A few weeks ago (read: October) Svenja and I wanted to get away from Trier for a day, so we headed off to the Caves of Remouchamps in Belgium.
Contrary to their names, the caves – or grottes in the local patois – are actually in what I believe was a smallish village called Aywaille. I’m not too sure though, Belgium being such a dreadfully confusing place – where else do you find yourself asking whether this is a two or a three lane highway – who cares about the answer – France may be for lovers, but Belgium is for adventurers. Either way, the 90 min drive (~150km) made it the perfect day trip.
Tour guides lead groups through the multiple caves regularly throughout the day. What language you get seems to depend on your guide. In true Benelux multi-lingual fashion our tour began in French and Flemish before shifting at some point into English after our guide realized that the the majority of the group were German families on their Herbstferien. For some reason however he kept translating everything into French for Svenja and I, presumably for our benefit; somehow Svenja had given him the impression that we were French-speaking, quelle horreur!
The tour snakes through the 1.5 km of caves, ending eventually in the aptly named cathédral, an immense cavern whose walls disappear some 40 metres away up in the darkness. You then descend some three or four hundred steps down to an underground river and embark on “Europe’s longest underground boat ride” back to the entrance. The boat ride is a long, claustrophobic bumble through a dark tunnel – every bit a Liebesgrotte – where you must constantly watch that you don’t scalp yourself on the low ceiling. It was pretty cool.
On the way back we took a detour south through the Ardennes to Bastogne. Fans of WWII history and/or the HBO series Band of Brothers no doubt recognize Bastogne from the Battle of the Bulge, a grueling campaign in the brutal winter of 1944. The winter offensive saw the German line – at this point largely made up of conscripts – push out against the rapidly advancing Allied line in Belgium. Their initial target was the River Meuse (Maas), with the ultimate goal being Antwerp. From there, the plan went, they could divide the Allied forces and secure the western front.
The German army moved through Belgium taking the Allies largely by surprise, and a large component of the American forces found themselves encircled in the town of Bastogne. The following six weeks of fighting occured in some of the coldest weather in living memory. It was also during this campaign that, upon being asked to surrender by the German commander, American Brig. Gen. McAufille famously replied, “Nuts!”
Today an American war memorial in the shape of a five-pointed star sits a-top a hill overlooking the lowlands around Bastogne. Ten massive stone slabs support the centre of the star, and their ten faces show a glorified account of the battle.