Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday, September 24 - - Vimy Ridge, The Brooding Soldier, Tyne Cot, Essex Farm, Passchendaele Ridge, Hill 62

Battlefield Cemeteries and memorials around Ypres, Belgium. The city of Ypres is beautiful, having been re-built, brick by brick, as part of German Reparations after the first world war.  In fact this whole area is lovely and  peaceful but always there is an underlying sorrow in that peace.  Our first stop this morning was Essex Farm, where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields.  It was a casualty clearing station, near the front, where it was clear that conditions were very difficult for both the patients and the medical personnel.  A large open area is filled with poppies in the summer, though they're gone now.  We see wreaths, crosses, poppies everywhere.  We recited In Flanders Fields as a group. There were tears.
The Brooding Soldier is an evocative Canadian memorial at St. Juliaan.
Our visit to a large German cemetery showed a different side of the war.  Many of those buried there were even younger than the boys in the Allied cemeteries - 11 or 12 years old in some cases.  The stones are dark, unlike the white ones in the Allied cemeteries.
Our lunch stop was at a pizza place run by Canadians from Sarni.
We went on to the Canada Gate and the Passchendaele Memorial at Crest Farm , a place where Canadians fought hard with heavy losses to gain the high ground.
The largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the world is Tyne Cot and it is heartbreaking to see the rows and rows of headstones. Many, many of those stones mark the graves of unidentified bodies. In the interpretation centre a soft, calm, dignified voice reads the names, ranks and ages of those buried here, while their photos are projected on a screen. It brings home the fact that all these thousands were young men with lives that should have gone on for many years longer.
A monument at Hill 62 marks the Sanctuary Woods Battle.
We were amazed by the number of artifacts we saw at a private, unchanged site. It's been cleaned up, live munitions removed and a path laid through it, but the trenches and their roofs are still there, barbed wire and the posts to string it, shell casings and many other things just lying around, and in the centre, a huge crater, now water-filled.
Back in Ypres we walked along the ramparts to the Menin Gate, where we could see the long long list of names of the Canadian missing, along with thousands from other places. We walked to the Cloth Hall, then visited St. Martin's Cathedral.
After dinner we walked to the Menin  Gate for the Last Post Ceremony. Carol, Brock and Walt laid a wreath on behalf of all of us. We felt very honoured to be part of this moving event, that has occurred every evening at 8 pm for 90 years.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday, 23 September -- Paris to Ypres

We drove north through alternating rain and clearing and eventually came to
Beaumont Hamel, the Newfoundland memorial park. It has not been touched since World War I, though 100 years has softened the outlines of the trenches and craters. It was raining, so we walked the site, but then hurried indoors. In the chapel of the interpretation centre

we heard some of the poems from the poets of that war, read by members of our group. We picked up lunch from a place familiar to our guide, Samantha, that is also a mini-museum of artifacts discovered on the property. Many things, and bodies, continue to surface all over this area. At the Thiepval Memorial it was raining too hard to do more than visit the interpretation centre. Near the road we saw the giant crater from a massive underground explosion, but again rain kept us on the bus.
At the Vimy Interpretive Centre we walked through communications tunnels to get an idea of how they felt, and were told that the Canadians who captured Vimy Ridge spent 36 hours down there before their attack. Almost impossible to imagine.

Our last stop of the day was the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge -- the most important thing for me to see on this trip. It was still raining a bit and very windy, but we had the place pretty much to ourselves, and wonder of wonders! -- as we
walked up the approach a perfect rainbow appeared over the monument!

Link for more pics of the Vimy Ridge Memorial

Carol had brought her great-uncle's medals. He was killed here, aged 17, and his body never found, so his name is one of the thousands (HT Porter, with the metals under his name) on the monument. We found it, and she got good photos. The trip from there to Ypres proved much longer than expected because of road work, but we got there eventually, checked into the very nice Albion Hotel and immediately went to dinner in a noisy, crowded restaurant with terrific food and very friendly locals. Then back to the hotel for a quick meeting to outline tomorrow's plans and off to bed.

