Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the Way to France

The third day of our trip to Europe was driving to check out the work site in Stiring-Wendel France, and check into our hotel in Saar Brucken Germany. We had to stop in Luxembourg for gas for the vans. This was quite interesting. I guess this tiny country has the cheapest gas, so many people like to refuel here. It was only about $6 a gallon. What happens is there are several pumps lined up next to each other that the cars pull up to going only in one direction. When you are done pumping, then you merge into a line and everyone pays at a separate toll booth type kiosk. The pic you see is of the cars merging to pay.

Stiring-Wendel was about a 4 hour drive from Brussels. Before we got there, we stopped at an American Military cemetary in Lorraine France. This place was sooooo cool! I had no idea it was here. It was dedicated to those Americans who served in WWI, but mostly WWII. As we pulled in we were met by a man who lives on this property and he and the caretaker are the only ones who work at the cemetary. I wish I could remember his name. Anyways, he is an American who was in the military for 24 years, and I can't quite remember how long he has been working at the cemetary. (I tell ya, I need to write this stuff down so when I finally get around to blogging about it, I have the info). I also remember that that he said something like he doesn't work for the American Embassy, but does work under it--and don't ask me to explain that because I don't remember that info either.

Do you see the number on the sign below? There are over 10,000 Americans buried here! Some of them, but a small number, are woman who were either nurses or with the Red Cross.

The grounds and buildings were absolutely beautiful and extremely well taken care of. We were allowed to walk anywhere and check out the headstones. If a soldier was known to be a Christian, their headstone was a cross. If they were known to be Jewish, their headstone was a Star of David. If their religion was unknown or that of any other religion, their headstone was a Latin Cross. I thought for sure I had taken a pic of each type of headstone, but apparently I did not of the Latin Cross. The following pics show the other types of headstones, and just to be respectful to the person buried of whose headstone I took a pic, I have included close up pics with that tombstones info.
This was only part of the cemetary!

Somebody had been her recently to pay tribute.

Tombstones with a gold star represented Medal of Honor recipients.
There were two very long walls of names of soldiers Missing In Action. However, the remains of these soldiers are still being found. If a name on these walls has a bronze flower beside it, that means the remains were found. In the past 14 months, 3 soldiers remains have been found!

Here is another view of the cemetery from the MIA walls. We walked all the way over to the white wall across the field. It is an overlook with an eagle on the front.
This is taken from the eagle outlook looking back over the cemetary and that is the chapel building in the background.

The chapel is a very tall building--a craning your neck to look at everything on the walls kind of building. I am not sure what all of the flags represent. There was a large war map, inscriptions, and then figures of war heros.
Look how huge the figures on the wall are compared to some of our team members. I am not sure who the figure in the middle is supposed to represent. I am not confident in saying he is supposed to be Jesus, but maybe he is?
King David and Emperor Constantine
King Arthur and George Washington

We continued on to Saar Brucken, Germany to check into our hotel. Within a couple minutes walking distance was a McDonalds where we grabbed some lunch. The employees only spoke German, but one spoke enough English to help us all get our orders placed. They also had a very nice pastry counter. I didn't buy anything from it, but loved taking some pics of items, and got a kick out of some of the names. There was also a very nice view of the hill behind the McDonalds. The trees were just barely starting to change color. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be when they are fully changing colors.

After lunch, we drove across the border to Stiring-Wendel. Literally, the work site in France and our hotel in Germany are right near the border of the two countries. One of our team members is a runner and we joked about how he would jog from our hotel in Germany all the way to France. We got to meet the pastor Michel and his wife Leoni (I'm not sure if I'm spelling their names right) of the church we would be helping to renovate. They are the most awesome people. They have two young daughters, and Leoni's parents from Holland were there to take care of the girls. Also, extremely nice people. Leoni and her parents speak fluent English, and Michel spoke some. I must say it was fun to talk with him because I could practice understanding and speaking French when he talked. While all of the guys checked out the work to be done on the church, I got to play with the girls a little bit and visit with Leoni and her parents. Right next door connected to the church is a beautiful thrift store they operate to help those in the community with discounted clothing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Belgium Part 2

After touring Waterloo, we headed to the Grand Place in Belgium. This is like a town square surrounded with very architecturally, ornate, European looking buildings. It was beautiful. Between those buildings are narrow streets and then there are alleyways off of those streets. I would have loved to have spent more time here exploring all the shops. In one of the buildings Karl Marx stayed and wrote part of The Communist Papers.

