Cities / Towns Visited: 5
Countries Visited: 3
Steps Taken Today: 22,160
Steps Taken Around the World: 438,926
For the first time in over a week, we awoke to sunshine, and after opting in for the breakfast buffet of the hotel we ventured out well-fed for the long day ahead. Our first stop; the Notre Dame cathedral. My many months of planning had taught me that, despite what I originally thought, there are several Notre Dame cathedrals throughout the country. This one, just as visually stunning as it’s sister in Paris, albeit less famous, stood gleaming in the light. It’s facade is covered with hundreds of stone sculptures, of biblical figures, and local priests and noteworthy citizens from the middle ages when it was built. Unlike its sister, its twin towers are incomplete as they originally meant to have spires; they are also not fully enclosed, as they were damaged greatly by bombings in the first world war, and never fully rebuilt; a beautiful but macabre reminder of the towns past. Upon entering the church it is just as beautiful, and unlike the Paris version, is much less chock full of tourists. As we wandered its near empty aisles we were presented with countless stained glass windows, many of which are relatively new additions, again thanks to the aforementioned war. Their rainbow spectrum, albeit somewhat modernist, almost poetically displaying how ineffective war can be at removing hope. This stunning church, which lacks the notoriety of its Parisian counterpart, was the location for the crowning of kings for the best part of 1000 years; it’s history is rich and, in my opinion, underappreciated.
From here we wandered next door to the Palais du Tau, the Palace which was home to the Archbishop of Reims, but now houses a museum. I must say I did stop and wonder why it was that a religious man, who is supposed to embody the sacrifice and modesty of Jesus, needed a giant opulent palace, but then I guess that just really says a lot in and of itself about institutionalised religion; they preach living with less and being grateful for the little things, while they take the money of the followers to live in comfort and grandeur. A large portion of the museum housed a temporary exhibit of modern art, which (unsurprisingly) I was not a fan of, especially when the rest of the displays date back hundreds of years. Once you looked past the misplaced exhibition there was plenty of interesting things to be found; a room full of rubble from the damage to the church during WWI, along with its own pockmarked pillars; countless ancient tapestries; religious stone statues and reliefs; and plenty of gilded and gaudy furniture, clothing and artifacts from the church and its history of coronations. The most interesting pieces had to be the gargoyle spouts from the church; during the bombings in WWI the blasts had shattered the stained glass windows and melted the lead that holds them together, leading it to run out the spouts of the gargoyles, and subsequently harden. It was hauntingly beautiful, and a stark reminder of the mindless torment we inflict on each other.
From here we meandered through the town to the Basilique St. Remi, which is much more run down than the Notre Dame Cathedral, but in a way this gave it a more authentic feel; like it wasn’t being primped and preened for tourists to gawk at, but instead it was just a humble church, built to house the remains of St. Remi, the bishop of Reims who converted King Clovis to Christianity in 496 AD. On our initial arrival it was closed for noon mass, but after scrounging some lunch from the supermarket we returned to an open door. Inside may not have been the most ornate or the most the most visually stunning, but it had something all the others so far hadn’t; peace. There was not a single soul in their with us, just the remnants of a holy man, and our own quiet thoughts. Say what you will of religion and the corruption of the church, I myself do not believe in the teachings, but take all of that away and there is something satisfying to the soul of having a quiet place to reflect and nurture hope for the future. You don’t have to be religious to be spiritual, and you don’t have to be either to want a better, kinder, and more empathetic world. Find tranquillity where you can, heaven knows there’s not enough of it.
Our last stop for the day was the Museum of the Surrender, a little known but highly important historical place. It is located on the university grounds in Reims where Eisenhower had his base to orchestrate the American troops on the western front at the end of WWII. Most people associate the signing of the armistice to end the second world war with Berlin, but truth be told it was signed in Reims, with part of the agreement stipulating that the announcement would be put off by 48 hours to try and allow as many German soldiers to retreat from occupied areas as possible. The silence didn’t hold though, thanks to loose lipped journalists. The signing in Berlin happened at the end of this 48 hour period, because Stalin wanted recognition for the actions of the Russian soldiers and the part they played in beating the Germans, therefore to placate him (as he is pretty much a petulant toddler with a large army and a seemingly unconquerable country) they signed a second armistice. The museum is quite enlightening, and before entering the exhibit, we were treated to a 20 minute video covering the events that led up to the signing, and the event itself. The various rooms display old uniforms and such from the war, but the real reason to go is the room itself. The table and chairs (all which have the placards of who sat where) remain in their original positions, and the walls are still decorated with the same all encompassing army maps, festidiously showing the positions of certain rivers, rail lines, strategic directions, etc. With the ashtrays still sitting on the table top, it’s almost as if they only just left. The only downside to the entire affair was the rather brash and rude employee who said, and I quote, ‘You have no right to film here!’ to my partner who had his video camera out, despite the fact nowhere on the premises is there any signs saying filming is prohibited, and it was not mentioned at any point before then. There is a right and a wrong way to ask people to stop doing things, and I feel like that’s just not it. It was further exacerbated by the fact that she then went behind the protective screen that sections off the room with another lady whom she was allowing to take photos, seemingly without the obstacle that is highly reflective perspex, and when I asked if I could join them she just said no with a general look of disgust. Now I could understand if it was a photographer with her taking photos for advertisements or even someone doing a thesis, but this lady was haphazardly taking photos with her Iphone whilst barely even looking at what it was she was shooting. Oh well, water off a duck’s back right?
We swiftly left the museum as we had several trains to catch, and off we headed to Luxembourg. Despite the multiple changes we arrived in Luxembourg with little to no hiccups, thus began the walk to the hostel. Now if you have never been to Luxembourg city it is stunning, the old city sits atop a plinth of rock with town walls seemingly keeping it from tumbling straight off the sheer cliffs that end in the valley below. Beautiful yes, practical no. Again I say, tread carefully with Google directions, which seems to think that we could just turn right off a bridge to the road some 50 metres below. After dragging our suitcases down, up, and then down again over steep cobblestone streets we were understandably exhausted by the time we arrived; but we had in fact arrived, and were now in our third country for the trip, and one of the smallest ones we would visit.
It had been a whirlwind kind of day, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest trying to do those kind of days consecutively when travelling long term, unless, of course, you have inexhaustible amounts of stamina or a death wish. Sometimes long term travel can become overwhelming, and it can begin to grate on you; it goes from being less of a relaxing holiday, to more of a career choice, without the benefit of pay. You learn a lot about yourself, who you are on very little sleep;who you are when you’re stressed and lost; and if you’re travelling with someone, who you are when you are spending every waking second with that one person (be it your partner, friend, or relative). If ever you find yourself there, do try your best to remember just how fortunate you are to have the means to travel, when many in this world do not even have the means to eat. Travelling, much like old age, is a privilege denied to many, and we must never take either of those things for granted.