Siargao

“It’s chill.”

That’s how our most recent destination was described to us by the owner (who also happens to be a Fedex pilot) of the Pacifico Resort in the Philippines. It’s an apt description, but a few others come to my mind as well.

Picturesque…

Paradise.

It’s also known to many surfers as the best place to surf in Asia.

The “resort” itself and the area where it was located was rustic and quite remote.

There was no wifi, no a/c and no hot showers…but we managed.

The boys spent one day fishing. Their trip wasn’t as fruitful as the last one here, but Aaron still managed to snag a 15 pound barracuda.

While the boys fished, the girls chilled on the beach.

We spent a day puttering around the islands on a bangkak, a Filipino fishing boat, and had lunch on the beach of fresh-caught tuna grilled over a charcoal fire. We did some snorkeling, too.

There aren’t many cars on the island, so we rented a couple of mopeds and cruised around. Out here, farmers still work with caribou to cultivate the land.

And the dogs use coconuts for toys.

Even though I have never lived in the Philippines, it feels oddly familiar and comfortable being in the homeland.

We will definitely be back!

Sailing in the Seychelles

As a Christmas/birthday/Valentines Day/any other possible present I might be eligible for in 2019, Benjy took me to the Seychelles. Yeah, I didn’t know where it was either when he first presented me with the trip. The Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean just east of Africa.

For our jaunt to the Seychelles, Benjy cashed in the points and scored us seats on Qatar Airlines. Those Arabs know how to travel in style.

We had a layover in Doha, Qatar. We didn’t get to see anything other than the airport, but that alone was impressive. The airport is apparently known for these gigantic bears.

The perks that Benjy accumulates through his job, like airline miles and frequent guest points, enables us to travel 85-90% of the time quite comfortably, oftentimes inexpensively and, occasionally, downright splendidly. The other 10-15% of the time…well…let’s just say that part usually adds to the adventure of it all. It’s during this portion of our trip that I typically find myself (as I did here) in the middle of nowhere, lugging all my personal belongings like a pack mule, stumbling onto a bus packed to the gills with locals, having only a vague idea of where we were going and when we should get off. It was another Romancing the Stone experience.

It’s in situations like this that the disposition and character of the local people are typically revealed. So here I was looking like Quasimoto with my back pack on, standing in the aisle since there were no empty seats, sweating like a pig and holding on for dear life because the bus driver was driving like he’s racing in the Daytona 500, when this lady with a sunny face looked up at me and sweetly patted her lap offering to hold one of my bags for me. And such are the Seychellois (as the Seychelle people are called). They are so very kind and helpful. Just a few minutes later, the bus driver without prompting pulled over right where we needed to go. I think everyone was probably just as happy for us to get off that bus as we were.

The Seychelles is made up of 115 tiny islands, many of them uninhabited. To fully appreciate this island nation, Benjy determined that we should travel by boat. Now, I have never been a cruise ship kind of girl. The idea of cramming thousands of people onto a ship just doesn’t appeal to me…but this was no ship.

We sailed on a 52-foot catamaran. This would be our home for the next 7 days.

Kitchen
Dining Area; meals were served family style

There were 10 other passengers and 2 crew, a captain and a chef.

With the exception of Benjy and me, the rest of the passengers were all European. There were Germans, French, Czech, Hungarians and Italians. Some did not speak English (at least not very well) and the language most in common was German. Since we didn’t speak German, or sadly any other language, Benjy and I spent a lot of time by ourselves.

Nonetheless, we had plenty to see and do and the 360 degree views were magnificent.

On the boat we enjoyed fish caught right off the back of our boat…

…and fruit grown on the islands.

Our crew were 2 native Seychellois guys.

