Cowart Family Private Tour: Summer 2017
A historical, cultural, and culinary expedition in the footsteps of Pete Cowart, officer in the 17th Engineers, 2nd Armored Division, from Normandy to Magdeburg and Berlin in WWII...
July 11th - July 25th, 2017
DAY ONE: Tuesday, July 11
Travel day. Depart from various destinations in the USA for Paris, France.
DAY TWO: Wednesday, July 12
Coordinated morning flights arrive into Charles de Gaulle. We'll link up and pick up rental vehicles and do our best to get free and clear of the notorious Paris traffic. We'll stop for lunch at a motorway rest stop once we clear the city for good.
We'll then make a slight detour for some proper leg stretching and post-flight stimulation: Monet's gardens in Giverny. We'll tour the home, gardens, and pond of one of France's most beloved artists.
We'll continue our drive and arrive at our hotel in Normandy, check into our rooms, and have an early meal so that people are free to explore or dive into bed after a day/night of travel.
DAY THREE: Thursday, July 13
We'll start our two-day tour of the Overlord Beachhead with an unforgettable movie at the Cinema 360. This award-winning film will set the stage for the beginning of our tour, explaining the objectives, the nations holding and attacking them, and the sacrifices of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and civilians.
We'll then head east along the coast and see the first house captured by the Allies in the liberation of France, along with the very first objective of D-Day: Pegasus Bridge.
We'll tour a command bunker complex to get a feel for the defenses of the Atlantic Wall, before stopping for a sumptuous meal of seafood and other French delights in Ouistreham.
We'll work our way back to the center of the beachhead and visit the gun battery of Longues-sur-Mer. Arromanches will be our final destination, where we'll park the vehicles, examine the remnants of the artificial harbors built for the landing, and explore the town and its sights.
DAY FOUR: Friday, July 14
With a much fuller understanding of the events of D-Day, we'll strike out after breakfast for a comprehensive tour of the American invasion sectors.
Heading to St. Mere-Eglise, we'll visit the US Airborne Museum to understand the role of the paratroopers in paving the way for the landing forces. Several different buildings provide illumination into the dangerous mission of dropping into enemy territory at night, scattered in random order.
We'll then visit Utah Beach and see the massive scars of battle at the infamous Pointe-du-Hoc, where US Rangers scaled the cliffs to hold a key vantage point.
Our tour will end with bloody Omaha Beach, made famouse in "Saving Private Ryan," before paying tribute to all of the American men who fought and died here at the unforgettable US Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.
For a delightful close to an intense day of learning and sight-seeing, we'll head to a tucked away fishing village for a splendid meal and a channel sunset.
DAY FIVE: Saturday, July 15
After two full days of military history, today will be a free day for the group...
Those who wish to enjoy more of the Norman cultural and culinary delights will head to Bayeux. There is a train that runs around the heart of the city, taking you to various sights like the Bayeux Tapestry, Baron Gerard's Art and History Museum, the beautiful cathedral. The town is full of wonderful shops, markets, stores, and cafes.
For those more interested in the actions of the 2nd Armored, we'll head out and explore some of the locations where they were in action as the Allied forces pushed out of the beachhead after the initial stalemate, leading to the liberation of Paris.
We'll meet back in Bayeux for dinner and compare notes...
DAY SIX: Sunday, July 16
After our usual breakfast at the hotel, we'll check out and head east along the French coast towards the Pas de Calais. We'll make a stop in the charming seaside city of Boulogne-sur-Mer for a final, first class dining experience and a bit of leg stretching.
After lunch, we'll continue our journey to our next destination, the Atlantic Wall Museum. Housed in the Todt Battery, which is named after Hitler's chief fortifications builder, we'll learn about the giant fortifications which guarded the closest route from England. In clear weather, we'll see the white cliffs of Dover in the distance.
We'll continue our drive along the coast, passing through the town of Dunkirk, before arriving an hour and a half later at our destination for the next two nights: Bruges.
We'll get checked into our lovely hotel, freshen up, and head out into one of Europe's most perfectly preserved old cities for an orientation walk.
We'll top it off with a magnificent Flemish meal of mussels, the creamiest chicken stew, frites (the best "french fries" you'll ever eat), and some splendid Belgian beer...
DAY SEVEN: Monday, July 17
Today will be grand...
