Paris at Night

27 06 2008

From the trip, here are a couple of the shots I got in Paris

Eiffel tower at sunset:

100% crop (much larger)

Arc de Triomphe at night:

100% crop (much larger)

I hope you enjoy them! I loved being there and shooting them.

Some other photos are at my Fotothing photo blog: http://www.fotothing.com/albums.php?action=viewphotos&albumid=2899

Cheers!





All Europe 2008 trip posts

23 06 2008

Here are all the trip posts in Chronological order:

Europe 2008 (Vancouver-London) Days 0-1 May 24-25
Europe 2008 (London) Day 2 – May 26
Europe 2008 (London) Day 3 – May 27
Europe 2008 (London to Manchester) Day 4 – May 28
Europe 2008 (Chester) Day 5 – May 29
Europe 2008 (Manchester to Fort William) Day 6 – May 30
Europe 2008 (Oban) Day 7 – May 31
Europe 2008 (Fort William to Penrith) Day 8 – June 1
Europe 2008 (Penrith to Harwich) Day 9 – June 2
Europe 2008 (Harwich to Amsterdam) Day 10 – June 3
Europe 2008 (Kinderdijk and Madurodam) Day 11 – June 4
Europe 2008 (Edam, Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam) Day 12 – June 5
Europe 2008 (Amsterdam to Luxembourg) Day 13 – June 6
Europe 2008 (Luxembourg to Troyes) Day 14 – June 7
Europe 2008 (Troyes to Paris) Day 15 – June 8
Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 16 – June 9
Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 17 – June 10
Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 18 – June 11
Europe 2008 (Paris to Caen) Day 19 – June 12
Europe 2008 (Caen) Day 20 – June 13
Europe 2008 (Caen to Amiens) Day 21 – June 14
Europe 2008 (Amiens to London – Heathrow) Day 22 – June 15
Europe 2008 (Heathrow to Vancouver) Day 23 – June 16

Some photos are available at: http://www.fotothing.com/albums.php?action=viewphotos&albumid=2899

More will become available as I sort through the over 6500 photos that Mrs D and I have taken!





Europe 2008 (Heathrow to Vancouver) Day 23 – June 16

17 06 2008

Well, this was it.  The day we leave.  No castles, churches, WWI or WWII sites. No driving. No planning. Not much of anything really.  The goal was simple.  Get up. Go to airport. Fly.

We woke up at a leisurely 0830 and got out of our room at 1000.  I went over to the reception desk to check out and was told I owed them money. 

"No, I’m pretty sure I prepaid through the booking agent"

"Sorry sir, it shows no payment on your account"

"Uhm…"

"That’ll be 44.19 please."

"Ok – I’ll need a receipt because as of now I’ll have paid just short of 100 pounds for my room."

"I understand.  Thank you.  Would you like us to get a taxi for you?"

"I was thinking of taking the little Hoppa Bus."

"The taxi will be the same price – 8 pounds."

"Excellent – I’ll take the cab."

With that,the valet bundled wheeled my luggage over to the door and popped it in some van with no Taxi designation that _I_ could see.  Someone’s got a little side business going ;)  We hopped in and wound our way over to the airport.  The drop off point isn’t exactly door-to-door service so no tip for him.  Heck, the entire 8 pounds probably went into his pocket (minus gas money).

The airport was busy.  Monday morning, and people were heading around the world.  Heathrow is quite the busy European gateway.  We proceeded to check in.  I’m not sure how our luggage didn’t get flagged as heavy – scale must have been broken. I swear we managed to collect an entire tree in paper products that we picked up along the way.  After saying goodbye to our bags and hoping I’d see my bottle of Oban scotch again we were off to security.  Security screening was like a giant machine processing human units to transform them into airplane travellers.  First you get "greeted" by someone to make sure you have no liquids.  Check.  Next you get funnelled into a screening distribution line where they spit you out into various screening stations.  The usual.  Everything out of pockets, but laptop doesn’t have to come out of the case.  Always different.  I strode confidently through the little metal detector.  "Beep!"  What?  I haven’t triggered one since Guangzhou where I swear to God they just had it beep for everyone walking through!  Anyway some guy gets frisky with me and checks my wallet.  Next he has me undo my belt… Thankfully no more than that :)  All good, I gather up the goods and meet Mrs D who is now also clear of that stage.  We continue on. Now it’s the "Shoe station"  Damned Richard Reid.  Unlike apparently 90% of the travelling public I actually have to untie my shoes to take them off.  After passing them through the machine I then have to put them on and retie while everyone else just slips their shoes on without any need to untie/tie their shoes. I have a suspicion that many people have shoes that are actually too large for their feet.  As I’m tying my shoes, I wonder if anyone has done a study on this. If not… is there money to be made?

I remembered Eddie’s words of advise – right after you exit the shoe screening is the Customs VAT reclamation.  Sure enough, it was over to the left.  After getting my stamp on my LV purchase he told me I could just head over to the currency exchange for a refund. Sweet.  I headed over there.  "Sorry sir – you asked for a refund on your CC…" They were, however, able to give me a UK postage paid envelope to drop in the big red mailbox.  Better than nothing, I suppose.

Post-security in Vancouver gets you a few Duty Free shops and a couple of restaurants.  In Heathrow, post-security is a whole little city!  You had a choice of probably 10+ BIG duty free stores, over 15 restaurants and maybe a dozen newsstands to boot.  There were so many people milling about that you really didn’t feel like you were in a secure zone.  We wandered and considered buying some items, but nothing really struck us as a "must have" and after seeing some of the prices on the shortbread as MORE expensive in duty free than outside with duty imposed, I had to wonder how many other prices were just shams as well. Nice.  Real nice.