Randy
Ryan

Since the Seychelles was formerly a French and British colony, the Seychellois are an interesting mix of European and African culture not unlike the Creole people who live in Louisiana in the U.S. In fact, the Seychelles is one of only 2 countries in the world with the official language of Creole, the other country being Haiti. Creole is spoken at home and in everyday life, but formal French and English are taught in the schools. As a result, Seychellois speak 3 languages fluently, a fact I find remarkable considering that most Americans (including myself) can only speak one language.

Growing up in the Florida panhandle, not far from Louisiana, Benjy and are quite familiar with and love Louisiana Creole and Cajun food. It’s probably what we miss most living in Hong Kong because you definitely can’t get that kind of food here. The Creole food in the Seychelles was not what we were used to, however.

Unlike our Louisiana favorites like seafood gumbo and crawfish etouffee, Seychellois Creole food is more like Indian food. The plate of food above is a typical Seychellois Creole meal with fish curry, pureed lentils, cabbage (that was much like cole slaw) and rice. It’s spicy and it’s so, so good!

So the main reason why Benjy decided to take me to the Seychelles is because he knows that I am an animal lover and that I really enjoy snorkeling. The fauna that the Seychelles is most known for are their giant tortoises. Don’t call them turtles (as I made the mistake of doing several times); they have those too. Tortoises are the giant, terrestrial reptiles with the big shells.

These guys just wander around the islands and they can live as long as 250 years.

These two were hanging out in the middle of the street when Benjy and I pedaled by on our bikes. People just drove their cars around them.

We spent much of our time exploring uninhabited islands and snorkeling.

I didn’t have an underwater camera, so unfortunately, I can’t show you any pictures of all the sea life we encountered beneath the surface. We came upon sharks, cuttlefish, rays and all kinds of colorful fish. The absolute highlight of the trip was witnessing this…

We were enjoying a barbeque lunch on the beach when one of the Italians started yelling “tartaruga! tartaruga!” We all looked up and saw dozens of these little guys crawling out of the mangroves toward the water.

As they made their way to the ocean, many of us took on the role as guardians of the galaxy by chasing away the attacking hermit crabs, birds, and eels. To them this was an all-you-can-eat buffet right before their eyes!

As far as we know, most all of the hatchlings made it safely to the water.

What happened to them from here is anyone’s guess.

The Seychelles is also home of the world’s largest nut, the coco de mer.

The world’s largest nut, the coco de mer

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, the shape of the nut is a bit salacious. Before the Seychelles was discovered by western explorers, nuts were carried by ocean currents and washed ashore on beaches sometimes as faraway as Malaysia. Legend had it that the nuts fell from trees growing in an underwater forest in the Indian Ocean.

The coco de mer tree is a rare species of palm tree endemic to the Seychelles. The tree is enormous. It’s difficult to get perspective in a picture, but this one with Benjy in it gives you an idea of how big the tree is. One palm branch is almost twice Benjy’s height.

The Seychelles was a long journey even from Hong Kong, but it was definitely worth the trip.

Dubai

For New Years, we decided to visit Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. For me and the kids, this was our first trip to an Arab country. The contrast in demographics from Asia to the Middle East is quite dramatic. One boards a plane surrounded by petite, black-haired, fair-skinned Asians and then emerges amidst tall, dark, bearded Arabs, Indians and Africans.

Dubai is a newly built city with most of its skyscrapers and structures constructed just within the last 10 years.

For this reason, most of the cultural appeal of this place to me wasn’t so much the city, but the people. I’m just not used to seeing men in Arab garb and women in burqas.

An interesting thing that I quickly learned about the culture is that men and women are segregated as much as possible. The last 2 cars of each metro train are for women only.

Initially, I was a little put off by the fact that I was relegated to another car, but then I realized that the women’s cars are much less crowded and, more importantly, less odiferous than the cars where men are permitted. So, I embraced the cultural difference and enjoyed my seat and the fresh-smelling air.

Arabs love the over-the-top and ostentatious; hence Dubai is the home of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. It towers at 2,722 feet.

We took a tour of the building and got some pics of the stunning views.

