A Travellerspoint blog

France

I'm Not Verdun Yet!

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Phew, okay, so I may or may not have spent the past weekend holed up inside my room watching the entirety of “Stranger Things” (Told you I was burnt out from Italy). Let me tell you that it as an incredible show with an awesome soundtrack to boot. Plus, it happens to fit three of my criteria for good shows: sci-fi, 80’s, and action. Shows aside, I made sure to spend some time out in the sun by walking to the park and going on workout runs. This week was pretty exciting, because we had a field trip to Verdun on Tuesday, the 4th of July was Wednesday, and I had my second MSE test that evening as well! I think the test went well, but we’ll have to wait and see from the scores, which should come out any day now. I’ll admit, the 4th of July here was a bit of a letdown: and not just because I had a test on the same day. We were supposed to have a barbecue in the evening, but they had “safety concerns” with the grill, so they ended up ordering McDonalds for everyone instead (*groan*). After I grabbed some free, albeit gross, food from the lounge, my friends and I went over to the local pizza place and ordered a large pizza to wash away the taste from our mouths. In addition to the barbecue fiasco, it seemed like no one here even noticed that it was the Fourth! I felt like I was the only one walking around in red, white, and blue. The entire day, the only music I listened to was country music (which is what we did last year in Lithuania)! This Fourth of July doesn’t rank highly in the twenty I have experienced so far. In short, school continues to go well and I have a thermo quiz to get ready for on Friday. I love my classes (except for Stats) and I’m prepared for it to get harder from here on out.

As I mentioned, we had a school field trip to Verdun on Tuesday! I was excited, because it was a trip that I wouldn’t have to do any planning for and could actually go on without needing to worry about checking in, making trains, or finding things to do. There were a good number of people upset by the “mandatory” nature of the trip. As it is with kids, when you tell them that they have to do something (even if it’s visiting one of the most historic sites of WWI!), they’ll get upset and want to do the opposite. On that Tuesday, there was a huge spike in the number of “sick kids” and many others who outright refused to go so that they could do their own thing. There was a good number of people who used the excuse, “I have more important things to do.” Unfortunately, the faculty that planned the trip assumed that almost everyone would be attending, so the large amount of absences created some complications (and some surprising benefits as you’ll see).

We were organized into four groups, each with its own bus. I had signed up for the special group that would be able to tour what was known as the “Citadelle”, a large underground network of tunnels that the French Army used during both World Wars. While we were doing that, everyone else would have some extra time to spend in the city. Leaving around 8:00am, it took us about an hour to get out to Verdun. Many people used this time to go back to sleep, but I did a bit of reading and studying for my MSE test. When we reached the city, we met our tour guide: a delightful Welsh man in his sixties by the name of Giles. He gave a cheerful introduction and wasted no time in jumping into the history and significance of the city as the bus made its way to our first stop. Along the way, he pointed out several groves of trees to us. These, he said, used to be villages of farmers living on the outskirts of the city. The torrential artillery bombardment reduced almost all of them to ashes and rubble. Now, the only sign that they were ever there are crosses that sit nestled back in the woods and mark where the village centers were. Although there was a layer of grass covering the ground, the lumps of craters were still quite noticeable: reminiscent of some strange moon-scape.

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Our first destination was the Ossuary and cemetery of Verdun, which is the largest French cemetery of World War I. In it lie over sixteen-thousand graves. Many of the soldiers buried there were not identifiable, so bear a common name on their grave marking. We took a quick jaunt down among the grave markers before heading up into the main attraction: the Ossuary. Essentially, a giant storehouse of bones, it is a one-of-a-kind building. Its creator, the Bishop of Verdun, wanted to create a place where families of the fallen could go and grieve for their loved ones. It houses the bones of both German and French soldiers who went missing. There are the remains of over 300,000 soldiers inside. Close to ground level, there are glass windows that allow visitors to peer into chambers that contain heaps of bones. It was quite a gruesome site to see. Giles led us inside the Ossuary and gave us more information about how the Bishop travelled across Europe and the United States, raising money for his project. The outside of the building bears the crest of each city that donated money, from Philadelphia to Caen. The main hall of the Ossuary had an ethereal orange glow to it, which made the inside seem like it was on fire. We went up several flights of stairs to the bell tower, where you can look down on the valley that Verdun sits in. From so high up, we had a new perspective on how many graves rest in the cemetery. Arranged in blocks of several hundreds, the rows of graves resembled soldiers marching into battle (which is fitting, considering who lies in the graves).

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After an hour and a half of poking around the Ossuary, we were rounded up like sheep and herded onto the bus. Unfortunately for us, some people who were looking out for their friends filled in the names of their absent pals on the attendance sheet (so that they wouldn’t face any repercussions for skipping). The attendance sheet was the only way to get accountability, so with extra names on there, it was impossible to know who was actually there and who wasn’t. We wasted almost forty-five minutes trying to figure it out, before some people fessed up and we were able to get a more accurate number.

We took a quick, twenty-minute bus ride to our next destination, the Douaumont Fort. Sitting up on a hill, this was the main bastion of the French Army. It was immensely fortified and would have been highly formidable had the French not abandoned it before the Battle for Verdun began. The higher ups were worried that German artillery would surely be able to penetrate and destroy it, so days before the battle began, ordered for the evacuation of the place. The only people left inside were older reservist troops who, presumably, were better left on the back lines. What happened next was a hilarious stroke of luck for the Germans: one squad of German soldiers was sent to get close to the Fort and survey its defenses in preparation for a larger assault. What they found instead was a deserted fort lacking all of its armaments (for those had been taken too). One man, Pioneer Sgt. Kunze, volunteered to go inside and check things out. Armed with but a rifle, he made his way through a hole in the wall and found the place to be empty. The sole inhabitants of the Fort were members of an artillery team, whom Kunze promptly locked in a room. That, boys and girls, is how a German soldier single-handedly captured one of France's mightiest forts. The oddest things can arise from war.

Giles led us to the top of the Fort, which is built inside a giant hill. Then, he took us down into the tunnels. Damp and musty, the temperature dropped almost twenty degrees when we walked inside, which sent shivers down my spine. Water dripped from the ceiling and formed dirty puddles on the ground as we walked through the halls. Metal buckets were set up on the ground, which made creepy, “plink, plink”, noises as we moved through the darkness (not a great place to be after watching "Stranger Things"). We were able to see the soldiers’ barracks (forty to a room) and made our way through the maze to a large cannon that sat under a giant, metal shield. In its heyday, the cannon could be raised and lowered in mere seconds, which allowed the French to take potshots with it and move it back into cover before the Germans could fire back. Later on in the battle, when the French eventually reclaimed the Fort (taking significant casualties in doing so), the cannon was a key tool for the French Army. We spent about an hour venturing through the Fort’s creepy interior before making our way to the buses once more. At this point, it was getting close to one of my three favorite times of the day: lunchtime!

