On my last trip to France, we were headed to the Maginot Line, specifically the Schoenenbourg Fortress, for our 2 o’clock booking to tour the facility. Having never been there before, I was anxiously anticipating the discovery of this new and wonderful part of war history built by the French after the end of WWI.
Unknown to us, our bus driver had sped past every possible food stop on the French motorway and we had arrived at the fortress at 11:30 AM, a full 2 ½ hours before our booking. Now we have a problem. A bus full of hungry teenagers that have not eaten since our 6 am breakfast and no food possibilities anywhere in sight!
As our tour manager said on more than one occasion on our trip, “there are no problems, only solutions,” we set off to discover a solution to our dilemma. Armed with the suggestion of the workers at the fortress, we took flight for a little nearby town where we were told we could find nourishment, even on a Sunday afternoon!
We drove for what seemed like an hour through the surrounding fields, when suddenly, appearing before us through the next valley, was a series of houses with a church steeple rising high above them all. What a welcomed sight! We knew from our past travels that anytime you have a church steeple in the center of a town, there is always activity around it. Activity, in this case, meant food.
As we got closer, we began to realize we were in for a treat. We passed through a small park, and came to a bridge overlooking the water source running through the town. The bridge itself was covered with the most beautiful flowers; all of which were in full bloom. With the flowers in the foreground and a water wheel in the background, it was one of the more amazing scenes of our trip.
As we continued around the corner, there it was: a beautiful old church with a yard full of roses surrounded by amazing medieval architecture as well as a vast array of cafes and creperies where the hungriest of teenagers could find just about anything they wanted to eat. We found ourselves in the middle of the little town of Wissembourg, France; a place that doesn’t show up on most maps of the area.
We spread out throughout the town, so as not to invade any one small café with our hungry horde of 35 teenagers. Upon arriving back at the bus, the chatter was all about the amazing foods they had discovered. There were also humorous tales of how none of the waitresses spoke English and the students got a chance to practice the French phrases they had been taught. The mistakes of ordering what they thought was chicken, but turned out to be chicken livers, were overshadowed by the thrill of the hunt and by the amazing feeling of being true “adventurers.”
While just an hour earlier we thought we had been doomed to starvation, we were now experiencing one of the more unique occurrences of all my years of travel. I saw a bus load of teenagers adapt, improvise, and overcome what they saw as a setback, only to turn it into an amazing travel experience! This was just another example of how we should all just “keep calm, and travel on” through life.
You never know what amazing adventure is waiting for you around the next bend.
Brett Stell is a retired history teacher from North Carolina who has been traveling with students for the past 25 years. He says that while many students depart for Europe excited to visit the big cities, it’s the small, purely “European” towns they fall in love with. These small towns help cultivate a love for history and an appreciation for other cultures that can’t be found in the metropolitan areas of Europe. He lives for seeing the change that takes place in the mind of a student when they truly experience small town, European life.
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