Our early morning started by boarding the TGV to Meuse where we were greeted at the little station in the middle of nowhere by Frédéric and his parents Martine and Bernard. After situating ourselves at Sabrina and Frédéric's lovely 100 year old house that they are almost finished totally renovating, Christelle, Frédéric's sister joined us for a little tour of St-Mihiel.
L'Église St-Etienne was originally built around the first century. The church contains a huge sculpture of thirteens persons including Christ, Marie-Madeleine and Véronique which was sculpted in the mid fifteen hundreds by Ligier Richier and donated to the church since the sculptor was from St-Mihiel. It was overwhelmingly large for this medieval church. The houses along the narrow cobblestones streets seemed like the surviving soldiers of the destruction that had pounded this area during the First World War.
We all sat down to dinner, how could I forget French family dinners. There are always apéritifs and wine. We had Bernard's rabbits stewed with a mushroom sauce and salads of shredded carrots, celery root and beet. And, of course, more wine and cheese.
Then we went back out into the cold damp weather to continue our tour.
General Pershing of the United States wanted to break through the German lines at St-Mihiel in order to try to capture the fortified city of Metz and was successful mainly because the Germans had already starting retreating. The French were very impressed however. Pershing did not succeed in taking Metz because the muddy roads were practically impossible to walk through.
At the site of the Salient of St-Mihiel the kids ran through the deep fortified German trenches overgrown with moss and some ivy. One door led to a German hospital which when entered was a passageway of unsuspecting rooms. Only walk on the designated paths though since the still buried toxic shells and mines still kill after one hundred years. Only a handful of plants have adapted to survive in the toxic soil that will never ever be able to be reclaimed. Miles of this terrain were the physical remembrance of the destruction of war.
We climbed the stairs up to the circular colonnade of the United States War Memorial at Montsec. This monument commemorates the American soldiers who fought here in 1917 and 1918 and afforded us a beautiful view of the Meuse valley and Lac Modine.
We next had what they consider a small meal of aperitifs, wine, quiche Lorraine, Flammkuchen, apple tartine and wonderful conversation before kissing everyone a bonsoir.
Sunday morning we headed towards Verdun, the city that in 1916 saw three hundred days and three hundred nights of combat without a break. First we stopped at Le Centre Mondial de la Paix which contains an exhibition to reflect on and promote peace. It is housed in a former episcopal palace constructed in the eighteenth century as a residence for bishops. As we exited the bells from the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame were tolling. People were walking through the streets carrying evergreen branches since this was the Sunday before Pâques.
Our dinner included apéritifs, wine, pizza with fois gras and more at the Restaurant Bonséjour for all fifteen of us. Just when total fatigue set in, it was time to continue on our way.
Next we went to the Mémorial Verdun which was an overwhelmingly awesome museum containing so many artifacts and stories but the wine had numbed my brain into incomprehensibility. The stop at the city of Fleury helped wake me up. It is actually what was the city of Fleury. It is one of about nine cities that was bombed into total oblivion during the war. There is a chapel erected to the city and plaques with the names of the businesses or houses that had once been there. This was very moving seeing more effects of war on the landscape of a country.
Last stop was the Ossuary of Douaumont where the bodies of 130,000 First World War French and German soldiers will rest together for all eternity.
It was time to leave with our arms and suitcases full of all the food and presents that were showered upon us. We arrived at the TGV station, boarded the train and then sat there. Suicide is painless. It brings on delays and changes. Who would believe it would hit two TGV's on our one trip. What should have been an hour trip to Paris took five. Luckily there were enough taxis in the queue.