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By this Author: A-RPoulton

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Summary of 2018 European experience

We have been home now for almost a week and are finally getting our biological clocks reset to Saskatchewan time.

All in all, we had a great trip to Europe. There were many surprises along the way, some good and some not so good.

Things to know about travelling in Europe on your own and in your own vehicle:
- You carry your luggage (baggage) wherever you go so try very hard to limit what you take.
- Parking spots are incredibly small.
- The Citroen program is very good and very economical. We imagine the Renault and Peugeot Programs would be as well.
- Gas is very expensive in Europe. It ranged from 1.20 Euros per litre to 1.69 Euros per litre. This was the 95 gas which is their lower grade. Most often the price worked out to $80.00 Canadian per tank. We filled up daily when we were driving from place to place.
- Groceries are cheaper in France and Germany than in most countries.
- We liked many grocery stores and found the staff in these stores cheerful and helpful even when they had limited English and we had even less of their language.
- When a lodging for the night is advertised on Booking.com as “they speak your language”, it is not always true but every effort is made to understand what we were saying and we tried to understand them.
- English is not as widely spoken as people think. Tour guides and staff in large hotels and at touristy stops are pretty good with English which is why the impression is given that English is widely spoken. Try to have a list of words you need to communicate. The new translation app that you speak into in English and the phone speaks to whomever you are speaking to in the language you indicate works very well but our English expression “You are welcome” when they say “Thank you” sometimes comes out as a welcoming greeting rather than a show of appreciation. For example, “You are welcome” as a reply to “Thank You” comes out “Bienvenue” in France.
- Not all people who advertise on Booking.com are honest, so be careful. We had two very bad experiences and one sort of bad experience out of 65 stays. The good ones are fantastic and make every effort to make sure you are in a clean and comfortable lodging. Some are even “over the top” in how well they look after you.

Places we saw that amazed us:
- Northern France is flat and much like Saskatchewan. They were harvesting wheat as we drove through there the second last week of June.
- The Pyrenees
- Alhambra in Granada, Spain
- The buildings in Prague, Budapest, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam,
- Gibraltar was interesting but crazy crowded as was Monaco
- We really enjoyed the Algarve area in Portugal and Estepona area of Spain. Both are on the southern edge of those countries. They are very restful.

The weather was not great sometimes and we just made the best of it, but southern France (along the Mediterranean) was the most disappointing.

We did not see crime not did we experience it.

We saw very few traffic accidents in spite of the fact that we put 17,871 kilometres on our car.

All in all, it was an enriching experience. This gave us a view into the lives of people in other countries which gives us a more global view of life.

Posted by A-RPoulton 10:57 Comments (0)

Day 63

Essex Farm Cemetery and Antwerp

semi-overcast 21 °C

The first picture in this message shows the unusual chickens that were on the farm we stayed at last night. They looked like they had pom-poms on their heads and on their behinds. They were fun to watch. Reta looked it up on the internet and it seems this is a "Silkie" chicken.

Silkie chicken

Silkie chicken

This morning was cool and cloudy but not uncomfortable.

We drove from our farm stay in France to Belgium. Here we see the Belgium welcome. We are always surprised that English speakers have changed the names of countries and cities to suit themselves rather than use the names the residents of those countries and cities use.

Belgium welcome

Belgium welcome

We had decided that we did not want to go to Flanders Fields but to Essex Farm Cemetery where we believed John McCrae was buried. When we got to Essex Farm Cemetery we found that John McCrae was not buried there but that the aid station that he had worked at was near Essex Farm Cemetery. We were disappointed but share here some of the things we saw.

We were greeted by a local cat

We were greeted by a local cat

The original bunkers that were used as the aid stations were maintained. We have a picture of the interior and exterior of these bunkers.

Exterior of bunker built in a canal bank

Exterior of bunker built in a canal bank

Damp and dank interior of the bunker

Damp and dank interior of the bunker

There were some lovely tributes to John McCrae.

Story of John McCrae

Story of John McCrae

Picture of John McCrae and picture of aid workers

Picture of John McCrae and picture of aid workers

Story about the work John McCrae did

Story about the work John McCrae did

This is a copy of John's famous "In Flanders Fields" poem.