We were early for our gate – they didn’t even tell you which gate to go to before 1210, so I suggested we have our last meal at a pub, albeit an airport pub.  There was an Irish pub and the prices weren’t half bad.  Mrs D had (of course) the fish and chips and I had an Irish stew with soda bread.  A McCaffrey’s topped it off beautifully.  We got rid of almost all our UK coins, filled our bellies and killed some time.  Perfect.

1210 we headed down to our gate.  The gate room was a little holding cell where you can’t pee, there was barely seating for half the people and circulation wasn’t that great either.  I could see why they didn’t want you down at the gate any sooner than needed. We boarded the plane quite quickly and noticed that it was very modern.  The First class section had fully reclining seats in the little "cocoon-like" format and back in cattle-car each seat had its own touch screen TV with a 3 prong North American power outlet and a USB power outlet.  Great.  I’d be able to get a bit more blogging done between movies an naps.

We were supposed to head off at 1315 but someone forgot to tell US president Bush that we had a flight scheduled, so he just booked his flight time with Air Force 1 at about the same time. Net result: we lose.  We sat on the ground for an extra 30 minutes while his bushiness took off and cleared Heathrow airspace.  Way to make friends.

The flight was about 10 hours long and about as exciting as 10 flights ever get.  We touched down at good old YVR in 21C sunny weather.  It was good to be home.  The last few times I have flown internationally I have hit customs lines that were 15-20 minutes long so I was surprised when we simply stepped right up and through customs today.  Wow!

I called Eddie.  He would come around to get us as soon as we got our bags. 10 minutes later we were on the phone with him again asking him to come and get us!  Fast.  Unfortunately it was now 1600 and rush hour was starting up in good old Vancouver.  Eddie took us home and we showed him what we picked up over there.    Since I was reluctant to crack the REALLY good scotch yet we cracked the bottle of normal 14 yr old Oban.  Silky smooth… I think I can see myself becoming a scotch drinker – expensive habit though. :)  Dinner was at Mui Garden.  Mrs D was pretty happy to have Chinese food again.

We were dead tired, but I stayed up.  We went to bed at normal Vancouver time but I still managed to wake up at 0300.  Damned jet lag.

Well, that’s it for the trip!  Thanks for following along – I know it’s been a long ride :)  I’ll summarize in a post a little later.  Right now, it’s time for my fingers to take a rest.

Au Revoir!





Europe 2008 (Amiens to London – Heathrow) Day 22 – June 15

15 06 2008

It was a long day today, with seemingly endless travel. 

After having worked out all my hotel/travel needs last night though, things were looking up.

We got up and had the included breakfast down at the hotel dining area.  It was the usual croissants, bread, cereal and juice.  A decent breakfast to get you going in the morning.  We carried all our carefully repacked suitcases and bags down to the car and we were off by about 0930.  A bit late, but we didn’t have very far to go this time.  Amiens on a Sunday was dead calm, as I suppose are most cities at 0930 on a Sunday. I’m just not normally up to see it.

The GPS gave us a choice of Toll or no Toll again on our way to Vimy, and the difference was only about 5 minutes and it was 25 km shorter.  Excellent.  Sure, it meant more small roads, but that’s the opportunity to see more of France before we leave.  It was a nice drive and the weather was good.  Go figure.  After 3 weeks of rain/clouds/sun the weather seems to finally turn the corner as we are leaving.

We arrived at Vimy around 1015.  The signage made me feel like we were back home in Canada, they were all the style used by our military.  Dark green with white lettering and white border.  The site, it appears is one giant field of unexploded ordinance – nice.  The first thing we came upon was "the trenches".  The trenches had been excavated from the original trenches that had been built in 1917.  They were now lined with cement shaped like sandbags.  I was surprised how deep some of the trenches were.  It seemed that if you were to have to climb out or jump in, it was a long way either way.  Perhaps those parts were designed to allow soldiers to move like a corridor rather than in a defensive or offensive way.  It was interesting to read about the elaborate network that had been built and the dangers of simply moving within the trenches.  Runners, messengers, would be a common target of opposition snipers as killing them meant disrupting communications between the command in the back and the soldiers up front.  There is a centre which explains about the battle for Vimy ridge in the overall scenario of WWI as well as the roll played by Canada.  It was a decisive battle for Canada as part of a great offensive to turn the tide of the war.  We lost many, many men during the battle, and the Germans totalled 20,000 casualties. 

It was a short drive from the trenches to the memorial which had been built to honour and remember Canadian efforts and sacrifices during the battle for Vimy and other places during WWI.  The memorial was huge.  It stands 10 storeys tall and is two tall columns made of white granite and topped with figures, looking to me as if it were heaven reaching down to help the soldiers.  The "front" which seems to actually be the back, is the are from which you approach the monument. I think a bit of redesign on the parking lot and paths would go a long way toward having you approach the monument from the slope below seeing the weeping woman in the front and the memorial for lost soldiers at the base, rather than coming across it if you walk around.  When I saw the monument standing out against the dark clouds in the background it made me pause and again imagine those trenches, German and Allied, that lined the ridge and were the only shelter these men had when rain, artillery and bullets came down upon them.  For a young Canada’s international contribution to a war, it was certainly a place to leave our mark.

