London - Luxembourg - Strasbourg - Nancy - Verdun - Villers-bretonneux - London
10.06.2011 - 19.06.2011 20 °C
Our journey began after work on the Friday evening. Dave, Liz, Jen and I loaded up the car and drove, for about 2 1/2 hours, through Kent, to our accommodation in Folkstone, near Dover. We stayed in a small bed and breakfast called the Rob Roy. We had a big day of driving ahead of us, so we quickly got to bed, eager to get as much rest as possible. Next morning we woke early and had a quick breakfast before driving the short distance to Dover, where the ferry terminal is located. We had booked a SeaFrance ferry to Calais. The car and all four passengers only cost £27.00 which we thought was a real bargain. We drove into the car deck and went upstairs where we watched the white cliffs of Dover slowly disappear in the distance as we sailed towards France. The trip across the English Channel took about 90 minutes so before too long we caught sight of the French coast. We headed back to the car deck and soon our tyres hit French bitumen. The first few minutes of driving on the continent is always a bit tense because, of course, they drive on the opposite side of the road to us. I really needed to have my wits about me and I encouraged Jen to remind me which way to check for oncoming traffic as often as she wanted. I drove a large part of the day and we passed through towns, large and small, in France and Belgium before entering our destination for day one - Luxembourg. We stayed in a nice quiet, treed, campground in the outskirts of the city called Kockelscheuer (in Bettemberg). We spent a couple of days looking around Luxembourg. It is a beautiful place with a wonderful blend of old and new with some magnificent buildings and bridges, cathederals and alleys, cafes and parkland.
On Monday morning we packed up camp and embarked on the journey South-East from Luxembourg through France again and eventually to our next camping spot in a town called Kehl, in Germany. Our campsite was next to the river Seine and the beautiful city of Strasbourg lay just on the opposite side of the water. We spent two nights in Kehl and each day we travelled into Strasbourg. We took every opportunity to stop for a coffee in one of the cafes. We had a picnic on the riverbank but got rained out, and we took a river cruise on our last night. The city looked beautiful all lit up at night.
From Kehl we travelled West through the hills of the national parks to Nancy. We only spent a couple of hours there but we were impressed by the magnificent main square - Place Stanislas. It has beautiful and ornate gates and fountains surrounding a staue of the man himself.
From Nancy we continued West. We spent a night camped a few kilometres from Verdun. Verdun was the site of a major battle of the First World War. One of the costliest battles of the war, Verdun exemplified the policy of the 'war of attrition' pursued by both sides, which led to an enormous loss of life. We took a walk around the town and visited an underground fortress, used during the war. From Verdun we went on to Reims. We were ready for a night in a proper bed again so we took rooms at a hotel in the town centre. Reims boasts a magnificent cathedral, another Notre Dame (Our Lady).
It is also home to the building used by Eisenhower as the Allied war rooms. We visited the building, which is now a museum. The maps still cover the walls and the table and chairs where the surrender was signed by the Germans still stands in place.
From Reims we travelled to Laon. This beautiful town is perched at the top of a hilly region about 100 metres above the plains of Picardy. It dates back to the time of Julius Ceasar and has an impressive cathedral at it's centre. We had a delicious lunch before driving on to La Fabrique, and our campground for the night.
Saturday we drove to the forest of Compiègne which was the site of the Armistice between the Allies and Germany which ended World War I on 11 November 1918. The Armistice clearing has a large statue of an allied sword pinning down an imperial German eagle. We made our own retreat from the site when a large bus loaded with tourists arrived. We drove through alternating blue and grey skies as we dissected the open expanses of French countryside, headed for Villers-bretonneux. Jen and I had been to this town previously but we were keen to bring Dave and Liz there as it holds special significance for all Australians.
(from Wikipedia) In the First World War, on 24 April 1918, the small town of Villers-Bretonneux was the site of the world's first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVsagainst three German A7Vs. The Germans took the town, but that night and the next day it was recaptured by 4th and 5th Division of the AIF at a cost of over twelve hundred Australian lives. The people of Villers-Bretonneux remain indebted to Australia for this feat. The town's mayor spoke of the Australian troops on 14 July 1919 when unveiling a memorial in their honour: "The first inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux to re-establish themselves in the ruins of what was once a flourishing little town have, by means of donations, shown a desire to thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number...They offer a memorial tablet, a gift which is but the least expression of their gratitude, compared with the brilliant feat which was accomplished by the sons of Australia...Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for..."
The Australian War Memorial in France is located in Villers-Bretonneux and in front of it lie the graves of over 770 Australian soldiers, as well as those of other British Empire soldiers involved in the campaign. The school in Villers-Bretonneux was rebuilt using donations from school children of Victoria, Australia (many of whom had relatives perish in the town's liberation), and above every blackboard is the inscription "N'oublions jamais l'Australie" (Never forget Australia). The annual ANZAC Day ceremony is held at this village on Anzac Day, 25 April, each year.
We took a good look around town, including a coffee at a cafe on Melbourne St, before driving a short distance to the Australian National Memorial. It is a very emotional experience, as I am sure you can imagine, to see the resting place of so many young men who perished so very far from home. There is comfort in the knowledge that they are held in such high esteem by the inhabitants of this little French town which they protected. Australian flags decorate the town in every direction and also stands proudly beside the French flag at the front of the council chambers. Our last night was spent in a town just outside of Amiens. We fell asleep very easily that night, exhausted from such a busy travel schedule. The next morning we rose and drove the last leg of French road to Calais. We played some cards on the ferry before driving home to London.