Final Post

Well, we are back home from an amazing experience!  All are well and made it back safely, even all of the luggage arrived!

Our long day started by visiting the Glade of the Armistice in Compiegne, France, the location where the WWI armistice was signed and also where France signed the terms of surrender with Hitler present in 1940.  The 11/11/1918 at 11am is still significant through France and the British commonwealth and was the basis of Veterans Day in the USA.  Much changed in the western world that day.

From there, we headed to the airport where check-in and security went smoothly.  The only hiccup was our plane had to be switched for another and so our flight was delayed almost 2 hours.  Beyond that, our trip home went well.

Noyon and Compiegne France

It was sad to leave Brugge, but it was time to move on toward the airport.  Our day was fairly simple with just a stop at a rest area for lunch and then a stop in the city of Noyon, France for a couple of hours.  Noyon is probably known for two things:  1) Oldest church with a bishop in France (cathedral dates back to the 1100s) and 2) birthplace of Jean Calvin.  Calvin was born in Noyon and lived here for approx 16 years with his family.  On occasion he would return to see his family, but when the French people kicked our the protestants, he moved to Geneva.  There is a museum about John Calvin near the center of the city and so we visited it.  It was probably more about the reformation since Calvin was just an ordinary kid growing up there, so little is known about his childhood.  Unfortunately, the museum was all in French, so it was difficult for students to get much out of it (and no pictures allowed either.)

In addition to the Calvin museum, we visited the city cathedral and a museum about Noyon.  The museum had artifacts dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, including a tiny pair of dice (also, no photos allowed.)  While outside the museum, several of the students ended up playing some soccer with some of the local high school students.  All had fun!  From there we moved on the the city of Compiegne where we are staying the night at a “motel,” quite similar to a Super 8 in a small town in the US.  Dinner (preceded by class discussions) is in the hotel.

Tomorrow we will visit the site of the 1918 armistice and then head to the airport for our flight home…

Burke Porter

This morning we took a bus ride to the Burke E. Porter Machinery Company where we took a company tour. Founded in 1953, Burke Porter Machinery Company specializes in creating machines to test cars before they are sold. They focus on end-of-line testing, laboratory products, automotive power train, and special machines for industries ranging from automotive to regulatory. As well as having the highest quality and most intelligent machinery, they also aim to have the best quality support system in their industry. One way they do this is by making it their mission to respond to each customer inquiry within 20 minutes. Finally, some companies that they work with include GM, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota, and Tesla, along with many more.

Before the tour began, we listened to a very in depth presentation of the company and the products they create. The presenter gave a very thorough explanation of the technologies they are implementing into their machines, and it was a lot of information to take in at once. This being said, it was cool to learn about what goes on behind the scenes with the safety testing of the cars we drive. After the presentation, we did a walk through tour of the building where they build the machines. Something we learned that was not expected before the visit was how many big car companies Burke Porter works with. While we were on our tour, our host mentioned how different the expectations of quality were between European and American products. He mentioned how in Europe this are more tightly packed together and tidy, whereas when he was in America he saw that they had different standards for the machines. Throughout this whole trip, and today during the visit, we noticed that Europeans like to explain a lot and they often go very in-depth when answering questions. We feel that this is slightly different from the U.S. just because of the extent they are willing to explain things, and even go off topic and start talking about something else. Because they spoke English, it was very easy to understand what they were saying which we appreciated because there have been times during our travels where it was hard to have simple communication. Overall we enjoyed the opportunity of touring this company and learning more about how a company based in Grand Rapids is doing global business.

– Donny K. and Joel B.

Brugge – Day Two

Today was our full day in Brugge.  It turned out to be foggy all day, even though weather predictions were for a sunny afternoon.  We began by driving to the Burke-Porter Company’s European headquarters (BEP-Europe) which is located on the outer edges of the city.  Bert and his staff gave us a thorough overview of the company and its products and then we went on a tour of the facilities where they design and construct many items, but in particular, they build end of line test equipment for automotive manufacturers.  Such equipment is used to test out some of the features and to calibrate things like wheel alignment and headlight positioning.  It was a very informative visit!

From there, we went back to the downtown area and had some time for lunch before a guided city tour at 2pm.  Thomas and Rita were our guides and they also gave us a thorough explanation of the history and the buildings found in Brugge.  After the tour, we had some time before our group dinner at Maximilian’s restaurant near the hotel.  The food was outstanding!

Tomorrow we move on to France, including a stop at the John Calvin museum in Noyon, France where John Calvin was born.  It is hard to believe it is our last full day here in Europe!


Flower Auction, Storm Surge Barrier, Vermeer, and Brugge

This was a big day for us!  We got an early start out of our Amsterdam hotel and headed to the Alsmeer flower auction at the company FloraHolland.  Some 20 million flowers are delivered, auctioned off, and then sent to their destinations each day of the week.  Flowers come from many parts of the world, but particularly from the Netherlands.  They get shipped all over the world as well.  The workers are constantly moving individual racks of flowers from one place to another to quickly fill the orders.  Most flowers stay in the warehouse less than a few hours.  Amazing!

