Across the Rhine

When we crossed the Rhine River, we began our journey into France.  We apologize for the delay in posts, it was surprising to find internet in France difficult to obtain or very expensive.  Other than that, we hope you find France as interesting and full of history as we did.

Verdun

With World War I having been fought over 100 years ago, there are no remaining veterans living to tell the story of the Battle of Verdun.  If they were alive today, they would want the world to remember that in just 300 days, 230,000 men lost their lives in an area covering only 8 square miles.  Evidence of what took place during those 300 days are still seen to this day,  As we traveled over the cratered landscape where 60 million artillery shells were fired, and where complete towns were destroyed, we reflected on the horrific battles of this “senseless” war.  There are still many signs that this area was completely devastated.  Partial trenches, old barbed wire, old hidden military forts, gun batteries and signs posted to warn visitors that some areas are still unsafe to enter due to unexploded shells that remain, even 100 years later.  It was eerie to visit towns that were completely destroyed, with only plaques telling us where the baker once had his shop, where the church once stood….

Old World War I fort built into the side of a hill, now over grown and empty,

Old World War I fort built into the side of a hill, now over grown and empty,

Sign warning people of the dangers of unexploded shells that still remain, 100 years after the war.  The French government estimates there are still millions of unexploded shells remaining,

Sign warning people of the dangers of unexploded shells that still remain, 100 years after the war. The French government estimates there are still millions of unexploded shells remaining,

We visited many somber and thought provoking memorials along the way, but none more humbling than the Douaumont Ossuary. It is more than a memorial; it holds the bones of over 200,000 French and German soldiers who were killed on the muddy fields of Verdun. After the war, the Bishop of Verdun, Monseigneur Ginsty, felt solders deserved a proper burial and began collecting their remains and commissioned the building of this memorial. Solders’bones were officially collected from 1920 to 1932 and placed in the memorial.  Even today, 100 years later, remains are unearthed by local farmers,  We were deeply moved and would forever remember our visit.

 

Douaumont ossuary near Verdon, France is a memorial to the soldiers who gave their lives in the Great War.

Douaumont Ossuary near Verdun, France is a memorial to the soldiers who gave their lives in the Great War.

Battle memorial in french countryside.

Battle memorial in french countryside.

Oise Aisne France American Cemetery

American Cemetery, Oise Aisne, France

 

Alsace

The province of Alsace in France is near the German border which is evident in the style of architecture.  In fact, Alsace has changed flags several times over its history.  We heard both German and French spoken interchangeably as we strolled through the various towns in this region.

We camped in Colmar and biked into town our first night.  The town was enchanting.  We enjoyed wine tasting, then ate a late dinner of crepes and baeckeoffe at the cozy Crep’Stub Creperie.

Alsace architecture, when the house were built the owners paid tax based on the square footage of the bottom floor.  Is it coincidence that the upper floors were larger?

Alsace architecture, when the house were built, owners paid tax based on the square footage of the bottom floor. Is it coincidence that the upper floors were larger?

Typical home

Typical Alsace building

Early the next morning, we biked to the nearby town of Eguisheim where we hiked for twenty minutes up a steep hill . We were rewarded with more climbing!  As we arrived at the castle ruins, we noticed a tower and ascended the narrow winding steps to the top. The views of the vineyards, towns, and valleys below were our true reward.

Alsace countryside known for Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

Alsace countryside known for Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines.

Castle above

Castle above Eguisheim

Reims

Although only an hour from Verdun, the mood was very different from its somber neighbor of Verdun.   It is here that Champgne was first invented, twenty-six kings were crowned, and where the Germany officially surrendered in 1945, ending World War II.

Reims has a lively old town, with many shops, cafés, a beautiful cathedral with an enchanting statue of a mischievously smiling angel.  Reims is also home to a Carnegie Library. It was funded by an American who believed that knowledge could put an end to all wars.

Reims town square.  Statue is a reproduction, the original was melted down by during the Nazi occupation.

Reims town square. Statue is a reproduction, the original was melted down by during the Nazi occupation.

The Reims Cathedral of Notre Dame – our visit to this beautiful cathedral was enlightening and educational.  Inside this Gothic masterpiece, we took in the incredible stained glass, the stunning art work and life-like statues,  Unlike other churches we had visited, this one also had place cards with the history of the region. They included pictures of the community rebuilding the cathedral after World War I as it had been targeted and hit with over 300 German shells. One picture really stood out. It was of a group of people attempting to put back together the shattered stained glass windows

 

Reims Catheridal

Reims Cathedral

The Smiling Angle is now a symbol of Reims resilience

The Smiling Angel is now a symbol of Reims resilience.

Photo of workers reassembling stained glass windows after WWI

Photo of workers reassembling stained glass windows after WWI

Photo taken after WWI shelling.

Photo taken after WWI shelling.

Reims Cathedral during the evening light show.

We returned at 10 pm to watch a 25 minute light and sound show with the cathedral itself as a backdrop. Using colorful lights and booming sound, it took us through the history of, and building of the cathedral..

What the? Auguste Batholdi, designer of Statue of Liberty was born in the town of Colmar, this replica is in his honor.

Auguste Batholdi, designer of Statue of Liberty was born in the town of Colmar,  this replica is in his honor.

 

 

 

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