I just loved the looks of these buildings.
The Grand Place was extremely busy this Saturday. There was a huge stage and tent and speakers and jumbo tv screen set up in one area with bands and a speakers and a little parade, but I don't remember what they were celebrating.
In the next pics I just loved the ornate statues and gold and especially the window flower boxes. You saw window flower boxes everywhere in Europe!

These gold lions were high up on a building--I just love how my camera can zoom up close to things so far away!

In history, whenever you saw a white swan on a building, it meant that building was a brothel.
I believe this statue was St Michael (in white) stomping on the devil (in the black)--do you see it? I was looking into the sun, so I guess I didn't get the entire part of St Michael.

I believe these were all apartments above the shops. Not sure I'd want to live here though--I can imagine the noise.

The next pics are of one of the most famous statues in Brussels, although I had never heard of it before. It is a little boy peeing. He is dressed in a soldier outfit, but I actually saw a few postcards showing him dressed in other outfits such as Santa Clause. There are a few stories behind this statue. One is that a Belgian Prince went missing one day. The King told his soldiers to go looking for him and then to report back to him exactly how they found him so he could make a statue to celebrate the finding of the prince. The soldiers found the boy peeing, so that is how they made the statue. Another story is that there was a fire somewhere and a prince peed on it and put out the fire so they made this statue to honor the prince. The REAL story behind this statue is that it represents the poor boys of Belgium who used to pee and turn that into the leather tannery in order to make money. The pee was used to soften the leather. The statue is peeing into a little pool of water and it is blocked off with a fence. You should have seen all of the people trying to get in front of the statue to have their picture taken with it. CRAZY!

Now, not to be left out, Shawn told us there was a less famous statue of a girl squatting to pee. We had to walk down a couple of alleys until we found it. It was in the back of the alley. It may be kind of hard to see looking through the bars.

There is also another statue of a lady that legend says if you rub it you will someday return to Brussels. Roger and I both rubbed it, so I guess it remains to be seen if we ever return again or not.

On several street corners in the Grand Place there are waffle shops. You just walk up to the window and order your waffle and there are a variety of toppings you can get on it. Then they gave you those little french fry forks to try to eat it with. Those forks didn't help hardly at all, so we ended up trying to eat our waffle covered in strawberries and chocolate, with out hands trying not to get too messy.

I loved walking the brick (and maybe cobble-stoned [I can't remember for sure]) streets and alleys. However, there were times you really had to watch your step because some bricks would be missing and you could twist up your ankle. One of the streets was covered somewhat and I learned that this street contained the high end shops. One of the shops displayed a picture of the King and Queen of Belgium.

 If we could not find a place to park the vans along the streets, there were underground parking garages. We parked on the 6th floor of the garage--UNDERGROUND!

Our hotel was very nice. It was on a busy street where a cable car ran up and down (look at the 3rd pic). Our room was on the backside of the hotel and I guess some of our team whose rooms were on the front side of the hotel were bothered by a nightclub across the street until the wee hours of the night. Roger and I heard nothing thankfully. After being up for soooo many hours now (remember there is a 7 hour time difference, we barely slept on the plane, and we spent an entire day touring Brussels) you'd think we'd get a great night's sleep. Roger was about one of the only people on the team who did. I slept for 4 hours, was up for 3 and then was only asleep for maybe another 1 1/2 hours. Man, I wish I could sleep like he does.

Look how narrow the streets are. You can see one cable car, there is a track right beside it for another cable car, and look how the van is over that white parking line even though it is right up against the sidewalk. Now I know why all of the cars in Europe are so small. Vans, and even pickup trucks are kind of unusual in the cities.
Overall, the Brussels area was a great place to visit, full of history and lovely architecture. You definitely do not have to worry about speaking the language--English is know all around Brussels. In fact, our pastor on the flight over sat by someone who works for the American Embassy I think, and she commented to him that Brussels is one of her least favorite places in Europe because it is so Americanized. Still, I enjoyed it.