We were glad to be leaving.
Not because we didn’t love Normandy, but because the airshow experience had done much to sour our spirits. We had a long drive to Wallonia ahead of us and the peage had already begun to extract its highway robbery.
Like the perfect gentleman, I let Nikolay drive first, and gain the experience of that part of the route, which includes the awful, congested passage through the Paris outskirts
Once there and hopelessly stuck, we were, of course, on our phones, attempting to gain some insight as to the root cause of the predicament. Through the magic of the internet, we managed to find out that Paris features a population of over 20,000 persons per square kilometer, outranking destinations such as Delhi and Cairo. With that bit of information newly registered in our memory banks, we now understood the commotion a bit better.
The drive onward was mostly uneventful
save for the occasional raindrops offering a glimpse of weather that we were hoping would not await us in Belgium. We stopped at a gas station somewhat outside of Paris to top up the Peugeot and eat from our food supply bags, which were running low. The border crossing passed by almost unnoticed and without any fuss, like it always does between EU countries, and before we knew it, we were on Belgian soil. It looked just like France did. Nothing much appeared different, apart from a change of color in the road signs and slight variations in the speed limits.
Certainly, the rain was the same, and it was upon us again, its aggressive drops beating against the windshield of our car, as we approached Wallonia. I was driving now, and the fatigue of the long, six-hour journey was beginning to show itself. We were nearing our destination and thus decided to stop at a roadside food mart before it got too late, and, in true European fashion, everything closed for the day. It was time to stock up on supplies and perhaps also on some of the local.
After acquiring needed items and dazzling and confusing the cash register girl with our few, poor phrases of French, we continued the journey. Soon, the outlines of the quaint municipality of Vaux-sur-Sûre began to appear on the overcast horizon. It was a bit tricky finding our Airbnb at first, and we passed by the narrow driveway between the houses a few times before finally finding our way. We parked the Peugeot on the small, gravelly lot and proceeded into the picturesque yard Our landlord wasn’t around and had left us a note and a key, so we let ourselves in. Hauling the heavy suitcases up the steep stairs to the second floor, we soon found ourselves in a lovely mini-apartment. The adjacent kitchen was small and cozy, and, with its skylight, it provided a perfect setting for our supperBut there was also exploring to be done. The day was almost at its end, but nearby, there were the Bois Jacques woods. Located right outside the village of Foy, the area is known for being the site of a somewhat famous battle that took place during the winter of 1944-1945 between he US 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US 101st Airborne Division and the German 2nd SS Panzer Division. We thought we wouldn’t lose time, and, tired as we were, and as grumpy as the weather was, we still decided to head over on a quick drive and see if we could catch a few last pictures before dusk fully enveloped all.
The first stop was the yard.
And what a yard it was. Something that was probably considered ordinary by the local Belgians, was quite scenic to us Balkan tourists. First there was the bikeThe we saw the wheelbarrow, strategically placed, of courseAnd even items such as simple sheds and walls, had a vintage, aged look and energy about them that made for great scenes in the fading lightWalking out of the creaky gate into the space that held our parked car, we came upon the gigantic, grassy extension of the backyard, looking out into the fields beyond. We walked about a bit, as no one at all was around, and made an observation that the neighbors to the left had a lovely house with an equally enormous yard. And then, as in Iceland, and Bulgaria and many more places around the world, out from the yard, across the lawn, with unbridled and somewhat unexplained enthusiasm, the mandatory main attraction emergedAs cool as the neighbors’ property was, their cat was even cooler. Seemingly friendly and in the mood for interaction, he first checked out our French carImmediately following, and much to his unpleasant surprise, he was picked up a few times over and duly posed for portraits. The face says allVery shortly after, our new friend had enough of our shenanigans and made for the hedges. We had to go, too – the light was quickly fading. Into the car, then, and onward toward Foy, which, luckily, was only a fifteen minute drive away.
The weather had stayed sour throughout the day and now again it was on the verge of rain. We drove on, determined to catch at least a glimpse of the famed woods before night fell. The drive did not take long, and soon we entered the very small village of Foy and then navigated our way to the site of the battle, right next to a stretch of road. There was a memorial that was reeling from being recently defaced by vandals, but still stood proudly ornamented with cards and flowers left by well-wishersWe stepped into the Bois Jacques area right next to the stone parkway, and were immediately enveloped by both the atmosphere of the historic place and the serene presence of the tall, thin treesIn the fading light, we soon came face to face with the remains of the foxholes that were dug by the men of Easy Company seventy-five years ago, as they attempted to shelter from the intense German shelling. It was a sobering sight Sadly, we knew not all of the dugouts were real. Reenactors, keeping in line with their odd, often obnoxious ways, had dug fresh new foxholes here and there, in order to facilitate their war games. Luckily, at a closer look, it was easy to discern the original foxholes from the impostor ones, and we made sure to visit and stay at those that felt genuine.
The trees appeared in a strange state, somewhat thin and malnourished, some blackened and almost entirely stripped of foliage. It was as if this place, that had seen so much bloodshed and suffering, was still carrying the scars of a previous timeWalking on further, we came upon a memorial of sorts, located right in the middle of the woods, and comprised of many crosses. Though it was obviously made and continuously added to by visitors, it was nevertheless a poignant sight – much more so, because it was now barely distinguishable in the almost complete dark. One can only attempt in vain to imagine what it must have been like spending many nights here in the middle of winter, with death and destruction as a constant companionA short way down, we then entered a clearing in the woods, through which the edge of Foy was visible. I thought (wrongly, as I was later to find out) that this was the area through which Easy Company counterattacked the village on January 9th, 1945. The sky had cleared a bit and we could see the beautiful colors of the now-disappeared sun in the distanceIt was obvious that our time had come to an end. We felt lucky to had even seen this much on what we felt was going to be a travel-only day. Making our way to the car, we headed back to our home for the next few days. As we approached Vaux-sur-Sûre, we found it enveloped in the lovely, cool colors of night
It was not too hard to guess who was waiting for us in the dark
Surely, a few more portraits were in orderAnd after our friend struck a last, grandiose pose in the pastel colors of the alley, we retreated to our quarters to rest and recuperate. It would be our first and perhaps only full day in Belgium tomorrow, and we had a lot planned for it