We had wanted to visit Metz when we were travelling through this part of Europe last year but simply didn’t have time. So this year, when we were planning our route, we made sure it was one of our stops.
After a long and wet ride down here from Lille we turned up at our host Jerome’s house and were instantly at home. We hung out our wet jackets, showered, drunk tea and just sat chatting and watching the Olympic handball final (France lost to Denmark). Jerome lives right in the centre of the city, and I mean right in the centre. You can see the cathedral from his kitchen window. The other side of the house looks out onto the river – he couldn’t ask for a better location if you ask me. Moreover, on a practical level, being here meant that Jake was able to get into the city and visit some places without taking the bike.
Our first night I slept. I was so exhausted from the day. Somehow Jake had the energy to make it into the city for a beer with Jerome and some friends. I’d have loved to have joined but couldn’t keep my eyes open.
We woke up to a beautiful day so while Jake rested I took a walk into the city to take some photographs – this city is so photogenic. I think it must be the stone of this region that the buildings are made out of, giving everything a lovely warm glow, especially when the sun comes out. It is slightly yellow in colour, similar to the stone we would see in Bath, back in the UK. What I later found out though was that this lovely colour hasn’t always been this way. Until recently the buildings were all an ugly black/grey colour from the pollution post-industrialisation and that it was only a few years ago the buildings were cleaned and restored to this state.
We’ve come to Metz at a great time it seems; this time of year is Mirabelle plum picking season and in the city they have a two week festival to celebrate. With its plum alcohol, plum foods and just more plums the city has popped up a little festival in the square next to the cathedral. During the day there are demonstrations showing people how to cook plum foods and in the evening they have bands playing, music and even a Mirabelle Queen beauty pageant (we missed this unfortunately!)
Anyway, after I’d had a walk around Jake met me at the Mirrabelle Fete – plum festival – for a look around and some lunch. Unfortunately this was as far as Jake was able to walk at the moment so I left him with the plums and took another walk. This time I was off to find the Metz castle or German Gate (it’s real name). I also found a few Geocaches to do en-route.
An hour or so later we went to meet Jerome and make our way to the Centre Pompidou, an art gallery and exhibition space sister to the Pompodou gallery in Paris. As you could expect for a modern art gallery the building was suitably unusual. I think the pictures are better than any description I could give…
The lower floors held galleries of more conceptual art – one relating to music and the idea of making sound visual, another dedicated to the Sublime and showed nature in its extreme. Finally, the top floor displayed Avant Garde works from the late 1800’s to present day. From this floor we also had a fantastic view over the city, the cathedral towering over the rest of the buildings.
Before heading back for dinner we stopped at Place Jeanne d’Arc for a drink. It was such a lovely day and a shame to miss it somehow.
After we’d eaten Jake decided it was wise to rest so I went with Jerome and his housemate Etienne to see the evening’s music at the Mirabelle Fete. This evening the band was from Germany, and it seemed strange to me that they would sing in German rather than French when the crowd would be unlikely to understand the lyrics. Earlier that day we’d been talking about how this area of France had been part of Germany for a few years then became French again. The buildings we can see show this change and apparently many people still feel a close affinity with Germany from that time. The band reflected this feeling it seems.
Later, speaking to Jerome he said that yes that is the case but also the city is currently trying to gain UNESCO world heritage city status. The emphasis of this campaign being the city’s dual culture and heritage so hence the German band at the Fete.
After the band finished we took a walk around the city at night. The city makes an effort to light up and show off their beautiful buildings here and for good reason – lit up everything looks even more spectacular!
For our second day in Metz we actually decided to jump on the bike and explore the area and region “nearby”. Our first stop was Saulny; a small village to the north west of Metz, and our lunch destination. It was a hot day so we quickly disrobed into more light clothing to enjoy our food.
The other reason we came here was for Louise to do a bit of hiking in the countryside, she had found Fort de Plappeville on her maps app. As far as we could tell from our map, I could ride there on my bike whilst Louise could take a country walk of her own. Unfortunately though the fort appears to be on military land and so was inaccessible by bike, and Louise had to skirt around it herself.
