We had indicated to our host that we planned to be away at 0830hrs and our early morning countryside setting helped.
We first drove into Metz where with the help of a friendly lady who was nearly as competent with parking meters as myself we parked to walk the town centre. As with all of these towns of such age there was quite a lot to see of interest. Our first point of call was the Porte Chausssee, the Monument to the Children of Verdun who died for France and the river Meuse. Breakfast of not so fresh pastries, patisseries with very little produce for sale and only a few people in the centre of the town clearly suggested Verdun did not have the community wealth of Epernay.
We continued to wander the streets and visited the Monument to the Victory and Soldiers of Verdun, the Palais Episcopal with the attached Cathedral de Notre Dame of interest because of it’s size and age. There were clear signs that it was not a high priority for maintenance despite its historical significance.
As we returned to pickup the car we stopped to visit the Museum de la Princerie . This small but interesting museum contained primarily religious artefacts and had what I considered a very original/different painting of Napoleon Bonaparte. Very young children and several of their mothers were participating in an educational program conducted by a very involved and animated teacher.
Before departing Verdun we attended the Citadel de Verdun to view a presentation of the battle. This involved a 30 min small train ride through the freezing tunnels of the citadel tracing the battle and depicting the life and experiences of the defending soldiers. A “fly down” along a First World War trench incorporating the train, the tunnel and an audio visual presentation was one aspect I thought quite original. The visit concluded with a re- enactment of the entombment ceremony of France’s unknown soldier in 1920.
It was just after 1100hrs before we set off for the 68 km drive to Metz. The aim was to avoid the highway and view as many of the small villages as time would permit. Our initial direction took us to Mars la Tour before stopping at Gravelotte for lunch of a sandwich and coffee. It was here at the Boulangerie that I was taught the correct pronunciation for a cafe au lait.
We still find it different to see the grouping of houses into villages without the sprawl of country housing that we are familiar with. Also, the lack of supporting infrastructure such as shops and petrol stations; not to mention people. The countryside was generally flat with slight undulation and primarily rich green unfenced open paddocks dispersed by the random placement of corpses of trees of small to very large size".
Entering Metz and refuelling the car was achieved without problem; finding our hotel and settling in was less than pleasant.
Unclear as to the correct name of the hotel we passed it bye to then spend the next 15 mins being redirected by Geeps in more circles than in the Olympic Rings. When we finally arrived back at the hotel it was necessary to drop Kaye at the curb with the bags while I tried to find the parking station hidden amongst roads crossing and merging a kilometre away. Some 15 mins later I returned to the hotel to find a painter and a staff member had helped Kaye to the first floor reception with our bags. Added to all this was my less than impressive first impressions of the hotel.
Having secured our bags and with far more knowledge of the cities layout from my parking experience we set of to explore. We wandered across Urbis Park Republique, through Place St Jacques to the Cathedrale St Etienne through the Marche Couvert ( central food market) across river to Fort du Luxembourg and the Tour du Temple Garnison. We noted the impressive Temple Neuf. We had previously observed a first year graduation ceremony of a hundred or so engineering students having a group photo taken ( this was a mixed gender group in uniform with the front seated row of girls in short skirts and all others in trousers) and as I could not identify the uniform I stopped to ask three young men as to the purpose. One in particular was impressive and indicated that their engineering school was one of the oldest in France and it was traditional dress worn for ceremonial purposes. I spoke with them for several minutes as they spoke good english - it was a pleasant experience.
We returned to the Place St Jacque as it started to rain for drinks. Several Rose’s later and after the down pour, we set off to explore further and to find a restaurant for a light dinner. We settled on Italian in a restaurant decorated in photo’s of black and white photo’s of movie stars. The ambience was as nice as the pizza, tiramisu and merlot that met all of our needs. After dinner we wandered back to the hotel and not surprisingly straight to bed exhausted from very pleasant but at times frustrating day.