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Wow, a quarter century?

Dedication-the act of being dedicated-to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose. Passion-a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. If I was to pick two words to describe my history work related to this blog, these are the two I’d chose. Why? Well, there are no other words that better illustrate something that has been part of my life for 25 years. Twenty-five years? Really? Yup, you heard that right, 25 years. I’ve been at this for more than half of my life, which means: a) I’m old, and b) I might some new hobbies.

I’m back kids and it’s spring! Well, maybe on the calendar it is, but Mother Nature is not playing nice. I’d like to elaborate further, but this is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll keep my comments to myself. The transition into the season was progressing well, albeit slowly, until the other day. Last Thursday it was almost 20C, and then Monday we got a massive dump of snow. There was what I figured almost 20cm of wet, sloppy white stuff on the ground at my house. Grrrrrr…just go away already! The temperatures are supposed to rebound this weekend to near-normal values, however since this has happened now every year for the last bunch, it is clear evidence that climate change is at work.

April 28, 2019.

April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2019.

So now that we’re into May, it means that we are are in the last throes of the school year. Thank Jesus…or whatever deity you pray to! An atheist? Well you’ll just have to figure it out yourself. Anyway, the end can’t come soon enough. I’m tired. Yes, I know, colour you surprised. Don’t you always complain about being tired Dave? Yes, I certainly do…I don’t lie about these things. There’s just so many things going on right now and on top of it, I’m sick. Yup, it seems like this time every year, with the change in temperatures, I get sick and it sucks!

One of the things keeping me hopping right now if football. Football in May? Ya, why not? Everything else runs all year-long, why not football? In any case, my oldest, Ethan, has been been involved with the Under-16 rep team since February, and a few weeks back flag football started for my youngest, Noah. While I don’t coach Ethan, I get to play chauffeur and I am helping to coach Noah’s team. On top of that, thoughts are already beginning to wander to spring camps here at high school, which seem like a long way away in June, but will creep up fast!

I’ve also started the planning and recruitment for our next EF tour of Europe, which will take place in March, 2021. This next trip will take us to Italy, the home of my ancestors, which I have not seen since 1992. Ironically, that last time happened on an EF tour, when I was a student in high school. We have 6 travellers enrolled, with more on the way; one of those travellers is Ethan. I am very excited to be able to share this travel experience with him where he can see new places, cultures and history.

As you can expect, with all the other craziness, I haven’t really had any time to devote to railway matters. I did do a little writing on the book here and there after I got back from Europe, but nothing substantial. My main focus has been preparing for the spring-summer season, which has several things on tap.

In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to Gunflint once again for some field work. With no USFS involvement this year, all I can do is more mapping and examination of the site of Camp 8. The plan is to mark important locations that are obscured in the summer and fall with high grass, as well as explore more of the site to see if there is anything I have yet to discover. With the way things have been going weather wise, my fingers are crossed that Mother Nature cooperates.

In July, I have another speaking engagement scheduled for the Chik-Wauk Museum. I guess they like me so much, they keep inviting me back every year. I am really excited about the opportunity, especially since I get to speak about something different than my current project. The subject of the talk is on the ghost town of Leeblain, which has certainly garnered a lot of interest on social media. By the looks of things, it might be the most attended presentation yet.

I want to end with a rather happy story regarding an email I received last week. Sometimes you wonder if what you do, in this case promoting railway and local history makes a difference…if you’re really reaching anyone. Do people care or am I just wasting my time? This is especially true since, as I indicated earlier, I am marking 25 years of researching the PAD&W and its associated history. I had no idea in April of 1994 that a trip to the library to find some information about this obscure railway would lead to a lifetime of work. After the thousands? of hours, substantial amounts of money and a lot of sweat (and some tears), it hard to believe I’m still at it. My wife thinks I’m crazy, and I very well may be, but it’s become part of who I am and there are no regrets. Well, maybe I wished I had done more years ago as time has not been kind to some of the places I have visited.

I was contacted, out of the blue, by a Ms. Edward, a librarian who runs a railroad history and beginner train modelling class for 9-13 year olds. She wanted to let me know that they found the links page on my old website (www.padwrr.ca/links) very useful for their last project. She did not say where they were from, but based on her email address, I want to say Salt Lake City? It is so impressive that people that far away first of all found one of my sites, and second, were able to do something with the information.

