Monday, September 1, 2014

Life on the D Roads

And greetings from our camper van!

Actually, we’re not in a camper van (what Europeans call campers), but it does kind of feel like it.  We’re at an Ibis hotel in Colmar, France.  Ibis is the budget chain of Europe, and since we splurged on a couple of nice hotel rooms we figured we should try & balance it out somehow, which we did by booking this Ibis, which is not actually a regular Ibis but is instead an Ibis Budget, which means that it’s the budget version of an already budget hotel, which makes it, I guess, a budget hotel squared!  I don’t know if the picture does the room justice, but here’s our camper van—I mean hotel room—

With the bunk bed, Loraine joked that it’s kinda like a dorm room.  I guess all we need is a sock on the door across the hall, and we’re all set!  Actually, we’ll survive the next few nights; after all, we joked that we wanted some good stories to tell when we got back, and this sure would qualify as one.

The day was bookended by visits to war cemeteries, one American and one German.  Our first stop was the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, where two Marquette County natives are laid to rest.  The first is from Palmer—

Swanson was finishing up his 25th mission as a B-17 waist gunner when his plane was shot down over Hamburg.  He survived the crash, but was taken to a German hospital, where he died of his wounds.  He left his parents, three brothers also in the war, and a fiancée in Britain.

The other?

Swenor, who died a week after George Patton stuck a Silver Star to his chest, was from Marquette (Jackson Street, in fact), and when we got to his grave we were a bit surprised, because it was already partially sanded.  Curious, we checked with the office, and it turns out his nephew Douglas Swenor of Ishpeming, along with his wife Karen, had visited the cemetery two weeks ago.

Small world, isn’t it?

Making out way down to Colmar we then stopped at several little French towns where Elden Gjers of Republic, the subject of Loraine’s next book, bivouacked or was in action.  We stopped and took pictures of each of them; as an example, here’s Rimsdorf--

And since we never did make it to Losheimergraben in Belgium, we did drive a bit out of our way to stop at the next best thing—Pfaffenhoffen, France!

Yes, I’m a dork.  What can I say?

The drive to Pfaffenhoffen was through the leading edge of the Vosges Mountains, and I had a blast driving along the winding, curving roads.  Loraine tried to capture the spirit of the thing by shooting out of our front window—

Let’s just say that I probably came pretty close to wearing out the clutch of the rental car on that drive.  But it was fun.  It really was!!

Finally, right before Colmar we wanted to visit a German war cemetery outside of Bergheim.  We always try to visit one of these on our trips here, just to reflect.  And it’s always kind of sad, too, especially when you see headstones like these—

That says “Three unknown German Soldiers”, three unidentified people lying in a mass grave.  That happened quite a bit during the war; in fact, the amazing Carl Wouters was telling us Saturday about how German soldiers didn’t have their names on their dogtags, just their units, and that’s why so many of them still unidentified, even 70 years later.

That is very sad.

The cemetery was upon a hill overlooking the town of Bergheim, and afforded some great views of the town—

The town’s actually a very pretty place, with a town gate that dates back to the 14th century.  It’s too bad we didn’t have more time to explore the area, but maybe we can sneak it in sometime in the future.  After all, how often to you get to see mountain-top castles off in the distance?

Finally, I realize I didn’t take any animal pictures today, so how about this from Pont-a-Mousson yesterday?

That’s it from the camper van (with sunset views of the Vosges Mountains).  Tomorrow, we hang out with a few more friends and explore a place called Le Chene.  So until then...

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