This past week and a half has been a sort of homecoming. The Ardennes was where I spent a year as an exchange student 28 years ago. It’s been 19 years since I’ve been back.
My cover photo shows my host father and I, with whom I lived in 1988-89. He still lives in the same house, and we’re standing in the same lovely backyard.
I’ve seen so many people in the past few days that I met so long ago. Old friends who were little once, and old little friends (ha ha – you know who you are!).
I’ve learned there is truth in the theory that 80 per cent of what you do is demographic, and only 20 per cent of what you do makes you different. I still have much in common with many of the people I met so long, because we are all going through the same stage of life.
We’re trying to get our kids through school. We’re figuring out our jobs. We’re building our communities and gaining weight around the middle. I guess we are all solidly middle-aged.
Having a car this time around, we were able to drive around the Ardennes to see all the sights from my youth. We went to La Roche-en-Ardennes to see the school I attended (hasn’t changed much). We walked through the castle that looms over the town (imagine growing up with a real castle in your backyard). We drove through all the back country roads, and went for a walk by La Semois river.
It’s beautiful country, even when it rains. Incessantly.
One of the things I hadn’t realized until this time around was the impact of the Battle of the Bulge in the area where I had lived. This battle was Hitler’s last offensive during WWII to turn the tide on the Western Front, but ultimately failed. Today you can see abandoned tanks all throughout the Ardennes that have been put on display, and a few museums are dedicated to the battle.
We went to the Bastogne War Museum, which has opened a new exhibit to illustrate what happened during the battle through the vantage point of four real people: a young boy, a primary teacher who had been part of the Belgian resistance, and an American soldier and his Nazi POW. The three vignettes were really well done, and kept the girls’ attention throughout.
And I couldn’t believe the photos of the destruction of La Roche. I never cease to find it amazing how places around the world affected by war are able to come back and rebuild their communities.
We also had time just hanging out with friends. We cheered Belgium on during the European soccer match. We visited an annual flea market and explored the town of Durbuy. The girls had fun playing with my “host cousin’s” children and using their French.
We had such a fun time and we hope it won’t be another 19-odd years before we come back. Thanks again for everything, Anne and Philippe!