of Hill 145. From there, it becomes very apparent why the ridge was so important. Looking east, one can see the Douai Plain stretching out in front you, with the city of Lens and the immense slag heaps being prominent features. On bright, clear days, you can see the Belgian border.

We had a brief prayer service on the back side of the memorial, before proceeding to the front for a group photo. Then the kids had some time to wander around, explore and take photos. This is where we were able to experience the full-force of the “light breeze” that was blowing. It was crazy how windy it was on the top of the hill, but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. I think it was important for them to see it, and I think that every Canadian should visit this hallowed ground if they can. The sacrifice of these and other soldiers will not be forgotten if we keep the history alive.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Mother Canada weeping for her fallen sons, Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Back on the bus again after another stop. Whew, we made it! Pardon the language, but holy crap it windy! I just checked the weather and it says the wind is out of the west at 54km/h gusting to 74km/h. I’m not a sailor, but isn’t that like gale force wind? I have no idea how Tish is keeping the bus on the road.

Anyway, we were just at Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park. This commemorates the action of the Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st, 1916. Unfortunately, the entire regiment was wiped out in the course of the 20 minute attack. Of the 600+ men who started the assault, only 60 men were left unscathed. It was an unprecedented tragedy for Newfoundland, and after the war it was decided that it would be turned into a memorial park, complete with trenches, monuments and cemeteries.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Alright, we’re on the bus to our hotel for the evening. After a 300+km journey, we’re now in Normandy, in the city of Caen. We had a chance to walk around the city a bit before dinner; I especially liked the Norman castle, which apparently belonged to William the Conqueror. Dinner today was at Le Cafe, where we had ham with some type of sauce, and potatoes. Dessert was a chocolate brownie with whip cream. There was some disagreement amongst the chaperones as to the rating of the meal; I thought it was good.

Caen, March 2019.

Caen. March 2019.

So tomorrow we have a bit earlier morning, heading first to the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery before our 10:00 appointment at Juno Beach Centre. We will visit a few other spots before we leave for Paris in the afternoon. Anyway, there is things to do before we go to bed. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 6

Morning Kids? So, Dave is feeling rather ambivalent today; did I get enough sleep or is my body just playing games with me? Hmmmmmmm. It was definitely not as good as the night before. I am clearly not as adept as my roomie at falling sleep, who seems to be out the moment his head hits the pillow. And then the cacophony starts. Ugh. Do you ever find yourself so frustrated that you’re torn between crying and physically wanting to harm someone? Those thoughts may have crossed my mind during the several conscious periods I had during the night. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

So, today’s agenda. Well, I’m just sitting here by my lonesome in the lobby waiting for breakfast. The bus departs at 830, leaving Amsterdam and the Netherlands behind for Belgium. Our travels today will take us to Ypres, the site of numerous epic battles during WWI. Obviously the most important are the Second Battle of Ypres, fought in April-May, 1915 and the Third Battle of Ypres, more precisely the Battle of Passchedaele, fought in November 1917 (or at least the Canadian part was). We will be commemorating those and other events at the St. Julien Memorial and the Menin Gate Memorial.

“🎶On the road again…” And hey guess what? It’s bright, sunny and +15C outside. Haha! Ya, okay; if you fell for that you’re a sucker. It’s once again rainy, damp, windy and cold (7C feels like -2). It’s supposed to be 10/11C in Ypres, but depending on what forecast you look at, the rain or showers are expected to last until early or late afternoon. Hopefully it’s sooner than later and we have a chance to enjoy Ypres out of the rain.

I haven’t mentioned yet that I love Ypres too. This will be my fourth visit to the historic city and I can’t get enough. The history, the people, the architecture…it’s all amazing and why I’m enamoured with it. Ypres dates back to the 1300s, and was a prominent city in Flanders, particularly with regard to banking and textiles. One of the most famous buildings in the city, the Cloth Hall, is a lasting symbol of that. Sadly, it (with the exception of its exterior walls) and many other structures were destroyed during the fighting in WWI. They were rebuilt, restoring the city to its former glory. The central square, the Grote Markt, the ramparts and the Menin Gate all form quite an impressive experience.

Okay, so we’re back on the road, 120km from Ypres. I managed to get in a good nap before we had a break at a truck stop just west of Antwerp. By law, European bus/truck drivers have to stop for 30 minutes every 2/2.5 hours. Therefore, the travel plazas are amazing; this one had a Texaco station, a Starbucks, Burger King and huge convenience store. After taking advantage of the facilities, we all stocked up on food and goodies for the last part of the trip. Now we’re eating, sharing and chatting, hoping that the weather improves for Ypres.