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The bus made its way back to the city and deposited us at the base of a large hill. We said goodbye to Giles and trekked up to the courtyard of a large, regal, manor. Remember how I said there was a good side to those kids who skipped out on us? It seems like the staff that planned the trip ordered enough food for everyone to eat two or three meals. With so many people missing, they were shoveling out sandwiches and bags of cookies as fast as we could take them. One kid walked out of there with eight baguette-sandwiches in his arms! I should consider myself lucky, too, because I was able to snag ten cookies and ration them out over the following week. All in all, lunch was “free” and the food wasn’t half-bad! I’d call that a win-win type of deal.

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Following our surprise buffet, our special group was led down to the “Citadelle”. I was excited to see more tunnels, and having signed up for the special group, I had high expectations for this part of the trip. Unfortunately, it couldn’t have been a bigger let down. Although we did in fact get to see the tunnels, we did so on a Disney-like ride cart that brought us through an incredibly cheesy “living museum”, where screens played out scenes of actors pretending to live in the tunnels. The dialogue of the pretend-story was cringier than a freshman boy asking out a senior girl to prom. On top of that, the tunnels in the Citadelle were far colder than those we went through earlier in the day. It must have been forty degrees in there! By the end of the half-hour ride, I was shaking from the cold (man, I really am a Southerner). I was happy to get outside and into the hot sun, where I met up with some of my friends.

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When we were all together again, we walked into the main city center and began our inspection of the various candy stores that lay scattered throughout. We had heard of one in particular where you could get a tour of its production rooms and some free samples, but it was just a smidge too far away to get to in time. Consoling ourselves with some of the cookies from earlier, we camped out in a park and passed the time shooting the breeze and talking. When an hour had elapsed, we made our way back to the safety of the busses. On the ride back, the staff tossed more satchels of food to anyone that didn’t already have their arms bundled with food. The journey home went by quickly, which I used to study for MSE again. Once I got to my dorm, I continued to study my butt off and prepare for the coming storm.

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Verdun is a small city, but it’s rich in history. Statues and monuments lay scattered all around us: marking off some major firefight or other event that happened over a hundred years ago. As Giles told us, the people of the area are proud of their history, but also want to move on and present Verdun as something more than a city that got beat up like a punching bag a century ago. Nowadays, they have a variety of festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate other aspects of the city’s history. If we hadn’t taken a school field trip to Verdun, I would likely have gone on my own accord. From the Imperial War Museum in London, to the beaches of Normandy, to the death fields of Auschwitz, and now to the cratered city of Verdun, I’m slowly making my way back through history and to a time where the world stood on the brink of collapse. I’m glad that I get to see sites like these, because they remind me of the horrors of war and everything we stand to lose if there’s no one who stands up to the fight against the tyrants and dictators that live among us. Nowadays, it seems like there are many things people take for granted. We have to memorize a quote by Father Denis Edward O. Brien, who puts it pretty bluntly: “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag.”

Posted by oklempay 10:37 Archived in France Tagged cemetery battle war field_trip verdun ossuary citadelle world_war_i mse Comments (0)

An Unexpected Journey

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On paper, everything seems easier than it actually is. When you see that expected travel time should be about eight hours, you take for granted just how much of an eternity eight long, excruciating, mind-numbing hours can seem. This past weekend was a lesson, a cruel lesson from the Universe in Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” I’m sure you must be confused, so let me explain….

First, though, the weekly report card! I’m still getting smiley faces in all my classes and have even gotten an A++ in the “tells awesome jokes” category. It’s the usual grind of homework and studying till I fall asleep, so as to leave my weekends work-free. I’ve been running in the mornings in preparation for the Hell that will be Field Training, which continues to loom over my head. There’s a great park not far from my dorm, comprised of a kilometer loop with workout stations set up along its path. One day, running down by the city, I saw several soccer fields filled with kids in bright, solid-colored uniforms. They must have been a youth soccer league, because they couldn’t have been much older than 14. It reminded me of my days when I used to rule the ol’ football pitch: I was the best defense in the U-6 American Youth Soccer Organization of New Hartford. I was good, so good that they even gave me a trophy at the end of the season! Although, for some reason, they gave my trophy to everyone else as well. Anyways, I did some reminiscing as I passed by the fields and finished up my run before the sky cracked open and buckets of rain began to drench anything not covered. Overall, I believe that school is continuing to go well and, thus far, none of the balls of my juggling act have been dropped. Hopefully, I can keep it going like this.

Now, what you’re really here for: my travels! Last weekend, Triberg gave me a great taste for nature and had me longing to go spend more time outside of the city. Although cities are a great way to experience a culture, one can only stand so much concrete, overpriced food, and funky smells coming from grates that disappear into blackness. Atlanta will forever be my numero uno city in my heart (and not just because it has Krispy Kreme and Green Manor, although mostly). The place I set my sights on this time was in the French Alps: a well-known ski-destination by the name of Chamonix. This is home to the massive, snow-capped, four-thousand meter tall mountain known as Mount Blanc. The city sits in the cradle of two expansive mountain ranges, which gives the impression that one is in a giant crater. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I can even begin to talk about Chamonix, I need to explain how I got there first.

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As I mentioned earlier, the anticipated travel time was eight hours from Metz to Chamonix. I would have to get up at the exhausting hour of four in the morning to make it to the station on time, with the expectation that I would roll into Chamonix around two in the afternoon. Painfully, I clambered out of bed at four-thirty and made my train at six. Everything was going just smoothly until Lausanne, Switzerland (stupid Lausanne…). The plan originally had a twelve minute layover at one stop, which certainly isn’t the closest I’ve cut it before. However, as is the custom here, my train ran behind schedule and pulled up to the station just as the train I was supposed to be on was departing. You can imagine my frustration as I ran up to the platform and painfully watched my train fade away down the tracks. This setback delayed me three hours and meant I wouldn’t get in until five in the afternoon. Just like that, my eight hours of travel had now turned into eleven.

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Being naive and carefree, however, I brushed it off as the setback that is always destined to arise in any trip and figured that I would be okay. With an extra hour to kill in Martigne, Switzerland, I was able to climb the parapet of an old tower and take in the beauty of the Alp’s sweeping valleys. Leaving Martigne, I hopped on board the Mount Blanc Express, which is a special train that winds its way through the mountains of the Alps. If you’ve ever been on the Expedition Everest ride at Disney World (or any roller coaster will suffice really), that’s what this train felt like. With a jolt, it pulled away from Martigne and started off the journey at an alarming thirty-degree incline up the side of a mountain. Near the apex of our climb, we plunged into the darkness of a tunnel that cut through the mountainside. When we emerged, we were traversing the side of a mountain on a path barely wide enough for the train. Looking through the large viewing windows that stretched across the entire cabin, there was only a heart-stopping plunge downwards next to the rail tracks. Unlike a Disney ride with fake backdrops, this was the real deal. As the train clattered along the precarious tracks, it offered some amazing views of the Alps. It was so amazing that I forgot how upset I was about getting in three hours behind schedule!

