A Walk Through History
Before we were able to say a proper farewell to spectacular Spain we had found ourselves in the south of France. Now, we had orginally made plans through a site called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, (http://wwoof.org/), to spend a few days with a woman named Tabby and help out around her farm in Carcassone. Although, a week before we were scheduled to arrive half her house burnt down! She was now up to her eyeballs in insurance claims and we felt it was a bad time for a visit. So, we came up with a wonderful new plan. As most of you know, and for those who don't, Marcus was a History major focusing mainly on WWII military history, so he quickly threw together a long list of must see sights in the north, at the top of this list was Vimy Ridge, which we were hoping to reach in time for Remembrance Day.
Along the drive north we made a few strategic stops, the first being the beautiful city of Bordeaux. We only spent a day/night here, but it was plenty of time to realize what a gem she was, and how desperately she deserved a second visit.
Bordeaux by Moonlight
The next stop on our tour de France was yet another city by a boozified name, that being the tiny little town of Cognac, where we were lucky enough to get the traditional tour of the various distilleries, although we could only spare a few hours seeing as our Nov.11th date was closing in on us. We had lots of ground to make up in the next 24 hours. To be honest, it was this drive that proved to be my favourite part of France (not including Paris...obviously). The country-side was simply breath-taking. Farms, tiny little hamlets, the occasional castle, and vineyards, oh boy!, as far as the eye could see!
Tiny French Farmhouse
Vineyards as far as the eye could see!
We finally reached the beaches of Normandy, where those sexy super-human Allies threw down the law 65 years ago. This was the rare occasion where we visited a museum, and what a museum, The Museum of the Battle of Normandy. Cous was like a kid in a candy shoppe. The next morning we visited Juno beach, where 14,000 soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Infantry landed, all of them well prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. We then went to Bény-sur-Mer, where we visited the Canadian War Cemetery. It was heart breaking reading the engravings on their tombstones.
Into the mosaic of victory these precious pieces are placed
We then continued our historical journey to Dieppe, where many Canadian lives were lost during WWII. The city of Dieppe is so grateful for the Canadian sacrifice that they have named many roads, squares, and beaches after their heroic saviours, we were very surpised to learn that all of the citizens of Dieppe now consider themselves honourary Canadians. You can imagine what a warm welcoming we recieved upon arrival. But, as usual, we couldn't stay long, Remembrance Day was knocking at door and we still had road between us and that infamous ridge.
Just incase anyone was wondering how it was sleeping in a car in the north of France during the frigid month of November, not to worry, we were warm and cozy tucked away in Hajji's rump, cuddled together with 2 layers on our bottom half, and 6 layers on the top. Oh, and a Mountain Equipment Co-op -25 degree sleeping bag, that was so generously donated by Paul Walker, definitely played its part in keeping us alive during those long cold nights.
Before we knew it we were standing in front of an enormous brilliant white piece of rock, it was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, and what time was it? .... 10:35 Novemeber 11th! We had done it!
For those of you who don't know the importance of this battle please read on, for here is something to be proud of:
Vimy Ridge is a large plateau 150km from Paris, which allowed its occupants to survey the entire region. It was for this reason that it was such a coveted site and was therefore so heavily guarded by the Germans. The French and British armies had spent months trying to take this ridge, at the cost of thousands of lives. In the end they gave up, labeling it as impregnable. The task was then thrown to the Canadians. Instead of jumping right into the trenches and beginning battle, we took extensive precautions and 2 months of preparations. They even built a life size model of the ridge and devised their strategies on foot, rather than on paper. On April 9th, 1917, at 5:30a.m. we attacked! Performing what is now called the Vimy Glide, where they took 100m every 3 minutes! After a mere 4 days of battle the Canadians had defeated the Germans, and taken Vimy Ridge. This was the greatest battle in Canadian history because, for the first time in WWI, all four Canadian divisions fought together on the same battlefield. This victory proved to be amongst the most pivotal of WWI, but also for Canada as well, it is said that it was this battle where our young country discovered its national pride resulting in the birth of our nation.
The Canadian National Vimy War Memorial, this land was given to us by the French, and is now considered Canadian soil.