Rainy drive, March 2019.

Interesting European flavours, March 2019.

I must say, not to hark on it, because I never do, that this is the worst weather I’ve encountered on an EF trip. It could be that we were spoiled on previous trips, like the last one which was hot and dry. That being said, usually the rain lasts a day or two then clears out. However, this has been day after day; you can see it clearly on the system maps. The jet stream is cutting across Europe, and the weather above it is unsettled and below is awesome. I blame climate change, but then I usually do.

Alright, so I’m sitting here in the lobby of the Cloth Hall, the Flanders Fields Museum, waiting for everyone to finish their visit. Our first stop upon reaching the Ypres area was the St. Julien Memorial (Sint-Juliaan). The memorial, a statue, is known as the Brooding Soldier and marks the first Canadian action in WWI at the Second Battle of Ypres. Here, near St. Julien, the Canadians fought a desperate 3-day battle against the Germans to hold back a massive attack which included the first use of poison gas in war. It was rainy and very windy, but we managed a quick prayer and a group photo.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

The museum is a very interesting place to visit, and the kids really enjoyed it. There is a lot information about WWI and many artifacts from the area. I’ve been there before, so I moved fairly quickly through it. I also had an ulterior motive; I wanted to walk the ramparts of the city to the southern, or Lillie Gate. The best was that the sun came out…halle fricken lujah! I was starting to feel a bit like a mushroom with all the rain. The best part was that the winds calmed, and it was actually quite nice out.

Ypres, March 2019.

Flanders Fields Museum, March 2019.

I’ve done the trek to the Ramparts Lillie Cemetery before, and it a beautiful walk along the treed rampart. It took just over 10 minutes to get there from museum, and the kids I had in tow, Liam M from our school, and Beth, Sarah, Nick and Brodie from St. Ignatius, were glad they came. The cemetery is small and quaint, maybe 50 graves, but very beautifully built in the ramparts just west of the Lillie Gate alongside the canal. The sun shining through the clouds added a warm and fitting touch to the scene.

Ramparts Lillie Cemetery, March 2019.

Ramparts Lillie Cemetery, March 2019.

Ramparts Lillie Cemetery, March 2019.

We had to be back at the Grote Markt for 5:00 as we were going into one of the local shops to purchase some great Belgian chocolates. The shop is called Leonidas, and I’m sure they give EF something for bringing all the tour groups through. I’ve been there each time I’ve visited Ypres, and the owner has the same pitch and mannerisms. He reminds me of the Shamwow guy!

Ypres, March 2019.

Ypres, March 2019.

Ypres, March 2019.

Ypres, March 2019.

Dinner was at a restaurant called “De Trompet.” Lasagna was on the menu, but the roast chicken the British group who were also there eating looked better to me. It was okay, but you can’t serve an Italian lasagna at a Belgian restaurant. That’s kinda like sacrilege. The ice cream dessert was on point though.

Our last thing for the day was the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. I’ve described this in previous years, but for the sake of clarity, it’s worth repeating. The gate was completed in 1928 as a memorial to the tens of thousands of Commonwealth missing in the Ypres Salient. It is massive, but when they started engraving the names on the memorial, they realized there wasn’t going to be enough room. They managed to get nearly 55,000 names on the panels up to August 1917; the rest are commemorated at Tyne Cot. Anyway, since it opened, with the exception of WWII, they have a daily Last Post ceremony at 8:00.

I hustled ahead of the group to get the spot I wanted to record the event, but a couple beat me to it. I had to settle for standing beside them for nearly 45 minutes until it began. It always amazes me how touching it is for just a 10 minute ceremony, but it proves just a small thing like this goes a long way in helping people remember such a sad and tragic event in our history.

Menin Gate, March 2019.

Now we’re on the bus for a 60km drive to our hotel located in France, just north of Vimy Ridge and Arras. I don’t feel too bad, but I am tired. It’s been a long day, even though part of it was just sitting. We’re only here for a night, and tomorrow we’ll be leaving for Normandy, stopping first at Vimy Ridge, which is only 30 minutes away. From there we will head to Beaumont Hamel, and then another 4 drive to the next hotel in Caen.