From there, we headed to the storm surge barrier that is found near Rotterdam.  It essentially allows Rhine/Maas River traffic in and out from the North Sea under normal conditions but can close off the passageway if high tides/seas are expected that could flood the region.  The barriers are simply massive in scale!  It was a very interesting tour!

Next, we stopped for lunch in a small Dutch village in the Zeeland province and then headed to the town of Goes, NL where the Vermeer Corporation (of Pella, IA) has a plant.  We were able to hear about the company and the challenges they face in working in the EU. After a great visit with the people at Vermeer, we headed south to the town of Brugges, Belguim where we will spend the next two nights.  Dinner at the hotel was excellent, but not all of the students were fond of the fish soup (which was salty, but very good).  After that, many walked down to the city square where some beautiful buildings were lit up nicely.

Tomorrow we begin our day with a visit to the Burke-Porter facility in Brugge.  We then will have a guided tour of the city, followed by dinner in a local restaurant.


Vermeer is a manufacturer of industrial and agricultural equipment. The company was founded in 1948 when Gary Vermeer created a mechanical hoist to ease the process of unloading his grain wagon during harvest. Farm neighbors observed his hoist invention and they wanted one as well, so Gary decided to start his own business. From then on, he has introduced more products intended to make farming easier. Now, the main products that the company sells are Bale Processors, Bale Wrappers, Balers, Disc Mowers, Hay Rakes, Hay Tedders, and Trailed Mowers. Vermeer serves the construction, landscaping, and environmental markets domestically and internationally from locations in the Netherlands, Germany, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, the US, and Brazil. The headquarters is located in Pella, Iowa.

When we got there, we were immediately brought into a conference room for an introduction to the company’s history and values as a family business. Some interesting innovations that we (personally) previously did not know included the fact that Vermeer was the company to invent the cylindrical hay baler. In addition to this, one interesting anecdote was their innovative brush cutter which cut horizontally instead of the usual vertical method. This new method for brush cutting was accidentally discovered because the product tester hit the wrong lever, causing it to move horizontally (and work better!). As a note to Vermeer’s dominance in the market, it happens to be a third generation family owned business, which is highly unusual in today’s society.

After we heard about the history and the products, our representative showed us around the warehouse floor. There was a lot of large machinery, however, they do not exclusively sell large machinery, so there were some smaller products as well. Lots of mustard yellow paint.

We were impressed not only by the largeness of the products, but also by the overall company organization. They have strong foundations to work from, as demonstrated by their perseverance as a family business.

— Madeline Dice and Melissa Van Baren

Amsterdam – Day Two

Today began with walking to the English Reformed Church of Amsterdam and attending the service there.  The church is located in the Begijnhof which is an enclosed community inside the city of Amsterdam that is only for widows and unmarried women.  The service was very familiar to many and was very traditional.

After the service, we walked toward the Ann Frank House and sent the students off to find some lunch before our 1:00pm appointment to go through the house.  It was very moving to see how Jews in hiding lived in fear in the upper rooms of houses.  Following the tour through the house, we took a long walk to get to the place where the canal boat tour starts.  It was a nice and relaxing tour through many canals and then out to the harbor area.  For some, this was a real highlight in their time in Amsterdam.

Tomorrow will be busy with four stops before we arrive at Brugge:  the flower auction near Amsterdam, the large storm surge barrier near Rotterdam, lunch south of that, and then a visit to the Vermeer plant in Goes.

Amsterdam – Day One

Following an excellent Dutch breakfast, we headed to a new (to all of us) museum known as the Lord of the Attic Museum.  The museum tells the story of how a Catholic business man in the 1600s converted the attic in his home into a church since at that time Catholics were not allowed to have official or regular churches in Amsterdam.  The museum was well presented and very informative – a pleasant surprise for all.

After a bit of a walk, we arrived near the Rijksmuseum where we all had some time to first get some lunch.  Then, we entered the museum for a nice afternoon of seeing some amazing Dutch artwork.  The rest of the day was open for the students to explore.

Tomorrow we will attend the English Reformed Church of Amsterdam, get some lunch, tour the Anne Frank House, and then have a nice and relaxing canal tour by boat.

Amsterdam, Our Lord in the Attic Museum, Reijks Museum

This morning the group headed off to “Our Lord in the Attic Museum”, a Catholic house Church built in the 17th century. This museum highlights the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century where Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. It also shows a dark time during the Dutch Reformation period when Catholics and other non reformed religions were forbidden to worship openly. In order to circumvent this law, a wealthy merchant by the name Jan Hartsman transformed the top three floors of his adjoining houses into a church consisting of an alter and around 150 seats. Local officials often turned a blind eye to such churches so long as they remain hidden to the public. The people of Amsterdam where allowed to believe what they wanted, but they could not worship openly.