Poem

Poem

Essex Farm Cemetery is the resting place of 1,204 Commonwealth War Dead from the WW I conflict. There were no poppies there but bright red geraniums. Reta was expecting poppies as we see them growing wild all over Europe.

Our next objective was to find a car wash and somewhere we could vacuum the car out. We had thought we found one in Antwerp but when we got there we were disappointed. We looked on the GPS and found one not far away. This car wash was a hand wash place where the staff clean your car inside and out in one hour. We were pleased by that and wandered around this area of Antwerp while the car was being groomed.

- This arch was at the end of the block where we found the car wash.  It is called "Waterpoort at the Gillisplaats".  It was a gate to Antwerp at one time.

- This arch was at the end of the block where we found the car wash. It is called "Waterpoort at the Gillisplaats". It was a gate to Antwerp at one time.


The other side of the arch

The other side of the arch

The top of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts at Antwerp.  This museum is being renovated so we got a picture of the beautiful decoration on top of it

The top of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts at Antwerp. This museum is being renovated so we got a picture of the beautiful decoration on top of it


The Judicial Court House.  It has a very modern design.

The Judicial Court House. It has a very modern design.

Statue outside the Court House

Statue outside the Court House

We retrieved our sparkling car and drove to Amsterdam. We got all of our possessions out of the car and into the hotel to be sorted and repacked. We had a good supper in the hotel.

We need to leave the hotel very early tomorrow to drop the car off at the "Park and Fly" where we picked it up. We will need to do up some paperwork. We will then need to get to the airport in time so we can catch our flight to Toronto. We will be awake for 21.5 hours when our flight from Toronto to Regina lands. Looking forward to being home, just not the long flights and waiting in airports.

We will do a summary of our trip after we have had a few days to sort it all out.

Posted by A-RPoulton 12:56 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Day 62

Vimy

sunny 23 °C

We woke again to a bright sunny day. Our hosts provided us with breakfast and then we were on our way.

We drove about 3 hours to Vimy. Canadians, be proud, the Vimy museum and experience is very well done. We met young people who work at this museum and as tour guides from all over Canada. This can be a four-month experience for them or a permanent posting with Veterans Canada. We were met at the door of the museum and offered free tours of the tunnels and trenches and then we visited the exhibits before setting off to walk to the Monument and cemeteries.

Vimy Museum and Visitor Centre

Vimy Museum and Visitor Centre

Walking down 8 metres below ground to the tunnels

Walking down 8 metres below ground to the tunnels

What the tunnels look like with the lighting provided today

What the tunnels look like with the lighting provided today

These trench walls are only 1/2 the height of the original ones

These trench walls are only 1/2 the height of the original ones

A father and son look out over a trench wall

A father and son look out over a trench wall

The German machine gun nest (pillbox) which was only 30 feet or so from the Canadian front line

The German machine gun nest (pillbox) which was only 30 feet or so from the Canadian front line

The tour guide explained to us that the tunnels that we see as tourists have much better lighting than what existed in 1917 plus we were walking on concrete floors while the soldiers of 1917 walked in mud with occasional wooden ladders laid on the ground to keep their feet out of the mud and water. The same was true of the trenches which would have been twice as deep as the ones we walked through and again, the ground would have been covered with mud and water with wooden ladders to protect their feet.

The soldiers spent 4 to 6 days in these conditions and then went back away from the front lines while another group were on the front line. When they were away from the front line they had training exercises and so on.

These trenches and tunnels were dug through the chalk which comprised the underlying rock formation in this area. Welsh miners did most of the work. Because this rock is white and would alert the Germans to what was going on, it was put in sandbags and carried out at night. One cubic metre of this chalk filled over 200 sand bags. Wheeled carts were developed to get the sandbags from the diggers to the exit holes. These sandbags were buried at night under the ground further away so as to disguise what was going on.

This was the first time all four Canadian divisions had fought together.

When the final attack was going to happen all of the soldiers were crammed into the tunnels. Some of them waited 12 to 36 hours not knowing what was going to happen. It must have been very uncomfortable. They were finally allowed out of the tunnels at 4:30 AM on April 9, 1917 and they charged the German lines at 5:30 AM in the snow and rain. Our Canadian forces were successful in moving the German forces back away from Hill 145 where the Canadian Memorial Monument stands today.

