Since I love history and Kathryn just finished a year of European history study, we wanted to see some battle sites of the world wars that are relatively close by. Saturday, we drove to Bastogne where one of the sieges of the Battle of the Bulge took place. There is an excellent WWII museum there that primarily follows the stories of four people: a 13 yr old boy from Bastogne, a young school teacher who worked in Bastogne, a German soldier and an American airman. We learned a lot about how the affected Belgium and the liberation of Europe. We also saw a huge memorial to the United States, a Sherman tank and monuments for Gen. McAuliffe and Gen. Patton. There is also a 101st Airborne Museum, but we just walked around it.
We continued on to Verdun, France where we spent the night. The hotel had a nice restaurant and Kathryn got to experience a three course French dinner (all in French) for the first time. We didn’t mistakenly order anything weird and the food was very good. During the month of July, there is a weekly show called DES FLAMMES A LA LUMIERE, a live performance and light show depicting the Battle of Verdun. The venue for this show is a big gravel pit and since the show has to be done in the dark, it didn’t start until 10:30pm. It was an incredible production with a large cast, live animals, light effects and fireworks at the end. We were able to get a translation into English through headphones. There were hundreds of people in the audience and we had to wait for the stadium seating to empty and then all the cars to exit through one road. We didn’t get back to our hotel until 2am!
After we slept in on Sunday and missed breakfast, we drove into Verdun. There were very few places open and navigating was kinda tricky. We decided to head to Fort Douaumont to do our sightseeing and hoped to find food along the way. The Fort is mostly underground — damp, dark and a little creepy. The top of the Fort is bumpy from shells landing during the war, but there’s a great view from up there. From there we went to the Douaumont Ossuary, which is essentially a huge mousolem for 130,000 unidentifed remains from WWI. Inside there are engraved blocks with the names of soldiers who were lost. At the ground level, there are windows through which you can see bones that were recovered from the battlefield. There is a large French cemetery in the front. I thought about all the families who never knew for sure what happened to their husbands, sons, brothers, uncles and fathers. They never came home. We saw many memorials for WWI and WWII in France, Belgium and Luxembourg during this trip. We finally found a place for lunch around 2:30pm. There’s nothing like fresh baguettes in France and the croque monsieur there was delish!
The weekend ended on a lighter note in Dinant, Belgium. Dinant is a pretty town on the Meuse and it’s claim to fame is Adolf Sax, inventor of the saxophone. Since Kathryn plays the tenor sax (and so did I in high school jazz band), we had to make the detour to check it out. It was fun! And we found some yummy ice cream, crepes and smoothies for “dinner”.