Interesting side note:  The government of Canada has cordoned off many acres of the fields of Vimy ridge due to the massive amounts of unexploded bombs and artillery.  In order to keep some semblance of trimming to the area they have brought in sheep to help control the grass and wildflower growing.  There are hundreds of sheep grazing in the danger zone.  When I came up to the interpreter at the memorial I had to ask her, "Apparently the sheep are expendable.  Has one ever blown up?"

Her answer surprised me,  "You know, that’s probably the most common question that is asked of me.  No, one never has, but I wish one would while I was around so I could finally answer with Yes."

LOL!

We moved on by 1145 and were on our last leg of our time in France.  We were headed for Calais.  Of course you can’t get there without shelling out about another 10 euros.  I think the drive through France cost about 50 euros in tolls by the time we got out! As we were approaching Calais I noticed that our fuel was getting low and Mrs D suggested we stop at one of the service centres along the autoroute for gas.  I told her that if we did that, we’d have to fill up again in Calais anyway so I was going to wait and fill in Calais.

As we approached Calais, my low fuel light came on.  No problem.   The vehicle estimated that I had about 85km left in the tank and Calais was only about 60.  We continued to follow the GPS and the signs for the Ferry terminal.  As we got to the edge of the city it became apparent that the distance remaining in the tank was decreasing more rapidly than hoped.  I had to find a gas station. SOON.  We took the first exit off the autoroute and started looking for gas stations. I plugged "petrol station" into the GPS.  1km away.  Perfect.  We followed Tom Tom as it carefully and methodically took us to a gas station.  All automated.  Excellent.  I pulled up and put my card in.  It spit it out.  I put my card in another way.  It spit it out again.  It would seem that I needed a chipped card, which apparently all Europeans have, and very few of us in North America do :(  No problem.  We punch in the next closest station and head off.  As we approach the location we soon realize that there USED to be a gas station here.  Ugh.  We anxiously plug in the NEXT gas station.  It’s Sunday – closed.  The one after: closed.  Turns out that Sunday is very much a "Day of Rest" in Calais. Uh Oh!  I’m starting to get the "I told you so" from Mrs D, and the car pings loudly at me with a "WARNING".  I am running REALLY low.  One more try.  This one is open and staffed.  Thank God.  The car laps up a happy 60 euros of gas and is full.  Phew.  With that little crisis avoided we head off to the ferry.

We arrive at the ferry area and I’m a little concerned that there isn’t quite the signage I had hoped for.  We do manage to not end up in the car lanes though and I find my way to the parking lot.   There is a small building that is advertising tickets for the P&O ferry.  Perfect.  I park near it and go in and ask to buy a ticket.  "I’d like two tickets for the next sailing please – foot passengers"  Not so easy. This was the little booth where you buy tickets for CAR traffic.   Foot passengers would have to buy them in the building at the end.  I asked about a Hertz counter and he mentioned that they were in the same building. OK, off we went.  We got down to the end of the parking lot and it was pretty busy (and big).  In my mind I kept replaying what the Hertz lady had said to me the night before "Just leave the car in the lot".  Did she mean THIS lot?  It was huge, what if they never found my car?  What if they took another day to find it?  Would I be billed?  I circled around until I found a fairly close spot.  We carefully made sure that we removed EVERYTHING we had from the car.  Double checked.  Good.  I locked the car and said goodbye to our trusty little Punto that had taken us so many kilometres through 4 different countries.  We were now foot travellers.  Dragging our suitcases and shouldering our backpacks and camera bags we headed for the ferry building.  We found the Hertz counter and the little after hours key drop.  Mrs D photoed me dropping off the key for proof because neither of us really had much confidence that they would find the car.

We still had to buy our tickets.  Not far from where we had dropped the key was the ticket booth.  We asked for the price.  40.60 euros for two people.  We had just enough in euros with about 40 euro cents to spare. Perfect.  our euro budget was excellent.  We had to hurry.  The ferry was a 1400 ferry and it was already 1340.  We whisked over through the doors and were met by British Customs and Immigration.  We filled out the little forms  and had missed a field.  The grumpy guy at the counter made sure we got it all right.  3 weeks of travelling and only one grumpy person.  Not bad. 

After doing the customs thing, next stop was a little waiting room.  From there, they shuttled you via a bus to the ferry. The ferry docks were HUGE and there was an immense amount of traffic, both passenger and freight.  What a operation.  It puts our little BC ferry operation to shame.  We were deposited at the foot of the ferry.  Our next task was to get on.  This meant winding your way up about 4 storeys to the entrance via an interminably switchbacked covered gangplank to get on. Whew.  We were already tired of being foot passengers.  We found a spot at the front of the boat and settled in.  Not long after, the boat was on its way.  Turns out that it was a good thing we caught this boat as the 1500 sailing is a Dangerous Goods sailing so the next passenger ferry wouldn’t have been until 1600.

The boat is huge.  There are many amenities on the ship as well as a full bar and duty free.  Strange.  The trip was only going to be 90 minutes.  It seemed to be over amenitized for such a short trip.  Mrs D had a bit of a rest while I went out to explore the outside and shoot the white cliffs of Dover as we approached.  I had the added bonus of getting some good shots of a herring gull that would sail along right next to us on the breeze and zip over and grab food from passengers that were all too happy to feed it.  Fun.

