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Trip Report Honoring my Father, Belgium, Amsterdam, London and TWO GTGs

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Background: Some of you helped w/ my questions about re-tracing my father's footsteps during the Battle of the Bulge/Battle for the Ardennes. The impetus for this trip was a series of accidents . . . finding a 1946 letter from my Dad to the War Department requesting a partial disability and the reply denying it but including the name of the village where my Dad was injured; meeting a bartender at the Grand Californian who's family is from SE Belgium who put me in contact w/ a man who was a 9yo living outside of Bastogne during the winter of '44/'45 and who since retiring has devoted his life to studying the battle and guiding people around the area; finding a sort of 'throw away' line in my Mom's memoir where I first learned of the unit my Dad was temporarily attached to during the battle, and a 1947 post card from one of the guys in my Dad's platoon briefly mentioning the battle.

I wasn't hunting for any of these -- they all just sort of fell in my lap in Jan/Feb of this year (My father passed away unexpectedly in 2006 at 84 so he wasn't around to ask . . . and very seldom talked about his time in the ETO anyway. Mom died in 2011 at 87)

So visiting SE Belgium for sure - now what else should I include? Well London is just about a given -- I try to get there 2 or 3 ties a year. As long as I'll be in Belgium I'd like to fit in Brugge somehow. And since I'm in the neighborhood -- a few days in Amsterdam.

So the initial plan was:

Fly into LHR and stay one night at the St Pancras Renaissance; Eurostar to Brussels and on to Brugge for one night; Train across Belgium to Stavelot (near Spa) for three nights including a full day w/ driver/guide touring around the Ardennes; Train to Amsterdam for 3 nights; Flight to LGW and 4 nights in London; Fly home. Plans did morph because 1) a Belgian rail strike forced me into two nights in Brugge/two nights in the Ardennes and 2) a bit of brain fade on my part gave me 6 nights in London instead of 4. (all to the good but both required me to pack and move to different hotels/rooms)

April 19/20. Overnight flight from SMF through LAX to LHR arriving late morning. Like last London trip I booked business over and coach home because I figure in Only need the lie-flat bed on the overnight flight. Doing it this way saved me more than $2000 on the tix. Totally lovely flight - really good food - didn't sleep that much but did manage to relax and stretch out so I wasn't a basket case when I got to LHR. Because I flew Business I had Lounge access and because my room might not yet be ready I visited the landside Admirals Club for about an hour, watched some telly, had a bite to eat and glass of wine then headed to the tube station topped up my Oyster and set out to St Pancras.

I've wanted to stay at the Renaissance since it reopened several years ago - but the historic rooms/suites are a bit above my pay grade. Taking an early morning Eurostar I decided this was as good a time as any. But I simply couldn't pull the trigger on a £480 room -- so I booked a room in the contemporary Barlow wing @ £220. I knew it would probably be sort of Holiday Inn-ish -- but I could still enjoy the public rooms and service . . .

Welll . . . I arrive at St Pancras and after faffing about looking for the hotel (i did know exactly where the hotel is but the signage in the station is pitiful and how to get there from the concourse isn't easy) I was giving up and about to walk out on to Euston Rd to come back in the hotel's front door when I found the only sign near the glass lift. Wheeled my little carry on through the lovely lobby and a very nice woman at the registration desk chatted for a while "I've always wanted to stay here - but for just one night decided the Barlow wing would be fine. Someday I'll try to stay in one of the historic rooms. blah blah blah." After about 5 minutes she winked at me -- yes winked(!). "Oh, Ms janisj - the hotel is totally booked. So we've placed you IN A SUITE IN THE HISTORIC WING"

OMG OMG OMG -- I have never seen such a massive room in London. Easily 20 foot ceilings. Huge bed. Chaise lounge. Couch. Three 18 foot windows out over Euston Road w/ floor to ceiling drapes. Fireplace. Dressing table at the end of the bed w/ truffles and three kinds of mineral water. Enormous marble bathroom w/ an 8 foot tub and two person shower. Ell around the corner w/ a table/chairs and built in bench. The bench seat raised and there were various ports and electrical sockets of every type I've ever seen -- UK/Continental/US/OZ etc.

When I unpacked I decided to hand wash the blouse and undies I'd been wearing for 27 hours before heading out. I rolled them in a hand towel but they were still pretty wet and I hung them on the shower door. When I returned a couple of hours later -- turn down service had been done, all the various decorator pillows/shams were stashed away someplace, more truffles, biscuits . . . and my laundry was totally dry and hung in the closet??? How did they do that? Ask me if I loved this place . . . HECK YEAH :)

All I did this afternoon was go to the Shard -- when I went up last year it was drippy and overcast and there was very little view and today was GORGEOUS, so I decided to do it again. Expensive . . . but what the hey -- I'm staying in a bleedin' SUITE at the St Pancras Renaissance . . I'm officially a member of the 1% and can afford it ;) Then I had dinner in Covent Garden and returned to my SUITE at the hotel . . .

My Eurostar is early in the AM so I requested a 06:30 wake up call. I woke up on my own about 0615 and decided to stay in bed til the call came. 0630 and nothing. 0635 and there is a knock at the door. There stands a butler (a BUTLER :) ) . . . apparently last night when I made a phone call I had put the receiver in the cradle wrong so when they tried to phone me - nothing. And w/i 5 mins there was my wake up at the door. Did I say I love this place :D

Next: Delayed Eurostar, cute hotel in Brugge, fabulous beer, trapped in the city an extra night and having to find someplace to stay

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