Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sunday, August 26 On to the French Battlefields and Verdun

Today is longest travel day until we get back to the states and head for home. As the crow flies it is probably a four hour drive, but we are making a big loop to see some historic battlefields that Dick has always wanted to see. We are up and on the road a little after 8. It is really raining, but we have a ways to go before we are at the first site so maybe it will clear off.

The first couple of hours is done on the motorway down through Lille and over toward Calais. West of Bethume we leave the fast moving highway and start our trek on the narrow local roads in the general direction of Abbeville.
Our first stop is in a cute little village to check out a small church and the village monument to the WWI dead from the village. The place has about ten old, typically French country houses and the monument lists 11 dead ranging in age from 18 to 43...probably all the men able to fight! This scene is repeated over and over again as we head through rural France.

The next stop is our first battlefield, Azincourt, one of the later battles of the Hundred Years War between England and France. This is the site where King Henry V’s smaller force defeated the French on October 25, 1415; thanks to the unerring accuracy and power of the English archers and their long bows. There is a nice museum with a multimedia production that sets the stage for the battle. There are all sorts of artifacts that have been found in the battlefield.
Then we drive the loop around the field and actually down a road that is right where the two armies met and the slaughter took place.

It is now about 1PM and we are on the French coast; we need to be in Verdun this evening. There are still two sites Dick wants to see in the area, but he is concerned that we have a time problem. Carolyn says go for it. We have the gites owner’s phone number and have told them we will be late. Plus Carolyn is really enjoying the French countryside!

So on to Crecy which is south of Azincourt. This battle was fought on August 26, 1346, in the early part of the Hundred Years War between Edward III of England and Philip VI of France There is a museum in town, but the town is blocked off for some kind of festival. So, we follow the signs to the battlefield which is what Dick wants to see anyway. There is a tower so you can get up high enough to see the field, but that is it.

The festival must have something to do with the battle because there are people giving wagon rides dressed in period costume on the edge of the battlefield. But this is France so we haven’t a clue! No wait, it is August 26, 2012. Do you think they might be having a Battle of Crecy festival or something? Duuuh!!

Our last stop has to do with the Battle of the Somme. We visited the Somme in 2006 and saw many of the important sites, but didn’t get over this far. Dick sets the GPS for Lochnager Crater. We wind around on very narrow roads and through small villages, each with a War Memorial and finally find the crater site.

There is a very nice memorial to the fallen here.

The explosion happened on July 1, 1916, "The First Day on the Somme" and is remembered every year. As we leave the site we see two young men selling WWI artifacts that have been found in the fields. We pick up a few for gifts. The shell timers make really interesting paper weights!

Once more Dick set the GPS for the gite and we are off. When Carolyn first planned this day she ran the sites through map quest to see how long the drive would be and it was doable. Carolyn doesn’t trust the GPS completely so she is following the progress on the map. We keep bypassing the turns for the motorway that will send us to Verdun at 130km/hr and are creeping along behind campers on narrow two lane roads. Finally we cross under the motorway and head down a parallel local road heading to a St. Quentin. The GPS is telling us it will be nearly 7PM before we reach the gite. We have a little discussion about the way Dick has set the GPS settings; seems as how he has marked no toll ways and all the motorways in France are toll ways! We get that changed instantly and we shave nearly an hour off the arrival time! Dick is in a panic about having to deal with the toll booths. After the first one (there are only two it turns out) it is a no-brainer. Every one in the car is cool and we have an uneventful trip to the gite.
We are to call the owner when we are close. So, about 5:45PM, Dick calls and struggles though a conversation and Carolyn can hear both sides through the phone. He is getting no where until he says "Gite toot suite!" and Carolyn hears "Ahh...oui, arvouir" and a giggle. We all meet at the gite in a few minutes and again struggle through trying to get the details worked out. It takes a while and she finally gets across that the tourist office in Verdun can speak English and leaves shaking her head!

The cottage is nice. It is an old house/barn that was restored in 2006. We have a nice big living/kitchen area, two bedrooms and a bath. It has a nice private back garden and is surrounded by privacy hedge. We will be very comfortable for the next nine days. Now all we need is some groceries. It is Sunday and most everything has been closed. Our only hope is Verdun.

It takes about 30 minutes to get to Verdun...we are surprised...this is a lovely city...lots of interesting, historic things to see. But right now we are looking for a little grocery and place to eat.
We find the second thing first...Chez Mamie. Cuisine Traditionnelle. It is a small place in a residential setting with red trim and red checked table clothes. We go for it. As we enter we are met with rapid fire French, we explain that we don’t have French and she shakes her head, hands us a menu, points to a table and says, "Duex manche." We look at the menu recognizing a few words. The owner/waitress points to a page with a set menu and then points to the black board...we can’t read it (well not very much)! Fortunately for us there is an American foursome sitting next to us and one of the men speaks some French. He explains about the serving options and the people tell us what they ordered all of which looks wonderful. Dick orders the salmon off the set menu and Carolyn has a huge salad with some hot salmon and some kind of potatoes added to it. WOW!!! It is the best meal of the trip so far and only €36! We visit with the people next to us...a young couple, the man’s Aunt and Grandfather who is 87. They are taking the Grandfather to places he remembers from WWII.

After a dessert of cream brulee we drive back through town and stumble onto a small grocery. With milk, eggs, butter and a few other staples, we head back to the cottage and fall into bed.

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