1430 UK time, we landed and proceeded to reverse the gangplank thing.  Down is WAY easier than up.  As foot passengers we emptied into a largely empty receiving terminal at Dover.  It was strange, very few people travel without a vehicle on this crossing.  From the terminal we took a shuttle to the Dover Priory train station.  I was glad we took the shuttle. Internet commentary had said the station was within walking distance, but then again anything is if you’re willing to walk for enough hours.

The train ride to London was uneventful.  It filled up quite a bit and we felt a bit awkward taking up 4 seats with our luggage etc, but hey… there’s only so much you can do with it all 🙂

We had elected to transfer to the Picadilly line at Victoria Station.  I don’t know how I missed this zoo of activity previously in London. Oh my God! People bustling every which way, a gazillion STEPS to haul luggage up and down.  We managed to find our way to get a tube ticket.  Tickets purchased, we hauled our luggage up and down MORE steps and then packed ourselves onto a fairly busy tube.  It was surprising really – 1600 on a Sunday and the station was just teeming with life.  I can’t imagine what it would be like at rush hour.  Oy Vey!

Our journey almost complete, we stood for most of the ride on the tube out to Heathrow.  It’s a 1 hour ride on the underground.  Wow.  Surprisingly long ride.  We were almost there… you could almost feel it.

Now the choice was to take the 4 pounds/person "Hoppa Bus" or the free city bus.  Tough choice, but I managed to make it.  We were going free :)  With that litle 4 minute ride completed we were FINALLY at the hotel.  Total travel time from dropping off our car: 6 hours.  Ugh.  We checked in at the Holiday Inn, Heathrow and had a nice, albeit expensive dinner. It was a buffet, but the servers around the room were incredibly attentive and made sure that our plates were cleared ASAP and our water glasses kept full.   Nice place.  We stayed for 45 pounds.  Nice price.

This would be our last real day of vacation.  Tomorrow we’re leaving back to North America.





Europe 2008 (Caen to Amiens) Day 21 – June 14

15 06 2008

Today was much less packed than yesterday.  It was great to see all the stuff yesterday but there’s just soooo much of it!

We left our little place in Caen at around 0915 and kicked on down the highway toward Dieppe.  More tolls.  More driving at 125kph!  W00t!   We made good time on the road and we were close to Dieppe when Mrs D spotted the sign for the Canadian cemetery.  Perfect.  We wound our way through a few small roads following the nice clear signs and found the cemetery tucked away pretty much next to a bunch of farm fields.  Parking consisted of a small bulge in the small road to pull over.  Room for maybe 2 cars max.  Obviously not a "must see" on the usual tourist itinerary.

The cemetery has 944 graves of which 700 are Canadian.  We saw New Zealand, British and Polish graves there as well.  A large proportion of the Canadian graves were dated August 19, 1942.  It was heart wrenching for me to see a line of 20+ graves all with the exact same date.  August 19, the date of the disaster that was the raid on Dieppe. 

The cemetery is unique among Commonwealth cemeteries.  The graves are placed head-to-head instead of the usual head-to-toe format.  The reason for this is that these soldiers were buried by the Germans.  When you don’t actually take the land, you don’t get to reclaim your dead.  The (still) occupying Germans buried the soldiers and marked whichever graves they could.  There were many unnamed soldiers, "Known Unto God".  There were groupings of three stones together and it didn’t take long to realize that they were all members of the same flight crew of a plane that had been shot down.  From the closeness of the stones I imagine they didn’t dig separate graves for them.  The harsh realities of war. :(   When the allies retook Dieppe in 1944 they didn’t disturb the graves, but simply re-marked the graves with the now well recognizable white granite markers.  The cemetery is beautiful, quiet and unfortunately under-visited.  If you are a Canadian and are anywhere near Dieppe – take the time to go and visit.  Register in the guest registry.  These soldiers were some of the most unfortunate pawns in a war planned and plotted from across the channel.  The Canadians didn’t have a chance.  Go by.  Visit.  Remember.

We moved on from the cemetery to the actual town of Dieppe.  The town was abuzz with activity.  It was certainly not a small town.  It has a population of 35,000 now.  It was Saturday and there was a Fish Market going on as well as a general open air market with people selling their various wares, food, trinkets etc.  People were thick in the market, out on a nice sunny day shopping.  We drove around and found the Tourist Info centre but there was no way we were going to be able to park there.  The fish market was set up right in front of the front door.  We had to drive about 6 blocks away before we found parking over near the beach On the positive side: parking was free.

The tourist info people were most helpful.  The lady had a map of the town and on it she marked where the Memorial building and the "Canada Square" were as well as the location of various monuments that were along the beach where so many died.  We worked our way out and decided that given where we parked, we could make a large loop that ended at the vehicle.

To get to the Canadian memorial we had to work our way through the market.  About 3 blocks of almost back to back people buying, selling and generally living a busy Saturday afternoon. We made it through the market and the first thing we found was "rue du 19 Aout, 1942"  A small road named after the events of that fateful day. Along the road at the Eglise St. Remy there was a small memorial against the church wall that said simply

"Ici le 19 Aout 1942

Sont tombes

deux soldats Canadiens"

The location where it was placed made me feel that it was quite likely that these soldiers may have been executed. I don’t know, and I can’t find any further information on the Internet. If you know anything about this memorial, I’d love to hear it.

