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WW2 Europe trip Pt 2 - Belgium (and then some)

Last spring I went to Normandy to see the D-Day sites and museums, stand with my feet in teh sands of Utah and Omaha beaches, etc. Was a great time and my first time driving in Europe, which was fun. Could have used a few more days there but all in all a great time. Well now I'm thinking of moving North and seeing the war related sites in Belgium, and maybe taking a trip down to Luxembourg since I know Patton is buried there and there are some museums and sites there as well. So my questions are these.

  1. Other than Bastogne what other must see sites are there? I know there is also Ypes and Waterloo to check out.
  2. How is driving in Belgium? The whole give way to the right thing was never as issue driving in France, but I've read the Belgians are crazy drivers.
  3. 6 days long enough to see the war sites in this nation? That will give me maybe a day or two to pop over to Germany, then finish it off with a couple days in Amsterdam.
Posted by
11348 posts

Yes, there is a whole lot of war sites in Belgium, it was the battle ground (one of them) in Europe for 500 years, ie the 1500s to 1945. It all depends on which war or time period you want to focus...WW1 and 2, the 18th century, Napoleon,

Some of the important battles and those decisive ones known as "Entscheidungsschlachten" are Waterloo (obviously on your list),

Ypern, Rocroi, Mons (1914 where the BEF bumped into Kluck's 1st Army), La Cateau, Sedan on the Meuse (1870, true it's in France

but just across the border...you can see the remnants/ruins of the fort battered by the Prussian guns. Sedan was fought over 4 times, (1870, 1918, 1940, 1944), Wavre, Fleurus, Jemappes,

If you have the time and interest in 1944 for the war site, go to La Gleise.

Posted by
80 posts

My main focus will be WW2 sites, but I know there are a few must see sites from earlier conflicts, Ypres is apparently quite a site. And after seeing Napoleon's tomb last spring I should go see where his dreams all came crashing to a halt.

Posted by
11348 posts

"...maybe a day or two to pop over to Germany...." If this means tracking down another war site in the vicinity, there are more.

Go the lower Rhine area, (Niederrheingebiet) especially the town of Kleves. The Reichswald battle took place there. . The Reichswald war cemetery is located there. I saw it once...in 1989....poignant, notice the contrast.

Posted by
11348 posts

Main focus is on WW2...then I would heartily suggest seeing # 1. the Reichswald military cemetery from the battle in 1945 and battle site. The British under Horrocks (of XXX Corps fame at Arnhem) were involved, and #2. La Gleise..its involvement in the battle of the Bulge.

To get more than a superficial overview of Waterloo, I suggest spending 3.5 -4.5 hrs there. I was there in 1984, spent close to six hours but as of the bicentennial in 2015 much more can be seen, visited than on my visit 31 years prior.

Posted by
80 posts

I haven't been to Germany since 2013 and spending another night there on my way to Amsterdam would be a good thing. I'll mark it on my map I'm putting together.

Posted by
80 posts

What do you think would be the best base of operations for the first few days, Ghent or Bruges? Or maybe a smaller town?

Posted by
14505 posts

Maybe wait and see if Nigel chimes in. He has some choice words about driving in Belgium. Are you flying on and out of Amsterdam?

Posted by
80 posts

No, still planning but looking like I'll fly into Belgium, then out of Amsterdam. Though its all in the early stages. I know to see what I want to see I'll need a car since so many sites are scattered all around. Plus I loved driving around the French countryside and I imagine the Belgian areas will be a lot of fun too.

Posted by
14505 posts

Suggest dropping the car at Brussels airport, then taking the train to Amsterdam from there. International drop charges and all that. Plus a car is pretty useless in Amsterdam.

Posted by
163 posts

The Ypres area is worth 1-2 days.

Regarding the Battle of the Bulge, there's much more than Bastogne to see. 10 years my college-aged nephew and I did a superb long weekend of some of the Bulge sites, and we enjoyed our time outside Bastogne more than our time in Bastogne. One of our key references was William Kavanaugh's book "A Tour of the Bulge Battlefield." One day we focused on Clervaux and the area in Luxembourg due east of Bastogne. On perhaps our favorite day we followed Peiper's path from the Losheim Gap to Malmedy to La Gleize (where his tank advance stalled). Just north of Bastogne (and south of Foy) is a poignant memorial erected by Steven Speilburg and others honoring the 101st Airborne's Easy Company ("Band of Brothers").