She went on to add that one of the youngest students, a boy named Avery, wanted to share with me a site where he first became interested in railroad history and trains. He wanted me to include in on my links page. I am so flattered, I thought I do one better and post it here plus give him a big shout out. Here’s his link: https://bit.ly/2VJDlNz Avery, thanks for putting a smile on an old history teacher’s face. Keep being passionate about railroads and trains and you’re never too old to appreciate some good history!

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks after my trip to Gunflint with a full report from that adventure and all the latest news. Until then…

 

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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Reflections

History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be-John Henrik Clarke

Every time I return from a school trip to Europe, I often like to reflect on the impact it has had on everyone involved, students and teachers alike. I cannot help but think it has changed all of our lives, like any experience such as this would. Most of it was good, but I’m sure the negatives have only served to make us better. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit the places we did, so I must count ourselves lucky.

Hey kids! I can’t believe it’s been a week since we’ve been back; man, does time ever fly by! I’m still a little tired, but this being my fourth trip I already know it takes a bit of time for your body to readjust. As you probably read, these aren’t leisurely, let’s sit on the beach and get some sun vacations. Oh, no. They are extremely hectic, and at times very stressful as we gallivanted across western Europe. When you think about it, we visited 4 countries in 8 days, covered more than 1600 kilometres and stayed in 5 different hotels. It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

All that being said, it was well worth it. You might think, “but you’ve already seen most of these places already Dave, doesn’t it get mundane?” Well, it could I guess. Obviously, we did visit a couple new cities, Berlin and Groesbeek, but the rest was the same. If it doesn’t sound weird, I don’t find it boring. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times now, and Ypres, Vimy, Normandy and Paris four, and everytime I manage to see something unique. I’ve never stayed in the same hotel and maybe because we’ve have different tour directors, I always manage to get a slightly perspective.

I think there’s more to it thought. These places have so much to offer and to see, that it’s impossible to do it all in a few short visits. Maybe I’m biased. I love some of these places so much…I can’t get enough of Amsterdam, Ypres and Normandy. I want to go back in the future, outside of an EF Tour, probably when I retire, so I can take my time and see things at a bit more leisurely pace. It was a conversation I had with my colleague, Clare, as we walked the streets of Ypres and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer. I suggested that we could go together if our spouses weren’t interested. Ironically, we travelled together many moons ago, back in 1992 on our school’s first EF tour to Europe.

Temple of Apollo in Dephi, Greece, March 1992.

I always get asked what is the most memorable moment of the trip, which I struggle to answer. That might seem like a cop out, but I truly have a hard time picking one thing that stands out; that is usually easier with the bad stuff. Anyway, get to the point Dave. So, memorable moment. Can I take two? Technically it is one, but it’s my blog, so I can do whatever I want. First I’d have to say the visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This is the first tour that included a visit to one of these stark reminders of the Holocaust and it was not a comfortable one. While not as well known as places such as Dachau or Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen was one of the earliest camps to be established and was home to many political prisoners. It was difficult seeing the gas chamber and the crematorium ovens. The miserable weather added to the sombre mood.

The other memorable moment was the train ride from Berlin to Apeldoorn. I, probably most of the group, have never been on a train ride that long. It was a great way to travel; few stops, quick and lots of room to move around. Besides the experience, I’ll remember it as the moment that the kids began to gel on the trip. It always takes a few days for the two groups to begin to mesh, and it’s great to see new friendships blossoming.

Alright, the bad. So what was bad Dave? Well, two things in particular if you’d like to know. The first is the most obvious; the weather. The fricken weather! I did write about it during the trip, but it’s worth repeating. Other than the pouring rain at Vimy 2012, this was by far the worst temperatures and conditions we’ve had to deal with. There’s not much we can do but roll with it, but it does generate a lot of frustration. In retrospect it could have been worse, like raining the whole time, but it was enough to dampen our spirits quite a bit.

The other big issue was the flights. I guess we were lucky in the past with no major problems, so maybe we were due. We were very tight with all of our connecting flights and had to run to the gate each time. Not only is that crazy, but it generates a lot of stress; if you haven’t noticed, I have no hair to lose and what is left is mostly gray. I already told EF we’d like more of a buffer at least between when we land in Toronto and our international departure, so that is one less thing to worry about.

