Today we left the hotel, loaded up with some sack lunches. Our travel on the highways and side roads was very challenging as we had times of heavy snow, wind, icy roads, and drifting snow over the roads. Our first stop was the Neuwschwanstein castle in southern Bavaria. After getting our tickets, we then had a 25 minute climb up a mountain road to get to the castle. When we got to the castle, it was snowing heavily with strong winds and it was difficult to see the castle. The tour was excellent. Afterwards, we came down from the mountain and then climbed on the bus with our sack lunch.
Our next brief stop is know as Wieskirche or the church in the meadow. It was a beautiful example of baroque architecture. The outside was plain but the inside was amazingly ornate in white, gold, and marble.
We then headed to Munich with our first stop at the Steelcase Learning+Innovation Center. This is a working showcase of effective ways to configure an office environment. Klaus and Helmut walked us around and explained what we were seeing. It was an excellent look at up and coming office environments.
Our final stop was downtown Munich. We stopped at the Marionplatz and the students had a short time to explore before we had a huge meal at the Hoffbrauhaus.
Today was a little bit more relaxed than some of the other day. We had three goals: 1) visit the company Gentex, 2) get lunch and explore Ulm, and 3) arrive at our hotel in Landsberg am Lech. After a short drive on the autobahn, we arrived in Erlenbach, the location of the German facility of the Gentex Corporation. The home of Gentex is Zeeland, MI and the company specializes in mirror and vision systems for automobiles, windows for aircraft, and smoke alarms. The facility in Erlanbach provided Gentex a localized presence with the major German automakers, allowing them to work closely with them on new designs. We had a brief introduction to the company and then the class was divided into 3 groups, one to hear about future product ideas, one to see how the distribution of parts from Zeeland happens, and one to test drive some of the new concepts. It was a great visit!
We then left for Ulm, the home of the tallest cathedral in the world. It was a bit rainy and so students could only climb up part of the way to the top. Ulm was also a place to get lunch and do a little shopping. We arrived at our hotel in Landsberg am Lech where we were treated to a wonderful buffet of German food. We then had time to discuss our experiences of the past several days.
Today was an exploration of the Rhine River region of Germany, especially the area known for its castles. We left the city of Trier in the morning and arrived at the city of Koblenz. Koblenz is know for many things, but what we were most interested in was the Deutsches Eck, also known as the German Corner. Koblenz is located where the Mosel River joins with the Rhine River. At that intersection, a humongous statue has been erected to William I, the one who unified Germany in the 1800s. We were also hoping to use public restrooms nearby, but they were closed, so we continued along the Rhine River until we arrived at the town of St. Boar which had public restrooms open.
We then headed to Heidelberg, the location of the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle and the location of the Holy Ghost Church. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism served the ruler in the castle and worshiped in the Holy Ghost Church. Since 2013, a set of commemorative plaques have been on display inside the church about the catechism. After figuring out our way around town, the students headed off for a brief lunch. Then, we spent a few minutes inside the church before going up to the castle on a guided tour. After our time in Heidelberg, we headed to the town of Hockenheim where we checked into our hotel and went to a restaurant for supper.
Today was a big travel day for the group. We left Paris early in the morning and traveled to the city of Reims. Our goal was to worship in the Reims cathedral and see where the kings of France had been crowned through the centuries. The service was a Catholic Church service, was all in French, and was held in the cathedral with a temperature close to freezing. When we sang, we could see our breath!
After finding lunch in Reims, we traveled on the the country of Luxembourg to visit the American military cemetery from WWII. This is the place where General Patton is buried. Jennifer was our guide in the cemetery and told us about the cemetery and stories of several people that were buried there. At the end of our visit, our group was granted the privilege of bringing down the US flag and folding it up for the night. That was very special.
From there, we traveled into Germany and stopped at the border city of Trier, known as one of the earliest Roman settlements in the region. An ancient Roman gate still stands today and we visited it after we checked into the hotel and ate a delicious Italian dinner.
Today we began by heading to Notre Dame Cathedral by way of the subway system. The cathedral sits on an island in the middle of the Seine River. After walking through the cathedral, the group split up with some climbing the cathedral towers, some visiting Sainte Chapelle (a small but beautiful chapel), and some just walking around the island. We then walked to the area of the Louvre museum and found a food court in a shopping area next to the museum. Lunch was good, but not cheap!