Dubai is also the home of one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, the Burj Al Arab.

No we didn’t stay there. Since the average cost of a room is $2,000 per night, this was as close as we got to the place.

We then toured the Spice and Gold Souqs, a market for spices, gold and other knick-knacks.

Spices
More spices
Raisins and nuts
Dates (my personal favorite)
Gold
Lights
Pottery

To be honest, the souqs to me felt very contrived, a big tourist trap with no real-life relevance. We didn’t see any local people shopping there, just a bunch of tourists like us snapping pictures and buying very little.

We then went outside of the city into the desert…

to ride ATV’s in the thick sand…

and lumber along slowly on the back of a camel.

Webley and I got some henna tattoos.

I’m glad we traveled to Dubai just to see the place, but I don’t feel the need to go back. The buildings are impressive, but after you see a tall, fancy building, you don’t really need to see it again. I was sort of disappointed at the lack of culture of the place. It seemed really artificial to me and intentionally so, almost like going to Disney World. Maybe if we had stayed longer we’d be able to find a more authentic experience, but I also think the culture of a place and its people shouldn’t be made so difficult to uncover.

Speaking of ridiculous and over-the-top, I just had to share this Dog of the Day photo:

Dog of the Day

Yes, that is a dog in a stroller being pulled by a battery-operated, pink jeep. Webley and I saw this scene as we were strolling on the waterfront in our village. 🙄🤦‍♀️

Back to Bangkok

Benjy and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary in Bangkok again. Normally, when we travel, food is the thing we spend the least on. We enjoy eating street food; it’s cheap, tasty and if you don’t get too hung up on hygiene standards, it adds another layer to the cultural experience.

This time, Benjy arranged for us to have a celebratory dinner at a fancy sushi place called Sushi Masato. Now, Benjy is not a sushi fan, but because he loves me so much and he knows it’s one of my favorite foods, he so generously appeased my culinary preferences. And this place was not your typical sushi bar.

Chef Masato Shimizu opened his restaurant after having spent 4 years in New York City as the head chef at Jewel Bako. While there he was honored with a Michelin star and was the youngest chef to receive such an award in New York City. While there, I’m told that Jay-Z and Beyoncé hired him to cater some of their parties.

Normally, it takes 6 months to get a reservation for one of the 2 dinner seatings at Sushi Masato, but a friend of a fellow Fedex pilot happens to be the manager of the restaurant. She got us in on 2 weeks notice.

Masato is a traditional sushi bar served only omakase which means that there is no menu. The chef selects the items upon which guests will dine. So, you just sit back and eagerly wait to see what will appear in front of you. But dining at Masato is not just about the top grade sushi; it’s also about the impeccable service.

Once the seating was underway, 3 servers positioned themselves behind the 10 guests at our seating. Their job for the next 3 hours was to remove used dishes, position appropriate cutlery and ensure that our chokos were bottomless and always filled with sake (a gratuity I later regretted, sadly).

Our gastronomic adventure started out somewhat cautiously with uni, which is sea urchin…

then quickly crescendoed with Chef Masato’s more innovative dishes.

Monkfish liver
Salmon Roe

Abalone

Baby snow crab

Our experience climaxed (no pun intended), with this dish…

Shirako or cod milt

If you care to know what it is, google it. I’ll wait.

Let’s just say neither of us was clamoring for a second helping of this.

From there, we comfortably glided into the more familiar.

chestnut and chestnut milk
eel
mackerel
squid
tofu
a little bit of this and that

We finished off with a bit of dessert.

lemon sorbet

Without being too dramatic, it was a pleasure to witness such a true master at his craft.

They were even kind enough to let us take a picture. Too much sake for me! Benjy had to hold me up.

And now I’ll end with a recent pic of Mei Mei. I know I’m biased but I think she is so cute. I love the light-toned stripe on her nose.

Nuremberg, Prague and Berlin (sort of)

After Krakow, we ended our World War II tour in Nuremberg and Berlin.

