September 4, Wednesday
Despite the prediction of rain overnight, the day was sunny. The journey to Clervaux in Luxembourg was about an hour. A simple blue sign with the ECU circle of stars and “Luxembourg” in the centre is the only marker to indicate a border has been crossed - no need for passports, custom declarations or security screening. The countryside is lovely - rolling hills covered with forests and farmland.
Clervaux is a picturesque town nestled amongst steep hills. The white towers of the medieval Clervaux castle and the twin towers of the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian (1912) rise above it on a ridge. Our first stop was a washroom at the parking lot, a stop that is only notable because it was a small building with a door that opens automatically when fifty cents is deposited. The problem was the door wouldn’t close. We finally figured out, with the help of a nearby worker who noticed our dilemma, that no one, inside or outside, can be near the door or it won’t close. Problem solved, we climbed the narrow lane up to the castle.
The castle was almost destroyed by fire and the town extensively damaged during the Battle of Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge to Americans), but everything has been restored to postcard-pretty perfection. The castle is home to three different exhibits - miniature replicas of Luxembourg castles, the Battle of the Bulge and a photography exhibit called The Family of Man. Access to the interior is restricted to these exhibits so once we visited the castle courtyard and a couple of small gardens outside its walls, we spent the rest of the time in the town. We started lunch at a sidewalk table of Au Chocolat, but moved inside because of persistent wasps. After lunch we wandered through town up to the church, which is not ornate inside but still very lovely and peaceful. When our circuit of the town was complete, we returned to the car and headed for our next stop, Bastogne.
Our route home took us past a roadside shrine erected inside a small cave. There was a statue of the Virgin Mary and inscribed plaques left by worshippers, we think to show gratitude for help they felt she had given them. There was even a crutch leaning against the cave wall. The grotto was barred by an iron grill that was padlocked, so we could only view the interior from a distance.
After our brief stop at the shrine, we carried on to the War Museum at Bastogne, a museum that was highly recommended by one of Marilynn’s golf partner. Its displays trace the history of World War II with an emphasis on the occupation of Belgium and its liberation by the Allies, particularly the United States troops who were instrumental in the Allied victory in the Battle of Ardennes (December, 1944 into January of 1945). Many of the small towns of the region were decimated during the battle, including Bastogne. Beside the museum is the Mardasson Memorial, a huge monument to the American army and its part in liberating the Ardennes region of Belgium. We were in the museum for almost three hours, steered through the exhibits by an audio guide that featured the “voices” of four real people who were in Bastogne at the time of the war - an American paratrooper, a school boy, a teacher who helped the resistance and a German soldier. Their stories added a sense of personal connection to the history that unfolded through displays, videos of interviews with civilians and soldiers who were there, and theatrical presentations in rooms designed to look like the forest of Ardennes, a cafe in Bastogne and a cellar where people took refuge during the bombings. It was very well done.
As Pam, Maureen and I gathered at the exit, waiting for Marilynn before going out to the monument, a couple asked if we perhaps had lost a Canadian passport. A woman had been showing a passport around, asking if anyone had seen the owner. Just as we were taking this in, Marilynn emerged. She had left her backpack at the last theatre. She had returned to the room to look for it, which was rather awkward in the darkened room where the audience was watching the presentation. It wasn’t there, so she was now on her way to the front desk to see if it had been turned in. It was there, complete with money and passport. Marilynn was grateful that it had been returned, but a little ticked that the Good Samaritan had been showing her passport around rather than simply turning the backpack in right away. We understood her objection because passport photos are never very flattering.
We walked out to the monument, a giant pentagram structure with one pillar for every American State. In the centre is a memorial plaque with a Latin inscription that means, "The Belgian people remember their American liberators – 4th July 1946." Pam, Marilynn and I climbed the spiral staircase to the top, which offered a great view of the surrounding countryside. While we were in the museum, the sun had disappeared behind clouds and from the monument platform, we could see rain on the horizon. We had hardly started our drive home when it began raining.
Once home, we had a creamy smoked salmon quiche, courtesy of the Intermarche supermarket. Then we idled around. Pam and Maureen found the BBC on television, so they watched TV for the first time this trip