One thing I did notice about this trip is that we did a bit less walking. On previous trips I remember more forced marches and put on a lot more miles. This time I did make a note to see how far we actually did walk. So thanks to the marvel of modern technology, I checked the health stats on my phone. Adding up the numbers, from March 10 to March 17, my phone recorded 86.4km of walking and 123,788 steps. The busiest day was on the 17th, with 17.1km and 24,629 steps. That’s a lot of walking! And if I feel we did less this time, I can’t imagine what we’ve done in the past.

So where do we go from here? Well, the planning has already started for Europe 2021. No rest for the wicked right? Either that or I’m a sucker for punishment. Whatever the case, we’re going back. Where to this time Dave? Since we’ve done northwest Europe the last four tours, I figure it’s time to go somewhere else. How’s sunny Italy sound? Works for me! EF has a couple history-themed Italy tours; we’re going to do WWII and the Liberation of Italy. It will take us first to Rome, where we’ll explore the Vatican, the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps. There’s a day trip to Anzio, followed by a journey to Ortona after stopping in Monte Cassino. We head north from there, to Rimini, San Marino and Florence before returning to Rome. We have just submitted the paperwork, but I’m already excited. In the meantime, you can check out a few of our videos from the trip posted below.

Alright, it’s time to go. I’ll be taking a break on the posts, so I won’t be back until sometime in April with my usual themed rantings. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 10

Good morning kids, or rather, sad morning kids. That’s it, we’re done. I’m sitting here in the lobby, trying to stay awake and realizing that our adventure is over. Years of planning and anticipation have come to end in a heartbeat. The worst part is that it is a bright and sunny morning, so it makes our departure that more difficult to bear.

I’m not going to lie…I’m beat. These trips are great, but they take a lot out of you. Even though I slept well, it was tough to get out of bed this morning. Obviously the late night did not help matters. I know, here I am complaining about being tired after 10 days in Europe, while my colleagues get ready to go back to work. Poor Dave. That being said, they didn’t spend the time and energy planning the trip and actually executing it. Whatever, I’ll do it again in a quick minute, and I will!

So to add to the misery of leaving, our flight to Toronto is delayed. There was a fire at Pearson, so it has had a domino effect on flights. We were supposed to leave at 11:30, but now it looks like 2:00. The problem with that is we likely will not make our connection to Thunder Bay, since that will only leave us 20 minutes between our arrival and the departure of the next plane. I’ve never experienced this, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Alright, so we’re now “comfortably” ensconced at the gate, patiently waiting for our flight to leave. Only 3.5 hours to go! What the heck are we going to do for all that time? Sweet Jesus…I just want to go home. This is seriously testing my OCD. I’ve been abandoned by my group too, left all alone with everyone’s belongings. Air Canada graciously gave us 12€ to spend at McDonald’s, Starbucks, EXKI, Brioche Doree and some other place. Hmmmmmm, how much will that buy us in overpriced airport shops? Probably a bottle of water and that’s it, but I guess I’ll need to find out for myself. I will need to eat soon, as breakfast was once again terrible.

Okay, so hopefully we will be able to board our flight in the next hour. I took my voucher and surprisingly was able to buy a decent lunch. Who would have thunk? A baguette with ham and cheese, a strawberry yogurt dessert and water cost 11€30. Not bad. On the flight front, we are now scheduled to arrive at 5:03, which leaves us 30 minutes to make our next flight. That isn’t enough time, but I’m hopeful since we take up the whole plane, that they will hold it for us.

Team Battistel, March 2019.

In the air now, Toronto bound. We’re stuck at the very back again, however my row only has two seats, so Gibby and I have a bit more elbow room. The moving map on the plane tells me we should arrive at 4:48, so let’s hope we can make our flight to Thunder Bay. Maybe as I mentioned earlier they will hold the plane rather than trying to get 48 people on another flight. Fingers crossed. They’re working on lunch, supper or whatever you call this meal. I wonder what’s on the menu? The one on the way here wasn’t bad, so let’s hope we get something similar. I’ll be back after I eat and have a nap with my review. Stay tuned.

The “meal” and a nap are in the books. So, again I’m impressed…that’s two in a row Air Canada! We were served what I think was BBQ Chicken with carrots, mashed potatoes with corn, bread and a cookie. I passed on the quinoa. In my opinion, it was better than some of the meals we had in Europe, but that’s just me. Now just to sit here and stew until we land in Toronto, staring at our arrival time, which is now 4:54. Hopefully I don’t pick up some strain of the plague while I’m at it; the guy to my right back across the aisle has been hacking up a lung the entire flight!