Once we all got inside the museum, the students were off on their own (in small groups), seeing what interested them the most. The museum is huge and you could never see it all in an afternoon. After that, the students were on their own to explore more of Paris.
Several of us ended up touring the Palais Garnier (Paris opera house). The building is beautiful, both inside and outside. Some of us (4) decided to try and get tickets to the performance of Jephtha tonight. Jephtha is an oratorio written by Handel and in a similar musical style as the Messiah. This one, was acted out more like an opera than an oratorio. It was a great show and it was amazing to watch it for 10 Euros in one of the most beautiful performance halls in the world!
Today started with a walk to the Eiffel Tower. As you can see from the pictures, the top (summit) of the tower was shrouded in clouds today. Sometimes, the summit is closed due to weather and visitors are only permitted to go up to the second level. Even though cloudy, we wer able to go to the summit, so the students were excited. The views from the second level were actually better than from the summit, but it was fun to get to the top.
After the Eiffel Tower, we took the subway to the area of the Paris Catacombs. Before going into the catacombs, the students found some lunch in the area. The catacombs are an old mine/quarry that became the home for the bones of bodies dug up from city cemeteries as the city cleared the land for more buildings to be built within the city. It is a very unique experience to see the bones of more than 6 million people stacked carefully along underground passageways.
After the catacombs, the students were free to go off and explore the city in small groups.
Today we headed into France. After a 4-hour drive, we arrived at our first destination, the Palace of Versailles. Before seeing the palace, everyone was on their own for lunch. The palace was built by Louis 14th and several other Louis kings lived in and expanded the palace, including Napoleon. We could see many rooms and then tour the large gardens behind the palace.
After touring the palace, we had a short bus trip through the city of Paris, seeing many of the famous landmarks. After checking into our hotel near the Eiffel Tower, we headed to the Cafe du Commerce for our supper. Following supper, we learned how to use the subways in Paris and arrived at Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) on a mountain side that overlooks Paris. We had great views of the city.
Today was spent in the beautiful city of Brugge, Belgium. Our first activity was to visit a local firm called BEP-Europe. BEP is part of the Burke Porter Group of companies which ar based in Grand Rapids, MI. Bert Vermeersch and his colleagues gave us an in-depth introduction to the Burke Porter Group and the work they do in Brugge. We then had the opportunity to walk around their shop floor and see the machines they are building. Most of the machines are intended to perform testing of new cars as they are driven off the assembly line. After seeing the impressive machines, they offered us some refreshments before we returned to Brugge’s old city center.
After finding lunch on our own, we met up with two city tour guides that led us around the city, explaining what we saw and describing the history of the city. The weather was rainy in the morning, but the afternoon was partly cloudy and very comfortable. After the tour, all were off in small groups to find some supper and to continue exploring the city.
Our day began with a visit to the Vermeer Corp location in Goes, NL. Bob Shuman and members of his staff described the Vermeer corporation and the work they do in Goes. We were given a great tour of the place and were able to ask lots of questions.
We then headed to the Oosterschelde, one of the other major storm barriers keeping the country safe from big storms. Our next stop was the small town of Veere. The town used to be a port city on the North Sea, but when the storm surge barrier was installed, they no longer have access to the North Sea. Students were on their own to find lunch in the city of Middelburg in the Province of Zeeland.
Finally, we returned to the bus to drive to our destination for the night, Brugges, Belgium. After checking into the hotel, we had dinner at Maximilian’s restaurant. Dinner was excellent and the students walked with the professors to the city square after finishing our meal.
Our day began at the Flora Holland flower auction location. It is an amazing place that auctions off millions of flowers every single day, speeding them from the growers to the customers as fast as possible. We walked a catwalk over the areas where flowers on carts are moved around quickly.
Next, we walked through the old castle courtyard in Den Haag which is home to the Dutch parliament and government. Inside the courtyard is Knights Hall, a special building used by the King to give his state of the union address each September.
After a lunch stop in Delft, we traveled to the large storm surge barrier near the city of Rotterdam. The pictures show the impressive size of the barrier. Our day wrapped up when we arrived in Goes, NL for our hotel stay and dinner. This group of students really enjoys playing the game “Rook.”
for a video of some of us driving a “virtual” flower cart click on this link (start at about 0:50)