A block away we came across the Dieppe-Canada Memorial building. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be open until 1400 on Saturdays, and we were going to be heading out of town before then. It seemed that almost everywhere in Dieppe that you went if there was a French Flag flying, there would be a Canadian one nearby.  You really understand that they were so strongly affected by these events of the war that they make a point of ensuring that they will always remember.. (more on that in a bit) In North America, too many seem to let these events slip away 😦

Past the memorial and in the shadow of the Chateau de Dieppe was Canada Square.  A lovely green space with a large Canada Flag crafted from red and white flowers.  The white ones seemed to be in transition while we were visiting, but the red of the maple leaf and its bars were distinct and drew your attention.  There is a monument in the square which lists the ties that Dieppe has had with Canada going back to the early Catholic missionaries that came from there and were, unfortunately, killed by the algonquins back in the 1600’s  Our history with Dieppe is long and bloody.  The square was well laid out and quite respectful.

We headed out toward the car via the beach.  Along the beach were 3 different memorials to the different regiments that landed at Dieppe and were slaughtered.  It was strange to be standing at a monument looking out on the beach and up at the cliffs where the German guns had been.  You could almost hear the screams of soldiers as they were pinned on the beach trying not to die more than trying to take a town.  After that, you turn around and there are sailboats on the water,  kids playing on the rocky beach, lovers making out leaning against the very seawall that that gave little shelter to soldiers 66 years earlier,  and a stage crew setting up for a show that night.  It was strange to see people going about their lives on the beach as if nothing happened. You wanted to scream to them, "Don’t you know a thousand people died here?!?!"  But they do.  They remember. They care.  But they have to live their lives and move forward, while remembering.  When someone from outside comes in, full of "remembrance" we don’t understand that they’ve lived with this for 60 years.  They can’t spend every moment of their lives visibly remembering. 

We finished our walk along the beach and stopped for a lunch at one of the beachside stands.  Mrs D had a hotdog (which is a wiener stuffed into a baguette) while I had a "Croque Monsieur". I had seen them for sale throughout France and decided it was high time I had one.  We ate in a nice little sheltered area and enjoyed our lunch.  Two thumbs up for the Croque Monsieur!  We seemed to finish at a good time.  As we were getting ready to leave the German chapter of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang was rolling in.  Nice guys, I’m sure.  I didn’t really want to hang out with them though – I was afraid I might cramp their style 😉

We headed out to Amiens, our destination for the night.  More tolls, more driving. The warm sun and food, combined with the lack of sleep from the night before meant sleepy me.  Not exactly a winning combo when you’re whipping down the highway at 125.  We stopped at one of the many roadside rest stops and I napped for about 20 minutes about 45 minutes short of Amiens.  It would seem I was dead tired.  I almost passed out immediately.

We hit Amiens around 1600.  We passed the Holiday Inn Express a couple of times before we managed some strett parking so that I could go in and ask about where to park the car.   The public underground parking under the hotel was only 5 euros for 24 hours!  Sweet.

We settled into our room and tried to get worked out what I was going to do with the car in Calais the next day.  We had told Hertz that we were going to drop it at the Eurotunnel but that was 4km from where we wanted to be. Not so handy if you are carless.   I had to pay 20 euros for 24 hours but with that it meant that I got Skype up and going.  I was able to call Hertz international and they told me I’d have to call the local rental agent if I wanted to change anything.  I tried Hertz Amsterdam – no answer.  Next, I decided to try calling Hertz in Calais at the Eurotunnel site and determined that car to Ferry port was OK, despite what Hertz International had said when I was booking the vehicle on the phone back in Canada.  It seemed like a lot of work to get from Calais to Heathrow without a car so I asked the nice lady at Hertz Calais Eurotunnel what the cost of dropping the vehicle at Heathrow would be instead of Calais. 1200 EUROS!!!!  Apparently they really DON’T want their cars left on the other side :)  Foot passengers we would be then.

We walked down to the Quartier St. Leu of Amiens.  There are many nice restaurants next to the canal and they quite a variety of choices.  We chose one that really had a very nice combo of "french" cuisine seeing as this would be our last night in France.  We started a nice crepe-like pastry filled with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce and cheese – ficelle.  The main course was duck in a sauce which seemed to have a red wine hint in it. Very nice.  For dessert I had profiteroles an Mrs D had the Chocolate Tarte. We finished by sipping our little french coffee.  All this for 15.90 euros while sitting on the patio and enjoying the sites and sounds of Amiens.  The way the area was set up, you’d think you were in a little town of a few thousand rather than a population of 140,000.  Not only was the atmosphere great, the price was a pleasantly good deal for a change. 

We walked back to the hotel and made sure that all our stuff would fit in our bags and that we would be able to handle it all during the travel on foot the next day. With that complete, and eleven dollars of Skype credit to use up we called people around Canada and chatted with them for a while, burning up some of the left over minutes.

I blogged until 0100 to try to get caught up with all the crazy days that have been just wiping me out.





Europe 2008 (Caen) Day 20 – June 13

13 06 2008

I hope you have a bit of time to read, because I know this will take a while to write.  Sooo much stuff!

Last night I had plotted a route which would take us through various cemeteries, beaches and other historical points along the famous Normandy Coast of the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944.

