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WWII history in France -maybe hit Belgium and Germany too?? Also traveling with a cute bichon.

I plan on taking my hubby and our dog to France either in the Spring or Fall of next year (along with my sister and her friend). We will most likely rent a car, but am wondering if we should try just get around via train? My hubby is really interested in seeing WWII sights. Any suggestions? I plan on getting the updated version of the RS book soon. We are planning on 14 days, so will have 12 days for actual trip. Should we just stick to France, or maybe do a tour of the WWII sites, including Belgium and Germany?

I wish that the RS tours allowed dogs. hint, hint to the RS peeps.

Thanks everyone!!

Hazel

Posted by
3655 posts

Having done both, I'd rent a car. You will have much more flexibility. One thing you definitely need to do is be sure which sites you are going to and if they allow dogs. I'm thinking about the cemeteries in particular. You will also need to know what the laws are about leaving dogs in the car should you have to do that. I haven't noticed many dogs left in cars when we've been there, but I haven't been looking either. It's against the law to leave a dog in the car here in AZ and you can be heavily fined for doing that.

Posted by
62 posts

Thanks Lo!

No, we don't plan on leaving the dog in the car. if we have to trade off and one waits with her, then we'll do that. I'm already thinking of mini picnics (the food!!) while I wait for the hubby to go thru various sites. LOL.

Thanks for the suggestion on the car! :) Is there a particular rental company you like over another?

Posted by
2081 posts

Travelgirl,

Good luck and have lots of fun in your travels.

What you do/see will depend on how deep your pockets are and how much time you have. Playing tourist for one is easier than for 4.

I was in the Normandy area last year, but took a guided tour. WHen i go back to see the rest i will probably do the tour route again abnd fill-in with a car.

I just got back from Belgium and the Bastogne area. You WILL need a car there. There arent as many tour guides as their are in France. however, i did see that some are now crossing boarders with bigger tours lasting several days and into weeks. Now that i did the Bastogne tour, it became obviouse that 1 day isnt enought to do it justice as i found out in Normandy. So, if the WWII sites is one of the #1 objectives, i would plan on several days in each if possible. ALso, with Bastogne/beligum in the thick of it, you could spend waaaaay more time there due to the other wars/battlefields and such.

If you go to Normandy, you should try to see Mont St. Michel. In my opinion, it is soooo cool. Im sure there are alot of other things to do/see, but im only going by what i saw and would like to do again with more time.

I just barely touched down in Germany too. Saw what was left of the "Bridge at Remagen". Its a nice small museum and i enjoyed the side trip from my base in Cologne. There were other WWII sites near there, but didnt have enough time (nor did i plan to) see more.

You dont need to wait for any new book, but it wouldnt hurt. YOu can google alot of whats out there. A couple midwestern guys i met in Bastogne used a some book about "must see" museums and battle sites. They were following it.

dont know about the dog thing, but you could email the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) about pets on the cemetary/monuments grounds. THey are the keepers of the monuments/cemetaries and they do a great and thankless job.

happy trails.

Posted by
12040 posts

Germany has very few of what you might consider "WWII sites" (besides the somber little memorials you find in most towns), and the few that exist are widely dispersed. So... don't plan a trip to Germany around WWII history alone. Rather, add it as a supplement to an overall trip.

For Belgium, yes, you will need a car. Bastogne has no rail access, St. Vith has only inconvenient rail connections, and the Canadian stuff around the Scheldt estuary is spread far and wide.

PS- It's very easy to travel with dogs in Germany and France, and not much more difficult in Belgium.

Posted by
813 posts

Hazel
Look through the American Battle Monuments Commission website. http://www.abmc.gov/home.php
Locating what you want to see first will help in the decision of whether or not you drive or train.

Traveling in Europe with a dog is easy, many places enjoy dogs more than children. Since you mention the dog, but don't say (because of the new travelsite set up) where you're coming from, I'll add that you should start planning your dog's journey now as well. Travel with pets internationally is difficult during summer months.

