Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August 2018 – Cherbourg
We caught the vehicle passenger ferry from Rosslare Harbour at 9:30pm on Tuesday night. The trip on the boat was quite smooth with only the occasional rolling, which suited me really well. The cabin was basic with 4 bunk beds, shower and toilet, but exactly what we needed. We arrived at Cherbourg at 4:15 pm on Wednesday and headed to our Aire de Service for the night overlooking Cherbourg Harbour. An Aire de Service is a place designated for the purpose of overnight stopping for motorhomes and are usually operated by local authorities and located close to the town. This is a fantastic concept because it makes you feel as though they want you to feel welcomed and comfortable in their town.
We have never seen so many motorhomes in one place, there must have been about 100 all parked up for the night. The area had water, bins and grey and black waste disposal areas, which is fantastic. It was about a 15-minute walk into the town centre. We had dinner at the harbour, which was lovely. It is awesome to be back in France, what a great country!
On Thursday, after visiting the tourist information we walked around the town, which is very pretty with sailing boats and yachts tied up in the harbour and the markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and other gourmet delights in the square. Then it began to rain heavily so we headed back to our home and nestled in with a good book for the remainder of the afternoon.
Friday 17 August 2018 Cherbourg – Barfleur – Cambremer
After restocking our groceries, we drove to Barfleur, a very pretty village on the Bay of the Seine on Atlantic Ocean. At present there is an antique fair and as a result there are a lot of people sitting and eating at restaurants which have some delicious smells of continental sausages, smoked chicken and seafood aromas wafting in the air. We wandered around the antiques which are variable in quality and walked along the harbour area which is crystal blue with yachts bobbing up and down.
We then headed to the Cider Road Route for our stop over tonight at a cidery called Cave Desvoye at Cambremer. It is run by a young couple who produce cider, apple juice, calvados, pommeau and jams with the produce grown on their property. They are part of the French Passion network which are a group of 2 000 farmers, winegrowers and artisans who are passionate about what they do, so they open their property for self-contained motorhomes at no cost to park for the night. It is another thing the French do really well. The rules are from a motorhome perspective to arrive before nightfall, greet the hosts, say goodbye and thank them before leaving and hopefully support them. This is a well-run farm and the owners are very friendly.
We sampled their produce and bought some delicious cider and pommeau. The cider in Normandy is so different to anywhere and anything else we have tasted. It comes in champagne like bottles, very easy to drink and only costs €3. We parked out the back on a large cement area under the trees and drifted off to sleep with the cows mooing.
Saturday 18 August 2018 Cambremer – Honfleur- Amiens
After saying goodbye to our host, we drove to Honfleur. We were here 3 years ago, and it was a very quiet town but today there was a market which surrounded the harbour and people everywhere. We walked past the café where we had breakfast last time and now it is surrounded by an enormous number of restaurants with tables and umbrellas along the harbour edge. There is even a petit train which transports passengers around the area and a huge parking area for motorhomes. It also has the biggest merry go round we have ever seen with two levels.
We then headed along the motorway
and after a long drive and paying €20 in tolls we arrived late in the afternoon in Amiens where we camped for the night close to the city centre in a parking bay with 4 other motorhomes.
We can now say that after two days driving in France we are comfortable with driving a right-hand vehicle on the right-hand side of the road as long as there is an excellent navigator.
Sunday 19 August 2018 Amiens – Ypres
- Australian National Memorial and The Sir John Monash Centre between Villers-Bretonneux and Fouilloy
- Menin Gates -Ypres
Today began with a return visit to the Australian National Memorial as we were here in 2015. This was the last of the Great War national memorials to be built in France or Belgium in 1938 and consists of a central tower, two corner pavilions and walls which bear the names of 11,00 missing Australian soldiers who died in France.
After walking along and through the gravesites in the Commonwealth Military Cemetery
and once again feeling the remorse for the number of young lives lost we found a new section had been added to this area, The Sir John Monash Centre which opened in April this year. It is an interpretation centre about Australia’s role in the Great War and tells the story of the Western Front in the words of those who served. It is one of the key sites of the Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front and establishes a lasting international legacy of the Australian Centenary of Anzac 2014-2018. After walking down an open-air tunnel with various Australian names given to the paths like Wombat Avenue we entered the centre which is free to visit.
