Battle of the bulge
"Let's drive to the Ardennes," my travel partner suggested.
"The Ardennes? Never heard of it," I said. "How do you spell it? Let me look it up the Internet." All I could find was Odense, Denmark.
The drive through southern Holland was uneventful. Everything was flat and predictable, until we reached the southernmost Dutch city of Maastricht. And before long, we ran into traffic in the Belgian city of Liege.
Suddenly everything was in French. I scratched my head frantically trying to remember what little I knew of this beautiful yet exceptionally difficult language.
"Parlez vous Anglais?" I asked. "Je voudrais ..... "
Winding around the Maas River (called Meuse in Belgium), the car started to climb uphill into the mountains. First stop, Spa, a spa town by the name, it produced mineral water called Spa. Second stop, La Roche-en-Ardennes.
Little did I know that the Ardennes, an area stretching from the Belgian province of Luxembourg into northeast France, was only three hours by car and offered the kind of French cuisine that only Michelin star restaurants in Amsterdam could guarantee. There were plenty of walking trails in the mountains and along the raging River Ourthe.
In the off-peak season of winter, there's not much to do in this village which was almost completely destroyed in the second world war. An old castle perched on the hill next to the church. A museum dedicated to the Battle of the Ardennes seemed to be the only place to go on this cold, wet January day.
In the museum of "Musee de la Bataille des Ardennes" spread over three floors, I read about the Battle of the Bulge, the other name for Battle of the Ardennes or the Ardennes Offensive. It was the largest land offensive participated by the Americans during World War II and critical for the final victory. I read about the Scots of the Black Watch (my favourite wool pattern), the Welsh, the French SAS paratroopers, the American infantry, and the 5th and 6th panzers of the German army. It was my first visit to a war museum, and I was surprised how much I learned, how much history touched me.
The bulge probably refers to the mountains of the Ardennes. After this short holiday, I will be fighting the bulge of the waistline after five course five star meals.
5 January 2005 Wednesday
I'm surprised that a science major and pianist could feel interested in war history, which reminds me of my reading 1944 newspapers in Chongqing about longest day in Normandy.