Thunder Bay here we come! Obviously we made it, but it was quite the ordeal. We landed at 4:52, and quickly found out that our flight home had been delayed. I have a sneaky suspicion that it had everything to do with us, since I as already described we are 60% of the seats on the plane. We had to hustle from the gate to customs, and it appears they opened a special area for people from our flight. Then due to construction, we had to take a bus to our domestic gate. We arrived about 20 minutes before our 6:00 departure. Whew! If anything, we did a lot of running for our flights on this trip…the kids won’t forget this too soon!

Elbow partners, March 2019.

Home sweet home…what a long day! It’s only 9:30, but my body knows it’s really 2:30. Throw on top of that some stress from the flights and I’m completely drained. It’s going to take a few days for me to totally recover from the trip. I’ll be back in a few days with some reflections from our journey. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 9

Morning kids. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of our school; it’s weird seeing stuff about it here in France along with green beer. Apparently everyone wants to be Irish for a day. Coming from Thunder Bay, I would be remiss without acknowledging St. Urho too! So what I’m deducing is that March 17th is a big excuse for people to party and drink…fair enough.

Anyway, I am feeling rather decent, but still tired. I think I slept okay, but yesterday was an exhausting day. And a long day; I was up before most of the kids at 5:30 and didn’t get to bed until after midnight. My math skills, as my wife will tell you, are subpar, but that works out to an 18+ hour day. Even though I napped on the bus, it would appear that it was insufficient given the situation. We were able to sleep in a bit today, but I won’t feel better until we start moving and get the blood flowing.

Sadly, today is our last day on the trip. Ten days seems a lot of time, but it goes by so fast! We have a busy day planned, with a bus tour in the morning, some walking in the afternoon and we finish with a boat ride on the Seine in the evening. We’re going to do our best to enjoy every moment, though it will be a long day again, since the river cruise doesn’t start until 8:30. I’m sure everyone will sleep well on the plane tomorrow.

Alright, so it’s midnight, I have to be up at 5:30 and I’m just settling down to finish this post. I am beat…it was a long day! My phone is telling me that I walked 17km and did nearly 25,000 steps. No wonder my feet hurt.

My walking began bright and early, as I had to find a nearby bank machine for a few last euros to get me through the day. It was a bit crisp, but it was a refreshing walk for a few blocks. From there it was on to the bus, which would take us downtown for our guided tour. The tour lasted about 2.5 hours, and we saw many of the important sights and attractions of the city. We made photo stops at the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Les Invalids. I think the kids got their fill of typical tourist photos!

Arc de Triomphe, March 2019.

Eiffel Tower, March 2019.

Les Invalides, March 2019.

Once the tour ended, we broke for lunch. The kids had about an hour to do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. Myself and Ms. Caza wandered down to a local street market, which was amazing to see. The fresh produce, fruit, meat and fish vendors had some unbelievable products for sale. We settled on a nearby restaurant where we had a very enjoyable meal.

Paris Market, March 2019.

Once we were back together again, we headed over to the Louvre, about a 20 minute walk away. Students under 18 have free entry to the museum, and most took the opportunity to see great works such as the Mona Lisa. Myself and Ms. Caza waited outside for the kids to return and then they had another short break to pick up some souvenirs at nearby stores on Rue Rivoli.

Louvre, March 2019.

Louvre, March 2019.

Since we were on free time, Sebastian had planned to meet us at Notre Dame. That meant we had to make our own way the 2km to Notre Dame, which was about a 30 minute walk. I was in charge of leading the group, which did cause me some concern, not about the route, but rather the potential to lose someone. Our route was fairly simple; east on Rivoli and then south on Pont Neuf, across the Seine, along the river then south to Notre Dame. We arrived on time with everyone in tow…mission accomplished! Maybe someday I could be a European tour guide-I know all useless information!

Paris, March 2019.

At Notre Dame, we took the opportunity to enter the cathedral and briefly see the inside. Afterwards, we let the kids look around a bit before we met Sebastian at the statute of Charlemagne for our walk to dinner. Our restaurant tonight was the Auberge Notre-Dame, a short distance south across the Seine. The meal consisted of chicken in some kind of sauce with mushrooms, rice and green beans. Dessert was apples in a rather runny liquid, which like dinner, was meh. Not the worst EF meal, but definitely not the best.

Notre-Dame, March 2019.

Notre-Dame, March 2019.

Statute of Charlemagne, March 2019.