Posted by
2081 posts

Travelgirl,

to add to what TOM stated about rail access to Bastogne is true.

i took the train from Brussels to Libramont and then a bus from Libramont to Bastogne. No problem except i missed the bus that was waiting in front of the train station while asking at the bus office how to pay/buy the bus tickets - you buy on the bus. It was no problem since at the time (weekday) they were somewhat frequent and some of them are "express" types with few stops, so it took me about 30 minutes.

the tour i took in Bastogne the tour guide provided his car, but it cost me more $$$.

happy trails.

Posted by
12739 posts

Hi,

If you two are considering tracking down WW II sites in Germany such as that at Remagen , then I would advise getting a rental and be prepared for a good amount of driving if you're into seeing monuments, plaques, battlefield memorials (Gedenkstätten), military cemeteries, war history museums which feature a lot on WW II itself, including naval history, and choose one particular geographic area, mainly given your time limit, such as the lower Rhine area, central northern area between Göttingen and Hamburg, the greater Berlin area, etc ...just depends on how desperate you're interested in tracking down these sites.

In the greater Berlin area are numerous sites on the war...Berlin, Seelow, Potsdam, Füstenwalde, Torgau an der Elbe, (SW of Berlin), Wünstdorf, and two hrs south of Berlin, Dresden-Neustadt.

Posted by
2081 posts

Be sure to see the big museum in Bastogne. Cannot remember the name. Its next to the Mardasson memorial which is dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. The museum was closed last May but is probably open now. Be sure to go to the top of the memorial. Its just a spiral stair case. Very impressive. One of the best things that we have ever seen in all our travels happened when we were approaching the memorial. Two American F-16's flew very low over the memorial and dipped their wings. Must have been going back to base. What a tribute.

sorry but the museum is closed probably until next year. from what i was told by my guide, it did open for a time, but apparently was considered too small or no expansion was thought about. So, its closed again for expansion. the Memorial is open and if you do go, there is a crypt there too. It was closed when i went there early the previous day, but on my guided tour, my guide had a key.

There is also a smallish museum called the "Barracks" and its in town. Its an active station and if i remember correctly, you need to be in a guided group. my guide was retired military and so he had access to it. The 101 airborne museum near the bus station is still open too.

Happy trails.

Posted by
2081 posts

@ Brad,

no problem. I was disappointed myself since i saw some info on the web about it being open. but it will give me another reason to return. I dont remember any museum on the south side of town, so that will be another one to see. I was there in mid Sept 2013 so im not sure if it was open or i didnt see any info about it.

when i was at the Barricks, they were moving some of the armored/tracked vehicles around. ive never heard or felt a tank before, but i have now. Its something i wont forget.

happy trails.

Posted by
44 posts

We just got back from a similar trip. Here is a big tip - for a rental car - check if your credit card covers insurance (United Explorer does)- then you can waive the insurance which is as much as the car rental. We used Hertz and very good.

Bastogne is about a 6-7 hour drive to Normandy. Much more to see in Normandy - the RS Snapshot Normandy book is excellent. Bayeux is one of our favorite cities. We stayed at the Churchill Hotel which was like a museum itself with photos signed by the Band of Brothers. We did not use a guide as we first wanted to see on our own and ran out of time, but I had a decent background and it was very exciting to be there - the remains of the Mulberry Harbor are incredible (much bigger than I envisioned.

In Bastogne, the TI office can give you a little map that has "foxholes" near Foy. Down a little country road next to a small blue reflector post is a path into the woods - Easy Company 101st Airborne foxholes with a makeshift memorial - very authentic and not a museum. I can send photos if you contact me.

Have a great trip!

Oh yeah - we used Icelandair and spend a few days in Iceland on the way back - really cool (but we were very tired)

Posted by
501 posts

Go to the top of the RS page and look for search box, enter WW II sites, or Bastogne, a number of old posts should pop up and provide a lot of info. Normandy and the entire Bastogne area will keep you busy. Would recommend GPS in Belgium. Consider going to Liege and Spa, Belgium. Siegfried (excellent remnants) Line if you head towards AAchen, Germany

Posted by
2081 posts

@ Neil,

from what my guide told me about the fox holes, they are still in use by Historical reenactments. There were many that looked as if untouched and were being gradually filled by debris over time. There were some that were more or less freshly redug.

happy trails.

