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."


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.

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