After receiving an iPhone with an app and headphones we entered the centre and listened and watched a virtual tour guide of the Great War from the beginning to the present day. The multimedia experience gave us a great understanding of the journey of ordinary Australians – told in their voices through letters, diaries and real-life images and connect with the places they fought and died. We spent 5 engrossing hours in this centre which is a very moving experience and has left lasting impressions on us. It made us feel really proud to be Australians!
We then went outside and climbed to the top of the tower which provides panoramic views of the Somme countryside which Australians helped to defend in 1918. There is also an orientation table which shows the direction of Australian sites of remembrance such as the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
At the bottom of the staircase, a large wall plaque displays a map of the Western Front and the emplacement of the five Australian divisional memorials in France and Belgium.
We didn’t visit Le Hamel where Australian general Sir John Monash orchestrated a modern battle combining infantry, artillery, tanks and aviation as we went there three years ago so we headed to Ypres to attend the Menin Gates Memorial at 8pm.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of the four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefield area of the Ypres Salient in Belgium Flanders. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces who fell in the Ypres Salient before 16th August 1917.
The names are engraved in panels fixed to inner walls, sides of the staircases and on the walls inside the galleries of the building. Originally this was the location of the old city gate leading to the Ypres Salient battlefields and The Menin Road, through which so many British and Commonwealth troops had passed on their way to the Allied front line. Today bullet marks from WWII can still be seen on the memorial.
We parked the motorhome at an Aire 2.5 km outside of town and walked into town for the 8pm service which is the way the Belgium nation expresses their gratitude towards those who had died for its freedom and independence. This has been occurring every night since 2 July 1928 except during German occupation in WWII. From 7pm the busy cobbled stone road through the memorial was closed to traffic. At 7:30 pm the Buglers of the local volunteer Fire Brigade arrived and stood ready at the eastern entrance of the Menin Gate Memorial.
Then they stepped into the roadway under the memorial arch and made their way to stand in the centre of the Hall of Memory. The Buglers stood in a line across the eastern entrance facing towards the town and a hushed gathered and a stillness descended. At 8pm the Buglers sounded ‘Last Post’. Then a visiting band played whilst a small number of people laid wreaths.
Then a person standing in the middle of the road under the arch said the words of the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” (fourth verse);
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
followed by a minute silence and then the Buglers sounded ‘Reveille’. It is a very solemn and moving event and the amount of people who attend this is extraordinary, just like the last time when we visited three years ago. Now, they have an information centre just down from the gates which is open until 9pm most nights of the week where they display information about the memorials and battlefields in the Somme.
Monday 20 August 2018 Ypres
- In Flanders’ Fields Museum
This morning we rode our bikes into Ypres city centre to visit the In Flanders’ Fields Museum, a museum dedicated to the First World War and named after the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae. After receiving our interactive Poppy Bracelet which contains a microchip to enable you to enter the museum, and after adding some personal detail to a touch screen, it activates the personal story of four individuals as you make your way around the exhibition.
The exhibition consists of touch screens, video projections, soundscapes, information boards and displays of memorabilia and looks at the major historical events and the personal stories of individuals and how the First World War affected the lives of thousands of people of varying nationalities who were involved in it. It does not set out to glorify war, but to suggest its futility, particularly as seen in the West Flanders front region in World War. Listening to the stories and watching the video really gives a great understanding of the atrocities of the war and the conditions they were subjected to.
On the second floor is an exhibition titled ‘Traces of War’ which is about WWI archaeology. The displays are of bones and artefacts found on battlefields. There is a documentary of the locating of a missing New Zealand soldier whom they traced using a part of a strap, a button from his shirt and initials on a section of a badge which they found on the battlelines and marrying this information up with the names of 9 missing officers listed on the Menin Gate Memorial. This process was an amazing story.
We stayed a second night at the Aires.