Day 13. Luxembourg, Fère-en-Tardenois, Chessy.
We woke up reasonably early and had breakfast at the hotel. The drive into the city center took only a few minutes.
Our first encounter was Cathédrale Notre-Dame. This is not the famous Notre-Dame in Paris. We'll get to that in a few days. But, it's a nice working cathedral with gothic architecture and beautiful stained glass. We spent 20 minutes walking through.
Out the cathedral and over toward the big hole in the ground. Luxembourg sits in a very hilly and occasionally mountainous part of Europe. It would be difficult to invade this part of the world unless one were very motivated and had the right equipment.
The center of Luxembourg City is bisected by a large crevasse about 100m deep that runs for many kilometers in each direction. Down the center of the trench runs a small stream that must've once been quite ambitious to cut out all this rock. Granted, much of the rock is limestone, but still it's impressive.
There is a gorgeous bridge that leads across the divide to an abbey that most people probably mistake for a castle or chateau. We thought to walk over, but the bridge was under repairs and no pedestrian traffic was allowed.
We slowly made our way down into the canyon on rough cobbled stairs, to find a wonderful running track, shaded trails and benches aplenty. We found a geocache while joggers ran by on their lunch break. We continued to walk along the path until we past a children's park with a minigolf course. Next to the minigolf was a warm-up/cool-down area for joggers with stationary bicycles and other equipment.
By now, the time was 1:00 PM and we decided we were hungry. We found a small café next to the lift back to haute village (the upper town). We ate baguettes and were happy, sitting in the shade, watching people.
It was time to leave Luxembourg and head for Paris, because Saturday Jackie and the kids were going to Disneyland. Disneyland is in a small suburb (for lack of a better word) about 40 km (25 miles) east of Paris. We had a hotel room near the park.
We started driving along A4, a nicely maintained main road that led to Paris. According to the signs, the distance was 306 km (roughly 200 miles) and the speed limit was 130 kph (80 mph). Most traffic went considerably faster than that and at times I found myself going 145 kph (90 mph). At 145 kph, the Peugeot handled quite nicely.
A4 is a toll road with rest stops every 8-10 miles (12-15km). It's maintained much better than toll roads in Oklahoma (thanks, David Walters). The kids read their books and played games on their phones. Beau had a bout of nausea, so Jackie gave her Dramamine, which promptly knocked her out.
About an hour from Paris, Jackie and I both saw a tourist sign with a picture of an old ruin and went "hmmmm" almost simultaneously.
"Want me to get off at the next exit?" I asked.
Jackie looked at the sleeping kids in the back seat and said "Sure, why not."
The toll to this point, about 200km (125 miles) cost €16.
We exited and the sign pointed us to turn right toward Fère-en-Tardenois. The sign said 25km (15 miles), so we followed. Along slow, twisting roads we drove, enjoying the interplay of green corn and yellow wheat, occasionally interrupted by groves of cypress trees. A large wheat field here might be 60 acres (25 ha), so there is a lot of changing from one crop to another.
Somewhere past the village of Coulonges-Cohan, we saw a large building on one side of the road. As we passed, the other side of the road had rows of white crosses and an American flag. I startled the kids awake as I slammed on the brakes. The road was empty as I executed a 3 point turn and returned.
The front gate read " Oise Aisne American Cemetery".
Elijah and I walked a ways through the cemetery, talking about why this cemetery was there. Oise Aisne contains the remains of over 7,000 honored American soldiers from World War I. When I say "honored", I mean it. This cemetery is immaculately groomed by people who care for these men who died in service nearly 100 years ago. Elijah went back to the car after a while and I sat down in the shade under a sycamore tree and took in the scene.
I don't mean that in some melodramatic sense. I sat there, alone on a beautiful day with my camera at my side and wept at the base of a grave marked "Known but to God". I wept for the stupidity that drives men to kill one another for concepts like kings, borders and religion.
I'm not a pacifist when it comes to the safety of my family or friends, but I decided 30 years ago that I would not sacrifice myself for the benefit of a corporation or a politician who only pretend to appreciate what it means to serve.
I stood to take some photos and walk among the graves. Jackie was having her own moment a few hundred yards away.
As I walked back to the car, I spotted something out of place. A stray cigarette butt at the edge of the grass, left by some uncaring tourist. I know the people who maintain this place do so with perfection. I picked up the remnant of that foul stick and carried the next 20 miles until we found a rubbish bin.
We left, looking into the sun, green and yellow interwoven, light and dark. Life and death.
From the cemetery, we continued to the site that originally drew us off the toll road. Fère-en-Tardenois is a medium sized town. The ruins of the ancient chateau sit a few miles outside of town on a hill. A moat surrounds the old tower and probably made a reasonable defense 800 years ago. There was no access to the tower, so we left confused as to why this site, half an hour off the main highway merited a road sign larger than our car.
We returned to the toll road and into the outskirts of Paris. The Disneyfied boulevards bore large signs with friendly letters, beckoning visitors to leave their Euros at the gate.
A quick meal and some discussion of our plans for the next day went on until 11:00PM and then blissful sleep. Todays toll: 14,200 steps.