We had made a contingency for this, however, in the form of a back-up meeting point; Sainte-Brigide Church. I obviously made it there much quicker than Louise, so had some nice time to reflect and enjoy the beautiful weather. Although we’d been on the road a while it only just hit me that we are riding across Europe on a motorcycle trip, something I’ve been wanting to do since we got back home last December.
I only had to wait for about 30 minutes before I was joined by Louise and then we were back into our very warm bike clothes and off to Scy-Chazelles. After we got up to about 50 kph the airflow cooled us and we became a little more comfortable.
We only had a short ride around Scy-Chazelles before making our way along the Route du Vin of the area until we came across the road to Verdun. I had read online that this road between Metz and Verdun (D603) was supposedly a good road for bikes, it’s actually rather boring and straight but the scenery around is beautiful. For our return trip however we took the D903 which is more twisty and through the hills a bit.
Verdun is the site of one of the largest battles of World War 1, and a place we’d been recommended to visit by Louise’s family. All through the surrounding forest there are crater holes and remnants of trenches and other fortifications.
It is incredibly moving coming here, thinking of all the death and destruction and what became of it. Due to my knee injury we weren’t able to visit the Museum itself, as I would be unable to make it around the exhibitions.
As with our trip last year, we got to thinking about the World Wars fought in Europe last century and what we believe they achieved.
I am certain my view is going to be very controversial and maybe even insulting to some – although not my intention – but I believe it should be shared. All I can think when I visit these memorials is the huge waste of life during these wars. I mean to say that, especially for the First World War, nothing was achieved; within 20 years of it finishing (and lets remember it was the largest death toll of any previous war) Hitler and The Nazi’s were coming to power and invading the countries around Germany. In hind-sight, the Allies appeared to lean nothing from the First World War and it could be argued were directly responsible for the rise of the Nazi’s; the economic turmoil of Germany was the perfect breeding ground for extreme politics – in my view. It is even possible to draw parallels with the current economic situation in Europe, and the rise in extreme racist and xenophobic political groups – think Brexit?!?
I also can’t help thinking about what the British were doing (and had been doing for centuries) in their colonies. During this time the British were employing divide and rule tactics to control their colonized countries. Countries that had been taken by force with huge and sometimes even total destruction of the local culture and or peoples; Australia and The Americas. It just shows the power of propaganda I suppose, on the one hand the British public were being told to praise the work of the British bringing “civilization” to the “savages” of the New World, whilst simultaneously being told that the Nazi plan to create a Third Reich was abhorrent and worth dying to prevent. Lets not forget that the holocaust was not public knowledge until the end of the war, and so was not a reason used for conscription/volunteering.
After visiting the battle area we made our way into the town of Verdun itself. ‘For a change’ Louise placed me at a bar for a few soft drinks whilst she took a tour around.
Verdun is situated on the river Meuse and on a day like today, the city looked beautiful. I left Jake in a bar on the promenade while I took a walk into the city. Sadly, the whole city is focused on the remembrance of the war; any statues, artworks or memorials all reach back to this terrible time. While on one hand, of course, I believe the the atrocious loss of life on both sides should be remembered and reflected upon, to have a whole city focused on this, its tourist industry growing and drawing on this so much is very sad. The city in its own right has character, the river and the countryside around it is beautiful yet it seems that this is overshadowed by the dark memory of that time.
Within the city itself there are several memorials, the most striking of which is called the ‘Monument to victory and the children of Verdun’. A climb up the steps took me to a small shrine which I guess would usually have a flame burning (there was a torch, unlit).
Overlooking the city is the cathedral. A powerful building riddled with bullet holes and marks of the fighting – this building seems to blend into the houses around it. Inside looked typically French with the twisted columns of the canopy over the alter. However ornate inside was, this was sharply contrasted by the unadorned grey outside.
For our last evening we again visited the Fete Mirabelle, tonight was a subdued light show. I was unable to capture it with my camera so I played with the other light installations instead.