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The adventure ended at a station in Vallorcine, France, where I had a one-hour layover. It was the kind of place that only had a main street, with a smattering of houses here and there. I met some interesting people who were waiting for the same train I was: there was an older French couple who extended an invitation for me to join them by saying: “Hey kid, we’re going to go get a beer. Want to come with?” Although we didn’t find an open bar, we did end up finding a 700 year-old church that had survived an avalanche thanks to its surrounding stone wall, so I guess that was cool. Then, I met an English family that loathed European football and were instead massive fans of the Green Bay Packers! Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.

Finally, one hour and twenty-eight minutes later, the long journey came to close. As we passed into the shadow of Mount Blanc, the train pulled up to the station and delivered its cargo of weary travelers. I was feeling it at this point, so I made a beeline for my Airbnb (funny side note, its listing was “cozy couch”). It was situated in an apartment suite adjacent to the train station, which I was thankful for. Unfortunately, none of the doors had numbers or names on them, so I had no clue which couch was mine. My host had neglected to send me the details on said information. I ended up becoming a door-to-door salesman, in search of someone who might have a clue. Every room I stopped at was out-of-towners, which got me no further than where I started. I tried calling my host numerous times, but no one picked up. After a half hour of searching, I gave up in frustration and left a message saying that I would come back later. The shower that I had been desperately looking forward to would have to wait a couple more hours. Instead, I went out in search of something to fill my stomach.

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Being a ski-resort town, Chamonix is essentially the Parks City of France. It has a rugged, outdoorsy feel to it, with enough basic amenities included that it doesn’t scare away the city dwellers. The bars were filled with sweat-soaked hikers and backpackers like myself, and impromptu concerts were set up by musicians hanging outside restaurants. The town was a perfect blend of nature and civilization that made it fun to walk through (although some parts were certainly touristy). I satisfied the ever-hungry pit that is my stomach at a hot dog shop, where I feasted on perhaps the most delicious hot dog a person could find after going the last twelve hours without food.

When I returned to the apartment complex, I was nervous that I would have to cancel the Airbnb and end up booking at a place that was exponentially more expensive. My host had still not sent me a response, so my worry-meter was right up at the top. I gave it a half hour more before I would try and find an alternative place. As my luck would have it, she messaged me just as the half hour passed. Sending me detailed instructions, I eventually made my way to one of the doors that no one had answered earlier. She was out of town, so she had left the keys in her mailbox and some sheets for me on the couch. At this point, I was so tired that I collapsed on the couch without taking a shower. Although it was only 9:30pm, I knew that I would need a lot of sleep for the hiking I intended to do. That night, I slept more soundly than I had in weeks.

I ended up sleeping in to 7am (for those that know me, that’s really, really, late)! I rolled out of bed in a tumble of sheets and crawled to the heavenly spout of hot water, where I camped out for at least ten minutes. After that, I fixed myself a hearty breakfast of an orange and an assortment of crackers, washed down by gulps of fresh mountain water. Leaving behind my couch, I set my sights on a new challenge, this one a little more fun than the previous I had encountered. I found a trailhead that led up to a cable car station called “Aguille du Midi”. That was the halfway point up Mount Blanc, and also where I would make my way to. The beginning of the trail was a series of steep switchbacks that were barely two feet wide. However, as the day was still young, I had the advantage of fresh muscles and the benefit of being in the shade. Even then, by the end of the first hour, I was beginning to feel the effects of the constant uphill climb in my calf muscles. It got worse when I passed by someone hiking down, who told me that I was only about halfway up at this point.

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Continuing upwards, I crossed over a river and noticed that the flora and fauna were subtly changing around me the higher I got. It reminded me of pictures we had seen in environmental science, where a mountainside can be broken up into several distinct regions: there are large trees down at the bottom in the subalpine region. In the alpine region, trees become more stunted and have to withstand blasts of colder temperatures. Then, above the tree line, the vegetation gives way to tufts of grass and shrubs and a much starker environment. As I progressed along the trail, I noticed all this changing around me and remarked at how much it was like the pictures in the books. Once I got above the tree line, the landscape gave way to rocks the size of houses and patches of snow that lay frozen on the ground. In several spots, the trail became so hard to follow that I had to backtrack to make sure I was staying on it. For anyone with little kids, this is not a hike I would recommend: I had to scale several large boulders and shimmy my way across ledges of snow that covered up the path. Up here, there was little shade to speak of, and there was not another soul in sight at this early in the morning. Two hours into it, my body was covered in sweat and every footstep became a battle of lifting my lead-like leg upwards and fighting Earth’s gravity. I wanted to give up, but I knew that this far in, there was nowhere to go but up. The only way I could maintain my resolve was to continually count to one-hundred in my head in Russian. It took my mind off of the exhaustion and helped pass the lonesome time.

Salvation came at two and half hours into this grueling trek. After seeing nothing but nature for some time, I finally saw my first small sign of civilization: literally, it was a sign! It pointed to an even larger sign of civilization, a warming house (called a refuge) for weary hikers like myself. Even more exciting, the cable car station, Aguille du Midi, finally came into view! One by one, things slowly began to get better. At the warming hut, there was a trough with frigid, flowing, water that I took in in large gulps. However, my final stop wasn’t the refuge. No, I needed to go continue upwards for ten more minutes to get to my real destination: the cable car station. Only then could I say that I had accomplished my mission. I came across two hikers carrying skis that were planning to ski down Mount Blanc and completed this last leg with them.

Coming up to the crest of the cable car station, the view was indescribable. That’s why I’ll take a moment and let the pictures speak for themselves.

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My reward was a much-needed break and some food to eat. I claimed a metal bench as mine and gobbled down cheap crackers while taking in the picturesque view. Talking with some English folks, I set my sights on a new destination: I would traverse the side of the mountain and head over to Mer de Glac, the largest glacier in all of France. This time, I wouldn’t have to worry about climbing up and could enjoy a relatively flat hike. Compared to my morning trek, this was a piece of cake. It took me just under two hours to make it the four and a half miles to my next stop. The only bad part of it were the snow drifts that lay across the trail. They could be as large as fifty feet across and made it so that you could only walk in a narrow trail of footprints made by earlier travelers. Stepping out of these would have you taking a very long and dangerous slip n’ slide down the side of the mountain. As I approached Mer de Glac, the number of tourists began to rise dramatically. The reason behind this was one of laziness: there’s a train which runs from Chamonix up to Mer de Glac, so any Joe Schmoe can pay an outrageous thirty-eight euros to plop themselves down and have an internal combustion do the work for them in getting up the mountainside. I’m not made of money, so I took the cheap option and went with the two hour hike to get down. Every time the train went by, I could hear its shrill whistle mocking me in my weary state.

