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…

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.

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.

Arnhem and Amsterdam with photos

We had another full day of traveling today.  Our first stop was a rest area at the border of Germany and The Netherlands.  We then traveled on to the city of Arnhem which is well knows as the location of the biggest paratrooper assault in WWII.  We first had time to find some lunch.  Today was the big market day in the city square and so some found some fresh fish (but fried).  Others headed into town to find a local restaurant for lunch.

Out next stop was the museum that covers the battle in September of 1944 called Operation Market Garden.  It was an attempt by the allies to get around the backside of the fortified Siegfried Line that the Germans had established.  If successful, it could have shortened the war by several months.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful and many lives were lost.  The museum had some outstanding displays and simulated battle scenes.

Our next stop was our hotel in Amsterdam.  After getting checked in, we walked to the Haesje Claes restaurant which featured traditional Dutch food.  The food was excellent!  After that, we walked around a bit before returning to the hotel.

Tomorrow we visit the Museum of our Lord in the Attic and the Rijksmuseum.

Hamburg and Bremen

Today was a bit of driving for us.  We left Berlin fairly early and had almost 4 hours of driving to reach our lunch stop of Hamburg, one of a few Hanseatic League cities from the early days of ship-based trading.  Hamburg is one of the largest shipping ports in Europe today.  We had time to explore a little and find some lunch.

After a couple of hours of driving, we arrived at a much anticipated visit to the Mercedes-Benz factory in Bremen, Germany, another one of the Hanseatic League cities.  We started at the Customer Center and our guide, “John the Legend,” met us and showed us a film.  We then were able to walk through their new robotic body assembly plant and their final assembly plant.  Unfortunately, no pictures allowed!  It was an amazing visit!   After checking into our hotel in Bremen, we walked to the Schuttinger restaurant which is close to the old city square.  The meal was excellent and the place was filled with local patrons.  After dinner, we walked around town, seeing the Schnoor area (old fishing village in the city), the Brementown Musician statue, and the city square with its city hall.  It is a beautiful old downtown area.

Tomorrow we leave Germany and head to Amsterdam.  On the way, we will stop at a museum in Arnhem, NL, which will tell us about Operation MarketGarden during World War II.

Berlin

Although we saw some of Berlin yesterday, today was a day to dig a little deeper.  However, unlike yesterday with lots of pictures, today we were in places that didn’t allow cameras or were not as appropriate for photos..

The bus dropped us off near the Reichstag, the central governmental office building.  We then walked over to the Brandenburg Gate for a closer look and some pictures.  Not too far away was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews.  The students took their time walking through this memorial, reading about the history of Jewish oppression and then lots of stories of individuals and families that mostly didn’t survive the holocaust.  It was very moving!

We then drove to Checkpoint Charley, the third border crossing between East and West Berlin and the one managed by the US.  There was an interesting museum about the coming of the cold war and the various ways that East Berliners attempted to get to the free West.

After the museum, the students had the rest of the day to explore various places around Berlin.

Tomorrow we will leave early so that we can get to Hamburg for lunch and then make our appointment at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Bremen, Germany.  Lots of time in the bus!

Wittenberg and Berlin

Today we left our Best Western Hotel in Leipzig and headed to the city of Wittenberg, Luther’s home town.  Katja was our guide and she met us around 10am to walk us around the city and tell us about the history.  Since 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the 95 theses, a lot of work is wrapping up on getting the historical sites ready for the summer and fall tourist season.  Unfortunately, the Luther House was not open.

Our first stop was the castle church.  This is the church at which Luther posted his 95 theses on the door.  Unfortunately, both the door and the church have been rebuilt and we cannot see the original.  However, we could see Luther’s grave as well as his colleague Melanchthon’s grave.  There are statues or portraits of many other reformers like Huss and Calvin in the church.  We then walked to the town square, next to the city hall and statues of Luther and Melanchthon.

The other important church is known as the “city church” and it was our next stop.  Luther preached at least 200 sermons in that church as well as baptisms, etc,  The baptismal fount from the 1400s is still there and used.  The church features many pieces of artwork about Luther an other reformers.  On the outside of the church is an interesting stone facade that shows a figure of a pig.  This was done as a way to insult the Jewish people that had to walk past the church.  We continued on to see Melanchthon’s house and then Luther’s house, but only from the outside.

Our next stop was Berlin.  Joop gave us a driving tour of some of the city’s highlights and first made a stop at the Berliner Dom.  This is essentially the church of the royalty as many Prussian and earlier kings/queens are buried there in the crypt.  We also climbed up high near the dome to get great views of the city while the sun was setting.  Our next stop was the East Side Gallery where a good sized section of the Berlin Wall still stands.  Artists have been asked over the years to paint sections of the wall which we can see today.  After that, we checked into our hotel which is near AlexanderPlatz, North and East of the center of Berlin.

For dinner, the restaurant Der alte Fritz, a local restaurant with very good food.

Tomorrow we will walk around the Brandenburg Gate, visit the Holocaust Museum, and stop at Checkpoint Charlie.