family life, Travel

European 4th of July 

We spent this 4th of July without the fanfare and fireworks we usually enjoy. This year, we took a step back in history and explored the oldest preserved medieval castle in Belgium, Castle Bouillon, home of one of the first Crusaders, Godefroid.
The view from the castle was spectacular.

We saw a falconry display that was very enjoyable, except we only understood a handful of words as it was in French and Dutch. Ha! We stopped at the little cafe that was directly outside the castle and had a snack and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings.

After the castle, we headed over to Orval Abbey. There is a lovely tour of the surrounding ruins of the former abbey and a small museum of abbey artifacts. The current one was rebuilt in the 1920’s/ 30’s, but the first abbey was there as early as the 10th century. And they make great, hard-to-find beer!

Following our visit, and of course, a purchase of their revered beer, we drove to Bastogne. Hubs and the boys had taken a trip here earlier in the year, and I had wanted to visit myself, but I wasn’t certain if I was going to get the chance. I’m so glad I did. It was an incredibly moving experience. The World War II Memorial was a grand tribute to the sacrifices made there and the beautiful and tranquil countryside it overlooked made it hard to believe that such harsh fighting had occurred there over 70 years ago.

The most moving part to me, however, was seeing the remnants of the foxholes the soldiers dug in Jack’s Wood. I felt overwhelmed standing there imagining the loss and fierceness of the fighting that happened in that very spot. I know the movie, Band of Brothers was a re-enactment, but the depiction of the woods was spot-on. It was an amazing and sobering experience. I really felt the need for people today, and especially the younger generations who won’t have living relatives to remind them like I did, to remember these battles and the reasons for them.

I was even more keenly aware of the story of Band of Brothers as K was once in the 506th, 101st Airborne. 506th moved into other Divisions several times during its history in the US Army, but it returned to 101st Airborne Division in 2004. K was part of A-Troop (there was no Easy Company this time) but many of the survivors from Easy Company, 506th came to celebrate the historic re-flagging ceremony at Ft. Campbell. It was a moment of the past and future coming together. K had visited those foxholes back in 2003 before he was an Iraq War veteran and to come back now after being an Iraq War veteran (serving with 506th) and an Afghanistan War veteran serving in both 2 times, it was even more powerful for both of us. I think this is the most memorable and meaningful 4th of July we have ever had.

This was a perfect final excursion in Belgium. We got a little bit of everything that is meaningful to us all in one trip; history, beautiful sights, family time and some sunny weather, even if it was a little cool.

Now, on to the next big family adventure; Florida and post-military life! I have a feeling there is plenty of fun and excitement yet to come!