From Caen our first stop was the Canadian Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer/Reviers.  The cemetery sits off to the side of a quiet road and has a gravel parking lot capable of holding about 30 cars if it had to.  The place was nicely done.  There was an area of reflection and dedication and a nice green lawn.  Further in, you reached the border of the  graveyard.  There were two "watch towers" overlooking the graves with dedications within them.  The graves were aligned along a left-right line and there were flowers and roses planted around the headstones.  It was quiet when we got there.  There was one vehicle there.  As we were there one other vehicle came in.  I felt sad to see so many graves in one place.  Interestingly one of the graves  in the cemetery is that of a French Freedom fighter.  He is the only non-Canadian buried there.  He apparently fought along with the Canadians on D-Day and had no living relatives.  The Canadian soldiers were his family, so they "adopted" him as a Canadian.  His grave was marked with the distinctive French cross style of marker with a steel plate and the commemorative words "Mort pour la France".  It was a nice visit.  It brought a lump to your throat to see all the 20-25 year olds that never got to grow old.

Next on the agenda was Courseulles-sur-Mer, so we started heading out that way.   We arrived in Courseulles-sur-Mer and found that there was a "Juno Beach Centre".  We arrived at the centre around 11:20 and it was raining pretty hard.  That worked well – we would be able to head inside and stay dry while getting caught up on the regional Canadian specific history.  We were offered the "beach tour" for another 2.50 euros.  It was scheduled to leave at 1200, but we weren’t so sure… it was raining pretty hard.  The kind girl working the desk said that if we wanted to go later we could just pay our 2.50 then.  Perfect.    We went into the museum and information section and the display is designed to help explain why Canada entered the war, and what the motivation was behind many of the Canadian soldiers of the time.  We got about 1/3 through when the guide came and called all for the tour.  "Is it still pouring out?" We asked.

"Not too much, but I have an umbrella for you if you need it."

Sold.  We shelled out our coin and headed out to the beach area for the tour.

The tour pointed out some of the locations and talked about how Dieppe was a development stage for D-Day.  The guide was a knowledgeable French Canadian student who was on a work term.  He pointed out that the centre had not been built by the Canadian government by veterans gathering donations to have it built.  Until the Juno Beach Centre existed there had been an American history centre and a British history centre but nothing regarding the Canadian involvement.  With the funds raised from private donors they have built a great site of which Canada can be proud.  After the tour we walked around on the beach and came across a German bunker known as "Cosy’s bunker" for the soldier who eventually took it.  Juno beach also happened to be the place where Montgomery, King George and de Gaulle came on land after the initial assaults had cleared enough land.  Looking at the size of the exposed beach at low tide and the small seawall, combined with the locations of the bunkers it was easy to imagine the horror experienced that day.

Interesting sidebar – Courseulles-sur-Mer is located on the 49th parallel.  The same latitude as Vancouver.

From the centre we headed up the beach road in the direction of Gold Beach.  The first location we came upon was Arromanches.  It was at Arromanches that the Allies built one of two floating harbours (Mullberry A and B).  The one here was known as Port Winston.  The Brits and Canadians built it well, with the idea that it was going to be permanent.  It weathered some nasty storms during the war, and even to this day there are pieces of it still in their original locations!  The one built over at Omaha was viewed as temporary and was anchored down as such didn’t have quite the same building care put into it.  It lasted for a short while but was torn apart by a strong storm within 10 days.  From the cliffs above Arromanches you could see that the outline of the breakwaters for the harbour. It truly was a MASSIVE undertaking.  The harbour at Arromanches functioned for 8 months and moved 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tonnes of supplies.

Our next destination was a battery of 4 German guns stationed at Longues-sur-Mer.  The bunkers formed part of the "Atlantic Wall", and consisted of 4 guns spread out approximately 500m from the cliffs and a forward observation post near the cliff.  The guns caused serious problems for the Americans landing at Omaha as well as the British at Gold.   They continued to harangue the invasion fleet until 0845 that morning.  Apparently the 4 guns had fired a total of 115 rounds.  when you got out to see them they were in surprisingly good shape for having been hammered by intense bombing, and shelling from the Navy ships off shore.  Two guns looked like they had taken a pretty bad hit, but 2 of them appeared to be in quite good shape, all things considered.  I knew from looking at these monsters that I wouldn’t have liked to be on the receiving end of a game of catch with these guys.

Back in the car after having had my drenching again at this site (I wonder how much rain they had to fight through during the days of the invasion) we headed up the road toward Omaha beach, the location where Saving Private Ryan was set.  The beach was set below a sweeping hillside that would have been pretty much devastating.  We arrived down to the beach by a quiet little side road at "Easy Red, Fox Green" and had missed all the plaques and memorials higher above.  We were down on the beach looking up.  Much like the US soldiers probably were on D-Day. At the little parking lot where we were it was probably only a small percentage that ever got to see that view.  Most would have died as they were in their landing boats long before even seeing this point.

While standing down there and looking at the beach and the hills overlooking it a pair of horseback riders came by and galloped across the beach with the wind blowing their horses’ manes.  If not for the bloodstained history of the beach it could have been a simple afternoon on a country beach.  The solitude and freedom of the running horses seemed a strong contrast to the chaos and crawling approach on the same beaches 64 years ago.

We walked up from the beach to the hill and came across a network of gun emplacements, pillboxes and casemates that would have rained hell down on the beach.  I couldn’t believe that anyone would have got through that, never mind throwing in barbed wire, Czech hedgehogs and antitank and antipersonnel mines.  We stood in awe at the thought and were glad that the young men of the US army DID get through.  There were memorials to the different divisions that attacked that day on that beach and a reconnaissance map of how the German guns were laid out.  Very interesting.