After dinner we had some time to kill, so we spent it walking around the Latin Quarter of the city. The weather during the day had been all over the place; sun, showers, wind and cold. We missed a good downpour in the restaurant, but when we left, it was pretty cold. We wandered for almost an hour, and then made our way to the boat pier on the Seine.

St. Michel, March 2019.

I have done this boat tour several times before, but it never disappoints. Despite the chill in the air, it was a great experience for everyone. The highlight was obviously when we passed the fully-lit Eiffel Tower, which made for an amazing photo op. I spent most of my time outside the glass enclosure, recording video of the tour, until my gloved hands became so cold that I decided to call it quits.

Eiffel Tower, March 2019.

From the Seine it was a short walk to the Metro station for a short ride to our transfer point to the RER, which took us to our hotel. We arrived back just after 10:00, which meant we were out for more than 13 hours. Many kids the kids were falling asleep on the train, which told us they had thoroughly enjoyed the day.

On that note, I going to bed. I have to be up in 5 hours and I still need to finish uploading this post. I am going to be very tired tomorrow. I’ll be back in a matter of hours with all the info on our final day of the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 8

Europe 2019 Day 8

Good morning kids. Ya, my usual wit escapes me right now, so nothing smart or clever to say this morning. I thought I got enough sleep, but it was hard to get going after the alarm. I don’t know, maybe there was more time sitting on the bus than in previous days and we were up half an hour earlier than usual, but that shouldn’t matter. I could be just old, but then again the young people on the trip are also tired. So I’m just going to say we all suck and that should cover it.

Alright, so what’s the schedule for today Dave? Well, let me enlighten you shall I? Haha, I guess that was fairly clever for 630 wasn’t it? Clever, sarcastic…it really depends on your perspective right? Okay, I know, I know, get to the point. So we’re obviously in Caen, about 20km from Juno Beach, which is the objective for today. Did you see what I did there? Today’s “objective,” since we’re going to Juno Beach…I know you chuckled, or rolled your eyes. Anyway, we’ll be visiting the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, the Juno Beach Centre, Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer before leaving for Paris.

One of the best things is that we’re supposed to see the sun. Yes! The forecast calls for +14C and mostly sunny, though very windy again. That should be interesting given the fact that we’re going to be on the English Channel, which is typically windy on a good day. I predict an interesting visit and some messy hair again…but not for me!

Okay, so we’re on our way to Paris. I know the kids are super excited to visit the city of lights. I myself much prefer the quaint, rolling countryside of Normandy. But that’s just me. It’s about 250km, so we have some time to relax on the bus. Yesterday the kids were a little messy, so the “Heinzelmänchen” or little dwarves of German folklore had to come out at night to tidy things up.

As I mentioned, our first stop was at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. The cemetery contains the remains of over 2,000 Canadians killed on D-Day or in the weeks following. Unlike Groesbeek, we didn’t assign the students individual soldiers, but rather we gave them a list of graves they could visit. The cemetery has a very notoriety in that there are 9 sets of brothers buried there, such as the Westlake and Branton brothers.

After a a brief prayer service, we spent about 40 minutes wandering amongst the graves. However many times I go, these cemeteries are still so sad. Today though, there was an air of serenity at Beny; the birds were chirping, it was windy but sun trying to come out. It like God was trying to thank us for honouring the sacrifice of these young Canadians all those years ago. One of the graves I made a point of visiting, was that of Rifleman Sulo Alanen, a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who was killed in action on July 5th, 1944. Alanen was born in Nolalu, and I know his nephew, which made it very personal.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

From there it was a short drive to the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where we had a 10:00 appointment. We actually received a full tour, which I did not experience in my three previous visits. It began outside, where we were brought through two German bunkers, one a command bunker and the other a observation bunker. It was neat to see some new things and get the full explanation. Once that was done we moved inside for a visit to the museum. Having been there before, I raced outside and walked a short distance east, to Graye-sur-Mer where there was a tank memorial and another bunker, known as Cosy’s Bunker, captured by 10 Platoon, B Company, RWR. This area of Juno Beach is known as Mike Red Sector.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Juno Beach Centre, March 2019.

Once everyone was through the museum, we had another short drive, this time to the east. Our destination was Bernières-sur-Mer, or Nan White Sector. Here the Queen’s Own Rifles landed, and took very heavy casualties in the process. Their efforts are commemorated at Canada House, the first place captured by Canadian troops that day. Just to the east is a preserved German bunker, which caused many of the QOR’s casualties.

