On behalf of hubbie, I first need to say that when driving 185 Km/hr for the first time in your life, it is slightly aggravating as families driving their children to school in mini-vans pass you by. Just saying… our children, btw, have taken to this road trip like it is any other road trip we’ve been on (some of you might know, us Irvine’s do A LOT of car time!)… and were oblivious to our speedy adventure as they watched a movie!
Even when travelling faster than a speeding bullet, driving north towards Reichswald Forest War Cemetery (Kleve, GER) was stunning. The German countryside is picturesque… old barns, new barns, farms EVERYWHERE. It is harvest time here for some crops (we guessed Wheat, Barley, and Rye from what we could see, but we can’t be sure… again with the speed!).
My first footsteps on the Cemetery were extremely emotional. I was overcome with the loss… reading the gravestones we were reminded that each one represented a life – many of them young boys (16, 17, 18, 19 years old), and so many unnamed. This was our first taste of the cost of the Great War and it was powerful.
A short walk in the forest was required after visiting the cemetery… giving us all time to reflect on what we had seen… for those of you travelling here in the future with children, I would recommend having some conversation starters ready to help the kids process what they learn and see in these regions (we will be in Flanders next, and visiting many museums and memorials where this will become more important). What we realize is that our children have come here with a glorified version of “war” that is both dangerous and unrealistic. It is also then, very confusing to them as they process emotions of grief, sadness, and loss as they understand more of the truth. We have had some wonderfully candid conversations as a result, and all of our hearts have been broken, and opened enough to yearn for peace for all.
And that was only the morning…
The rest of the day was much lighter. We stopped in Dusseldorf for a small lunch in the marketplace in the center of the city (Currywurst is one of my new favorite foods)… but more importantly, back to the driving… there are A LOT of road signs here that we do not understand. Daily google driving tutorials have become the norm. The boys have suggested a sign reading, “Canadians… doing our best!” as a possible strategy to avoid extreme disapproval from local drivers. It’s like this… Dusseldorf is a large city, the downtown is very busy, parking is difficult, and apparently there is still no excuse for slow or irregular driving… We’re doing our best…
Our day ended with our first tram ride to the center of Cologne…
…where we encountered our first Cathedral (1280-1880!).
The mythology surrounding the middle ages becomes something of reality when you gaze up at these behemoth gothic structures… and this one isn’t even one of the biggest! We ate dinner (our first Schnitzel of this trip… and the boys have quite taken to drinking Maltbier – kids non-alcoholic beer – which tastes a bit like sweetened regular beer… yuck, if you ask me…) overlooking the Rhein River, which was beautiful. And the people-watching… oh, the people watching!!
The night finished with a beautiful walk along the river and watching the sunset behind the cathedral. I felt like we were walking in a postcard.