June 16, 2013

Road Trip, Part 4

Day 8:
Today we drove into France!  Just over the border, it was a much shorter distance than we drove the previous day to get to Burg Eltz.  We toured the citadel at Bitche, a magnificently built fortification that has probably been around for centuries, though the history we learned focused on the Franco-Prussian war in the late 1800s.  (Full album of pictures is here.)  We had headphones with English instruction, so as we passed certain points along the tour we could learn about the fortress, its design and construction, and events that happened there.

Shortly after we entered we came to the first of a series of video screens--we would watch a portion of a movie reenactment (with some explanation/narration interwoven within), then move on to the next part of the citadel, where the movie would continue.  It was dark, damp, and chilly, and unfortunately I would have to say that our younger members were not as impressed with the tour--they didn't have headphones, but even so, they probably would not have been able to follow what was happening with the movie!  This was just as well, as portions of the drama were quite disconcerting.  We shielded young eyes more than once!  Aside from the fact that some of the screen shots were definitely not for innocent eyes, the movie was well done and gave a thorough picture of what people were experiencing during a time of war and the role the fortress played in the surrounding area.

This portion of the tour was much longer than any of us had anticipated--at least an hour, which is quite a long time to be in what felt like a cave!  We went through all the snacks I had brought in our effort to appease the younger ones' discomfort; Zaden rode in the Ergo on Ted's chest (where he has HAPPILY spent much of our touring time, I might add), and I pushed Lucan in the stroller.  When we finally emerged into daylight, we were more than ready for lunch--and there was only one option at that point!  The gift shop/cafe offered two choices:  pizza or flamkuchen.  Ted, Charis, and I decided to try to flamkuchen, which is like a pizza but has a white sauce with ham and onions on it, and the rest of the kids got pizza.  It was all fantastic!  The weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed eating outside while the kids ran up and down the hill leading to the French flag with a nice view of the town/valley below.

After enjoying the panoramic views and puttering around some of the places on top of the fortress, we hiked back down to the parking lot and headed out for our next stop:  the Simserhof fortress, part of the Maginot line, a defensive, underground structure France put in place in anticipation of German advances.  (Pictures of this can be found here.)  This was so fascinating!  We watched an introductory movie and then got on a cable car type thing to ride through the tunnel system where men lived for months--it was the last English tour of the day, whew!  It was an ingenious idea, well designed...but unfortunately, it wasn't as successful as it could have been since the Germans simply went north and overran France through territory everyone thought was either off limits or a natural line of defense (neutral Belgium and the Ardennes forest).

About to enter the tunnel via an automated train car that used the old supply tracks.

We came home after a long but fun and educational day of tours and had an easy dinner of leftovers.  Evenings have been fairly routine as we bathe little ones, begin the "shower brigade," and have some down time to visit before turning in for the night.

Day 9:
Today's country--Luxembourg!  (Full picture album here.)  We drove about an hour and a half to get to this little country.  Only one little hitch...we found ourselves in a complete traffic jam...at a rest stop!!  What in the world?!  We just wanted to find a bathroom, and instead we found ourselves in an utter mess of vehicles!  The guys ended up turning our cars around while Joy and I walked the kids through the maze of traffic and into a huge truck stop kind of building so we could take care of business.  We hiked back to the van and Suburban, where we loaded up again, went the wrong way on a one-way entrance, and snaked back around to the freeway.  (We weren't the only ones to end up doing this, ha!)  The traffic on the freeway didn't last too long, so finally we were able to arrive at one of our stops, the American military cemetery where Gen. Patton is buried along with approximately 4,000 soldiers.  It is a beautiful place and a sobering reminder of the cost of war.

After that we went 1.5 kilometers to the German military cemetery--which stands in complete contrast to what we had seen at the American site.  Just a few observations:
  • American cemetery = bright, open area; German cemetery = back in more of a forested area, making it seem darker
  • American cemetery = well maintained, beautifully manicured grounds; German cemetery = overgrown grass and randomly growing weeds
  • American cemetery = every soldier has an individual place/cross marker, including unknown soldiers; German cemetery = each cross marked a spot for 4 bodies
  • American cemetery = respectful recognition of the unknown soldiers ("Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God"); German cemetery = stark statement ("One German soldier" or "Two German soldiers")
  • American cemetery = memorial areas with inspiring quotations, maps, descriptions of history, a separate chapel building; German cemetery = one larger central cross, no inscriptions, no chapel

Then it was on to Luxembourg City, where we enjoyed walking around the beautiful downtown area.  We had lunch at Chi-Chi's (only because we knew everyone could find something they liked to eat), saw the Duke's Palace, visited the extremely busy chocolate factory store, wandered around the path overlooking the steep ravine below, took more pictures, and finally made our way home to the L's house.

Whew!  Three countries in two days!  It has been SO fun, but we are also thankful today is Sunday, a day of rest and church!  And happy Father's Day to the wonderful dads in my life!

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