The Battle of the (Abdominal) Bulge

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Crossroads' associate editor Judy Koutsky departed for a press tour of Belgium on June 4. Armed with a laptop and digital camera, she is chronicling her experiences for close-to-real-time publication on the Web site. Following is her fourth installment:

FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- The weather hasn't exactly been cooperating with our driving adventure. It's rained almost every day. But the people in the Ardennes are so friendly, and the towns are small and easy to cover, so our trip hasn't suffered.

Han-sur-Lesse This morning, we visited one of my favorite attractions so far: the Grottes de Han (the caves of Han-sur-Lesse). Visitors park their cars in the center of the town and take a tram ride through the country to the caves. After maneuvering around a few fallen trees from the storm, we reached our destination.

The caves are cool (about 50 degrees) and wet (90% humidity), so it's good to dress warmly and wear comfortable walking shoes. Our guide, who normally gives the tour in German, French and Flemmish, filled in for his English speaking colleague, and although he kept apologizing, his translation was excellent.

As we toured the numerous caverns, he pointed out the geological formations and explained that tours of the cave began 150 years ago. At one point, it was demonstrated how tour guides 100 years ago walked through the caverns with torches -- not something I would have participated in, given the size and intricacies of each cave.

After about 45 minutes of exploring (because it's so interesting it feels more like 15 minutes), we went on a short boat ride to the "concert cavern," where a laser and music show was projected on the cave walls. The kids especially loved this.

Our next stop was Bastogne, where the Battle of the Bulge took place. It was moving to see the American Memorial, a star-shaped structure dedicated to the U.S. soldiers who gave their lives to free Bastogne during World War II. The outside of the monument lists all the U.S. states, and inscriptions on the inside tell the story of the battle (in English).

The American Memorial A short distance away stands the Bastogne Historical Center. The quality of exhibits compensate for the center's small size. A short movie showing footage from the battle is shown, emphasizing the significance of the battle in the context of the war. After the movie, visitors peruse exhibits that depict the battle. A 10-minute panorama chronicling the battle step-by-step, with aid of a map, completes the picture.

Visitors might think Bastogne is only a stop for those interested in war history, this is not the case. I am hardly a war buff, but I found the museum and memorial interesting and enlightening.

We then drove to Franchorchamps, a town nestled in the rolling countryside, known for luring avid hikers and epicures. Our hotel tonight is Hostellerie Le Roannay, where the manager, Michel Aubinet, is very attentive to the needs of his guests. A packet of information, including a map and points of interest in the area, is given to each visitor.

Our room overlooked the lush countryside, and the sauna, located just off our room, was a welcome treat after spending all day traveling and driving. The meal that night, in the restaurant's dining room, far exceeded our expectations -- and we've been eating well since Day 1 of this adventure. The chef, Bernard Aubinet (the hotel and restaurant are family-run), is -- in my admittedly inexperienced opinion -- simply excellent. One need not be a veteran food critic to appreciate the artistry in his grilled goose liver served over a bed of strawberries. I wanted him to make me a whole meal of that (it was an appetizer) and then give me the recipe.

One thing that amazes me about this country is that people eat this well and still look the way they do.

Beer and Chocolate: A Great First Day in Belgium

Downpours Don't Dampen Bruges' Appeal

Pass the Waterzooi: Small Pleasures in Ghent

The Battle of the (Abdominal) Bulge

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