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Now, I should elaborate a bit more on the whole “getting back” situation. There was a train leaving Chamonix, which, if everything else went accordingly, would get me back into Metz at 10pm Saturday night. Unfortunately for me, its departure time was 3pm. I had just begun my two-hour hike downwards at 2pm, so I was faced with three options: miss the 3pm train, run like a madman down the mountain and condense two hours into one, or give up every essence of manhood and shell out thirty-eight euros for an overpriced train ride down. Option three was off the table, and I was nervous that I might trip and fall, so I decided to enjoy the hike down and ended up taking my time with it (I would later realize that I had chosen wrong). When I got into Chamonix, it was 3:15pm and my legs had been magically transformed into jelly. My new plan had me travelling for twelve hours, with an overnight delay at a station in Basel, Germany. Although the prospect of it was not very exciting, I was still in that foolish mindset where I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Let me cut through that crap right now: it was bad, very bad.

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I left from Chamonix around 5pm and, as the Mount Blanc Express began to trundle back through the steep mountain passages, I looked out the windows in sadness. For once, I was sad to have to leave and go back to school. I wished that I’d had more time to go hiking and see some of the hidden gems of the area. Alas, it was my time to go. The ride back to Lausanne, Switzerland, passed in a few short hours. I’m supremely glad I had the foresight to bring a thick book with me, as I ripped through its pages on these tedious rides. A lakefront town, we pulled into Lausanne just as the sun was setting. With white, wispy, clouds creating a haze on the horizon, it made for a stunning array of colors as the sun slipped into the watery depths and the darkness of the night came on. I had an hour to walk around Lausanne, so I spent it stretching my legs and getting in some extra steps (That day, I ended up doing 38,000 steps!). Then, an hour later I boarded several series of trains that eventually dropped me off at a station in Basel, Germany right after midnight. Now, the worst part was upon me: my next train wouldn’t leave Basel until 5:25am. Here I was, stuck at the station with nowhere to go and nothing to do for five freaking hours. I found a bench in a well-lit area of the station, wrapped my backpack straps through my legs, and began the long, painful wait. As the night wore on, the temperature began to drop into the high forties and bugs started assaulting my skin that made me twitch like a horse. Around 2:30am, several guys came through the station and started clapping loudly and making a lot of noise so as to wake up those of us that were sleeping (for I wasn’t the only traveler caught in this overnight nightmare).

When 5am eventually rolled around, I was starving, exhausted, and desperately in need of a shower. After all, I’d spent six and half hours the day before hiking. I got into Strasbourg at 7am and thought that the worst was finally over. However, there was one more “surprise” lying in wait for me. My train from Strasbourg to Metz, which would have gotten me in at 11, was cancelled due to strikes! Talking with the information desk, I would have to take a train from Strasbourg to Paris and then from Paris to Metz. It would end up adding an hour onto my overall travel time. Here I was, only a forty-five minute car ride from Metz, and now I would have to keep traveling. As fed up as I was, I did the only thing I could do: I got on the train and tried my hardest to keep from passing out. At 1pm on Sunday, I finally crossed the threshold of my apartment and collapsed in a heap of sweat-stained clothes on my soft, clean, bed.

There is a lesson to be learned from all this: don’t overextend your travels or yourself. It’s one thing to say that you can do something, but another thing entirely to actually carry it out. I thought that I could make a twelve-hour trip back manageable, and I was dead wrong. I spent more time traveling than I spent in Chamonix, which kind of made this trip a drag. I loved every second in Chamonix, but I would not recommend taking the trains to get there (unless you’re only taking the Mount Blanc Express). From here on, I plan to stay more local and enjoy the things that are near me, instead of trying to make a massive trip happen. Anyways, I learned a lot about myself and about traveling this week. Although a lot of it sucked, it’s important to remember the words of T.S Eliot – “The journey, not the arrival, matters.”

Posted by oklempay 09:50 Archived in France Tagged hiking mountain train chamonix hike couch express basel lausanne mount_blanc martigne vallorcine Comments (1)

Back to the Basics

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This was a big weekend for a lot of people. Many journeyed down to Interlaken, a town in Switzerland known for its stunning views and incredible hikes around, well, you guessed it, some lakes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an absolutely beautiful place that I want to visit at some point, but this weekend was a special occasion. Making the trip out to Western France, I went to visit the beaches made famous at 6:30am on June 6, 1944. This, of course, was DDay.

Before I ramble on about my trip, a quick word for my sponsors: school is still going great, I am in good health, making lots of friends, taking of bunch of tests, and yes, I am getting enough to eat. Homework is ramping up, but the smaller class size lets me work on it with groups that I’m familiar with and end up completing it faster. What I’m truly dreading is this upcoming week: I have 3 back-to-back tests on top of multiple assignments due. Up until now, I’ve been enjoying Georgia Tech-lite, where your biggest responsibility is showing up for class on time. Now I need to prove that I’ve been paying attention and understanding the material. If I study hard enough, I meet even be able to get my Materials Science test grade into the double digits! There’s a reason I’ve spent so much time in churches the past two weeks: I’ve been trying to find salvation from the ensuing storm. Alright, that’s enough of the doom and gloom talk. It’s not as bad as it sounds (really).

Saturday morning, I had to get up at the soul-crushing hour of 6am (psh, no problem for me) to make it to the train station in time. Our route would have us on a high-speed rail from Metz to Paris, transfer stations in Paris, and then take an intercity train from Paris to Caen. As we walked up to our platform, my friend ran into ticket issues. I tried to convince them that it would be alright, but they didn’t want to run the risk of being on the receiving end of a massive fine from some overeager ticket checker. Their decision to stay came after I had already boarded, so I watched helplessly from the window as they stood there on the platform and would not get on. Just as I was about to head down to convince them otherwise, the doors clanged shut in front of me and the train groaned to life. Any chance I had was now gone. This adventure would be one I would have to take alone.

I’ll admit: I was a little jarred by the abruptness of their exit. Now the dynamic duo had become the…. Well, I don’t even know what cool name there is for a singular person. With just one, I no longer had the power of alliteration on my side. Even worse, I had to figure out everything for myself. If I had any hesitation about something, I would just have to go with my gut (and it usually told me to get food). Making the most of my train ride, I began to work out the logistics of what would come next.