During my 5 or so times driving in Belgium, I was very aware of the "give way to the right" rules, but I rarely encountered them. I found driving in Belgium about the same as driving in France in terms of difficulty.

Posted by
1341 posts

As Belgium was quickly liberated during the fall of 1944 (the Germans were in that stage on the run to the Rhine river) there are not so many battle sites for putting on your list. However their counter attack in december, the Battle of the Bulge made Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium and partly Luxembourg the centre of this decisive battle. So mainly you have to look around Bastogne.

Remains of the Atlantikwall can be seen near Oostende and easy to reach with public transport. The two V2 launch bases around Saint-Omer are worth to consider too and not that far from the Belgian border.

Being a deportation centre Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen it’s an important reminder about the Holocaust, certainly worth to put it on your list as well as concentration camp Fort Breendonk west of Mechelen.

Think Bruges is not a bad place for reaching Oostende and Saint-Omer, you can visit Kazerne Dossin and Breendonk on the way to Wallonia. Ypres too if WWI remains of interest.

Posted by
940 posts

The new Battle of the Bulge Museum in Bastogne is excellent--be sure to set aside at least three hours to see it all. I'd also consider hiring a local guide to take you to battle sites outside of the town, such as the Easy Company foxholes that still exist. I'd skip Malmedy, where 84 American POWs were lined up and shot by the Nazis. It actually happened outside of Malmedy in Baugnez and while there is a memorial and a museum, it's rather disappointing. The museum is a small, privately run place with dated exhibits and the memorial is next to a traffic roundabout.

The Waterloo battlefield used to be disappointing, but now with the new Memorial 1815 museum, it is definitely worth a visit. I've rarely seen a museum put a battle into historical context as well at this one. And the 4D movie is quite an experience (occasionally the room shakes and you can smell houses burning). If you have time to go down to the Hougoumont Farm, there is also some great exhibits there as well. Wellington said the battle was won at the gates of Hougoumont.

Posted by
80 posts

Awesome info. Much appreciated! I've been mapping out things like the Easy Company memorial and foxholes, it was fun to find the similar one at Brecourt Manor, though since its a working farm I was unable to go to the actual sight of the battle.

Trying to see if I can nail this down for spring or if I have to wait for fall.

Driving and parking a chore in Ghent?

Weather good enough for outdoor site seeing in late April?

Posted by
21625 posts

Driving and parking a chore in Ghent?

Can be. Don't expect street parking. While certain streets still have it, and you will drive past lots of parked cars, try to find a space open. And then you have to pay.

Use one of the underground car parks. Just expect plenty of road construction and last minute detours and diversions on the way. Follow the orange signs.

Posted by
80 posts

Assuming I'm based out of Ghent the first few days would I really need a car to see Ypres and Waterloo?

Posted by
21625 posts

Weather good enough for outdoor site seeing in late April?

You bet. Just take layers and add or subtract depending on that day's weather. Take an umbrella and waterproof jacket too.

Go up to the the Netherlands and see the Tulip and Hyacinth fields, and Keukenhof.

Posted by
21625 posts

Assuming I'm based out of Ghent the first few days would I really need a car to see Ypres and Waterloo?

What do you want to see in Ypres? Just the museum and the Menin Gate? Or some of the preserved trenches, the cemeteries, the craters? There are trains to Ypres, but getting out into the countryside means leaving the town.

There are well respected minibus tours which can take you around if you don't want to drive.

Somebody else will answer about Waterloo, I know about the WW-1 and WW-2 history but Napoleon was before my time.

Posted by
80 posts

Excellent.

I'm thinking that I should limit my car rental to just the parts I'm going to spend down near Bastogne and Luxembourg. Ghent, Ypres, Waterloo would be by train. Then get a car and drive down and stay near Bastogne for a couple days. Maybe spend a night in Luxembourg City and see the memorials around that. Drive back to Brussles, drop the car off and take a train to Amsterdam for 2-3 days, then take the train back to Brussels to finish out the trip. Depends on the cost difference flying back out of Amsterdam. Though time is more important than money on these trips...within reason.

Edit: In light of your reply this plan may not be the best one to see everything.

Posted by
69 posts

There are some of the Maginot Line forts you can visit. We toured Ouvrage Hackenberg and it was excellent. It may be a bit out of the way for you so you may be able to find others more convenient.

