14 September- Train- Ieper to Ghent. This is a nice, relaxing 45 minute trip. There's some nice scenery, the carriages are clean and the seats very comfortable.
Tip, coming back to Ieper make sure you're in one of the front three carriages- the back three are decoupled at Kortijk and go to Lille Flandres- where I'll be going tomorrow. The ticket collector warned me of that as we left Gent-St Peter station.
Stadt Museum Ghent is definitely worth seeing. I had been hoping to see the Kürassieresstandarte of the Prinz von Schönaich-Carolath Cuirassiers (KR Nr 9 in the later numbering system), which was captured at Maxen in 1759 (and had replaced the FWR model lost at Holitz in July 1758), but wasn't surprised to find it wasn't on general display. The museum has a lot of natural light, and the UV would destroy the flag in short order- 260 year old silk is fairly fragile. However, there were a lot of things to see- one of the most amazing being the models of the old town buildings that were made from Lego. Before you laugh, look at the photo's. The museum has also made copies of the pages of many illuminated manuscripts and fixed them to small light tables, allowing you to see the details and richness of colour used by the artists, without leaving the originals open to fading and disintegration of the parchments or paper.
15 September- Train- Ieper to Amiens. Yesterday was another train day. I caught the 10:16 from Ieper to Kortijk and changed trains for Lille Flandres, so crossed into Northern France. At Lille I noticed the beggars had returned. They infested Germany, some being a bit aggressive about it, but I hadn't seen or been bothered by any once I'd got to Arnhem. Like the Germans a simple "FK OFF!" seems to do the trick if a polite "No" doesn't work. Like Germany, they hang around the railway stations, though as the platforms are patrolled in France- and four-soldier bricks were patrolling with loaded weapons in both Lille Flandres and Paris Nord- once you're out of the concourse you don't get bothered.
There's not much difference between the scenery in Belgium and northern France so there's just a couple of photo's of the trip to Amiens. I didn't have a chance to take any on the run to Paris, I was in an aisle seat and couldn't get a view. Another moderately quick trip, that- Amiens to Paris in 1hr 6 minutes, with just one stop just outside Amiens, for 22.80. No first class carriages (or possibly no seats when I booked my ticket, but I didn't see any carriages marked "1" or "1er").
16 September- Train- Amiens to Paris Nord. Today was another train day. But I'd left enough time so that I could get to Villers-Bretonneux. My maternal grandfather has one of his cousin's names on the wall- or at least the family believes he was a cousin. It doesn't matter, I was planning to visit in 2012, then again in 2015, but that didn't happen. So I was definitely going this time. For some of you my decision to give Waterloo/La Belle Alliance the flick, as too much bother, may be a surprise. Anyway, it's an 11 minute train ride from Amiens to V-B. I got up, had brekkie (coffee and cereal) and got to V-B just before 0800. From there it's a middling amble to the memorial, which is sited on top of the 104 feature ("Hill 104"). It's signposted all the way, though I followed my nose on the way back and missed having to traipse through a McMansions patch.
TIP- follow the signs for bikes/pedestrians until you get the servo'. Cross the road and continue down until you come to the Free-French/Resistance memorial on the RHS of the road. Turn right just past that and you'll meet the walking track.
I got there and, apart from two cleaners doing the dunnies, had it all to myself. I wandered around and found the name I was after, put the poppies I had brought from Oz beside unknown soldiers graves and had a good look over the memorial, the GEN Monash Centre (GMC- government/DVA job and it shows- all flash and no depth) and was having a durrie when a couple from Grafton mistook me for a cleaner or something. They were doing a drive-yourself tour of the batlefields and memorials and asked for some directions- "Excuse moi, Monsoor, General Monash Centre" or something. About my age, (fk off Darcy and Elliott) we chatted for a while and I took them down to the GMC.
So I wandered back to town and found that the Franco-Aussie Museum was open. I went in and it's not a bad museum at all. Plenty of artefacts, photo's of the town at the end of the war, etc. They even have a bunch of plaques from various RSL and units on the wall, but no RAR or RAEME ones, so I'll sort that when I get home. There are also Canadians, British, Kiwis and possibly Indians (I didn't look at every single headstone) buried in the cemetery, so it is a Commonwealth one, not just Australian. As it should be.
I also found a small cafe on Melbourne road that does an excellent coffee, so all in all one of the best days.
TIP- there is no train from V-B back to Amiens between 0930 and 1321. Taxi costs about 40 to the Gare Amiens (my hotel was next door, so an easy find- thanks, Steph) and is worth it for the scenery on the way back.
18 September- Musee des Blindes and Musee de la Cavalerie. Just a quick update. Yesterday was spent walking the South Bank, trying to find a new SIM for my mi-fi after the one I got in Munich had expired. The main French seller, FSR, will only sell data-only cards to French citizens. The tobacco shops wanted me to sign to a plan (I only tried two before giving up on them). Eventually found an Orange shop just 300m from this hotel and got another one-month card, for 1/3 what I paid in Germany. While wandering around I took the opportunity to see a few places and sights, including a long distance look at some 1/2-finished steel tower that they have here, the scaffolding surrounding the Notre-Dame (could hardly see the building) and rummaged through a large book sale (I can read French a bit- it's the talking and listening that I fail at).
Today it was up early and on the train to Saumur (pronounced "Samura" for some bloody reason) before breakfast, having a minor delay while I explained to Mr Sunshine that I wasn't checking out, I was coming back and yes, I was sure I was coming back. Paris to Le Mans in an hour, then a two hour coach ride through various small towns along the Loire, admiring the scenery (OK, dozing and admiring the scenery). I have 482 photo's from the Musee des Blindes, and another lot from the Musee de la Cavalerie and the trip out, to sort. Among the tanks are a Schneider CA-1, St Charmond, FT (radio and MG versions), Vickers Mk VI, Valentine, Centaur, assorted Panzers (yes, including the King Tiger), US stuff and even a KV.1. Then there's the modern stuff....
I also got three more mugs (off to the post office tomorrow, methinks), a couple of more fridge magnets and another teaspoon for Mum. Then an hour trip to Angers-St Laud and a two-hour run to Paris Montpanasse, so a longish day.
Tomorrow's plan- laundry (no, the hotel doesn't do laundry, hot breakfasts, elevators that don't go "bump crash" at random intervals or a non-surly night manager, but does have a comfy bed and nice people from 0600 to 2000hrs), post office and Musee de l'Armee, who have closed the Louis XIV to Napoleon III section, making a visit there a minor priority. Then pack and get ready for the Eurostar run to London on Friday, and a feed without cheese in it and missing the word "avec" from the description. Oh, and I'll answer some email, too.
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