When the train pulled up to the Gare L’est in Paris, I bolted off the platform and began to make my way to the Gare St. Lazar, which stood several miles away. I had to be wary of time because I only had fifty minutes of layover and the next train to Caen wouldn’t be until much later in the evening. Luckily enough, the metro got me there with ten minutes to spare. Boarding it, I snagged an empty seat and unloaded the hefty pack that was bearing down on my shoulders. As the seats around me filled up one by one, I began to worry that this was a reservation only train (which yours truly did not have). Thinking back, I had passed by a sign earlier in the station that looked awfully like the French words for, “Reservations Required Dummy”. My biggest concern was the massive fine that could be slapped on me for not paying whatever marginal reservation fee there was. I made my decision a minute before the train pulled out: I would play it like “Joe Cool” and act like I belonged.

This tactic, surprisingly, worked out for me quite well! As has been with every previous train ride thus far, the ticket checker walked straight through the cabin without batting an eye at anyone. However, I knew I was lucky this time. From here on out, I’ll have to be more careful with knowing what trains require reservations and making sure I have them.

The train ride was long, hot, noisy, and crowded from Paris to Caen. As was the French custom, we had several delays in our journey. Originally a one and a half hour hop, it transformed into a three hour outing that a turtle could have done faster. It didn’t help that I was surrounded by high school delinquents who didn’t mind jostling my seat back and forth (man, when did I become a grumpy, old grandpa). The saving grace was the kind, older, French woman who sat next to me and who had brought her adorable dog with her. There’s no better therapy than having a puppy crawling around in your lap.

Around 1pm, the amazing FINALLY happened. We rolled into Caen! Now, I feel that I should tell you that the city’s name is pronounced like “cone”, as in, ice cream cone. I don’t know how you’ve been reading it so far, but let’s just set the record straight and make sure you say it correctly from here on out. Furthermore, a quick history lesson! Caen played an important role in the DDay invasion. After the Allied Forces secured the beachhead, the Germans holed up in Caen and prepared to make their stand here. The fighting was intense and left most of the city in ruins. Caen was one of the most, if not THE most, destroyed cities in all of France. The air bombing done by the Allies was fairly ineffective and ended up creating as many civilian casualties as it hurt German assets. The original plan had the Allies expecting to secure Caen within a day of the landings. It ended up taking four bloody weeks before the town would be back in their grasp. This was a city where history was buried in its walls: every street-corner holding the story of some intense firefight that had occurred 74 years ago.

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Walking out of the train station, I made a beeline for the nearest grocery store where five euros could fill a bottomless pit (aka, my stomach). Thirty minutes later, I found myself stuffing groceries into my already full backpack like a homeless person and leaving the store with baguette in hand. I munched on the bread as I cruised the streets and ended up working my way towards the obvious center of the city. Why was it obviously the center? Well, it was the remains of a large fortress embedded in a hillside that loomed over the rest of the city. It was pretty hard to miss. I hiked my way up the ruins and plopped down in the soft, green grass. Enjoying my mini-feast I had acquired, I soaked in the sights from the hilltop. Although the grey clouds didn’t make for an attractive backdrop, it was still warm enough for a t-shirt and shorts. Around me, little kids on a school trip scurried around and played tag on the hillside. I’m sure none of them realized that the walls they were running around were almost a thousand years old, erected by William the Conqueror.

After lunch, I began to amble around the old town. Here and there I would see pockmarks in the walls: bullet holes which served as reminders of the fights. The streets narrowly wound in every direction from the center, as if the enormous roots from the Tree of Life. I made my way through several churches and eventually to the DDay memorial park, which situates itself a mile northwest of the city. To my surprise, there was a wonderful museum at the entrance of the park. It offered an interesting perspective of Caen and France before and after World War Two. Unlike other World War Two museums I had visited, this one was different in its tone. It paid homage to the staggering number of civilians lost and didn’t thank the Allies as incredible saviors. Instead, it highlighted how some of their actions led to a greater loss in civilian life. Like I said, it gave a unique perspective of the war that felt genuine, as if seen through the eyes of a French person living during the time.

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At this point in the afternoon, I was trying to kill time until I could check into my Airbnb. I stumbled upon a botanical garden and sat for a while, enjoying the tranquility of the water flowing down the rocks and into a reflecting pond. I was very excited to check out my living arrangements this time. After all, the place I had found to stay at was in the bottom of a boat! Yes, you did read that correctly. Someone had an extra bunk in their boat and was renting it out for travelers like me! I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like that. When the time did come, I found my new dwelling not far from the city center. The host, with his two sons, was incredibly friendly and helpful. A jovial man with a perpetual grin on his face, he provided me with dinner recommendations that I heartily took. After going out and getting my fill of falafel, I returned to my bunk and got some studying done. As I dozed off to sleep, I could hear the sounds of the city swirling around and slipping into my cabin through the porthole. There was quite the party going on across the river. At some point through it all, I finally ended up getting some shuteye.

The following day, I departed from my host at 7:30am and made my way back to the train station. I would ride the rail one station further up to Bayeux. The tour I had signed up for would meet at the train station there and depart at 8:30am. Even smaller than Caen, Bayeux was a quaint town that had escaped the tragedies of the war. Due to its narrow streets, it never saw any fighting, so it maintained its pristine, rustic quality. When I found my tour group, I was easily a third of the age of the next youngest person there. Boy, did I feel like a kid. Comprised of three older couples, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Despite the massive age gap, my new groupmates were very friendly and made great talking companions. Being from the States themselves, they had all served in the military in some capacity or another. One of them had even been a pilot! We struck it off right away and would jabber incessantly about planes in the spare minutes. The guide of our group was a younger woman who was a Bayeux native. Her accent was thick, but her knowledge was vast on the topic of DDay. This was definitely not her first rodeo.

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Our tour started with the Point du Hoc, which was a set of cliffs that housed a scary array of German anti-naval and anti-air batteries. The craters from the bombs were overgrown with brush and the same lush, green grass that I had seen in Caen. In some places the craters were ten or fifteen feet deep! As we stood at the edge of the hundred-foot-tall cliffs, our guide explained that the Army Rangers had to scale these very cliffs by cutting slits in the rocks with their knives and climbing up with their hands (even Bruce Willis would be scared of these guys). The original plan called for them to launch grappling hooks and make the ascent with the aid of ropes. Unfortunately for them, their ropes, drenched in the ocean’s salt water, prevented the hooks from reaching the ledge. When the Rangers did get to the top, the Germans had already packed up all of their larger guns and replaced them with telephone-pole look alikes. The men that came over the ledge were hit with a heavy torrent of bullets that kept them pinned down and slowed their advance. By the time they finally captured the Point, the Germans had regrouped a mile away and were preparing a counterattack. Pinned up against the cliffside they had worked so hard to reach, the Rangers had to fend for themselves for two days before reinforcements would reach them. Of the 225 men that had landed, only 90 made it through.

