Sunday, June 22, 2008

La vie en rose

Now that I have all my photos downloaded and shrunk to a point that they won't take ages to load on this blog, I can show you a little of our trip to Europe. The whole idea for the trip stemmed from my desire to go visit my friend Maithe, who lives in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Mike wanted to take me to Paris also, so we decided to make a combination trip - but it was cheaper for him to fly into Paris than to Amsterdam, which is why we started there...

Our trip was really good - Mike got to Paris safely, but his luggage was a day late. Thus, instead of heading straight to Normandy after we picked up the rental car, we spent a night in Fontainbleau, about 70km south of Paris. We picked it rather randomly - the road atlas was in Mike's bag, and Fontainbleau was the only place in the "Around Paris" section of the guide book that both looked interesting and didn't require us to drive through Paris to get there. But whatever, it was pretty. :)
The next day, we went back to CDG to get Mike's bag, and then headed up to Rouen. On the way, we stopped in Beauvais, home to the tallest Gothic Cathedral in France - so tall, in fact, that the roof caved in at one point (a few hundred years ago or so), and its now under massive renovations to keep it upright.

Rouen is home to the Cathedral that was made famous by Monet - he apparently loved the look of the light playing on its many architechtural features. On the day we arrived, there was a medieval fair going on, complete with demonstrations, and cider samples.
We spent two nights in Rouen, in this little room at the very top of the twisty staircase... come to think of it, many of our hotel rooms were at the very top of a little twisty staircase. Lifts are something of a rarity in France. Adds to the quaintness, I think. ;) Rouen was a very busy place over the centuries - this random place is the Church of Joan of Arc - the flowers garden in the front of the photo is where they burned her at the stake!
After Rouen, we headed west along the Normandy Coast, so we could take in the D-Day beaches. We ended up in Bayeux (along with every other North American tourist in the country, I think), so of course we had to take in the Bayeux Tapestry the next morning before we left town. If you go, listen to the whole audio-guide dealy, and then instead of leaving the little darkened hallway, go back to the beginning and take another look. The audio-guide is designed to whisk you through the whole thing in about 5 minutes, and the tapestry is worth much more time than that!

From Bayeux, we headed East, and made it as far as Ypres, Belgium. This was, of course, the site of one of the big battles in WWI - the whole town was flattened, and had to be rebuilt. Not that you'd know it of course, because they did a beautiful job of reconstructing it in its original style. We got into town in the evening, about 6:30 or so.. just in time to check into the B&B and then head over to the Menin Gate, which is this big white arch/mausoleum that now serves as a memorial to the Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient area in WWI, but whose bodies were never found. There are 54,896 names carved into the walls of the gate. Every evening at 8pm they close the road that runs through the gate, and the buglers from the local fire station play "The Last Post" to commemorate all these lost souls.
Every night different visiting school groups and dignitaries take part in the ceremony, and leave wreaths of poppies on the Gate. In an odd coincidence the Lieutenant-Governor of BC laid down a wreath on the night that we were there (I'm originally from BC, if you didn't already know).

The next day we took a tour of the Ypres Salient, taking in a good number of Commonwealth memorials and cemetaries. We also went to one of the larger German cemetaries in the area - this one in particular (on the left) is home to 40,000 German soldiers. The photo on the right is Tyne Cot Cemetery, just outside Passchendale, not far from Ypres. There is a monument here with the names of an additional 34,984 soldiers who died near Ypres Salient but whose bodies were never found. In the trees is the top of one of the German bunkers from during the war - many of the soldiers who fought to take this ridge were from the Tyne Side area, and they thought the bunkers looked like cottages on the sides of the Tyne - hence the name of the hill, and now the cemetery.