Photos of the Day

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday, 22 September -- Paris

We only had this one day here, so decided to just hit a few high points. We went to a local cafe for breakfast, which was expensive, but felt very Parisian. We walked along the Left Bank, past bouquinists, to the Musee D'Orsay.

There was a long, but quickly-moving line and we greatly enjoyed the museum for a few hours. It's good prep for the places we'll see on our cruise that are associated with the Impressionists. We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe outside the museum, watching the street life. At the metro station there, we bought one-day passes,

then took the Metro to Notre Dame. We decided to admire it from the outside, since the lines and crowds looked intimidating. We had been in before, so will hold on to those memories.

Next stop was the George V station on the Champs Elysee. That's where we used to get on and off for our hotel when we were here 35 years ago.

Luckily, we had decided on that destination beforehand, because, in the crowd, I couldn't get on the train Larry had boarded. I caught the next one and  we met up at George V and walked about a bit in the rain. We didn't go in search of our old hotel.

 Next stop was the Louvre, where we explored The Carousel (new since we were here last) and sat in the courtyard for awhile. Back at St. Germain de Pres, we stopped at the church and bought tickets for a concert tonight. Then put our feet up in our room for a bit. We had no English exchanges with locals today, and got or found out everything we wanted -- good to  know the French still works.
The concert tonight was great. For starters, it was in a church built in the 11th and 12th centuries, currently undergoing massive restoration -- what we could see was magnificent. And the 5 musicians were very good. Eight of us were there to enjoy it. Now to pack up, ready to leave tomorrow morning.

 Photos of the Day


Friday, 21 September -- London to Paris

In the morning we crossed the street for a very nice breakfast. The people running the Alhambra are terrific. We had plenty of time to organize ourselves and walk over to St. Pancras Station. There were the usual line-ups for check-in, passport control, security, but it was all smooth. We did have to heave our large suitcases onto a high shelf, but Larry managed that and soon we were very comfortably seated. The last time I did this trip was 1990, with Nicole. It was a kind of nightmare, took much longer and involved a train, a hovercraft, a holding pen, an extremely crowded bus, a trek across an open field, an extremely crowded train and a climb up onto the station platform in Paris, all while carrying non-wheeled luggage. We saw little scenery and had little comfort. It gave us a very tiny glimpse of what it must feel like to be a refugee. This Eurostar is fast, comfortable and we could see quite a bit of the coutryside.  The Chunnel was a quick 20 minutes of darkness. There was a 25-minute line-up for taxis at the Gare du Nord, but it was well-handled and efficient. Our trip through the city to the Hotel Pas de Calais was smooth and we got to see a few things like the pyramid at the Louvre.  The hotel is bright, comfortable and nicely decorated, with friendly staff.
We went for a walk around the area, then met up with
the rest of our group at the hotel. How great it is to be travelling again with Cathy, Gabriela, Maria-Angelica, Sally-Jo, Mary-Ellen, Brock, Elsie, Ellen-Mary, Walt, Barb, Dave and Carol. We all went for a nice dinner a few blocks away, but when the bill came it fell apart -- we'd arranged for separate bills but didn't get them, meaning we had to figure out our shares and also had to pay cash. Some people were very tired after travelling most of the night before, so we didn't need this complication. It was nearly 11 when we got back to the hotel.

 Photos of the Day

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thursday, 20 September -- London

Our day started with a bit of a taxi adventure -- we ordered one to take us to a hotel near the Eurostar station at St. Pancras, confirming that they'd take a credit card, since we were running low on pounds. When the car came, the driver didn't have the address we'd already provided, and at the end of the convoluted journey through London (75 minutes to go about 6 miles), no way to accept a credit card. We didn't have enough cash to cover the fare, but he took all we had and called it a day. The option was to wait while we went to a cash point. It was all a little weird. As we expected, our room wasn't ready, but we left our luggage and scoped out our route for tomorrow morning, to the Eurostar boarding area.