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We continued on to Omaha Beach itself, which is a shallow stretch of sand that goes on for 3.5 miles. It was a fairly good landing site for the Allies to pick, but the Germans had the advantage of sitting on the high ground. After disembarking from their water transports, soldiers had to crawl past tank traps, barbed wire, landmines, and dodge the deluge of bullets that rained down across the beach. Even with the Germans caught off guard about the attack, it was no easy feat making it up the beach. We didn’t stay too long at Omaha Beach, but our guide told us some fascinating stories that transpired that morning.

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By the time we got to the American cemetery, it was nearing midday. There was a good gaggle of tourists surrounding the centerpiece of it all: a beautiful statue showcasing the youth of the troops as they came in from the water and onto the beaches. We walked among the white crosses, which seemed to glow in the sun. At one point, we heard the deafening roar of a C-130 as it flew overhead and out onto the water. With DDay being so close, there were actors everywhere getting ready for the large scale re-enactment that would take place in a few days. That day we saw tanks driving down main roads, people dressed in the garb of World War 2, and planes from the era practicing maneuvers. I’m sure it would be quite a spectacle to see. As we rounded the edge of the cemetery and made our way back to the van, we were stopped short by the sound of “Taps”. At the statue, there was a procession going on for veterans of the 101st Airborne. As the notes played, there was a hushed silence as all movement ceased and everyone faced the center. There, several veterans stood and held a salute for their fallen brothers. It was a very moving tribute that sent shivers down my spine.

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Thirty minutes later, I was back in the city center of Bayeux and making another grocery run. I had said my goodbyes to the group and found a quiet place to eat my loaf of bread and block of fresh cheese. I spent another hour exploring the city before making the trip over to the train station and beginning the journey homewards. Although I’d only been in Western France for 24 hours, I felt like I had seen enough to last me a week. The train ride home, I mulled over the famous landmarks I had seen and how significant they are to our history. The beach, soaked with the blood of thousands of young men, lays testament to the noble sacrifice given up in the name of freedom. Those men may not have realized the importance of it at the time, but their selfless devotion and courage in the face of insurmountable odds provided the stepping stone to the world we live in today. Through the celebration of DDay, we remember their legacy. Within Arnold Air Society, we have a quote that we say after every session of PT, which we dedicate to the POW’s and MIA’s. This DDay, I hope you can take some time to remember those who gave up their life in the hope of making the world a better place. As we like to say: “Always Remember, Never Forget.”

Posted by oklempay 22:02 Archived in France Tagged boat castle normandy bayeux rangers caen dday st._lazare Comments (0)

The Big Kahuna

sunny

Great Scott! It’s already been two weeks in France and it still feels as if I just got here. It’s like the remote control of life seems to be stuck in fast-forward and events flash by one by one (this is getting heavy, Doc). On a different note, school is continuing to go well! Thermo is trying to keep us on our toes with pop quizzes and numerous assignments that come back to bite you for deciding to take a 4-credit hour class during what many would consider a “vacation semester”. My deformable bodies professor continues to rock with his crowd-pleasing personality. He’s incredibly personable and genuinely makes an effort to learn a bit about each student. Suffice to say, he’s already up there among my favorite teachers I’ve had at Tech. I feel a special connection to him due to his past at West Point and time in the Army Corps of Engineers. Statistics is starting to improve, but I’m waiting to see how it shakes out. The runt of the litter is Materials Science. Being a survey course, the class flies through a multitude of topics and expects you to pick up most of it very quickly. Chemistry has never been my strong suit, so this is the class I’m most worried about. Next Wednesday is our first test, so hopefully I won’t need to order my coffin now (they go pretty fast as finals season approaches). Enough with the classwork, though, on to the fun stuff!

Friday night I went out into Metz and enjoyed the city. We ended up eating at what I would consider to be a more upscale restaurant. This, of course, meant that the golden ratio (the ratio between cost to portion size) would be pretty bad. However, the chicken breast I ordered was mouthwateringly delicious and the carrot puree and mushroom sauce were highly reminiscent of something from the Tailor and the Cook (a classy restaurant at home). I spent the evening getting to know some new people from the program and taking in the scenery of the city. After dinner, we made our way down to the water and enjoyed the evening with ice cream in hand. Geese floated along and terrorized the local ducks (jerks). I got back around 10pm and began to prepare for our trip the following day.

I’m glad I got plenty of sleep, because this weekend was the big kahuna! After seeing Paris in just about a million different films, I had always wanted a chance to visit the iconic city. Our plan of action this time was to hit up the Bastille and work our way left. Following this philosophy, it would lead us in a chain of sights from Notre Dame to the Arc de Triumphe. Leaving at 8am once again, the train ride to Paris was short and uneventful. It was only an hour and a half hop over by train, which gave me just enough time to complete one homework problem before arriving at the train station. We made our way down to the Metro and bought our day pass tickets. Then, for whatever reason, I was put in charge of the group and figuring out where to go…. BAD DECISION. The first train we hopped on travelled in the opposite direction from the way we wanted! Luckily, I realized the mistake after one stop and we made a quick course correction.

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When we got to the Bastille, I stepped out of the station and looked around in confusion. Whenever I had seen pictures of the Bastille, it had been of a giant, stone fort that loomed hundreds of feet in the air. What stood before us now was a pretty wimpy column. Apparently, I had dozed off during the part of history class where the Bastille was burned down by the French people. After snapping some disappointing pictures, we made our way down to the Seine. The dirty, brown water surged by and gave off a peculiar smell. The river was not as wide as I had expected, but we found a nice pathway to walk along it. Going on for some ways, we shuffled in the hot sun until we hit the first big stop: Notre Dame. Squatting on an island, it had massive stained glass decorating the outside of the building. We stopped short of our destination to grab a quick bite at a place that offered a 2-course meal for a reasonable price. I felt bad for the waitress who lured us in (we essentially lived up to every stereotype of an obnoxious tourist).

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After lunch, our group split and I headed on with my friend to check out Notre Dame. The line to get in moved at a fast pace and we were inside in no time. It seems as if each church I visit is trying to one up the previous one I’ve seen. They get bigger, grander, and take my breath away even more each time. The trend continued on with the real Notre Dame (not that faker in Strasbourg). I stopped at the statue of St. Theresa and lit a candle there for my aunt. Coming back out into the daylight, we had to take a few minutes to adjust to the drastic change in lighting. Then, we continued on our pilgrimage leftwards. We made our way over to the bridge which was home to thousands of locks of love. Well, it used to house thousands of these locks. So many were put on that it began to put stress on the bridge. They were all cut off, unfortunately, and replaced by rather ugly, plastic siding. Our crossing of the bridge brought us right into the Louvre, which means I can cross, “seeing the pyramids”, off of my bucket list. Before you ask if I saw the Mona Lisa, I will tell you straight up that I am not a fan of “high art”. With a super-packed day, I was not ready to wait in an hour-long line and shell out some serious dough for a picture that I’ve seen a hundred times over.