Above the beach on the very hills that were so well entrenched by the Germans is the American Military Cemetery.  The cemetery is huge.  It has to be to hold almost 10,000 dead.  Most of the soldiers lost their lives in the D-Day landings or in the battles that ensued.  The cemetery also has a semicircular "Walls of the Missing" on which are the names of the 1500+ soldiers that were never found.

The cemetery is also a popular "tourist" destination and there were 3 busloads of School Teens running, laughing and shouting at each other.  This detracted from the feel somewhat but once you walked far enough down the very path between the columns of graves you got to the quieter end.  There were many "known unto God" soldiers and it hurt to know that a parent out there never knew what became of their child or had that closure that we all need when dealing with death.   The sheer volume of grave markers overwhelmed you and it was easy to have the individual names.  I forced myself to read the names and the dates one by one to help remember that it wasn’t about companies, platoons, divisions etc.  It was about individuals.  Scared, young individuals that were killed fighting for the freedom we all enjoy today. 

It was already 1800 by the time we finished at the cemetery.  The visitor office had closed.  We still had three more sites to see before our tour was over.  It was going to be a long day.  Lunch?  We had some bread, cheese and water back at Juno Beach but that seemed a long time ago.

Our next destination was the first town liberated by the Allies on D-Day.  It also happened to be WAY out of the way from the rest of the beaches but the treatment it got in "The Longest Day" had me wanting to get out to see the town.   We drove and drove down the highway over to Sainte-Mère-Église.  It was a bustling little town and very touristy.   Seems they really market their role in the D-Day invasion.    Well, we were a bit disappointed but stopped at the church and shot a few pictures of the paratrooper dummy hanging from the church like John Steele did during the heavy fighting of June 5/6. The cool thing was that the stained glass windows (all of course new since the fighting had destroyed them) had scenes from the WWII battle.  One window depicts the Virgin Mary with Paratroopers landing around her.  Another a night with the symbols of the 101st Airborne incorporated into it.  Well done.

It was getting late, and we’d been driving around now for about 10 hours.  We had two more sites that we HAD to visit so we drove back down the highway that we came and headed our way to GrandCamp-Maisy, home of Pointe du Hoc.

We got to Pointe du Hoc at around 1930.  The visitor centre had closed at 1900 so the place was deserted other than maybe one other car.  That was fine for us.  We just wanted to see the area.  We read the plaque explaining the Rangers’ mission to scale the cliffs and take out the guns.  It must have been quite a surprise to get through all the fighting and find that the guns weren’t even there.

About 100 yards down the path, the open field of Pointe du Hoc opened up and you could see the place looked like it had been put through a blender.  It was as if a giant had walked through a freshly poured concrete sidewalk before it hardened.  There were craters that were 30 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep.  Many of them just flowed one into the other.  Where the casemates were there were blocks of broken concrete.  I could almost imagine the area after the enemy bombardment – muddy, giant holes, and twisted steel and concrete.  Despite all this, the casualties had been relatively low for the Germans and they were able to mount a strong defence against the Rangers with small arms.  You could walk around the point and feel the size of the craters by walking down into them and looking up.  You could really feel that even if you didn’t get killed by an exploding bomb or shell, the 5 tonnes of earth that was displaced would likely have done it to you.  Nothing like dying from a rock flying through you 😦

The walk was very interesting.  Mrs D rated as the most interesting part of the day.

At this point it was pretty late but I wasn’t going to go home until we’d visited the German cemetery at La Cambe.  When we got there it was already 2000.  The place was definitely closed.  There were no other visitors other than ourselves and the sun was beginning to get that golden glow.  We wandered throughout the cemetery.  The graves were all marked with flat grave makers instead of stand up crosses.  It made it hard to grasp the size of the cemetery.  A little Googling brought up the fact that there were 21400 graves there. More than two times the number of the American cemetery but it was a smaller area, and the monuments were less grandiose.  I felt that these soldiers got the raw deal.  They had fought just as valiantly, they had fought for their comrades and helped and had no doubt been heroic in their attempted defence of the coast.  They obviously got nowhere near the visitors that the American cemetery did, having only space for parking 2 busses and maybe 40 cars. compared to the room for 10+ and a few hundred cars at the American cemetery. Probably because of the setting sun and all, but I got the feeling that these soldiers had been forgotten.   I spent a while reflecting and saying a prayer for them, knowing that before God they were every bit the soldier that the ones that got all the visitors were.   Monuments in the cemetery talked of peace and building bridges.  A contrast to Monuments in the Allied cemeteries talking of valour and courage.  It sucks to be the loser.  History and perspective is all from the winner’s point of view.

We headed back to our hotel.  At 2100 we stopped at Bayeux and had McDonalds.  We needed a quick meal and I wasn’t about to figure out where decent food was in town.  I still felt cheated at the price of the McChicken combo 😦

While our 12 hour odyssey was long and tiring, I felt it was an important trip to make to learn and understand the very things that shape our world today.  I thanked God for all the brave soldiers that fought to free France and Europe, and I hoped for salvation of those that fought to defend it.   I reflected and realized that the reasons why we as Canadians fought in Europe are similar to the reasons we as Canadians are now fighting in Afghanistan – to keep a harmful radical ideology from spreading across the world. I only hope we succeed now as well.

Say a prayer for our soldiers.  Say a prayer for peace.