Plaque noting that France gave to Canada the ground on which these monuments stand

Plaque noting that France gave to Canada the ground on which these monuments stand


The remains of trenches in the Vimy area

The remains of trenches in the Vimy area

We walked over to the monument. This first picture is the back of the monument.

Back of the Vimy monument with paper poppies and peace dove

Back of the Vimy monument with paper poppies and peace dove

Before WW I this area was a coal mine. Even today you can see the slag heaps that are left behind from those mines.

Two of the slag heaps from the coal mines

Two of the slag heaps from the coal mines

One of the statues that decorates the back of the monument shows the despair that war causes.

Despair

Despair

This is a close-up of the back of the monument.

Back of the monument

Back of the monument

We climbed up the stairs on the back of the monument then walked around to the front of the monument. We had to walk quite a distance away from the monument to get the whole monument in one photo.

Front of the monument

Front of the monument

There is a statue of a woman on the front of the monument that looks down on a crypt which represents the 11,000 Canadian service men that are dead and missing from WWI. Their names are engraved on the base of the monument.

Woman looking down on the crypt

Woman looking down on the crypt

Close-up of the crypt

Close-up of the crypt

Plaque describing the battle at Vimy Ridge.

Battle description

Battle description

On May 9, 1915 the men of the 1st Moroccan Division indeed managed to break through the German lines and a small wood known as Bois Folie and started the attack on Vimy Ridge. This monument is a tribute to their efforts. This was two years before the Canadian offensive.

Moroccan monument

Moroccan monument

The area that bears the scars of the battle, trenches and tunnels has been left as it was. Tourists are kept away from the area with electric fences which also keep these sheep in the area to control vegetation.

Vimy Ridge lawn mowers

Vimy Ridge lawn mowers

There are two cemeteries on this site. One known as Givency Road Cemetery holds the graves of 111 soldiers (Art counted the headstones) that lost their lives April 9th to 13th, 1917 at Vimy Ridge.

Givency Road Canadian Cemetery

Givency Road Canadian Cemetery

Story of this cemetery

Story of this cemetery

As we left this cemetery we noticed a small family of elderly people walking toward the Vimy Monument. It seemed very touching to Reta so she took a photo.

Elderly walking toward the monument

Elderly walking toward the monument

Nearby to the Givency cemetery is the Canadian Cemetery 2 which holds the graves of 370 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives at Vimy Ridge. There are a total of 3,000 First World War soldiers from many countries commemorated at this cemetery. These soldiers are victims of the 1914 - 1918 conflict.

Canadian Cemetery 2

Canadian Cemetery 2

We spent about 3 hours at the Vimy area. We learned a lot about our countrymen and what they accomplished. Many of them were as young as 15 or so.

World War One claimed the lives of 61,000 Canadians. The wounded numbered 172,000. Newfoundland which joined Canada in 1949 lost 1,305 people and several thousand were wounded.

After our Vimy tour we drove to our lodging tonight in a suite on a working farm about 40 kilometres from Vimy. Tomorrow we will visit Flanders Field and then travel to our hotel in Amsterdam.

Posted by A-RPoulton 12:05 Archived in France Comments (0)

Day 61

Chateau de Fontainebleau

sunny 23 °C

Our first picture today is of the sunset last night from the outskirts of Paris. The Eiffel Tower is small in the sunset.

Sunset over Paris June 22, 2018

Sunset over Paris June 22, 2018

Morning greeted us today, bright and blue. We are happy about that. The high temperature today was 23 C or 73 F which was very pleasant.

Our plan for today was to visit the Chateau de Fontainebleau which was a French Royal Family home. It was a preferred hunting lodge for many kings and Napoleon. The keep or central part of this chateau is the only remaining part of the original chateau. The earliest records of this building date back to 1137.

