Nord-Pas-de-Calais and WWI

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
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Trip End Aug 17, 2009


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Where I stayed

Flag of France  , Nord-Pas-de-Calais,
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We were sad to be leaving Normandy, but looking forward to seeing some important Canadian WWI battle sites. We had a left over breakfast of bread and cheese in our hotel, and hit the road, aiming for Nord-Pas-de-Calais…I was excited to see we were crossing the Seine River when we went over the Normandy Bridge!

We swung through L'Havre, which I found to be a very modern looking city compared to what I had been seeing.  To break the monotony of driving, we stopped in L’Etreat to check out the white chalk cliffs.  The town was packed, as it is a main tourist town.  We stayed long enough to walk on the beach, view the interesting looking cliffs and take some pictures.  The weather was rainy, so not much point in sticking around.  Back on the road, chatting and looking at the sites, picking up radio stations from England! 

Stop number two, which was of much more significance to us, was Dieppe.  We spent a lot more time here on the beach, thinking about the failed raid of ’42, looking at the small stones and not surprised the Canadians could not get their tanks on the beach.  You just sunk right into the ground.  There is a museum close by, but it was, unfortunately, closed.  I guess at that point it was enough to just be there; to see the many plaques and memorials near the beach was touching, especially the plaque from the citizens of Dieppe, New Brunswick, Canada, which is only 1 hour from our home.  After leaving the beach, we found the Canadian Dieppe War Cemetery.  It is much smaller than the others we had been to, and had some unknown French Civilians buried there as well, which I had not seen up to that point.  We spent time there, and returned to our car as the CWGC crew was coming to do some landscaping.  We had (another) picnic of bread, cheese and wine in the car. 

We headed off in the direction of Arras, first on the D925, then the D928 shortly after Abbeville.  The sun came out at some point during our drive.  We landed in Anzin-Saint-Aubin, which is just slightly north-west of Arras town center.  Our hotel that we booked online the night before, Hotel Golf D’Arras, was great for us.  Central to the sites we were interested in seeing; quiet, clean, wifi, simple! 

It was well into the afternoon, so we relaxed a bit and headed into Arras.  I really loved Place d’Heros and Grande Place, the two main squares of the town.  We walked around these areas a bit, checking out the TI, before having our evening meal at a café on Place d’Heros (I had a beer and a croque monsieur with small sausages, which were more like hot dogs to me).  After that, the sun was still out, the night was young, it was too early to call it a night.  We wanted to see something Canadian nearby, so used the GPS to see what was very close for attractions.  A Canadian cemetery came up as being only 3km away, so we headed in that direction.  As we got closer, we realized it was a cemetery located within the Vimy Ridge Memorial site. 

Seeing Vimy Ridge for the first time is hard to describe.  This is where Canada became more than just a colony; she stood on her own here.  Vimy Ridge felt like Canada to me…what a strange feeling.  The architecture of the memorial is breathtaking, beyond a doubt, regardless of what it stands for, and we were lucky enough to be there just two years after a major renovation.  A couple years before, I was at the War Museum in Ottawa and saw the plaster "practice molds" by Architect Walter Allward from 80 years ago.  I am so fortunate to have seen this monument in person, to be there, it was a memorable moment in my life.  Then seeing the craters all around the monument, still visible nearly 100 years later, you wonder what this place would really have looked like in 1917.  There are paved, safe paths all around the monument in order to view it from all angles, but you should not venture off the paths, as there are danger signs all around, warning of the potential of unexploded ordnance.

We got some really nice photos of the monument, in the early evening light.  We thought it would be nice to see it in the dark, so we quickly went back to our hotel for a sweater and flashlight, and got back just as the sun had set.  There were still some people around, well after it had turned dark and we talked to a Canadian student for awhile, who was backpacking through Europe...one of those unexpected travel moments. 

This ends our first day in Nord-de-Pas-Calais.  The next day, it would be back to Vimy Ridge and other important Canadian battlefields.
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