09/25/2010, Callantsoog-Hoorn-Breezanddijk-Den Helder-Callantsoog NL
Photo: Steph and Marine help Paul Tingley display his newly-won hardware!
Today we took our temporary/interim rental van and drove SE to Hoorn, a coastal town on the Ijsselmeer that was playing host to the World Championship 2.4-metre regatta. We hoped to arrive in time to catch the prize presentations, and our timing was spot on: within minutes of our arrival we watched Paul Tingley, gold medallist in the 2.4m event at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and fellow member of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, claim the World Championship trophies for top para-athlete and overall winner! Paul posted superb results: eleven top-ten finishes, but the competition was tough, and the championship was not decided until the final race. Paul also beat out six-time champion Stellin Berlin from Sweden, and Paul told how he had seen the trophy years ago and aspired to have his name on it....fantastic to see his hard work and commitment pay off!
After a celebratory beer with Paul, we took our leave and headed off on foot to explore more of Hoorn. Many of the buildings in the old section of town date back to the 1600s, and there has obviously been some settling of the ground; as one looks down the street there are quite a few buildings leaning either out over the street or reclining back somewhat, and it gives the street a rather cartoonish or tipsy feeling to it...
From Hoorn we drove north to the 30km-long Afsluidijk, which now separates the Ijsselmeer from the Waddenzee, and whose sluices pump out the equivalent of two olympic-sized swimming pools of water per minute to keep the Ijsselmeer below sea level.
From the Afsluisdijk we drove back to Callantsoog via Den Helder, and we are now busy trying to work out our route/timings/stops on the way to Riga. I think I prefer nautical passage planning, although one does not have to wait for a weather window!
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.