We are not well educated in the history of France and its rulers. We will try to give you just a simple version of the history of this chateau. King Francis 1 who was king from 1515 to 1547 started the modern renovations of the chateau. He chose the Golden Gate which was inspired by Italian architecture. He also started the royal apartments and ballroom which are built around the oval courtyard. This project was completed by King Henry II, who was king from 1547 - 1559. He was also involved with building the Belle Chiminee Wing with the impressive Imperial Staircase. King Henri IV ruled from 1589 to 1610. Henry IV added many substantial wings to the chateau. Louis XV ruled from 1715 to 1754. He removed some of the buildings and built even more spacious ones. The rooms were redecorated and repurposed by many kings and queens.

The chateau was stripped of its furniture during the French Revolution but the buildings were spared. Napoleon 1 returned it to its status of an imperial residence and had it refurbished. Some buildings were torn down and replaced by Napoleon III.

Much of the furniture that we saw today was from the time of Napoleon 1 and Napoleon III. This chateau is a UNESCO Heritage site. Work has been done to restore and maintain the rooms and furnishings.

We did an audio tour of the chateau. We were there for five hours. We toured the building and then took a rubber-tired train ride around the gardens and park. We ate our lunch and then started on our way to our lodgings for tonight. We did not take photos of the interior of the chateau.

Our first glimpse of Fontainebleau

Our first glimpse of Fontainebleau

A picture taken from the opposite side of the "Carp Pond" to show the back of the chateau

A picture taken from the opposite side of the "Carp Pond" to show the back of the chateau


Picture of the back of the chateau from the English Garden

Picture of the back of the chateau from the English Garden

The grand canal which is one kilometre long and took eight days to fill with water - built by King Henry 1V at the beginning of the 1600's

The grand canal which is one kilometre long and took eight days to fill with water - built by King Henry 1V at the beginning of the 1600's


Four Sphinx statues in the garden near the grand canal.  These sphinxes are part woman and part lion.

Four Sphinx statues in the garden near the grand canal. These sphinxes are part woman and part lion.


The rubber-tired train on which we took the tour

The rubber-tired train on which we took the tour

Today there were many weddings and wedding pictures taken by this staircase. The French still ride around in their cars after the wedding blowing their horns like we used to do in Canada in the 1960's. We experienced this last weekend in the beach community that we stayed in and today in the community around the chateau.

The Imperial Staircase

The Imperial Staircase

You can have a horse and wagon tour of the gardens and park.  This was popular with young families.

You can have a horse and wagon tour of the gardens and park. This was popular with young families.


Interesting light fixtures

Interesting light fixtures

Impressive front gates

Impressive front gates

We are spending the night in a Bed & Breakfast in Nogent-sur-Seine. Our hostess asked us if we were in town for the wedding. We said, "No". She said she heard Canadians were invited to the wedding and thought that might be why we were here. Tonight, we are watching another Football (Soccer) game from Russia, Germany and Sweden. It is half-time. The score is Germany 0 and Sweden 1.

The view out of our window.

The view out of our window.

Tomorrow we travel on to Vimy Ridge.

Posted by A-RPoulton 12:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

Day 60

Paris day 2

sunny 21 °C

We woke to a bright sunny morning. We had planned some outside and some inside activities so we were happy to see the sun. The high temperature for the day was only 21 C (70 F) so it has been a pleasant day.

We walked to our bus stop and rode the bus to the Metro (subway) and rode that down to the Louvre. This picture is of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which is a smaller Arc de Triomphe. This Arc de Triomphe is in the courtyard of the Louvre. The story is that Napoleon built this Arc de Triomphe as a gateway to the Tuileries Palace and then decided that it was not grand enough so built the larger one on the Champs-Elysees. The Palace of the Tuileries was destroyed in 1871 leaving a view from one Arc de Triomphe to the other.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Reta refrains from taking pictures in art galleries but the crowd in the Louvre had no such scruples. Reta let her guard down and took a picture of "Winged Victory of Samothrace". This statue was discovered in 1836 and has been displayed in the Louvre since then. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, is a 2nd-century BC marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory). This statue is considered one of the Louvre's treasures.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory

This is a heading found in one of the Louvre's halls. The Louvre was founded in September 1792 and opened in August 1793.

Information about the Louvre

Information about the Louvre

We paid tribute to the Mona Lisa and viewed many of the galleries but did not visit all of them. This museum holds a huge number of art treasures from all over the world. One of the diamonds in the display of French Crown Jewels was 142 carats. It was very large.