With a hotel right in the heart of a city preserved in the Middle Ages, enjoy a day of sights, smells, sounds, and steps... if you decide to climb the most famous belfry in the world. Feast your eyes on the renowned art of the Groeningemuseum, enjoy chocolates and lace shops, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, or see a most unique statue of the Madonna and Child - Michelangelo's only work to leave Italy in his lifetime. Canal boat tours, bike tours, and ample varieties of delicious Belgian beer will keep you entertained and delighted all day long.
As for those of you interested in more military history, we'll head out just after lunch for an unforgettable trek into the heart of the most brutal sector in WWI. Scene of three separate offensives, we'll understand the significance of the poppy like never before. We'll visit cemeteries, a WWI trench, a vast museum, the very bunker where a famous Canadian doctor/poet served (author of "In Flanders Fields.")
We'll cap the day off with a participation in the moving Last Post ceremony, held under a giant memorial arch full of the war dead, before we head back to Bruges.
DAY EIGHT: Tuesday, July 18
Today we'll head to our final destination in Belgium: the Ardennes. Enjoy a final morning in Bruges to see any sights or shops you've missed, and we'll push off from our hotel by 11am for Antwerp.
Heather will take over the guide duties after we make the hour and a half drive to this famous port city and enjoy some lunch and a walking tour with her at the helm.
Enjoy a couple of hours in the afternoon strolling the city or choosing from several compelling museum options, including the house of the famous Flemish master, Rubens, or the Red Star Line museum - a tribute to the several millions of emigrants who sailed to North America from here, including Irving Berlin and Albert Einstein.
We'll depart by 4pm and skirt the heavy traffic of Brussels as we make our way down into the scenic, tranquil, forested hills and rivers of the Ardennes. We'll check into our premier hotel, before meeting for a delectable four course meal and some post-dinner relaxation on the outdoor deck.
DAY NINE: Wednesday, July 19
Another day on the tour with two distinct options...
For those who want to kick back and relax, there is a nice walk to a nearby village, past a swimming hole, or a short trip into the nearby town of La Roche-en-Ardenne. There is kayaking, a walking street, shops, cafes, and a charming square - with a great restaurant sitting right over the river. There is even an ancient fortress and walking trails in the area.
We'll be doing a good bit of driving in the days ahead, as we push on to Berlin, so if you want to soak up the summer sun and take it easy, this is the day and place.
For the military history enthusiasts, today will be most memorable. We are in the heart of the fighting that took place during the Battle of the Bulge.
We'll head over to visit the giant Mardasson Memorial, which is shaped like a star and has giant plaques telling the story of the battle. We'll visit the adjacent museum dedicated to the struggle and stop nearby to walk through the woods and surviving foxholes of Easy Company, aka the "Band of Brothers," who held part of the defensive ring around this crucial junction which American forces denied to advancing German armor.
We'll head into Bastogne's center for a bite to eat, before we head over to the Bastogne Barracks for another guided tour and an incredible tank restoration facility. And as a reward for a full day of history, we'll swing by one of the best Belgian breweries for a glass or two.
We'll meet back up at the hotel and unwind on the deck, before we are shown to our tables for another four course culinary treat.
DAY TEN: Thursday, July 20
After a final breakfast at our lovely hotel, we'll load up and head to Houffalize for a short study on the movements of the 2nd Armored during the Battle of the Bulge. We'll then swing through Malmedy to visit the site of the Malmedy Massacre, before we finally cross the border and into Germany.
Lunch will be had, as well as some exploring and shopping, in the charming village of Monschau. Full of half-timbered houses and quaint little shops, this will be a place you will never forget. We'll enjoy a proper lunch and learn a bit about German cuisine - the backbone of much of American cooking.
We'll then work our way north to Aachen, stopping to behold one of the many remnants of the West Wall: a row of tank traps ("Dragon's Teeth"). In Aachen, we'll visit the very cathedral where Charlemagne's throne still sits - a throne made of marble from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
We'll push out of Aachen and visit the hamlet of Setterich, in search of a schoolhouse, before we arrive at our hotel in time for dinner and some rest.
DAY ELEVEN: Friday, July 21
After breakfast and check-out, we'll head east to stop by a famous castle which was home to the the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP). Just adjacent on the Horst Wessel hall is a massive Nazi war eagle (the swastika removed).