Anyway, I going to get rolling as it is late and we have another early morning. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 5

Good morning Children, or Goedemorgen kinderen as they would say here in the Netherlands! As you can tell, I am in much better spirits today. According to my self-diagnosed prognosis, my status has been upgraded from utterly exhausted to somewhat exhausted. They tell might me I just might live; the next 24 hours is critical. We need to ensure I don’t have a relapse…as I sit here and feel my eyelids closing while I stare at the screen.

So I’m just sitting here by myself in the lobby waiting for breakfast. There’s no space in our room for me to work. I wonder what breakie will be like? We have a busy day ahead of us today; a walking tour of the city, Anne Frank House and guided tour in the afternoon. I am really looking forward to it; I love the city of Amsterdam. It is such a beautiful and historic city. I’ll check in later.

Okay, so we’re on the bus heading back to the hotel after a very busy day. I’m not super tired, but my joints hurt. We were dropped off at the downtown train station (Centraal Station) and started our walking tour with Sebastian. It reminded me how beautiful it is and how much I love the city of Amsterdam; it is definitely one of my favourite places to visit. I want to go back at some point where I will have more time to explore.

So where did we go and what did we see? Well, Amsterdam is characterized by its ring-shaped layout and all the canals. It was founded back in the 1200s and has amazing history and architecture. One of the best parts is when your students can see this for themselves, taking the teaching beyond the classroom. When you can touch the history, it really comes alive.

Anyway, we saw places such as the Royal Palace, Westerkerk and the narrow, winding streets of the city core. The only issue we had was, you guessed it, the weather. It was bitterly cold, like +3C but feels like -2 , cold. And damp too, which is probably why my joints hurt. The first part of the morning was okay, but then it started to rain. Ummmm, rain and cold…felt like football practice at the end of October, just we were stuck outside all day!

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Royal Palace, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

At 1100, we made our way to Anne Frank House (Anna Frank Huis) for a visit to this very touching memorial to her and the Holocaust. I know that a lot of the kids were looking forward to this place, having heard her story and maybe even read the book. It is always a very sobering location. Afterwards, many of them commented that it was a moving experience.

Anna Frank Huis, Amsterdam, March 2019.

We had a break for lunch (in the pouring rain), which found myself and Mr. Marcon hiking back many blocks to find the least sketchy ATM we could and then meeting Ms. Caza for a bite to eat. I had a brie and some type of prosciutto sandwich which was fantastic. I stopped by a local shop before our meeting time at the Westerkerk to buy a few things for my boys.

Our afternoon was taken up by a bus tour of the city with our guide, Gerwin. We had him as a guide on our 2014 trip and he is very knowledgable. We were able to see some places we were not able to walk to and then made our way to the Rembrandt Hoeve (House), which is a cheese farm. I’ve been there before, and it is quite the place. They make some amazing Gouda cheese and traditional clogs. I think the kids really enjoyed it, and many came away with souvenirs and cheese. I did have a couple near relapses during the tour, where I almost nodded off. I even put my sunglasses on to mask my condition; thankfully I powered through it.

Rembrandt Hoeve, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Rembrandt Hoeve, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

The tour ended around 500, which left us some time to get off the bus and look around before we went to supper. Did I say how much I love Amsterdam? By that time, it was still cool, but the sun had come out and it was a nice evening. It is such a laid-back city, the people are super friendly and the sights are amazing. If I had to live somewhere in Europe, this would be the place. Do you ever wonder if you’d have done that? Like, at some point earlier in your life you decided to transplant yourself to another continent? I have no idea what I would do for a job, but it’s interesting to think about it.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Dinner was at a place called Drovers Dog, which was a nice restaurant. Our meal consisted of chicken (kip in Dutch) skewer with peanut sauce, rice and vegetable garnish. My colleagues gave it a 9 out of 10. Hopefully our dinner in Ypres tomorrow is equally as good.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. We actually have some time tonight in the hotel, so hopefully the kids can unwinded a bit before a very busy day tomorrow. As usual, stay tuned for the latest news coming next evening. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 4

Oy vey Kids! So if this part of the blog makes utterly no sense, please accept my profound apologies; my cognitive level is somewhere between zero and non-existent. What my brain is passing off as relatively coherent thoughts could be just a random collection of gibberish on the computer screen-I may have seen this scenario a few times during my teaching career. Oops, did I say that out loud? Sorry, my bad. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts…

Anyway, it’s Tuesday and I’m completely exhausted. But hey, who needs sleep right? I remember telling myself that at points in my life, like when I was in the army, when my kids were newborns (I still don’t know how my wife did it) and a few others I probably have forgotten. For a history teacher, I do have a short memory; I may have written the exact same words, well, more or less, on the last trip when I couldn’t sleep. Should have got my own room. Smothering a snoring roommate is still a crime over here right? Asking for a friend.