The Weeping Woman of Vimy, representing the young nation of Canada.
We attended the Remembrance Day ceremony along with loads of other Canadians that made the trek. We were also given a tour of the trenches on the battlefield itself, as well as the underground labyrinth of tunnels. It was unbelievable, I can only relate it to what you would imagine hell on earth resembling.
We ended up giving 5 fellow canucks a lift back to Arras, a small city 20km outside of Vimy, and went for drinks while reminiscing of good old canadian times. Amongst the group was a Canadian soldier on leave from Afganistan who was able to shed some light on how much war has evolved. This definitely goes down in the books as the most memorable Remembarnce Day, one I'm certain we'll never forget.
Next on the list, the long awaited, Versailles. The home and creation of Marie Antoinette and Louis the XXIV can only be described as abundant, affluent, copious, deluxe, extravagant, exuberant, frilly, lavish, luscious, luxuriant, moneyed, opulent, ostentatious, palatial, plentiful, plush, pretentious, prodigal, profusive, prolific, prosperous, rich, riotous, showy, sumptuous, swank, upholstered, wealthy. Summed up in a this hyphenated trio: over-the-top! In case you haven't seen it, here is an idea of what I'm talking about.
The Queen's Chamber
The Hall of Mirrors
The Palace Grounds
A note to the reader, if ever you are planning a visit to Versailles be sure to schedule it during the summer months, it is true that it will be 10x busier but it will ensure that all the statues will be uncovered and fountains turned on...which really adds to the whole effect.
In no time at all our tiny brains were supersaturated with visions of crystal chandeliers and tacky upholstery, at this point we knew that it was time to go. Next stop, PARIS!
Now, being the lucky ducks we are, we had a beautiful home to rest our heads at while in Paris. I introduce you to Lou Emmott a darling of a lady whom Marcus' mum went to boarding school with, as well as her wonderful husband Alec. They put us up for 3 nights in their beautiful 3 storey home in Le Pec, a suburb of Paris. They spoiled us with wonderful food and wines, not to mention a plush feather bed, with our own en suite bathroom! Alec was an angel and gave us his grand tour of Paris. After a few hours in the city centre I was quickly forced to reassess my "The Most Beautiful Cities" list. (F.Y.I. #1.Paris, #2.Prague, #3.Copenhagen).
Sweethearts on a bridge.
Chess in the Park
And just like that, it was time to go. Hajji had been getting anxious, missing her motherland of Holland. So we finally obliged and took off bound for Utrecht, where the magic first started.
Giving our girl one final hug before our last joyride.
Paris is big, so we left early. The puny November sun had finally risen by the time we made it past the last northern burbs, and the golden road to the Netherlands lay open before us. All that stood in our way was the whipping boy of Western Europe, Belgium....oh, and the French Customs men.
I noticed that our gas gauge was low and so made for the exit ramp. Tootling down the road, a tiny little car sidled up beside us and the uniformed men inside started waving and pointing to the shoulder; Hajji succumbed and pulled over. The Douanes came up and told us to get out. Then the door jammed, and the big mister had to use his knife to jimmy the Cous out. Then the small mister started to rifle through our meagre belongings while aforementioned big mister began an appaulling Gaulling interrogation of us. Did we have any drugs? Guns? Eastern European women of ill repute? With hearts hammering in our chests, cus we had all three, we politely smiled, emphatically said "No", and asked them to point us toward the closest petrol station - a classic diversionary tactic when dealing with police of any kind.
With our final tank purchased, it was off for Belgium...Hajji away!!
The Schlieffen Plan - Notice Belgium being overrun.
We drove through Belgium.
And then we made it to Utrecht. We stopped on Krugerstraat and saw Donna, the woman who had first sold Hajji to us 8 months before, and began to clean her out for the last time, (not Donna, Hajji). It was bittersweet minus the sweet; a tough time for the two of us.
With the papers all handed over, and the keys dropped into the palm of American Donna, we went to the bus station to await our overnighter to London. At 2100 hours, on November 16th, 2009, the Hajji trip officially ended. Real life has since begun.