Friday, 30 May 2008

Vive La France... part un!

It's been awhile. This can be attributed to two things:
1)Eryn discovered Facebook... and what a huge time-thief it is!
2)We spent loads of time getting ourselves sorted for our road trip to France, which was ace!

We madly decided to take the mighty Corsa to the continent with us... I say mad because there is an engine light of some description that just keeps going... but so does the car, so it can't be all bad! I'm picturing Dad rolling his eyes at that last bit.
First lesson - Driving laws in France are quite different than in the UK - obviously there's the whole 'other side of the road' thing, but in addition, you have to carry a high-vis jacket, one of those red triangle things, a fire extinguisher, spare lightbulb kit, first aid kit, ownership/registration and insurance papers... information that might have been more useful to us, had we found out BEFORE we boarded the ferry. Evidently checks on foreign cars are frequent and the punishments handed out are quite harsh... so that had us a bit anxious before we even docked at Dunkerque.
They take their Sundays quite seriously over there, so there was practically nothing open when we arrived, but we did manage to find a great Maritime Museum with all sorts of bits in it, particularly about the mass evacuation in 1940... if you're not interested in war history, best stop right here, as the rest of the trip was full of it.
We stayed in a very cute B & B, our host, Nelly (whose husband is Jean-Luc - could he be any more French??!) was lovely, despite protesting that her English wasn't very good (it was better than some of the students Kent has encountered in England) and sent us to La Coupole, a huge concrete dome, built by Hitler & co in WWII to launch V2 rockets at London, the next day. It was impressive...even though it was abandoned towards the end of the war. Probably for the best, methinks.
From there we were headed to Ypres/Ieper, which meant we needed to cross the border... well, I say border, but really it was more like a petrol station forecourt, unmanned, where you don't need to slow down, into Belgium. My hopes of getting another stamp in my passport were dashed... thanks very much, EU.
Cue lumps in throats for both of us... which might seem a bit on the dramatic side, but when you consider that Ypres was the focus of much of WW1 - it was pretty much destroyed during the war, then rebuilt afterwards with money paid in reparation by the Germans, and that it's surrounded by Comonwealth War graves sites (we saw at least a hundred signs for different ones from the car), it certainly makes the whole thing seem so much more real than 5th form history ever did... We were lucky enough to see the Last Post played at the Menin Gate in Ypres that night, something they close the road for and have done every night at 8pm since 1928! It was very moving, as the gate itself is a giant memorial to 50,000 fallen, with every single one of their names engraved in the stone.
I was mildly put out as I couldn't find any Kiwis but it turns out that it wasn't big enough for all the names they had orginally planned, and the NZers decided to put the names of our boys on one of the other memorials - Tyne Cot - fortunately, it was just down the road at Passchendaele. It was raining at this stage, which seemed quite fitting. There are 11,856 men buried there, with a memorial to a further 35,000 missing - and an entire bit of it dedicated to Kiwis - which started the waterworks again - we were really just blown away by the sheer numbers of people, mostly younger than us, who died for their countries. Just thinking about it still makes me feel so incredibly humbled... but enough being maudlin for now... That's not even halfway into the trip...
Photos are here:
More soon,
K + E x

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