Okey dokey, we’re now on the train to Amsterdam. It was quite the odyssey getting out of the hotel and to the train station. The hotel was supposed to have a bagged breakfast ready for us, but something got messed up and that went out the window. We were told to grab something quick from the breakfast buffet and then jump on the bus. I took us about an hour to get to the station, where we had time to buy more food for the ride. I picked up a couple chicken schnitzel sandwiches and even got to try out some German. Too bad we’re leaving as I was just starting to feel comfortable with some basic words and phrases.

The train will take us to Apeldoorn and we should be there about 2pm. I guess we’ll have an opportunity to see the countryside, relax and hopefully sleep. I never been on a train before, and I’m sure this is a new experience for many of our students. I’m sure it’s a great way to see parts of Europe. Anyway, time to get some shuteye.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Alright, it’s now noon and we’re northwest of Münster near the German-Dutch border. That means we have another 2 hours before we arrive in Apeldoorn. I did manage to get some rest, which we won’t call sleep as I don’t think I really did. I do feel a bit better, but I could use some proper nighttime sleep. We’ll see what tonight brings.

I ate both of my chicken schnitzel sandwiches, which were delicious, but had very messy crusty buns. The sun was out for a while, then it clouded over and now it’s trying to peek out again. Hopefully it holds until we get to the cemetery at Groesbeek. The kids seem to be enjoying the opportunity to relax, sleep or just hang out; it’s quite the smooth way to travel. I even played a little Nintendo Switch with some of the boys, but I did as poorly as I thought I would.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

So we’re now on our bus leaving Apeldoorn and heading toward Groesbeek. The train ride was great, but it was getting rather stuffy on board, so it nice to have some fresh air. The bus we are now on will be our home base for the next five days, until we reach Paris. Our driver is a Dutch fellow named Tish (I hope I spelled that right). The drive is about 60km, so we have a bit more time to relax.

We’re back on the bus, on our way to Amsterdam. We first visited the Liberation Museum in Groesbeek, where we learned about the battles around the town, such Operation Market Garden and the Rhine Offensives. There was a very heavy Canadian involvement, especially the battles for the Rhine in early 1945.

Liberation Museum, Groesbeek, March 2019.

Liberation Museum, Groesbeek, March 2019.

Groesbeek, March 2019.

From there, it was a short two minute drive to the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. Over 2600 Canadians are buried there, most killed in those battles along the Rhine. The cemetery is unusual, as most of the men died in Germany, but because the commander of the 1st Canadian Army refused to have any of his men buried on German soil, they were moved across the border to the Netherlands. Among those interred there are Sergeant Aubrey Cosens of the Queen’s Own Rifles, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions in February, 1945 and Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nicklin of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was killed in the opening moments of Operation Varsity. Nicklin was a former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Grave of Sgt. Cosens VC, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Grave of Lt. Col. Nicklin, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Grave of L. Cpl. Hooper, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Okay, we’re on the road for the final leg. We stopped for dinner at a place called La Place in Enspijk. It was not a scheduled stop, as EF didn’t have a set restaurant for the meal. Sebastian gave us some options, and that EF would give us 15€ to spend. Turns out, we made a great choice. This restaurant was a buffet-style establishment that makes your entree while you wait. I had salmon with some type of sauce, fries, salad and bread with garlic butter. All for 17.30€, so it only really cost me 2.30€…nice!

Okay, so it’s time for bed. We are at our hotel, the kids are tucked in and we getting ready for lights out too. This hotel is pretty good, though the rooms are small…the kids are gonna be cosy! Anyway, I need to TRY and get some sleep; I’m not holding my breath. We’re heading out at 8:30 tomorrow, so we get to sleep in an extra hour. Yay! Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 3

Hey Kids…ugh! I don’t if I’m better or more exhausted. I’m sitting here staring at the screen trying to decide if I’m actually conscious, or if I’m in a quasi zombie state; me thinks the latter. I signed up for this right? Sure, why not spend your week off doing the same thing you do every other week of the year, just 24 hours a day? It will be fun they said…

I did sleep, if you can call it that. The more pertinent question is regarding the duration and quality of that sleep. You know when you’re so tired you can’t sleep? I was falling asleep on the train ride back to the hotel, yet of course I was restless when I got to bed. It doesn’t help that my roomie can wake the dead with his snoring and falls asleep immediately, leaving me to lie awake and contemplate my life choices (see above). If the past trip is any indicator, I’ll eventually become so tired that the snoring won’t bother me.