Posted by
1341 posts

This in case you still want to use a car during your stay in Ghent or Bruges.

The Ibis hotel next to the cathedral in Ghent has it’s own parking but no idea about extra costs for that. I think you have to arrange a place before arriving, best is to contact them anyway if you still want to drive to the hotel as it is located in the zone only for licence holders and they will tell you how it works for their guests.

Underground car parks in Ghent are expensive, street parking is payed even during the night. After business hours think there will be enough place for parking the car, however if your hotel (like the Ibis) is in the very hart of the historic centre, but hasn’t it’s own parking you have to park outside that zone. Ghent and also Bruges have as far as I know not directly a reputation for car burglary, but nevertheless the car will stay unattended on the street during the night so I am a bit carefull for suggesting places to park that are not in the vincinity of your hotel, best remains to ask them about the options.

In Bruges you can park in the large parking next to the railway station for €3,50/24hours, including a free bus ride into the historic centre. Have done in the past a few times long term parking there, but if you plan to stay in Bruges ask your hotel or B&B if this still is a good idea nowadays.

Posted by
940 posts

Regarding Waterloo, a car works best but you can do it by public transportation. Leaving from Brussels Gare du Midi, take a train to Braine-l'Alleud--not the town of Waterloo--and then catch the "W" bus that will take you near the battlefield. It leaves right from the station.

Posted by
80 posts

Beer in Belgium...

Any recommendations to someone who does not like dubbels and tripels? They are widely made and imported here and there is something about the flavor from the yeast maybe that I don't like. In my heart I'm a English bitter or German pils type guy. I'm guessing Belgian beers have a much wider variety than what makes it over here though.

Posted by
163 posts

Yes, there is a very wide variety of Belgian beers. I liked Chimay Bleu. However, due to the high alcohol content of Belgian beers, I never drank one if I had more driving to do that day.

Posted by
11348 posts

Hi,

To get the most out of visiting the sites connected with Waterloo, the rental car is a necessity since there are numerous ones,... just depends on your time factor and determination to track them down, such as Ligny, two days prior to Waterloo where Napoleon defeated the Prussians, though not decisively, definitely viewed as a Prussian loss, also Wavre, a Napoleon mistake in timing and choice of commander. You need the rental car to see unit monuments, also Hougoumont and Plancenoit.

I would recommend a concise, readable, short treatment on Waterloo, "Waterloo" by the British historian, Andrew Roberts, a master on Napoleonic history, yes, there are tons of books on Waterloo, some of them I would reject outright. You can't go wrong with A. Roberts' work.

Posted by
11348 posts

On Belgian beers...you can try Leffe.

In northern France you'll see lots of places offering Leffe and Pelforth, a French beer. Maybe you'll see that in Belgium too where both these beers are available at numerous places.

Posted by
11348 posts

I know you're still engaged in putting the trip logistically together but should you include going into northern France from Belgium, ie, doing the opposite of Napoleon in 1815 (that was at Charleroi), the Canadian monument is in Vimy near Arras along with the big German WW1 military cemetery nearby.

There are two German war cemeteries in the Ypres area. Or, have you ruled out northern France and the war sites there?

Posted by
86 posts

Chiming in on the Atlantikwall museum. Great site, easily accessed from Bruges via train to Ostende, then coastal tram. We stayed just outside the center of Bruges in a residential area with plenty of what appeared to be free street parking. Easy walk into town and easy bus to the train station.

Posted by
6272 posts

Aaron, thanks for starting this thread. It's given me some ideas on things I want to see next year when I visit Belgium.

Fred, thanks for the book recommendation on Waterloo. I see several by Andrew Roberts, looks like 2 general ones. Which one is better?
Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Gamble or Waterloo: June 18, 1815: The Battle For Modern Europe.

Thanks also for the info on the Atlantikwall open air museum in Ostend. I'll be on a RS tour and will have a free day in Bruges so may go there then, weather permitting.

Posted by
11348 posts

@ Pam...I am only familiar with A. Roberts, The Battle for Modern Europe"...the 2nd title of the two you list. But, anything A Roberts writes on Napoleon is masterfully treated.