Posted by
8251 posts

Travelgirl, I know you said WW II, but I just saw a report on a fascinating WW I museum dedicated to trench warfare, located in Meaux, France (home of the cheese brie de Meaux). The museum had a lot of video and interactive displays, demonstrating the extreme conditions found in the trenches.

Posted by
3655 posts

Reims is a city more often thought of for its cathedral and WWI history than for WWII. However, the War Room where the surrender was signed is in that city on the street behind the railroad station. It is intact with almost everything left just as it was on May 7, 1945. Here's the link: http://www.cndp.fr/crdp-reims/memoire/lieux/2GM_CA/musees/reddition.htm and a bit of info in English: http://www.reims-tourism.com/museum-of-the-surrender/commune/tabid/15267/offreid/cb2de5af-14c9-4cec-bd29-24db48aae3ee/museum.aspx. And here's the Life Magazine story from the time: http://life.time.com/history/germany-surrenders-at-reims-may-7-1945-a-photographers-story/#1. It may be a bit out of the way for your trip, but we found it very worth while to stand in the room where so much history took place. BTW, we stayed in a nice B&B there, Les Telliers, complete with cats. I don't know how they'd feel about dogs, but here's the link: http://telliers.fr/tag/guest-house/.

Posted by
28 posts

As far as what to see, I would strongly recommend a visit to Ponte du Hoc on the Normandy coast. This is the area where American Rangers scaled the cliffs on D-Day. The area atop the cliffs is nearly unchanged with bomb craters peppered among the remains of German pill boxes and bunkers. This is less than an hour's drive from Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, the U.S. cemetery. etc. As far a train versus car travel, with just two traveling, we found that the cost of using trains between major areas was about the same as the cost of highway tolls--adding the cost of fuel makes the train even cheaper. But with four traveling, you may find it is a wash or even cheaper by car.

Posted by
5221 posts

Like others, I'd recommend a car. These sites are spread around the landscape and often in smaller towns and rural areas. Train tickets for four people would cost a lot, even with advance booking which, in turn, would lock you into a less flexible schedule. Plus I'd think taking a dog on a train would be tough on everyone. Auto Europe is a US-based broker that gets good rates and sometimes throws in free GPS (or you could bring your own with a pre-loaded Europe map). I've used them several times, their website makes shopping easy, and they're very helpful by phone if you need it before you go.

Let me second the praise for Bayeux as a base for Normandy, and also recommend the Memorial de Caen, actually a big and very well-designed museum of WWII plus the Cold War. We spent half a day there last month, it was well worth the steep admission charge, and had a good multi-language bookstore. It's on the north side of the city just off the ring road. Labels were in English and German as well as French. It was quite an experience to hear the recorded voice of French General Weygand, in Bordeaux, ordering his subordinate, in Paris, to sign an "armistice" (i.e. surrender) in 1940. Lots of use of film and sound as well as more traditional exibits, and very informative signs and labels.

Posted by
758 posts

You definitely need a car for the flexibility to get around to places with little or no train or bus service and the economics of it should be good for a party of four. People have covered most of the sites. Please try to get to as many of the cemeteries as you can, including ones that are out of the way. In 2011 we went to the St. James cemetery in Brittany. It is a bit out of the way and there were only three other people there including a French couple who had just put fresh flowers on the graves of three Unknowns. The superintendent there had been with ABMC for a long time and some of his stories were very interesting. Also don't miss the lower level of the visitor center at the Normandy cemetery the displays there are something yo will not forget. These are the places that in their quiet way give dimension to what WWII was about. Have a good trip.

Posted by
62 posts

Again - thank you everyone! I'm going to print this out. Any suggestions on amazing restaurants/cafes in these areas that were mentioned?

Just wondering.

Thanks

Hazel