It was fitting to follow our tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps with a visit to the place where the Nuremberg trials took place. The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held after the war by the Allied forces to prosecute prominent leaders of Nazi Germany.

We went to the Nuremberg Palace of Justice and saw the notorious Courtroom 600 where the actual trials took place.

After Nuremberg, we went to Berlin. We were in the city a total of maybe 3 hours when Benjy started to pass a kidney stone. We ended up spending most of our time in Berlin either in the emergency room or holed up in our hotel room. Other than watching a World Cup game between Germany and Mexico at a German bar (before the pain literally brought him to his knees), we saw little of the city itself. There are no pictures to show. Oh well.

After surgery and massive doses of pain killers, Benjy limped back to Hong Kong. The kids and I traveled on by ourselves to Prague to finish off our European tour.

We only spent a couple of nights in Prague, but we visited the Old Town and…

…enjoyed the views from the iconic Charles Bridge.

And with that, our European tour was complete!

Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau

Our study of the European Theater of World War II would not have been complete without visiting some of the sites of the most terrifying displays of human depravity, the Nazi concentration camps.  We stopped in Krakow, Poland to see one of the most notorious of those camps, the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

Before venturing outside of Krakow for that tour, we took some time to enjoy the city first.  Dating as far back as the 7th century, Krakow is one of Poland’s oldest cities.  Our Airbnb apartment was in a quaint area not far from Old Town.

So, we wandered around the neighborhood and enjoyed the medieval architecture.

We also enjoyed some Polish street food.

Roasted polish sausage…

…from what looks like the original food truck.

Pierogis, polish dumplings

Borscht, which is a soup made from beets and cabbage.

It’s difficult for me to put into words, the rest of our stay in Krakow which included a tour of Schindler’s factory (made famous in the Steven Spielberg movie, Schindler’s List), the Auschwitz labor camp and Birkenau death camp.  The solemnity of the place hung heavy in the air like a thick sorrowful shroud.

This was the gate of Auschwitz.

The metal sign reads, “Arbeit Macht Frei.”  Work sets you free.  Most of those who were imprisoned at Auschwitz were worked to death.

We viewed a room that held items confiscated from prisoners as they arrived at the camp.  There were piles of prayer shawls, shoes, brushes, clothes, suitcases…

In one room, there was a display of human hair that had been cut from the heads of prisoners.  You could see full braids in the mountain of hair that towered to the ceiling.  We were not permitted to take pictures in this room.  The sight was hideous and I sensed a feeling of dread in my heart as I walked through.  It seemed like something terrible had taken up residence in that place and lingered there.  Our guide told us that because natural resources had become scarce in Germany, the Nazis repurposed and reused items seized from prisoners.  They used human hair to produce winter clothing like hats, coats and blankets.  A bolt of felt was on display that was produced from human hair.  You could see hair protruding from the edges of the fabric.

Cremation ovens

Nearby was the Birkenau death camp.  The distinctive German efficiency was evident here as the railroad tracks run directly to the gas chambers.  People were transported here on cattle cars and literally led to slaughter by the thousands.

I cannot comprehend how the average person could rationalize and justify the crimes committed against humanity here. It’s easy to condemn those who affirmatively participated, but what about those who stood idly by? I told Benjy that if I lived during that time, I would rather die than have on my conscience the reality of standing by and doing nothing as millions were brutally slaughtered. But that’s easy for me to say now. To a large extent, it’s likely that I am willfully blind to the injustice and suffering currently going on around me.

Lord, open my eyes, soften my heart and show me what I can do to ease others’ suffering. Forgive me when I fail to help those around me. Give me the courage to speak up and act in the face of injustice.

Back on Track

Whoa! Sorry for falling off the grid for awhile! My mom had major surgery (she’s recovering quite nicely) and I had some minor health issues as well (I’m doing much better now). What better way to start a new year than to recommit myself to (more) regular blog posts?