Continuing on from the Louvre, we walked through an expansive park lined with statues of Caesar and grand fountains. Eventually, our pilgrimage led us to the Champs-Elysees, one of the most famous streets in Paris. As if to mock us, our final destination (the Arc de Triumphe) sat at the very end of the Champs-Elysees and atop a steep hill. Folks, I have made some difficult treks in my life, but battling my way through crowds of tourists whilst in the heat and humidity of an 86 degree day and loaded down with everything for a weekend was up there among the top for difficulty. Our feet were already sore from the 6 miles of walking early, but our prize was so close now (and in plain sight!) that we could not give up now. We eventually made it up to the Arc and were confronted with one final challenge: it sat in the middle of a massive 8 lane traffic circle! The cars zipped around and tempted us to play frogger, but we did not rise to the occasion. Instead, we scratched our heads along with the other confused tourists and finally found the giant sign that read “ARC THIS WAY”. Thirty minutes later, we were standing triumphantly on top of the conquered landmark. For all of the trouble it had been to get there, the view was magnificent. You could see Paris in all directions. It was a definite highlight of the trip.

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Exhausted and battered by a day of trudging through the sweltering heat, we took the Metro to our Airbnb, which was situated in the southeast corner of Paris. After figuring out the correct building and dealing with a host who knew only a little English, we got some respite in a comfy bed and a room of our own. We took a much-needed rest and got prepared to head back out once more. This time, we would be heading for the Eiffel Tower. Every night, they have a light show on the Tower that makes it sparkle like a diamond. Getting there at 10pm, we found the park filling up quickly with other eager tourists and a fair share of locals. Gypsies weaved their way among the groups lounging on the ground selling beer, wine, and champagne. You had to be careful with them, because they would do anything to get some money from you. They weren’t afraid to touch, either. When we picked our ideal spot, we hunkered down with our stuff and got our cameras ready for some prime picture-taking. The show was not disappointing. The display was lit up like a giant, white Christmas tree and went on for several minutes. Despite my complete state of exhaustion, I’m glad we went back out to see the show. By the time we made our way back to the safety and comfort of our bed for the night, it was almost midnight and the metro was jam-packed. There was hardly room to stand, and the sweaty, smelly bodies did not make it any more pleasant. I collapsed into the bed when we got back and slept soundly for the next seven hours.

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The following day, we were out by 8am and on our way to the Tower again. This time, we wouldn’t settle for just looking at it: we would be scaling its steps! The line in front of the Tower wasn’t bad, until we realized that it was just for the metal detectors. Then, we had to wait in line for tickets to climb the stairs. After that, we had to wait in line on the stairs themselves (see a pattern here?). All told, the view was most excellent from the galleries. The Tower, although much taller than the Arc, did not seem to give as good a scene as the Arc did. I’m not sure what it was about it, but I seemed to prefer being on top of the Arc to the Tower. On the way back down, I chatted it up with some Russian tourists from Moscow (see, my Russian is so coming in handy!).

At this point it was just about lunchtime, so I convinced my friend to let us eat from a grocery store. Grocery stores prove the existence of Heaven on Earth, because I was able to pick up lunch and dinner for under 9 euros! With my stomach full, I was in a much better mood as we headed to Versailles. The train alone was much nicer than any other Metro train I had ridden, as if the palace’s royal influence extended to the railway that led to it. As we rounded the corner of the boulevard that led to the palace, we both had a moment of jaw-dropping shock. When Versailles is talked about as big, that word doesn’t sum it up well. Versailles is BIG. Scratch that, it is HUGE. Its golden (literally gold) gate gleamed in the sun and rounded its exterior. Waiting in the security line, we were given a mini sideshow as the cops pulled up and scared off the gypsies that were pestering us poor tourists incessantly.

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Moving inside the gate, we worked our way around to the back, where the gardens were. I’m a fan of the Botanical Gardens, but this was something from another world. The gardens stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction and were so large that it made you feel like you were Alice and had just been shrunk down to Wonderland. Being almost 2,000 acres, the gardens were dotted with fountains, statues, baths, and intricate hedge structures that were unimaginable. We made our way through the center and then along the outer perimeter to the newest feature: Neptune’s Fountain. We were mostly guided by the music, as the fountains would go off every couple of minutes and lead you to somewhere new. Golf carts zoomed among the hedges, as some lucky tourists had been patient (and rich enough) to wait for the privilege of riding through the gardens in the luxury of a covered, 4-wheeled, motorized vehicle. We were supremely jealous of them as they rode around and we plodded along.

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By this time, we were hitting the point of near-exhaustion and barely made it back to the metro before collapsing into two empty seats. Lucky for us, it was a long, smooth ride to get back to the city center. Our last stop on this great journey was Sacre-Cour. Not so lucky for us, it was perched on the top of a freakin’ steep hill. I guess the Universe had to come back at me somehow. The streets leading up to Sacre Cour were bustling with tourists and we had to fight off gypsies selling cheap bracelets on the ascent to the top of the mountain. Was the view from the top worth it? Even in my deranged mental state back then, I would still have said yes. It was phenomenal. You could see for miles and we were blessed with a nice strong breeze that came in. We camped out around Sacre-Cour for an hour or so before making our way down to the train station and closer to the safety of Metz. Hopping on the 5:40pm train, we slept for most of the journey back. I was almost crawling by the time we reached our rooms.

Paris was an amazing city and we were able to see almost all of the big attractions in 2 days’ time! If you want to stay sane, however, I would recommend making it a 3-day trip for those interested. Or conversely, find a better way to get around than by walking everywhere with a 35 pound pack on your back. Once again, another successful weekend! I look forward to what the next week will bring!

Posted by oklempay 12:12 Archived in France Tagged tower paris metro louvre arc versailles champs gypsies sacre-cour Comments (0)

The First Forray

sunny

Okay, this is working….I think. I had been worried about the class load and travel combination, but this might be doable. With only four hours of class every day, I have plenty of gaps in my schedule to study and get homework done. I just need to be vigilant about doing it and not slipping behind too much. Psh, if I made it through last semester, then this should be a piece of cake (is what I tell myself to stay sane). The teachers of my classes all seem sincere and understand the allure of travel mixed with schoolwork. Hopefully all will continue to go well like it has thus far.
I get the feeling you don’t want to hear about my boring classes, though. Hey, it’d be fun describing Mohr’s circle or the times when a flow can be called viscous, but let’s be real here: you want to hear about the travelling and what my croissant count is up to (only 10 I believe). This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Both were only an hour away by train and seemed to be a good baby step into the pool without diving in head first. The high-speed rail was fairly intuitive to figure out and travelling with a person who knew French made life much easier.