In English alone, let alone in French and German, there is a ton of Napoleonic literature ranging from the tedious, biased, clearly in the anti-Napoleon camp (nothing wrong with that but is the thesis/conclusion supported by the sources in the author's research.) to those critical, incisive but showing historical empathy, and those fans of Napoleon.

I suggested A Roberts' "Waterloo: The Battle for Modern Europe" because the topic is well treated, a survey in a readable, concise, erudite and analytical way without getting into history over-load, over-kill, unless you want that, since works abound in the operational history of the battle. I can recommend lots of those too.

Now for more detail and more comprehensive picture, I suggest A Roberts' chapter on Waterloo in his "Napoleon: A Life"

Posted by
80 posts

I haven't ruled out Northern France but WW1 isn't my real focus and I was just there in May. Of course I think I could go to Normandy, not the same area I guess, every year. My main focus is Battle of the Bulge and WW2, though some sites like Waterloo just can't be passed up.

Posted by
11348 posts

"...some sites like Waterloo just can't be passed up." How true...well put!

Posted by
6272 posts

Aaron, I'll add something as well to your thinking about the WWII Battle of the Bulge sights. There are some smaller local museums you may stumble across that might be of interest. Perhaps not totally professionally done, but produced from the heart.

My Dad flew out of an airfield near Sint-Truiden beginning in January of 1945. The base has seen many different units stationed there since the Germans commandeered farm land and built it in May 1940. Then it was taken by the Allies and used by the RAF and the USAAC in 1944-45. There is a small museum in the town that the locals have put together. I know about it because one of the locals was in contact with Dad's Squadron reunions and actually came over several years to visit with the guys, record stories and photos and build the base for the museum collection. I've visited and it's just so sweet that the people of the town want to keep the memory of those who served there alive. They've tried for balance as they also have a section on the Germans who were stationed there as well as post war use as a NATO base.

Posted by
1341 posts

For having a deeper and to my opinion more realistic understanding of the battles in general of Belgium, the Netherlands too, it’s worth knowing the Battle of the Scheldt. Crucial was making the large deepwater port of Antwerp operational for supplying the rapidly advancing Allied front that became also much longer. Supply lines still running back all the way to Normandy at that stage, so a large seaport closer to Germany was of vital importance. By giving in September Operation Market Garden priority over clearing the Scheldt Estuary (the waterway that connects Antwerp with the sea), it resulted in serious complications like loosing the momentum of the moving front due to the lack of hardly needed material. One of the objectives of the Battle of the Bulge was for the Germans splitting the Allied front and getting Antwerp back.

The Battle of the Scheldt has fallen into oblivion, there is no large museum, most are smaller local museums. The Liberation Museum Zeeland (Bevrijdingsmuseum Zeeland) in Nieuwdorp is the most ambitious, the guides are passionate telling about this battle. If you stay in Ghent best using a car to get there, as you have to cross the estuary and public transport is a bit insufficient from Ghent. Worth reading the next articles.

https://www.bevrijdingsmuseumzeeland.nl/index.php/en/47-articles/366-battle-of-the-scheldt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Scheldt

Posted by
11348 posts

" The Battle of the Scheldt has fallen into oblivion." True as it pertains to American historiography on WW2 and the year of 1944 after the liberation of Paris. Keep in mind too the Allied lines (here, ie the British and Canadians) had left a gap in Holland in August/Sept, ie, prior to Market Garden, through which the German 15th Army under von Zangen escaped and made it out to safety.

Posted by
1341 posts

It’s indeed the 15th Army (defended the Atlantikwall around Calais) that could escape at the time Antwerp was liberated the 4th of September and caused a whole lot of trouble later. Not immediately taking the Scheldt estuary for the sake of Market Garden made the battle according critics unnecessary difficult (think it wasn't the only one), the first ship with supplies could not arrive earlier as November 28, that’s almost 3 months later. So it took a while before everbody got the material they needed.

Posted by
11348 posts

Yes, very true...keep in mind that on the night of 5-6 June the Germans put the 15th Army at Calais on alert, after putting the two pieces of the French poem by P. Verlaine together, whereas the German 7th Army covering Normandy was not put on alert. In terms of "iffy" history, imagine what would have happened had the 7th also been put on alert?

Posted by
248 posts

The OP mentions WW2 and Ypres, but just to be clear, Ypres is 99% about WW1, there were five battles between 1914-1918, with appalling and heart-rending suffering and about a million casualties. The U.S. played a relatively small role in the Ypres battles, one reason why many Americans are not familiar with it. The main armies were the British, German, French, Belgian, and the some of commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others.