Canada House, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Another short drive east brought us to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the eastern most part of Juno known as Nan Red. New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed here, supported by tanks of the Fort Garry Horse. There is another German bunker at Saint-Aubin, complete with the 50mm gun that knocked out several tanks on D-Day before it was silenced. After a short visit to the beach, we paused a for a quick lunch. My croque monsieur was awesome!

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

One of the great things about today was the weather. Eventually the sun came out, the clouds disappeared and it was gorgeous. Obviously, it was a little cooler by the English Channel, but it was still +15C…a heat wave! Now, on the road to Paris, it’s up to 18. With the sun and the balmy temperatures, you know what that meant. Well, I guess you wouldn’t know because I didn’t say anything about it, so I’m telling you now. Warm temps=shorts weather. So let me explain the background to this, as it is a going joke. All I normally wear on these trips are convertible plants; they are not the epitome of high fashion, but they are comfy and I love them. On past trips, when it gets warm, I’ve unzipped the bottoms and rocked the shorts. Therefore, with all the cold weather I have been waiting patiently for an opportunity to unzip and today I got it. Vive le shorts!

Enjoying the heat, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Okay, so we’re finally back at the hotel just before 11:00. What a long day! We arrived at our hotel at 5:00 and we had enough time to get to our rooms, freshen up quick and head to the RER (train) station at La Rueil-Malmaison. I always get a bit anxious riding the Paris public transportation, simply because it is so busy compared to other places. However, it is a good life lesson for the kids. Anyway, from the RER we transferred to the Metro to take us to our dinner destination. Our meal was at “Le Saulnier,” which consisted of a cheese pastry, beef bourgeon with potatoes and a puff pastry for dessert.

Afterwards, we were back on the Metro to go to Montmartre, and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The were a few hectic moments, as the Metro was packed with people, but we made it okay. Montmartre is a hill in Paris, and the church is illuminated at night. It is quite the climb up the stairs to the top, which leaves your legs burning and rubbery when you’re done. The view is spectacular from the hill, and the kids really enjoyed it. From there, it was back on the Metro and RER to the hotel.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, March 2019.

Paris, March 2019.

 

Anyway, It’s time to turn in soon. I’m pooped! We have another busy day planned, our last day, which will keep us hopping. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 7

Good morning les enfants! As you can tell by the greeting, we are now in France. Dave is rather chipper this morning; I got some sleep! Okay, let’s be clear though, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I definitely feel decent. Maybe I’m finally finding my travel stride. In any case, we do haves one bus  time again, so I can always have a little nap if I need a recharge.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? Well, we’re about to leave the hotel for the 30 minute drive to Vimy Ridge. We will linger there for a while, visiting the trenches and memorial before we hit the road again. The next stop will be Beaumont Hamel, in the Somme area. After that, we have about a 4 hour drive to Normandy and our hotel in Caen.

“🎶…Here I am, rock me like a Hurricane!” Alright, so we’re on the bus for the hour ride to Beaumont Hamel and the Newfoundland Memorial Park. If you’re wondering why I’m quoting the classic 1980s song by the Scorpions, I’ll tell you. It’s not raining today, which is fantastic, but it is a tad windy. Like how windy Dave? Well, bowl you over tornado force winds windy. People like me with aerodynamic hairdos don’t have to worry, but many of the girls are now rocking the messy hair look. But hey, it’s not pouring rain, so I will not complain.

We had a great visit. The broke us up by school, with each group doing a separate tour. Our guide took us first into the subway system, tunnels dug by engineers through the soft chalk. They were used to move troops and equipment to the forward trenches away from observation and fire from the Germans on the ridge. This one was known as the “Grange Subway” and is an amazing piece of Canadian history. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure why, maybe because of flooding, our tour of the subway wasn’t as long as it was in 2014. Regardless, it was neat for the kids to see.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

After exiting the subway, we made our way through the preserved Canadian and German trenches. When they were constructing the monument, they decided to keep portions of the front line trenches in the park. To retain their shape. Sandbags filled with cement were stacked along the trench wall, which later deteriorated, but left the cement like stone pillows. They are amazing in the sense that it gives the kids an idea of what it would have been like to live and fight in the these glorified ditches.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

From the trenches, we hopped on the bus for a short ride to the monument, located on the summit of Hill 145. From there, it becomes very apparent why the ridge was so important. Looking east, one can see the Douai Plain stretching out in front you, with the city of Lens and the immense slag heaps being prominent features. On bright, clear days, you can see the Belgian border.