 





Europe 2008 (Paris to Caen) Day 19 – June 12

12 06 2008

We got up at a reasonable hour and started out from the hotel.   I headed down to where I parked the car and paid my ransom to get it back.  105 euros to park for 4 days.  The joys of big city living.  We got moving around 0915.  Great.  Paris rush hour.   Like most big cities, rush hour in Paris is a horrible misnomer.  Nothing like standing almost still as you try to weave your way across two lanes while your GPS is telling you "Stay LEFT ahead", "Right turn ahead". Of course "Ahead" is another 5 minutes away when you’re not really moving :( 

We finally got going out of Paris and it was toll time again.  I don’t know if I mentioned it previously but if you want to drive on a road that lets you haul ass at 130 kph you’ve got to pay for it.  Tolls.  Lots of them.  Oh well.  Gotta get where we’re going.  We don’t really have that much of a choice.  The non-toll roads would take me another 2 hours according to Tom Tom.

So, while whipping along the highway the French government has taken it upon themselves to tell you about great things that are in the area where you are driving.  Castles, Historic events, stuff like that.  As we were on pace to get to Caen pretty easily today something had to come up. It did.  The little government "feature" sign said simply "Giverny" with a picture of water lilies.  I turned to Mrs D, "Monet’s Garden?"

"Yes"

And so I plugged "downtown" Giverny into Tom Tom and immediately got the "Take the next exit".  Off we went to find Giverny.

Interesting sidebar.  "Center of city" in Tom Tom parlance seems to mean "Place in small town where the biggest church is located" so sometimes you don’t so much end up in the center of the city, but next to a cool big church wondering where you’re supposed to go now.  Thankfully Giverny has a thriving population of approximately 500 residents and probably holds another 2000+ tourists in summer.  This meant that if I was heading for the center of the town I was pretty likely to find directions to the garden too!

We found our way to where the five tour buses were parked.  It was pretty heavily overcast but we figured teh rain would hold off long enough.  We got to the gardens at about 1030.   We paid for entry into the gardens and the house.  Probably would have been a better plan to just get the garden ticket.  We figured we’d go to the gardens first and if it started to rain we could head towards the house.  It had been a cool spring and we were in the part between the summer blooms and the early spring blooms but the garden keepers had managed to have a nice variety of flowers around the garden bringing an aromatic bouquet on the air as well as lovely splashes of colours from the trellised roses and other lovely flowers.  We wandered down in quiet contemplation of how Monet must have felt in the tranquility of his gardens when the other 100 tourists weren’t walking around and babies crying.  It was a challenge to imagine, but I managed to bring myself there.

Just as we got to the Japanese garden, about the furthest from the house, the heavens opened up.  This made quiet contemplation a bit harder, as it was accompanied by the "plink, plink, plink" of rain constantly hammering the water.  Where there was slight shelter from the trees you had the solitude of having your own 2 square feet of tranquility to revel in the lily pond.  Seriously though, it was very pretty down at the lily pond and I could certainly imagine great inspiration coming from there.  We took a few pictures in the downpour and headed up to the house.

The house was a basic little house with a fairly turn of the 19th century look to it.  Simple but nice.  Monet had hung many paintings of Japanese artists on his walls.  He obviously really enjoyed to style of the japanese art, having so much of it around. The extra cost of touring the house just didn’t really seem worth it though. In retrospect I would have been fine with just the gardens.

As we finished our visit at 1200, so did the rainfall.  Fate, I guess.  It continued to spit a little, but nothing like the deluge of earlier.  The drive to Caen was fairly short from there and after paying more tolls we arrived at our location by 1400.

The nice thing about arriving early is that you have time in the afternoon to do something.  At about 1600 we took the rest of the afternoon time to visit the Caen Normandy Memorial.  The building is very large and houses a couple of small theatres, a permanent WWII exhibit, a temporary 9/11 exhibit as well as a small exhibit about the French Canadian soldiers in the war.  We saw one of the movies, explaining the landing at Normandy and the history behind it.  It helped Mrs D get a better grasp of what happened in the European theatre of WWII.

After the movie, we had enough time to visit the WWII museum and see what conditions in Europe led to the outbreak of the war.  The display took you through French life during the war and the work of the resistance.  They helped to explain about the formation of the Vichy government and formation of the Free French led by Charles de Gaulle. It was quite enlightening.   They had a battle map of how the invasions of D-Day occurred and where.  Mrs D could clearly see where the Canadians assaulted vs the British or Americans.  They had various relics from the war as well as a wedding dress that had been fashioned out of parachute silk during the war for a French bride. I don’t recall WHY they used the silk for a dress instead of a parachute, but it was still quite cool to see.  We finished our tour of the memorial by 1900 and stopped at the gift shop to by a nice map/guide of the Normandy D-Day sites for 5 euro, which would help me plan the next day’s upcoming D-Day beach tour.

Our hotel was located about 2 blocks from a big mall with a Superstore like grocery market.  We stopped in and bought some Normandy cider, red wine, a baguette and MORE Camembert!!! Yummy.

A 250g package of Camembert cost only 2.50 euros and the wine put me back a whole 2.35 euros for a bottle of Cotes du Rhone.  I love it.  No wonder they drink so much wine here.  Much cheaper than water.

When we got home we had some cheese and bread as well as the cider.  Delicious, although Mrs D found this cheese to be a bit strong in smell compared to the last camembert.  I found it nicer.  Everyone has their preferences I suppose.

As Mrs D settled down for the night, I planned the next day’s Normandy beach assault of our own.  I had plans to visit about 8 different sites that day.  It was going to be a long day even if we were only going to actually drive 200km.

I’m excited about tomorrow.








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