Exploratory trip in Eastern France

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End May 01, 2011

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Hotel Novotel

Flag of France  , Lorraine,
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another trip has begun! This one will not be as long as the last one-month-plus-one-day Africa trip which finished just under a month ago. I plan to travel to France, Mauritius, Burundi, and Togo, with a few days left in Europe to take care of whatever may come over the next two and a half weeks.

I left Tuesday afternoon, on the 5:30 pm non-stop flight from Cincinnati to Paris. I had just returned home the previous day from a weekend trip to the West Coast o visit a much honored old friend facing health problems and who lives near Sacramento, and to make church visits to Seattle and Portland. It was a pleasure to see the church members I both those cities, though I certainly would have liked to have more time to talk with them and catch up on their news. I know some of them follow this blog, so to you in the Northwest I say "thanks for the warm welcome last weekend, and for following along as I travel!"

Unusually the flight to Paris was less than half full. That used to happen often, but now is about as rare as honest politicians. I had a whole row of three seats to myself and was able to sleep very well.

On arrival in Paris I immediately picked up a rental car and drove east toward the German border. I went to check on a possible fall-festival site in the Vosges Mountains near the beautiful French border-town of Colmar in Alsace. I was struck almost immediately by how expensive travel has become in France. I noticed along the side of the highway that unleaded gasoline was now around €1.60 per liter give or take a few centimes, which amount comes out at current exchange rates at around $9.00/gallon. And I'm complaining at $4.00 back home. The tolls are also quite high on the highways. Between Paris and Strasbourg which is around 400 km (or 250 miles) the combined tolls were right at €35 ($50)!

Traffic was not heavy once I left the Paris area, and I arrived near Colmar as planned around 13:00. After a quick lunch, I drove to the village of Orbey in the Vosges valley of Kaysersberg. This is a stone’s throw from some of the first places I came in France as a student nearly 30 years ago, when everything French was new and my French painfully approximate. Later on my wife and I lived 6 years in Alsace. So, many places in this area have vivid memories associated with them. It took me a while to find the Center, it wasn’t well marked, but I finally did find it and was able to have a detailed visit with several staff members and finally the director. It looks like this site should work well for us, as long as we don’t go beyond a certain number of participants. It’s certainly a beautiful region, with many interesting things to visit including the route du vin (the “wine road”) that winds through the foothills of the Vosges through wine-producing villages of picturesque beauty. There are also places of historical importance.

The Haut-Koenigsbourg, a “brand new” 15th century castle (rebuilt by Kaiser Wilhelm as a hunting lodge when Alsace belonged to Germany just prior to WWI), dominates the Rhine valley from the Vosges. The front lines from WWI ran along the crest of the Vosges just a few miles from Orbey, some trenches are still in very good shape. Audie Murphy, the most decorated US soldier of WW2, won his Congressional Medal of Honor just outside Colmar where there was heavy fighting in 1945 to push the Germans back across the Rhine. This is not to mention the ancient city of Strasbourg, where Guttenberg worked with his printing press, and which is now one of the centers of the European Union (and where the Meeker daughters were born 20 years or so ago). Natzweiler-Struthof, the only German Concentration Camp built in France during WWII is also not far off in the Vosges, and there are many other fascinating places. Just across the Rhine is Germany’s Black Forest, a beautiful and picturesque region that is worth a visit all by itself. There will plenty of fascinating excursions to make this autumn if all goes as planned.

I wanted to make it part of the way back to Paris, since I’ll probably be tired tomorrow with jet-lag, so following the visit in Orbey I started west. I drove about 2 hours to Saint-Avold where I stopped for the night. On the way I passed Freyming-Merlebach, that used to be a major coal mining center. When I was a pastor in this area, many of my parishioners worked in the mines, which have since been closed due to safety and profitability issues. I thought of Serge as I passed. A big man with a big smile; he died saving other men after a gas explosion accident in the late-1980s. I also remembered going on a mine visit myself, arranged by a church member who worked au fond “at the bottom” as they used to say (as opposed to working au jour “in daylight” in an office above ground). We took elevators about mile deep to see the mine operations – huge drills, men setting blasting caps, the giant fans that forced air down deep so men could breathe – I don’t think I’ll ever forget that visit.

Shortly after Freyming we arrived at Saint-Avold. Again I have many memories of visiting parishioners and conducting services here. Tempus fugit. I stopped at a hotel I first used nearly 30 years ago, right near the entrance to the American Military Cemetery, one of many in France. If I wake up early enough I will drive through in the morning. It’s always sobering and thought-provoking to visit such cemeteries, especially abroad.

I should sleep well tonight.
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Rosie Seltzer on

Thank you for sharing your next trip with us.
I will be praying for you. All the best!

Jack Hendren on

Greetings Joel,
I always enjoy reading your blog with the current experience highlighted by the history of the region. I am glad you arrived safe and have selected an interesting FOT venue. I wish I could ride along and enjoy the scene, the history and the great French bread, cheese, coffee and wine!
All the best,


Thanks for sharing your trips with us...it is always fascinating to read about these various places you've been to. We'll keep you in our thoughts and prayers!

Herve Irion on

Merci pour les nouvelles de France Mr. Meeker. D'autant plus que vous avez visite la region ou j'ai grandi. Nous esperons passer la Fete en France cet automne; si nous avons assez de seconde dime. A la prochaine!

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