So while I was a way, this happened…

Yes, this feline-loving person adopted a D-O-G. Benjy said we’d had enough cats in our life, so much to my dismay, he decided that it was high time for a canine. We rescued her from the SPCA. She’s a Sharpei mix mongrel of some sort. She’s so cute, and so, so sweet! We named her Mei Mei, which means “Little Sister” in Mandarin. We thought it fitting to give her a Chinese name, well, because she’s Chinese and she was born in China, right?

I did some research on the Sharpeis. Interestingly, the breed originated in the Guangdong province of mainland China, not far from Hong Kong. Sharpei dogs were owned by mostly the wealthy who used them for dog-fighting. Their rollie-pollie skin made them less vulnerable to vicious bites. When the communists took over mainland China in the 1950’s they all but eradicated the dogs because of their association with affluence. A breeder smuggled a few puppies into Hong Kong and he saved the breed from extinction. He then brought some dogs to the U.S. where they gained popularity during the 1980’s.

My DOD photos might now be replaced with pics of Mei Mei. We are now in the tribe of shameless dog owners. This is a pic of Mei Mei after a bath. She’s cold.

Well, it’s good to be back at it. I’ll finish up our European vacation trip from last summer and then start on our adventures during the fall.

Red Russia: St. Petersburg

Our next stop in Russia was St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad.

St. Petersburg is also a beautiful city, although I thought it was less so than Moscow.  We took a break from history and slipped in some more culture with our visit to the State Hermitage Museum.

The Hermitage is the second largest art museum in the world just behind the Louvre.  It was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764.  For this excursion, Team Woods did not ante up for a tour guide, so I had to do some of my own research to figure out what we should see.  We had limited time and aimlessly roaming the halls of this vast gallery was not going to work for this art averse crew.

I figured it was a no-brainer to start with the most well-known artists like…

Rembrandt

“The Prodigal Son”

“David and Uriah”

 

Michelanglo

“Crouching Boy”

Gauguin

“Woman with a Fruit”

…and Picasso

“Two Sisters”

We also saw “must-see’s” like the Peacock Clock

The Main Staircase

The Malachite Room

…and Webley’s and my favorite, Fabregé eggs

After our art tour, we ventured outside of the city to see the Grand Palace at Peterhof.  Our destination was about an hour drive, so along the way our guide, Sergey, gave us some interesting information about the history of St. Petersburg and of Russia in general.  He told us about the city’s siege by Nazi Germany, also known as the 900-day siege, which began in September of 1941 and ended in January 1944.  When Germany attacked, every able-bodied person was mobilized to defend the city.  Despite the citizens’ valiant efforts, they quickly became encircled by the Germans.  The ensuing blockade claimed the lives of 650,000 Leningraders in 1942 alone due to starvation, exposure, disease and shelling from the German artillery.

Sergey also told us what it was like living under the communist regime.  All real property was state owned, so everyone was assigned an apartment in which to live.  Some families had to cohabitate with other families and no one really had a choice as to where to live.  Sergey explained that everyone accepted this reality and didn’t really question it.

After the fall of communism, families were given ownership of an apartment.  Most of the time, but not always, it was the apartment in which they were already living.  In addition, each citizen was given ownership interests in businesses previously owned by the state.   Equity stock in enterprises like oil and gas, manufacturing and timber were distributed to private citizens.  At the time, people greatly distrusted retaining their ownership of such interests, so many sold them as quickly as possible.  Those who saw a business opportunity, scooped up the interests for pennies on the dollar.  Their foresight paid off as several of the current-day Russian oligarchs amassed their immense fortunes in such a manner.

So, we arrived at the Grand Palace at Peterhof.

It was built for Peter the Great and was intended to be the “Russian Versailles.”  The gardens and fountains are the main attraction of this destination.  Constructed in the 1700’s, the greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps.  Natural springs in the area supply the water which is collected in reservoirs.  The differences in elevation on the property creates the pressure that drives most of the fountains.

