Published: March 19th 2012March 19th 2012
Not exactly what you could call subtle
Well it's about 10:30 and I'm already fending off sleep, the future, and a wide and angry variety of homework assignments all jockeying for my attention, so it must be time for the blog! First off, hello there, I'm safely back in Brussels after a weeklong trip to Bulgaria and Romania. Expect the entries on those in the next few days (no, really, one of them's written already. Crazy notion I know), but I'm going to take a moment to back up. Life got away from me just a bit, and the week before this trip into the slightly wilder part of Europe my entire program took a trip south into the Ardennes, Germany, and Alsace. Aside from boarding the bus ride from hell, the trip itself was a lot of fun, and in the interest of freeing up cranium space before a test, let's sum up each place here: The Ardennes Forest
Our first real stop on the trip meant visiting the Ardennes forest. This little spot has an unfortunately colorful history that most Americans know. Serving as the site for the Wehrmacht's hail Mary counterattack in the winter of 1944-45, the "Battle of the Bulge" took
The other side of things. The German government didn't get to repatriate remains, so graves here are a little crowded, six to each.
place in the woods around our wanderings. Of course, it's one thing to say that in the very comfy confines of my room, another to wander through a military cemetery for American servicemen, all white crosses and giant swooping eagle statues. It made for an interesting contrast with the somber German cemetery we saw next, men aged fourteen to sixty lying six to a grave in simple black crosses off a side road. Everyone had their stories, but only at the American cemetery was anyone even there to tell us, I guess it put things in perspective. Either that or seeing the actual foxholes of German and American sentries outside of Bastogne, or a tank that had exploded from a Panzerfaust round. All told it does remind you just how massive and devastating such a conflict could be.
That said, this didn't stop the plucky citizens of Bastogne from creating the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of war museums. My friend Robbie and I made the mistake of falling for a "museum" that turned out to be just three rooms, one loaded with farm equipment, another with decaying taxidermied animals, and the last with what was clearly war salvage.
The Gates of Trier
Here be Germans...
I'd say I hated paying money for this, but honestly the place was like a Nicholas Cage movie, so bad you can't help but laugh. Trier, or, when I get to feel smarter than a small child
As that title might imply, I was more than a little excited to return to Germany, by which I mean I had to suppress a happy squeal or two. Seriously, it's grand fun to chat with locals in their own language, and to have it all somehow feel natural. Trier itself is quite pretty, all old roman ruins and the like, one major gate to the city still stands. Still, I think I'll remember the experience more fondly for nice time I had just wandering about. Well, that and the "rainbow shots" were pretty funny too. Alsace is nice
No, this isn't a joke, After seeing the place it's a lot easier to understand why anyone with a handful of guns and a hatred of fixed borders walked in and seized this place over the years. We stopped in a small town called Rikiwihr, and then later took a trip up to Königsburg Castle. The former was
Ah, quaint little towns, how I missed you.
mainly what you'd expect from a touristy town in the Alsace. Wine was everywhere, candy everywhere, and the main street was so quaint I half expected Disney characters to pop out and sing some dementedly happy song. More fun (at least for me) was the German Kaiser's castle of Königsburg atop the nearby mountain. Following the 1871 Franco Prussian war, the Kaiser decided that the area was perfect for a relaxing summer home. By which I mean he built a bright pink castle atop a mountain. No, I really wish I could say I hadn't visited a hot pink castle, but that's what you get for using red sandstone. It was built on top of another German castle that the Swedes blew up (they did that a lot once upon a time), and might vie for second or third prettiest castle I've seen recently. Wow, that really doesn't mean what it used to. Strasbourg is rubbish
Hm? Oh no, I'm not going into more detail here. Frankly, while I'm sure if I was forty years old, and flush with money I really hated having the city'd be grand. The cathedral in the middle's rather nice, but otherwise
Welcome to Königsburg, note the pinkness.
Strasbourg's big claim to fame is as Europe's redundant capital, or that thing the French will never let the EU ignore. Once a month everyone in the European Parliament has to have plenary here, and frankly just for the pure stupidity that represents I'm using this as a blank check to hate on the place. Maginot defenses are not
Looking significantly less like rubbish on the other hand was the Maginot line defenses just outside of Strasbourg. The fortress here had been part of a chain of forts and barriers designed to stop the German army's planned invasion during the second World War. Yeah, how'd that go for them again? Before I really start snarking I should point out that at least here it worked flawlessly. The fortress looks like something out of a James Bond film, long underground tunnels, turrets pointed towards the surface, and a room suspiciously labeled "death laser" that we weren't allowed to see. I think if the group pooled their college funds we probably could've bought the place and the henchmen to crew it, and gotten started on the planned world domination (soon). Since this thing is 30 meters deep at points,
To give you perspective, this is the rear entrance, the front is like this with more gun.
it really did hold out against the German bombardment, at the end of the conflict this meant taking hits from both sides and the place still only lost one man to enemy fire. Of course if the point of the line was to defend France it was a hilarious failure, as the Germans took a quick look at this and choose the more leisurely option of blasting the kapoc (technical term) out of Belgium. Still, it was rather impressive to see, and it's condition holds up remarkably. Luxembourg
Well this last part's rather unexpected, but frankly I really like Luxembourg. We were only there for a day, and while that's more than enough for the entire city frankly, Luxembourg's really gorgeous. Ok, that's apart from the disembodied Doctor Who style faces that tracked movement and glowed (why's that a thing?), but the whole place was ringed by some very majestic city walls. Equally lovely, getting lost in the town wasn't really a problem, after all, it only took something like twenty minutes to walk the length of it. The trip also marks my first happy ending in a lost object story. Right, I know what you're thinking.
Apparently this used to be the nastiest piece of fortress anywhere in the Benelux area.
At this point it's just ridiculous right? How do you manage to lose every single thing in your possession? And you'd be quite right to wonder thank you! In this case it was my metro card. This only became annoying upon returning to Belgium, just in time for a torrential rain storm (Belgium's like that), but to my happy surprise, a quick call to the hotel found my card, and they actually mailed the thing to me. Let it never be said that my professor doesn't have friends in high places, or that karma does occasionally give you a good turn (I'm waiting to see why honestly).
Ah well, good to have that out, til next time folks!
There are more photos below