We'll push on a short ways to visit the museum of the Wewelsburg Castle. It was here that the notorious SS, under Heinrich Himmler, had their headquarters. Initially founded as a school to train the SS, it soon became a cult center that conducted pseudo-scientific research into German history, folklore, and geneology. This was the very heart of Nazi ideology.
Done with military history for the day, we'll make a short drive to Lippstadt for a superb meal at a brewery restaurant (the beer is outstanding as well). You'll have some free time to walk around the square and charming shops, before we meet back up and make the hour and a half drive to Hamelin.
Home to the famous pied piper, we'll check into our hotel before heading out for an orientation walk. We should be able to catch the mechanical puppet show on the town glockenspiel that tells the story of the famous bard.
The rest of the afternoon is yours to enjoy before we meet up for dinner. In honor of Pete, I suppose we should eat fish... :)
DAY TWELVE: Saturday, July 22
Home stretch... Four more hours of driving until we reach Berlin!
We'll check out of our hotel mid-morning and make our way to Magdeburg, the final point of advance for the 2nd Armored Division. A key bastion of Lutheranism, it was sacked during the Thirty Years' War - giving the Protestants great resolve in that bloody conflict. During WWII, Magdeburg had a synthetic oil plant and was heavily damaged by RAF bombers. Much of it has been rebuilt in the modern style, but we'll stop here for lunch and examine some of the bridges, including the Star Bridge. This famous bridge was destroyed by the Wehrmacht to block the American advance over the Elbe - and it was here that a certain officer helped build a final bridge.
We'll head on to Berlin, stopping for a relaxing, stunning break in the driving to visit Frederick the Great's gorgeous palace and gardens, Sanssouci, for a couple of hours. This was the summer palace of Germany's favorite ruler, and it rivals the best gardens in all of Europe - considered the best in the world by the head of the Royal Horticultural Society.
We'll then make the final hour drive into Berlin, where we'll check into our hotel and have some time to relax and freshen up, before we head out for a relaxing orientation walk and a sumptuous German meal.
DAY THIRTEEN: Sunday, July 23
We made it!
We'll use the cars one last time to visit some key locations of significant history around the city today. We'll have MUCH to choose from...
We'll work that out as we wind our way into Berlin, but the history sights related to WWII and the Cold War include:
-the Olympic Stadium
-the Wehrmacht command building where Stauffenberg was executed
-the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (still left in ruins from the bombing raids)
-one of the remaining, giant flak towers that tried to protect the city from Allied bombing
-the German-Russian Museum
-the Soviet War Memorial to the over 80,000 dead who fell taking Berlin
We'll have time for lunch before we get back to the main area of the city center in the afternoon drop off the cars. We'll enjoy a nice, relaxing stroll to see the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the memorial to the book burning in front of the main university, Checkpoint Charlie, and the moving Topography of Terror Museum where the Gestapo interrogations rooms and cells once were. We'll even see the plaque near the spot where Hitler was burned.
Berlin is rich with history. And shops will be closed, in the German tradition of Sunday rest, so it will be a full day to explore the many sights - according to your input.
Enjoy a free evening to explore and enjoy.
DAY FOURTEEN: Monday, July 24
Free day in Berlin!
Your illustrious guide will assist everyone in finding the places they want to go... whether
it be shopping in the Alexanderplatz, walking among the halls of Berlin's superb art galleries and museums, sitting in reflective silence inside the "Vatican" of Protestantism - the Berliner Dom, visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial and still-standing exhibits, or going to any number of other places we didn't cover the day before.
We've covered a lot of ground and seen a lot of sights... Go at your pace. Have a beer or a slice of cake at an outdoor café. Rent a Trabant and drive a piece of history.
Any interest or sight you want to see, it will be arranged for your enjoyment.
We'll meet back at our hotel for one final group walk - and a fabulous final, farewell dinner.
This trip is a masterpiece - and a tribute to Jim's energy and enthusiasm for having us put this together. We'll raise a final glass to Pete as well...
Job well done, sir.
DAY FIFTEEN: Tuesday, July 25
Fly home... We'll coordinate transportation to the airport, according to individual flight schedules.
OVERNIGHT: WELCOME HOME...