So we’re going to be heading out shortly for our day’s adventures. I just came back from breakfast, which is always interesting in Europe. It’s kinda like roulette, as you’ll never know what the quality and quantity will be like. Today, it wasn’t bad; lots of breads, some meats, yogurt and a few other things. Overall, I give it a B.

Still have these in Berlin, March 2019.

Today we’re off for a tour of the city with a local guide. Hopefully the weather is a bit more cooperative. It’s not raining right now, so let’s hope that trend continues. The forecast for the rest of the trip doesn’t look very encouraging, but things can change quickly right?

Okay, so we’re on the bus to Sashsenhausen, which is about 45 minutes away. We had a good morning, though the rain has returned…just in time to be outside. Anyway, we picked up a local tour guide, Forrest, who happens to be an American, to take us around the city. We saw many of the local sights, and stopped at a few. The notable ones were sections of the Berlin Wall, which obviously was a physical reminder of the Cold War.

Berlin Wall, March 2019.

Berlin Wall, March 2019.

Battle scarred museum in Berlin, March 2019.

Berlin Cathedral, Match 2019

Flak Tower, March 2019.

We stopped at a shopping mall for lunch, and it was recommended that we try the Currywurst mïtt pommes, which is a fried Bradwurst covered with curry power and ketchup, with fries and mayonnaise sauce. I had my misgivings, since I’m not a huge fan of curry, but it was awesome. Definitely recommended!

Currywurst mïtt pommes, March 2019.

We’re back on the bus after our visit to Sachsenhausen. We are again tired, wet and chilled to the bone. As bad as we feel, I think the weather was a fitting tone for where we were. Sachsenhausen was one of the first concentration camps established, and the first to be laid out exactly to a plan. We had two guides for the tour, Forrest and another, Wouther. Forrest was our guide with the St. Pats group, and he did a amazing job explaining the history of the camp.

It started off fine, cold and damp, but dry. We learned about how this camp was mainly for political prisoners starting in 1936, but later both Soviet POW’s and Jewish civilians arrived as well. Some of the structures of the camp survive, while others are commemorated. We saw the main gatehouse, some of the barracks and the remains of the crematorium. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 people passed through the camp between 1936 and 1945, and roughly 35,000-40,000 died there, including 13,000 Soviet POW’s.

Halfway through the tour it began to snow, then escalated to a blizzard. The temperature was +3C, but it felt like -2. Soon the snow turned to pouring rain. I was very grateful I had an umbrella, but the whole time I imagined the poor prisoners held at the camp being worked hard in the same conditions, dressed on in one layer of clothing. I think the camp, the tour and the weather were all very sobering for students and teachers alike.

Main gate, Sachsenhausen concentration camp, March 2019.

Whew, back at the hotel. Wow, another busy day. So it took us a bit longer than we anticipated getting from Sachsenhausen back to Berlin. Normally it’s a 45 minute drive, but due to an accident on the Autobahn, it took us an hour longer. The whole delay was caused by a minor fender-bender involving a Smartcar…really? It did however give us extra nap time on the bus 😉

After arriving back at Alexanderplatz, we made our way to a local mall where we had dinner. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was similar to the night before. Some sort of hamburger-ish thing with rice and some sauce, and coleslaw. Nothing spectacular, but palatable. Dessert was some yogurt with strawberry sauce, which I thought was good.

We left the restaurant and made our way to the train station. So, if the kids had never rode a train/subway before, boy they are well versed now. To get to our next event, a Cold War discussion, we had to take several different trains to get to Südstern. Our presenters, Peter and Emme, were residents of West and East Germany respectively. They described the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and how it effected them. Afterwards, it was back on a couple different trains to get to the stop near our hotel, Grünbergallee.

Berlin Church, March 2019.

Cold War discussion, March 2019.

Now we’re back at the hotel getting ready for another busy day tomorrow. We have to be on the bus at 6:30 to get to the train station for 8:30. Then it’s a 5+ hour ride to Apeldoorn, Belgium. With that in mind, I better get going. I’ll be back early tomorrow morning at some point. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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