After a history soaked week in Normandy, me, my husband, his ex-wife, their teenage son, and our two and a half-year old son (whew!) headed out to Bastogne to tour the Bastogne War Museum in Belgium. As I mentioned in my previous post, this trip was mostly planned by my husband as a chance to experience WWII history with his son. My step-son is now a teenager, so asking him to come up with sight-seeing ideas is kind of like asking a fire hydrant how its day was.
One thing that these guys both have in common is their fascination of war history and particularly in World War II history. The family connection of grandparents being participants in the war and their shared love of military tactics made this and the Normandy trip two of their most memorable, conversation-evoking experiences to date.
I had mixed emotions going into this trip. War isn’t necessarily something that intrigues or fascinates me even though it’s been going on since the dawn of time, but I surprised myself by how involved I became during this week through Normandy and Bastogne. Typically I’m a culture, nature, adventure, food, and booze seeker when I’m on vacation, but this trip was not our true definition of a vacation. It was more of a pilgrimage for my husband and his son. For those who tend to fall in my travel category, there is plenty of memorial and non-memorial forests, Belgium beer, chocolate, frites, and waffles to be enjoyed throughout Bastogne.
The drive into Bastogne from Normandy is a smooth, farm-filled ride with lots of pastures, vineyards, and small towns along the way. The ride can take anywhere from 5-8 hours depending on how many stops you make and where your starting point is in Normandy. There isn’t a lot of traffic in this region, so that shouldn’t be a concern, and the tolls were few to none. We paid about 5 Euro on our way out of France, total.
Where We Stayed
For lodging, we found a little place outside of Bastogne that offered a two-level loft hotel room. The space had two beds for my husband’s ex, her son, and our son’s crib on the loft portion, and a queen sized bed on the main floor for us. The space was great for our group for one night, but provided no sound barriers. I struggled with snores blaring down on me from my step-son in the loft, and in my own bed thanks to my husband. I recommend ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper. Why I didn’t have them in our toiletry bag is beyond me. I can only logically blame the toddler.
- Right on a small lake with a path and small exercise equipment along the way. I took my son out with his bike to ride around it and it turned out to be a great little ride to look for bugs and flowers.
- Playground and biergarten/restaurant located at the nearby campground make for an alternative to the oftentimes over-busy restaurant. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the hotel.
- Breakfast was tasty and plentiful, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have some Belgium serenaders with your eggs and coffee!
- Really only one, but I thought it’s worth mentioning if you decide to stay here: BOOK A RESERVATION IF YOU WISH TO EAT AT THE RESTAURANT. We called before we left France asking how late the restaurant would be open since we’d be arriving at 7pm with a hungry toddler. We were advised “no problem!”, however, once we arrived at 7pm and asked to go to the restaurant, we were told since we didn’t have a reservation we had to wait until 8pm, which is my kiddo’s bedtime. I had asked the clerk if she knew of something nearby since we had been in a car all day, but she said no, we’d have to drive into town if we wanted something right away (which I found out was incorrect, there is a little restaurant connected to the campground a 5 minute walk away that offers dinner in their restaurant until 9pm). Thankfully we had snacks in the car, so my son munched on an apple and we had a few pretzels as we cleaned up and waited the hour. When we went down at 8, we were told we couldn’t be seated until 9 and food wouldn’t arrive until 10pm. By this time we were all pretty hungry and exhausted and didn’t feel like waiting an additional two hours to eat with a little one, so we piled back into the car to have an expensive, and not very tasty dinner out in town. There didn’t seem to be much communication with the front desk clerk and the restaurant, so my suggestion would be to verify and confirm with the restaurant if you want to arrive, eat, and relax. That’s my only con.
The next morning, after a redeemable, tasty breakfast and some live music by other hotel residents, we headed over to the Bastogne War Museum which clearly and cohesively lays out the Battle of the Bulge. The battle was a German offensive attack that caught the allied forces unprepared and off guard during the cold, snowy time-frame from December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945. The museum is easily navigated, interactive, and appeals to all ages. I would suggest giving yourself a couple of hours to hear and read everything. Guests are provided a headset which is triggered by sensors as you move throughout the museum.
I was concerned at first that my step-son wasn’t going to be very thrilled with the museum, but the way they set up the exhibition really engaged him, and us adults. The museum “guides” are virtual and based on four different historic individuals and their perspective and experiences throughout the war. There are also theater exhibitions set up with 3-d effects, moving stages, and ambiance to draw visitors into the actual experience.
My husband and I took turns with the toddler so we could walk through the entire museum to see the exhibition. There are interactive stations set up which allowed the boy to participate to keep distracted while we listened to the dialog. He was too young to understand what was going on, but my sixteen year old step-son kept engaged. So engaged that on the ride out of Bastogne we had a lot of great conversations, debates, and theory discussions. If you have an older child or teen, I highly recommend this museum as a unique view of one of the harshest battles post D-Day.
The town of Bastogne itself is quite bustling and has numerous restaurants, lodging, and activities. In retrospect, it would have been more fun for us to have stayed in the town rather than the Eden Ardenne in Neufchateau, but we are budget travelers and were looking for last-minute accommodations for five on a summer Saturday night. Our options were limited.
This final day in Bastogne ended our week-long journey through some of the most important battle sites of World War II. I connected to these events through the museums, related movies, and through the personal stories I was able to read throughout the excursion. Personally, I believe that’s the best way to connect with any historic site; learning about the individuals and the personal toll these types of events take on all those involved. I recommend the following apps for this purpose:
- Normandy American Cemetery (contains biographies of many different ranks and participants in the war)
- Rick Steves Audio Europe
Bringing a toddler along isn’t the ideal situation for these types of locations, however, knowing how to keep them entertained (thank you, balance bike and iPhone) while taking turns with your partner can alleviate most of the stress. Older kids and teens would benefit more from this museum than a toddler, but he’s our travel buddy and with a little help from kiddy iPhone apps, we made it work. Plus, the little restaurant at the museum offers Belgium waffles and what toddler (or teenager) doesn’t love the bribe of a freaking waffle?
Helpful Links and Info
Located: Colline du Mardasson, 5 – 6600 Bastogne, Belgium Phone: + 32 (0)61 210 220
Open daily except on Monday (Please note that the Bastogne War Museum is open on Monday during school holidays/summer months and public holidays falling on Monday)
9.30 am to 6 pm (last entry at 4pm)
– from Tuesday until Sunday and public holidays outside school holidays
– from Monday until Sunday and public holidays during school holidays
9.30 am to 7 pm (last entry at 5pm)
– in July-August (every day) (from Monday until Sunday and public holidays)
Closed exceptionally on January 1st and December 25th
Click here for More sights to see around Bastogne