Sorry there hasn't been an update for the better part of the week, but travelling and internet access have conspired against blogging. However, we have gone from: St-Agnan les Halherbe, to Juno Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer; to Le Mont St-Michel and St. Malo (where we saw the arrival of West Island College's Class Afloat in the Norweigan tall ship Sorlandet with a Nova Scotian at the helm); then southwest to the neolithic stone alignments at Carnac; back northeast to Beignon; and then via Rennes-Avranches-Caen-Le Havre to Pourville/Dieppe, to the chateau ruins at Picquigny in the Somme region (ancestral origins of my mother's family) and we are now at Arras, near Vimy Ridge.
Since Marine is studying the Middle Ages for school, and Stephanie is studying WWI and WWII history, our itinerary has at least been ideal for seeing lots to do with those eras!
We will visit Vimy Rdige this morning (we arrived there yesterday afternoon, too late to do a tour of the tunnels, so we will do that today), and the plan is then to zip over to Belgium to visit Zonnebeke and the 85th Battalion NS Highlanders' memorial (my grandfather's battalion in WWI, and I was involved in the project to restore and rededicate that memorial in 2001). From there we will head into Lille tis afternoon, return the rental car, and take the train to Amsterdam and then on to Schagen (80km to the north) to stay tonight with yet more sailing friends!
It has been a bit of a rush these past few days, driven mainly by our desire to rendez-vous with our Dutch friends before they leave the country near the end of the the month, so we haven't explored the areas we have visited at the leisurely pace we usually travel at, and that our destinations have merited. We could spend weeks alone in Bretagne!
Our next timing to meet is 12 October in Riga, Latvia, to meet up with our neighbour who also has a commercial/residential building there, so we will be no doubt booting it northeast in whatever campervan we manage to rent in Amsterdam. Hopefully in the next few days I will have a chance to retro-post on the blog with photos and more detailed descriptions of our travels so far!!
09/22/2010, Dieppe-Picquigny-Albert-Vimy, FR
Photo: Vimy Ridge
From Pourville we drove east to the top of the cliffs overlooking Dieppe, where the Canadians staged their disastrous raid of 19 August 1942. From our vantage point high over what was the landing areas, it is difficult to comprehend why this particular spot was chosen, even with the advantage of surprise, which in the case of the Dieppe raid was lost when the assault force was discovered by the German Navy in the middle of the night as it crossed the English Channel. While the lessons learned at Dieppe were certainly applied to the D-Day landings two years later, it is still understandable why the decision to raid Dieppe remains controversial to this day.
From Dieppe we drove along the coast to le Tréport and then inland along the Somme River. Our first stop was at Picquigny, which is where my mother's family originated. Her ancestors crossed the Channel with William the Conqueror, and the name has been anglicised to Pinkney. We decided to check out the the Château de Picquigny, and found the deserted ruins of a splendid old castle, but unfortunately the main door was locked shut. Not to be deterred from checking out ancestral stomping grounds, I looked for alternate entry points, but the walls were simply too high. However, a second and closer examination of the barred gated revealed that it had a large enough gap at the bottom of the door, so I simply stuck my hand under, lifted up on the deadbolt, and voilà! I was in, with Marine hot on my heels immediately wanting to find secret stairways and dungeons. Steph and Judy soon joined us, and we spent the next hour roaming through various rooms, spiral staircases and pitch black vaults, using a headlamp to illuminate the twists and turns in the passageways. I locked up after we left, and Steph suggested that I reclaim the castle in the family name and set up summer residence there.
From Picquigny we drove to Albert, a town that was heavily damaged in the First World War. An iconic symbol of that war was Albert's cathedral, and its steeple that was partially shot away by artillery shells, causing the statue of the Virgin Mary to lean right over. Eventually, the rest of the cathedral was destroyed, but it was painstakingly rebuilt after the war to its original splendour. Next to the cathedral is the Somme 1916 Museum, which actually occupies a 250-metre long tunnel that was first built as shelter against invading Spaniards in the 1400s, and then was rebuilt to serve as an air raid shelter during the Second World War. The museum is stuffed with artefacts from the 1914-1918 War, and one factsheet illustrated that if the dead from all sides of the war were to march four abreast at 120 paces per minute, it would take eighty-one days and nights for them all to pass by.
From Albert we drove north, and one can not help but notice the increasing frequency of Commonwealth War Graves dotting the landscape, the scene of many bloody battles fought to gain a few kilometres of mud in either direction. We arrived finally at Vimy Ridge. This was my fifth visit to the Ridge, and familiarity certainly does not diminish the surge of emotion one feels when one first glimpses what I think is the most physically magnificent of any of the momunents built to commemorate Canada's sacrifices. For emotional impact, only Beaumont-Hamel surpasses Vimy, in my opinion, but I still think every Canadian should visit Vimy. The Vimy monument has been renovated, and the late afternoon sunlight against grey skies in the distance made the Ridge fairly glow. We we treated to a personalised tour of the monument by one of the Canadian guides working there, and we promised the girls to return the next morning for a tour of the tunnels.
09/21/2010, Pourville(Dieppe), FR
Photo: Overlooking Dieppe from the west atop an abandoned German bunker
Today was our dash across the north of France from Bretagne towards Picardie and the Somme region. Our long drive through Rennes, Avranches, Caen, and Le Havre was temporarily halted by a vehicle accident that backed up traffic on the autoroute several kilometres for nearly an hour. While waiting, Judy struck up a conversation with a family who were out of their car walking their dog; it turned out that the husband was a former captain of the sailing vessel "Concordia" (see entry above), and was onboard the "Sorlandet" from Norway to Saint Malo to help orient the crew to working with West Island College's Class Afloat programme. Small world!
We arrived at Pourville on the Channel coast late in the afternoon. Pourville is the next town over from Dieppe, which was also raided by the Canadians in 1942. Pourville first became fashionable in the late 1800's when Monet spent some time there to paint his impressions of the coastline and the Channel.