After spending quite a bit of time in the Louvre we decided to eat our lunch on a bench in the Tuileries Garden which is next to the Louvre. We took pictures of some female statues which were frolicking in the gardens.

Female statues in the garden

Female statues in the garden

Female statues in the garden 2

Female statues in the garden 2

We discovered the secret to keeping all of those lawns trimmed so nicely.

Tuileries Garden lawn mowers

Tuileries Garden lawn mowers

We also found a couple of statues of Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar 1

Julius Caesar 1

Julius Caesar 2

Julius Caesar 2

We got a view of the Luxor Obelisk in the Place de Concorde with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. The Luxor Obelisk was originally located at the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. This obelisk was a gift from the viceroy of Egypt to France in 1829.

The Luxor Obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe

The Luxor Obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe

There are a number of reclining figures in the Tuileries Garden. This one is a modern version.

Titled "Reclining Figure"

Titled "Reclining Figure"

Tuileries Garden information

Tuileries Garden information

We walked toward the Seine River and discovered that the roads and river are busy.

View of road and river traffic

View of road and river traffic

We stopped on the Pont de Solforino and got a very good view of the Grand Palais. Our tour guide yesterday told us that 6,000 tonnes of steel were used in the construction of the roof; it has more steel than the whole Eiffel Tower.

A good view of the Grand Palais

A good view of the Grand Palais

The Solforino bridge is one of the bridges that couples lock locks onto with their names or initials as a sign of their love. While is this discouraged, many refuse to give up the tradition.

Locks on the bridge

Locks on the bridge

As we walked away from the bridge to find a Hop On/Hop Off bus stop so we could catch a ride to the Eiffel Tower, we saw a number of sights.

Odd looking motor bike

Odd looking motor bike

Statue of Thomas Jefferson (American president and one of the contributors to the American Declaration of Independence)

Statue of Thomas Jefferson (American president and one of the contributors to the American Declaration of Independence)


Elephant Statue at Musee D'Orsay

Elephant Statue at Musee D'Orsay

Horse statue at Musee D'Orsay

Horse statue at Musee D'Orsay

Good view of Alexander III bridge - engineering marvel as 6 metres high single span steel arch bridge.

Good view of Alexander III bridge - engineering marvel as 6 metres high single span steel arch bridge.

Along the way to the Eiffel Tower we drove past the Luxor Obelisk and a lovely fountain in the Place de la Concorde. This area is not as nice as it could be because it is under renovating construction.

Fountain and obelisk

Fountain and obelisk

We also drove past the golden flame placed above the tunnel in which Princess Diana lost her life. This golden flame is a replica of the flame held by The Statue of Liberty.

Golden flame

Golden flame

We arrived at the Eiffel Tower. That area is also under construction so we had to walk around the fenced off area to get to the ticket office. The first line we got into was only for those willing to climb the steps to whatever height they would be allowed to reach. We then discovered another ticket booth and walked to that office but we were met by large crowds of people walking away. When we reached the area, security advised us that there was a security threat and that this ticket office and the elevators it served were being closed. So, we walked over to another ticket office. After we had been standing there for 15 or 20 minutes we were told that this ticket office was being closed. We decided that if there was a security problem that we would rather leave the area and so we did. We were disappointed as we thought an elevator ride on the Eiffel Tower would be a good experience. Our hearts went out to a young boy who walked by us with his family and said that he was disappointed that because of a security problem he was losing out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower


Looking up from under the Eiffel Tower

Looking up from under the Eiffel Tower

We caught our Hop On/Hop Off bus and rode it to the Metro Station and rode the subway to our local metro station. We then walked to a nearby grocery store and got some supplies. We walked back to our bus stop at the metro station and rode our bus back to our hotel.

We had a good day. We did many things we enjoyed. We were disappointed about the Eiffel Tower. We heard nothing on local news which is in French so we looked on the internet. BBC news reported: "The Eiffel Tower in Paris has been evacuated after an anonymous phone-call threatening an attack. An estimated 1,400 people were visiting the site when France's anti-terrorism police made the decision to clear it and set up a security perimeter."

Tomorrow we leave Paris and begin our drive back to Amsterdam.

Posted by A-RPoulton 12:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

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