And Peter was obsessed with fountains…

Closer into town, we visited the Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island.

…and visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral

We also stopped by the iconic Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.

And with that, our time in Russia came to a close.

Red Russia: Moscow

Because of Benjy’s job as a pilot, in both the U.S. Navy and with Fedex, there are few places in the world to which he has never traveled.  Prior to our European vacation, Russia had remained on his “not visited” list.  Our first stop in Russia was Moscow.  Of all the places we traveled to on this trip, Moscow was my most favorite.  It’s a gorgeous city, rich with history and culture.

We happened to be there one week before The FIFA World Cup, so preparations for the tournament were well underway and the town was in tip top shape.  Our number one destination in Moscow was, of course, the Kremlin.

The Kremlin is a walled complex in the heart of Moscow.  Within the walls lies Russia’s most iconic structures and destinations, namely…

St. Basil’s Cathedral.

The Tsar Bell, which is the largest bell in the world (although it never was, nor is it currently, functional)

…and Red Square

In Russian, the square is called “Krasnaya Ploschad,” which literally means “Red Square.” Many wrongly believe that the name is a reference to Russia’s communist ideology or to the color of the buildings around the square. We learned from our tour guide, however, that “krasnaya” is an old Russian word for “beautiful,” so Krasnaya Ploschad really means “beautiful square.” And it truly is beautiful!

The Senate Building is the residence of the Russian President.  When the flag is up, Putin is in the house.

Cathedral of the Annunciation

Our tour guide, Svetlana, told us that the paint on the towers is real gold and chips of it are blown off whenever Putin’s helicopter flies into the Kremlin.

Next to Red Square is Russia’s most famous shopping mall, the State Department Store, GUM.  It’s a gorgeous shopping complex filled with luxury retailers, like Hermes, Gucci and Burberry, shops much too pricey for Team Woods’ wallet.

What was fascinating about this place is hearing from Svetlana what it was like when she was a girl. She said in the early 1990’s, right before the fall of Communism in Russia, each shopfront sold the basic necessities. One place would sell shoes; the next sold vegetables; another sold bread, but only government issued items were available and selection was minimal.

The wait time for each store could be hours long. Svetlana remembers her mother waiting in line for 3 hours to purchase sandals for her. When it was finally her mother’s turn, the sandals in her size were all gone. Svetlana said that waiting in long lines for basic goods was a way of life for them. The communist regime kept the Russian people so isolated from the rest of the world that they did not know anything different and they never questioned the insanity of it.

Today, the only line you see at GUM is at the ice cream shop.

We sat down with Svetlana at a restaurant in GUM and enjoyed some interesting conversation about World War II.  I often forget that the Russians were part of the Allied Forces during the war and I wasn’t aware how intensely Hitler hated the Russians.  To be sure, Hitler’s imperialistic campaign all started with Sudentenland, which was part of the Russian state of Czechoslovakia. I was ashamed to admit my ignorance that 17 million Russians died during World War II!!

I told Svetlana about the D Day tour we took in Normandy and how our tour guide explained why the French surrendered to the Germans without a fight.  She immediately stopped the conversation, put down her fork and said, “I want to hear what he said.”  So, I told her that our guide said that when Germany invaded France, the French army had already been decimated protecting the Maginot Line.  He reasoned that the average French citizen was not a soldier and therefore could not fight. So, they just put their heads down and tried to live their lives without conflict with the occupying Germans.  I explained to Svetlana that we thought that Americans would have behaved quite differently.

Svetlana had a look of amazement on her face.  She told us a story of how her grandmother shot artillery during World War II because all of the men had been killed fighting the Germans.  She said that Russians would have fought with pitchforks and shovels to protect “Mother Russia.”