We had a brief prayer service on the back side of the memorial, before proceeding to the front for a group photo. Then the kids had some time to wander around, explore and take photos. This is where we were able to experience the full-force of the “light breeze” that was blowing. It was crazy how windy it was on the top of the hill, but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. I think it was important for them to see it, and I think that every Canadian should visit this hallowed ground if they can. The sacrifice of these and other soldiers will not be forgotten if we keep the history alive.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Mother Canada weeping for her fallen sons, Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Back on the bus again after another stop. Whew, we made it! Pardon the language, but holy crap it windy! I just checked the weather and it says the wind is out of the west at 54km/h gusting to 74km/h. I’m not a sailor, but isn’t that like gale force wind? I have no idea how Tish is keeping the bus on the road.

Anyway, we were just at Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park. This commemorates the action of the Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st, 1916. Unfortunately, the entire regiment was wiped out in the course of the 20 minute attack. Of the 600+ men who started the assault, only 60 men were left unscathed. It was an unprecedented tragedy for Newfoundland, and after the war it was decided that it would be turned into a memorial park, complete with trenches, monuments and cemeteries.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Alright, we’re on the bus to our hotel for the evening. After a 300+km journey, we’re now in Normandy, in the city of Caen. We had a chance to walk around the city a bit before dinner; I especially liked the Norman castle, which apparently belonged to William the Conqueror. Dinner today was at Le Cafe, where we had ham with some type of sauce, and potatoes. Dessert was a chocolate brownie with whip cream. There was some disagreement amongst the chaperones as to the rating of the meal; I thought it was good.

Caen, March 2019.

Caen. March 2019.

So tomorrow we have a bit earlier morning, heading first to the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery before our 10:00 appointment at Juno Beach Centre. We will visit a few other spots before we leave for Paris in the afternoon. Anyway, there is things to do before we go to bed. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 6

Morning Kids? So, Dave is feeling rather ambivalent today; did I get enough sleep or is my body just playing games with me? Hmmmmmmm. It was definitely not as good as the night before. I am clearly not as adept as my roomie at falling sleep, who seems to be out the moment his head hits the pillow. And then the cacophony starts. Ugh. Do you ever find yourself so frustrated that you’re torn between crying and physically wanting to harm someone? Those thoughts may have crossed my mind during the several conscious periods I had during the night. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

So, today’s agenda. Well, I’m just sitting here by my lonesome in the lobby waiting for breakfast. The bus departs at 830, leaving Amsterdam and the Netherlands behind for Belgium. Our travels today will take us to Ypres, the site of numerous epic battles during WWI. Obviously the most important are the Second Battle of Ypres, fought in April-May, 1915 and the Third Battle of Ypres, more precisely the Battle of Passchedaele, fought in November 1917 (or at least the Canadian part was). We will be commemorating those and other events at the St. Julien Memorial and the Menin Gate Memorial.

“🎶On the road again…” And hey guess what? It’s bright, sunny and +15C outside. Haha! Ya, okay; if you fell for that you’re a sucker. It’s once again rainy, damp, windy and cold (7C feels like -2). It’s supposed to be 10/11C in Ypres, but depending on what forecast you look at, the rain or showers are expected to last until early or late afternoon. Hopefully it’s sooner than later and we have a chance to enjoy Ypres out of the rain.

I haven’t mentioned yet that I love Ypres too. This will be my fourth visit to the historic city and I can’t get enough. The history, the people, the architecture…it’s all amazing and why I’m enamoured with it. Ypres dates back to the 1300s, and was a prominent city in Flanders, particularly with regard to banking and textiles. One of the most famous buildings in the city, the Cloth Hall, is a lasting symbol of that. Sadly, it (with the exception of its exterior walls) and many other structures were destroyed during the fighting in WWI. They were rebuilt, restoring the city to its former glory. The central square, the Grote Markt, the ramparts and the Menin Gate all form quite an impressive experience.

Okay, so we’re back on the road, 120km from Ypres. I managed to get in a good nap before we had a break at a truck stop just west of Antwerp. By law, European bus/truck drivers have to stop for 30 minutes every 2/2.5 hours. Therefore, the travel plazas are amazing; this one had a Texaco station, a Starbucks, Burger King and huge convenience store. After taking advantage of the facilities, we all stocked up on food and goodies for the last part of the trip. Now we’re eating, sharing and chatting, hoping that the weather improves for Ypres.

