Sunday, February 26, 2017

Visiting Verdun

Our first stop in France was to visit the World War 1 battlefield of Verdun. Most people don't know much about World War 1, but it is one of my many favorite subjects in history. Not sure why... probably all the gross things they had to endure.

For those of you who are like most Americans and don't know much about Verdun, here are a few fast facts before I get to the pictures...

1. For 10 months the French and Germans waged trench warfare here, which the only successful thing either seemed to accomplish is to have a ton of people (800,000) die here in the dirt.

2. Trench warfare was when each side digs open air tunnels and then pokes their heads out and tries to shoot the other soldiers when they poke their heads out to try and shoot you. Those that get out of the trenches often get riddled with bullet holes while they encounter bombs and barbed wire.

3. Other inventions created specifically during World War 1 include gas masks, gas bombs, barbed wire, and eventually .... the tank.

4. The Battle of Verdun needed new inventions- like nerve gas- because the Germans were starting to run out of bullets. No surprise when about 40-60 million shells were used by both sides trying to "out kill" the other side.

5. The devastation and end result of the Battle of Verdun was death. Death of German soldiers. Death of French soldiers. Death to 5 cities surrounding Verdun that were never rebuilt. And a landscape littered with bodies, ammunition, and trenches.

I'd like to add that I was very considerate and didn't mention any of the gross things like a soldiers' diet and living conditions... I'll attach a link later for those of you interested. But for now lets go to the pictures.

Here is Fort Douaumont, which the Germans were able to capture at the beginning of the Battle of Verdun. They caught the French by surprise and easily rounded up the 57 men responsible for guarding the fort.

Here are the trenches, clearly the boards are new, but it was pretty accurate. Imagine having to climb over this? or worse have the soldiers firing at you as the corpses of your military unit flank you on either side? Yeah.... one thing World War 1 taught people was that trench warfare sucks.

Barbed wire was invented and used specifically here to prevent others from crossing "No Mans Land" and into your trench. (If you remember our trip to Salzburg) Sometimes they would attach bells or cups to the barbed wire so that it would make a noise when an enemy was caught trying to attempt to cross.

Lastly we stopped at the Douaumont Ossuary before the sun set. Unfortunately it and many things were closed for the winter months. But inside the Ossuary is where they kept the bones they have uncovered at Verdun. There are about 130,000 bodies that rest here. They could be German bodies, French bodies, or the bones of other nationalities who joined the fighting. Which brings us to another point about Verdun... when you are dead no one can tell if you are a "good guy" or a "bad guy" or a "German" or "French". Side by side your bones are just like everyone else.

"Chauffeur's Corner"
We had a few route choices leaving from Luxembourg City to get to our hotel near Disneyland Paris. Fortunately, we made the choice to take the shorter path and stop by Verdun. This meant some scenic backroads through the French countryside. I knew that the main areas of Verdun would be closed, but figured we were so close that it was worth driving by.

We got lucky and got to see a lot more than I expected. It was rather chilly when we arrived, but we still saw quite a bit. I was surprised that we were able to see so much relatively close to the road. The sporadic snow on the ground helped paint an even more vivid picture.

After Verdun we continued on French backroads through sunset and straight into dense fog. Fortunately, we arrived at our hotel only an hour or two after the fog started, but the rest was much needed, especially for the upcoming day.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Quick Stop- Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Roughly about the size of Rhode Island, is the small country of Luxembourg situated between France, Germany, and Belgium.

We were leaving Germany and entering France anyway, so what better way than to stop into one of the small countries in Europe. It was so cold the trip there.

Separated by rivers, you have to climb up multiple stairs along the outside of fortification walls.

Once atop the fortifications, there was some pretty architecture.

There was also this Spanish citadel along the wall.

Also along the wall is the Hollow Tooth ruin.

And there is also a plague dedicated to the people who served at the Battle of the Bulge.

We didn't spend much time there, again the city and country is very small, but it was nice to cross off another country from our list of travels.

Chauffeur’s Corner (Brian)
As our trip started to take shape during planning, it was clear that we could either swing out wide through Belgium or cut through Luxembourg. We quickly chose the latter, I think in part because it just seems more cool and we want to visit more in Belgium at a later time.

We only stopped for an hour or two, but I really enjoyed the time we spent there. I only wish we had done more research ahead of time to know more history and what else we could see there.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Come to Cologne- Kolner Dom

One of Germany's biggest attractions, Kolner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral is the oldest Gothic church in Northern Europe.

Construction started in 1248, but has continued at various points throughout history. One specific reconstruction was undertaken after 95% of the building was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War 2.

Inside the cathedral are the supposed relics and skulls of the Three Kings, who visited the baby Jesus after his birth. They remains of the Three Kings is enclosed in the shrine.

The architecture within is beautiful.

However, there are still several repairs being made on the inside as well. Within the walls is one of the tools that were used when making medieval repairs.

While it was a quick trip, it was an impressive building surrounded by lots of new high rise buildings. But we didn't have lots of time for visiting Cologne, so on to more adventures in Europe.

Chauffeur’s Corner (Brian)
So my terrible look in the first picture is due to a couple things – 1) namely like 4 hours of sleep 2) very cold morning 3) several aggressive beggars nearby.

I didn’t sleep well because there must have been a hotel nearby as we heard several ambulances throughout the night along with the rail line.
Fortunately that same rail line allowed us quick access to Kolner Dom (which is why I had booked that hotel).

Kolner Dom was really impressive, especially considering that it was bombed during WW2. The cathedral was incredibly long, chilly and pretty with its many stained glass motifs.

We spent about 30-45 minutes at Kolner Dom and then hit the road for Paris, via Luxembourg. 

I am sure there is much more to see in Cologne, but it definitely felt like an industrial town and Kolner Dom was the only thing that we really wanted to see there.