Posted by
80 posts

I am aware that it was a WW1 site and I'm mostly looking at WW2 sites. But I'm not totally focuses on WW2 at the expense of interesting sites.

Posted by
4 posts

Some of the best preserved German Tiger Tanks and Panzers, remnants of the Battle of the Bulge, can be found in the center of well paved, modern, landscaped, roundabouts near Humain, located between Rochefort and Marche en-Famenne in the Walloon, French community of Belgium also Stavelot. Untouched by allied artillery or shells unleashed by a tank destroyer, these battlefield survivors were abandoned in the nearby fields when they ran out of fuel.
Four Kilometers SE of Malmedy visit the Memorial du Massacre de Baugnez (Malmedy Massacre) and the "44 Museum.

In 2012, I bicycled, 1800-kilometers over one month from Utah Beach to Liege, Belgium, following the guidon of my father, a Combat Medic with 24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
merci
Val Valentine

Posted by
11348 posts

@ AaronW....If you want to see an array of German tanks from WW2, (among others too), I heartily recommend The Bovington Tank Museum in England.

Needless to say the thorough display of these tanks range from the Pz 1 to the Tiger 2, etc etc. You name it, it's there. Going there from London, take the train to Wool from London Waterloo, then take the waiting taxi to the Museum for 7 GBP. There is a separate room reserved for the Tiger tanks.

Posted by
80 posts

I should have went there when I was in England a few years back. I hit the great tank museum in Saumur, France last spring which was cool.

Posted by
9638 posts

On Belgian beers...you can try Leffe.

I'm thinking the same for what you're looking for, Aaron. I'm not a Stella fan so Leffe was my go-to when we weren't at a craft brewery or I didn't want to think about it much.

Posted by
11348 posts

Both museums Bovington and Saumur claim to be the largest and most extensive museums on tanks with the massive array of tanks, US, Soviet, French, British, Finnish, Czech, German, etc, and claim to offer its special features, such as an operational Tiger tank, among other specialties. I've yet to go Saumur (should have done it ages ago) but Bovington does not have 2 tanks in its huge collection, the Soviet JS 1 and JS 2. At least, I couldn't locate them each time I went.

Posted by
80 posts

What annoyed me was the King Tiger was not there when I went to the museum, and empty space and a sign. Then again they were usually broke down in the field during WW2 so I should say it added realism. :) If I go to the UK again I will defiantly hit Bovington.

Posted by
11348 posts

@ Aaron....do you recall what information was given on that sign? What did it say? Only in French or in other languages as well? Sometimes it is in the local language and English. I find that in seeing, visiting history museums, military museums it is best to be able to read the local language, especially in France, so as to understand not only the explanations but also the realia displayed, presented. Reading the language is key.

At Bovington you won't be disappointed....King Tiger (Königstiger) is there.

Posted by
80 posts

I honestly don't remember and didn't get a picture.

Posted by
11348 posts

Thanks...oh well, next time. By realia I mean behind the display window are newspaper headlings, proclamations, pamphlets, posters, etc. If it's in German, it will be in Fraktur, which means you cut through in order to read it, such as you see in Vienna, (the Army Museum), Linz, etc.

Posted by
1 posts

The visit to the Maginot Line, specifically the Hackenberg site, is exceptional! They had three tours available (French, German, English) and it was about 3 hours. This site is the crown jewel as it was the first place built for the Maginot Line, and it has quite a history. We took the tour in English and it was given by a Brit, Paul H., who lives nearby and volunteers regularly. He has a wealth of knowledge and the tour was well worth the time. My two children, ages 6 and 10, came and enjoyed the entire tour. If you can make it, this site is well worth the effort. More info is at: https://www.maginot-hackenberg.com/?page=home&lang=en. When I first looked up the site, I wasn't sure about opening times so I sent them an email and they were prompt to reply with their timings, and also advised to dress warm as it gets cold in the fort.

The tour did include a train ride inside, a view of the still working gun that rises and turns, and we also got to see the rising gun from the outside. I appreciated that the tour also included a history of how WWII happened starting with WWI and how that region of France went back and forth between Germany and France a few times. It was very comprehensive and one of the best activities on our trip.