Rainy drive, March 2019.

Interesting European flavours, March 2019.

I must say, not to hark on it, because I never do, that this is the worst weather I’ve encountered on an EF trip. It could be that we were spoiled on previous trips, like the last one which was hot and dry. That being said, usually the rain lasts a day or two then clears out. However, this has been day after day; you can see it clearly on the system maps. The jet stream is cutting across Europe, and the weather above it is unsettled and below is awesome. I blame climate change, but then I usually do.

Alright, so I’m sitting here in the lobby of the Cloth Hall, the Flanders Fields Museum, waiting for everyone to finish their visit. Our first stop upon reaching the Ypres area was the St. Julien Memorial (Sint-Juliaan). The memorial, a statue, is known as the Brooding Soldier and marks the first Canadian action in WWI at the Second Battle of Ypres. Here, near St. Julien, the Canadians fought a desperate 3-day battle against the Germans to hold back a massive attack which included the first use of poison gas in war. It was rainy and very windy, but we managed a quick prayer and a group photo.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

St. Julien Memorial. March 2019.

The museum is a very interesting place to visit, and the kids really enjoyed it. There is a lot information about WWI and many artifacts from the area. I’ve been there before, so I moved fairly quickly through it. I also had an ulterior motive; I wanted to walk the ramparts of the city to the southern, or Lillie Gate. The best was that the sun came out…halle fricken lujah! I was starting to feel a bit like a mushroom with all the rain. The best part was that the winds calmed, and it was actually quite nice out.

Ypres, March 2019.

Flanders Fields Museum, March 2019.

I’ve done the trek to the Ramparts Lillie Cemetery before, and it a beautiful walk along the treed rampart. It took just over 10 minutes to get there from museum, and the kids I had in tow, Liam M from our school, and Beth, Sarah, Nick and Brodie from St. Ignatius, were glad they came. The cemetery is small and quaint, maybe 50 graves, but very beautifully built in the ramparts just west of the Lillie Gate alongside the canal. The sun shining through the clouds added a warm and fitting touch to the scene.

Ramparts Lillie Cemetery, March 2019.

Ramparts Lillie Cemetery, March 2019.

Ramparts Lillie Cemetery, March 2019.

We had to be back at the Grote Markt for 5:00 as we were going into one of the local shops to purchase some great Belgian chocolates. The shop is called Leonidas, and I’m sure they give EF something for bringing all the tour groups through. I’ve been there each time I’ve visited Ypres, and the owner has the same pitch and mannerisms. He reminds me of the Shamwow guy!

Ypres, March 2019.

Ypres, March 2019.

Ypres, March 2019.

Ypres, March 2019.

Dinner was at a restaurant called “De Trompet.” Lasagna was on the menu, but the roast chicken the British group who were also there eating looked better to me. It was okay, but you can’t serve an Italian lasagna at a Belgian restaurant. That’s kinda like sacrilege. The ice cream dessert was on point though.

Our last thing for the day was the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. I’ve described this in previous years, but for the sake of clarity, it’s worth repeating. The gate was completed in 1928 as a memorial to the tens of thousands of Commonwealth missing in the Ypres Salient. It is massive, but when they started engraving the names on the memorial, they realized there wasn’t going to be enough room. They managed to get nearly 55,000 names on the panels up to August 1917; the rest are commemorated at Tyne Cot. Anyway, since it opened, with the exception of WWII, they have a daily Last Post ceremony at 8:00.

I hustled ahead of the group to get the spot I wanted to record the event, but a couple beat me to it. I had to settle for standing beside them for nearly 45 minutes until it began. It always amazes me how touching it is for just a 10 minute ceremony, but it proves just a small thing like this goes a long way in helping people remember such a sad and tragic event in our history.

Menin Gate, March 2019.

Now we’re on the bus for a 60km drive to our hotel located in France, just north of Vimy Ridge and Arras. I don’t feel too bad, but I am tired. It’s been a long day, even though part of it was just sitting. We’re only here for a night, and tomorrow we’ll be leaving for Normandy, stopping first at Vimy Ridge, which is only 30 minutes away. From there we will head to Beaumont Hamel, and then another 4 drive to the next hotel in Caen.

Anyway, I going to get rolling as it is late and we have another early morning. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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