     Starting our tour in the lower area of the house, we got to see kitchens, living areas, and entryways with parts dating back to the 17th century. One of the cool features in the area were the box beds which cut into the wall and could be hidden by day with curtains. They were located in seemingly random rooms, and people would sleep not laying down but leaning against the the pillows. Doesn’t really sound too comfortable to us, but it acted as an attempt to save space.

     After the living quarters we made our way to the Chapel area which has been referbished to look the same way it did in the 18th Century. The wooden altar was painted to look like marble. This was a common feature throughout the house. One interesting feature in the chapel was the pulpit, which folded out of the left side of the altar. This feature is not common among Catholic Churches, but was an efficient and creative way to save space in this house church. Also, steel supports were added to the top three floors as the main beams were cut away to make room for the sanctuary.

     The audio guide posed the question of whether or not this church was a sign of religious tolerance or intolerance? This is a question we should all think/talk about. Either way, the museum gave us a unique perspective into the lives of the people of Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries.

     After a short lunch, the class made its way across town to the Reijks museum. The museum had a very helpful phone application that visitors could download. This allowed us non “Art Guys” to optimize our time by taking a 45 minute highlight tour. The museum had a good layout and a variety of collections. Best of all, most pieces had English descriptions unlike the Louve!

     We started the tour by looking at some of the artwork that helped make the 17th century into the Dutch Golden Age. The museum is home to Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch. The painting shows a company of Amsterdam’s militiamen, and was painted in 1642. There were several paintings in this room that showed a company of militiamen. However, what made The Night Watch so special was Rembrandt’s original idea to show men in action. Rembrandt masterfully uses light to emphasize important details in the painting like the captain’s hand gesture or the girl in the dress.

     One of our favorite and most surprising exhibits was the doll houses. These houses dated back to the 17th century, and were definitely not a toy for children. Rather, these massive works of art were used as decorative display pieces for women. Now I understand why my grandma’s Dutch friends have doll houses sitting in their living rooms!

    Finally, we saw three paintings by Vincent Van Gough in the museum: A self-Portrait, Undergrowth, and Cafe and Dish with Citrus Fruit. These were very small paintings (2′ x 2′), but they had the distinct “dotty” style that characterizes Van Gough’s work. Unfortunately, for two reasons, I would guess that these were not originals. 1) There is a Van Gough collection in a different museum down the street. 2) There was not a crowd of millennials around these three paintings trying to take selfies. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing the paintings without too much of a crowd.

     Tonight, we will enjoy some free time, allowing us to enjoy some authentic Dutch cuisine in small groups.

– Cam & Matt

Arnhem, Operation Market-Garden and Amsterdam

This morning we left Bremen and took a three-hour bus ride to Arnhem, Netherlands.  In Arnhem, we had time for lunch and a brief visit to the city’s market square.  After our lunch, we boarded the bus again and headed to the small town of Oosterbeek.  Here we visited the Airborne Museum, commemorating the heroic actions of Allied Airborne forces during Operation Market-Garden.  Operation Market-Garden was military operation during WWII conducted by the Allies whose goal was to gain a foothold near/in Germany across the Rhine river, with hopes of circumventing the well-defended and well-fortified Seigfried Line which stretched from Switzerland to the Ruhr Valley.  The Operation included the largest Airborne force to date, including forces from the American, British and Polish Paratroop divisions.  Their goal was to seize strategic bridges over the many rivers within the Netherlands around the towns of Arnhem, Nijmegen and Eindhoven (to name a few).  This would give the Allies a strategic advantage over the Germans in their plans to enter Germany.  The Operation failed however, as Allied forces met stiff resistance – this dashed all hopes of the Allies ending the War by Christmas 1944.

The visit to this museum reminded us once again that freedom comes at a price.  The old adage ‘freedom is not free’ rings true.  We were able to view many different artifacts and relics from the Battle of Arnhem.  We also toured what they called the “Airborne Experience”, which gave a staged walk-through of what it would have been like to have experienced Operation Market-Garden.  It again causes us to be thankful and forever indebted to those who have fought to preserve the freedoms we so often take for granted.  The Airborne Museum is a must for anyone who is ever travelling in the area.

After the visit to the Museum, we again boarded the bus for the last leg of our journey for the day, arriving in Amsterdam in the late afternoon.  The city, we immediately found it, is always bustling with activity.  We have all been looking forward to our time here in Amsterdam, and it is finally upon us.  Our dinner was an authentic Dutch meal.  We ate pea soup (fantastic), hodgepodge (also fantastic), and ice cream with chocolate and a Dutch cookie on top.  This meal was a great introduction to our time here in Amsterdam.  We look forward to exploring the city over the next couple of days.

Johnny Schat & Nii Kpakpo Adoteye Anum