Day 11 - Jun 12, Mon - Meaux

Rode 0 miles today (still using rental car)

We woke around 7 am. Both of us needed to get a good night's sleep. We were groggy (benadryl) and moving slowly. We barely made it to the breakfast room before it closed at 9 am. We wanted to visit the Fromagerie today, but it is closed on Monday. Since we have to return the rental car by 2 pm, we decide that the priority is going to the Museé de la Grande Guerre de Meaux (Museum of the Great War in Meaux), which is about a 4-mile drive from our hotel.

The museum is new and is a world-class presentation of the subject. We were intrigued with the design and the use of multimedia, not to mention the copious artifacts and original film footage from events 100+ years ago. The parking lot was empty when we arrived, except for six or seven buses, and we could see groups of school children on the lawn. This is a workday, so there were not many other visitors besides the school groups, and we were reassured to see so many young visitors to this museum.

School kids gather at the base of the statue of Gen. Gallieni

There were many school groups visiting the museum on the day we were there

We purchased admission tickets and audio-guides (available in English.) Most (but not all) exhibits in the museum are presented in French, German and English. The tour started with a short film presented in a small theater with a screen surrounding three-quarters of the room. The presentation is clever. It presents a time-travel -- starting with 2017, with trios of vignettes played simultaneously on the screen that wrapped around us. We viewed images and sound from the attack on the World Trade Center, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Vietnam War, Kennedy's assassination, the moon landing, etc. But it does not stop at 1914, with the assassination of the Archduke and Archduchess of Austria. To the credit of the museum historians, the timeline travels back to 1870, with the beginnings of the Franco-Prussian War.

The first exhibition in the museum, then, after we exited the little panoramic theater, speaks of the attack by France on Germany. Both sides of the argument are presented for who was really the aggressor in the "War of 1870," as it is generally known in France. But the presentation places considerable responsibility on France, and I thought it demonstrated some admirable honesty for the museum to start with this perspective. It is not a viewpoint I had understood before.

Statue of General Joseph Gallieni

Statue of General Joseph Gallieni, the "taxi cab general" - so named because he dispatched 5,000 troops from the Paris region via taxi cabs in 1914 to assist with a counterattack on German forces at Meaux (during the First Battle of the Marne.) He was immortalized in a bronze statue, a gift from the city of Paris, which was installed alongside the N-3 motorway outside Meaux -- until one day when a farmer noticed that the 8-ton statue was lying on the ground at the base of its pedestal. Someone had tried to steal it! The statue was rescued, restored in Paris, and in 2015 replaced at Meaux -- this time on the grounds of the Museum of the Great War.

Paris taxi cab

Paris taxi cab - the type which transported troops to the front

Pigeon truck

Communications center, 1918-style -- the truck transports messenger pigeons (I almost felt sorry for eating one earlier in the week)

Our progress through the museum was steady, with each exhibit pulling us forward. We spent two hours there and had reached the saturation point by the time we reached the exhibit about the Armistice. True history buffs would probably want to have an additional hour. In any case, we can enthusiastically recommend a tour of this fine museum. Their presentation makes good use of symbolism -- for example, the mannequins wearing uniforms of the various combatants are a ghostly white. And in a few cases, there is a column of men "marching" in the same direction inside a glass case, there might be one or two mannequins who appear to be stepping outside the case -- with their foot inside the glass and the rest of their body outside of the case. Those mannequins are entirely white.


Soldiers in American uniforms in the Museum of the Great War, Meaux

We were glad to have saved the visit to this museum for the end of our trip because it seemed to tie together our more personal experiences from the entire week. Yet it was such a well-crafted and thorough presentation of the topic that I think if we had seen it at the beginning of our trip, it might have made our own journey and discoveries seem trivial.

When we left the museum, it was nearly 1:30 pm, and we needed to fill the rental car with gas (actually with gazole -- diesel) and unload our bikes so we could return the car. Filling it with fuel proved to be more challenging than we counted on because the pump kept telling us that it was dispensing fuel, but the gauges weren't moving and the diesel was not flowing in the tank. We asked for help from another customer, who reached the same conclusion that we did -- we just need to end that transaction and start a new one. We did just that, the pump spit out a receipt with €0.00, and we started again -- this time with success.

Our rental car - Citroen Berlingo

Our rental car - Citroën Berlingo

At the Europcar office, we pulled in and realized that I had left the rental agreement in the hotel room, but since the hotel was right next door, I just walked over and got it.

We made a successful return of the car and then turned out attention to scavenging for our lunch at the E.Leclerc grocery store down the street. The E.Leclerc store was essentially a "super-Walmart," but with good French cheeses, wines, sausages, etc. We bought a baguette, a package of sliced turkey lunchmeat, some slices of Comte cheese, potato chips, two Cokes, a strawberry dessert, travel tissues and a couple packets of Ricola (we're still getting over a shared virus or head cold.)

When we got to the checkout counter, a blonde woman spoke to us and motioned for us to cut into the line in front of her. At first we demurred, but she insisted -- probably got a clue we were foreigners because I was wearing my Arenzville Raiders T-shirt. Then -- as we got our things placed on the counter -- she advised us to put a divider up there on the band ("just like in America," Steve commented), and then she said, "excusez moi" and stepped in front of us. She wasn't actually letting us cut in front of her; she was directing us to cut in front of the people behind her! We thought that was awkward, especially after we had thanked her but ignored the people behind us, but at that point, it was best just to go with it and get out of the store.

Working on packing up the bikes

Packing up the bikes

Back at our room, we assembled sandwiches and ate them while we started packing our bags. Mr. Tan the big-talking shuttle driver is scheduled to pick us up tomorrow at 10:40 am, but our flight does not depart until 3:20 pm. We want to allow plenty of time not only to get the bike bags checked but also to go through security at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Our friend Jack Fearneyhough, a pilot with Delta Airlines, has flown in and out of CDG twice in the past week and alerted us that security has been tightened. He reported that the lines have been long and we should allow plenty of time.

So this is probably my last transmission from France. We have had a great time here and done nearly everything we planned to do. There were just a couple of things that we talked about doing today that we did not have time for -- visit the Meaux cathedral and find that miraculous hemorrhoid-curing stone in the nearby village of St. Fiacre, named after the patron saint of said malady. It's okay to leave a country with a few things not checked off the list. After all, one has to have a starting point for the next trip.

Pouring wine

Au revoir

Lessons learned:

  1. Though it is a difficult task, children should be taught about World War I.
  2. It is a good idea to pack a doorstop when traveling.
  3. You can never have enough maps.

Continued, Epilogue