A little personal note to lead in to this travelogue... Back in the days when I considered 'history' a four-letter word, I was forced to write a paper about a crucial European battle, the Encirclement of Nancy during the Allied advance toward the end of World War II. I failed the paper miserably. Part of the trouble was the difficulty I had translating the written words of the history book to any sense of reality. Well, in a way, I found that I had a chance to redeem myself -- the city of Nancy was only a three-hour train ride from my former house in the Heidelberg, Germany area, so on one free weekend I set out to see what the fuss was all about. What I found was a sparkling golden city filled with character and history that went far beyond just a single battle.
Nancy sprawled wide, with about seven or eight sizeable suburbs, all constructed on rolling terrain near the Moselle River and a couple canals passing to the East. Her downtown was spread out more than I was accustomed to seeing in Europe -- there wasn't the single large pedestrian district, but instead there were numerous market squares and walkways distributed around the city.
There were few squares I visited that compared in size and stature to the fabulous Place de Stanislaus, shown in both the second and third photographs. Stanislas Place was a wide square with four gilded gateways of black marble, fountains at two corners, and two golden arches greeting passing cars at the other two. As the third photograph shows, the square had a number of eateries lining each wall. During my visit, I took a chance on the menu and ordered a jambonelle, which I figured to be a small hunk of ham. Well, hunk of pig was more like it. A jambonelle was a boiled pork knuckle. I compared it with the German version, schweinhaxe, which was skinned and grilled. Not only was the jambonelle not skinned, they didn't even bother to remove the hair. Well, once I got past my initial reaction and cut away the skin and fat, I found the jambonelle meat to be some of the tastiest, tenderest meat I ever had. The traditional French sauerkraut (choucroute) that came with it was to die for.
After lunch, I continued my journey. The Arc de Triomphe, shown in the background of the second photographs, was one of six such arches or memorials I found around the city. Four of them were clearly positioned at the north, south, east, and west entrances to the old city. In modern times, they simply became mere archways that constrained the road beneath them. The sixth arch was called the Memorial Désilles located in the median of one of Nancy's main boulevards. This memorial stood over the city crest made of flowers shown in the first photograph.
Of those six memorials, the one to the north, La Porte de la Craffe (fourth photograph) was very much different from the others. It was the city's oldest gate. It resided on the Grande Rue, the old city's main street. On this street (partially visible in the photo) was the antique street-market, held all day on Saturdays. People were selling antiquities from France, Germany, and the U.S. There were a lot of old World War II souvenirs such as military regalia and supplies. On a sunny day like this one, the people were out walking the Grande Rue in droves. How better to spend a lovely day?
Nancy also had her fair share of churches, but they were not significant landmarks like in nearby Metz. Still, my survey of the half dozen I encountered around the city found each with very different architectures and styles. My favorite was the beautiful Eglise St. Epvre, shown in the fifth photograph. This church was not far away from the Grand Rue, and its mixture of colors of stone told me that it had been renovated or rebuilt more than once.
I also took some time to stroll through a couple of Nancy's fabulous parks. The largest by far was the Parc de la Pépinière to the northeast. Pépinière contained a fairground and a small zoo with a sampling of both indigenous and exotic birds along with local deer and other animals. The Parc was hosting a city festival on the day I went, and tents with food and drink (mostly of other ethnicities) were lined all along the walkways.
I also spent some time in the main commercial zone on the south side of Stanislas. Alongside modern shopping malls and active marketplaces was a square hosting a regular Saturday bazaar where one could buy clothing inexpensively.
Nancy was a terrific visit, and one of many recommendable destinations in northeast France. With so much going for it, I decided to forgive Nancy for being the subject of one of my lesser educational moments. But that doesn't mean I still didn't consider 'history' a four-letter word...
Trip taken 13 October 2001 -- Page Last Updated 11 October 2006 -- (C) 2006 Tom Galvin