Indeed, part of the reason the D Day Invasion was so successful is because Germany’s best soldiers were fighting on the Russian front.  The Russians fought fiercely and stubbornly and it took Germany’s ablest soldiers to hold the eastern front. The German soldiers in France were either old, very young and inexperienced or conscripted non-Germans whose allegiance to the Wehrmacht was questionable.

Russians are fiercely patriotic, quite similar to Americans, I believe, and they have suffered greatly as a people, not just during World War II, but also under the subsequent Communist regime.

Not surprisingly, much glorification of the Proletariat (the working class) remains in Moscow.  You still see it in the subway stations…

and in the public spaces.

An interesting observation that Svetlana pointed out to us was the various iterations of the Russian flag.  This was the Russian flag used by Tsar Nicholas prior to World War I.

For 300 years, the 2-headed eagle had always been associated with the Russian monarchy.  After the communist revolution, the U.S.S.R. changed it’s flag and removed the eagles in favor of the hammer and sickle representing the workers of the world.

Currently, the flag of the Russian Federation is this.

However, recently, under Putin’s leadership, you begin to see the 2-headed eagle creep back onto the scene.  Here you can see that the imperial crest was restored on Moscow’s famous Bolshoi Theater.

Some argue that the restoration of the crest is proper and simply returning the structure to its historical state.  But, Svetlana hinted that there seems to be more at stake than historical restoration.  Certainly, Putin seems intelligent enough to consider the implications of approving such renovations.  What does this suggest about his governance?  Does he consider himself to be a monarch?

I asked Svetlana what she thought of Putin.  She told me that she likes him.  Yes, she was aware of the implications of corruption and self enrichment, but from her perspective Russia is stable under Putin’s administration.  She remembers the food shortages and the instability of the time leading up to and immediately proceeding the fall of communism in Russia and she did not look fondly upon those years.  Now, the Russian people are finally prospering and able to control their own destiny.  She was OK with Putin and the oligarchs maintaining control as long as life continued in its current state with the middle class prospering and peace in their country.

I have to say that I can totally understand her point of view.

European Vacation: Bastogne

From Normandy, we hopped onto another train and headed to our next stop, Bastogne, Belgium.  Bastogne is located near the border of Luxembourg, so we couldn’t resist getting this picture of the kids standing in the two different countries at the same time.

We traveled to Bastogne to learn about the Ardennes Offensive and its most famous battle, the Battle of the Bulge.  The Ardennes Offensive was launched by the Germans towards the end of World War II.  The attack was essentially Hitler’s last ditch effort to defeat the Allied Forces. The seven main roads of the Ardennes all converged at the tiny town of Bastogne.  The 101st Airborne was sent there to prevent the Germans from seizing control of such vital infrastructure.  It was here that the Battle of the Bulge was fiercely fought.

On December 21, 1944, the Germans succeeded in surrounding Bastogne, completely cutting off the 101st Airborne.  These American soldiers were outnumbered 5-1 and lacked cold-weather gear, ammunition, food and much of its senior leadership.

We visited the site in the Ardennes forest where the 101st Airborne valiantly fought the Germans despite their lack of resources.  You can still see some of the foxholes.

On December 22, the German commander sent a messenger to Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe with the following demand to surrender:

“To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne. The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units…There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honourable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note. If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term. All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.”

General McAuliffe’s famous response to this ultimatum was, “NUTS!” The messenger translated the terse response to the German commander as “Go to h*ll!”

That night the Germans pummeled the Americans, but the Americans stubbornly maintained their position.  You can still see bullet pocks on the buildings from the fierce battle.

With the help of General Patton’s tanks, the 101st Airborne succeeded in repulsing the German assaults.  On December 27, U.S. forces broke the encirclement of Bastogne.

 Many believe General Patton and his tanks came to the rescue of the American forces at the Battle of the Bulge.  The members of the 101st Airborne, however, vehemently deny that assertion and passionately maintain that they didn’t need any rescuing.