We left for Luxembourg at 8am and passed the time counting cows on the trip (it’s a game all the kids are playing these days). When we finally pulled in, we were surprised to realize that no one had even checked our tickets! Now, I don’t condone illegal activity, but we “technically” could have ridden for free…. Just saying. The train station at Luxembourg was nondescript, which in Europe means that the stained glass was only 100 something years old. Leaving the station, we ambled along the empty streets towards Luxembourg’s old town. Passing by some old churches, we popped our heads in and marveled at the (for lack of a more articulate words) craptastically tall ceilings that seemed to reach to the stars and were covered with frescoes of Jesus in every aspect of his daily life: walking, talking, biking to work, you name it. Luxembourg’s modern city is perched on the top parts of a valley. The fun comes when venturing down into the valley. This is where the old town is nestled. It’s a steep trek to get down and we were very much aware that every step down would mean another one coming back up. It was worth it, though, because the view was incredible. We spent several hours walking among the ancient battlements that had once been crucial during World War II and took in the views across the valley as we crossed the large connecting bridge.

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As lunch time approached, we moved back into the old town for a cheap bite to eat. Eventually settling on a popular sandwich chain called “Paul’s”, we were able to enjoy our baguette-sandwich’s whilst sitting in a park serenaded by musicians performing for the jazz festival. People were swaying to the music in front of us and enjoying the beautiful day just as much as us. There are moments that stick out in a memory, and this will be one of them.

Following lunch, we moved out of the old town and down to the Casemonts du Boc. These are a system of tunnels built into a looming rock wall which were used during World War 2. They offered an amazing view of the valley and led us down to a meandering river bordered by gardens. While walking down to the river, I heard familiar voices: there was a tour being given in Russian! I knew my 5 semesters of Russian would finally be useful for something: I could get a free tour! Although I wanted to stick around and be a nuisance to them, we moved on for a stroll along the river. We wrapped up the trip in the mid-afternoon and took the short train ride back to Metz. For first travel adventures, this one was a success!

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The following day was Strasbourg, a city to the south of Metz and close enough to the border of Germany that one could walk there in several hours. Leaving around 8am again, we arrived to the sight of a slightly more extravagant station. There was a massive glass awning that had been built over the old, stone exterior and which housed various shops and benches. Our plan was simple: walk to the old town and get lost. Unlike most other cities, Strasbourg did not have as many major touristy attractions, but could be appreciated more through its architecture, food, and big-*** church (Seriously, this church was massive). While walking to the city center, we heard it before we even saw it. Following the bells, we saw the building unfold from top down. This church dwarfed all other buildings around it. It even made ME feel small. The sculptures lining its sides were intricately detailed and its parts seemed to disappear and reappear again in the shadows that hid its exterior. We didn’t venture inside yet, because mass was being held. Instead, we would make our way back here later in the day.

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Instead, after having all sense of ego stripped away by the sheer magnitude of that church (which, it turned out, was named Notre-Dame. And no, not the Paris Notre-Dame), we moved on to the waterfront. There are several rivers that weave their way through Strasbourg, resulting in some cool mini-islands. There’s even a playground on one! I would have gone on it too if I didn’t fear being hauled off by the police for what might seem as acts of drunkenness on a Sunday morning. The waterfront provided a great backdrop for pictures that captured Strasbourg’s iconic architecture. We eventually made our way to a breakfast place that won my heart over. The foodie in me was just as satisfied as the frugal half of my brain that hates to spend heaps of money on small meals.

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As the day progressed, we headed over to our Airbnb to check in. There was some difficulty in finding the place, but when we did, we weren’t that impressed. For one, our host had an above-ground pool with a giant, pink flamingo half-submerged in its murky water. Tacky lawn ornaments were strewn across the grass and her three dogs barked incessantly with each ring of the doorbell. Unfortunately for us, she was not there at the prearranged check-in time. We waited twenty minutes at the door before turning back and heading into the city for the second time that day. We sent her various emails, text messages, and phone calls, hoping that she would eventually respond.

Making a beeline for the church, we visited the royal palace adjacent to it that housed three museums. There was an archaeological museum in the basement, a tour of the palace on the ground floor, and a posh art museum upstairs. Six euros was enough to get us into all three, all thanks to student discounts! The basement was full of rocks (yes, I paid money to stare at rocks) that had plaques written in French describing their importance. I guess I’ll just make up my own stories for them. Moving out of the palace, we went back for round two with the church. We went inside this time and felt our jaws drop as we crossed the threshold of the entrance. This ceiling truly stretched to the stars. Massive stone pillars lined the edges of the pews and led up to an impressive altar. We snagged some seats (because we’d walked about 8 miles at this point) and took a break.

As dinnertime approached, we began looking for good, cheap eats. We eventually settled on a German-themed place that was pretty popular with the locals. The line was long and the tables filled as we walked up, but it was very much worth it. I ate some potatoes mixed in with sausage which was reminiscent of kielbasa and pierogis. Leaving the restaurant, we took a long stroll to wear off the effects of eating a large meal. We continued meandering until we decided to head back to the Airbnb and give our host one more shot (she eventually got back to us that afternoon, but it was via email). If she didn’t show up this time, we would’ve hopped the last train of the night and gone back to Metz. When we came to the door backed by the cluttered lawn, we rang the doorbell three times with no answer. Right when called an uber to take us to the train station, our host came barreling out of the house with a towel on her body and her hair sopping wet. She had been taking a shower right when we showed up. Our timing was just very unfortunate with her. We were greeted by her three dogs and showed to the spare room. The bed was a welcome relief after walking over thirteen miles.

The next morning, we took an early train back to Metz. Although we encountered some delays due to technical issues, we passed the time by spotting cows once again and watching Green Arrow (DC’s less cool version of Hawkeye). It was good getting back early, because I had some time to relax for the afternoon and catch up on work. All in all, it turned out to be an amazing first weekend and an awesome introduction for what France has to offer! I’m looking forward to traveling to other small French villages and enjoying the culture. Although, next weekend, I was looking at going to Paris….

Until next time, Au Revoir (for those that only know American, that means goodbye in French)!

Posted by oklempay 13:14 Archived in France Tagged church jazz german luxembourg strasbourg airbnb casemonts Comments (0)

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