We got to Leiden on Thursday afternoon. It was great to see Maithe again, and to finally meet Marco. Maithe and I had traded enough stories about the two guys to know that they shared many interests, and would probably get along well... it was kind of scary how similar they actually turned out to be! :)

We spent the Friday in the Hague, and Saturday in Amsterdam. Both cities were very pretty, but I think I liked the non-city look of Amsterdam a little better... sure it's technically the larger city, but when you're downtown with all the canals and short old buildings, it doesn't really feel like a great big city. Especially when you're walking down a street and hear opera music, and then turn a corner and see a canal-side concert going on (photo on the right)!
On Sunday, we headed back to France. We took the long, scenic route back - past the massive Delta Works project in the southwest of the Netherlands. We made it as far as Arras, France that night; we'd picked this town because of its proximity to Vimy Ridge, and the Canadian monument located there.

This memorial park is amazing. Typical Canadians, the planners of this park chose to leave much of the ground in the park untouched, aside from planting trees in the areas that used to be forrested pre-WWI. The result is that the land in the park retains most of the shell-craters and trench lines that were put there during the war.

In addition to the monument itself (recently repaired but now open to the public again), the park also has a section of trenches and underground tunnels (about 7-8 meters below the surface) that have been stablized and opened to the public. The trenches are reinforced with cement 'sandbags', with a Canadian (Commonwealth, but it was mostly Canadians here during the battle of Vimy Ridge) line on one side of a giant crater, and the enemy line on the other, a mere 15 or 20 metres away. Zoom in on that first photo - see those heads? they'd be the enemy during the war. The photo is taken from a lookout point on the front-line Allied trench.
There are several large craters in the ground here, mostly between the two trench lines - apparently, each side had its own system of tunnels leading up to - and often under - each other's trenches. One means of attack was to burrow underneath the other side's trench (or tunnels, if possible - some of the mine tunnels were as much as 10 metres deep), and then plant mines beneath them. When the bomb went off, a giant crater was formed at the surface. I think they said that some of them are as much as 25 metres across.

From Vimy, we drove to Versailles. Unfortunately, we didn't read the guide book right, so we didn't notice that the Palace was closed on Mondays...

so we stayed long enough for a picnic lunch in the gardens, and then headed off to Chartres... where we managed to get the last hotel room in the city, I might add! (funny, it didn't seem like there were that many tourists in town!). There was a light festival going on in town, hence the multi-coloured church on the left!).

If you ever go to Chartres, try to catch one of the tours by Malcom Miller. He's been giving tours of Chartres for over 50 years, and he's amazing. Just don't be surprised if your entire 1 hour talk is about just one window of the cathedral! :) We stayed in Chartres for almost the whole day, just to catch his noon lecture... we were tempted to stay for his afternoon one as well, but decided to head into Paris a little early, so we could have time to walk around a bit in between returning the car and looking for dinner.

And then there was Paris... the first day in Paris was my birthday. I strongly recommend celebrating a birthday in Paris! :) We did so by climbing the Eiffle tower (695 stairs in total), wandering over to Hôtel des Invalides to see Napoleon's tomb (which we then opted out of), and then hopping the metro to Montmartre to wander about and buy some art.

For dinner we went to a restaurant in the Latin Quarter that was once frequented by Musketeers, and then dropped in on a Jazz group playing at a nearby café. Really, I think I could get used to living in Paris.

The rest of the week was filled with the usual sights:
the Louvre on a rainy day
(I think that shot of the entrance makes it look like an airport - I think I've actually been in airports that had fewer people!)

the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Élysées, the Pantheon, Notre-Dame Cathedral

(it was crazy busy in there too - it seemed like many of them just walked through for the sake of checking it off a "must-see" list).

We also went to the Musée d'Orsay, the Bastille (k, where it used to be at least), Galleries Lafayette (where I bought shoes, of course!), and a half-dozen other places. It was such a busy few days, and by the end of it both of us had very sore feet! But it was so much fun too! :)

Finally it was all over and Mike had to go back to Canada while I flew back to Newcastle... so now its 6 weeks of work ahead of me till I go back to Canada in August.

Oh, and that little thing called Woolfest is coming up soon too, isn't it? :)

1 comment:


Fantastic pictures Glenda!