We took the tube to Blackfriars and walked across the bridge to the Globe Theatre, where we had a most interesting tour, including watching part of a rehearsal for the final jig bit of Othello. (I know Othello doesn't end with a jig, but apparently it's a tradition here. In this case it's a very low-key, sort of depressing jig). The display area is most interesting as well, and we lingered there for quite awhile.

Then we hopped on one of the river boats and rode to Westminster, walked past the Houses of Parliament,

 and Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower all shrouded in scaffolds for the next 3 years. Sigh. 
Got to Westminster Abbey not long before last entry. There is so much to see there that we spent the rest of our time and energy on it, deciding to forego the London Eye for this visit. 
On our way back to the subway, we witnessed some kind of event -- was it a demonstration? -- what seemed like a couple hundred motorcycles pouring down the street, blowing horns. Very noisy, but orderly, and we have no idea what it was about.
Back to St. Pancras where we had a nice dinner right in the station -- the whole place was re-done a few years ago and is quite magnificent. Then just down the street to the Alhambra Hotel. Our room turns out to be in a different building, across the street and down a steep flight of stairs from street level. It's very compact, but fine for one night. Clean and with a comfortable bed. A window opens to an inside air shaft/courtyard, and subway trains rumble by beneath us somewhere.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday, 19 September -- Bradford to London

We left Jurys Inn in Bradford to board the bus for the last day's journey. Bradford is another of the industrial cities that thrived for many years, then fell on hard times for decades. Now there is a cultural revival and renewal of the city going on. The old drab buildings are very soot-stained.
Out on the highway, traffic was very congested and slow. We watched the movie The King's Speech while inching along. At a rest stop the fairies apparently came through again, leaving each of us a Yorkie (milk chocolate) bar. Thank you fairies.
Our last stop of the tour was Stratford-Upon-Avon, a lovely town and of course everything Shakespeare! We walked through town and along the river to Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church.

It's a very nice medieval church on its own and particularly interesting because of its connection to the Shakespeares. On the way back we walked through quiet residential streets to the main pedestrian area. I popped into a Christmas store and then we visited

the Shakespeare museum and birthplace. The winds are so intense that some areas are closed for fear of falling branches. It was a nice way to end this part of our vacation.

We checked into the Ibis in London and had dinner in the pub there and a relaxing evening.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday, 18 September -- Edinburgh - Bradford

We set out in the rain, glad we weren't walking around Edinburgh in it. We've been weather-blessed on this trip, so far. The landscape is green sweeping fields with some grazing. Travelling south it became much hillier and rougher with stone walls & homes.
We had a quick photo stop in Jeddburgh, near the border, where there is a large, well-preserved ruined abbey. As we got nearer Hadrian's Wall, Adam told us we were likely seeing bits of it all around, since locals have been helping themselves to the stones for their houses and dry-stone walls for nearly 1500 years since the Romans left. And of course we were driving on a road that was built on an old Roman Road.

The largest remaining bit of Hadrian's Wall isn't so very large, but we found it behind a hedge next to a walking path.

Our service centre lunch stop offered McDonald's, so we went for it. It's becoming very windy, but much warmer than it's been, with clouds scudding across the sky in huge banks. It's the remnants of one of the Atlantic hurricanes from last week.
York was our big destination for the day. Adam led us in a circle around the main parts of the city, then left us to explore on our own. Larry and I headed straight into
the cathedral and spent most of our time there.

The stained glass, dating back to at least the 14th century, is amazing, and the various restorations of the cathedral and the windows fascinating. To say nothing of the Roman and Norman remains that can be seen in the crypts -- not human remains, that is, but foundations and walls and so on. Within a short time the organ and its 5000+ pipes will be disassembled for restoration and go silent for about 2  years. We were fortunate to hear the organist warming up for Evensong. Later we sat outside for the carillon concert before returning to the bus to go to Bradford for dinner and the last night of the tour.

Monday, September 24 - - Vimy Ridge, The Brooding Soldier, Tyne Cot, Essex Farm, Passchendaele Ridge, Hill 62

Battlefield Cemeteries and memorials around Ypres, Belgium. The city of Ypres is beautiful, having been re-built, brick by brick, as part o...